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The ‘Book Excursions’ button has been activated on my P&O Cruise Personaliser for our Azura cruise in September. It’s a standard P&O 14-night cruise from Southampton the western end of the Med, calling at Vigo, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Villefranche, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Ajaccio and Cadiz; eight ports of call in all.

When we first started cruising I took a lot of advice about destinations from the various cruise forums and from other websites, and as a result we generally tried to do our own thing in port. Partly this was from a desire to prove that we were experienced travellers (even though we weren’t) who could handle themselves in a strange port, and partly this was from a desire to save money! The classic example was (and is) the difference between the cost of a couple of BIRG tickets up to Rome from Civitavecchia – about €12 or so per person – and the cost of the ‘Rome on Your Own’ excursion – currently advertised for our cruise at £42 per person, or around €56 each. You can buy a lot of gelato with the difference between those two amounts….

But – there’s also a lot of extra effort and hassle in the DiY option. Let’s take the Civitavecchia to Rome example. First, you have to get from the ship to the station. Yes, there is a handy port shuttle bus that runs to the port entrance, but since last year that’s become less convenient as construction work at the traditional port entrance means that the shuttle bus now drops people off in a car park in the middle of town, further away from the station. Then you have to walk from there to the station , which is now almost a mile from the drop off point. Then you’ve got to go through the business of buying your tickets. Then there’s waiting for a train, followed by the scramble to get on one. Then there’s the slow journey into Rome – the regional trains on which the BIRG ticket is valid stop at a lot of stations. And finally, at the end of the day you have to work out which train to get back to Civitavecchia. In Val’s case this is certainly the train before the absolute last one, and possibly even the train before that. In other words, you expend a lot of effort, experience a lot of stress, and don’t get as long in the city, all to save some money. Whereas if you pay for the excursion you are taken by coach direct from the ship to a spot in central Rome, and all you have to do is get yourself back to that same spot at the due time. It doesn’t matter how busy the roads are or what incidents might arise on the journey, if you’re on an excursion you don’t have to worry. And I know from personal experience that strange things can happen with Italian trains – read this account of a failed journey by local train back to Fiumicino airport at the end of a (non-cruise) visit to Rome.

So as we’ve done more cruises our attitude to excursions has changed. For our cruise this year I’ve just booked excursions in five of the ports (Vigo, Lisbon, La Spezia, Civitavecchia and Cadiz). In some of them the excursions are less than full day so we should be able to wander round the port on our own after the excursion has finished – we certainly hope to do that at Cadiz. Alternatively, the early finish will allow us to hit a shoreside restaurant before going back to the ship; or perhaps we’ll go back on board and simple enjoy the peace and quiet of the ship while it’s in port. For the other ports – Gibraltar, Villefranche and Ajaccio – we will do our own thing. It helps in those cases that the port town is suitable for exploration, or is very small, or has easy transport links.

Don’t get me wrong, I look back on some of the DiY trips we did in various ports with a significant degree of satisfaction. We did Civitavecchia to Rome a couple of times, I think; we’ll probably always do our own thing in Barcelona; there were days on Platy Gialos beach at Mykonos, and Oia on our own at Santorini; and we had good days ashore at Stockholm and Copenhagen on our Baltic cruise last summer. My favourite exploit of all was when I worked out how to use the trams in Istanbul and made sure we had Turkish Lira to do so. As a result we were able to get ourselves quickly and easily into the historic parts of Istanbul and had really good visits to the Topkapi palace and Hagia Sophia. But there have been other times when we’ve gone ashore on our own because we weren’t prepared to pay for any excursions, and as a result just wandered around, unsatisfactorily.

Finally, a couple of caveats. First, I recognise that this is partly a function of us getting older – as we do so, we relish the easy option more and more. And secondly, I also recognise that we are in the fortunate position – at least at the moment – of being able to afford the excursions. If we were a family, or were cruising on a tighter budget, or were just younger with more energy, we’d probably tilt the balance back towards DiY.

