A Tale of Two Cruises - early winter 2009 travel blog

Civitavecchia, the port where ships dock when the itinerary says they are in Rome, is one and a half hours away by car. The cruise company only brings people here if they have booked the pricey pre-trip which stays at hotels too rich for our blood. So how to get to the ship? We were on our own and looked for the best solution on line. Thrifty travelers suggested that we take the train, but the thought of schlepping all our stuff through the throngs at the central station in Rome was not appealing. And at the other end, we weren't sure how to get from the station to the pier.

So we bit the bullet and booked a limo which provided door to door service. Even so we stood at the entrance to our hotel slightly nervous, hoping that the limo would appear. At the appointed minute a dapper gentleman pulled up with a Mercedes and asked for Mr. Vise-ah-mahn-ah. We were on our way. There were more ships docked at the pier than we expected and it took a moment to figure out where the Grand Princess was. When we plan complicated trips, we try so hard to check and recheck the dates and arrangements, and it would have been a bummer if we had gotten here on the wrong day!

But there she was – a familiar sight since this will be the third time we are sailing on the Grand. Our fellow passengers seem to cover all age groups skewed toward the geezer range. Many folks have flown directly here from the US and have that haggard look that being under way for 24 hours gives. A number of them are wearing Cruise Critic T-shirts with the itinerary printed on them.

Cruise Critic is a web site that Ken consults regularly as we prepare for sailings. It began as an informative and critical review site, but it has become much more. Shore excursions that are offered by the ship tend to be expensive and people have banded together online via the website to plan their own alternatives at a better price. In some cases their prices were dramatically lower than what the ship charges for seemingly the same activities. Of course, you are depending on people you never met to show up and help you to pay for the van and driver you hired- somewhat risky. And when you are on a ship's tour the boat won't sail until you get back. When you're on your own, you're on your own. We could read online that some of the people who had planned to transfer from the airport to the port together had flight delays, which meant that the shuttles left without them and the people on them had to pay more. This online cruising community is an interesting concept that we will keep an eye on for future sailings.

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