Sea Days or Pacing Your Ports?

November 8, 2012 | By | 17 Comments

Onboard Regent Seven SeasVoyager’s repositioning cruise, from Istanbul to Egypt’s Safaga, our 14-day itinerary factors in just one day at sea (a transit of the Suez Canal). I’m definitely thinking we are going to have to pace ourselves.

Every passenger gets a precruise stay in Istanbul. Istanbul’s a bucket list place, let’s be clear, so frantic sightseeing ensued. After that, we headed off to Turkey’s Kusadasi and Antalya, Greece’s Rhodes, and Cyprus’ Limassol. Up next? Calls at Israel’s Haifa and two days in Ashdod (for Jerusalem and the Dead Sea), visits to Egypt’s Alexandria, Cairo and Sharm el Sheikh, and a call at Jordan’s Aqaba (for Petra).
This cruise is definitely about serious sightseeing.
But how much is too much? On Regent Seven Seas’ Voyager shore excursions are included in cruise fares, so the temptation to take a tour every day is both psychological (if it’s free you should take advantage of it) and touristic (how many times do you get to visit the excavated city of Turkey’s Ephesus or slip a prayerful note into Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall?). Fellow passengers, before we even got to Israel, were already talking about fatigue of dusty ruins and dry history lecturers.
But regardless of whether your tours are part of the package or priced a’la carte, the same challenge applies to other destination-heavy regions, where ports are close together and days at sea are relatively limited. I’m thinking of the Baltic, with its string of urban ports and many variations of the Mediterranean, with its temptations of art, history and culture. Even in the Caribbean, a steady stream of beach-of-the-day stops can get tiring.
On this trip I made the relatively easy decision to go full steam in Istanbul, and take it easy until the Israel/Egypt/Jordan part of the itinerary. Well-traveled fellow passenger (and Cruise Critic member) Bill SF offered me some advice. “Pick a day or two with ports that aren’t as important to see — and explore independently or even stay on board. And vary your tour times. We tend to choose shorter tours or those that leave later in the morning so you’re not constantly rushing.”
Great tips, and I’m following them. And I’m wondering: On any intense itinerary, what’s your strategy? Do you treat your ports of call as a once in a lifetime itinerary? Do you ever stay onboard, even while in port? Leave your comments below.
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    17 Responses to “Sea Days or Pacing Your Ports?”

    1. Ken H
      November 14th, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

      We did the Liberty of the Seas Western Med – 5 ports five days in a row. In this case, we viewed this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Rome, Florence, etc. By the time the sea day rolled around, we were exhausted. We take a much different approach when we cruise the Caribbean.

    2. Kathy
      November 14th, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

      When I have sailed an itinerary like this, it is because I did by pre-cruise research. I planned to see as much as possible in as little time as possible.When work demands little time off, cruising offers a way to travel and still not kill yourself in the process. How else can you see 9 ports of call without intense flights(who wants all that airport hassle)and with fantastic dining each evening, a show and a relaxing walk about ship before bed?

    3. kathleen e
      November 14th, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

      I always get off the ship. Sometimes I take the tour, and sometimes I’ll tour the city on my own. For me,though I love being on the ship, the cities are the draw.

    4. Wizzard
      November 14th, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

      We did a 35-day Baltic/Mediterranean cruise in July/August with our two grandkids, 8 & 18. We chose ahead of time the really important sites/sights to see (St Petersburg, Lisbon, and Rome). We promised the kids (and ourselves) we were NOT going to visit every church, museum, or archeological site in existence. We chose a smattering of things to do that provided a sampling of the European experience. Had great luck in local taxi’s by-the-hour, a couple of HO-HO’s, some walking, etc. Every port was a little different. And YES, it was exhausting but very rewarding, the price of achieving the pre-planned goal of achieving an EXPERIENCE rather than seeing everything possible.

