A few months ago, we explored Naples on a cruise stop, and the Amalfi Coast beckoned. With just 10-11 hours in port, we had to make the most of our time to explore both Amalfi and Naples before heading back to the ship. Here’s a breakdown of our experience and some crucial advice for your own adventure. If you’re planning to visit this stunning destination, especially on a cruise ship stopover, be sure to watch this video and read on for essential tips.

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Planning Your Amalfi Coast Excursion

Tip #1: Choose the Right Tour Guide, Book in Advance

If you want to explore the Amalfi Coast independently, book tours or guides well before your cruise arrives. Cruise ship excursions tend to fill up quickly. A good tour guide makes all the difference and we lucked out with our local guide Luca. He played a crucial role in making our tour of the Amalfi Coast a memorable experience. He was punctual, informative, and helped us navigate the region efficiently.

Tip #2: Capture the Beauty of the Amalfi Coast – Bring Your Cameras

The winding roads on our drive to the Amalfi Coast showcased breathtaking scenery. This goes without saying, but make sure you have your camera or phone handy to capture the beauty of this Italian gem. Even in the early morning, the sights are worth documenting, providing lasting memories of the coastal drive.

Tip #3: Cash and Spending – Credit Cards vs. ATMs

I personally prefer to use a credit card when spending on a cruise stopover. If you need cash, however, the cruise ship ATMs or physical banks are your best options. Beware of sketchy ATMs out in the open or connected to small convenience stores. Parking in coastal areas like Positano on the Amalfi Coast can be expensive, so plan accordingly based on your budget.

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Exploring the Amalfi Coast

Tip #1: Beat the Cruise Ship Rush

Our guide Luca recommended visiting Amalfi early in the day to beat the rush of cruise ship passengers (who typically show up later in the day). Thanks to Luca’s advice we had the freedom to explore for about an hour and a half before it got really crowded. Don’t miss the cathedral, Duomo di Amalfi, which offers a captivating experience. Luca’s local insights allowed us to make the most of our time.

Tip #2: Be Sure to Check Out Positano

Positano, 45 minutes away, was our next stop. Luca’s recommendations for parking and dining were invaluable. Despite its reputation for being a bit pricey, Positano’s charm and breathtaking views make it worth every penny. We discovered a delightful restaurant, Restaurant Lilant, with a fantastic vantage point of the sea.

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Tip #3: Navigating Traffic and Parking

Traffic and parking along the Amalfi Coast can be challenging at the best of times – having a private tour guide like Luca was essential for navigating the coast in our tight schedule. Luca’s expertise ensured a seamless experience moving from site to site, allowing us to focus on enjoying the moment rather than worrying about logistics.

Final Thoughts

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Exploring Naples in a Short Time Frame – If you have limited time in Naples, consider a driving tour instead of extensive walking, especially if you’re feeling tired from your Amalfi Coast excursion or have limited time before the cruise ship departure deadline.

Local Guide, Unsung Hero – A massive thanks to Luca for being the unsung hero of our Amalfi Coast adventure. His knowledge, suggestions, and warm hospitality made our day truly special. We don’t do sponsored posts or ads on this blog or our YouTube page, I only recommended services I have personally used and paid for myself in past trips. If you’re planning a cruise to Naples, consider reaching out to Luca for a personalized and memorable excursion.

Luca’s Phone Number +39 333 325 7567 Send him a message on WhatsApp and tell him that you saw Alex & Erika’s video for our stop in Naples.

If your Caribbean cruise ship itinerary includes a stop at the Costa Maya Cruise Port, you’re in for a treat! From duty-free shopping and beach-front dining to sun-kissed beach-resorts, Puerto Costa Maya (as it is locally known) is a delightful slice of paradise that offers relaxation, exploration, and a touch of adventure.

Here are some insider tips for an unforgettable day exploring Costa Maya from someone who experienced the delights of this Mexican resort town with his wife and three young children in October 2023.

Alex’s Costa Maya Cruise Port Guide #1: When You Arrive

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As you disembark from your cruise ship at Costa Maya make sure you bring the following items with you: a towel to dry off after a dip in one of the many resort pools and photo ID for reboarding the ship. The walk to the terminal from the cruise ship is stunning – you are surrounded by the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea and can see fish swimming around the jetty. That being said, if you have mobility issues or just don’t feel like walking, there is a free tram next to the ship waiting to pick you up and transport you to the terminal.

Costa Maya Travel Tips: Photo-op in Front of the Ship
There is a wonderful photo op in front of the cruise ship as you walk the jetty to the terminal. You won’t find many cruise ship docks as picturesque as this anywhere in the world, so be sure to take advantage of it!

Alex’s Costa Maya Guide #2: Exploring the Terminal

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You can could spend the entire stop without leaving the cruise terminal and have a great time! The terminal boasts numerous bars, restaurants, spas, duty-free shops, multiple pools free for all cruise ship passengers and a swimming-with-dolphins experience. You can get all your eating, drinking and souvenir shopping needs met without ever leaving the confines of the terminal. There are also changing areas by the pools and rentable lockers for passenger convenience.

The only downside is that when several cruise ships dock at once the terminal can get crowded with passengers shopping, swimming, dining and drinking – which is not necessarily a bad thing if you prefer a livelier party atmosphere in your cruise ship stops!

Costa Maya Travel Tips: Pick the Right Swimming Pool in the Terminal
There is more than one pool available for free to cruise ship passengers in the Costa Maya Cruise Terminal. During our stop-over the main swimming pool area was quite busy – there is a second newer pool near the taxi stand that had fewer people and would be a better option. The second pool also had an in-pool bar and shallow areas for younger kids – a better option, in my opinion.

