One of the greatest things about travel is how often our expectations are proven wrong.

I recently returned to Italy for the first time in many years. I was excited. Italy is always fun, with great food and friendly, vivacious people. In all those ways, the trip was exactly what I expected.

In the company of Joe Diaz and Ellen Asmodeo-Giglio—my business partner and AFAR’s publisher, respectively—I started out in Rome, where we dined with two of Ellen’s friends, Francesca and Olivia, who personify the carefree spirit of the city. We stayed up late eating, drinking, and laughing, at a restaurant called Pierluigi in a little square off Via Monserrato.

From Rome we moved on to Sicily. In Trapani, we shopped with chef Pino Maggiore, who taught us how to take the heads off sardines and cook a meal of couscous and swordfish. We met Marco Serramarrocco, who runs a vineyard that he inherited from his grandmother. In Syracuse, we bought cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes at Caseificio Borderi. In Noto, we sipped espresso in the kitchen of Vincenza Terranova (pictured here with Joe, right, and me), a woman whose personality is much bigger than her four-foot-nine frame.

What took me by surprise was how we came to meet all of these warm, welcoming locals: We were on a cruise.

I don’t know exactly why I had never cruised before. I suppose I was concerned about spending too much of the journey on the ship and not enough time actually experiencing the destinations. And maybe, being the type-A traveler that I am, I worried about not having enough control over what I was doing. But cruising turned out to be a delightful way to travel. We had beautiful rooms. We unpacked once, when we came aboard. And we experienced wonderful, personal interactions with local people.

The cruise line we traveled on, Azamara, is focused on serving experiential travelers. Azamara ships spend more than one night in many destinations and usually stay in port until later at night to give guests time to explore and have the kinds of experiences that many of us yearn for when we travel—experiences that, frankly, I never expected to have on a cruise.

It just goes to show that great things can happen when you stretch yourself and get out of your comfort zone. Even when traveling in great comfort.

Good travels,

Greg Sullivan


P.S. As this issue went to press, we learned that the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation honored AFAR for the second year in a row, this time with four Lowell Thomas Awards, including a silver for best travel magazine. We are proud to have been recognized and grateful to our many contributors as well as to you, our readers, for your support. We will continue to try to make each issue better than the last.

This appeared in the January/February 2012 issue.