By: Lou Maningas Cabalona
Europe. That has always been my dream vacation destination since I was a kid!
But since making the USA my second home decades ago, my husband and I decided we must, first, either explore the many islands of the homeland we never got to see while living there or, discover all the different states of America has to offer.
But, one day last year, sometime before I reached the second trimester of my first pregnancy, I realized it might take years, maybe even a decade before we can truly have another vacation getaway (not counting trips to Disneyland). So, I made up my mind and decided — we are going on a cruise to Europe!
I know I made it sound so easy but the truth is, I didn’t think it would actually come true.
One, I had never gone on a cruise before so I didn’t know how to plan for it. Two, I quickly realized cruises, with all the hidden fees and unexpected expenses become super expensive – especially for those destinations that sail outside of the Americas. Three, I had a very small window to travel if I was to pick a date that wasn’t too close so the price (and cabin choices) become too expensive but also not too late that I wouldn’t be allowed to travel in my condition. That left me with about a 3 week window between the week after New Year’s and me reaching my 24th week of pregnancy.
And then, of course, in that limited window, I also wanted to make sure we chose a cruise that was going to places we wanted to visit – Rome, being the non-negotiable one.
But as Paulo Coelho writes in this famous novel, The Alchemist, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”.
And thanks to the universe and some friends and family’s help, we did!
We ended up having the most wonderful and unforgettable experience on an 8 day journey through the Mediterranean passing through Barcelona, Marseille, St. Tropez, Monaco, Florence, Pisa, and Rome with our parents – my in laws, Genia and Orlando and my mother, Sally, coming straight from the Philippines and a couple friend, Giga and Marionne on one of the best cruise lines in the USA that flew us right back to Chicago around the time I reached my 23rd week!
So to those cruise virgins who might think it is way outside of their reach to sail on one, whether it’s because of budget or any other reason, here’s a few good tips we picked up on this adventure that might help you consider hopping on one soon!
1) To pick the best cruise line for you, find out what perks are included in the fare
Comparing and contrasting cruise lines, we found a huge variance in what is and is not included in the cruise fare. Most common items not included are sodas and alcoholic beverages, internet usage, laundry services, and shore excursions – the trips to tourist spots accessible by land from the port.
While most cruises include all meals in their main dining rooms, you might find that specialty
Find out what is essential for you and make sure to consider the extra money you might be spending, say, on the internet if you need to be online or on alcohol, if you are the type that drinks wine at dinner time. It might be more cost effective for you to pay for an unlimited soda upgrade if you know you will be consuming a lot of it onboard.
A big part of the reason why we picked Viking Cruises is because it includes 1 shore excursion for every port stop. This meant less expenses touring the ports and cities, and it also helped lessen the planning we needed to do to maximize our trip.
In addition to that, all the perks mentioned above are also all included in the fare! Perfect.
2) Best time to cruise is during off peak season It happened purely by chance but it turns one of the more pleasant and rewarding times to cruise Europe is during off peak season – around November through March.
You can expect to pay less for more. We were surprised at how low our airfare was to Barcelona from Chicago and vice versa from Rome to Chicago. Also, a few days before we sailed, we got upgraded to bigger penthouse veranda state room in the ship. I was told by a friend who works at a cruise company, that they put together guests on the same floor if the ship is not full, which usually means that during off peak, you are likely to get moved to an equivalent or better room than you had paid for.
You can enjoy the sights better. Since there are lesser crowds, you can spend more time appreciating Gaudi’s architectural designs or refl ecting by Princess Grace Kelly’s Tomb in Monaco and lesser time waiting in line for hours to enter the Vatican. Even if there are shorter daylight hours, and your trip might be dampened with a little bit of rain, it is still far better than wading through giant crowds in scorching summer heat.
3) Plan what places you want to visit ahead of time
Doing this will save you time and money.
While planning our 2 day Rome itinerary, the last leg of our trip, I discovered that the ride from Civitavecchia port to Rome City proper was going to take nearly 2 hours. Because of this, I was able to schedule the appropriate time for our group to disembark the ship, check in to our hotel and make it time for our itinerary the same day.
At the same time, by booking tours, entry tickets and even cab transfers online, I was able to find cheaper prices that that gave us more bang for our buck – like the combined Vatican Museum – Sistine Chapel – St. Peters Basilica All-In- One Tour that was on a 30% discount on Thanksgiving Day!
4) Going in groups is more fun and more affordable too
Our big group of 7 always had a blast even if our feet hurt from walking a lot!
The best part is, one, we always had someone to take our photos. Two, when eating out (of the ship) we had more samplings of the local cuisine having 7 different choices to share or more. And three, taking a cab to anywhere becomes a cheaper and more convenient option than taking public transportation.
5) Guided Tours for historically significant destinations are definitely worth it
One part the trip everyone in our group enjoyed and appreciated much was the guided tours we participated in.
Aside from having skip the-line privileges with an offcial tour guide to take photos by famous sites and structures like the David in Florence, the Colosseum and the different structures built throughout the Roman Empire in the Forum, more importantly, we also gained a very tangible understanding of history and ancient culture and how they have affected our present society today. For a history buff like me and a curious enthusiast like my husband, it was a treat!
Alternatively though, if you feel the big company guided tours are a bit too expensive, you can also opt to go with tours hosted by locals in the area via sites like With- Locals.com or Airbnb Experiences. It’s usually more affordable and it will still give you good insights about the history of the city and their world famous sites.
Louella Maningas Cabalona is a singer, actor, and Senior Manager for Business Analytics, Sears Holdings. She is the lead singer of the Filipino Folk band, SamaSama Project; an active Board member of the League of Volunteers for Relief Expeditions and the Young Business United and is one of the inaugural delegates of the FYLPRO Immersion program of the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC. She is passionate about sharing Filipino culture in the modern world and actively supports all outstanding Filipinos around the globe. If you would like to connect, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Baron Cabalona, Sally Mesde, Giga Yanong, Louella Cabalona, Orlando and Genia Cabalona posting front of the Sagrada Familiar Temple in Barcelona designed by the famous Catalonian Architect Autonio Gaudi.
Th e whole gang enjoying aft ernoon tea by the Viking Star’s pool side lounge
Baron and Louella Cabalona has the statue of David all to themselves during their Florence, Italy Tour.
With the Production cast of Viking Cruises during the farewell reception
Enjoying the beauty of one of the most iconic structures in Pisa, Italy – the Leaning Tower and the nearby cathedral.
Th e family sneaking in a photoshoot to announce the coming of baby mahal in 2018 by the Colosseum in Rome, Italy (Photo Credits: Dmitry Agishev)
Th e fi rst time would be parents, Louella and Baron at the Trevi Fountain, Rome Italy (Photo Credits: Dmitry Agishev)