Before I begin- I would like to state that we are a couple in our early 30's who have cruised multiple times and actually met on a Carnival cruise ship back in 1998. We like to be thorough in our review in hopes that others will find some good nuggets of information for their upcoming cruise. This is our first official cruise review to be posted on cruisecritic.com. Here goes....
PRE-CRUISE ROME: We arrived in Rome on April 28. Marco from Rome Cabs picked us up in a Mercedes 4 door sedan and drove to the Best B&B Pantheon. Along the way Marco pointed out some of the city's historical sites. Speed limit signs and white lines on the road are mere suggestions for people to follow if they wish.
The Best B&B Pantheon was awesome and centrally located on Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II. We were up about a block from the Pantheon, caddy corner from Area Sacra Dell' Argentina (the historic archaeological site where Julius Caesar was murdered) and close to many yummy cafes and fun shopping. The Best B&B has only 4 rooms, one of which is larger and contains a Jacuzzi. Ramona greeted us and although our room wasn't ready right away, hurried to prepare it for us and we only had to wait 20 minutes or so. The Best B&B Pantheon is on the second or third level of the building and the entrance is very subtle. You'll miss it if you're not looking for it, as there is no sign on the outside. But we felt very safe there. After Ramona cleaned the room, we talked to the owner via phone to arrange a time for him to come by and go through the keys, the alarms, and payment for the stay. We were pleasantly surprised to have free wi-fi internet access for my wife's Macbook and to check back with friends and family back home, as well as to do research for places to visit. There is also a desktop computer In the hallway for guests, along with books about Rome and various DVDs to borrow. Best B&B Pantheon was very clean, and our room contained a 42 inch plasma display, iron, ironing board and DVD player. Every night, we set our breakfast order card on the door, which indicated what we wanted for breakfast and when we wanted it delivered (between 8am and 10am). Breakfast arrived on a three-tiered cart every morning with yummy pastries, jams, eggs, orange juice, toast, cereals, coffee, etc. Our room faced the street, but it wasn't loud at all when we closed the large doors. It was great to watch people, as there were many people walking along there either enroute to the Gesu, the Pantheon, the Forum, etc. In addition, the Best B&B Pantheon offered a discount to dine at the cafe across the street. There was a pharmacy across the street and ATMs were easy to find. Our stay at the Best B&B Pantheon was for 3 nights and I look forward to staying there in the future. I would recommend this place to anyone visiting Rome. As we were still on Orlando (East Coast) time, we slept for a few hours before deciding to venture out for dinner and the afternoon. We walked to Piazza Navona and saw all the performers and beautiful buildings surrounding the area. We had dinner at one of the cafes in the Piazza. The food was alright, but I'm sure we paid for the view of the Piazza. After dinner, we walked east from Piazza Navona through Via Giustiniani- a small, very narrow street, the eventually opened up to Piazza Della Rotunda, where the Pantheon is located. It was lit up with a spotlight, making it breathtaking to see such a structure nestled in an area with many buildings. We sat down by the fountain with a full moon shining down on us while enjoying gelato. There is no shortage of gelato in Rome, and thank God for it. I enjoyed Stracciatella-flavored gelato. Yum! Links: www.romecabs.com www.bestbb.it/
On Sunday, April 29, we went on a walking tour with IconTours.com. We met our tour guide, Morgan (who is a native of California), at 5pm at the Victor Emmanuelle Monument. You can't miss this place as it's called "The Wedding Cake" by locals. They hate the structure for its pompousness. Morgan took us on the walking tour "Passeggiata" which took us to famous fountains and piazzas. She was great and offered great insight into the history of the area. We went through several places and ended the tour at the Piazza Santa Di Santa Maria in Trastevere. After the tour, a small group of us walked back across the Ponte Garibaldi bridge and down Via Arenula to Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II street. We then headed west up Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II a couple blocks to get some very yummy pizza at Monte Carlo Pizza. It was great! The place was happening and had many people waiting to get in. It's a local favorite and the pizza was to die for. Don't be offended if they ask you to leave right away after you finish your food. They asked us this, as they had 200 people waiting to get in after we finished our meal. Links: www.icontours.com
On Monday, April 30, we did a full-day Rome tour with Rome Cabs. We were pleasantly surprised to find out Stefano would be our tour guide for the day. He owns RomeCabs and although he has several people who work with him, he is the man, the legend...THE Stefano. Stefano was well worth the cost of the tour. We had two other couples join us as we visited many wonderful sites including the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, the Caracalla Baths, Spanish Steps, a drive down Via Condutti, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and many more. In addition, we were able to cut through several lines, including the 3-hour line at The Vatican. This is where the cost of the private tour really paid off. Rafaela was our guide at The Vatican, for which we paid a little extra, but it was worth it, as she pointed out highlights of the museum and St. Peter's, including the Sistine Chapel, etc. After the visit to the Vatican, Stefano also took us up Gianicolo (Janiculum) Hill near the Vatican that overlooked Trastevere and the rest of Rome. This was a great photo opportunity. I also asked Stefano if he could take us out to Appian Way. I had read on cruisecritic.com about some folks who had asked to go visit this road, and it proved to be a good choice, as we got to get away from the tourists and step outside the city walls. By combining the evening walking tour with the full-day tour, we actually saw a few sites twice, but it provided even more insight on all the history wrapped up in this rich area. For example, we found out that a majority of the graffiti in Rome is not gang-related, it's all about soccer. Yep - the two rival Rome-area Soccer (futbol) team fan bases are so rabid that they deface property with their team's names and stuff. I don't know that I'm that die-hard of a Buckeye fan that I'd have to deface property. Links: www.romecabs.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gianicolo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appian_Way
On Tuesday, May 1 we checked out of the hotel by 10am and ventured out around the Piazza Navona area. We were getting picked up at 12:00 p.m. by Diana with Rome Cabs for our transfer to Civitavecchia, where Carnival Freedom was docked. The drive to Civitavecchia was a fast one and we got there in no time. When we arrived at the cruise terminal, we dropped off our luggage and signed our docs to board. It's a cute little terminal and embarkation here was much easier than it's ever been through Miami. I was pleasantly surprised to be on the ship within 10 minutes of arrival.