Alex’s Costa Maya Guide #3: Exploring the Town

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The more adventurous among you will want to venture beyond the port to discover the charms of Costa Maya proper. Outside the terminal you will find even more shops and restaurants, beach clubs, and various local attractions. Some of my favorite things to do in Cost Maya include:

  • Golf Cart Tours: When you leave the port and enter the large parking area you can find golf carts waiting to pick up tourists. We rented a golf cart in advance for our tour of Costa Maya. Mayahaul Red Shirts Golf Carts provide a great service and is our preferred golf cart tour company.
  • Miniature Mayan Temple: As you drive out of the port, keep an eye out for the miniature Mayan temple replica. It’s a unique sight that adds to the magic of Costa Maya.
  • Mahahual: This small town with a laid-back vibe has plenty to offer visitors. There are many local shops and sea-front restaurants to explore. The famous Costa Maya lighthouse is also worth a visit. The area is traffic free, even in peak tourist season.
  • Visit a Beach Club: There are many beach clubs that cater to cruise ship tourists in the area. Think of them as mini beach-front resorts. Our favorites are the Krazy Lobster Beach Club off Mahahual’s main boulevard and the Chunky Monkey Beach Club.

Costa Maya Travel Tips: Watch Out for High Prices Outside the Terminal Area
A lot of the stores and restaurants in and around Costa Maya cater exclusively to cruise ship passengers and the prices in some can be considerably higher than what you might find inside the terminal. Compare prices before spending money in shops, restaurants or beach-clubs and check online reviews.

Alex’s Costa Maya Guide #4: Departure Tips

When it’s time to leave Costa Maya, remember to show your cruise ship cards to the guards at the terminal entrance to re-enter the port area. You will also need to show your photo ID to get back on the ship. The embarkation points on the ship can get crowded when all the cruise ship passengers return at once. The elevators to your cabin may have a queue, so for a better experience walk to the next set of elevators a little further away – those tend to be less crowded with returning passengers.

Final Thoughts on the Costa Maya Cruise Port

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Costa Maya is a hidden gem that offers more than just port-side amenities of the cruise-ship terminal. Embrace the adventure, explore the town, and create memories that go beyond the souvenir shops and resort pools. This guide covers only the places and things we personally had time to experience ourselves on our brief stay in Costa Maya – there’s much more out there that we didn’t have time to explore.

I hope these tips piqued your curiosity about Costa Maya and gives you the urge to discover the hidden charms of this vibrant Mexican cruise ship port.

Carnival Cruise Line has consistently proven to be a fantastic choice for family vacations, especially for those with young children. One of the standout features that keep us coming back to Carnival Cruise is their Night Owls program – an on-ship childcare program that stands out from the competition. It has been a lifesaver for us as parents travelling with three young kids, including one under 3 years.

What is the Carnival Cruise Night Owls Program?

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The Night Owls program caters to children aged 6 months to 11 years old, offering a unique group babysitting service from 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. each night of the cruise. What sets Carnival apart is their inclusivity – most cruise lines mandate that children must be at least 3 years old and potty trained to qualify for their youth programs. Carnival breaks the mold by welcoming even 6-month-olds into Night Owls. For parents with toddlers, this is a game-changer. The program allows parents and guardians to enjoy the cruise’s nightlife worry-free, knowing their little ones are in safe hands. Older kids, like our 9-year-old Aiden and 7-year-old Ethan, can also participate, but the big selling point here is that they also welcomed our toddler Emma, who was under 3 years old at the time we used their service.

The Night Owls program takes place inside Camp Ocean, the dedicated facility on Carnival Cruise ships for kids aged 6 months to 11 years. The atmosphere is akin to a slumber party, complete with movie time, arts and crafts, toys, video games, snacks, and more. Parents are encouraged to inform the Camp Ocean staff during the day if their child will be participating in Night Owls that evening. This helps ensure that the program runs smoothly, as it may be closed by midnight if there are no participating children.

How Much Does the Carnival Cruise Night Owls Program Cost?

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The Night Owls program comes with a cost of $7.50 per hour plus an 18% service charge per child, which I feel is reasonable. Any child left beyond 1:00 a.m. will incur additional charges, so be sure to pick up your little ones before then.

While not all parents may be comfortable leaving their children in a group setting, the Night Owls experience has received positive reviews from us and other parents who participated. Carnival’s staff has consistently proven to be fantastic, creating a comfortable environment for the kids. The program provides flexibility for parents with its sign-in and sign-out policy. Authorization for other family members or friends to sign in and out your children can be arranged, streamlining the process for those traveling in larger family groups.

One perk for parents with children under 2 years old in the Night Owls program is the provision of a cell phone throughout the cruise. This facilitates communication in case of emergencies, offering both peace of mind and convenience.

Is the Carnival Cruise Night Owls Program Worth It?

Carnival Cruise’s Night Owls program is a beacon of relief for parents traveling with children under 3 years old. The flexibility, inclusivity, and attentive staff make it a standout feature, allowing parents to strike the perfect balance between family time and well-deserved breaks during their cruise vacation.

For more up-to-date information on the Carnival Cruise Night Owls program, please visit their official page.

If you’re a fan of cruise ships (as I obviously am) and don’t mind splashing out for a good meal every now and then I strongly recommend giving the Carnival Cruise Chef’s Table a try. This video offers a brief overview of the highlights of our Chef’s Table experience during our recent marriage anniversary cruise.

