Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cruising Solo--Day 6, Cannnes

Follow along with DreamFinder Travel agent Kim Merrill as she cruises solo around Europe on the Norwegian Epic

Cruising Solo—Day 6, Cannes

Cruising solo has been an interesting experience.  I am enjoying setting my own pace and schedule, and not having to worry about what others want to do.  Cannes was not a draw for me, as I have been to Villefranche twice—both are located in the French Riviera and both ports are tendered. With NCL, the tender reservations could be made the day of, and the day prior to arrival, and they called letters as the tenders rotated between the ship and the shore.  The Epic is a pretty big ship, and as I was working out in the gym, I watched four boats going back and forth so the process was quick.  (if you are worried about long waits, they have the process down well, so it wait times are minimal.)

When I found out that Cannes was scheduled on Bastille Day, that sealed the deal for me to not go on shore.  I’m not a huge fan of crowds, and as I have been to a lot of the local attractions I opted to enjoy a mostly-empty ship. So what I wanted to cover with this blog are some of my thoughts on the cruise overall since I have been onboard a while.

Ship:  Nice, but I prefer the Getaway for some of the adult and outdoor spaces.  You cannot get outside on deck (minus the REALLY boring running track) until Deck 15.  There is a “quiet area” that is nice, located way forward up on deck 18, but there is no bar.  So in order to get a drink (I’m not necessarily talking alcohol here people…water, soda, whatever), you have to go down a few decks. SPEAKING of which.  I took no elevators.  At all.  For the entire cruise.  I didn’t start out to do this but it kind of became a thing about day 3.  Now I refuse to give in J.  The only bad part is that I will have to break and take one tomorrow morning with my suitcase….otherwise I’d have to haul that thing down and I’d probably end up falling.  That would be bad.

Stateroom:  Mostly a win-win situation. I have no idea why they think neon is a thing for solo travelers, but it’s seriously not that big of a deal.  I like the lounge and the ability to get free “better” (I use that term loosely) coffee instead of the stuff served everywhere else (for free, there is a for-fee coffee bar, and coffee is not included in the beverage package). However, I think the ship could use some updating….not sure when the next dry-dock is.  This morning I ended up on one of the upper decks and the more refined color-palate is more my taste.

Internet:  Sigh.  It worked well about half the time. Interesting thing to note was the number of people who felt the need to tell me that “I was on vacation” and that I should “stop working.” Interesting to observe social….graces? norms? not sure what you would call it, but I ended up chatting with most of them and once they heard my story they kind of mellowed out.  I swear that I’ll be off line as of next weekend, people, but I really need to kind of follow my stuff for SOME of the 3 weeks I’m gone.

Food:  Mostly good.  I follow a low-carb diet and have had no issues eating.  The omelets are among the best I have ever had on a ship, and the sausages are yummy.  However, the staff seems a little confused by my requests (god forbid I had allergies).  I did not try any of the specialty restaurants here because face it…low carb AND solo?  BORING.  I’ll leave that for another time.

Entertainment:  Good, but I really didn’t do anything other than the 2 main shows.  I was happy to be on deck in the adult area.

Casino area:  I have no interest in gambling.  But, because the Epic doesn’t have the “waterfront” area on the middle decks, I spent less time here.  I did go to O’Sheehans several times for breakfast or dinner and there is a less-smoky atmosphere than what we experienced on the Getaway.  Not sure if it is a volume issue because of the intensive port schedule, an air filtering improvement or what, but it was waaaay better.

The Gym:  Bloody fabulous.  It. Was. Huge.  There was no jockeying for space, with the exception of the Palma day, and only because we didn’t dock until 1pm.  Even then, it was not bad.  UNLIKE the Getaway, the locker room on this ship has a shower, which can make a HUGE difference if you are traveling with a family.  One, (or 2,) members can divert to the gym to shower if needed.  I do this on Disney Cruise Line ALL of the time.  

Wine selection:  Decent.  I didn’t NOT like anything I tried. AND……I ordered a Rose’ one night and they asked me if I wanted sweet or dry!  I nearly cried with happiness.  There was a martini bar, but I did not try it.

Observations about kid’s areas:  The pool area on deck is nice, it’s split into 2 with some water fountain-type stuff spraying water up.  There are a few waterslides, a bungee-trampoline thing, and kids-clubs.  Obviously I have no kids with me to rate the quality here.

I have never been one to sail on a ship for the SHIP as opposed to the DESTINATION.  I prefer the Getaway but don’t dislike the Epic.  I had a good time, but find it interesting to see the differences in ships that are not that far apart in age.  I will be sailing on NCL’s newest ship next summer and am interested to see how they improve on the current designs!

Next blog up with be our final port, Palma de Mallorca.  I have been looking forward to this since I booked the cruise.   Until tomorrow….Ciao!

Cruising Solo in Europe-- Day 5, Livorno

Continuation of a series of blogs by DreamFinder Travel agent Kim Merrill, on her first cruise going “solo” without the family along.

