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Europe By Land or Europe By Sea?

Here's the question: If you want to see Europe, is it better to on a cruise or go on your own?

Having experienced both earlier this month — nine days on a cruise ship, nine days on land — we thought our journey might be helpful to anybody planning or even thinking about going to Europe.

Let's say you're thinking about a conventional 7-day cruise or a 7-day visit to (in our case) Italy. Rather than take the upscale Oceania Riviera (right) that we cruised on, we'll use Royal Caribbean's more middle-of-the-road Liberty of the Seas (below), one of a dozen Royal Caribbean ships currently in Europe.

Whether it's "better" to do one or the other is always going to be subjective but there are some fiscal areas to consider, especially because by North American standards, Europe is expensive:

1. If you plan to drive for a week, expect that it will cost you at least 75 cents a mile…that's for a car rental, gas at $10 a gallon, parking (at a premium) and tolls (about 11 cents a mile). Drive 1,000 miles and you'll spend $750, more unless you shop around to cut corners.

2. Gratuities on a ship or baggage handlers on land is pretty much a wash: about $11 a day whether you're cruising or staying in hotels.

3. You'll eat and sleep cheaper on an average cruise ship than you will at average restaurants and average hotels.

4. If you travel everywhere in, say, Italy by planes and boats and trains, you'll likely spend more than you would by renting a car. While cruising avoids the stress of driving and getting lost a few times a day, using public transportation can be stressful, too — you have to get to the bus or train station station on time…assuming you can find the station.

5. Our estimate for hotels, food, transportation and tips for a week is that it will be, conservatively, close to $3,000 for two people. A Mediterranean cruise for two — which covers "for hotels, food, transportation and tips" — on Liberty of the Seas, for a week, is just under $1,700 (not including shore excursions). Travelling on land also doesn't include what can show up in the mail weeks later…a photo radar speeding ticket!

You be the judge… is the the best way to see Europe is by cruising or by land?

Celebrity Equinox
11 nights
July 23, 2012
Rome (return): Santorini, Istanbul, Ephesus, Athens, Mykonos, Naples
Inside: $749
Cost per day: $68

Euros for Europe an Experience

LEAVING VENICE — If you're planning a cruise in Europe this year, or any year, one of the questions you're likely to have is:

What do I do about euros?

Prior to leaving to board the Oceania Riviera for nine days, sailing from Monte Carlo to Venice, we had the same question…and many different answers (i.e., don't count on the Internet).

Maybe it will help you to know how and where we bought euros:

1. At the bank before leaving North America…each euro cost $1.38 and there was no service charge. For each 100 euros: $138.

2. On the Riviera…each euro cost $1.41 plus a service charge of 5%. For each 100 euros: $146.

3. At a "change" (as in currency exchange) window in St. Mark's Square in Venice…each euro cost $1.29, but the service charge was a whopping 15% (that's not advertised until you're given the bill). For each 100 euros: $144.

4. At a bank in Venice…each euro cost $1.29, with a fixed fee of 8.5 euros no matter how much currency you exchanged. For the first 100 euros: $140. For 200 euros: $135 per 100.

While you have to factor in day-to-day currency fluctuations, our conclusion is that for whatever spending you don't put on a credit card, don't buy euros on the ship or at a currency exchange shop, and you can take that to the bank…any bank!

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
7 nights
June 24, 2012
Rome (return): Messina, Ephesus, Athens, Crete
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $72

Experience from River Cruisers

A friend of a friend was reading Cruising Done Right one day recently when he discovered, as all of you have, that we are neophytes when it comes to river cruising.

So he offered to help.

His name is Brian Forst and he went to the trouble of passing along a few thoughts for those of you who, like us, have little or no experience on the ships that cruise the rivers.