Our journey begins with an exclusive invitation to the ship’s kitchen – or galley, if you prefer the nautical term. Walking through a busy cruise ship galley at peak dinner service was an exhilarating experience with the sights, sounds, and aromas creating a palpable sense of excitement. It was like being thrown into a reality cooking show (minus an angry Gordon Ramsay) or, if you prefer Hulu prestige dramas, the kitchen of The Bear.

Our Carnival Cruise Chef’s Table Journey Begins in the Kitchen with Champagne and Entrees

Our Chef’s Table dinner kicks off in earnest with a glass of champagne and a series of tantalizing single-bite entrees prepared especially for the occasion. Although not every entree was met with universal acclaim from the assembled guests (some were more intriguing than delicious), it was obvious to all that they were prepared with the utmost care and attention to detail, setting the stage for the culinary journey ahead. Our guide peppered us with facts about the preparation of each item and offered helpful advice on how to properly consume each piece and when to take a sip of champagne to heighten the taste. May sound like overkill, but trust me, it actually works to enhance the flavors.

At one point we had a pastry chef come in and demonstrate how they make the world-famous Carnival melting chocolate cake. By now it was obvious we were witnessing a well-choreographed culinary team in action – they were putting on a performance and we had front row seats.

8 Course Meal and a Magician

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Moving from the kitchen, we were ushered into a separate dining area with large windows overlooking the busy galley. The view gave us a window into a busy cruise-ship kitchen’s frantic energy while enjoying the intimacy of the Chef’s Table setting. A recurring theme of our Chef’s Table experience is that it was not just all about the food, it was the entire sensory experience.

Our gastronomic adventure begins with a series of meticulously crafted dishes. Each course is a mini art piece on a plate that looked as good as they tasted. From dehydrated mushrooms coated in mushroom dust to a lean fish marinated with salt, pepper, olive oil, and grated lemon lime zest, every dish showcases the chef’s creativity and commitment. At a certain point during the dinner a magician made his appearance, captivating the audience with mind-bending tricks. Some of you may be rolling your eyes at this, but I was genuinely amazed at his “guess the phone PIN” trick,

Eye Popping Desserts to Top off a Great Carnival Cruise Chef’s Table Experience

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As dinner progressed, we made our way through the courses and eventually ended up with dessert. Since it was Erika and my anniversary, we really appreciated the specially prepared anniversary dessert and shoutout from the staff. It’s these little touches that make all the difference on a Carnival Cruise ship. The dessert items were somehow even fancier than the main course – from a pyramid-shaped chocolate with Bailey Irish cream ganache to a lemon meringue dusted with matcha tea powder, each bite was a joy.

The evening concluded with heartfelt gratitude from our intrepid host, thanking us for choosing the Chef’s Table. The entire experience left us feeling like royalty, appreciating the hidden gem that lies behind a seemingly random door in the cruise ship. We loved it, and I’m sure you will too!

Click here for more write-ups on our cruise-ship travels.

Hello again fellow explorers, and welcome to the Santorini chapter of our whirlwind European vacation with me, Alex, my wife, Erika, and our three lively kids, aged 7, 5, and 1. Our adventure took us through five countries in just three weeks – from the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre to Venice’s canals in a private water taxi and now a Greek island paradise.

With this blog and YouTube series video we hope to provide a sneak peek into our travel highs (and lows), practical tips, and the nitty-gritty details of our itinerary. If you’re toying with the idea of a similar journey, hopefully we can help with some ideas! Or if you’re just along for the entertaining ride, we’re happy to have you!

Disembarking at Santorini

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We start the day docking in the port of Santorini, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. After being cooped up on the cruise ship for the last day and a half, everyone was eager to stretch their legs on solid land again and the mood was jovial aboard the tender. We disembarked at the old port of Santorini (Skala Pier) and immediately headed for the cable cars.

Six Facts About Santorini
1. Santorini, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, is famous for its iconic white-washed buildings with blue-domed roofs. The buildings are painted white to make the houses cooler and the white paint contains limestone which doubles as a disinfectant
2. The island's breathtaking sunsets, witnessed from the charming village of Oia, are considered among the most beautiful in the world.
3. Santorini is the only inhabited caldera (a large volcanic crater) in the world. The island was round before the volcanic eruption of 1600 BC, which is thought to be the largest in recorded history.
4. Many believe that the legendary island of Atlantis, mentioned by Plato, was actually Santorini, having disappeared after the volcanic eruption.
5. The local Assyrtiko wine, cultivated in the island's volcanic soil, is renowned for its distinct taste and is a must-try for wine enthusiasts.
6. Fira, the capital of Santorini, boasts a vibrant nightlife, with numerous bars and restaurants overlooking the Caldera.

Santorini Cable Cars

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We made a beeline for the cable cars, which took us up the hills to Fira, the main city in Santorini and the first stop of all cruise passengers arriving at the old port. There are alternatives to the cable car to get to Fira – mule rides up the hill are available and the more adventurous can even walk the winding hillside paths taken by the mules. Bear in mind it is a tough hike up-hill, recommended for the physically fit. The cable car trip itself offers breathtaking views of the island and the surrounding caldera sea, as you can see from the photos above.

Santorini Travel Tip - Avoid the Queues for the Cable Cars!
When arriving in Santorini via cruise ship tender, I recommend boarding the cable cars as soon as you hit shore to avoid the lengthy queues that inevitably form. Don't be distracted by the restaurants and souvenir shops in the old port itself, make your way to the cable cars as soon as possible. The cars will take you up-hill to Fira, from where you can explore the rest of the island.

