Having seen a great deal of Italy by now, but not yet Venice, it was an easy decision to plan a birthday cruise sailing from the floating city. As with all my travels around Italy, there were learning experiences, lots of surprises and a few disappointments.
Although I’m not a particular fan of cruising, it’s a convenient mode of transportation. I’d taken Mediterranean cruises in the past, usually including Italy’s western coast, and one that had afforded me two glorious days in Sicily.
So, I was excited now to sail from the opposite side of the country and travel to Greece and Croatia.
A few complications
Being the week before Thanksgiving, the timing was perfect. Post-COVID travelers were sailing again, but the off-season meant chillier temperatures and fewer crowds, and the Christmas rush had not yet begun.
And pricing was a fraction of summer fares.
The train ride from Florence to Venice is just over two hours, with several available direct routes. After a typical pleasant journey through the Tuscan countryside, I emerged from the Santa Lucia Stazione to my first surprise.
There are several options to get from the station to the cruise terminal, including vaporetto waterbuses or expensive private water taxis. I’d decided to walk over the Ponte della Costituzione (Constitution Bridge) to get to the People Mover tram that would take me directly to the Marittima cruise terminal.
Easier said than done.
Even with only my wheeled carryon and a backpack, and the modern, walkable bridge’s steps being very shallow, it was still a much greater effort than I thought. And, while the crowds were small compared to summer months, there was a crush getting out of the station and to the bridge. (The sad circumstance of Venice being overrun and trashed by tourists has necessitated a mandatory “entrance fee” for day-trippers beginning on 16 January.)
Finally arriving at the terminal, I wasn’t sure what to expect at check-in. I’d never boarded a ship here before, and it was also my first voyage on an MSC line, in this case the MSC Armonia (Harmony). I’d completed and printed out the online pre-cruise registration forms. So, with those docs and my passport and vaccine card in hand, I took my place in a line that was actually moving pretty quickly.
The process was efficient, although the two different checkpoints and holding areas before boarding shore boats to the ship seemed a bit much. Overall, not terrible.
One major disappointment was the port itself. I’d seen many photos of ships departing Venice and sailing past the breathtaking beauty of St. Mark’s Square. But today, only the smallest ships and riverboats can use the Porto Venice that provides those amazing vistas.
The great majority of vessels are now relegated to Porto Marghera, a drab cargo/industrial port with corresponding views.
Only once we were out of port did I feel my vacation had begun.
Solo travel travails
As a longtime solo cruiser, I knew the drill. First, you are punished for not having a companion, and charged an outrageous premium for your single stateroom. Then, you are assumed to be an idiot and preyed upon by folks hawking ridiculous “singles” stuff.
This was not the case on MSC, or at least not on this voyage. (Hopefully the new, radical concept of treating solo travelers like actual valued customers will catch on.)
Dining options included small tables or mingling with new friends in the main dining rooms. I usually avoid cruise ship buffets, but even that was somewhat civilized. And there were lots of spaces onboard to enjoy a bit of solitude.
Masks are no longer mandatory but many passengers wore them.
Being an Italian line, I fully expected the food to be delectable. It was plentiful of course, but just okay. (I did hear many people raving about the food, so maybe I’ve gotten a bit spoiled living in Tuscany?)
There were excellent wine options, but you’ll pay through the nose for them if you haven’t pre-purchased a package – a must, in my view.
Returning and envisioning the next trip
Bumming around the Greek Isles on my own was everything I’d hoped, their splendor simply incomparable. Visiting the Acropolis and the new Acropolis Museum was thoroughly gratifying. And, having been in Croatia in the mid-90s following the war, I was delighted to see the contrast today. Visiting new places or those you haven’t seen in years can yield both intellectual and spiritual growth.
You always know it’s been a good vacation when it ends too soon.
The hours-long disembarkation process was disappointing although not unexpected. But, Italy is a great central base to reach several destinations I still hope to visit, and being able to sail there is an added
Upon arriving back in Venice, I found myself already envisioning future excursions – including a more thorough exploration of that fantastic, floating city.
See more about Italy here in Dispatches’s archives.