Brian and his wife have been river cruising for a decade and they have no intention of stopping now — this year they’ll be on the Rhone River in France. Here’s some information we all might find useful…

“We chose to do one of their shorter trips at first, the Moselle River in Germany. It’s worth Googling the sites and sights on these tours. For instance, at the beginning (or end) of the Moselle cruise is the oldest city in Germany, built by the Romans and called Trier. Who’d have thought it.

“We enjoyed that trip so much, we decided the next should be longer, Amsterdam to Vienna. The stops along the way with the inclusive walking tours were unforgettable. Part of most tours include a couple days at the point of origination…and usually three days at the end. They include the best hotels and of course, tours in these cities.

“We recently did Viking’s Prague-to-Paris cruise, extending our stay in Paris, which eclipsed Vienna as the most impressive European city for me. And our last trip with Viking was 17 days on the Yangtze River, Shanghai to Beijing…with side trips to The Great Wall, Forbidden City and the Terracotta Warriors.

Uniworld is supposed to be very much like Viking, including the price. You can step up to Avalon and Scenic Tours if you’re willing to pay more but they have the same stops and tours…and you can’t beat Viking’s dining. Some offer bigger windows and out-door decks for more money.

“Normally, the lower deck is less costly than those above (usually three levels). The windows are a little smaller but most of the time, the room is only for sleeping anyway. The only little thing to watch when booking is…to stay away from the stern of the boat to avoid engine sound.”

Carnival Victory
7 nights
February 19, 2012
San Juan: (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside $579

Education on Cruise…Menu

Something that comes with going on cruises of any kind is education. It could be from meeting people of different races, it could be from experiencing geography never before seen, or it could just be a history lesson.

Take the Danube River.

You don’t have to take a river cruise on the Danube to find out that it passes through 10 countries, that you can hear a dozen languages on its banks and that it’s the second-longest river in Europe. You don’t have to be on an Avalon or Viking or Scenic Tours ship to know that it runs through more capital cities (four) than any river in the world, or that all four capitals are on the upper Danube because the lower Danube has always been known for flooding.

You don’t even have to take a river cruise to learn that the Avalon, Viking and Scenic Tours (or other) ships to realize that the Danube begins in the Black Forest and ends in the Black Sea…hmm, shouldn’t it be called the “Black” Danube, or is that where “Black and Blue” originated?

On the other hand, only by going on a Danube River cruise can you enjoy “apfelstrudel” in Durnstein or Polish sausage in Budapest. And surely when these cruises start there’s a little “Black Forest cake” on the menu.

Education, right?

Carnival Glory
7 nights
September 15, 2012
New York (return): Boston, Portland, Saint John, Halifax
Inside $499

Constellation Changing Its Stars

In our haste to tell you last week about seven wine cruises on the Celebrity Constellation next year in Europe, we neglected to dig beneath the news and tell you why this is happening.

It’s because of the Holy Land where, believe it or not, they do like wine…we have a bottle of red from Tel Aviv to prove it. That notwithstanding, the wine cruises are replacing already planned trips on the Constellation to ports in the Holy Land and Greece/Turkey.

It just happens those areas have been subject to unrest in recent weeks, and that can’t be a coincidence. Travelers on cruise ships can be extremely adventurous but when you’re talking fear for their safety — real or imagined —they’d rather go somewhere else.

That’s the message Celebrity was apparently getting.

So even though cruise lines schedule itineraries two years or more in advance, they can respond to what the customer wants on relatively short notice…these modified or changed cruises all run from May to November, 2012.

Nine “Holy Land” cruises turned into eight Mediterranean cruises, with more ports, overnight stays in Venice for all eight, and the option of a full refund for those who’d already booked. There are still ports in Greece, though not in Turkey, but the real jewel in the change is being able to spend two days in Venice.

Anybody who has stayed there knows hotel rooms in what is arguably Italy’s most compelling city come at a premium.

And did we say there’ll be no shortage of wine?

Holland America Volendam
14 nights
November 21, 2011
Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia
Inside $989

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