Cruising Solo, Day 5 – Livorno

While I have been to this area previously, actually docking in Livorno was new to me.  Both previous Mediterranean cruises I was on docked (well, we tendered) in the port of LaSpezia.  With those previous visits, I have seen Cinque Terre, Pisa, and some of the Tuscan countryside, and really would prefer to do Florence in more than just a port stop, there is so much there to explore and enjoy.  After doing a bit of research prior to this cruise, I realized there was quite a bit to see in Livorno proper so I decided, once again, to just WALK.

Drop off stop
Did you know that the Port of Livorno is apparently the 3rd largest port in Italy?  Pretty cool!  If I thought that the port in Civitavecchia was large, this totally eclipsed that.  There is a shuttle that takes you to the city center, but unlike yesterday, here there was a fee.  For €5, I got a ticket for round-trip all-day access.  The odd thing (I thought) was that the ship was advertising the fare as €15 (unless I was reading it wrong).  Anywho, while I was not planning to get off the ship quickly (I have been trying to take things on a slower pace since I am by myself), it appears that I caught the first shuttle to town, as they were not really set up when I disembarked.  There were a few signs around that the shuttle was “that way” but no distinct terminus for which way to go to catch it.  Once I asked a few questions I was pointed to the person issuing tickets.  At the bus, and directly after getting off of it in town, there were people hawking the bus to Pisa.  The square we were deposited when leaving the bus, had more vendors and there was a Tourist Info kiosk there as well (like at the other ports) where I got my free map of Livorno.

I have mentioned this previously, but I feel the need to say it again.  I am directionally incompetent.  That said, I CAN read a map, but it has to make sense in my mind before I can instinctively make my way from point A to point B.  The joy of doing this solo (for me) was being able to figure this out, all on my own.  Had my husband been there, he would have taken off and just known where to go.  By the end of my walkabout, I had that ah-hah moment where things began to make sense.   This was really good for me, as I was able to see that I *can* get where I want to go on my own, without help from someone with me. 

The map was easy-ish to follow.  What I don’t get about Europe is how they do their street signs.  They are on sides of buildings and are not on every block (either that, or I’m blind because I did not see them).  It almost seems to me like they do this on purpose to tourists.  I’m WALKING for crying out loud!  How do drivers do this?  That being said, once I wandered too far the wrong direction and saw the water, I regained a bit of directional sense (ah hah---I do have some!) At this point, even if I took the wrong street, I still ended up where I was intending to go. This was my “route”.

What struck me the most as I walked around was the number of open-air market places.  While there were some tourist traps there, the majority was locals doing their daily shopping.  I don’t know if this is a daily occurrence or weekly like in some locations, but it added a lot of character to the walk.  I really enjoyed it.   That being said, I did also run into the Mother of all Markets, Mercado Centrale.  This market rivals La Boqueria in Barcelona.  There is no way for me to do this market justice with only one picture.  Rest assured that when I say this was HUGE, I am NOT exaggerating. 

Another pretty interesting area was the “canal” they have there. One of the neighborhoods is called “Little Venice” (although I saw no gondolas, darn.)   What was fascinating, however, is that there is a square with a “cap” over the canal for pedestrian access.   
I found out about the “cap” by a local woman who came up to me and started talking to me in Italian.  I’m not sure if I looked pathetically lost or what, but I definitely looked like a tourist with my backpack and big camera.  I was NOT lost at this point, but I was reading the info on the map (they had descriptions of all the sites on the back of the map).  When she realized I spoke English, she promptly switched languages and pointed out some interesting places for me to go and to see.  She was spot on, and I was able to hit pretty much all of them.  What a great tip she provided (talking to locals can be very helpful!)

I could keep on about all the things I saw, but the last detail I wanted to highlight was the Fortress(es).  They were cute and small, but nearby.

At this point I headed back to the shuttle stop, as I had pretty well made the rounds on all of the sights listed on the map.  I’ll have those pictures posted later on my Facebook page if you’re interested.   Be sure to head over there to see them. 

I headed back on a shuttle bus which was empty other than the driver and myself.  The one thing that I did fail to do today was to walk over to the train station.  It’s right by the port according to the map, and I spoke to several people who successfully did excursions to Pisa and Florence on their own.  Be aware that if you port somewhere in Tuscany, that the museum that houses David (the Accademia Gallery) is closed on Mondays.  That can cause a monkey wrench in planning, or, well, lack of planning, I suppose (do your research, consult a travel planner!).  If you want to see David, hope that you are not in port on a Monday!

I spent the rest of the day on the ship enjoying the scenery.  I must say, that while I do not mind eating alone, I swear it seems that dinner goes at a record pace.  In, out, and done in less than 45 minutes. After dinner I headed out on deck to get some work done while enjoying the evening atmosphere and I ended up having to leave because the crowd was a bit rowdy and they were heckling a performer who was having mic issues.  It was a little sad and a lot disrespectful.  A bit of a damper to the day.

Up tomorrow is Cannes.  This is a tendered port, and notices have been in each of the daily info sheets to make sure to make tender reservations.  I have not done so,  and am not inclined to get off the ship, as tomorrow is Bastille Day in France. I’d rather avoid the crowds, so tomorrow’s installment will be on tendering observations and some thoughts on the ship and the itinerary.  Stay tuned! For now, ciao to Italy.