Well, I think that I have finally recovered enough to post my review of what we thought was the best cruise we have taken to date. I'm talking about the May 1st sailing of the Carnival Freedom to the Western Mediterranean.
Before I begin posting the details of the cruise itself, I must make a few comments concerning Cruise Critic. This cruise would not have been as successful as it was if it had not been for the 100+ people who actively participated in the roll call that was started by Gabe (floridabuckeye). We have got to give Gabe a great big thanks! Because of this roll call, many cruisers were able to book tours and transfers together, share tables together in the dining rooms and meet a lot of new friends. I highly recommend that each of you stay active in the roll call for your cruise. We had three meet-and-greets with Carnival providing us with a meeting place for our large group.
We flew Delta non-stop to and from Rome from Atlanta. Even though it makes for a really long flight (10 hours to Rome and 10 ½ hours back), I think that non-stop is the way to go. Less chances for missed flights or missing luggage.
We stayed one night in Rome before and one night after the cruise. This was not near enough time. I would recommend spending at least two to three days either before or after the cruise if you really want to see and enjoy Rome.
We stayed at the Hotel Smeraldo Roma for 140 Euros per night including breakfast and would stay there again. The hotel is located near the Campo de Fiori in an area that had plenty of good restaurants, cafes and shops. We had dinner both evenings at the Trattoria Moderna which is actually located just across the street from the hotel. The food was excellent and very reasonably priced. We also had lunch at the Ristorante Campo de Fiori which was a little pricey but excellent food. Of course we never had anything but excellent wine while in Italy. One recommendation concerning the Smeraldo is to have them let you keep all of your luggage that you don't need in a back room on the ground floor. Their elevator is so small that taking luggage to the upper floors is difficult to say the least.
Because we had such little time in Rome, we decided to book a tour of the city which included a guided tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. We also had a "Rome at Night Tour" after the cruise. Both of our tours were booked with Rome Cabs. In fact, we booked all of our tours and our airport and ship transfers with them. I can't say enough about Rome Cabs and the owner Stefano. He was so easy to deal with before we arrived in Rome, his drivers were the best and they were always on time. The two drivers we had for our tours were Marco and Maurizio and we couldn't have asked for any better.
Our Cabin (9277) was a balcony cabin which we enjoyed very much. Our Cabin Steward Ozzie was very friendly and remembered our names after hearing them only once.
First impressions of the ship were very positive. Some of the earlier cruisers had commented that they thought that the color schemes used in the ship's interior were quite gaudy. We did not get that impression at all.
We had Table 326 at the aft end of the Posh Dining Room which we shared with three other Cruise Critic couples. I read in some reviews where some complained about getting around on the ship because of the location of the dining rooms. We didn't see this as a problem at all and we were in a cabin on the ninth deck forward and assigned to the aft dining room. The food was excellent in the dining room and the Lido. I thought that the Deli was one of the best deals for lunch in the Lido. Their sandwiches were very good. If you still have time, get your travel agent to get you late dining (8:30 pm) because you will be on deck 3 in the Posh Restaurant. This is where the maitre d Ken sings every evening. What a joy he is.
The entertainment on the Freedom was the best that I have ever seen on any cruise that we have been on. The two main shows could not have been any better.
We and three other Cruise Critic couples shared a tour of the Amalfi coast and Pompeii. We booked it through Drive Amalfi for 162.50 Euros per couple and could not have been more satisfied. Cost for the guide at Pompeii was 25 Euros per couple. I highly recommend that you pay for a guide at Pompeii. Our driver/guide was Roberto and he was excellent. One of the highlights of the day was where Roberto took us for lunch. We had lunch at the Ristorante-Pizzeria S. Giovanni which is located in a small village (Pontone I think) north of Ravello where I don't believe a tourist has ever visited. The lunch consisted of three courses with wine and was well worth the 20 Euros per person.
The tour concluded with our stop at Pompeii where we met our guide for a two hour tour of the ancient city. We were somewhat disappointed in this tour. The guide did an adequate job, but Pompeii seemed to be very dirty and not maintained like you would expect such an historic site to be.
Pompeii and Amalfi Coast Tour - 650 Euros (162.50 Euros per couple) Pompeii Guide - 100 Euros (25 Euros per couple) Pompeii Entry Fee - 10 Euros per person
Highlights: The coastal views, Roberto, lunch at S. Giovanni, Pompeii Guide, Hotel Santa Caterina in Amalfi
Lowlights: Conditions at Pompeii (not very well protected & dirty)
The Freedom arrived in Venice at 1:00 pm on a very rainy afternoon.