    5. Wizzard
      November 14th, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

      BTW, that was 25 ports in 35 days, plus an evening in London pre-cruise and 3 days in Amsterdam post-cruise.

    6. Richard
      November 14th, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

      What other way can see a city for an entire day, go back to your hotel for dinner, go to bed and wake up in a different city? It’s the ONLY way to go!

    7. brian
      November 14th, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

      weve cruised 20 times to the caribbean we have seen almost every island but we still liketo get of the boat even if for an hour but some islands that weve been to 10 or more times we stay on the ship it the best time quieter and easy to get a chair by the pool

    8. Vicky Crane
      November 14th, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

      Are there any luxury cruises with half days at sea?

    9. Robin
      November 14th, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

      Definitely port intensive! We research heavily ahead of time and line up a private guide in each port. A ship with open dining helps so that you can eat whenever you’re ready after you get back on the ship. We did northern Europe and the Med this way and it was great. With private guides we saw so much more and learned so much.

    10. Joan
      November 14th, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

      I never stay on board in port; I may never get back to that destination again, and I at least want to see something! Variety is the key. On a recent Baltic Sea cruise, we slipped in a day of kayaking in the Finnish archipelago near Helsinki. What a nice diversion! It refreshed us for the rest of the trip. I mix ship tours, independent tours, and on your owns. With all the physical activity and fresh air, you sleep like a baby at night on the ship!

    11. Leslie P.
      November 14th, 2012 @ 7:26 pm

      We have done several European and Baltic cruises. Although it is exhausting, it is worth everything to see the most amazing sights the world has to offer. We save Caribbean cruises for relaxation.

    12. DEP
      November 14th, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

      We took our first cruise last April. It was a Norwegian 12 day Med cruise with a stop in 10 ports from BArcelona to Venice. Exhausting, but we wouldn’t have traded a single minute. NCL was outstanding, and iT was a wonderful introduction to cruising.

    13. Steve Jellison
      November 14th, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

      We just returned from a HAL cruise; Barcelona to Venice and found that there were days when a sidewalk table, a lovely lunch and some gelato beat the castles hands down.

    14. Paula
      November 14th, 2012 @ 11:52 pm

      I love the port intensive cruises. A floating hotel. The travel time is at night while you dine, watch the show and sleep. I Think an afternoon nap is the greatest treat on this earth, so we do morning tours with some all day tours. Then we take it easy on sea days, no racing to trivia or bingo…. Reading and movies for us with an occasional casino visit. When I am choosing a cruise, I read all the tours before I book.

    15. Paula
      November 15th, 2012 @ 7:08 am

      We always get off the ship, as we’ve never done the same cruise twice. However, I try to choose excursions that do last the entire time at port. This way we can either get back to the ship for some low crowd, leisure time or have some time to do something on our own. I also do research to see if a port excursion is even necessary. At some ports there are many activities within walking distance of the pier, so you can just wing it and choose when you get there.

    16. TIM DEVLIN
      November 15th, 2012 @ 11:03 am

      For retired people who like to travel several times a year as opposed to that once a year vacation we find itineraries often repetitive.
      First time, I at least go ashore but often choose a tour but if I’ve been there, done that I tend to spend an hour ashore and then back to the ship for lunch. Finding new places isn’t easy for cruise ship companies or travelers … I’m waiting for the Great Lakes to open up.

    17. Bill
      November 15th, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

      We did a ten day Baltic cruise on HAL that was port intensive too. We ran full out for seven of the eight days. And were totally exhausted a cruise end. We suggested to HAL they change the cruise so the day at sea – first day out – was the last day. We were on the Eurodam and I ‘think’ it’s a great ship. We saw little of it besides our cabin, and auditorium (to meet to go on a tour) and the dining room. We were usually on a tour by 0900 and didn’t get back until just before (once after) sailing time. The ship waited as it was a HAL tour. We would do it again, as we got a great overview of every city we visited, but NEXT time we’ll stay at the end city for three or four days to rest before flying home.

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