Where does the time go when you’re on holiday? It seems like only five minutes that you were excitedly – or manically – throwing everything you own into a suitcase and making a hazy guess as to its wait. Before inevitably preying when it goes onto the scales at an airport baggage check-in as the numbers quickly start to tick towards your weight limit.
So far on our Crystal cruise we have sampled the high life. Having sauntered through Sorrento we were captivated by Capri and adored Kotor. Our time on board wasn’t bad either. To punt it bluntly we have been spoiled. The service was impeccable, the food unbeatable and even the entertainment – something I tend to steer clear of for some well-deserved time at the bar – was brilliant.
Our final stop on this leg of our honeymoon would be Venice, arguably one of the most famous cruise ports in Europe. The queen of the Adriatic. For both myself and my new wife it is our first time here. We have been told that we won’t forget it in a hurry.
However, somewhat unsurprisingly, given that our arrival coincides with the Venice Film Festival, the city is going to be even busier than usual. There will be more than ten ships visiting across the weekend. Add that to the usual crowds that fill St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge and you are dealing with crowds that are big even for this tourist mecca.
The city itself is made up of six districts, each with its own characteristics and unique quirks. The most popular is San Marco, which houses the famous square as well as the basilica and the Doge’s palace. The most famous bridge in Venice – the before mentioned Rialto – connects San Marco to San Paulo, its less heavily populated brother.
Before going, we took the advice of Cruise Adviser co-publisher Anthony Pearce, who visited the city earlier in the year. Speaking from experience, he told us to spend less time on the major sites and more time walking into the neighbourhoods of Venice. Tread the pavements walked by real people – rather than the hoards of tourists jousting with their newly-acquired selfie sticks.
After taking the water bus to St Marks and slowly threading our through the beautiful – albeit heavily crowded – square we crossed the Rialto and breathed a sigh of relief. This is the Venice you know. Carry on walking, through the tight, winding alleyways and be prepared to get lost in what must be one of the densest networks of streets and canals in Europe. The beautiful, renaissance buildings are resplendent as they perilously nod towards each other and the channels of water that lie below.
We consider whether to get a gondola but end up deciding against it – something we fear that we may regret – although at the time €80 for half an hour or so struck us both as a bit of a rip-off.
We find a small trattoria tucked behind a church and order a pizza next to a table of the stripy shirted boatman – who are enjoying the spoils of their work, as well as a couple of glasses of mid-afternoon wine.
As we head back to the ship, walking along the Grand Canal, we both agree that we will return to Venice. Perhaps during the off-season, so that we can take in some of the more famous sites and visit a few of the areas even further afield.
And almost inadvertently we have fallen into one of the biggest traps set up by the cruise lines. A cruise offers the chance to visit multiple places on one trip – taking a small sample from each. If you like what you experience you can easily book a longer stay in that destination and delve a little deeper.
Crystal have been a fantastic host to us on this trip. The much talked about expansion plans that the company is beginning to mount on the sector are ambitious, but not misplaced. The customers we spoke with had an appetite for Crystal. They want to stick with what they see as ‘their brand’. Up until now that has meant sampling more itineraries on either Serenity and Symphony, and plenty of them have been perfectly happy doing so.
However, with river, yachts, airplanes, more ships and promised further expansions on the horizons they now have further choice.
I can’t imagine many of them leaving the Crystal family any time soon.