When I was first asked to host a group on a large cruise ship, I worried that it would be limiting for photographers but I was pleasantly surprised to discover how wrong I was. A small group is preferable when it comes to photo tours but on a cruise you get the best of both worlds. I had cruised with Celebrity Cruises before in Alaska, which was truly amazing so I knew the service, food and amenities would be top notch as well as getting access to places difficult to get to by land. The same can be said for this cruise considering 6 or the 8 ports were on islands.
Small Group + Flexibility and Choice
Even on a cruise ship, you can be part of a small group and receive individual attention and perks but have a lot of flexibility and choice. Don’t like being part of big bus tours? You can easily explore most ports on your own, take a hop-on-hop-off bus (some go right to the ship like in Athens or are within a short walk like in Rhodes) or hire a cab for your own private tour. I experienced all three on this cruise and chose strategically which ones would be done through the ship’s shore excursions or on our own and I was pleased with every single one. So the lesson is you can cruise and still travel very independently.
Our ship, the Celebrity Reflection had over 3000 guests, but it never felt crowded. We got on and off with ease, there were always some free lounge chairs on the pool deck and with 2 performances a night, finding a seat for the shows was easy. With so many things going on, you are bound to meet people and make new friends which is one of the great joys of traveling but it’s also very easy to find quiet areas so not to worry if you are more of an introvert! Miss the outdoors? Our ship even had 3 areas with actual grass where you could play lawn bowling or sit and watch the rugby world championships or a movie on some nights. The food is also plentiful and very good with something for every taste and need! Since it is so plentiful and delicious, this is where a good dose of self-discipline comes in handy (or making sure you hit the gym or the track) but you also want to enjoy yourself and indulge now and then, am I right?
Amazing Sunrises and Sunsets
I also worried about not being on land during sunset or sunrise but we were almost always in a new port before sunrise and still there to catch the sunset as we sailed away. Going up to the top deck meant we had a really great view of the cities and ports we were in. We could even see the Acropolis in Athens even though the port is about 40 minutes away. On sea days, I was able to get a conference room so we could talk shop, share tips and do image reviews but there was also lots of down time to enjoy the many activities and amenities on the ship, including my fave: trivia!
For me, the best perk of cruising is only having to unpack once. I love to explore and see new things but having to pack up my suitcase every night or two can be a drag. During our 12-night cruise, we went to 8 different ports, starting with Barcelona, then Palma de Mallorca, Messina in Sicily, Mykonos, Athens, Santorini and Rhodes in Greece and finally Valletta in Malta before returning to Barcelona. While we didn’t always have perfect weather, it was warm and very pleasant except for a few rain showers that did curb some people’s plan to go to the beach or do a boat tour. That’s the once thing that no one can ever control on any trip so the more you learn to roll with the punches, the better.
The other great thing about cruising is peace of mind when it comes to your travel budget. Most things are covered and if you book at the right time you can often get perks like gratuitites and drink packages included. You can even book and pay for your shore excursions ahead of time if you want and any other charges on the ship (like shopping, specialty dining and the casino) can go right on the credit card you put on file with them so you don’t need to bring or convert a lot of cash. Cash it still useful in ports though if you want to take a cab but credit cards are widely accepted in most cafes, restaurants and shops.
Ok, there is a downside to cruising and in my opinion, it’s time. I wish I had more time in every single port we visited, if only just to stroll on a few more streets with histories older than I can fathom or sip a glass of wine and watch the sunset from one of those pretty white houses in Santorini… That said, it’s a great way to get a taste of many different places and plan a future trip where you can stay for a few nights to really get know a place and its people.
Memories in Pictures
For me, my favourite souvenirs to bring back from any trip are my photos. They also help me remember and really look at a place I visited with more time and ability to see the finer details and essence of a place. Things can often feel rushed when you only have so many hours in one place, especially if you want to try and visit a few things while in a port. Here are some of my best shots from each port.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the places I visited or would like to book a similar cruise on your own (HINT: there are some great sales on remaining 2019 cruises including Christmas!). There is also space on my next cruise with Celebrity to the Galapagos in November 2021!
Sicily (Taormina and Messina)
While I could have brought more, I still wanted to stay light so I brought 2 Nikon bodies, my D810 and D500 but only ended up using my D810 with my go-to travel lens – the Nikkor 28-300mm. There were times when I would have liked a wider lens or a faster lens but it’s a compromise I’m willing to make for convenience. Other lenses I brought were a Sigma 18-55mm f2.8 and a Nikkor 35mm f2. On days it threatened to rain (and boy did it ever pour at one point in Rhodes!) I was really happy to have my Lowepro Fastpack 250 with its rain cover. It also fit all my gear and my laptop while still having space for some personal things in the top half.
Of course, I also took quite a few photos with my iPhone too. 🙂
Thanks for reading and hope to see you on a future tour!