We did not have any organized tours planned for the first day in Venice. So, despite the rain, we set out to spend the rest of the day in rainy downtown Venice. The local government supplied shuttle buses to take you from the ship at Marittima Cruise Terminal to the closest Vaparetto (Water Bus) station, Piazzale Roma. Cost for the shuttle was 5 Euros per person round trip. At Piazzale Roma, we purchased Vaparetto tickets which could be used for 24 hrs. at a cost of 15 Euros per ticket. This was not a good purchase since we had forgotten that we were scheduled to take a tour to Murano and Burano islands the next morning and would not need the Vaporetto tickets.
We rode the Vaporetto from Piazzale Roma to the closest station to Piazza San Marco and observed as many of the sites (the Piazza, Campanile de San Marco, Basiliaca de San Marco) as we could see while trying our best to stay out of the rain. We then did a little shopping (Judie purchased a beautiful cross) and had lunch at Trattoria ai Leoncini.
The next morning we were scheduled to take a "Three Island Tour" to Murano, Burano and Torcello Islands. Much to our delight, we awoke to a beautiful sunny day and were really looking forward to sailing to the islands.
The tour boat, which had been arranged by a fellow Cruise Critic, met us in the cruise ship harbor near the Freedom which was very convenient. After meeting our tour guide Lucia and boarding the tour boat, everyone agreed that we would skip the island of Torcello so we could have more time to enjoy Murano and Burano.
On Murano, we visited the Venini Glass Factory and were treated to a demonstration of the art of glass blowing by their master glass blower. We concluded our time on Murano by visiting their show room and "shopping" for what was the most expensive glass I had ever seen. The lowest cost item that I observed was a little less than 300 Euros.
Then it was on to the very colorful island of Burano where we visited shops around Piazza Galuppi, photographed the uniquely painted buildings and enjoyed some good gelato. We also purchased masks for the Freedom sailaway party. Costs:
Shuttle - 5 Euros per person Vaparetto - 15 Euros per person for 24 hour ticket Island Tour - 20 Euros per person
Highlights: Muarno & Burano, glassblower, the complete Venice experience
Lowlights: Rain on first afternoon
We arrived in Dubrovnik at 10:00 am and tied up in the port of Gruz Harbor. We elected to take the government supplied shuttle bus from the ship to Dubrovnik's Old Town for a fee of 5 dollars per person.
The bus dropped us off near the Pile Gate entrance to the old part of the city. After entering through the Pile Gate, we accessed the "Old City Walls" by paying a fee of 6 Euros per person and climbing some very long stairs.
The climb of 80 feet was worth every step because the views of the sea and the city were awesome. We walked the entire circumference of the wall which we found out later was around 6350 feet.
After completing the walk around the wall, we visited some shops located in the area of the cities main promenade known as the "Placa" and had lunch. We had lunch at a restaurant named "Konuba Longa" which was uniquely located long ways in an alleyway. The food was excellent and the local beer was very good. DW said the white wine was alright but a little sweet for her.
Shuttle Bus - 5 Euros per person Wall Fee - 6 Euros per person
Highlights: Walking the wall, lunch, the people, the charm of the city
The Freedom arrived in Messina, Sicily right on time at 7:00 am. We were off of the ship by 8:00 am and met up with our bus driver from BlueStone Tourism who was to transfer us to Taormina for the day along with 51 other Cruise Critic passengers. As it turned out our driver did not speak a word of English, but, lucky us, a couple in our CC group from the island of Malta spoke Italian.
The drive from Messina to Taormina was a beautiful trip down the east coast of Sicily which took around 45 mins. The driver dropped us off at a building which housed elevators that you could take up seven floors to the old town of Taormina. After the elevator ride, we walked the town, had a latte at a sidewalk cafe, visited some shops and had lunch at the same cafe after visiting the Teatro Greco (Greek Theater).
We had lunch at the Mocambo Cafe Tearoom and Bar which consisted of Antipasto Rustico (cheese, spicy salami, ham, olives) and Tramezzino (vegetable salad in oil with mayo) and, of course, the local beer and wine.
We then rode the elevators again to meet our bus down below the town and to return to the ship.
