Monday, February 11, 2013

The departure port is still a port

          A common mistake that cruisers make is to not treat the departure port as a port.  They are so concerned with arriving in the departure city and getting to the cruise terminal on time that while they carefully plan those logistics, they skip over exploring the area and miss out on the port as a destination.
          I can write about this from experience.  Our first cruise was from Port Canaveral, Florida. We have been to this area of Florida multiple times and Port Canaveral, for us, was truly just a place to board the ship.  And having sailed several times from Port Canaveral, we still treat it that way.  But when we made our first Mediterranean cruise in 2007, we treated Barcelona in much the same way, and because of that, we missed out on the opportunity to experience much of what seems to be a beautiful city.  We had arranged our flights to arrive the morning of the day before our cruise departed thinking we would have time to see the sites from the Bus Turistic, but we hadn’t accounted for flight delays, hotel check-in delays, nor the extreme exhaustion that came with our first experience with jet-lag and an overnight, red-eye flight.  Our scheduled 9 a.m. arrival time quickly became a 3 p.m. boarding of the hop-on, hop-off bus ride that we mostly nodded off during as we were driven around Barcelona.  And our return flight was scheduled such that we went straight from the cruise terminal to the airport.  While we had fully planned each of the other ports on our itinerary, we had pretty much neglected our time in Barcelona.
          So in 2010 we flew to London three days in advance of our cruise of the Baltic, and we stayed two extra nights post-cruise. That allowed us to have not only the arrival day to rest and acclimate, but two full days pre-cruise and two more days after we disembarked to experience London (which is, quite frankly, not nearly enough time).  We found this was a perfect solution to giving us a chance to adjust our bodies to the new time zone but also rest from the overnight flight so that we could actually enjoy our site-seeing later on.  In 2011, we sailed from Vancouver to the inside passage of Alaska, and while we were traveling from east to west on that trip, we still allowed two full days to see Vancouver pre-cruise.  And it was well worth it – what a beautiful city.  However, on that trip, we scheduled our return flight for the same day which, it turned out, was a mistake because instead of being able to get a direct flight that left earlier in the day, we were on an afternoon flight that connected and resulted in flight delays that didn’t get us back to our home airport until 3 a.m.  Can you say exhausted?
          So using our experiences, our Summer 2013 plans are incorporating what we’ve learned.
  1. Plan on flight delays, hotel delays, and sheer exhaustion to make arrival day pretty useless for sight-seeing.
  2. Plan on having at least one full day in the departure city for a cruise so you can have a chance to see it (well, at least as much time as you will have in the other ports on the itinerary).
  3. Check return flight times to determine if you want to fly home the day you get off the ship or wait until the next day, thus resulting in an extra day in the departure city.
          For this adventure, we’ll be arriving in Barcelona with 1 ½ days to tour the city before boarding the ship, and when we return, we’ll have most of a day to see what else we want to see.  Our careful research of Barcelona has identified the French biscuiterie confiserie chcolaterie La Cure Gourmande as a must-stop for treats before heading for home.

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