Planning, booking and going on vacation has become complex and time consuming. Although the Internet lets me become travel agent, tour organiser, hotel booker and taxi and transfer dispatcher, it has not made travelling simple or stress free. Every holiday becomes an intricate juggling act involving scoping out and researching itineraries, checking places and attractions to visit, finding places to stay and individually paying for each. Complex spreadsheets (in my case) tallying up the costs to stick within budget. It usually ends up costing more as I don’t take every detail into account.
Or, as I reminded myself a few months ago, I could go back to a simpler time and use a Titan Travel brochure to find a fully packaged holiday with a price that bundles everything in and leave it to them to worry about the details. They screen the itinerary, choose the right places to stay, best attractions to see, what meals to eat and where and even pick me up from home and return me to my door at the end of the trip. Titan Travel are a UK-based travel company that for over 40 years have run their own curated escorted tours. Their brochures and website offer a mind-boggling range of land and cruise holidays around the world. I don’t think they exclude anywhere.
Having previously done a round Florida tour and a Tanzania safari with them, the holiday that I went for this time was a land and cruise combination called “Italian Lakes and Greek Isles”. It had a few nights in Lake Garda area and then 10 days cruising from Venice via the Greek islands to Athens. It appealed as I had only been to one of the places it called on, and meant experiencing the Azamara Pursuit, a 700-passenger ship that had recently joined the Azamara Club Cruises fleet.
On a sunny day in early October the driver from Titan arrived on time and whisked us to London Gatwick for our British Airway flight. At the airport a Titan representative greets you, directs you to the check in and confirms arrangements on arrival. As this was only a partly escorted tour a Tour Manager did not fly with the group as they had on my previous Florida trip.
On arrival in Verona our Titan Host called Sara, who lived in the area, met us. This was the first chance to meet the others in the group. As with past Titan trips, there around 20 of us with ages ranging from 50s upwards. A mixture of couples, friends travelling together and a few solo travellers. Some knew each other from past trips and by the time we got to the coach with our bags, people were comparing past trip experiences and Titan stories. Loyalty to Titan is clear, as I also had found on previous trips.
LAKE GARDA ITALY
We spent three nights at the four-star Palace Hotel in Desenzano area of Lake Garda area, arriving late on the first night after our transfer from Verona. The hotel was set back from the lake, although from the rooftop pool area there were great views across to the lake. The hotel was comfortable and functional.
The next morning Sara, the local Titan Guide who was staying with us at the hotel, took us to Sirmione which is on a peninsula jutting into the lake. It was a beautiful place. After a short walking tour into the gorgeous Old City we had free time to explore. I walked through the narrow streets to the area where the villa of Maria Callas is before strolling along the banks of Lake Garda. Some of the group went on boat tours around the town.
After lunch we went to the town of Desenzano and had more free time to explore. We returned to the hotel and had a buffet dinner as a group in the hotel restaurant. This was a great opportunity to get to know the group better. It was a great ice breaker event as we got to find out more about people and their backgrounds.
The next day was a free day and a shuttle was laid on from the hotel three times during the day to and from Desenzano. Most of the group headed in on the first bus around 10 am to explore the massive local market that operates every Tuesday. Others went on boat rides further up the lake. Throughout the day we came across members of the group and stop and chat.
Getting to know the group and share the travel experience is something that Titan travellers clearly relish, and I suspect is a key reason many come back. A community and bond developed across the trip and seemed to be an essential ingredient that added to the journey for Titan travellers. Whilst the company of travelling with others was clearly a draw for the solo travellers, it was enthusiastically embraced by everyone. Our fellow travellers were gregarious and enjoyed talking to each other. Across the two weeks we came across group members in ports or on board and often shared a drink, coffee or meal. Seeing friendly familiar faces everywhere added to the trip. I usually travel with my partner, but often solo for the blog and my Tips For Travellers YouTube channel, and I enjoyed the shared experience and community of a group trip as it added a social aspect to travelling.
Dinner on the free day was not included. The hotel did not serve dinner and local restaurants were some distance walking or taxi ride away. On the positive, Sara had drawn up suggestions of where to go, which she had given us that morning, and offered to call and make bookings and help arrange taxis. Having been pre-warned earlier in the day I bought some local food in the market and had a picnic at the hotel.
