How did I get started on bicyclecruising? A travel agent arranging a cruise for me told me of the adventurers she had when traveling in Europe on a cruise. Her husband was an avid bicycler and wanted to bicycle with her while they were on their cruise. They shipped their bikes to the cruise ship start in Amsterdam and stored them in their cabin. They took the bikes off the ship each morning when in port and cycled around the town for 5-7 hours, visiting museums, scenic points, and getting enough exercise that they could eat everything the ship offered for meals at breakfast and dinner. They took some food with them each day for lunch but stopped for any special foods or at a restaurant if it looked interesting. Sounded neat to me! You too? Read on.
We (my wife Marilyn and I) secured our first bicycle cruise on Marilyn’s first trip to the continent in late Fall of 2007. We flew to London for four days in town before the cruise left from Dover. We purchased two collapsible bikes, one used from a Craigslist entry, and one new from a bike shop in Chelsea, where we were staying at the Football Stadium. We rode around town and took them to the train station after the four days for the train ride to Dover to board the cruise ship. We needed special large taxis to carry the bikes and our luggage. The cruise ship attendants took our luggage and bikes right from the taxi and we found them in our rooms after we processed onto the ship. Even our inside cabin was large enough to store the bikes on one side of the bed each night. Enough, if not plenty of room. It would have been better if the ship had been willing to store the bikes in one of their holds. I know they can do this, because we noticed other people taking bikes off the ramps some days and eventually found out these were crew members using bikes owned by the ship for the express purpose of letting the crew see the ports themselves.
Now we had prepared for the bicycle cruise by filling a three ring binder while searching the internet for each port to get maps of the harbor area, ideas for places to visit in each port, and advice, from bicyclists from the town or who had visited the town, about which roads were safe or best for bicyclists and which places to avoid. We got great advice for really different things to do, which restaurants to try, where to meet the locals–just the kind of info a bicyclecruiser really wants–if you are anything like me. We were travelling with my brother-in-law and his wife and they also wanted some of the material we had. We took it to the cruise staff and arranged to get a copy. Later, when my brother-in-law met us for dinner, he said he had a great time and he saw lots of other people with the same maps and site descriptions we had given to him. At the second port, we mentioned that to the cruise staff and they said they had taken the liberty of making a few extra copies and given it out to people who had asked for info. They agreed to copy our stuff for no charge under these circumstances.
Needless to say, we had a great time and came back with great stories about places never mentioned by the cruise lines because they were frequently accessible best by bike. Places like Marina del Pisa in Italy with long oceanside drives lined with cabanas for the local Italians and open markets.
That’s what occasioned our idea for a blog site for bicyclecruisers. We’ll collect material and make it available to other bicyclecruisers and you should help us with your own ideas and your own secret information about ports accessible by cruise ships.
We find that one shouldn’t expect to bike more than 50 miles each day since the cruise ships frequently allow disembarkation around 8am and require reboarding around 6pm. That gives us eight hours to bike. I therefore make a 25 mile circle around the port site and expect to bike at a speed of 8 to 12 miles per hour, although you can go faster in a pinch and might be kept to slower speeds by traffic in the city. I plan to bike for up to an hour at disembarkation, then stop for a place to visit or to get something to eat. Sightsee and eat for an hour or so and then take off for another hour to another site. This gives me about four separate places to visit and uses up as much as 3000 calories. Add that to my daily normal burn of 2000 calories or so and I can really enjoy the sumptuous meals aboard ship without worrying about gaining weight. I can even hit the chocolate extravaganza and the midnight buffet.
By the way, bicycle cruising isn’t just for the triathlon crowd. I’m 66 years old myself and I weigh 5 or 10 pounds more than I would like to weigh, although my doctor says I’m in great health. I already get lots of bicycling time because I am a bicycle commuter, although I own two cars. I don’t suggest bicyclecruising for someone who has never ridden a bike or who is not comfortable on a bike. But biking is a great way to lose a few or a lot of pounds and to begin to get in shape. Take at least a few weeks to get ready for the bicyclecruise. But if you are then comfortable on the bike, bicyclecruising is a great way to spend your vacation time. It is great for couples or families to spend the time together biking on the cruise and also preparing the information before the cruise.
I plan to be cruising this winter in the Caribbean and am searching out South American cruises for the first part of 2010. In the next days and months I’ll show you some of our plans, the pictures from the cruises, and provide some special tips on how to ship your bikes, where to get bikes in port, tips on restaurants, cafes, wine bars, vineyards to visit, local food, and many other ideas. Keep in touch!