The ocean blue, charming coastal cities, and now exciting inland destinations like Paris, Brussels, and Seville. This is no ordinary vacation - this is a European cruise.
Yearning to jet off to Europe but wondering how to best get around when you want to see the Eiffel Tower in France, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, and the Cathedral of Seville in Spain? Why not see Europe by sea? It may sound impossible to cruise Europe and see such incredible inland treasures at the same time, but today it’s a not-so-well-known reality. Let us explain.
Europe is the second most popular cruise destination in the world, and several lines are expanding their European programs for the 2003 season in answer to increasing demand. In fact, industry experts expect 67 ships in the European market this year, a 30 percent increase over last year. But not only have they added more ships, they have also expanded their schedule of excursions to include landlocked cities like Florence and Brussels. Thus passengers can enjoy the excitement of touring top European destinations, the invigorating life at sea, and the comfort of knowing someone else is handling all the details that come with a major European vacation.
One of the cruise lines broadening its European presence in 2003 is Celebrity Cruises. Both its Millennium and the new Constellation will cruise continuously during the European high season of May through October. In fact, on just one trip, the Constellation, which made its maiden voyage less than a year ago, will tour six countries and cover 2,770 miles of ocean. So here, in Celebrity’s, and many cruisers’, opinion is the “Best of Europe” itinerary.
You’ll fly into London and have a picturesque transfer to Dover, where the ship launches. To make the most of your vacation, and to recover from any jet lag, try to plan a day or two in London before your cruise (think of it as a bonus port of call). Celebrity and other lines offer great tour packages with pre- and post-cruise sightseeing. On your way to Dover, for example, you can take a side trip to majestic Leeds Castle, then lunch at a classic pub like The Windmill in Kent. It makes for a great start — and you haven’t even boarded the ship yet.
It’s your first port of call and you’ll find that Belgium is diverse for such a small country, with the northern part speaking Dutch and the southern part speaking French. The two major cities are Antwerp and Brussels, the latter the capital city and the headquarters for the European Union and NATO. Major attractions in Brussels include the Grand Place, said to be the most beautiful square in all of Europe, and for good reason. The square is romantic and ornate, with cobblestone pavement, grand spires, and guild houses sporting names like the House of the Bakers and Brewery House (complete with a tasting room). The Cathedral Saint-Michel is the national church of Belgium and is stunning in detail.
Antwerp has its own Market Square and boasts the largest church in Belgium and Holland, the Cathedral of Our Lady. Nearby Bruges is the “Venice of the North,” with canals winding through the perfectly preserved medieval town. You’ve heard of Belgian chocolates? This is the place to get them, and lots of lace, too.
LE HAVRE, FRANCE
The toughest thing here will be choosing what you want to see, since there’s only one day in this sumptuous area of France. Unless you’ve frequented Paris so often it’s passe, make the city a priority, even with the 2.5-hour drive inland. Most tours include all the musts: the Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Hotel des Invalides, and Notre Dame. But you don’t necessarily stop at all these spots, so if there’s something of particular interest to you, check the tours closely or do Paris on your own. A fun way to allot some precious time in Paris is aboard one of the famous riverboats that motor along the Seine and actually provide quite a tour.
Beaucoup other journeys can be had from the commercial port of Le Havre. Veterans and history buffs will especially appreciate the beaches of Normandy; in Brittany, the towering abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is now a UNESCO World Heritage site; the Alabaster Coast has impressive chalk cliffs and seaside resorts that make it a much-photographed area; and the smaller, historic towns of Giverny (where Claude Monet lived), Rouen (Joan of Arc made it famous), and Honfleur (an idyllic fishing village) all compete for your attention.
Can’t decide? Blow it all off and bicycle the day away in the Normandy countryside near Deauville — an adventuresome and welcome departure offered by Celebrity Cruises.
After a day at sea, which is needed for the ship’s longest single
passage of 665 miles, you’ll be ready to discover Spain, with its rugged mountains, fertile valleys, vast plains, and sandy beaches. Almost 90 percent of the country is surrounded by water — a whopping 1,030 miles of it faces the Mediterranean. Vigo is an important fishing area and a great spot to begin the first of three different days in Spain. As you tour the countryside, you’ll notice palm trees, eucalyptus, and some interesting storage structures called graineries. Beautiful ruins and monuments like Santa Maria de Dozo deserve a stop, as does as the small pine-covered island of La Toja. A major attraction from the port of Vigo is Santiago de Compostela, one of the great places of pilgrimage.
The first thing you’ll notice as you cruise into Lisbon is the April 25th Bridge, which spans the Tagus River near the ship’s terminal and looks amazingly similar to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Both had the same builder and are sister bridges. The Christ the King monument that stands on the far bank was a gift from the people of Brazil, a replica of that country’s Christ the Redeemer. If you enjoy California, you’ll appreciate that much of Portugal’s coast resembles the area between L.A. and San Francisco, with some of the same plants and like weather patterns. Eleven hours in Portugal, packed with options. Lisbon is a great mix of traditional and trendy, and the Alfama district, with its narrow passageways, wrought-iron balconies, and fresh laundry hung out to dry is a wonderful place to wander aimlessly. Or hit the cosmopolitan beach resorts of nearby Estoril and Cascais for everything from shopping to nightclubbing to sailing. The town of Sintra, approximately 18 miles northwest of Lisbon in the mountains, is one of Portugal’s oldest towns and a classic example of a historic European village.