Meeting Our Tour Guide in Fira

Once we made it to Fira we met our friendly travel guide, Amani of Golden Ibex Tours, who was waiting for us. Tour arrangements had been made in advance online and we immediately started the tour after introductions with the tour guide were out of the way. Booking in advance is highly recommended especially when travelling with a group who may have different needs. Erika’s parents, who were with us on this vacation for their 50th wedding anniversary, had limited mobility. Because we booked in advance our tour guide had the time to fine-tune the tour to cater to their specific needs. This extra attention is something you will never get when hiring a random tour-guide off the street on your cruise ship stop.

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Santorini Travel Tip - Arrange Guided Tours in Advance
Guides offer valuable insights, historical context, and local knowledge, enhancing the travel experience. Arranging travel guides in advance saves time, reduces stress, and allows for a deeper exploration of the destination. Pre-booking also guarantees availability, especially during peak seasons - it can even save you money on occasion! 

Amazing Views of the Santorini Caldera in Oia

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We kicked off the tour with a minivan ride to Oia on northern tip of the island. Oia showcases the beauty of the Santorini Caldera. Amani shares details about the island’s size, population, and its unique geological features. The charming town of Oia with its white-washed buildings and narrow streets overlooking the caldera sea is the image that always comes to my mind whenever I think of Santorini.

As we walk towards a vantage point in the street that perfectly shows off the ‘C’ shape of the caldera the Santorini islands make. We obviously stopped to take plenty of photos amid this stunning panoramic backdrop. Some of the vantage points were jammed with tourists so we picked a few spots that were not as busy and still offered some great views.

Santorini Travel Tip - Beware Overpriced Tourist Shops!
Seafront shops in Santorini, while very picturesque, are considered relatively expensive. The island is a popular tourist destination, and the shops in the most popular areas, such as Fira and Oia, cater to high-end tourists. Prices for souvenirs, clothing, and other items can be significantly higher than in other parts of Greece. Budget conscious visitors to Santorini can save a bit of money by dining and drinking in the non-seafront facing establishments across the street.

Taking a Break & Enjoying Homemade Ice-Cream

And now the part of the tour our kids liked the best: an ice-cream break! Our guide brought us to a homemade ice-cream establishment to cool down and sample some of the local frozen delights. Amidst the laughter and banter, we dig into various flavors of coconut, strawberry and chocolate and recharge our batteries for the next leg of our Santorini tour. Needless to say, we had such a fantastic day in Santorini I not cover everything in one video/blog. Stay tuned for part 2 of our Santorini adventure!

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Here’s Day 10 of our travel series where we explore Europe with three young kids – our first full day at sea aboard the Carnival Pride. We have a themed breakfast with the kids, take part in some ship-board activities, enjoy a great dinner at a steakhouse and take in some stand-up comedy before calling it a day. As you will see, a lot of these activities are a lot more enjoyable and rewarding when done with family and friends.

Dr. Seuss Themed Breakfast on the Carnival Pride

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We started our day with a Dr. Seuss themed breakfast that our two boys seemed to enjoy – Emma, our baby, was too young to understand what was going on, but I like to think she appreciated the colorful insanity. There were additional activities during breakfast where the kids were given autograph books that they could collect “signatures” from various characters in Dr. Seuss books.

I took Ethan and Aiden, our two boys, to a quick walk at the back of the dining area where there was a viewing area of the ship’s stern. The boys and me marveled at the white caps of the wake created by the ship’s massive propellors trailing behind as we moved forward. A fun little aside after breakfast – and an example of how there’s always something to see and do on a cruise-ship even outside of the officially-sanctioned pre-planned activities.

We explored the ship some more after breakfast, I checked out the laundry services on offer and the kids had their sights set on the arcade.

Cruise Ship Travel Tip #1: On-board Laundry - Self or Full-service?
Cruise ships typically provide both self-service and full-service laundry options for their guests:

1. Full-service laundry is a convenient option for passengers who want to avoid the hassle of doing laundry themselves. Passengers simply place their dirty laundry in a bag provided by the cruise line and leave it outside their stateroom door. The laundry will be collected and washed, dried, and folded, and then returned to the passenger's stateroom. Full-service laundry is typically charged per item or per bag.

2. Self-service laundry is a more economical option and is basically a coin-operated laundromat on a cruise ship. Self-service laundry facilities are typically located on each stateroom deck and include washing machines, dryers, irons, and ironing boards. Detergent and fabric softener can usually be purchased on site.

During this trip we went for the full-service option despite it costing more because I found the self-service laundry facilities to always be busy and full.

Arcades, Ping-pong & Bingo Halls on the Carnival Pride

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Like many modern cruise ships, the Carnival Pride has an arcade filled with games and attractions that my kids could not stay away from. They insisted we visit the arcade as soon as they saw it when we were exploring the ship. Of course they wanted to try every single game in the room and I had to remind them of the virtues of moderation which they immediately ignored and ran to their mother for arcade tokens.

Erika, being a softer touch than me, decided to let the boys indulge themselves at the arcade, and we both joined in the fun. Despite not winning anything (no big surprise there – I did warn the boys the arcade game prizes are notoriously difficult to win) we had a good time. After the arcade Erika went to play some bingo (she loves her bingo!) and I took the kids to play some ping-pong. Quick bingo tip from Erika: if you play bingo on a cruise ship only once, play later in the week when the jackpots are bigger!

Cruise Ship Travel Tip #2: Cruise Ship Activities
On a Carnival cruise ship, guests can take part in a variety of indoor recreational activities. From gaming in the arcade and bingo to arts and crafts, indoor sports games and even and captivating theater performances, the ship offers endless entertainment options. There is always something to do and someone to do it with on a cruise ship.

