This was our third cruise (all with Carnival). We started planning for this trip a year in advance, since we had never been to Europe before. Doing a lot of research in advance on the Internet really paid dividends.
We flew into Rome two days early so we could do some sight-seeing and get acquainted with the European time zone (10 hours different from Alaska). Economizing wherever we could, we took the Leonardo Express from the airport to the Termini (train station), then hoofed the three blocks to our hotel (Hotel Raffaelo). This was a great choice as the hotel was moderately priced and was conveniently located to most of the ancient city. The room was large, clean and a pleasant surprise. In two days we saw about as much of Rome as you could expect to see (Colosseum, Forum, Vatican Museum, St. Peter's Basilica, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and several famous Piazzas). We thoroughly enjoyed Rome, but in hindsight, I would have added at least an extra day on the front end.
On Tuesday we caught a train at the Termini (around noon) to Civitavecchia and walked for 10 minutes to the port entry (about 1/3 mile). Rollers on the bottom of your luggage are a must, but this was a piece of cake and we are both in our mid-50s, but in reasonably good shape; this might be a problem for those with disabilities or small children. At the port gate, we boarded the Carnival bus (free) and were whisked the rest of the way to the ship (another 1/2 mile or so). Along the way we saw people walking with their luggage that obviously didn't know about the free shuttle, but they were very hard to miss if you were looking for them.
Embarkation was a breeze. It took a grand total of about 15 minutes and we were boarding the ship. We were quite pleased to find out we were moved up the eight deck with our 4a reservation. As it turns out, we might have been happier on one of the lower decks. On an earlier cruise, we were moved to a balcony cabin with an OV reservation, but I guess that would have been asking too much. This cruise was packed; I think it completely sold out and for good reason.
Cabin: As for the cabin, we had an inside berth on the eighth deck. Cabin 8390 must have been very near the kitchen, because every morning about 4-5 a.m. we heard kitchen staff opening cabinets, moving boxes around and getting ready for breakfast. I started wearing earplugs after the second night and it was no longer a problem for the rest of the trip. Everything else about the cabin was superb, which we expected as this was a brand new ship.
Food: We ate every night in the aft dining room (early seating), except for the first night in Venice. The food was good for the most part, however there didn't seem to be as much variety from day to day as I remembered from earlier cruises. I ate breakfast every morning on the Lido deck and skipped lunch. Breakfast was good, but nothing special. Service in both the cabin and dinner seating were excellent. I did get tired of all the folded animals, but the staff was so nice, of course we didn't say anything. I guess the novelty of cruising with Carnival is just wearing off.
Entertainment: This was probably the one part of our cruise that was really lacking. The cruise director was great (John Heald), but I got the feeling a lot of his routines were a little canned. They were still pretty funny though! The rest of the shows were really third-rate, except for the one that had dancing and singing (a tribute to famous plays from the 70s and 80s); I'm not really a fan of Vegas-style revues, but this one was pretty good. The rest of the shows were almost painful to have to sit through.
Clubs: I think the piano bar was the only one that really got going. A combination of an older (middle-aged) crowd and the frequency of port calls kept the late night partying to a minimum (at least compared to the Caribbean cruises).
Internet: On the ship, it is very crowded and very expensive. I used the pay-as-you-go rate which was about 75 cents per minute as I recall. I soon found internet cafes in some of the ports we stopped to check my email and sports sites. All were very reasonable, about 1.5 euros for 30 minutes of broadband connection (very fast).
Common Areas: This ship had very few pools, which maximized the deck space and viewing of the Jumbotron (large screen TV) on the Lido Deck. This was actually a better setup for a Mediterranean cruise; it might be a different story when this ship moves to the Caribbean for the winter and there are more families with kids. There were plenty of hot tubs, although it was hard to find one with a temperature that was warm enough (over 100°). The rest of the ship was very nicely decorated and spacious. Every cruise we've done, we moved to a larger ship and I must say the Liberty is quite a nice ride.
Naples: We did Carnival's Pompeii tour and it was great. The cameo factory was interesting, but Pompeii was fabulous. It's so huge and well preserved; fascinating story back in 79 A.D.
Dubrovnik: Took the shuttle bus to the ancient walled city. Did the self-guided audio tour around the top of wall. That took about an hour and one-half (at a very leisurely pace). Got some great photos; the harbor is deep blue aqua-marine and the buildings are very picturesque with their red-tiled roofs. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around inside, shopping and eating from one side of the city to the other. What a beautiful place! Very clean, the people were friendly and they seemed to genuinely appreciate having tourists visit their town.
Venice: The highlight of the cruise! It's hard to imagine a more beautiful setting. I maxed out my photo card in about one hour and had to change batteries twice. The scenery was breathtaking! We had dinner near the Rialto Bridge. Shopped around the various stores looking for the "perfect" Murano vase. Toured the Palazzo Ducale (an absolute must see). My only complaint is that there are so many tourists; but what can you expect when the place is so damn beautiful!
