OK, sometimes I go a little overboard. Figurately, not literally. If my wife and I are sailing to multiple ports on a cruise, we research each port ahead of time. If we are traveling with friends and visiting several ports (or scenic cities accessed from the port) I assign each person a port to research. I’ve been wondering why some friends don’t travel with us more than once!
Here’s the logic. We might never pass this way again. You might think of Barcelona or Lisbon and say: “Of course we will.” We’ve felt the same way, then along came the pandemic. The lesson is to live in the moment. If you return, that’s even better.
Here are 10 points that go into our research:
- Buy a map. Yes, the ship will give you one. It’s not very detailed. Yes, you can access one online. Not so good either. Barnes and Noble and other big bookstores should have detailed city maps available. Often they are laminated and pre folded. You can get other maps that fold out to bigger sizes. You want perspective of where you are and where you want to be.
- Talk to friends. I think the bank HSBC has used the line “Nothing beats local knowledge” in their ads. You know people who have been to Venice or Florence. Learn from their experiences. “What did you like best?” “What would you do differently.” Don’t reinvent the wheel.
- Sights to see. Let’s assume you live in a world class city. A friend tells you about their previous visit. You list a few of the major sites. They say: “Nope. Didn’t see it.” You are mystified how they could travel all that distance and miss the sights that define the city. The section of the bookstore with those folding maps also has destination specific books starting with words like “top 10…”
- Where to eat. Every city has landmark restaurants. They have tourist traps too. Michelin guides make this pretty easy. TripAdvisor lists the most popular restaurants too. Check them out online. Make reservations in advance. Save your confirmation information.
- What to eat. I’ve always been impressed every Marriott property around the world (if they serve food) has the Marriott burger available. Why would you go to Paris and order a hamburger? There’s no need to replicate life at home! Learn what foods made the region famous. Find a restaurant that does it well.
- How to see the city. Your ship will have tours. You might choose one of them. It makes life easy. You might be on your own extending your trip in a major city. It’s highly likely they have “Hop On, Hop Off” bus operations. There are often more than one. They have multiple routes. One might be expensive. The other is cheap, cheap, cheap! Stand at the curb (or visit a sidewalk café for coffee) and count the busses. You want to go with the company that has the most busses on the streets.
- What to buy. Certain regions are famous for certain products. France does wine well. Spain is known for leather. Lisbon is known for ceramic pottery. Russia is known for caviar. If you are bringing home a souvenir or gifts, pick something identified with the city, not something you can easily buy at home.
- Local markets. Americans are used to supermarket shopping. Lots of the rest of the world still shops in local markets, at least occasionally. Small French towns have stalls setup in the town square on – you guessed it – Market Day. If they have a market that day, go check it out. It’s an enriching experience.
- Know how you are getting back to the ship. Hotels in Asia give you their business card. There’s often a map showing the hotel location. These are useful when you don’t speak the language. You might think your ship is the biggest, best and greatest, but there might be five ships in port, dispersed in different locations. Have a plan to get back. If the hop on, hop off bus stops near the pier, that’s idea.
At this point you know what sights to see, how you will get around, where you are eating and how you are getting back to the ship. You’ve adequately researched the port. You will be the star of your table that night when you tell about your adventures while others say: “We just got off the ship, looked around and came back for lunch.
Cover photo: Grand Cayman — known for its beautiful beaches, watersports and shopping