Photo Portraits & Steakhouse Dinner on the Carnival Pride

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As the day turned to night, we prepared for an exquisite dinner at the ship’s upscale steakhouse. Ensuring our attire met the dress code standards became a humorous yet necessary part of the pre-dinner preparations. The boys grumbled at having to dress up for dinner, but they were in good spirits. We spent some time in the ship’s atrium and listened to the captain address to the ship, after which we went to take some pre-dinner photos at their photo booth – might as well since we were already dressed to the nines. We got some great photos, as you can see above and I ordered a bunch of prints which was well worth the extra cost.

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The steakhouse dinner was culinary haven, offering dish after wonderful dish. The photos of our meal speak for themselves and we all enjoyed ourselves. The presentation was great, the restaurant ambiance was luxurious and elegant. And most important of all, the food was great too.

Cruise Ship Travel Tip #3: Dining Options on the Carnival Pride
Carnival Cruise ships boast a diverse array of restaurants, catering to every palate and preference. The Carnival Pride, the ship we were on had a wonderful variety of dining options - both free (as in food cost included in your ticket) and paid a-la-carte or paid per-head. Some of the free buffets and themed restaurants are open 24 hours a day, which is wonderful when travelling with groups or families. To top it all off they have 24-hour room service as well! You will never go hungry on-board a cruise ship.

Late Night Show & Saying Goodnight

After our meal we took in a comedy show, which we all enjoyed except for Erika’s parents you slept through most of it. Amid much joy and laughter, we said our goodnights and retired to our cabins. It was an average day on a cruise ship. Unlike the previous day on board, nothing spectacular happened, no major drama, but we all had a great time just enjoying the cruise ship activities and food and spending time together as a family.

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Here are some final take-aways from Day 10 in Europe with three kids:

  • September to October is our favorite time to cruise. It works well for us because the kids have fall break and there are fewer kids on a Carnival Cruise ship in Europe during those months, which is nice for Ethan and Aiden since they have the whole ship to themselves.
  • You may have noticed an inflatable pool in the background in some of our travel. The blow-up pool is something we have used a lot when traveling with kids younger than 2. We usually buy one for each new trip we take. It can serve as a bathing option for our youngest kids and as a fun play-pool in port at the beach or wherever.

#EuropeCruise, #CruiseEurope, #EuropeanVacation, #SailingEurope, #ExploreEurope, #CruiseLife, #CruiseShip, #TravelEurope, #CruiseLove, #CruiseGoals, #EuropeanAdventure, #CruiseAway, #EuropeanExperience, #LuxuryCruise, #EuropeanSunset, #SeaEscape, #CruiseLife, #CruiseFun, #CruiseTime, #TravelDiaries

Day 9 of our three-week Europe travel series with three young kids sees us leave Rome by cruise ship. What was meant to be a fun and relaxing 10 cruise around the Mediterranean with family had a difficult start with a medical emergency with one of our kids and a much more serious medical emergency when we were on board that required a medevac on the Carnival Pride. Thankfully both incidents had happy endings, everyone came out of it healthy, and the cruise continued normally as scheduled.

Ethan Splits His Head Open at The Best Western

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We arrived at our tiny but well-appointed room at the Best Western Rome Airport Hotel in high spirits. Erika and I marveled at how compact the room was – definitely the smallest room we stayed in during our entire European trip. But that was to be expected given the commuter-style nature of accommodations at the Best Western Airport Hotel in Rome. This brief stopover set the stage for our upcoming adventure on the cruise ship.

We had dinner that night at an excellent little place near the airport called La Bottega del Peperoncino (highly recommended!) It was when we came back to the hotel room after dinner that an unfortunate accident happened with our middle child, Ethan. He and his older brother Aiden were leaping around the hotel room beds as they always do, despite repeated warnings from Erika and myself, only this time Ethan slipped and hit his head on the glass nightstand next to the bed, cutting it open pretty badly. Erika spoke to her cousin who is a surgeon via video chat and he recommended we get Ethan stitched up, or at least cover up the wound ourselves with some liquid bandage.

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Ethan and I drove around the next morning to a nearby urgent care facility only to find it packed with waiting patients, which we had to leave since we had to catch our cruise ship that afternoon. Thankfully the injury was above Ethan’s hairline, and we eventually resorted to our trusty liquid bandage to close the wound. Despite the setback, we managed to reunite with Erica’s family and set sail for our eagerly anticipated cruise.

Travel Tip - Emergency Medical Care
When traveling, access to emergency medical care is crucial. Prioritize researching local healthcare facilities and understanding insurance coverage abroad. Carry essential medications and a first-aid kit. Familiarize yourself with emergency contact numbers and language translations for medical needs. Remain vigilant, follow safety protocols, and consider purchasing travel insurance with comprehensive medical coverage to ensure peace of mind during unexpected health crises.

Meeting The In-Laws at The Roma Cruise Terminal

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Amidst the pre-cruise excitement, our family reunion at the Roma Cruise Terminal marked the beginning of our ten-day cruise adventure. Erika’s brother-in-law, Carlos, was prone to seasickness and we took great delight in teasing him about it while we waited to board. Eager and thrilled we finally set our sights on the Carnival Pride, ready for adventure on the high seas.

Cruise Ship Travel Tip - How to Deal with Seasickness
To combat seasickness on a cruise, take proactive measures. Choose a cabin located in the ship's center for minimal movement. Stay hydrated, consume light meals, and avoid alcohol and greasy foods. Utilize over-the-counter remedies or seasickness bands. Spend time on deck to acclimate your body. Seek medical advice if symptoms persist. Above all, maintain a positive mindset and embrace the journey.

