Rick Steves’ Cruising the Mediterranean

Rick Steves’ Cruising the Mediterranean


-Hi, I’m Rick Steves.
I’ve spent the last 30 years
exploring Europe
from every conceivable angle,
and now it’s time
to check it out
the way millions of people are.
Yep, we’re on a cruise ship,
and we’re sailing
the Mediterranean.
Welcome aboard.
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Cruising is really popular
these days.
In this special, I’d like to
explore the ins and outs
and pros and cons
of this travel option.
Sailing from Barcelona to Athens
with stops all along the way,
I’ll toggle
from a floating resort
to exciting days on shore,
nearly each day
in a different country.
Massive cruise ships serve
as both transportation
and a floating hotel.
From our ship, we’ll visit
some of the great ports
of the Mediterranean
and venture inland to
some of Europe’s iconic sights.
We’ll savor
romantic island getaways
and some lazy time
on the beach.
We’ll learn how to make the most
of the cruising experience —
avoiding lines,
eating quick but local —
while exercising independence
to get the most out
of limited time on shore.
Along with the efficiencies
of cruising,
we’ll show the downsides —
the inevitable congestion
and commercialization
that comes with mass tourism.
And as we sail
from port to port,
we’ll enjoy our time
on board the ship —
a virtual playground at sea.
The Mediterranean Sea is bounded
by North Africa,
Europe, and the Middle East.
The typical cruise itinerary
covers the great European ports.
While most cruises focus
on either the West or the East,
we’ll do a little of both.
Stopping in Barcelona,
Nice for the French Riviera,
La Spezia for Florence,
Civitavecchia for Rome,
Naples, Malta,
Athens, Mykonos,
and Santorini.
I’m not here to promote
or put down cruising.
For some people,
it’s a great choice.
And for others it’s not.
Cruising can be economical,
with your transportation,
room, and meals all included
at one price.
It can be ideal for those who
want everything taken care of
for their vacation,
and it can also be
an efficient platform
for independent types who want
to shape their own adventures
each day.
While there may be a lot
of things to enjoy on the ship,
the reason I cruise
the Mediterranean
is to experience
the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean world
is filled with wonder
and richly rewards
the well-organized traveler.
The cultural variety
seems endless
and it shows itself
in traditions, cuisines,
and a distinctive love of life.
For thousands of years,
this was the center
of Western Civilization.
Exploring the Mediterranean,
you’ll enjoy the sweep
of art history —
from ancient treasures
to the dazzling accomplishments
of the Renaissance
to modern wonders.
And it’s just flat-out
beautiful.
No wonder the rich and fabulous
have built
their palaces and villas here
since ancient times.
The cruiser’s challenge
is to decide
how to best experience
all these attractions.
Your goal:
to get the most out
of your vacation time
and money,
enjoy the best experiences,
and have fun.
Before we sight-see the greatest
hits of the Mediterranean,
let’s get an overview
of cruising in general.
Ships can be huge.
Ours has about 3,000 passengers
with 1,500 crew
scrambling to keep everyone
well-served, safe, and happy.
Is it good travel?
That’s up to you.
The way I see it,
of the guests on this ship,
a third of them
are just looking for
a floating alternative
to Las Vegas.
A third of them
are “bucket list” tourists
just checking things
off their list,
and a third of them
are independent-minded travelers
well-prepared and eager
to hit the ground running
as soon as that gangway
hits the pier.
Cruising originated as
an activity for the wealthy —
it was expensive and formal.
The joke was it was for
“the newlyweds, over-fed,
and nearly dead.”
But, as ships get bigger
and bigger,
able to offer comforts
unimaginable in decades past,
cruising has changed
its image.
Today, it’s younger,
more active,
and more affordable.
Most Mediterranean cruises
start and end in Venice, Rome,
or Barcelona.
Wherever you start,
you’ll need to be patient.
This is your first peek
at the necessary efficiency
of the cruise industry.
It’s a big logistical challenge
to get several thousand people
and their bags into their
staterooms on the first day.
Pack a little extra patience
and leave yourself
plenty of time
for the red tape
and orientation.
Once on board, I do one thing
right off the bat:
move in thoroughly.
Staterooms, while thoughtfully
designed, are tight,
so make things shipshape.
If you use all
your available storage space
and are constantly on guard
against clutter,
there’s plenty of room.
I rarely use drawers
in hotel rooms,
but this is my home
for my entire vacation.
You just move in once,
so do it right away,
move in fully, and establish
your ship-shape standards.
On a cruise, you can get away
with packing heavier.
I bring more clothes than usual.
How dressy you need to be
is a matter of which
cruise line you choose
and your personal style.
As cruising has become
accessible to the middle class,
it’s also become more casual.
This is as dressy as I get.
Most people pack
three kinds of outfits:
smart casual for evenings,
leisure wear for poolside
and relaxing on the ship,
and practical travel clothing
for time on shore.
Okay, I’ve moved in
and we’re on our way.
We’ll be in the French Riviera
in the morning.
We’re settling into the rhythm
of a Mediterranean cruise —
sail at night and explore
a different port each day.
By the way, have some fun
with the key nautical terms.
I’m standing near the front —
that’s the bow.
The back? It’s the stern.
Left: port,
and right is starboard.
And remember,
it’s not a “boat,”
it’s a “ship.”
For me, just “being at sea”
is a travel destination.
After our first departure,
or “sail-away,”
I find myself thinking
of the Mediterranean
as a sight in itself.
Make a point on departure day
to get to know
your floating home.
Take advantage of the signage
to understand the layout.
Modern ships are
smartly designed.
This ship has 1,500 staterooms
on 12 decks
gathered around
a central atrium
where you’ll find places to
