Day 15 – Monte Carlo

October 16, 2018.

Monte Carlo, Monaco

We will be in port from 8 am until 10 pm.

THE PLAN:

Monaco is a tiny little place. The only country that is smaller is the Vatican. The problem is that it’s built pretty much on a cliff. But it’s a rich tiny little place, so they’ve put a lot of public elevators all over the place, which is the good news. The bad news is that they appear to be relatively hard to locate. There aren’t big signs pointing you to them. But there’s some more good news. I have a handy-dandy little map with all the elevators and escalators marked.

It appears that the must-see stuff includes a large oceanographic center (formerly run by Jacques Cousteau, so you know we gotta. . .), the palace itself, and of course, the casino.

They charge you € 10 just to walk into the casino and you have to be dressed “appropriately” and present your passport, so we’ll probably pass on that. But certainly we’ll go there and goggle at the Rolls Royces outside.

My main concern here is making sure that along about noon, we are close to port so we can go back on the ship for lunch. There is no need to pay Monte Carlo prices to eat a meal when there is a free one on the ship. We have a long time in port, until well after dark, so we can always have a latish lunch and then go back into town and come back to a latish dinner.  This, of course, is almost certainly “the plan” of half the people on board.

Some folks will use Monte Carlo as a port simply to access someplace else, perhaps Nice. The thing is that some cruise ships dock in Nice, and those passengers take excursions to. . .Monte Carlo.  So I think we’ll stay in Monaco.

THE REALITY:

As you can see, we really liked the aquarium.  We’ve been to them before, including the really nice one in Alaska, but this was pretty fabulous.

We never made it to the casino. The weather was very iffy and the aquarium ate up much of the day.

5+

Day 14 – Marseille

October 15, 2018

Marseille, France

We will be in port from 8 am until 6 pm.

This is our only port in France. We will be here twice, once today, and again in a couple of weeks on the Meraviglia.

However, the time in port today is the better one. With the Meraviglia, we dock at noon and depart at 7 pm, for reasons known only to the gods at MSC and perhaps the harbor master in Marseille.

This is a dilemma port.  Marseille is not really a touristy city. It’s kind of gritty from what I read, although they appear to be trying to clean up their act a little bit recently.

It’s also very difficult to get from the cruise ship to the city, and the city is huge. Everything logistically hard is embodied in this port.

Hardly anyone comes to Marseille and stays in Marseille. They dock here and go elsewhere.

On Cruise Critic’s forum, you can find something called a “roll call.” It’s a message thread devoted entirely to one particular sailing on one particular ship. The forum makes it easy to find your roll call and easy to join it.

Once you do, you get notified of new messages and can sort of “meet” a few of the people you’ll be traveling with.

This is a super good thing for a couple of reasons.

First, most of the time, somebody arranges with the cruise line for a Cruise Critic meet-and-greet.  The ship arranges space and time, provides food, and some officers come and show themselves to be friendly.

But just as important in these roll calls is the ability to find people on board your ship who want to go do the same thing you want to go do.

When arranging these private tours (not through the cruise ship), some of the companies charge per person. That’s great, but it also puts the company in a bind. If I book a tour for the two of us, and nobody else books the tour, they’ve got to haul two people around for several hours using a vehicle that might easily hold six or eight.

So, what a lot of them do is price the tour not per head, but per vehicle. It might cost $500 for a six-hour tour, but the vehicle seats eight.  This comes to $62.50 per person, and that’s reasonable.  Fewer people and it gets more expensive.

People on Cruise Critic roll calls will tentatively book a tour and then make an announcement in the roll call and see if anyone else wants to join them.  Sometimes you get takers and sometimes you don’t.

I did this on the last cruise in the Azores and filled a minivan and we had a super good day at a very reasonable cost per person.

THE PLAN:

So, for this port we were faced with two options: stay in port, which isn’t the most enticing idea, or take this one opportunity to see a little bit of the French countryside and go someplace.

It just happened that somebody on Cruise Critic was arranging a tour to Avignon. That’s farther away than I like (1 hour) but, hell, the alternative isn’t all that wonderful either, and besides, the drive is fairly scenic.

So we opted in.

This is one of those one-price for the whole vehicle things. There are seven of us. If we can enlist one more single traveler, that would reduce the price for each of slightly, but it’s not terrible as it is.

It’s a seven-hour tour of Avignon and a winery. Lunch and admission to stuff is not included, but a guide is.

THE REALITY:

9+