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Europe -- first time w/kids -- cruise or land tour?

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We have been planning an 8-9-day trip to southern Germany for awhile now, but then a great cruise fare (on a brand-new ship) dropped in our laps. Now we don't know what to do!

Our kids are ages 11, 15, and 18. Oldest is graduating from high school so we decided to make this year's vacation a special one. She has been to Spain on a school trip, but other than that, the three of them have no other trips to Europe. We have done Caribbean cruises before and they loved them, and we've also been to Canada. Other than that we mainly stick to the East Coast of the U.S.

A cruise would simplify a lot of things -- food, packing/unpacking, planning, etc. This is a 10-day med cruise from Athens to Barcelona, so we'd get a taste of many different areas and maybe some ideas for places we'd like to return to on another trip. It is also quite a bit more expensive than the land tour we'd planned for Germany. And I worry that we will not to get to truly immerse ourselves in any of the cultures. I also worry about the weather -- I assume it will be just plain HOT for all of this trip (last week of June).

Obviously a land tour of Germany on our own requires a sense of adventure. We'd be renting a car, planning our own day trips, etc. My thinking is we'd stick to staying in only one or two cities, to get the most out of the areas that we can. (I posted a separate topic on this specifically.)

I'm just wondering, with kids these ages, am I considering all of the right things? We obviously want to create great family memories while showing them there's life and history beyond the (relatively young) USA.

Thank you in advance for any comments or suggestions you may have.

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    To me, the cruise, while easy and a lot of fun, is more about the cruise experience, which your family has already had.

    Waking up in a European city or village, walking out to get breakfast in a little cafe, spending evenings in villages or eating dinner in European restaurants is a real cultural experience that I think will be more memorable in the long run.

    I don't think, in Germany, I would try to base in only two cities. Since you will have a car, you could move around a bit more and not backtrack everyday to the city. Stay in one of the lake or mountain areas, or smaller town or village for part of the time. That will be a very different atmosphere than the cities. From Southern Germany, you could even include a bit of Austria or possibly France, depending on time and itinerary.

    There will always be great cruise deals coming along. Plus, it isn't a deal if it doesn't fit your current needs and desires. I have taken some European cruises and enjoyed them, but I have spend some time in Europe already, and did the cruises to see specific sights that required only a few hours. I wasn't seeking a cultural experience. A cruise is not a good way to experience Europe. For your kids, at their ages, I strongly recommend doing it yourself on land.

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    Yes -- very good point. Actually, all of the points you have made are what have been on my mind since last night when I booked the cruise.

    Ideally, I think we'd spend 3-4 nights in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, enjoying what it has to offer, as well as a few day trips from there like Lake Constance or the Dolomites. And then maybe move on to Salzburg, and then finish up in Munich where we'd fly home from. We'd originally thought about Stuttgart, but I'm not getting excited about anything I'm seeing there at this point. We do have a kid who's a Lego enthusiast, so an extra day to have time to visit LegoLand might be a priority, too.

    Thank you for your recommendations. I look forward to hearing what others have to say, but I appreciate your honesty!

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    I can see both sides of this too. We have done 5 land trips to Europe and are going on our first cruise (Vista June 11!).

    I will say that for my family moving around is a no go. We enjoy planting ourselves in a house for a week and doing day trips to see the area. This cuts down on the packing/unpacking, lets us have a home base and gives us more flexibility in meals (we choose to cook breakfast and dinner to keep costs down).

    I don't necessarily think a cruise is wrong as a first experience for Europe. As you said it gives a taste of a lot of different countries and cultures. Maybe you can sit down as a family and discuss both options and then come to a decision.

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    That's apples and oranges - totally different types of trips.

    You will see totally different regions of Europe (the Mediterranean vs. Germany is like Arizona vs. New England). Climate will be different. In the Mediterranean, you will have a burning sun and hot days, while Germany will have springlike temperatures, especially in the mountains.

    With the cruise, you will scratch the surface of multiple port cities, while your other trip will offer deeper immersion into one region.

    Let's get a bit more systematic. I start with the cruise:

    I think it will be the cruise Athens - Izmir/Ephesos - Rhodes - Malta - Messina - Naples - Rome - Livorno - Marseille - Barcelona.

    This cruise includes excellent ports - a really brilliant itinerary. But you will sea a lot of stones. And I am not sure how your kids will react after the third archeological site and the fourth cathedral. And I don't know what they say the third day when they have to get up early in order to go on an excursion in the next port of call.

    And you have to decide if you pay a fortune for the ship excursions or if you take rental cars in ports (which would require a little more organization).

    Especially with the teenagers, I strongly suggest self-organized tours. For them, bus tours with lengthy guided tours through archeological sites will be tortures. Better rent a car, visit the sites at leisure and stop at a beach for an hour.

    Then, Southern Germany:

    You will probably rent an apartment with your family of 5 and you will have a rental car. Compared to a cruise, you will have a more relaxed time at your own pace. You will live somewhere in a town, where you can wander, see, sit in a cafè, ride a boat on a lake, hike into the mountains, visit a castle etc.

    I am not sure if such a trip would require more hassle than a cruise. Arrival and departure days are always somewhat stressful, on a cruise and on a self-organized tour. But the self-organized tour gives you better chances to adapt to the needs of all family members.

    We have on the Europe forum a current thread where to base in Southern Germany. Berchtesgaden would make a good base.

    Read here:

    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/bavarian-alps-569710-2.cfm

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    Some hints about the ports of call:

    Athens - In any case, you should fly in at least one day early. First, to have a buffer if you incoming flight is late and you would miss the ship. Second, to see something of Athens - Acropolis, Agora, Temple of Hephaistos, National Archeological Museum.

    Izmir/Ephesos. Rent a car and drive to Ephesos, one of the best archeological sites at all. Driving time is one hour each direction. After visiting the archeology, you drive to a nearby beach and/or visit the village Sirence. And the archeological museum in Selcuk which is top-notch.

    Rhodes. The medieval town Rhodes can be explored on foot. Visit the Palace of the Grand Masters. And take some time for swimming afterwards.

    Malta. You can walk into town or take a taxi.

    Messina. Have not been there.

    Naples. The main attractions are the archeological sites of Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Probably the best way is renting a car.

    Rome. The port is far away from Rom, but you can take the train (45 to 60 min) to Rome.

    Livorno. You can take the train to Florence or rent a car to see, in addition to Florence, Pisa and a bit of the countryside.

    Marseille. Rent a car and drive into Provence.

    Barcelona. Can be explored of foot.

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    We started doing European cruises with our two sons when they were in their early teens. The cruises solved a lot of problems. Your third paragraph summed it well. We always found the cruises to be cheaper than independent travel when factoring in all your costs. We always did our own shore excursions. Leave the ship early in the am and return just prior to departure. One of the great advantages for us was the separation. When we returned to the ship, the boys were free to go do their own thing until time for dinner. We could go to the Crow's nest for a happy hour cocktail as we sailed out of port. For awhile when the boys were much younger they were very picky eaters so the ship's food solved a lot dining problems. Even in the evening the boys were free to decide what they wanted to do and on those ships with teen programs in the evening - they loved it. When we travel in the US and rent condos they would get bored with having to constantly hang out with their parents. We planned most of our cruises with extra time both at the beginning and the end. If ending in Rome we would spend another four or five days in Rome before returning.

    Now that they are in the 30s with wives, children, they still want to cruise with their parents and we do. For us, that was our preferred travel arrangements. We have done 12 European cruise and 6 with the sons.

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