shop, hang out, eat, and drink.
♪♪
Explore the ship on
a good orientation walk.
The library
is generally quiet and empty.
The gym comes
with amazing views.
You’ll discover places —
like tucked-away lounges —
that others may miss.
In this floating resort,
the top deck —
with its swimming pool —
is the equivalent of the beach.
When it comes to fun-in-the-sun,
poolside seems to be
the center of the universe.
But if you crave
the tranquility of a park,
this ship has actual grass.
I don’t know what happened
to shuffleboard,
but a little bocce ball
will do just fine.
Each morning, the deck
is busy with walkers —
eight laps and it’s a mile.
Being confined on a ship,
it’s important to stay active.
I make a pact:
anticipating lots of eating,
I shall avoid the elevators
and use the stairs instead.
They say the average cruise
passenger gains a pound a day,
but not me.
Cruising can work well
for families
and for groups
traveling together.
Each person can pick and choose
how much to see and do
both on land and at sea,
and still get together
for dinner every evening.
And cruising also works
for people who can’t walk well
or who are less active —
the entire ship is as accessible
as any modern resort.
Along with the advantages,
cruising has its downsides.
Many would say it can insulate
you from the “real Europe.”
You’re going to
the most famous places
and seeing them at the same time
with thousands
of other tourists.
That’s just the nature
of cruising.
Those who don’t make a concerted
effort at minimizing the crowds
may come home with memories
of congestion
and lots of wasted time.
Cruise ships drop large numbers
of people in the same place
at the same time.
Small ports
can be overwhelmed by crowds
when the ship’s in port,
even worse when several ships
are there on the same day.
And then,
when the ships sail away,
the port suddenly becomes less
crowded and more romantic —
something cruisers
won’t experience
because they’re back on the ship
heading to the next port.
Many cruisers are not
very energetic sightseers.
If you are,
get out early as possible
and come back late as you can.
Doing this,
you’ll enjoy fewer crowds
and more unforgettable moments.
With each port, you’ve got
sightseeing options:
You can take
the organized bus tour
and be on their time table,
or you can hire a private guide.
You can use a guidebook
and be your own guide,
or you can just hang out
and be thoroughly on vacation.
There’s no right or wrong —
it depends on your mood
and your style.
Many cruise travelers
invest in the cruise line’s
shore excursions.
Excursions can be
active or easy,
fully guided,
or just providing transportation
and free time.
While pricey,
they can also be
a time- and cost-effective way
to cover those must-see
sights and experiences.
And there’s usually
a bus tour option
designed for people
with limited mobility.
But as these tours
target the touristy clichés
and many buses hit
the same sites at the same time,
you’ll often be right
in the thick of the crowds.
If you’re not purchasing the
cruise ship sightseeing package,
you’ve got an array
of fine alternatives.
Mediterranean ports
seem to be designed
as springboards
for independent travelers.
In most port terminals, you’ll
find reputable local companies
offering essentially the same
tours as the cruise lines
for a fraction of the cost.
Another option:
book a private guide in advance.
It’s a comfort
to be met at the port
with a warm, personal welcome.
Legions of private guides
earn their living
serving cruisers directly.
You can book a guide
and share the cost —
four people
hiring a guide with a car
costs about the same
as four people
taking the cruise excursion.
And with a guide, you get
your own private teacher,
you’re sure to know
the way to the summit,
and you enjoy the freedom
to go at your own pace.
And you can simply be
your own guide.
You’ll find helpful
tourist offices.
And, most ports are
well-served by public transit.
Independent types and those
on a tight budget
can use a guidebook.
There are handy guidebooks
designed to help you get the
most out of your time in port.
And, taking advantage of apps
featuring self-guided walks
on your smartphone
empowers
the independent traveler
with plenty of
good touring information.
In many big cities,
hop-on, hop-off companies offer
do-it-yourselfers
economic and efficient transportation.
Buses meet the cruise ships
at the port
and offer big loop tours
connecting major sights,
letting you hop off and on
all day long,
and dropping you
back at the port.
And finally,
you’re on vacation.
You have the option
to do nothing.
Anyone can simply walk or catch
a ride in to the town center
and just delight
in a free day —
shopping, browsing,
sipping a local drink,
or soaking up some sun
on the beach.
♪♪
[ Laughter ]
Because ships sail at night,
you rarely enjoy
a characteristic dinner on shore
or the romance
of a town after dark.
Having said that,
I enjoy the evenings
on the ship —
hanging out with new friends
and thinking about
tomorrow’s destination.
So, tomorrow,
it’s the French Riviera.
The cruise line sells a
selection of excursions
for every port.
Early on, it’s good to review
what’s offered,
decide which tours —
if any — are right for you,
and book them.
The excursion desk is dedicated
to explaining
and selling the many
onshore tours and activities.
For the eager students,
some ships offer
a talk each evening
to preview the next day’s
sightseeing options
and to promote their tours.
-Our mission —
that you enjoy every port of
call to the maximum. Yes?
-Arriving at our first port,
with its blue or azure waters,
it’s clear why France’s Riviera
is nicknamed the Cote d’Azur.
Cruise ships stop in one
of three ports —
Nice…
Monaco…
or Villefranche.
Each is a delight to explore,
a short ride apart by train —
and today, we’ll see them all.
Villefranche
has a fine harbor,
but it doesn’t have a dock
big enough for a cruise ship.
So, we’re dropping the hook
and getting ashore
in a small boat
called a “tender.”
♪♪
Be sure you understand
exactly what time
the last tender shuttles
back to the ship.
Today, it’s 4:30.
The French Riviera lends
itself to independent touring.
I love Villefranche,
