In a previous article, I talked about how leaving an airport on a long layover is not only legal, doable, and less burdensome than you think, but also how leaving an airport for a few hours on a layover can be totally worth your time.
In this article, I’m going to focus on how an airport can become like a cruise terminal with just a little bit of planning.
Your land-based cruise terminal.
I used to think that transiting in an airport was something to be endured. It was something you wanted to make as short as possible so that you can get to your destination as fast as you can to start your journey. A few years, something changed my mind about airports. I took my first cruise.
Why do people go on cruises?
If you ask people why you get on cruises, they’ll come up with a variety of responses.
- It’s a convenient way to travel.
- It feels safe
- It’s a floating resort.
- It’s gives me a consistent place to sleep while i wake up to a new place every day.
- FOOD! FOOD! FOOD! PARTY! PARTY! PARTY!
- I get to go to lots of places comfortably and economically
My first cruise was out of Venice. It was a 7-night cruise and we hit 5 ports, mostly hard to reach port cities or islands. Kotor in Montenegro, Argostoli on the island of Kefalonia, Corfu, Mykonos, and Athens. We had only one day at sea. It was, I found out later, a port-heavy trip as many cruises will tend to do just 4 ports in 7 nights (plus your origin). The first day you leave in the evening, and the last day you get back early in the morning. so you really only have 5 full days on a 7-night cruise.
As this was my first cruise, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, as I started planning, I realized that people who cruise a lot are REALLY organized. They plan their stays in each port really well. The reason they plan them really well, is because they usually don’t have a lot of time! It takes time to unload 2,000 people off of a boat and to get back on. You may think that you have a lot of time in a place, but once you account for getting to and from the port, getting on and off the ship, and in some cases, getting on shuttle ships to get to the mainland, you can be left with precious little time. So, planning is essential.
8 hours in Kotor… or is it 6?
To give you two examples. Our first stop on the journey was Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor is a beautiful little coastal city that thrives on cruise traffic. According to the schedule, the ship is scheduled to arrive at 1PM, and depart at 9PM. On paper, that looks like you have 8 hours in the city, but in reality you have far less. Cruise ships don’t dock in Kotor, they have to send tenders (life boats) back and forth to the ship to tender all the passengers back and forth. The trip itself takes 25 minutes, but you have to wait until it’s your turn to go. Elite status and booked excursions get priority so you may be waiting. We were fortunate to tag along with some elite members so we got off the ship in record time. We still didn’t get into town until about 2PM. The last boat back to the ship left at about 8PM, so in reality you have 6 hours.
Sleeping in Corfu
In Corfu, our next stop, the ship docked at 9AM and was scheduled to leave at 3PM. The ship docked right in town, so it was convenient, but we ended up sleeping in until 10:30 ( the bad aspects of booking an interior cabin ). In the end, we barely had enough time to get into town to see a few sights and get back to the ship.
So what does cruising have to do with flying?
If you haven’t guessed the point yet, if people often take cruises and have no problem with spending a few hours in a city, what stops them doing the same thing when flying and using long layovers? It’s a rhetorical question… you know the answer.
Stopping in [air]ports to taste the area
Flying with long layovers can be a little like an airline cruise. You’re stopping in an airport for less than a day, and yes you CAN leave the airport on a layover in many cases.
While it’s true that an airplane is nowhere near as comfortable as a cruise liner and the food definitely is nowhere near as good, the principles of this kind of travel still apply. You have to be organized and plan your itinerary.
If you’re the kind of person who would choose a port-heavy cruise because cruising to you is more about the destinations than the party on board, then consider planning longer layovers and treat each airport like a cruise ship terminal.
- Plan your itinerary like a cruise-tripper
- Look up airport maps and transportation maps so you’re comfortable getting back to the airport on time
- Try to save up to fly in business class.
- When possible, sleep on the plane (business class makes this easier) and look for flights that arrive early to your layover city.
If nothing else, thinking of a layover as a mini-cruise may give you a more positive impression of layovers and air travel and you may even be crazy enough to plan an entire trip around the world, building in plenty of layovers.
On your next flight, instead dreading a long layover, turn it into an opportunity! There are even sites like skiplagged.com that help you save money doing so. Sort by the longest flight duration, and if you’re booking on airline points, be sure to be well-versed in how to best use the program to build in longer stopovers. Aeroplan, for example, offers a generous unlimited number of layovers less than 24 hours and 2 stopovers longer than 24 hours. Sound like a great way to plan an epic cruise to me!
It’s more work to plan these kinds of trips, but if you’re an explorer at heart, you won’t regret even a few hours in a new city.