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January 21, 2010

How to Maximize Your Port Sightseeing During Your Mediterranean Cruise

Those are my kids at Ephesus, the ancient Greco-Roman city in Turkey, during a Mediterranean cruise in December 2008. Through Sea Song Tours we hired a car and driver to pick us up at the pier in Izmir and help us beat the crowds to Ephesus so we could explore it independently.

If you've read my January column in Condé Nast Traveler about "How to Have a Perfect Time in Port," you know that if your primary goal on a cruise is to sightsee in the ports of call, it's crucial to research and plan your shore time in advance. Typically the ship is in port for only seven or eight hours, so you need to use your time efficiently and wisely. It's sometimes smartest to avoid the cruise line's pre-fab group shore tours and hire a private driver and/or English-speaking local guide to pick you up at the pier, take you to the sights you want to see (helping you bypass all lines), and then return you to the ship shortly before it sails. The right driver/guide can both expedite and enhance your sightseeing, providing a flavorful and custom-tailored shoreside experience that's more rewarding -- and, depending on the country and the number of people in your party, sometimes a lot cheaper -- than the cruise line's tours. Which is probably why Louise Nunnink has written in with this question:

"Four people will be cruising out of Barcelona in February. Could you please give me the contacts for port excursions in Rome, Athens, and Izmir, Turkey?"

Louise, if you booked your cruise through the right cruise travel agent, that person should have tight relationships with precisely the contacts you need and should be arranging all of this on your behalf. I can only assume that you did not use a travel agent--or did not use the right one--and therefore now must organize your shoreside itineraries on your own.  If what you want in these ports is a customized day of sightseeing and cool insider experiences, along with efficient and reliable car transportation, my suggestion is to contact the following:

For Rome: Filippo Curinga of I.D.I. Travel at
For Athens:  Leftheris Papageorgiou of Hellenic Adventures at
For Izmir: Karen Fedorko Sefer of Sea Song Tours at

If what Filippo, Leftheris, and Karen offer is too expensive -- I'm sending you to the finest, after all -- try and Bon voyage!  And if you want to see some pics from my last Mediterranean cruise, you'll find them here.

Does anyone else have a tour-company recommendation for one-day shore excursions in Mediterranean ports?  If so, I'd love to hear, so please share it in Comments below.


We did a full day excursion in Barcelona with a Spanish travel company (fluent English) called 'Totally Spain' which included a visit to Barcelona city and Montserrat and provided an excellent driver and English speaking guide for the day for me and my wife. Awesome tour, Excellent service and highly recommended. We are already planning our return trip!

In Rome, I highly recommend Miles and Miles Tours. Francesco was our guide and he was fantastic!

The very best Driver I and several other Travel Agents hired for a day tour, while on a Business trip seeing Sorrento and the Almalfi Coast 4 years ago, was Francesco Marrapaese at Very We still think of the day that Francesco picked all 6 of us up in Naples and toured us about the Almalfi Coast as one of the highlights of our combined 50+ cruises around the world. He is professional, polite, very knowledgeable, and well connected with other drivers throughout Rome, and most of Italy. He referred us onto other drivers in Florence area that were very good too.

We did many cruises to the Mediterranean. Here are some of the company with whom I have arranged private tours that I would recommend:

Alexandria/Port Said:

Hope this helps other travellers as they discover the beauties of the Mediterranean!!

One of the best dining experiences in all of Italy would have to include ‘Don Alfonso’. The biggest plus on this eating establishment is their impeccable taste in wines. The wines are stored in an Etruscan cellar, which adds to the overall impact that this meal has on your palette as well as on your mind. The Don Alfonso is located on the Corso Sant’Agata.

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