Cruising to Europe
We’re off to Europe – for 7 months! Imagine what it takes to book 214 nights’ lodging, transportation to 10 countries, and all the must-see sights you don’t want to miss. That’s our task – and we’re doing the planning while on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean….
When we sold our house and became Perpetual Travelers almost 3 years ago, Europe was solidly on our “bucket list” of places to go. We finally set the departure date while on a cruise to the Panama Canal with friends. The ship had a very good offer for a 14-day passage across the Atlantic to Europe – a small deposit, full cancellation privileges, a good price for a balcony stateroom, stops in 6 places and a $150 in shipboard credit. It was so attractive that we booked it on the spot, along with a return sailing in time to spend the holidays with the kids.
Phil and I had not cruised a lot so we listened when experienced cruisers told us how to get the best price. They said to either book early, book last minute, or book when the ship has a big sale. Back on land we continued to search sites like Vacations2Go.com for a better deal but this one remained on top. It was all set. We were going to Europe – and we had a lot of planning to do for 7 months.
We sketched out a kind of itinerary and booked a few things, but we didn’t have time for more. Instead we went off on another cruise, this time in the Caribbean, and then did a land trip to Costa Rica and Antigua, Guatemala. Planning would just have to wait.
How to plan for an entire 7 MONTHS
Finally we hunkered down in the RV in Florida to plan it all out. But things got in the way. We had friends to see, and our camping spot had terrific walking and biking paths. The nearby beach also beckoned and there were movies to catch up on. Then I made a trip to NC for a family event. We didn’t get very far in our planning.
Part of the reason was that it was all so daunting. We had to determine where exactly we wanted to go and when to go there for the best weather. Should we fly or take the train? What are the best districts in each city to stay in, could I really get by with just carry-on luggage and how was I going to get enough prescription meds to last me 7 months?
I got lucky exchanging our timeshares and booked one in Spain and two in the Italian countryside in September. We’ve long regretted buying into the timeshare thing back in the ‘90s. We find them hard to use but I was determined to figure out how to play the game and it seemed to pay off. With these timeshare properties booked, at least we had something in place to work around.
Before the bookings were all done, however, it was time for us to board the ship, bound for Europe. We tore sections out of guidebooks to take with us, treated ourselves to some bigger luggage (and new shoes for me), and boarded the ship with promises to skip dessert every night. We had earmarked our shipboard credit to offset the ship’s (exorbitant) internet fees so we could finish our work while onboard. We would have six days at sea before our first stop in the Azores in Portugal.
After the Azores, there would be 2 more days at sea then bam! Stops every day, first in the British Territory of Gibraltar, then the Spanish cities of Malaga, Alicante, and Palma de Mallorca before disembarking in Barcelona. There would be no time for planning during those going-ashore days.
Bad news about our 7 Month stay
I admit it – I had read about it from another traveler but I completely forgot this important and unfortunate fact – we are not allowed by law to stay in the European Union for 7 months!
After the EU was formed, the member countries met in Schengen, Luxembourg, and worked out a way for their citizens to travel from one country to another without needing visas. Foreigners like us, however, are limited to a maximum stay of 90 days during any 180 day period. Ninety days – not the 214 we were going to be in Europe.
The Schengen Agreement makes it very clear that there will be no in-and-outs for foreigners. Leaving the EU and returning does not reset the clock. That means that from the day we arrive in Barcelona on April 22 until 180 days later on October 20, we are only allowed to be in EU countries for 90 days in total. Aaarg, what about all the dates we had already booked and paid for that spanned over 7 months?
I had a bit of a hissy-fit about this until I remembered a discussion I had with our 6-year old granddaughter Gabriella. When we were talking about her taking a trip with her Grandpa and me, I asked her what her mother was going to think about it. Her straight-forward reply was, “She’ll just have to deal.” I figured I’d just have to deal with this.
Could we make this work?
It was tempting for us to ignore the Schengen rule and stay in the EU as long as we wanted. But the more we read about the penalties people reported – fines, being barred from returning to the EU, even jail – we agreed that we would comply. And just deal.