5 Responses to “To do an excursion or not….”

  1. Ash says:

    Hello,

    I’ve recently booked my first cruise and will be boarding Azura at the end August for a 9 night Iberian cruise. I’m really looking forward to this. We have booked excursions for two of our days and have decided to explore on our own for the remaining shore days (one of these being in Cadiz). Some of these excursions are quite expensive but seemed like a good, stress free, way to see some of the sights. We have booked shore excursions for both our days in Portugal.

    Also, I have been looking around for any information on Azura’s recent refit but am not having much luck. Do you have any idea of what has been done to the ship?

    From what I’ve seen the ship looks fantastic and I’m excited to experience a cruise holiday.

    Thanks

    • Tom Burke says:

      Thanks for the comment, Ash, and I’m sure you’ll have a good cruise. Given that you are cruising in August, will you be cruising with children?

      As regards Azura’s refit, it seems to have been more of a wash and brush-up than anything major. The work seems to have been mainly to do with replacing most/all of the carpets in the public areas, some refurbishments to the shops, a switch to Freedom dining in two restaurants (maybe that requires some changes) and of course the new livery. Not much else; most of what’s already on Azura is in fact the model for other ships, e.g. The Glasshouse. Oh, one other thing – I think the ‘XVII’ restaurant might have been rebranded ‘The Epicurean’, which seems to be the name of the fine-dining restaurant on most of the fleet going forward.

  2. sheila Roberts says:

    We are going on the azura in august ,my daughter and her husband plan to take the oldest grandson to Rome whilst we stay on board with the youngest grandson .I am concerned that they plan to do this DIY style .Although my son in law is a independent and is use to travelling on his own ,I am still concerned that they will be to late and the ship will leave without them and therefore ruin our holiday .How difficult is this trip ,should I try and encourage them to go on a trip even if we have to pay.

    • Tom Burke says:

      Thanks for the comment, Sheila.

      This is a tough one. I think I’d better start by saying that I can’t recommend anything; it has to be their (and your) decision. But here are some of the thoughts I’ve got along with some questions that might clarify things.

      First, there’s the date – August. Rome can be cruelly hot at that time of year – both very hot and very humid. How used to those conditions are your family members?

      Next, how old is your oldest grandson? Is he still a small child, or an older child/near teenager/actual teenager? A very young child would find the conditions very trying, and I’m not sure there’s much in Rome for a young child. I think you have to be at least a certain age to get much from, say, the Coliseum, let alone St Peters (just to mention two possible destinations). However there is a lot in Rome to interest an older child.

      How familiar are your family with Rome? Is this a first visit? If so, is it likely to be the only visit for the foreseeable future, or might they come back quite soon? These factors could determine how much effort they want to put into the trip.

      There’s no doubt in my mind that doing it on their own will add to the effort required (and the stress, but that might just be me). As I’ve indicated in the post, just getting to Civitavecchia station can be a slog. Using the cheap BIRG ticket requires that they use the slow Regional trains, but it is possible to use the faster Intercity trains, albeit at greater cost, and that may in fact give them more options for the return journey.

      In the end it’s their/your decision. I certainly got a lot of satisfaction from doing DiY days, including in Rome, and I wouldn’t want to deny the same satisfaction to others. But everyone needs to have a clear view of the effort required; everyone needs to have done loads of research; and there needs to be a fallback plan, which in Rome might a be a couple of hundred Euros for a taxi to Civitavecchia if it all goes pear-shaped. That’s a lot of money but would be cheaper than having to make their own way to the next port.

  3. sheila Roberts says:

    Thanks for your reply,I guess it is that as older parents we can’t help sorting and is it really worth risking ruining the rest of our holiday .So I guess I ‘m going to have to convince them that its better that they go on an organised trip .My grandson is only eleven years old .
    My husband and I have planned this trip. to take my daughter and her family on their first cruise and we are naturally concern that nothing goes wrong,We were on a previous cruise visiting Florence on an organised trip ,We couldn’t keep up with the group,One minute we could see the leader with her umbrella the next she was gone ,We did panic but made our way back to meeting point our bus was gone ,But we got on any point bus and got back to the ship.

    So if that can happen on an organised trip ,You can imagine my concerns with dig trip going so far away from the docks.
    We do plan to do diy trip ,But properly where they are closer to the docks.
    Thanks for your help will let you know how we got off with the cross.

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