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Saturday, 16 October 2010 06:36

Crystal Cruise to Europe Vacation of a Lifetime

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Venice / Dubrovnik / Sorrento / Rome  / Porto Venere / Livorno / Monte Carlo + Paris / Cannes/Nice

This is our second cruise on Crystal and it turned out to be even better than our previous one two years ago. Crystal Cruises offers numerous luxury travel packages.  Condé Nast Traveler magazine again voted Crystal Cruises their “Favorite Cruise Line: Large Ship.”  in September.  The Crystal Serenity had a stellar itinerary: Venice, Dubrovnik, Croatia; Sorrento, Italy; Rome, Porto Venere, Italy; Livorno/ Florence, Italy, finishing up in Monte Carlo.   We've also cruised on Crystal's Symphony Athens to Lisbon, read more.  

We decided to extend our vacation by starting in Paris for two days.  We’ve always suggested that getting to your cruise destination early is a good idea. Why not take advantage of an extra destination since you’re already there?  Read more about our pre and post cruise arrangements made for our Crystal cruise to the Mediterranean and Greek Islands!

We tried out Open Skies airline which is part of British Air to fly business class to Paris. The only catch was they only fly from two US locations, one of which is Newark, N.Y., so it added another leg to our journey, but it was so worth it. Open Skies has been operating this business class/sleeper class flight for a little over a year now and it has become a huge hit. The fare is extremely reasonable for business class and their customer service and food service is outstanding.  They pour Billecart-Salmon champagne on-board, so the party starts immediately.

 

                The Eiffel Tower                  

I came away impressed with the stunning architecture and beauty of Paris. We took full advantage of the Metro train system and knocked off the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, shopping on the Champs – Elysees, and Musee D’Orsay in two days. There is so much to do and see in Paris, two days wasn’t enough, but it gave me a good enough taste that I know I’ll return there someday. 

We used a little known discount airline from Paris to Venice.  Very similar to Southwest Airlines and we managed to save on airfare.  This is where a good travel agent is worth their salt.  You can’t find them easily or at all online through large travel sites. Let our travel consultants do the heavy lifting and then sit back and enjoy the trip of a lifetime!

                        

 

    The cruise left from Venice and stayed in port overnight, the perfect opportunity to arrive a day early, drop off our luggage and use that time to our advantage. The ship became our hotel and dinner was included that evening. We managed to see most of St. Marks square and worked our way to the backstreets of Venice among the gondolas and cafes. You could live on gelato! The next day we took a tour by boat to Murano known for their incredible art glass, next to Burano known for their lace artisans, and Torcello.                           St. Marks Square in Venice     

     

       Port of Dubrovnik  

         

We finally got a break with a day at sea on the way to Dubrovnik, Croatia. The ship had so many activities on-board we had a hard time deciding if it was worth it to just plop down and read a book at the pool.

Dubrovnik is one of several walled cities established in the 7th century to guard the coast. Its fortification was completed in the 13th century and has remained relatively unchanged. The walls prevent automobiles from invading the city and are in excellent condition. It took us about two hours to make our way around the interior walls of this picturesque medieval city.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

 

A word about shopping. One of the most pleasant experiences is shopping in a medieval city closed to automobiles. The streets are winding cobblestone with buildings that have been there for hundreds of years. The charming character and design of the shops creates an environment like no other.                                                                                                                                                             shopping.jpg               

 

       

Lunch in Ravello

             Next up was Sorrento, Italy, south of Rome along the western shore. The sensational Amalfi Coast and the haunting ruins at Pompeii are among the regions highlights. We arranged for a driver to explore the dramatic bluffs and flower covered hills for the day. We stopped in beautiful Positano along the way to a leisurely lunch in Ravello, high up above the sea.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

One day in Rome is not enough, but we tried hard to make the most of it. We got a late start due to a rain storm that didn’t let up until late morning. Our port was Civitavecchia, about an hour’s train ride away. We made it into Rome at mid-day and walked to the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain. We could have done more, but some excellent shopping got in the way.

                                                                                                                                                                                                             Our next port was Porto Venere, a charming, unique town, built at different elevations with narrow streets to explore. We decided to take the ferry that day to Monterosso, one of the villages of Cinque Terre which are only accessible by boat, railway, or foot. Our plan was to see if the ferry could stop at one or two of the other villages, but the sea was so rough, we could not access their docks which are well exposed. The captain was able to come in close to shore to get a good look at the other villages. Monterosso was the farthest away and we didn’t have a lot of time, so we decided to stay and walk the village, then have lunch and do some shopping. Another great day.                      Portovenere         

 

              Ceramics shop in San Gimignano.        My favorite part of the trip was Livorno, which is the entry port for Florence and Tuscany. We chose to spend our day in wine country and started out with a visit to San Gimignano, one of the most beautiful walled cities we visited. The shops were amazing, especially the Italian ceramic shops. We only spent an hour and a half here, and could have spent all day. Our driver set up a wine tasting and lunch at Tenuta Torciano, founded in 1720 ten minutes away. We were treated to a nine bottle tasting served during lunch. I’ve been to many wine tastings but this one was special. Their Terrestre received a 99 rating by Wine Spectator. I placed an order for their Chianti Classico Reserva and Brunello di Montalcino. The winery offers accommodations along with a wine school. After our visit we drove on to finish the afternoon in Volterra, then back to Livorno.                

The last day of our cruise we arrived in Monte Carlo.  Sue’s son and fiancé live in France, so we got picked up in Monte Carlo and then drove to Cannes for the next two days. Home of the Cannes International Film Festival, this sea side city is the hip happening place to be for the fashion conscious jet setters. I think I saw more Ferrari‘s,  Porsches, and Aston Martin’s  there than I’ve ever seen anywhere else.  Cannes has a lot of great café’s and restaurants, terrific for people watching. Best not to go during the film festival in May, as the city is completely packed.  We spent the next day visiting two interesting small towns, St. Paul de Vence and Eze.  Both of them are medieval castle cities that are elevated with commanding views around them. Eze is the home of Fragonard, the fragrance factory.  Shopping at their many quaint shops along with stops at cafes for a latte or gelato is the way to spend a perfect day.

We finished our stay with an afternoon in Nice, booking a hotel close to the airport for our early morning trip home. The nice thing about Nice is the airport is right on the beach close enough to the resort area that we walked the entire way back (it’s a long way – 1 ½ hr) . If you have the time, it’s a great way to end your trip.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Beach at Canne    

Crystal Cruise Line is absolutely the pinnacle of luxury cruises. Their customer service is incredible, most of the staff knew our names by the second day. Food quality is unsurpassed. Highly recommended! If you want to get the most from a luxury travel vacation, contact a travel consultant at Lake Zurich Travel who can help to design an unforgettable luxury travel package for your specific travel needs.

 

Sue strolling along the beach in Nice

About the Authors

Sue and Charlie Shimkus are owners of Lake Zurich Travel & Cruise established in 1974. Sue has served on the travel advisory board for Alaska, Hawaii, & Ireland and executive board of the local chapter American Society of Travel Agents.  Lake Zurich Travel & Cruise is a member of the Signature Travel Network. Visit Lake Zurich Travel for Expert Travel Advice and resources finding the Right Vacation for you!

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