but to be sure we don’t
miss our ship,
we’ll enjoy this port
at the end of the day.
While the ship’s
information desk
is designed to sell the
cruise line’s shore excursions,
tourist offices on shore
are a service
designed to help
independent travelers.
Okay,
I’ve got maps for each town
and a train schedule —
there’s one leaving
in 10 minutes.
Trains along the Riviera
leave a couple times an hour.
And towns here are
about 20 minutes apart.
Today we’ll enjoy
a couple hours in Nice,
a couple hours
in Monte Carlo,
and then run out the clock
back here in Villefranche.
We’re starting in Nice
while the market’s still lively.
The well-organized traveler
can do a lot
during an eight-hour stop.
Using a good guidebook
and public transportation,
exploring the French Riviera
is a snap.
It’s fun and economical to
take advantage of public transit
in the bigger cities.
Nice has a single tramline
that glides from
the train station
right to the old center.
This is pure France.
As I like to say, Nice is nice,
and the market is thriving.
Une socca, s’il vous plaît.
Here, you can savor
the distinct flavor
of this southeastern corner
of France.
-Beautiful.
Socca, the local chickpea bread,
is delicious hot off
the griddle
and just right
for a bite on the go.
-Thank you very much.
-Thank you.
-Merci bien. Au revoir.
Mediterranean towns make their
promenades people-friendly
and Nice’s Promenade des Anglais
is a fine example.
While I could rent a bike,
a lazy stroll
and some beach time
feels just about right.
I’ll be on the train to Monaco
or Monte Carlo
in about an hour,
but right now?
Ohh, yeah.
Back on the train,
I’m enjoying my independence,
my baguette avec fromage,
and amazing Riviera scenery.
In half an hour,
we’ll be in Monaco.
It’s a tiny country
about the size of Manhattan.
Monaco is dominated
by its harbor,
and its harbor is filled
with the massive yachts
of massively wealthy tycoons.
The city is small enough
that you can walk
to all of its main sights
in a couple of hours.
I have time for two stops:
the famous casino —
imagine all the fortunes won
and lost here,
mostly lost —
and the cute little
royal palace.
We’re here just in time for
the changing of the guard.
[ Band playing ]
And a visit to the palace is
capped with a commanding view.
Riding the train back
to our port, Villefranche,
it’s comforting
to see our ship at anchor.
The sleepy town of Villefranche
feels made for relaxation.
The beach is inviting.
And the harbor-front
is the perfect place
to enjoy a final drink
on the Riviera.
We’ve got 45 minutes before the
last tender back to our ship.
There’s no way we’re going
to miss our connection,
and that means plenty of time
to enjoy a relaxing pastis.
We’ve caught the last tender.
Security on board
is taken very seriously
and it’s efficiently organized.
Because everyone
swipes in and out
with their identity cards,
at any given moment,
the staff knows exactly
who’s on the ship
and who’s still on shore.
With everyone back on board,
it’s time to haul anchor
and sail away.
This is one of the pleasures
of cruising.
Until you get to the next port,
you’re free to relax
any way you want.
You can read a book on deck,
head to the spa,
exercise,
or enjoy one of the
numerous bars all over the ship.
I’m into the rhythm now.
After a full day of sightseeing,
I’m ready to relax:
stowed my wallet in the room,
got comfortable,
and I’m looking forward
to dinner
and an evening at sea.
By the way, even with
so many people on board,
I’m impressed by
how it rarely feels crowded.
If you want quiet,
you can find it.
Do you have kids?
-Mm-hmm. One son.
-One son. How old is he?
-34.
-See, my son is 30.
-30!
-Can you believe you’ve got
a 34-year-old son?
-No way.
[ Laughter ]
-If you’re in the mood
to socialize,
you can enjoy
an impromptu balcony party
with friends
you’ve made on board.
And if you want more action,
there is always lots going on.
[ Lively music plays ]
It seems any excuse for a party
is good enough.
Full moon tonight —
yep, it’s the full moon party.
♪♪
One thing I like about cruising
is how easy it is
to meet people.
♪♪
People who are young at heart.
♪♪
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Many major cruise destinations
are actually landlocked
and far from the sea.
For example, Florence.
Our ship docks in La Spezia,
a couple hours away
by bus or train.
Like in many cruise ports,
we arrive in a gritty world of
shipping containers and cranes.
And from this springboard,
lots of eager travelers
are up and out early
to catch their tour buses.
Like thousands of
other travelers,
today we’re heading
into Florence —
and most of us have the same
great sights in mind:
Michelangelo’s David
and the Uffizi Gallery.
Taking the cruise line’s tour,
I know I’ll get a quick blitz of
the great sights of Florence.
The tour includes
transportation,
reservations
for the big attractions,
a professional guide,
and the assurance that
we’ll make it
back to the ship on time.
Florence is one of those places
everybody wants to see,
and almost everybody wants
to see the same sights.
You won’t be alone.
While those without reservations
will waste lots of precious time
in lines,
with a tour,
you’ll be more efficient —
certain to see the glories
of the Florentine Renaissance:
Brunelleschi’s
magnificent dome…
Botticelli’s Birth of Venus…
and Michelangelo’s David.
♪♪
As we make our way toward Rome,
let’s consider how to stay
within your budget
while on the ship.
Cruise ships are businesses.
They need to make money,
and there’s not much profit
in the base cost of a trip.
So they need to make more money
from land excursions
and from extras you buy
while on board —
things like gambling,
photography,
shopping, and alcohol.
As smart consumers,
it’s important
to understand the game plan.
It’s possible, technically,
to do the entire cruise
with no extra expenses on board,
but extras are enticing.
They’re cleverly sold,
and your purchases
can really add up.
It’s a cashless world
on the ship.
Along with getting you
into your stateroom,
your handy ID card
is how you buy things.
Onboard, there’s lots of temptations,
and purchases feel painless —
like it’s almost free…
until you check out and get the
