Dubrovnik in a day

We had just a few hours in Dubrovnik, Croatia and wanted to make the best of it. Arriving via cruise ship, time was limited. This was the first port of call on a 9-night Mediterranean cruise which looked to be a good sampling of the area. The plan is to hit each destination hard, see some highlights and capture enough information to decide if a return trip might be in the cards for future travel. It made sense, sampling these places we had never been to before, but right off the bat we had a problem: we fell in love with Dubrovnik.

What we call our “sampling of the Med” tour started in Venice, Italy and will end nine days later in Barcelona. In between we will also visit Sicily, Naples, Rome and Livorno, Italy as well as a stop in Monaco. That makes eight destinations in nine days. To prepare for Dubrovnik we started with a Google search for Dubrovnik and gathered background information. VisitCroatia.com was helpful as well as a host of other websites for the basic information we would need for entry requirements, infrastructure in place, etc. As far as what to do and see, we relied on a number of sources including Gadling and AOLTravel for specific recommendations.

The cruise ship we came on was the Carnival Magic (#CarnivalMagic), a new one on her inaugural voyage and staff there had some recommendations as well. The day before we were delivered to Dubrovnik, Carnival Magic’s cruise director gave a complete briefing on what to expect, see and do ashore. The ship offered shore excursions, packaged tours for a set price, but we wanted to try what we have done in other parts of the world here, go it on our own. Our normal plan when visiting a new destination is to first come prepared with a good working knowledge of what to expect, set some goals for what we want to see then make final choices on the ground in sync with what is happening there right now. In other words, our plans are rarely set in stone and offer a great amount of flexibility.

Approaching travel that does not have a specific date-sensitive event included with a good dose of flexibility has made for some fabulous travel adventures in the past. Still, our visit to Dubrovnik had an expiration date so efficient time management was important.

Money management here was easy. Currency in Dubrovnik is the Kuna which is about a five to one value to the US dollar. Euros are also accepted and some merchants take dollars as well. Unlike other ports we will call on for this journey, Croatia’s entry requirements for cruise travelers call for a valid passport to be presented before entry is granted. On other ports, cruise travelers can leave passports securely behind on the ship and be granted entry with only their ship identification card.

It was a cloudy day with rain off and on all morning. By mid-morning the rain slowed but naggy clouds looked like they would be staying around for a while. Armed with rain gear we chose to take a short (2.5km) hike to what is called the “Old City” (aka Stari Grad), a walled fortress that looks somewhat similar to El Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico from a distance. Good public transportation runs all day and we could have taken a bus for a few bucks but would have missed out on some fabulous scenery. Dubrovnik was heavily bombed during the Croatian War of Independence from 1991 to 1995 and has some battle scars to prove it. Still, the people are warm and friendly in a real “I hope you come back again” way rather than a “we’re putting up with you” kind of way.

Stopping at a bar along the way as well as pausing about every 10 meters to take photos, that short hike took a bit less than an hour, leaving plenty of time for lunch and exploring the walled city. It did not take long to fall in love with this city and it’s people, a helpful and friendly bunch that did not mind answering questions or giving directions and suggestions on what to see.

Our waiter, Eliah, at the Sesame Restaurant just outside the gated city, told us English was a second language to many in Dubrovnik who chose it with dreams of visiting some day. He wants to be a Crime Scene Investigator and studied to be one in college. One problem with his plan is that there is very little crime in Croatia, especially in Dubrovnik, so not all that many of those jobs exist. But when he talked about visiting the United States for a possible job sometime in the future, Elijah’s face took on a dream-like look that I will probably always remember.

To Elijah we were not the Ugly Americans off the cruise ship, we were friends being served in his home. That warm and open demeanor of his would be experienced several times that day from others we would come in contact with too.

I mention this particular part of our hike for just one reason; because it accomplished one of the major goals we have for every place we visit: to make a friend. We have done packaged tours and shore excursions before and will later on this journey. Those are safe, guided ways to see a lot of things in a short amount of time. But we like to take our time and get to know the land we are visiting. A day in old town accomplished this very nicely.

Photos: Lisa Owen

Also see these related posts on Gadling

Chris is being sponsored by Carnival Cruise Lines on a Nine-night Mediterranean cruise and is free to report anything he experiences on the journey without bias

Carnival Magic debuts with familiar new features

Carnival Cruise Lines latest ship, Carnival Magic, debuted Sunday in Venice, Italy. The sold-out inaugural event will visit six Mediterranean ports on its nine-night first sailing. But this story is more than just the latest launch of the latest big floating hotel from the latest cruise line currently in the spotlight. Carnival Magic was built on an evolving foundation of success that will carry her well into the future.

