Last time, dear readers, I left you in suspense over the train ride and the cruise. Before I come to that, however, my favorite chef, Alton Brown, brags that his kitchen contains only one unitasker (the fire extinguisher)... everything else fulfills at least two purposes.
I think, to whatever extent possible, this mantra should also be applied to travel. In my previous post, I talked about how we booked an "open-jaw" flight, which allows you to cover twice the terrain that you ordinarily would be able to if you had to return to the original port with a standard round trip ticket. Flexible travel while imposing a plan upon you to find your way from point A to point B to point C, rather than just point A to B and back again-- a classic travel multitasker.
And when you consider that the biggest bulk of nearly any travel budget are the transportation and lodging costs (as well as the bulk of the time you spend while vacationing), if you can combine these, you end up getting the most out of your time. Consider that a transatlantic flight (from the West coast) can take from 16-20 hours each way. On a two week trip, that's nearly 15% of your total time budget spent on a plane and various airports. Whatever is left over, assuming you get 8 hours of sleep a night (and that you never travel from destination to destination while sleeping), you're looking at ~50% of your vacation as non-productive downtime.
This is, of course, another reason why I think cruises make a ton of sense. Let me count the ways:
- It's simple (you book the itinerary, and just show up at the boat)
- It's predictable (they are more predictable than a German train conductor)
- It's cost-constrained (no surprise or unexpected costs-- outside of booze or other luxuries, most cruise services onboard are complimentary)
- It's home away from home (you only unpack and pack once during your trip)
- It's dependable lodging (no surprises when it comes to lodging compared to a hotel/motel you've never been to)
- It's guaranteed comfort (from a movie theater, to gourmet food, spa treatments, and access to a pool, time spent on the boat is relaxing)
- It's practical (while you're sleeping, the captain escorts you from point a to point b)
To wit, it would take an experienced traveller several days, if not weeks, to put together a trip commencing at Barcelona, and stopping off at places like Sicily, Naples, Sardinia, Rome, Florence/Pisa, Marseille, Cannes/Nice/Monte Carlo and back to Barcelona in ten days. You have to figure out how you'll get there, how long it will take, where you'll stay when you're there, how much it will cost, and whether the adventure of getting from point a to point b will sap your energy so much that you'll just want to crash at your motel when you do. When you consider that we're paying ~$3600 per person for the cruise itself, that's about $360/day which covers basically the transportation + lodging + up to 3 meals a day + entertainment on a 9 city mediterranean tour.
Consider the trip Christine, Richard and I took to Turkey in 1998. We ended up in Istanbul in a hotel room that was, to be kind, two stars, but cost $120/night. There were bugs in the
cots (sweeping them to the floor was sufficient for a decent night's sleep but not very comforting to see), and when we ate at an unfortunate choice of a restaurant, we got sick with a bacterial intestinal infection. Now, to be fair, you can get sick on a cruise, and if you want to sample authentic local food, you're always taking a risk, but knowing you can come back to predictably clean rooms and clean hygenic food provides peace of mind. Then, the flight from Istanbul to Marmaris was $300/person, plus the $100, 3-hour cab ride from Dalaman to Marmaris... It's easy to see how transportation + lodging can cost easily $500+/day.
Meanwhile, a cruise, more frequently than every other day or so, allows you to just wake up, enjoy a buffet breakfast, and hop off the boat to the destination du jour in a completely different city or country.
Which allows me to backtrack and explain how we chose to travel from Paris to Barcelona. If you so choose, you can allow Disney to book your airline travel on your behalf. The average traveler who picks this option will probably be given a flight from their home city to some western european airport (via an east coast US airport, or if they're lucky, direct) which then has a connecting flight to the Barcelona airport. They will be given a transfer voucher from the Barcelona airport to the Barcelona cruise terminal, where they'll board the boat, until they disembark, and reverse the trip.
Instead, we obviously picked to fly into said western European airport, but to stick around a day or two and give us time to enjoy that particular city (gay Paris, in our case). But rather than stay (and incur the cost of) two nights, three days in Paris, plus a flight to Barcelona, we decided instead to stay one night at a hotel, enjoy two days in and around Paris, and then combine the second night stay with an overnight train to Barcelona.
This is brilliant (and I have to give Christine the credit for finding and booking it!) because for the cost of another night's hotel stay in Paris, we effectively get
- (obviously) transportation from Paris to Barcelona,
- a place to stay for the night,
- and making effective use of the time we're asleep.
But lest you think we'll be sitting in uncomfortable seats or in some kind of open rack bunk, this is more like the "Bond, James Bond" cabin in "The Spy Who Loved Me" --sans the shiny toothed Richard Kiel
(aka "Jaws"), one hopes-- where accomodations include a cabin, with a decent sized bed, sink, and many cabins have toilets and showers (although these were sold out so we'll have to make do with a private sink and communal toilet) for $154/person (double occupancy).
While I'm under no illusion that the train will be nearly as comfortable as the cruise cabin, it's beginning to appear that the only tedious part of our travel is likely to consist of the transatlantic flight to Europe and back again, which is how it should be. My next installment will talk about our excursions and our travel preparations.