The next morning, we headed to Venice. Once again attention to detail of a Titan trip was in evidence as porter service to take bags to and from your room was included. On the two-hour journey to the port Sara told us about the region we passed through. As I reflected on our time in Lake Garda, I felt that although having free time was helpful to unwind, if there had been some organised tours or optional excursions for that day it would have enhanced the stay. I left feeling I had not seen as much as I should have of the lake and towns in this stunning region. Although we did experience a lot of the amazing gelato….
We were dropped close to the cruise check in and within a very brief time had boarded. One of the advantages of Azamara Pursuit being a smaller ship is that it docked in the canal and not the main port. We sailed out past the landmarks and St Mark’s Square. Stunning start as the sun was setting as we cruised out.
Azamara Pursuit joined the Azamara Club Cruises fleet in August 2018. Although the ship is relatively old, it has been dramatically upgraded and revamped to make a beautiful and classy ship. Being a smaller ship, the cabins are not large and the bathrooms cosy, but it is plush and the beds and bedding incredibly comfortable.
To find out more about Azamara Club Cruises and why this line appealed so much when I saw it in the Titan program watch my video about the line I made based on this trip.
Watch the video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/c8ZT38hslxg
The first day was at sea and gave a chance to settle in and explore the ship. Across the next ten days we would get to experience some of the signature events that take place on all ships in the Azamara Club Cruises line. These included the White Night Party on the Pool Deck, AzAmazing Evening where the ship attended a special concert in a park in Corfu, Chocolate Buffet and Sea Day Brunch. You can see details of these in the video above.
Our first port was Kotor in Montenegro. This old town is in a long Fjord-like area which is stunning. I decided not to go on an excursion but made the long climb up the over 1,000 steps to the top of the mountain above the town. The views were phenomenal and worth the effort.
Excursions on the cruise segment were not included in the Titan Travel package. On Azamara there is a range of alcoholic drinks, wine, beer, soft drinks and speciality teas and coffees included. Wi-Fi is also not included and cost almost $20 per day if you bought a package for all days, and the same per hour if you bought it ad hoc. As we were mostly going to be in Europe, I did not buy internet and relied on 3G and 4G connections within European roaming and my provider allowances.
Dining in the two speciality restaurants were also extra cost, at $30 per person. Although you could buy a package of three for just $70 per person.
The first Greek island we called on was Corfu. As the new port was not within easy walking distance of the main town, a complimentary shuttle was running. We decided to use the Hop-on Hop-off bus that left from the port gates as this headed more into the beach areas. We had a great day swimming near the Old Fortress. In the evening was the AzAmazing evening concert.
Katakolon is on the Greek mainland and gateway to the ancient site of Olympia, home of the original Olympic Games. As it was over an hour away, I went on one of the cruise line excursions. I went for the transfer only option as I like to be more independent but am minded that the line will guarantee to wait for any excursions if they run late. Cruise lines do not wait for guests self-touring that miss the all-aboard time.
Olympia was a remarkable site and I had a great time walking around and visiting the museums. The price of entry was not included in this excursion option.
There was also a bike tour option, which is offered by Azamara in most ports. The ship carries 16 bikes and whenever possible offers a tour using them.
Gythion was our next island. I had not heard of it before and so was another where I booked an excursion. Like a number of the islands, this was a tender port and the ship moored off shore and passengers shuttled in on the tender boats. This was a pleasant surprise of a port, with a beautiful small harbour surrounded by bars, bakeries and restaurants.
I went on an excursion to the Glyfada Caves. This vast rambling cave network with river was only discovered in 1949 and has not been fully explored. There was a 30-minute ride on a boat through them. It is tight and enclosed in parts as we dodged around stalagmites and stalactites. It was definitely not for anyone claustrophobic. It was a fascinating experience and unusual so pleased I made this choice.
I finally go to see the iconic island off Santorini. This was also a tender stop with local boats, larger than the ship tenders, making transfers fast as they could hold a lot of passengers. We caught one of the boats to Oia as knew this is the town where the famous images of the island are taken. On the dockside at Fira, where we were moored, there were two providers offering trips by boat to Oia which included a bus up the huge hill (over 300 metres high) into the town and then transfer by bus back to Fira.