Boarding the Carnival Pride & Family Dinner

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Excitement filled the air as we navigated our way through the terminal and boarded the Carnival Pride. Safety checks and lifeboat familiarization were part of the process, but soon we were all settled in, enjoying our first on-board meal together. Celebrations were in order as we commemorated a special birthday on board, adding a memorable touch to our cruise experience. Everyone had a great time, even Ethan, the cut on his head long forgotten amid all the laughter and joy.

Emergency Medevac on the Carnival Pride

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However, amidst the joy, we faced a heart-wrenching moment as the ship halted due to a medical emergency later that evening. A young guest required immediate evacuation, causing a brief delay and a sobering reminder of the fragility of life. Me and a few hundred other passengers watched in rapt attention as an Italian Search and Rescue vessel sidled up to the much larger Carnival Pride and a stretch carrying the blanketed figure of the sick passenger was transferred from ship to ship

Witnessing the professionalism of the emergency services reassured us that all necessary steps were taken to help the young boy. We were reminded of the importance of compassion and understanding in times of crisis. I was, however, dismayed and annoyed to hear some of the other passengers’ lament at the delays all this would cause to their trip itinerary.

Cruise Ship Travel Tip - Emergency Medevac Facts
Medevac procedures on cruise ships prioritize swift, efficient medical care. Trained onboard medical staff assess and stabilize patients, coordinating with onshore medical facilities if necessary. Helicopter or boat evacuations may be employed in critical situations. Passengers are briefed on emergency protocols during embarkation. Travel insurance covering medical evacuations is advisable, ensuring timely and comprehensive assistance in unforeseen emergencies.

Captain’s Address to the Passengers

The next day the captain addressed the ship about last night’s emergency medevac on the Carnival Pride. He reminded us that his top priority is always on guest safety and well-being and despite last night’s disruption, the rest of the cruise schedule will not be affected. Also, we were notified that the medevacked child was safe and doing much better in a hospital back in Rome – which filled us all with great relief. It was the like we were given permission to relax and enjoy the rest of the trip – which we definitely did!

Final Thoughts on a Rough Day

Our Europe adventure, with all its highs and lows, continues in the next part. Day 9 of the trip, our first day on board the Carnival Pride, was a testament to the resilience of family bonds and the fickle nature of travel. It’s only when you face adversity that you gain a profound respect for the unpredictability of life’s journey. For the previous entry in our 3 Weeks in Europe with 3 Kids series, click here.

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Pisa’s iconic Leaning Tower is our stop in Day 8 of our European Vacation! In today’s episode of our on-going series me, my wife Erika and our three kids aged seven, five and one, spend the day learning history and snapping pictures of the leaning tower of Pisa. Despite a horrible start to the day, we managed to make it to our destination on-time and make the most of the time we had in Pisa’s Cathedral Square.

For more iconic European landmarks check out our previous blog posts on our stops at Paris and Venice.

Worst Possible Start – Wrong Trains and Heavy Rains

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Our Pisa adventure kicked off with what could be best described as a series of unfortunate events. We woke up early in our hotel room in Monterosso, packed our bags, had breakfast and rushed to the train station. The sky, which was overcast and cloudy the previous day, opened up with heavy rain. And to top it all off we boarded the wrong train.

Pisa Travel Tip – When Life Gives you Lemons…

Travel mishaps such as lost connections, departure delays or flight cancellations can be stressful and overwhelming (especially when you’re in a new and unfamiliar city), but it’s important to stay calm and improvise. Possible solutions include arranging alternative transportation, rescheduling, or exploring new destinations. View travel setbacks as opportunities for unexpected adventures and personal growth.

We improvised raincoats by paying the cook on the train 5 Euros for some plastic bags which we fashioned into makeshift raincoats. We then proceeded to get off at the next station and catch the correct train to Pisa. Not the greatest start to the day, but we made the best of it. No adventure is without with a few hiccups!

Pisa Travel Tip – Explore Florence and Pisa in One Day

Many cruise ships in Italy dock at the port city of Livorno and offer passengers 10-12 hours to explore the area. From personal experience, it is entirely possible to explore not just Livorno, but also Florence and Pisa during that brief time – you just have to plan properly and be prepared for contingencies.

Here’s what we did during our last cruise ship trip to Italy: Start in Florence: Take the train to Florence from Livorno and spend 3-4 hours exploring the city’s rich history and culture. Take the train to Pisa: From Florence take a train to Pisa for a relaxed afternoon, safe in the knowledge you are closer to your cruise ship in case of unexpected delays. Check train schedules and have a backup plan for returning to your cruise ship, such as taking an Uber/taxi in case you are late or miss the last train back to Livorno.

Finally Reaching Pisa

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Much to the relief of everyone, we finally made it to Pisa with no further delays or drama. After stowing our luggage at the Pisa Train Station, we hopped on a taxi to Cathedral Square, the site of the world-famous leaning tower. A bus would have been much cheaper, but we opted for a taxi since it is quicker and we were willing to pay a little extra to be able to spend more time exploring Pisa.

Pisa Travel Tip – Stow Your Bags!

Stow Your Bags offers convenient and easy luggage storage in many cities across Europe. Simply book online and pay in advance. Pisa train station also has a luggage storage service, but it’s often busy and doesn’t offer advance booking. Both options are convenient for travelers who want to explore the city without checking into a hotel.

