The SSQQ 2008 Cruise to Greece
Trip organized by
Story written by Rick Archer
A Visit to the Birthplace
of Western Civilization!
Sunday, July 20th -
Sunday, July 27th
Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
Cruising the Mediterranean
Cruising the Mediterranean
This is the story of the SSQQ
2008 Cruise to Greece and Italy, the countries that took turns
as the Birthplace of Western Civilization.
In addition we included stops in Sicily and Crete as well
as a special visit to Ephesus, Turkey, an area rich with both
Roman ruins and Biblical significance.
The 2008 SSQQ Eastern Mediterranean Cruise was indeed a
rare opportunity to explore first-hand the roots of our Western
Overall I would have to say
that as a history lesson, the trip was a marvelous success.
But speaking only for myself, as a vacation, the trip had more than
its fair share of rough spots. Before this trip would end, I
would hit every kind of barrier known to travel.
This list included the negative exchange rate, the aches and pains
of long-distance travel, the language barrier, problems with finding
places in a foreign country as well as the dangers of being ripped
off (pickpockets, scam artists, and on several occasions merchants
that seemed to deliberately give the wrong change.
When Marla first announced our plans back in
October 2007, the initial reaction to our Mediterranean destination
was very positive. Marla has to schedule these trips well in
advance. After all, people must have
plenty of time to plan their
vacations. They have to get time off from work, they have to make
sure there are no family commitments in the way, and so on.
At the time when Marla first planned this
trip, the coast was clear.
Given the attractive destination, people signed
on board quickly. For a moment
there, we thought we might even surpass the
Adventure Cruise record of 80 we had set on the Hawaii 2007 Cruise.
Then it hit - just one month later
in November 2007 the price of gas started climbing. And
climbing. And climbing. This was crazy! Thanks to the sudden
downturn in the US economy, the omens for this
trip were no longer promising.
The Euro was strong, the Dollar was weak,
and transportation industries were
struggling to deal with the crisis due to oil
One day out of the blue Marla noticed the already expensive airfare
to Rome had jumped another $100 per person practically overnight!
Things were getting scary out there. Then
came attempts by Royal Caribbean to add on a fuel surcharge (they
eventually backed off).
Practically overnight this trip had
developed a definite 'swimming upstream' feel to it.
In my opinion, it is a credit to
Marla Archer's hard work that she kept this trip on a positive keel.
She was disappointed when several people who were signed up for the
trip decided to bail. They took one look at the rising airfare plus
the ratio of the weak dollar to the euro and headed for the exit
door. We had at least 10 people cancel on us. The chance of a
lifetime would have to wait till next year.
Fortunately Marla had made the trip so attractive that she was able
to overcome the cancellations to still take 49 passengers halfway
across the world. Considering the obstacles, 49
was a pretty good
number. Obviously in a better economy, this trip would have done
Then Marla had to face the strangest development she had ever seen -
as the sailing date grew nearer, Royal Caribbean was actually
lowering the price of their cabins below what our group had paid for
them! Marla was fit to be tied. The prices for cabins at the last
minute are supposed to rise, not fall.
St Peters Basilica, Rome
Trastavere at Night
Marla decided she had no choice
but to write a letter to her group. Here is what
I have recently
received a few emails with questions regarding the current price of
I would like to preface what I am going to say with "this is an
incredibly unusual year".
The price of oil is at it's highest ever, groceries are
skyrocketing, houses are foreclosing left and right and the economy
is the worst it is ever been since the early 70s.
That said, Royal Caribbean has done something that I have never seen
done before. They actually dropped price on the few remaining cabins
to sell out the sailing. What this means is that the prevailing rate
maybe lower than our original group rate on the handful of cabins
that are left.
I have now organized 11 cruises. This is the first time I have ever
seen the price of a cabin drop as the departure date comes closer.
It always goes the other direction... except for this bizarre year.
There was absolutely no way to predict that this would happen. Of
course anyone purchasing a cabin at the prevailing rate is not
eligible for any group benefits.
For SSQQ to schedule a group cruise, it must be planned almost a
year in advance. Sure, the price maybe slightly lower now, but if we
always wait until the last minute, there would never be any Group
Individuals who had the ability to wait until the last minute were
able to save a few dollars on this sailing. These individuals are in
no way connected to our group.