On board to christen the ship was unlikely Godmother Lindsey Wilkerson, cancer-survivor-turned-spokesperson for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Diagnosed, treated, then into remission at an early age, Wilkerson’s inspirational story had been circulated by the cruise line extensively prior to the event. But the story took on profound new meaning when veteran cruise director John Heald had Wilkerson’s family join her on stage at the ship’s christening event.

In a moment that defined Carnival’s clear commitment to family, values and the future of the cruise industry, Wilkerson’s adorable daughter (who might not have been) took the stage, bringing tears to the eyes of many in the audience.

3,690-passenger Carnival Magic also happens to be the 100th ship built by parent Carnival Corporation so opening festivities included a good measure of tradition that is reflected in on board offerings.

New features include Cucina Del Capitano, an Italian eatery celebrating the line’s Italian lineage, the Red Frog Pub, a Caribbean-inspired bar with it’s own micro-brew, and SportSquare, an outdoor recreation area that continues an industry-wide focus on fitness and health.

For fans of cruise vacations, there is nothing quite like sailing on the inaugural voyage of a shiny new ship. Cruise lines introduce the latest features and inaugural events bring global attention. Records are broken, memories are made and the mood is festive. This one looks to be all that. More importantly, onboard programming builds upon Carnival’s clear understanding of its trademark “Fun” element.

Placing even more emphasis on signature features like an expanded adults-only Serenity area and Waterworks aqua park, Carnival proves once again how well they know their customers.

What Carnival does not talk about is their ability to seamlessly integrate all the ingredients they offer in their recipe for a great travel experience. That recipe, when fully embraced, allows guests to leave behind their cares, relax and refresh then move forward, renewed with a clarity difficult to emulate with other travel options.

That’s probably for the best.

A good magician never tells how the trick is done.

Chris is being sponsored by Carnival Cruise Lines on this sailing but free to report on any and all aspects of the experience. Chris is available to answer any questions you may have during the voyage that concludes in Barcelona May 10.

Photo of the day: A new cruise ship in town

Carnival Cruise Lines new Carnival Magic is shown in today’s photo arriving in Venice, Italy ahead of its inaugural nine-day voyage departing Sunday. The ship will be officially named in ceremonies presided over by Lindsey Wilkerson, a former patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who now serves as an employee and an ambassador of the organization.

Sunday’s nine-day cruise from Venice visits Messina, Naples, Rome and Livorno, Italy as well as Monaco, Barcelona and Dubrovnik. Gadling will be along for the ride as the ship positions itself for a summer schedule of seven- to 12-day Mediterranean voyages .

Photo courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines

Breaking: Carnival gets keys to 100th new ship

Carnival Cruise Line is breaking some records today. In addition to taking delivery on new Carnival Magic that debut’s May 1, that delivery makes it a total of 100 ships built by parent company Carnival Corporation. In celebration, guests currently sailing on all ships under the Carnival umbrella will join in a champagne toast to celebrate.

In the photo illustration above is pictured new Carnival Magic along with the company’s first ship, Carnival Mardi Gras which began service in 1972. At 130,000 gross tons, the Carnival Magic is almost five times the size of the Mardi Gras’ 27,250 tons. The Mardi Gras was 650-foot long and had a passenger capacity of 906. Carnival Magic stretches 1,004 feet in length and has a capacity of 3,690 guests. That’s a big ship.

That’s a big champagne toast too, 27,000 people, believed to be the largest ever.

Photo courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines

Annual bloggers cruise features new ship, old host

John Heald, the popular senior cruise director for Carnival Cruise Lines, is doing it again hosting for the fifth time his John Heald Bloggers Cruise. Fans of the unflappable John Heald’s blog with over 10 million views since it’s launch in 2007, will sail on the new Carnival Magic in March 2012.

The seven-day western Caribbean voyage will sail round-trip from Galveston, Texas, March 4-11, 2012, visiting Montego Bay, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico.

Like other theme cruises, this one gives up-close and personal time with a celebrity.

Unlike other theme cruises, that celebrity is John Heald.

I met Heald almost 10 years ago on the then-almost-new Carnival Victory and have no trouble imagining him as the big draw for a theme cruise. His easy-going demeanor and quick wit are party-pleasers that I can see many enjoying.

The new 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic brings together fans of the senior cruise director for a week full of fun activities, exclusive giveaways and receptions plus a boat load of memories. Sure, Kid Rock, he is not, but expect a whole lot of fun and some surprises along the way too.

Gadling will be on board Carnival Magic for the ships inaugural sailing May 1, less than a week from now. Stay tuned for all the details on what makes Carnival Magic a great new ship as well as some featured posts off the ship when we go ashore.

Flickr photo by jonworth

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