Exploring European ports on your own
By David G. Molyneaux, editor, The Travel Mavens
Making the most of Europe's ports during a cruise may mean planning your own shore excursions. Why? Because cruise lines operating in Europe tend to design port tours for the sedentary traveler.
Most of their excursions are easy on the feet but low on imagination, long on sitting and eating, short on exercise and mingling with local residents.
If your cruise to Europe is your first time across the Atlantic, you may decide to use the ship's tours, as they may give you a quick introduction to major cities and ports.
But if you are more adventurous, a world of opportunities awaits. You can commune with sheep in the Shetlands, walk and ride a mountain train in Norway, hike above the French Riviera, bike for free in Copenhagen.
You can double your pleasure on a cruise: Take advantage of all the relaxing and eating that the ship offers, then use shore excursions as opportunities for moderate or challenging activities, with rewarding experiences and great views.
On three Europe voyages -- the Grand Princess of Princess Cruises, the Wind Surf of Windstar Cruises and the Crystal Serenity of Crystal Cruises -- my wife and I planned active shore excursions. With all the four-course meals aboard ship, we wanted our port days to be athletic, nature-focused and independent, so we had prepared at home, using the Internet to locate tourism experts.
Among the best:
Pictures from A cruise of Northern Europe on Crystal Serenity