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ASK JOURNEYS: Getting around in Europe a matter of preference

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Mode of transportation will dictate which European sites you will be able to see.

RON PRADINUK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Mode of transportation will dictate which European sites you will be able to see. Photo Store

It appears once again the majority of overseas travellers are still choosing those historic European countries to experience this summer.

The key questions I am frequently asked are about modes of travel. Should I take a Mediterranean or other ocean-style cruise, book onto a river cruise, travel by motor coach or simply rent an automobile and create self-exploration trips of my own?

I will try to address these options and outline the strong points for each, as well as highlight some other considerations that may end up persuading a shift to one of the other alternatives.

I think individual travel experiences do make a difference in which direction you may wish to take. If you have not travelled much, a Mediterranean-style cruise may be a good way to start.

There is a decided comfort that flows with a week or 10 days on a cruise ship. Meals are usually superb, there's often quality entertainment on board, and the stops are geared to introduce you to the major destinations, most often taking in a number of countries.

There are always a number of tours offered by the cruise ship to satisfying most passengers' interests. And in recent years the cruise lines have started to stay more than a day at the most popular ports to give you the chance of more than one tour option, or just planning your own land excursions.

The downside is port stops can be quite a distance from the city you may wish to visit. Both of the ports that lead to Rome and Florence in Italy demand a long bus ride to get to the heart of what there is to see in these fascinating places.

River cruises, on the other hand, usually disembark so close to the city you will be visiting that often you can walk into them quite safely and conveniently. At the very least an inexpensive taxi ride will get you to any specific site you wish to see quickly.

Cabins on river cruise ships are usually quite a bit smaller than on larger cruise ships. The entertainment is local and there is usually only one dining room and one lounge where you can spend your time as the boat is moving.

There certainly is more to see on a river cruise, even though not all of it is dramatic or interesting. The ocean has a beauty of its own even if you are not in site of land. But seeing the various landscapes and riverside communities unfold in front of you as you pass them by helps give you an impression of the countries they are in.

Most of the free tours offered tend to be guided walking treks around the closest city. They usually are very good. At the same time you can always find other tour companies that will take you further inland to wine tours or other interesting places of interest.

I often compare motor coach travel to river cruise travel with some greater scope for discovery. Not all the great cities and regions are close to a river or an ocean port.

This is what motor coach gives you that the others can't.

The downside is you are travelling and sightseeing on the road during the day and having to change hotels almost every evening. In choosing which company or itinerary to select, prices will differ if the hotel properties are in the heart of the most interesting cities or on their peripheries.

Today's motor coach is a far cry from the concept of the old bus trip. They are modern, fully equipped with video, audio and washrooms, with plenty of room for comfort and rest.

On both river cruises and motor coach trips you are likely to meet and become friends with more people than on the other two alternatives. River cruises seldom carry more than 200 and motor coach capacity is confined to fewer than 50.

Driving around Europe on your own is also a matter of experience.

Most of the roads are excellent and well-marked. I have driven around a number of countries over the years and, other than driving in major cities such as Rome and London, I have found it quite easy.

Today with GPS's available anywhere, even city driving becomes much more manageable.

I still don't recommend driving in the mega cities. In almost all cases the underground subway or rail system is so complete and convenient that they are easy to use and significantly more cost efficient than automobile.

There is a freedom to driving that no other mode of travel gives you. However, if you have no experience driving a standard shift automobile, you may also want to reconsider this alternative unless you plan your journey through countries where you can avoid mountainous routes.

You will also find yourself occasionally driving through narrower streets than you have ever experienced. Notwithstanding that, if you have the confidence there is nothing better than the freedom to stop and start and stay or leave at your convenience and not by a pre-prescribed plan.

Within the confines of one column it is difficult to be comprehensive in outlining these choices. I hope this brief overview will help you in your considerations.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2014 E4

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