Do you think there’s no way to travel to Europe with young kids and truly enjoy yourself? Like, why is it worth it to spend all that money when they won’t even remember or really enjoy it? Why put them through all the trials and tribulations even the best of trips are bound to have? Why put yourself through that?! I agree and would have never taken my girl with my husband and I all the way to Europe unless it was to visit a family member.
However, I’m here to let you in on a little secret I was fortunate enough to discover: You can take your kids to Europe and have a relaxed, no-hassle vacation at the same time! How? Aboard a cruise! Yes, even if you’re a I’ll-never-be-caught-dead-in-a-cruise person, this is something you should consider and might change your perspective.
Last month my family and I were invited on a Norwegian Cruise Line vacation aboard the Epic. The trip was a 7-day route across the Western Mediterranean. The ship left from Barcelona and from there cruised to Naples, Livorno, Civitavecchia, Cannes and Marseilles. Visiting these ports gives you access to magnificent cities and regions like Rome, the Vatican, Florence, Tuscany, Monaco, Monte Carlo, Avignon, Provence and so much more.
Sounds exhausting? Well, the reality is that the day-long tours are very fast paced and you will be running around trying to see as much as you can in little time, but for us it was completely worth it because we could have never done this much in Europe without leaving our daughter with family members at home. This way, we were able to enjoy all the cruise amenities (the pool! the shows! the food!) with her before and after my husband and I went ALONE to some of the most amazing cities. All this without having to pack and unpack between destinations and coming back “home” to a tidy cabin and a night of pure relaxation and enjoyment ahead of us. And our girl didn’t even miss us one single day because she was having a blast on her own at the Splash Academy and Kid’s Club. Many older kids did accompany their parents out on the excursions, but most of them couldn’t wait to get back on the ship!
So I figured I’d make it easy for any of you trying to figure out if the Norwegian Epic is a good idea for your family and if you did choose to book a trip what would be the best itinerary. Below is the itinerary that we chose and worked well for us, minus some minor glitches that I’ll share with you so you can prepare.
Day 1 – Barcelona
After spending a day and a half in gorgeous Barcelona, we boarded the ship three hours before it departed from Barcelona so we could get ourselves oriented and settled in. Plus, our girl couldn’t wait to jump in the pools and check out the water slides! The Barcelona port is a busy one, so give yourself plenty of time.
Make sure you visit the Recess Kid’s Club on Deck 14 as soon as their Open House starts. Take your kids to check out the place and meet the Youth Coordinators. You will be able to register them that day, get activity schedules, and learn all the rules. My girl wanted to stay there because she loved it right away, but she had to wait until the next day.
Day 2 – Sea Day
This is the only full sea day aboard the Norwegian Epic and the only day the sound and movement of the ship docking at a port at 6am won’t wake you up. Get some sleep!
We took our girl to the pool and then to the Kid’s Club. We figured we’d only leave her there an hour or two to see if she liked it. Meanwhile, we went to Deck 5 to the Shore Excursions desk to figure out which tours we wanted and could take given our budget and our girl. When we went back to pick her up, she wanted nothing to do with us because she was having a blast!
A bit shocked and a bit excited, my husband and I went to the adult’s pool and then the quiet deck to have some quality time together. We hardly ever have this luxury!
Since our daughter was loving the Splash Academy and Kid’s Club so much, we decided to book the 10-hour Ultimate Rome tour for the two of us and other shorter tours the rest of the days.
Day 3 – Napoli
This was the first day we’d leave our daughter alone in the ship and, of course, that did make us a bit nervous. We decided to not book a shore excursion to explore Capri, Sorrento and/or Pompeii – but, we should have! Since the heart of the city of Naples is just steps off the port, and all I really wanted to do was eat pizza, we figured that we could just walk off and explore on our own. Big mistake! The city is a bit chaotic, albeit beautiful, and not being able to speak the language didn’t help. I could understand Italian and order a pizza and espresso, but that was it. We also learned that the only way the Kid’s Club could contact us while at port was if we were with one of the approved shore excursions. So the whole time I was nervous to get back to the ship.
After spending a few hours in Naples — and eating pizza Napolitana! — we ran back to grab our girl who was as happy as could be and taken well care of. The rest of the day included lots of pool time and nightly entertainment.
Day 4 – Rome (Civitavecchia)
This was our big day – Rome and the Vatican! We had to be out of the ship by 7am to meet our shore excursion guide for the Ultimate Rome tour. By now our girl was excited to get up and head straight to the Kid’s Club. We warned her she’d be there all day and she was fine with it. We let the Youth Coordinators know we’d be on the Ultimate Rome tour so we could be called if needed.
Note that the Kid’s Club is always free, except for Port Days when you have to pay $6 for every meal they will be there for, and then between 10pm to 1am.
The Ultimate Rome tour was very fast paced, but we were able to take in a lot of a city and a country (Vatican) in just one day. Enough to know we want to go back! The advantage of this excursion is that you’re guaranteed you’ll make it on time to the ship because it will never leave until all the approved shore excursion groups are back. This was important to us and worth the price, especially for this tour since Rome is a 2-hour drive from the port of Civitavecchia. There’s not much to do at the port at all, so you either stay onboard or book an excursion.
Day 5 – Florence/Pisa (Livorno)
We figured that since the day before we had been out for 10 whole hours, we wanted to take it easy today and spend time with the girl – even if she preferred to be at the Kid’s Club! We sacrificed an all-day excursion to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Florence, and opted for a four-hour wine-tasting trip in the Tuscan region.
We spent the morning taking it easy as a family onboard the ship and then my husband and I left at noon for our wine-tasting excursion that turned out to be divine.
We got back early enough to hit a Bingo game and even win a nice prize!
Day 6 – Cannes
Our plan for this day was to take a short, early morning four-hour excursion called “Highlights of Nice” and then come back to the Norwegian Epic to pick up our girl and head back out to Cannes to just lay out on the beach of the famous French Riviera. What we didn’t plan for was that the ship doesn’t dock on land, but stays on the water and you need to take a boat to the port. This meant that the time shown on our ticket was for the time the tour departed from land, not the boat, so we were 10 minutes late and missed it. The only other tour we could take was 8-hours long and would take us to Cannes, Nice, Monaco and Monte Carlo. We decided to take that and had to sacrifice the beach. The excursion was great and we were in awe at the beauty of the French Riviera, but we honestly feel cheated we didn’t get to lay out on the beach.
Day 7 – Marseilles and Provence
This was our last official day on the Norwegian Epic and we were getting sad about having to leave so soon. To my girl’s cries of “I want the Kid’s Clun, forever!” we left her for one more day as we went on a fabulous shore excursion to Avignon and Aix en Provence. This was probably one of the most laid-back city excursions we took since we had a lot of free time to just walk around and explore.
We were back onboard the Epic by 6pm and enjoyed the rest of the night together as a family reminiscing about the amazing week we had.
I hope this recap of our Norwegian Epic itinerary, plus the tips I shared to make the most out of your family vacation, help you decide to take the plunge on an European cruise – family and all!
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