My Ensemble Excursion Experience
By Don Dean, Senior Director of Finance and Human Resources, The Cruise Web, Inc.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Europe several times; I even lived there for a while. As all of my past experiences in Europe were limited to the large cities, I have never had the opportunity to experience Europe in quite the same way as I did on my last cruise along the Mediterranean, and it was because of the in-depth excursions offered by our partner Ensemble that I was able to experience Europe in a new way.
The Cruise Web has partnered with Ensemble Travel Group to offer our clients exclusive and authentic experiences on their vacations. Through Ensemble we have connections to attractions and tour guides all over the world, which allows us to customize your on-shore cruise activities to a level above the offerings of the cruise lines.
During my cruise, I was able to participate in two Ensemble Excursion Experiences, and each left me with a greater understanding of the culture and history of the towns and cities near the ports. My favorite experience was a visit to the city of Lucca, which at one-point was the second largest Italian city-state, after Venice. Of course, the wine tasting and Tuscan buffet that followed our stop in Lucca only enhanced the experience.
Lucca is what you might picture when you think of a Medieval city. It’s walled in with narrow streets and beautiful churches and buildings that you just don’t see anywhere in America. Our visit included an in-depth tour of the city by one of the best guides I have ever had. Not only was this guide chock full of information, she was passionate about it, probably because Lucca is where she is from.
Lucca itself was charming with lots of little shops with local merchants. Because this excursion was about a half hour inland from the port, there were no chain stores, nor were the shop prices exorbitant as often seen in the port cities. The shops were tiny and seemed to be family owned. It was definitely an authentic experience. Having a weakness for Italian shoes, the only disappointment for the day was that I didn’t have enough time to find my perfect pair.
From Lucca we traveled to the Buonamico Wine Estate, which has nearly 75 acres of vineyards. Here we tasted some of their award-winning wines and were treated to a wonderful Tuscan buffet of meats and cheeses from the region. And don’t ask me to pick a favorite because everything was amazingly delicious.
Our other Ensemble Excursion was to the village of Gassin, which is near St. Tropez in France. Again we had a wine tasting and received, as a gift, a bottle of Rose, a wine for which Provence is known. This little town is only 2.5 miles from the water, but is perched on a rock that overlooks the beautiful beaches and yachts of St. Tropez.
The experiences I had on both of these excursions really opened my eyes to the smaller towns and cities of Europe. It is places like Lucca and Gassin where you experience the charm and the history of Europe. And because the tours were so intimate, it was a great way to meet other people on the cruise.
I would highly encourage you to take advantage of these Ensemble Excursions, just ask your cruise consultant for more info.