grand total for your final bill.
Our next port serves Rome,
another inland city.
Like for Florence,
the ship docks
in an industrial
container port.
Here, in Civitavecchia,
the cruise line provides
a shuttle bus
to the end of the port
from where we sort through
our transportation options.
In this case, most independent
cruisers just hop on the train.
Within an hour, we’re in Rome.
While Rome may be
“The Eternal City,”
our cruise schedule
gives it just a single day.
You’ll need to be smart
and selective.
Do it with a thoughtful plan —
with reservations
or a guided tour
to minimize your time in lines.
Rome has two main
sightseeing zones.
The ancient city includes
the awe-inspiring Colosseum,
the Forum with the magnificence
of the empire apparent
even in its ruins,
and the glorious Pantheon.
Amazingly preserved,
this building gives us a sense
of the splendor of ancient Rome
better than any other.
And across the Tiber River
stands Vatican City
with the towering
St. Peter’s Basilica,
the exhilarating treasures
of the Vatican Museum,
and Michelangelo’s
beloved Sistine Chapel.
♪♪
♪♪
-Welcome to the tour.
We’re going to head down the
main corridor right over here.
So, everyone, follow me.
-Back on board, we got tickets
for a behind-the-scenes tour
of our ship.
Modern cruise ships
are engineering
and technical marvels.
We start on the bridge,
where the captain and his crew
enjoy the ultimate vantage point
and state-of-the-art
navigational tools
to be sure we’re on track.
In the control room,
we learn how the ship
is like
a sophisticated organism —
making its own fresh water
from the sea,
monitoring its vast power,
and making sure
all systems are go.
Passing through the living
quarters of the crew,
we’re reminded that
1,500 hard-working people
live in a parallel world
under the care-free vacation
decks above.
-All the fruit that we have
here is coming from Italy,
from Poland, and from Spain.
-The officer in charge of the
ship’s inventory of food
explains how the produce necessary
to feed thousands of people
is managed.
And we finish our tour
with a look at the bustling
and well-coordinated
kitchen, or galley.
Our next stop is Naples.
I love coming into port.
If you’re up early,
you can enjoy the approach:
sunrise over Mount Vesuvius.
And here comes one of Europe’s
most intense
yet rewarding cities.
Here in Naples, the cruise
terminal is right down town.
Along with the conventional
cruise line tour buses,
you’ll find budget alternatives
for do-it-yourself travelers.
In ports like Naples,
the scene can feel aggressive.
Stepping through
the port security gate,
you may find yourself
in an assertive
scrum of cabbies and tour guides
eager to take you for a ride.
While we could make a deal
here on the spot
for our sightseeing needs,
I’ve made arrangements
in advance.
If you’re leaving the ship
as an independent traveler,
remember: cruise ports attract
hustlers and con-artists —
people looking to over-charge
naïve tourists
for their services.
Look for fixed
and regulated prices.
Also, be smart
about your valuables.
I leave my passport on the ship.
-Buongiorno!
-Buongiorno! I am Rafael…
Using my guidebook, I’ve booked
a private tour guide with a car.
In moments, we’re zipping
under Mount Vesuvius
and heading for a quick
look at Pompeii.
While pricey for a solo
traveler,
we’re beating the crowds
and I’ve got the luxury
of my own guide
here at one of Europe’s
great ancient sights.
It’s amazing to think
that Pompeii
was a thriving Roman city
and then, in AD 79,
Mount Vesuvius blew its top,
and the city was buried
in a flood of hot ash and mud.
The excavations give us a look
at life in ancient Rome
like none other.
♪♪
♪♪
With my driver and guide,
I’m nimble and independent.
By mid-day,
we’re back in Naples,
free to see things far
from the cruise crowds.
This old quarry
is the Fontanelle Ossuary.
It’s been filled with
human bones for centuries —
a sight I bet no one
from our ship is visiting today.
But it’s on my list
and perfectly doable.
The quarry is filled with bones
from emptied church cemeteries.
I learned that
in the 19th century,
Neapolitans would actually
adopt a skull,
build it a little house,
and count on the skull’s soul
in heaven to advocate
for them in times of need.
♪♪
I love exploring
the characteristic
neighborhoods of Naples,
and the most crazy
and vivid is Sanitá.
Just wandering through
this district
is a cultural carnival.
For me, the back streets
of Naples
offer the gritty reality
of urban Italy.
Now within easy striking
distance of our ship,
I say goodbye to our guide
and grab a characteristic lunch
in the city famous
as the birthplace of pizza.
The food on the ship is good
but generally ignores
the cuisine of whatever port we’re visiting.
So, for lunch,
rather than fast food
or some forgettable sandwich,
choose authentic local food
designed to be eaten quickly.
And here in Naples,
it’s got to be pizza.
Each country has its quick
and easy go-to meal.
It’s tapas in Spain.
My favorite Barcelona tapas
bars are Basque style —
you just grab what looks good
and then count the toothpicks
on your plate
to figure out how much you owe.
In France, I love a good
salade niçoise.
What better lunch in Nice?
In Greece, a souvlaki pita
is fast, tasty, and cheap.
And in Istanbul, it’s fresh fish
right off the big, tipsy dingy.
[ Conversation
in native language ]
This is Istanbul fast food.
Tonight, as we sail for Malta,
the grand foyer
is put to good use
for the cruise ritual
of meeting the ship’s officers.
-Your captain,
from Greece as well,
Captain [indistinct],
ladies and gentlemen!
[ Cheers and applause ]
-That’s followed by a little bit
of floating razzmatazz.
-[ Singing indistinctly ]
♪♪
-And, as the night wears on,
up at the pool is a chance
for everyone to literally dance
to their own beat —
wearing headphones,
you can select your favorite
style of music
at the silent disco.
It’s a surreal experience
made even more so
by the graceful mermaid.
♪♪
[ Cheers and applause ]
♪♪
[ Cheers and applause ]
♪♪
The captain advised being up
early to enjoy the entry
to the Grand Harbor of Malta.
Clearly, this port
was well-worth
some serious fortifications.
