In the historic Sicilian town of Taormina, says Aldo Valerio us as friends, he has not seen in a long, wet hugs and kisses.
And when you travel with children, there is nothing worse than being stuck in a large group for hours on end. Believe me, I've been there – in Europe, Alaska and the Caribbean. We did a tour of the Roman Forum, due to a "stomach ache" (easily remedied with an ice cream). Choose to go on their own – especially if you are a family – and you will not only save money but also have a better time if you want to walk on a glacier in Alaska, swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean or visiting the Vatican in Rome .
Even on a small boat – we sail the 315-passenger Wind Surf – the offered excursions have proven pedestrian at best. That – and the willingness to spend so much less – is why some of our fellow passengers have chosen to avoid traveling altogether, for example, with a train and then a bus from our port of Messina to Taormina – both an adventure and the cheapest way to go. But not always the most expedient, as Richard Burgess and his wife discovered when it took them three times to reach the picturesque mountain town than it should have. They took an expensive taxi back.
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"You make a mistake the first time and then there is not a second time," said Janet Wagner, who is from Savannah, Ga. After being in that situation, she opted for a trip just for that reason.
Less hassle often in the Caribbean, you do not need an outing, if you do not want to do something specific, like getting up close to dolphins or scuba diving. You can ward off alone in a taxi to the nearest beach. But it is not so easy in Europe, Alaska or anywhere else in the world. Therefore it was very nice to discover that for less money – and much less stressful – than to go on a ship organized trip, we could be picked up at the port and spend the day with our own English speaking guide and driver on an itinerary that was planned specifically for our team. (Skip the long three-course lunch in favor of pizza.) You will be able to book trips that quickly sell out.
And you are guaranteed to see more in less time, when you do not expect 50 other people. Nor are you struggling to navigate a strange city on your own in a limited time with a pair of cranky, tired children (or tweens or teenagers) in tow. Another plus: You will pay a price for the tour rather than a person – the button when you are booking for a family of four or more.
For example, in Rome, can Nancy Aiello Tours pick your group up at Civitavecchia port (almost an hour from the city), covering all of Rome's must-see scenes from the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain to the Vatican, skip the lines, and get you back to your ship in good time. She charges a little over $ 1,100 for a family of six – far less than you would pay for comparable trips.
You do not have to worry about missing your ship. In my experience, reputable guides provide plenty of time to get back in time. But to allay any concerns, Cruise Compete promise that if you miss the ship you are guaranteed meals, accommodation and transport to the next port at no charge. You will also receive a full refund if a trip is missed due to bad weather or a change in itinerary.
Great value as important as price, however, is the quality of the experience. When booking independently, you can get to places farther away the path away from the crowds and tailored to your interests. The guides will be more willing to joke with the children, answer their questions, even staging a scavenger hunt, which will hopefully keep them more interested and involved. With toursbylocals.com you connect with your guide directly before your trip for this very reason. We jumped over the Roman amphitheater, for example, and asked Valerio take us to local markets away from the main tourist area in olive oil and wine. We stopped at a bakery where he treated us to a local pastry flavored with lemon and pistachio. (To plan your next trip abroad, check out "Frommer's Italy 2011", "Frommer's Venice Day By Day" and "Fodor's Rome's 25 best.")
Canadian Dave Vincent and Paul Melhus launched Tours of the locals just three years ago after a frustrating encounter with "guides" on the Great Wall of China. The guides were more interested in selling souvenirs, but to provide an insightful tour. Cruisers, it turns out, have become big fans of the service, which has helped 1000 local guides in more than 100 countries, selling more than 6,000 tours in almost all major ports around the world.
"Dolce Far Niente", which translates to "sweet doing nothing" is the Sicilian way, says Valerio us. It is to be relaxed and not worry about getting things done.
Valerio argues that go on your own is not just about saving money – in some cases you can spend as much as on the excursions the cruise line for a special day – and I agree. It's about doing what you want when you want, away from the crowds. It is the luxury of enjoying where you are without stress to find your own way in unfamiliar surroundings. It's worth a lot.
So make a new friend, I think, as Valerio kissed me goodbye.
© 2011 Eileen Ogintz … Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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Submited at Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 at 6:00 am on Family by blum
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