However, let me point out their increased airfare more than exceeded
any last-minute savings created by this artificial situation.
Amazingly, Marla did not receive a single complaint regarding this
In fact, one dear lady wrote a very kind note:
of St Peter's Square from the Basilica
You should not feel you have to apologize for this price
drop. There was certainly no way to predict it. I'm sure the cruise
lines don't like to do this very often because it would encourage
people to wait till the last minute. On the other hand, since they
make most of their profits from liquor sales and the casino, it's to
their advantage to try to fill all cabins, even if they have to
lower the base rate.
Anyway, I am very grateful to you for doing all the work in
organizing these cruises. It makes it much easier for us. Also, as
you pointed out, any savings on the cruise would probably be eaten
up in higher airfares and hotel rates (if staying some extra days.)
I certainly wouldn't want to wait till the last minute on the off
chance I could save a few dollars.
At any rate, I hope you just ignore any complaints. I really
appreciate everything you do to put these cruises together.
See you on Sunday.
This kind lady's sentiments were echoed in
many other corners as well. One day in the
middle of the trip, a fellow cruiser remarked to me about the high
prices and winced a little. Then he proceeded to add, "I am not
getting any younger. I am not going to have dozens of opportunities
further down the road to hang out with a group this special and
visit famous places like I am seeing. Sometimes when you see the
chance, you just grab it. I love this trip!"
I nodded in agreement. I pretty much operate on the same principle.
I have seen much of the best
America has to offer, but I had never been
to Europe before.
Now was the time for me to check out the rest of the world. I didn't
see the point in postponing anything! Get it done now while I have
enough health and enough wealth to get it done. The trip may have
been swimming upstream, but I didn't get this far
in life by quitting when
storm clouds appear.
Castle Saint Angelo
So it rains a little. I
was determined to push forward despite the obstacles.
However, just because I was convinced this trip was the right
thing to do didn't mean I was going to avoid learning some tough
lessons about travel in Europe. Far from it.
Right from the start, I had made an enormous mistake. Before
the trip, I had gotten some advice that came back to haunt me.
"Rick, you don't need that much
You should be able to charge practically everything."
I would ultimately wake up in the middle of
the night more than once with those Famous Last Words
screaming in my brain!
"You should be able to charge everything!"
should be able to charge everything!"
One day before we left, Marla looked at me and asked how much cash
we should take. I thought about it. We had taken $1,000 to Hawaii a
year earlier and had come back with half of that to spare.
be on the safe side and take $1,200?
Marla was worried about carrying that much money in cash. Europe has
a reputation for highly skilled pickpockets. So she went out and
bought two money belts, one for her and one for me. In hindsight,
she need not have bothered - we blew $1,000 in the first two days of
the trip alone!
It's pretty hard to pick a pocket that is already empty.
FRIDAY IN ROME 2 DAYS BEFORE THE CRUISE BEGAN
We landed in Rome on Friday, July 18, two days before the
cruise would begin on Sunday.
My first task was to change my dollars to Euros.
At the airport, I plopped down $200. The lady handed me back 102
Euros. I frowned. This didn't look good. But I decided to stay
optimistic. Since I was new to Europe, I had no idea how far a Euro
would go. As it turned out, the answer was: not very far.
I can't be absolutely sure, but as the trip progressed it seemed
like one Euro had roughly the same purchasing power as one dollar.
Except that it cost two dollars to buy each Euro!
For example, one day I bought a tee shirt in Turkey for 8 Euros. I
is about right for an average tee shirt. After
all, $16 seems like
the amount I pay for a tee shirt in Cozumel. In other words, my
dollars went half as far in Europe as they do in the USA.
As we waited in the airport for our luggage to come down the chute,
I kept staring at my 102 Euros. Even though I had yet to spend a
single Euro, I already had a very bad feeling about this.
My worries were absolutely correct. Sure enough,
by the end of our first day, those
102 Euros would be totally gone.
The Hotel Across the Street from the Vatican
After the long flight, we were
pleased to find the shuttle from our hotel waiting for us there at
Even better, the Hotel Alimandi allowed us to check in early at
10:30 am. What a relief to find a place to put our luggage!