Taormina was one of the highlights of the cruise. The views from the Cliffside town and the Greek Theater are breathtaking.
Bus - 10 Euros per person Greek Theater - 6 Euros per person ?
Highlights: Greek Theater, all of Taormina, ocean views, lunch, bus ride
We had no organized tours booked in Barcelona because we met up with some friends from London England who we met on another cruise. We spent the day sightseeing and had lunch at one of their favorite restaurants - "The 4 Gats".
The Freedom arrived in Cannes at 9:00 am and immediately started tender service to ferry everyone ashore. Those passengers who had booked tours through Carnival were given the first tender tickets. We were able to get some of the earliest tickets and met our driver Frederic Baranes from Dream Tours at 9:40 am which was only 10 mins. late.
Frederic gave, as advertised, a great tour of the French Rivera and Monaco. He began the tour with a short drive through Cannes showing us where the preparations were being made for next week's Cannes Film Festival.
After Cannes we proceeded to Nice where we visited an Open French Market, bought some nuts and had an ice cream. We then proceeded to Eze.
Eze is a very small hilly ancient village which has been turned into shops, restaurants and hotels. Because it was so difficult to get around the hilly streets, we didn't spend a lot of time looking in the shops. We did stop in one of the cafes for a drink.
Next we visited Monaco and spent some time at Monte-Carlo where Judie played a few slots in one of the casinos.
Frederic then took us to the village of La Turbie for lunch. This is not a place visited by many tourists, but the people seemed to be very friendly and even served us lunch even though it was past their lunch time. We had lunch at the La Turbiasque Restaurant - Cafe - Bistrot. I had the Salade Tomate Mozzarelle for 8.50 Euros and Judie had the Crepe Avec Glace et Chantiffy for 5.50 Euros. We both had the house white wine.
After lunch we completed our tour with a visit to St. Paul de Venve. This was the highlight of the tour. St. Paul de Vence is a medieval village well known for artists and actors. We didn't see any, but we did enjoy our time here visiting the many shops and sidewalk cafes. We stopped in one, the Le Filleul Menthe, and had a French beer, Saint Omer.
Eze, Monaco, Nice & St. Paul de Vence Tour - 600 Euros (150 Euros per couple)
Highlights: St Paul de Vence, lunch in La Turbie, Driver Frederic
Low Lights: Eze because of the very hilly streets
Livorno & Florence
The Freedom arrived in Livorno on time at 7:00 am. We debarked as scheduled at 8:15 am and proceeded to Florence by bus. This is the one and only excursion that we booked through Carnival. It was entitled "Florence on Your Own" and consisted of bus transportation to and from Florence with a guide telling you about Florence during the 1 ½ hour trip and furnishing you with maps of the area. I don't know about all of the buses, but the guide provided on our bus did not provide us with hardly any information during our trip to Florence. The map he provided was so poor we purchased one of own when we arrived in Florence.
The first thing that we did when we arrived was to find the Galleria dell Accademia. We had reservations for 11:00 am to see Michelangelo's David. Making these reservations was one of the best bits of advice that we got from Cruise Critic. If you don't have reservations you will have to wait in a very long line for tickets. With reservations, you just show them your number, pay your 3 Euros per person and enter the museum. The statue is magnificent particularly when you realize Michelangelo was only 25 yrs. Old when he carved it. We were disappointed though when we learned that you could not take photos.
After visiting the Accademia, we wandered around and ended up visiting Piazza San Marco for a while and purchased a much better map of Florence.
We then started trying to find our way back to the Piazza del Duomo and looking for a place to eat lunch. We had lunch at Pizzeria Forno A Legona, a sidewalk cafe.
After arriving back at Piazza del Duomo, we had a few beers in a sidewalk cafe on the Piazza while we waited for our guide. Costs:
Bus to Florence - $79.00 per person ($158.00 per couple)
Highlights: Statue of David
Low Lights: Local Guide, general condition of the city
As I said at the beginning of this entirely too long review, this was without question the best cruise that we have taken in our short "cruising career". The ship was great and the itinerary was just perfect.
As for recommendations:
1. Be proactive with the Cruise Critic Roll Call for your cruise. 2. Share private tours with other Cruise Critics. 3. Do not hesitate to book with Rome Cabs, Drive Amalfi, Dream Tours, BlueStone Tourism. 4. Schedule as much time in Rome as you can afford. 5. Relax on your days at sea. You are going to need it.
Richard & Judie
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