Our ship just squeezes
into the historic harbor,
and in moments,
we’re in the old center of town
ready for a busy day
of sightseeing.
Malta is a tiny
independent country
set between Sicily and Africa.
With a culture enriched by
a long parade of civilizations,
it’s a strategically
placed island nation
with an extraordinary history.
The capital city of Valletta
is a stony monument
to this hard-fought history.
And the dramatic view
from the ramparts
of the heavily fortified harbor
reminds the visitor of Malta’s
strategic importance
through the centuries.
Of the many cultures
that shaped it,
perhaps most obvious
is its British heritage.
Malta spent 150 years
as part of the British Empire.
While it gained its independence
in 1964,
Malta retains
its British flavor:
English-style pubs and food,
statues of queens…
and red phone booths.
♪♪
If this feels like
a fortress city,
it’s because it was the capital
of the Knights of St. John,
also known as
the Knights of Malta.
Malta’s stout walls —
many of them incorporated into
existing limestone cliffs —
survived a siege in 1565
of 40,000 Ottoman sailors.
After the Turkish threat passed,
the city was ornamented
with delightful architecture,
including characteristic
enclosed balconies,
called gallarija.
As you stroll,
you’ll enjoy an inviting
and nostalgic patina of age
in its facades.
A short drive through Malta’s
dry and timeless landscape
takes us to the fisherman’s
harbor of Marsaxlokk.
A favorite with cruise
travelers,
it’s home to a fleet of typical
Maltese fishing boats.
While Marsaxlokk has a fine main
square and church,
the action is along
the harbor —
especially during
the Sunday market,
when it’s all about fish.
Tradition says that
the shape of the boats
goes back eight centuries
before Christ
to when Malta
was a Phoenician colony.
These colorful boats pop
in the dazzling sunlight,
seeming to celebrate yet
another distinct heritage
of the Mediterranean world.
When the distance between ports
is longer than
an overnight ride,
the ship spends
an entire day at sea.
You know, one of
my favorite things
about a Mediterranean cruise
is the day at sea —
sleep in, leisurely brunch,
read a book,
just hang out by the pool.
For activities on board,
each evening a printed program
with a busy schedule
for the next day
lands on your bed.
Cruise lines work hard to make
time on the ship enjoyable.
They arrange something
for everyone:
poolside is ground zero
for fun and relaxation outdoors.
Every day is filled with
ship-sponsored activities —
like dance classes.
And there are plenty of other
ways to enjoy the sunny hours
on deck.
♪♪
Different cruise lines
serve different markets.
Smaller ships generally
charge more
and are able
to visit smaller ports.
Of the big ship options,
you have a range
of prices and styles.
When shopping for a cruise,
there are two
major considerations:
the itinerary and the character
of the cruise line.
It’s your choice:
family-friendly,
young and trendy, older
and more mature, and so on.
It’s pretty obvious
by the advertising
which market’s being targeted
and the general style
of the passengers
you’ll be
sharing your ship with.
Your cruise price will also vary
according to your choice
of cabin class.
Like the vast majority
of those on this ship,
I’m staying in
a basic stateroom.
On the newer ships, most rooms
come with a small balcony.
I enjoy the fresh air,
the views,
and quiet moments
on my own deck.
If money’s no concern,
you have some pretty fancy
top end options.
Rooms cost more or less
depending on view, size,
location,
and package of services.
Italy juts 600 miles
into the Mediterranean.
It divides the sea from a cruise itinerary point of view
into western ports
and eastern ports.
We’re sailing east,
into the Greece’s Aegean Sea
for three more stops.
Next up: Athens.
The port of Athens is Piraeus,
another industrial springboard
serving a popular destination.
While Athens
is perfectly tourable
for the independent traveler,
many opt for
the cruise line’s excursion.
Cruise lines excel
in efficiency.
Before leaving the ship,
tourists meet in the theater,
get their tour group number,
are escorted
to their awaiting bus,
and meet the guide.
Within minutes,
they’re on their way
as he narrates the ride into
town with information
about the leading city
of ancient Greece —
the home of Socrates and Plato.
Today, Athens is
a sprawling metropolis
of four million people.
But, in the 19th century,
it was just a small town
huddled at the base
of its once mighty acropolis.
That old town is today’s
touristy shopping quarter,
called the Plaka,
with its fun eateries,
colorful markets,
and shops filled
with knickknacks.
Next to the modern markets
you find the ancient
market — the Agora,
with one of the best
surviving temples
from ancient Greece —
the Temple of Hephaestus.
But everyone’s got their sights
set on the Acropolis.
Our group converges
with other groups,
and everyone clamors
up the famous hill.
While cruisers are unavoidably
a part of this crush,
guides do a good job of managing
the cruise ship rush hour
each morning.
Once on top, tourists marvel
at the iconic Parthenon
as guides do their best
to bring the ruins to life.
And from the summit
of this historic bluff,
all are rewarded
with a commanding view
of sprawling Athens.
After each day of sightseeing,
back at the ship, passengers
enjoy the ritual welcome.
A cool cloth
and a refreshing drink,
and they’re back home
in their floating resort.
Cruise lines employ
a lot of people:
a ratio of about one worker
for every two passengers.
A typical crew comes from dozens
of developing world countries.
A fun and extra dimension
of cruising
is getting to interact
with people
whose cultures you know
almost nothing about.
[ Cheering ]
Crew members work very hard,
often seven 12-hour days
a week for months
at a stretch, far
from their homes
and families.
While they don’t make much money
from a First World
point of view,
they make a solid living
on their country’s scale
and are able to help
support their families.
Their base pay is only a part
of their wage
and much of their income
is based on tips.
Tipping on the ship
is automatic.
Most cruise lines use