Exploring Pisa Cathedral Square

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I don’t need to write endless paragraphs about our time at Pisa Cathedral Square – the pictures speak for themselves. It lives up to the hype and we had a great time exploring the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa Cathedral and Pisa Baptistery (even though we were a little rushed trying to see everything in the time available). The only place we didn’t go to in Cathedral Square was inside he Leaning Tower itself, since the climb wasn’t feasible with two young boys and a baby in a stroller. Pisa Cathedral Square something everyone should experience at least one time in their lives – Erika and I count ourselves extremely lucky to have visited more than once.

Leaving Pisa & Conclusion

The kids were getting tired and a little cranky so we took that as our cue to head back to the station to take the train to Rome. Before leaving we browsed the souvenir stands – the kids, as usual, wanted to buy everything so I had to remind them that we had limited luggage space which was already bursting at the seams with all the purchases we have made in our trip so far. Our Pisa adventure ended with us on the bus heading to the train station, tired but happy.

Stay tuned for the next entry in our European Trip series, where we explore Rome and board a cruise ship!

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Last Two Stops in Cinque Terre: Vernazza & Monterosso

Welcome to the Cinque Terre stop of our ongoing European adventure, where myself, my wife Erika and our three kids aged seven, five and one explore Europe on planes, trains and cruise-ship. In today’s entry we wrap up our tour of the five picturesque seaside towns that make up the Cinque Terre region of Italy. We just finished visiting Manarola, Riomaggiore and Corniglia – our next stop on our whirlwind Cinque Terre tour: Vernazza

Cinque Terre Stop #4 – Vivid Vernazza

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After our downhill hike in Corniglia (our previous stop in the “Five Lands“), we boarded the train for Vernazza. The train station, conveniently located in the town center, spared us the uphill climbs that we had to endure in our previous stops. If you are here after reading our previous entry, you won’t be surprise to find out that Vernazza is yet another “charming coastal town in Cinque Terre”.

By now we were all a little tired and starting to feel a little loopy. I kept calling Vernazza “Monterosso” and Erika thought she lost our baby (our baby, Emma, was safe with me the whole time). We decided to make a beeline to the Vernazza Seafront since it was so close to the town center where we were.

The vibrant colors of the buildings against the sea were a feast for the eyes and the waves rolling crashing against the rugged cliffs created a mesmerizing spectacle. No matter how tired we were and how many times we had seen this seafront view in our Cinque Terre tour, it never failed to amaze.

As we strolled along the promenade, our boys couldn’t help but be captivated by the fishermen casting their nets into the choppy waters. Even our baby, Emma, seemed excited. We topped off our visit to Vernazza by getting some gelato and headed back to the train station.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Use Google Maps for Public Transport Schedules in Europe

Technology has simplified travel a great deal – even compared to when Erika and I made the same trip 10 years ago. Roaming data plans for cell phones across Europe are much more affordable now then they were back then. Thanks to online services like Google Maps, the days of poring over train schedules and worrying about missed connections are long gone. We used Google Maps to check train schedules and platforms in real-time, ensuring a seamless journey to our next destination.

Cinque Terre Stop #5 – Mesmerizing Monterosso al Mare

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After a day filled with exploration and gelato, we boarded a train back to Monterosso. Monterosso is divided into two separate parts: an old town and a new town. They are connected by a pedestrian tunnel, which is a fun to walk across since it has various window cutouts built into it with exhibits highlighting the local history. For more on our explorations of Monterosso, check out our Day 5 in Europe blog post.

The day was coming to an end, as was our time in Cinque Terre. The plan for our last day in Monterosso was for dinner and then back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the restaurant I had in mind, which got great reviews, was booked solid so we had to scramble for an alternative. Thankfully we had a great meal at La Cantina Del Pescatore Bar Enoteca, which was also busy, but managed to accommodate us.

On the walk back to the hotel from the restaurant I couldn’t help marvel at how enchanting Monterosso was in the evening when the day-trippers and cruise ship crowds departed. A peaceful evening walk was a fitting end to our busy day.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Baby strollers

It’s entirely possible to explore this stunning region with your little one in tow. Go for a lightweight, easily maneuverable stroller that can handle uneven terrain. Be prepared for staircases and steep inclines. As you can see it can be a challenge to carry the stroller (with baby!) up the stairs in some of the hilly Cinque Terre towns.

The End of Our Time in Cinque Terre

Back at our cozy hotel in Monterosso, Erika was at the bar getting drinks and I was in bed reflecting on our day’s adventures. Emma was toddling around the room and our two boys were having the time of their lives creating mayhem in their bunk beds. As the night settled in, we sipped cocktails and were recharging our batteries for the next leg of our journey — Pisa.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Family Friendly Hotels

Cinque Terre is an ideal destination for a family vacation. Fortunately, there are several family-friendly hotels in the region that cater to the needs of both parents and children. The hotel we stayed at, Hotel Souvenir, is a great option for families. It’s located in Monterosso al Mare and makes for a great base to explore the rest of Cinque Terre.

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The Trip So Far – Day 1 In Cinque Terre, Italy with My Wife and Three Kids

Welcome to the latest installment of our European travel series! In this blog post, we’ll take you on a whirlwind journey through Cinque Terre, Italy. Join me, my wife Erika, and our three kids as we navigate the picturesque villages, enjoy the stunning coastline, and provide you with some valuable tips and insights for your own adventure. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our Previous blog posts on Paris, Venice and the high-speed train journey from Venice to Cinque Terre.

Located in the Ligurian coast of northwest, Cinque Terre (Italian for “Five Lands”) is made up of five picturesque coastal villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. This region is known for its stunning cliffside landscapes, hiking trails, fresh seafood, and is a must visit if you’re ever touring Italy.


