Recently, between 11 and 29 June 2009, my wife, 6½ year-old daughter, and I took an 18-day vacation to Europe. The vacation consisted of three main parts: 1) flying to and spending 3 pre-cruise days in Venice, 2) taking a 14-day Mediterranean cruise from Venice to Barcelona onboard the Crystal Serenity, and 3) flying back to the US with a one-day post-cruise stopover in San Juan Puerto Rico.
As we did all the planning for the vacation we knew that we wanted to see as much of Venice and the other ports of call (Dubrovnik, Corfu, Taormina, Sorrento/Amalfi Coast, Rome, Cinque Terra, Pisa/Florence, Monaco, St Tropez and Barcelona) as practical. But we also knew that we would have to do so within the constraints of the ship's shore time (normally 10 hours in each port - nominally from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM) and the touring abilities of our daughter - who is a good traveler and would be taking her 4th cruise.
As we looked at the Crystal Serenity's shore excursions it became clear that they fell into main two categories, 60-person bus tours and special activities for small groups (e.g. touring the Lamborghini factory, taking a hot air balloon ride in Padua, etc.,). Neither of these options really fit what we needed. The bus tours offered no flexibility and conjured up visions of us at the back of the group with our daughter, unable to really see the sights or hear the guide. The special activities were clearly targeted at adults - so they were out too. The other thing that we took note of was the cost of the shore excursions which averaged $220/person (after excluding the most expensive excursions which cost between $1,500/person and $8,999/person). So armed with these constraints we began to look for alternatives that were available in the cities we were visiting, could be done in 10 hours, would be fun (or at least tolerable) for a 6½ year-old, and would cost around $700/day (~500 Euros/day).