an “auto tip” system
with a healthy gratuity
added to your bill
that generously covers
all your service crew.
Of course, you can adjust it
if you like
and you’re welcome
to leave a little extra
for particular crew members
who you especially appreciate.
Our last two stops
are fabled Greek islands
in the Aegean Sea.
The Isle of Mykonos
comes with a classic
white-washed Greek port.
While a small island
with a small main town,
it’s a standard stop
for the big cruise ships.
There’s a pier
for only one ship,
so most ships drop the hook
and shuttle
their people in by tender.
If visiting by cruise ship, it’s
smart to get an early start.
We caught the first tender —
beat the crowds
and beat the heat.
It’s easy to enjoy Mykonos Town
with no planning, no tour,
and no guide.
This is a stop which lends
itself to unstructured free time
just lazing on the beach,
wandering,
and browsing the shops.
It’s the epitome
of a Greek island town:
a busy breakwater, fine little
beach, and inviting lanes.
While tourism dominates
the economy,
Mykonos still has
a traditional charm
thickly layered
with white stucco,
blue trim,
and colorful bougainvillea.
Back lanes offer tranquility
away from the cruise crowds.
As in many Greek island towns,
centuries ago
the windmills of Mykonos
harnessed the steady wind,
grinding grain
to feed its sailors.
Five mills still stand,
perfectly positioned
to catch the prevailing breeze.
A tidy embankment is so pretty
they call it “little Venice.”
Wealthy shipping merchants
built this row
of fine mansions
with brightly painted wooden
balconies that seem to rise
right out of the sea.
Today, these mansions have been
refitted as restaurants and bars
for tourists enjoying fresh fish
and romantic views.
Mykonos’ status
in the last generation
was as a fashionable
destination for jet-setters,
and it retains
a certain hip cachet.
These days, tacky trinket stalls
share the lanes
with top-end fashion boutiques.
Prices are high, and, in season,
the island is crammed
full of vacationers.
But, even with four ships
in the harbor today,
there seems to be
plenty of room.
There’s a range of beaches on
Mykonos.
The most trendy is Paradise,
one of the ultimate
party beaches in the Aegean.
Presided over by hotels that run
bars for young beachgoers,
the Paradise action
is non-stop.
While the beach becomes
a raging dance floor after dark,
the deejay is busy all day as
the cruise set joins backpackers
from around the world
to enjoy the scene.
As is standard around here,
beaches rent comfortable lounge
furniture with umbrellas.
Just plop onto whatever appeals.
Don’t worry, the
drinks will come to you.
If you prefer a quieter scene,
the more remote beaches
are a short drive further out.
While extremely arid,
the stony countryside
of Mykonos — complete with
white-washed churches
and staggering views — is
a delight for a quick road trip.
Agios Sostis, an old
hippie beach
at the north end of the island,
has none of the thumping
party energy of Paradise Beach.
It offers little beyond
lovely sand,
turquoise water,
and tranquility.
And, for many, it’s their
Greek Isle dream come true.
Along with its beaches,
Mykonos offers a major
historic attraction.
It’s on an uninhabited
neighboring island,
a 30-minute shuttle boat
ride away.
The island of Delos was one
of the most important places
in the ancient Greek world…
…with temples honoring
the birthplace
of the twin gods
Apollo and Artemis.
Centuries before Christ,
Delos attracted pilgrims
from across the Western world.
Delos was important in
three different ancient eras —
first as a religious site,
then as the treasury
of the Athenian League —
that was sort of the “Fort Knox”
of the ancient world —
and later, during Roman times,
this was one of the busiest
commercial ports
in the entire
Mediterranean.
Delos ranked right up there with
Olympia, Athens, and Delphi.
Survey the remains
of the ancient harbor…
foundations of shops
and homes…
and hillsides littered
with temple remains.
The iconic row
of sphinx-like lions
still heralds the importance
of the place.
This was one of the Aegean
world’s finest cities.
Imagine Delos in its heyday —
a booming center of trade:
streets lined
with 3,000 shops where you
could buy just about anything,
dazzling mansions
of wealthy merchants
with colonnaded
inner courtyards.
There were fine mosaics —
like this one of the
god Dionysus riding a panther.
Culture thrived here,
enough to keep this theater —
which could seat 6,000 — busy.
I cap my visit by climbing
to the summit of the island.
My reward: one of the
Mediterranean’s
great king-of-the-mountain
thrills.
As you observe the chain
of islands
dramatically swirling
in 360 degrees,
you can understand
why historians believe
that these Cycladic Islands
got their name from the way
they make a circle, or cycle,
around this oh-so-important
little island of Delos.
Back on the ship, we set sail
for our last Greek island.
By the nature of a cruise
schedule, dinners are at sea.
Food is unlimited
and generally included.
There’s a constant risk
of overeating,
and for some cruisers,
there’s a temptation
to see if you can eat five meals
a day and still snorkel
when you get to the port.
Traditionally,
there’s one big dining room
where cruisers have
a set table and dining time,
with the same table mates,
and a chance to
get to know their server.
But that’s changing
as people want less formality
and more flexibility.
Now there are more options:
cafes, snack bars,
and a burger grill poolside.
The standby
is a sprawling cafeteria
with a huge
and efficient selection of food
available at almost any hour.
There’s a vast selection
of meats,
hot foods,
salads,
fruit…
and desserts.
And ships also offer
a variety of higher quality
specialty restaurants.
These are more formal,
often require reservations,
and come with a surcharge.
If you don’t mind
the extra fee,
they can be a romantic
and tasty option.
Many cruise lines still have
formal night about once a week,
usually on the day at sea.
While this is becoming
more optional,
the personality of the ship
still changes on these evenings.
On our ship, the dress code
was called “casual chic”
rather than “formal.”