Starting Our Day in Monterosso

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We started our day bright and early in our hotel room in Monterosso, one of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre. We resolved to have an early breakfast and leave our hotel to explore as much of Cinque Terre as we could in a single day.

Travel by car in the winding narrow roads connecting the five towns of Cinque Terre is difficult – the best way to explore the area is by train. Initially my plan was to travel between each town by water-taxi, unfortunately the waters on the day we arrived were too choppy to allow for safe travel by boat. We bought a family travel pass for the entire day which let us board all the local trains that stop in each town. It also let us use the local shuttle buses and even offered free access to the paid public restrooms at the train stops.

We had to rush to catch the train and luckily, we made it just in time. It can be difficult to explore all five towns in a single day, but possible with some planning. Be aware of train schedules and budget yourself enough time to explore each town before moving on to the next.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Prepare for Contingencies

Prepare for contingencies and be flexible with your planning. When travelling, circumstances beyond your control can change at any time – flight delays, bad weather, local holidays, etc. If something you had planned doesn’t work out, don’t let it ruin your holiday! Be adaptable and come up with alternative plans to make the most of your day.

Cinque Terre Stop #1 – Magnificent Manarola

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Our first stop was Manarola, where we explored the narrow cobbled streets and marveled at the quaint painted buildings. We made our way to the coast and were rewarded by breathtaking views of the village, the sea, and the rugged coastline. The choppy waters of the sea did not diminish our enjoyment of the amazing cliffside views.

After a quick stop at a roadside cafe (Erika and the kids got some fried calamari) we headed back to the station to board the train for our next stop. I was a little surprised by the appearance of a freight train, which zoomed through our platform at full speed – scary when you’re waiting for your train with two hyperactive boys.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Mind the Gap!

When travelling to bustling places like train stations, roads and docks – keep an eye on your kids! Especially if they are younger children who are full of energy and can’t stand still. Not every tourist hotspot, not matter how picturesque, has the same safety health and safety standards you may be used to in your home country. Keep well within the safety lines and make sure your kids don’t get too close to the road/railroad tracks/water.

Cinque Terre Stop #2 – Rugged Riomaggiore

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We boarded the first train that came along and got off at the next stop. Initially I wasn’t even sure where we were, but the street signs outside the train station helpfully informed we were in Riomaggiore, the last of the sequence of towns that make up the “five lands”.

Much like our whirlwind tour of Manarola, we walked through the charming old buildings and cobblestone streets and made a beeline for the coast, where once again we were greeted by enchanting views. The village’s colorful buildings nestled along the cliffs were picture-postcard perfect. Even the kids were impressed!

I should point out that we’re doing our tour of the five lands in reverse. We started off in Monterosso, which is the first of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre, but instead of working our way down, each town, we started off at the very end and made our way up back to Monterosso. Why do this? We wanted to avoid the cruise ship crowds who would be taking the more tradition route down the five towns. Were we successful? I’d like to think so – my wife Erika would probably disagree!

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Be Spontaneous!

Sometimes the best part of travelling is to wing it! Board the first bus or train that comes by and see where it takes you. Have a vague plan and outline of what you want to do and where you want to go, but don’t be a slave to your itinerary! Explore, get lost, find your way again. The best travel memories come from unexpected stops and unplanned events.

Cinque Terre Stop #3 – Craggy Corniglia

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We rushed back to the station and took the local train to the next stop in our whirlwind Cinque Terre tour: Corniglia. Unlike the other “five land” towns, Corniglia does not directly face the sea, but is built on a hill some ways up the train station. The two options to reach Corniglia is to hike up winding trails or take the shuttle bus. Since our day pass gave us access to the shuttle bus we opted for the latter – unfortunately so did everyone else who were visiting the town with us. The bus ride up the hill was picturesque, but crowded – we had about 40 people crammed into the tiny shuttle bus.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Buy the Day Pass

The Cinque Terre Card is a must when travelling across the Five Lands. It gives a family of four access to a variety of public transport options without having to buy tickets each time, saving time and money. With one pass you get access to the trains, shuttle buses, hiking walkways and even get free use of the train station restrooms. Prices vary by season, be sure to check the website for current pricing.

We explored the tiny town and took in the sea views – which were nice but not as spectacular as the ones in Manarola and Riomaggiore. I’m reluctant to say this but if you are short on time I would consider passing on Corniglia. It’s a charming little town and we are happy we visited but if you are on a cruise or have a limited amount of time I would consider other villages in Cinque Terre over Corniglia.

I say this based on our situation with kids and the limited time we had to see and experience everything. If you have the time and ability to hike there are some really cool trails to check out and explore around Corniglia.

Cinque Terre Travel Tip – Careful on the Hills!

The towns of Cinque Terre, while lovely, are built on hills and can be quite steep in places. A lot of the streets are on an incline and the narrow streets have steps built in for foot traffic – you don’t want to fall down any of them!

Hiking Downhill to the Corniglia Train Station

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We decided to skip the bus to skip the bus and ended up walking back down to the train station. The line for the bus was huge and the entire walk down the hills was only about 15 minutes. One nice thing about hiking back to the station was that we were able to enjoy the countryside a lot more. The hills around Corniglia are covered in greenery and vineyards. We saw an old (presumably abandoned?) rail tracks used for hauling good up the hills.

We made our way back to the train station, tired but happy. Our Cinque Terre adventure continues in the next blog post – be sure to check it out! For more of our travel vlogs, click here.

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