The massive Vatican City was directly across the street from
I knew Marla had located a marvelous facility
close to the Vatican, but I didn't realize it was this close.
Behold the picture of the Vatican Wall! The only
thing we could see from our hotel room was this Wall. The
Wall was my entire reality. There was nothing else I could
The Wall completely disoriented me. I was convinced
this Wall was north of us. Based on the map given us,
the Vatican was in the upper northwest corner of Rome. I was positive that Rome was to my right. Unfortunately,
this Wall was actually south of the Hotel and the center of Rome was to my left.
This terrible misconception would play an important role in the
events of the following morning.
We could not help but notice a never-ending line that stretched the
length of the street. These were people waiting for their
chance to visit the Vatican Museum. My daughter Sam, 17, who
accompanied Marla and me on the trip, suggested we consider eating
first. Maybe the lines would dwindle.
So after we checked into our hotel, we went out in search of
lunch. Unfortunately we were too early for the only restaurant in
sight. So we settled for 3 gelatos at a shop next door. 6 Euros.
Okay. That's not bad. I can handle
It was about 1 pm. As we returned to our hotel, we noticed the
enormous lines we had seen that morning to the Vatican Museum had
dwindled to a trickle (we did not know it at the time, but the
guides do their trips in the morning to beat the summer heat).
Carpe Diem - Seize the Day. Why not visit the museum
The Vatican Museum charged 18 Euros a person. No problem.
charge it. Oops. The Vatican Museum didn't take credit cards.
Our trip to the Vatican Museum wiped out 54 Euros.
If you are
keeping track, we were now down to 42 Euros.
Once we were inside, Marla looked wistfully at a guided tour or an
audio tour… 6 Euros apiece, i.e. 18 Euros for the three of us. I
shook my head. No way! What were we
going to buy dinner with if the restaurant didn't take credit cards?
I was very frustrated.
So we walked through the amazing Vatican Museum without a clue about
the stories behind these many works of arts.
The Vatican Museum
claimed to house the largest art collection in the
world. I don't know if this is
true, but after visiting one never-ending room after another, you
would not get an argument from me.
One amazing work
of art after another unfolded before our eyes. Sculptures,
Renaissance paintings, wall-size maps, religious frescoes, you name
The highlight of the
Vatican Museum was the famous Sistine Chapel with all those
wonderful paintings on the ceiling drawn by Michelangelo.
How that man painted such incredible images upside down is beyond
me! And what an imagination the man
had to conceive these paintings!
Sad to say, I dropped the ball. After a couple hours
of wandering through the Museum, I became
so tired I could barely stand up any longer. I sat down and I didn't
want to get back up. The room was spinning. I had trouble keeping my
eyes open. I was fighting as hard as I could not
to simply fall asleep right where I sat. Obviously jet
lag had kicked in. Plus the museum was not air-conditioned and the
heat wilted me. Furthermore I had forgotten to take my
My energy level was down to zero.
Here was the chance of a lifetime to explore this marvelous place,
but we could only scratch the surface thanks to the twin headaches
of poverty and my lack of stamina. We
had no choice but to return to the hotel feeling frustrated and
short-changed. I felt so disappointed to
let down Sam and Marla.
In retrospect, I wish Sam
and Marla had stayed at the Museum while I
went back. After all, the hotel was just across the street. But
they were tired too. It had been a long flight. The three of us
hit the beds and passed out immediately.
We slept six hours till 9 pm.
That is the Vatican above the enormous Wall
is another view of the Enormous Wall that surrounds the Vatican.
This Wall was all I could see from my Hotel.
Here are the endless throngs
of visitors to the Vatican Museum
That night’s dinner was an
exercise in precise mathematics.
Sure enough, the place we found was
just a little café down
the street that did not take
credit cards. We carefully added up the cost of every item we
ordered to stay under our 42 Euro limit. We had just enough money
left to order some wine. Good move. The
meal was so-so, but the wine was great. Please dull my pain.
We left tired, still a little hungry, and not a single Euro in our
pockets. Not the greatest way to start a trip.