If you don’t want to dress up,
no problem —
just steer clear
of the formal areas.
But for many people,
this is the time
to put on a suit and tie
or a glamorous gown.
When you do that, a romantic
moment at sea by moonlight
is particularly memorable.
♪♪
I enjoy the scenic arrivals
and departures by cruise ship.
Being on the top deck as you
approach the day’s destination
gives you
a quiet, bird’s-eye view.
Approaching an exotic
and fabled island
like Santorini — as the moon sets and the sun rises,
just kissing the lip
of the breath-taking cliffs —
is worth getting up for.
Santorini is a dramatic
island —
the rim of a volcanic crater
with spectacular vistas.
Once a complete island
like its neighbors,
it was a volcano that —
about 3,500 years ago —
blew its top, creating a caldera — this flooded crater.
Today, inviting
white-washed villages
seem to crowd
its dramatic ridges
as if jostling
to enjoy the views.
Because Santorini’s pier
is small,
giant cruise ships drop anchor
and tender their passengers
in on small shuttle boats.
Individuals go to
the tiny “old harbor”
where they can ride a donkey
up the zig-zag trail
or hop a cable car to the scenic
lip of the island crater.
Those paying for the cruise
line’s excursion
get off the ship first, and head
for an alternative port,
where buses and guides await.
Considering the crush
of the crowds, the limited time,
and the scattered array
of interesting sights,
investing in a bus tour
like this to see Santorini
can be a good value.
Within minutes, you’ll be
powering up the switch-backs
into the island as
your guide narrates the drive.
Santorini is arid,
with no lakes or rivers.
We’re here in early September,
and they haven’t
had rain since May.
But grapes on Santorini
soak up the sun
and make the island’s
distinctive wine.
As they have since
ancient times,
vintners shape the vines
into protective baskets
in hopes that they’ll collect
the dew and survive the wind.
The Santorini fruit of the vine
is both hearty and sweet.
Many excursions include
a winery tour with a chance
to taste the local wine.
Sure, this stop is designed
to accommodate the masses
and might not be
as charming as you hoped.
Still, the wine’s good and
the group’s having lots of fun.
Cruise line excursions
come with a steady commentary…
-Those two
are the Kameni Islands.
The Kameni Islands are actually
made of lava rock.
-…scenic views from the bus,
and the stress-free efficiency
of getting smoothly
from point to point.
And tour groups are sure to have
free time at the best photo ops.
Oia is the postcard image
of the Greek Isles.
This idyllic ensemble
of white-washed houses
and characteristic domes
is delicately draped
over a steep slope
at the top of a cliff.
Viewpoints here are some of
the most striking
in the Greek Seas as tourists
clamor for just the right angle.
Artists fall in love
with Oia and move in.
Honeymooners find the B&B
of their dreams
and savor breakfast
in unforgettable settings.
And at the quiet end of town,
the old windmill reminds all of
a more rustic age gone by.
♪♪
To get the absolute most out
of our Santorini day,
I’ve booked half a day
with Dimitris.
Of Santorini’s many beaches,
Kamari is one of the best.
The black sand is a reminder of
the island’s volcanic origin.
Typical of Greek island
resort beaches,
it’s lined with
rentable lounge chairs
and a strip
of seafood restaurants.
And with Dimitris, I know
exactly what I’m eating.
These salads look delicious.
Can you tell me about them?
-Well, we have here a Greek salad and a Santorini salad.
The difference
with the local salad is
that we use the local tomatoes,
the cherry tomatoes,
the local cucumbers,
and instead of the feta cheese,
we use the goat cheese,
and we add the capers
and the caper leaves.
See, you can eat them.
They taste good.
We got some sardines here,
grilled.
And on the other side, we’ve got
a very nice grilled calamari,
also served with salad, the
lemon, and the olive oil.
-This is a healthy diet.
-This is the Mediterranean diet.
-We bid our guide goodbye
to enjoy our last couple
of hours in Fira,
Santorini’s main town.
Fira is the island’s commercial
and transportation hub.
Its main street —
thronged with tourists
whenever there’s
a cruise ship in the bay —
seems like little more than
a long line of shops, cafes,
and restaurants —
all with staggering views.
Enjoying the island
with a local guide
and then taking a short break
to enjoy a cliff-side bar
filled with happy travelers
from around the world
is a reminder that,
even if on a cruise,
you can exercise
your independence and spark
some great travel moments.
Keeping my eye on the clock,
I hop the cable car back
down to the old port,
where our ship’s shuttle,
or tender, awaits.
Most cruisers get nervous
about missing the ship
and head back earlier
than necessary.
I find the ports are least
crowded and most relaxed
and enjoyable
during that last hour.
The last tender isn’t leaving
for 15 minutes.
That’s plenty of time
for one last ouzo.
A cruise can be
what you make of it:
a pre-packaged travel cliché,
or a springboard
for the independent spirit.
Whether you took
the cruise excursion,
or hopped a donkey,
or just had lunch in port,
you’ll take home
unforgettable memories.
A cruise allows you to explore
this unique and historic region
in a way that suits you best.
Whether that’s touring
ancient sites in Greece,
crossing off some of those
“must see” highlights
in Italy or France,
or just relaxing on
the beach of your dreams.
As with travel in general,
for cruisers, life-long memories
such as these can be yours
when you know your options
and then match them with
your personal style of travel.
Our cruise is nearing its end,
and I’m savoring
our last evening at sea.
While we’ve enjoyed a quick look
at a selection
of Mediterranean ports,
there are plenty more.
We’ll be back in the real world
in the morning.
♪♪
There are many ways
to explore Europe.
For a lot of people,
taking a cruise —
especially if you know how
to do it smartly —
can be a practical mix of
efficiency, economy, and fun.
I hope you’ve enjoyed
our Mediterranean cruise.
I’m Rick Steves.
Until next time,
keep on travelin’.
♪♪
♪♪
♪♪
♪♪
♪♪
♪♪
♪♪