Cruise traffic through the port of Cádiz has doubled since 1996, a strong sign of southern Spain’s lure. Stroll the 3,000-year-old city, stop at the Town Hall and the Cathedral, and linger the narrow streets full of shops, bars, and cafes. Or go to Victoria Beach, one of the best urban beaches in Europe, where watersports abound. Cádiz is fast becoming a sailing capital, hosting the 2003 Olympic-Class World Championship Sailing Competition in addition to two past Great Regattas. Thirty miles inland, Jerez is home to the magnificent Carthusian horses and to vineyards producing several fine sherries.
Farther inland, Seville is the epicenter of the southern Spain area termed Andalusia. There, you don’t want to miss the Ca-thedral of Seville, the third largest in the world, as well as the Santa Cruz Quarter and Plaza de España. Slow down, stop for an espresso, visit the charming artisans’ shops, and soak up the ambience of classic Seville.
PALMA DE MALLORCA, SPAIN
After cruising through the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow 35-mile-long passageway between the southern tip of Spain and Morocco, you’re officially in the Mediterranean. Yes, this is the third Spanish stop, but the locales are so diverse you’ll be thankful it is. Mallorca is the largest of the Spanish Belearic Islands, located just off the east coast. Lush mountainous countryside, perfect for growing olives, almonds, figs, fruits, and grapes, is occasionally interrupted by quaint ancient villages. Tour Valldemossa and its historic monastery, La Cartuja, where composer Frederick Chopin lived and worked. Stroll around, sample the local flavor, but be sure to board the electric Soller Train for an hour-long ride through 13 amazingly long tunnels and 17 miles of lush landscapes. Lunch at the C’an Costa, nestled in the Tramuntana Mountains, for authentic Spanish paella. Walk it off in the Caves of Drach, and see the largest underground lake in the world, Lake Martel. Or visit one of Mallorca’s many beaches, like the tranquil Camp de Mar. Save time for shopping — for lots of leather, pearls, and hip designer goods — in the cosmopolitan city of Palma de Mallorca.
Livorno is an industrial port town, but it serves as a perfect gateway to Tuscany, the central region of Italy. Mediterranean pines, poplar, cypress, and centuries-old olive trees cover the countryside. Just 15 miles north of Livorno is the city of Pisa, with its famous Campanile, better known as the Leaning Tower. Another hour inland will find you in Florence. It’s obvious this Tuscan capital was built in ancient times, long before cars were thought of. Plan on lots of walking during your one wonderful Italian day.
Cruise excursions range from simple (transportation to Florence, then on your own for six hours) to sublime (exclusive Pisa and Florence, with preferential entry and guided tours to two of Florence’s most important museums). The city is popular with tourists, so be prepared for hustle, bustle, and long lines. When you’re ready for some civility, sanity, and a Tuscan meal, slip into the Grand Hotel Villa Medici, an ornate 18th-century palazzo with the only garden and pool in central Florence. If you’ve been to this area before and want a less-urban option, tour the Tuscan suburbs, so to speak, of San Gimignano and Volterra and stop for a leisurely lunch at a local farmhouse.
Nice, Eze, Cannes, St. Tropez, Marseille — surely the term joie de vivre was born on the French Riviera. Also called the Côte d’Azure, the region is rich with heritage and, well, just plain rich — mega yachts, ritzy hotels, expensive boutiques, chic nightclubs, fine dining, and tony people. Exquisite scenery abounds, beginning with the charming coastal town of Villefranche. Your options are limited only by the ship’s late afternoon departure. It’s impossible to see everything, so either take an overview of the area, or pick a spot of interest, such as the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo, and stay awhile. Feeling extravagant? Live the local lifestyle and jet off in a private yacht to St. Tropez. Saunter around, sip espressos, check out the markets and shops. Take the yacht through the nearby waterways for some good gawking, then stop for a seafood lunch at Port Grimaud. Choose La Table du Mareyeur for the most lavish fruit de mer platters you’ve ever experienced.
Your ship has come in — to Barcelona, you lucky thing. Although the cruise has come to an end, wouldn’t it be nice to brag just a little that you’re staying a day or two in this hip Catalonian city? Research the land options offered by the cruise lines or venture out on your own, now that you’re feeling très European.
AFTER YOU’VE CRUISED THROUGH THE STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR, A NARROW 35-MILE-LONG PASSAGEWAY BETWEEN MOROCCO AND THE SOUTHERN TIP OF SPAIN, YOU’RE OFFICIALLY IN THE MEDITERRANEAN.
NICE, CANNES, ST. TROPEZ, MARSEILLE — SURELY THE TERM JOIE DE VIVRE WAS BORN ON THE FRENCH RIVIERA. ALSO CALLED THE CÔTE D’AZURE, THE REGION IS RICH WITH HERITAGE, AND, WELL, JUST PLAIN RICH — MEGA YACHTS, RITZY HOTELS, EXPENSIVE BOUTIQUES, AND TONY PEOPLE.
There are probably as many cruise lines sailing Europe as there are ports. Here’s a list to whet your appetite.
NPRWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
RADISSON SEVEN SEAS CRUISES
ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIIONAL
ROYAL OLYMPIC CRUISES
SEABOURN CRUISE LINE
SWAN HELLENIC CRUISES