Another easy place to walk, if you can figure out a way to into the city without getting ripped off by the cruise lines (The 5-minute shuttle cost $32. The cabs were much cheaper). Las Ramblas is the long shopping district that runs through the middle of town, easy to find, full of interesting shops and tourist places, about equally mixed. The Gothic Quarter is a medieval area, very old and quaint. Do not miss the massive and beautiful farmers market called La Boqueria Market, right on the main artery, as you enter the city under the Christopher Columbus monument. Even in December we had marvelous raspberries and fresh red cherries- delicious and right off the stalls (the fruit are sold in small dishes with forks, for eating right then.) The harbor is also easy to access and scenic: modern and clean and filled with yachts. With so much history and variety in Barcelona, it is easy to fill one day on your own.
You can see everything there is to see in this charming little place on foot, including the walled gardens, the church on the hill and some wonderful shopping back in the neighborhoods. We bought wine and chocolate and candy in tiny grocery stores here, window shopped at the Bentley dealership, gawked at the furriers, wandered around cobblestone alleys and enjoyed our day without an excursion. My husband wished we had taken the train to Monaco, to see the Prince's car collection, though. The trains look easy to decipher and we will definitely go exploring on the trains next time. There is a McDonalds downtown with free wifi. Because you are in France, wine is far cheaper than water and Princess was very nice about letting us bring back bottles. We found an incredible light white grapefruit wine, locally blended, along with the 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau, both for under $5!
Coldest day of the trip, but both cities are magnificent. This excursion is basically a bus ride to each city, with good maps, free restrooms and plenty of time to go roam around on your own, which we loved. Florence, especially, was glorious: ancient and charming, with a Christmas fair in Piazza di Santa Croce, about 800 metres south west of the Duomo. My favorite day of the whole cruise!
The ship enters this port under a magnificent bridge, sailing right under this huge structure and docking by a huge statue on the mountainside. Be sure to watch the entrance into the city, if you can! The hop-on-hop-off bus here is a bargain: 15 euros for several hours of wonderful old forts, cathedrals and architecture of all kinds. Lisbon is a rough port city, not as much of a tourist haven as some of the other ports. But the fish shops, wine stores and chocolate vendors were interesting and inexpensive. We bought lots of little souvenirs and also discovered one of the secret pleasures of Lisbon: The Ginjinha of the Praa de São Domingos, which is a cherry liquor sometimes served in a tiny chocolate cup, which you then eat. Lisbon is also famous for the ancient yellow trolley cars that go up and down the narrow cobbled streets- very unique. I would not want to be in parts of Lisbon after dark on my own: it definitely has a vibe of a big city, with more graffiti, trash, rundown buildings and deserted areas that other ports on this itinerary. But we still had a great day on our own, and Lisbon is more genuinely historic than many cities.
We took the excursion to the volcano- and it was worth it! This little island is remarkable and will have something to surprise almost everyone: cows and gardens on one side, volcanoes and rain forests on the other, ancient cobblestone towns, pretty beaches, pineapple plantations, very chic (and expensive) shopping downtown- quite a variety of things on such a tiny piece of land. Also, the pier here was by far the best of the entire trip: walk off the ship and you are a few blocks from the downtown shops (unique but pricey) and the pier itself has cafes and bars with "free" Internet ( for the price of a coffee) along with nice little stores selling tea, soap, books, and other unique mementos. Plus, the water is a gorgeous deep blue and the port is filled with lots of boats of all kinds.
Also cold in December (in the 40s) but we had been here before and love it. It is easy to catch the train to Rome from the port. You do have to walk a few miles, so wear warm clothes and comfy shoes, but the port town of Civitavecchia is pretty and clean and very easy to navigate. There are ATMs on the waterfront, along with liquor stores and cafes. It takes about an hour to get into Rome once you board your train, but it is simple to get off at San Peidro (St Peters Square) and roam around the Vatican on your own. We especially loved the book sellers stalls and the carousel near the Castel Sant' Angelo on the banks of the Tiber close to the Vatican. You dont need an excursion here, if you have plenty of time and enjoy exploring on your own.
Cold in December, but gorgeous. Take the vaporetto to San Marco and walk around the plaza, then check out the trinkets on the pier by the gondola platforms. Venice is spectacular, even when it floods, and is worth a few days before sailing to get the full flavor. We stayed at the Duodo Palace, (check out the reviews on TripAdvisor) behind the Rialto Bridge, and caught the vaporetto to the ship. Easy, beautiful and not expensive.