As the mathematician in the family, I got out my pencil and added up the days. Phil wanted to spend a month in Paris and another several weeks in Rome. We had already booked three timeshare weeks and a week in Provence, so the 90 days were pretty much accounted for. There were a lot of places we were not going to get to see. I reminded myself again that I’d “just have to deal”. Our 90-day clock would start again on October 20, so I needed to focus on exciting places to go outside the EU until then.
I googled the list of countries that are not participating in the Schengen Agreement and picked out a few we’d like to visit. As a lover of ancient history, Phil suggested the following. Instead of using our precious EU days in Barcelona when the ship arrived, we could go straight from the ship to the airport and fly to the Middle East for a tour of Israel and Jordan. We had heard that Turkey is very beautiful and Croatia is a hot destination these days, so we booked several weeks in those countries as well. But we still had lots more time to fill.
Some time ago, we visited Salt Lake City where the Mormons have a keen interest in their family heritage. This inspired us to dig into our family backgrounds so we had our DNA tested. My results pointed us to our next destination – Britain.
With 95% of my blood coming from Britain and Scotland, of course I had to go there. Lucky for me, they don’t have the Schengen restriction, so I allotted England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland two full months of our travel time.
Or so I thought….
It seems that Phil had now become a lover of cruising. While looking for a cruise to Greece, he found one for a very good price going to the Balkans. It leaves out of London on August 1 and stops in Brussels, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg Russia, Estonia and Poland. I hesitated at bit but we were encouraged by some new traveling friends who had been to these areas, and so we booked it.
This 2-week cruise falls smack in the middle of our 2 months in the British Isles, so my job, now that we knew I was the Brit in the family, was to divvy up our time there into 2 sections. I’m thinking we’ll go to England, Wales and Ireland before the cruise and England and Scotland after. There are so many English gardens and beautiful countryside manors and castles to explore (Downton Abbey, anyone?) that I’m now worried that we won’t have enough time. Plus I haven’t had time to fully book our lodging so it’s possible we may be “winging it”. Cross your fingers for us as it will be Summer high season, you know.
SHALL WE go to egypt?
We may not take that cruise back to the USA that we booked for the Fall. Booking time in Israel made me think about seeing the pyramids and the sphinx in Egypt. I understand that the best time to visit Egypt starts in October, when the temperature is no longer 115 degrees. If we go at that time, we’ll take advantage of the cruise line’s liberal cancellation policy and fly back to the USA instead of cruising. This is another decision we’ll delay until farther on down the road, so to speak.
“NOTHING TO DO AND SO LITTLE TIME TO DO IT”
That’s the saying on a cruise ship when there are lots of days at sea. Phil says he wants a cruise like that. We were very busy on this one, using what may be the slowest internet system known to man to do our bookings. To give you an example, it took Phil over an hour just to book a car on Budget. The connections were very slow and he kept getting kicked out and then having to start over filling out the form. I know we were in the middle of the ocean, but they can put a man on the moon, so why can’t we get better internet?
We watched other people on the ship enjoying the amenities we didn’t have time for. No lying around the pool sipping drinks garnished with little umbrellas, no games with the other guests or hours socializing in one of the many bars. We weren’t lying out on deck chairs reading novels on our Kindle or playing bridge in the game room. We had to pick and choose which of the lectures, classes, movies and shows we could afford the time to see. I did get in my 4 mile walk on the promenade deck each morning and we made sure we didn’t miss a meal. I think we consoled ourselves with the desserts we said we wouldn’t eat….
Did we get it all done? No, not yet. But our time on the ship is over now and we’re off to the Middle East. At least this part of the trip is all planned, thank goodness.
How do you think it will all work out for us? Do you have any suggestions? Any places we must see? Have you had wild and crazy experiences planning trips? Please share your experiences and suggestions. If you reply in the Comments Section below others can see your comments, too, or you can email me. We’re a long way from home and it would be good to hear from you…Tweet