In October, Fodor's Senior Map Editor Bob Blake embraced the EasyLife and sailed the French and Italian Rivieras aboard EasyCruiseOne, a low-cost cruise line founded by Stelios (he goes by one name), the man who gave Europe EasyJet, EasyCar, and all the other parts of the EasyEmpire.
Why EasyCruise? I wanted an inexpensive trip around the Riviera that covered a lot of ground. Originally I was going to stay in Nice for a week and make day trips. Then I heard about something that sounded like a sort of floating youth hostel that would transport me effortlessly and cheaply from port to port. I wasn't thrilled with the small, windowless standard cabins I saw on the website, so I paid considerably more and grabbed one of the four suites, which have sliding glass doors and balconies.
What surprised you? How much I loved the trip. I never really considered myself a cruise person, and maybe that's why I liked EasyCruise so much. One of the best things is that the ship only carries 176 passengers, max, which is quite different from the Queen Mary 2, which can hold 2,620. In a very short time you start chatting with people, and the daily disembarking and reboarding doesn't entail standing in line for hours like Soviets lining up for bread. Also there weren't things that would scare me, like a captain's table, "theme nights" (shudder), or "fun" group activities like water aerobics. There isn't much of anything on the boat (an outdoor bar, a restaurant, a cafe, a hot-tub, and a small gym), and I would guess that most passengers spend as much time ashore as possible, which is what I wanted to do. Also, I found there is something fundamentally civilized about arriving at a destination by boat, where during the journey you can stroll around, lounge, eat -- activities in other transportation modes that long ago went the way of the Pullman car and the Pan Am Clipper.
What was your favorite part of the trip? The balcony that came with my suite. Every morning I would load up on take-out coffee from the Ritazza outlet on the third deck and settle in, staring out at the Mediterranean or watching the coast slip by. I did put in an appearance most nights at the cocktail bar, on the fifth deck at the rear (stern) of the ship. The ship is usually anchored with the stern facing land, so there are amazing shore views from there. Sometimes the boat can't anchor in port, so you have to shuttle to land in a small "tender," which was also fun. And did I mention sitting on deck at the cocktail bar at sunset, sipping one of the bartender's "Cocktail of the Day"?
What did you find was essential during your trip? Good comfortable shoes. I walk quite a bit here in New York, so I thought I'd be fine, but the Riviera destinations are sometimes so hilly that they might give a sherpa pause. Also: reading material. The ship doesn't stock so much as a Hello! magazine, and on shore the mostly widely available English-language periodical is the Financial Times. And in order to avoid sticker stock at trip's end, be aware that prices on board (for drinks at the bar, a morning coffee from the Ritazza) are in British pounds, not euros.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about an EasyCruise? Timing is everything. I can't confirm this first-hand, but what I heard from others is that if you want to relive Spring Break, go in July or August. If you're someone who has recently attended your 25th high school reunion, go in September or October. Also, don't forget to pack patience and perspective. While I had a great time, there were a few glitches. To slip into the EasyMood, wander up to the cocktail bar on your first night, order a refreshing "Bon Voyage," enjoy the view of Nice's illuminated Vieux Port, gawk at the hardy souls hot-tubbing it in the gale force wind, and think to yourself, "Ah yes, I see why Mr. Onassis spent so much time on that boat."