100 thoughts on “Rick Steves’ Cruising the Mediterranean”

  1. I love cruising. I just went to Alaska and it was beautiful. Cruising is like a sample vacation. You get to see and experience everything. Then based off that, you can plan your own trip back based on what cities, activities, and food locations you liked most. And will have a better understanding and idea of what you need, don't need, etc.

  2. On this tour you should have included Istanbul…. That would had been a perfect tour….. Barcelona Rome Athens Istanbul

  3. Beautiful would love to take a cruse. But watch out guys France is full of pick pocketer in the tourist places. and Robbery, so is uk and Spain . Moped Gang robbery on the street . Rv motor homes they gas you at night and break in while you sleep. They are in a bad recession for a few year and jobs are hard to find beside emigrant filling the country. Don’t let your guard down.

  4. Just a suggestion to the sound guys. When he speaks one-on-one with the camera the sound is off. Once he goes back to narrating over-voice it goes back to normal.

  5. We just booked a cruise around the Med for next year, so this video was really great timing! We set sail from Palma (Majorca), then go to Sicily, Sorrento, Rome, Corsica, and Barcelona, before heading back to Palma for 7 more nights. I can't wait!! This video was so insightful, and as a first-time cruiser, I can't thank you enough for letting me know what to expect!

  6. wow rick its the first time ive come across your presentations and Im a big big big fan. Thank you so much

  7. God you swish me away to adventure. I have been very tempted to join a cruise ship to be able to see all these sights. But I would hate to limit my self in a small time frame and then it all being so crowded. While you can see much – you also need to make sacrifices. So thank you so much for this video. Has cleared my mind. You wouldn't know how much your videos has supported me in exploring dreams and understanding places I want to visit. Been a great escape when life has been in my way. ❤

  8. Looks amazing, but the environmental impact of these ships is horrendous…. Also, the ports these ship visit are becoming increasingly irritated with the "invasion" of tourists. Sometimes is best to just watch the video and stay at home.

  9. If I want to become an independent traveler when I get to my ports of call, are there sites that I could research? Recommendations welcomed !

  10. Just some perspective: Royal Caribbean is estimated to have emitted four times more pollution than all the cars in Europe combined

  11. I like the mediterranian , but not on a fully booked cruise ship , just like sheep in a gage , and excursions where you are a number and no time to watch something decent , so it,s nice to watch on tv . but rather go on your own with friends , i have certainly been over the years 10 times or more times , beautiful locations .

  12. As a drinker and smoker I would like you to advise on the rules regarding taking your own drinks and smokes on board and where can one smoke, also it would be more interesting if we knew prices however thank you for the informative video yet again.

  13. Fabulous video. The tipping is a little weird for me. Primarily because tipping is not common in most European cities. But it's mandatory on the ship. Either way, if it helps support the employees of the cruise ship, more than happy to help them out.

  14. I normally love Rick Steve's videos but he forgot to mention the pollution generated by those cruise ships !!!!

  15. We're huge Celebrity Cruise fans and so enjoyed your take on cruising the Mediterranean Rick. We've been to all these ports, some more than once. It's the most comfortable and luxurious way to travel. If you fall in love with some place, you can then book a return trip in the future to spend even more time there.

  16. Dear Mr. Ricks, first of all thank you very much for sharing this wonderful video with all of us. But i have to ask, if there is a special reason why all of the sudden the trip ends in Santorini while skipping Kuşadası and Istanbul 🤔 ?? As a proud Mediterranean/Aegean/Turkish local i would love to see those last 2 spots, too

  17. It is so beautiful to see and sounds like fun. May be one day i will have chance to Mediterranean cruise. Thank you for sharing??? I live in Calgary, Canada it is not fun here.

  18. Great video Rick. We have done a few of these Med cruises and loved every one. You captured the special feel of a cruise really well. I look forward to seeing you on the new "Celebrity Edge" in July 2020!!!

  19. I appreciate your unbiased approach to all that you do, but I do believe that cruising is destroying cities like Venice. I understand the economic benefits for destination cities but what are the trade-off for locals, infrastructure, over-crowding, etc. Cant imagine following a mob of 2,000 people everywhere you go, yuck! I am grateful that I traveled Europe before this glut of greed and mob mentality took over. "The libraries are quiet and never busy" pretty much sums it all up.

  20. Rick Steves is at the top of his game here. No aspect of cruising is ignored, as he uses 30 years of experience to warn and equip the Mediterranean cruiser for success.

  21. This is just an amazingly created video..at any point of my life..i'd love to trip on this. Thank you for ur references.

  22. I love Rick Steves, but absolutely despise the idea of monster boats ruining environment and adding the ugliest sight. You can't visit anywhere along coasts to just enjoy the view of the sea anymore. Did anybody calculate what enormous relief it could be if all of these Giants were moored? Someone, try. Planet would lose one of the unwanted uninvited challenges. What happened to common sense? Think.

  23. Hahaha, I was once in a Turkish bazaar and a store owner said to me: Come back tomorrow, today is Cruise ship day ”

  24. Fabulous tour..
    Having never been on a long Cruise..this looks delicious indeed..extremely impressive….Much Gratitude.
    Thank you so very much Steve..

  25. As of July. The gyrous in Rhode Islands is aprox 4 to 5Euro each.
    In Istanbul , the freshly grilled fish sandwich from the boat is 15lira 😊 I wish to repeat my journey in the near future on a traditional turkish yatch called GULET, 10 to 12 passengers, u Can jump into the Mediterranean For swim when It's anchor

  26. Thanks Mr. Steves. I've enjoyed your travel advice for years! I so appreciate your authentic And truthful perspective on cruising…so many friends suggest a cruise Vaca and it's just not my style. Watching your video is a big help for me to confirm my feeling that cruising isn't for me. On to new adventures! Many thanks

  27. When my Husband and I went to Greece in 2009 we did a cruise and then were in Athens by ourselves. We used the Rick Steves guide to get around and even manage to get a bus to Delphi and tour it just based off his guide book. It was the best!

  28. Thank you for posting these longer videos! They are perfect for me to listen to and watch while I am working on projects. Your voice is soothing, the content is good, and I don't need to find another video as soon as I do with shorter videos. 🙂

  29. This is all so familiar, as we cruise, as well as stay in Europe regularly. Steve has done an excellent job of showing both pros and cons. Thanks to Steve

  30. A mediterranean cruise is my dream vacation. I can't afford it though. Anyone have an extra ticket to donate? Please.

  31. I did this with my uncle over 20 years ago…good times…& I've been watching Rick about that long as well…even more good times…cheers sir for all your work…love it…

  32. Excellent! THIS VIDEO is very informative to folks like us who have never cruised! I love how you classify cruise passengers into the "bucket list", "floating hotel" and "independent travelers". Your tip about booking your own tour with a local guide sounds like great advice! As always, you make all the destinations beautifully attractive. THANK YOU!!

  33. I went on a cruise for the first time last year. It was a great experience and interesting to travel on a ship

  34. You include the footage of Dubrovnik Croatia at 2:56 but you don't mention that you will stop at Dubrovnik at the beginning. Sloppy. Ha ha. Thumb down.

  35. I won't like to sail around the Mediterranean, even if it's for free.
    It's rifed with bogus and illegal african criminals.
    They are everywhere like swamp locusts.

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