It was a great choice as we got to explore the winding narrow streets, the craft shops and get pictures of the stunning views. We had lunch in a cliffside restaurant before getting the bus to Fira. It was very busy as another ship was also in and the lines for the cable car down to the dockside were long, so we walked down the over 800 steps down. There was an option to get a donkey ride down, but we gave that a pass.
Azamara stays late in most ports and we only set sail at 10pm. This was the night of the White Party.
A busier and more urbanised stop was next: Heraklion in Crete. This is where the renowned Palace of Knossos which dates back to the Bronze Age is. I took a cruise line excursion there, although it was a relatively short and inexpensive taxi ride or hop-on hop-off bus ride from the port. However, I wanted to hear the stories and history and so decided a tour would be best. It definitely was as it was helpful to hear about the background of the Minoan culture and have explained where the original and reconstructed parts of the ruins were. It was the centre of their culture and power and no-one really knows why the Minoans left when the development was clearly so large and significant, although it is most likely due to volcanic activity and possibly wars.
The tour took us into the main town and after a short walking tour we had the option to stay and walk back to the ship, which we did so we could explore more and eat in one of the local restaurants.
An advantage of cruising on a line with smaller ships doing a more intensive tour of the islands is that we got to go to islands not usually on the cruise circuit. Patmos was one. This island is best known for St John who wrote Revelations, the last book in the New Testament. He was inspired to write it when Jesus appeared to him in a cave part way up the mountain. You can visit this now as well as the Monastery of St John high up on the hill. I got a taxi up, which was easy to catch from where the ship tender boats dropped us.
Once back down in the town we toured the attractive town, had lunch and enjoyed one of the beaches close to the centre.
The party island of Mykonos was the final port of call. Popular and trendy in the 1970s and 1980s with celebrities like Jacqui Onassis, it had fallen out of favour but is now back and very much in vogue. We took the free shuttle bus from the port into Mykonos Town and strolled the complex and winding streets that constantly threw up surprises of small craft stores, restaurants and bars. We made our way to the Windmills on the opposite side of the town to take the required photos of this Mykonos landmark. We then sat at one of the popular waterside bars having a drink and watching people. It was a great town and had a splendid day exploring.
We sailed overnight to Athens and docked early. Disembarkation was calmer and less frantic than on large ships, and we strolled off to meet our guide and bus for the day around 7.45am. We had received specific Titan disembarkation luggage times and instructions. Within minutes we were whisked off for a morning visit to the Acropolis before the crowds and the relatively new Acropolis Museum.
After free time for lunch we were taken to the airport and boarded our British Airways flight back to London. After collecting our luggage at Heathrow, we emerged to find the Titan Rep waiting with the various drivers who then took us home. We live about 25 minutes from Heathrow, so our journey was short. Some of the group had a few hours ride ahead of them as Titan will take you home wherever that may be.
Titan use familiar airlines like British Airways. As it is a group booking, you cannot select seats or check in advance online and have to do it at the airport and so seat allocation could be an issue, although it was not on this trip.
Simplicity, being taken care of from door-to-door at every stage, clarity and transparency of the total vacation cost and the travelling community were the four things that I felt were the main benefits of going on this (and other) Titan trips.
It was a relief to be able to pick a destination and rely on their expertise to ensure that the places and sights visited were the essential ones, accommodation had been screened and reliable and you had someone expert with you to help sort issues out, or the fall-back option of the Titan 24-hour helpline number to call when they were not on hand.
Being collected from your home and shepherded through every stage of the holiday is reassuring and a welcome development and anecdote to the “do it all yourself” alternative. As I found on this trip, there was still enough time to be independent with free time in Lake Garda and on the Azamara cruise where we could explore ports the way we wanted. Most of the group, like us, self-toured in most ports.
So all there is to do now is grab the Titan brochure and decide on my next escorted travel adventure!
If you are considering doing similar trip to the Greek Islands with Titan, I created this video of the must-see places and things to do in each based on this trip.
Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/kQoVnx5qU8k
Note: I travelled as a guest of Titan Travel on their two-week Italian Lakes and Greek Isles trip which included time at Lake Garda before the 10-night Azamara Intensive Greek Islands cruise. Follow Titan Travel on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
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