A couple of tips. If you want to get around cheap, buy the 24-hour Vaporetto pass. It costs about 10 euros and is a real bargain for getting from one side of Venice to the other. We used it to go up and down the Grand Canal. It's kind of like a crowded subway train, but hey, this is how the locals get around. The only place we could find to buy the 24-hour pass was at the San Marco terminal, although you might be able to buy them at the other end of the Grand Canal (Piazzale Roma). We were lucky enough to park the ship right outside Piazza San Marco; our captain was born in Venice and pulled some strings. I believe we were the only sailing that got to dock here all summer.
The second tip is don't ship your Murano glass home if you can carry it. I bought a really nice, but heavy piece. I thought about carrying it home, but decided to ship it instead; Big mistake! I ended up having to pay 45 euros to the store to ship it. Then I couldn't get the VAT back at the airport because I didn't have the piece in my possession. They said I should try to get the store to fill out the paperwork for my refund; yea, right. I actually sent them an email, but no luck. Then I got a bill from FedEx for custom's duty. I was well under my limit for this trip, but they have no way of knowing this, so I had to pay another $32. These three charges totaled $150 for something I could have easily carried on board the plane (it wasn't fragile). Live and learn.
Messina: We did our own trip here, taking the train to Taormina. The station was about 1/4 mile from the ship and runs every hour (or less). We caught the 8:00 a.m. train and arrived in Taormina about an hour later. This was a really cool town which is kind of carved into the side of a mountain. Lots of quaint shops and restaurants with a great view of the beaches below. It also has an ancient Greek-style theatre that dates back to the 3rd century B.C.
We got back in time to take a leisurely walk through part of the downtown area in Messina. Not a lot to see, but there was a quaint church near the ship with an interesting bell tower designed like a cuckoo clock. I guess it really puts on a show when it strikes 12 noon.
Barcelona: We had fun here! After taking the shuttle bus to the World Trade Center we walked to the nearest subway station (Drassanes) and traveled to La Sagrada Familia; this is an absolute must see if you are into unique, magnificent architectural design. We then walked back through the Gothic District, did some shopping and checked out the Mercat de La Boqueria (market). This is a huge indoor market on La Rambla and has a lot to offer as far as food, wine, etc.; very similar to Pike's Market in Seattle or the market we found in Florence (later this trip). The boulevards are laid out very wide with stately tree-lined medians; quite a change from Italy, and Gothic District has very narrow alleys and no cars (great for shopping). This is really a great city for tourists and I wish we had more time in this port.
Cannes: This was probably our biggest disappointment. The city is nice and has plenty of shops near the harbor (all overpriced). In retrospect, we should have booked a tour in this stop or taken a train somewhere, but we didn't. After checking out the shops and walking around in circles we stopped by the beach. We had been warned that it was topless (as are several French Riviera towns), so of course we had to check it out. I was surprised to see that most of the women had their tops on, and the ones that didn't probably should have. ;-) Anyway, our dinner shipmates took the Monaco and Monte-Carlo tour and had a blast. Wish we had gone with them (next time).
Livorno: We booked the Carnival Pisa tour and it was pretty good. We took the usual pictures (holding up the leaning tower). As soon as we arrived, I ran to the ticket entrance to buy tickets to climb the tower. Unfortunately, the first available time was three hours later and about a half-hour after we were scheduled to leave. The price was really high (15 euros) for a really short climb. My wife really wanted to climb it, but I was kind of glad we were going to miss it. It seemed like a real "rip-off", plus I had already done a lot of climbing this trip. St. Peter's Dome - now there's a real climb for you, and when you make it to the top you have a fabulous view of the entire city of Rome.
Anyway, the tour includes an entrance to the Duomo (church) and the Baptistry. They were pretty impressive! Afterward, there's lots of shopping in a long row of booths that stretches all the way back to the tour buses. This is apparently one of the few places where it is OK to buy "knock-offs"; according to the cruise director, all the local officials in Pisa are in on the fix. I bargained one vendor all the way down to 20 euros for a fake Rolex (probably because I was just trying to get away from him). I almost bought it, but decided I didn't need another watch. If you decide to buy any "knock-offs" in Italy, beware that the penalties can be quite severe if you get caught. I read that a few tourists have been nabbed and made to pay fines in excess of 3000 euros for a fake handbag or watch. Your chances of getting caught are next to nil (if you are careful), but if you are spotted by the police I think they like the extra revenue. These laws (against "knock-offs") were just passed in May.
Debarkation: Very quick and well-organized with passengers being called up in sequence after waiting in their rooms for their group number. This is vastly superior to the long lines I've experienced on previous cruises. Once our number was called, we were out of there in 15 minutes flat.
Post Cruise Adventures: We took the train from Civitavecchia to Florence. Stayed there for five glorious days at the Hotel David which is the best bargain in Florence bar none. Day trips to Lucca and Siena were spectacular. We then stopped off in London for three days on our way back to the States. Still basking in the after-glow of our dream vacation to Europe, but will have to plan our next trip soon as the long winter (in Alaska) is approaching. I think I hear the Caribbean calling....