In an earlier post, we wrote about the unique experiences that cruise vacations (whether ocean or river) have to offer. Given our objective for a cruise vacation in 2019 and our inclinations, we chose what we thought was the best western Mediterranean cruise for us. Here’s why:
- Our Cruise Ship and Its Staterooms
- Dining and Various Services
- Fitness and Relaxation Facilities
- The Weather and the Sailing Conditions
- Our Itinerary & Onshore Excursions
Our Cruise Ship and Its Staterooms
Our cruise ship (Viking Star) is a relatively new vessel, having its maiden voyage only in 2015. It is also smaller compared to the other colossal ocean cruise vessels, carrying only up to 930 passengers.
In our view, the ship’s size is a tremendous competitive advantage as it was able to dock at ports that other big vessels generally cannot. We conveniently embarked and disembarked for the daily excursions directly from the ship except for our Monaco stop, where we had to use tenders.
All staterooms have verandas, allowing passengers views of either the open sea or the shoreline depending on the room’s location. The cabins come with features that made our onboard stay very convenient and enjoyable. They include a king-size bed, large flat-screen TV, well-stocked mini-bar and a security safe.
Dining and Various Services
The ship has several dining options accessible to all passengers, including the more formal restaurants. The dining staff are very attentive to the passengers’ dietary requirements, asking us from day one if we had any food allergies that they need to be aware of. The variety and quality of food and drinks served were beyond our expectations. It wasn’t easy to resist the temptation to over-indulge!
The cruise package included free wifi, which you can access from the staterooms and throughout the ship. In other cruise ships, you have to pay for this separately. The free wifi access allowed us to remain connected with the world outside of our cruise without having to spend on roaming charges. We saved our portable wifi (we discussed in another post) for use outside of the ship during onshore excursions.
We had access to a self-service laundry and ironing facilities on the same level where our room was. Aware of this when we were at the planning stage of the trip, we were able to pack light. Our clothes fitted in our carry-on luggage but we brought an extra suitcase as we anticipated buying items that are unique to the places we will visit.
Fitness & Relaxation Facilities
The ship had several options for passengers to stay active at its sports deck. It had a walking track, an array of games, golf putting green, etc. We learned that yoga classes were also available when weather permitted.
Passengers had The Spa at their disposal (at a cost) to invigorate themselves or be pampered Scandinavian-style with a Swedish massage, specialty facial, sauna and other services.
The ship featured two pools. The Infinity Pool cantilevered off the stern of the vessel gives you the feeling of being surrounded by the environment outside as you swim. The Main Pool, with its retractable roof, allows you to go for a swim regardless of the weather.
Enriching and relaxing activities are available onboard. The Explorers’ Lounge is a favourite gathering place for scenic sailing or just enjoying your favourite drink. The multi-purpose theatre provides a comfortable venue for the various enrichment lectures, port talks, movies and production shows.
The Weather and the Sailing Conditions
We typically go on vacation during the shoulder season. At this time of the year, places of interest are less crowded and prices are relatively lower. For this particular cruise, we initially wanted to go in mid-May. Circumstances prevented us from doing so, and we ended up going in November. It turned out to be just the perfect timing.
We tracked the weather forecast closer to the sailing date. Seeing a high probability of rain at our destination cities, we made sure that we had the right gear while aiming to pack light. The rain jackets we obtained earlier for our Alaskan cruise served us well when we were at Tuscany.
Throughout the journey, the Mediterranean waters were calm. The only exception was the night we crossed the Ligurian Sea as we sailed from Livorno to Monaco. It was also when our jet lag caught up with us, so we couldn’t sleep, making the night relatively uncomfortable.
Our Itinerary & Onshore Excursions
We flew from Toronto to Rome, where we had to embark. We’ve visited Rome in the past, so we headed straight to the port city of Civitavecchia, where our ship was docked. There is so much to see in this city, and we highly recommend spending a couple of days pre-cruise to explore it. You may want to use the services of a local guide to help you get the most out of your short stay.
Our first port of call was Tuscany. The ship docked and stayed for two days at the port city of Livorno, from where the famous cities of Florence and Pisa, and the medieval town of San Gimignano are only a few hours away. As we only had limited time, we decided to focus on Pisa and San Gimignano. We had unforgettable experiences in these places that we are excited to share in a separate post.
From Tuscany, we headed towards the French Riviera, with our first stop being the Principality of Monaco and its famous Monte Carlo district. This glittering city of the Grimaldi family did not disappoint. Read more about our visit to this tiny kingdom soon.
After Monaco, we headed to France’s oldest city, Marseille. Nestled between the Mediterranean and hills of limestone, this city is rich in historical treasures. We had a relaxing panoramic view from the comfort of our bus and later explored by foot its historic port during our free time. We also made sure we bought high quality, organic Marseille soaps, one of the things in our to-buy list.
Our last port in France was Sete, a fishing port city in the southeast French region of Occitanie. It’s referred to as the “Venice of the Languedoc.” Located on a thin strip of land, Sete got its name from the many canals that crisscross it. It has an unpretentious atmosphere, very much different from the other resort-type cities in southern France.
Our last stop was Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region. It is a city brimming with history, stunning architecture and vibrant culture. With so much to see and experience, we decided to stay two more nights after the cruise, and we surely did not regret it. We will be sharing our unforgettable Barcelona experience in a separate post soon!
Western Mediterranean is an iconic part of Europe. Its cities have plenty to offer in terms of culture, history, and nature. The cruise we took allowed us to visit some of these enchanting places in Italy, France and Spain in 8 days. We highly recommend extending your stay a couple of days, before or after the cruise, to heighten the experience and get the most value out of your trip. Watch out for more exciting stories we will be posting about the places we have visited!
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