THE CRUISE SHIP: We were happy to be on a brand new ship. The color patterns and design were in true Carnival fashion. For example the Chic dining room has a snakeskin pattern design on the ceilings and walls. And I'll be the first to say that the fact that this cruise was half the price of Royal Caribbean for roughly the same itinerary, and that this was a new 110,000 ton ship, helped me to choose Carnival for this particular Itinerary. We had previously traveled on Carnival Triumph in the Caribbean and enjoyed that ship. The cabins were clean and large and we had a nice verandah on the empress deck 7. I also realized that I had been spoiled on my last cruise ship: Royal Caribbean's, Navigator of the Seas. Gone was the large internal atrium area, Johnny Rockets, and the wonderful designs I had been accustomed to. But I knew this going into this cruise as I had traveled with Carnival before. This cruise ship did have a mini golf and basketball court up on top and an arcade with air hockey (which my wife loves) that we unfortunately didn't have much time to try at all, which was nice to see. There were many trivia's held on this ship, and that was a good thing as Jenny and I were out to get some plastic ship trophies. There may have been more trivia's due to the days of this cruise. The Lido deck has a giant jumbotron tv! It was great, although we never got a chance to go watch a movie on there, except for us playing famous places trivia on It, which was really cool. A note of warning: some of our friends had cabins below the Lido deck in cabin 8316. Each morning, they awoke early to the sound of dragging chairs above them. Other friends in cabin 9222 heard a constant leaking water noise coming through the wall throughout their stay. Perhaps this was caused by the spa Jacuzzis one floor above. At the time of cruising, the licenses for the cable channels had not yet been worked out with Carnival, therefore there were no sports channels being played at the "Players" sports bar on the ship. There were a couple NBA dvds being played and one channel with music videos and then BBC World. A couple times we were In there playing trivia, some people had come In looking for some golf updates and also NBA Finals updates only to see music videos and an old NBA video looping. This ship had a complimentary Sushi bar on the promenade (adjacent to the 70s lounge)- WOOHOO!!, but wait- Of the 12 days we were on this, I think I only saw the Sushi bar opened 3 times selling Sushi. - What a shame. It was good sushi and I got to pick some up one night. Yum!!
Technical commentary: I hope that with their newer ships, Carnival's naval architects revisit a new design rather than just inserting another deck forward above the bridge. Because sooner or later the ships are going to look top heavy. It might be due to some limitations at Fincantieri (Carnival's Italian ship builder). I think what Aker Finnyards, formerly known as Kvaerner Masa (Royal Caribbean's finnish ship builder) puts out for Royal Caribbean just goes more above and beyond in design and layout. Overall - she's a good ship. She's new, she's clean. She just wasn't our type. We miss those Royal Caribbean full-size indoor atriums and the wonderful eagle's nest seating at the Viking Crown Lounges, where one truly feels like master and commander of the seas.
THE STAFF: Look for Aliksiander and Lubomir over near the '70s Lounge in the evenings. Tell them Gabe and Jenny and all the other guys from the May 1st cruise say Hello and have them get you a Grolsch or a Boddington. They were great bar servers and always put a smile on our faces. They quickly picked up on what our favorite drinks were and knew our cabin numbers so that towards the end of the cruise we didn't have to show them our sign and sail cards, just sign. Carnival needs more people like Aliksiander and Lubomir. Our cabin steward, Fery, was awesome. He always greeted us by name with a smile. Gary is the fun British trivia guy. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Shawn or Ron the Piano Man. Shawn has spiked blonde hair and is part of the entertainment staff. You can see Ron in the Scot's Lounge. We had issues with both of them. We asked Ron to sing "Happy Birthday" and even gave a large tip in advance. He ignored us and continued singing his songs, then said something along the likes of, "Some people keep interrupting me so that they can hear what THEY want to hear", which we thought was the whole point of a request piano bar, so we took our money, left the bar, and sang on our own. Our group was approached by Shawn and told we were rude and obnoxious. Later in the week, we amicably asked Shawn about the rumored crew party and attempted to joke with him about where the fun party was for Carnival guests. Shawn got very snooty and said, "We fund our own crew parties." We corrected him and said we meant "FUN" as in the "Fun Ships of Carnival," and he said we had a "masquerade" party on deck when we left Venice and there was another party that night for guests. The midnight party for guests was a joke. NO ONE was there, meanwhile; we could hear great music thumping from the Lido Aft deck, behind locked doors where the crew had an amazing time. We all agreed that the crew deserved a great party, but don't paying guests as well? The Venice deck party was embarrassing, the ship blared Caribbean music on the Lido deck as we passed by Piazza San Marco. They could have done something a little more tasteful and in line with the setting. John Heald was the cruise director on the Carnival Triumph, and, since we had sailed with him before, we preferred to skip most of the shows this time. However, we did catch some of the shows on the TV replays and noticed something, the "improv" acts that John Heald did were the same ones he did on Carnival Triumph. It was like deja vu. I remember the "Yabba Dabba Do" skit from Carnival Triumph. Also, his "impromptu" audience participation show (in which he has someone say, "I'm going to kill you with venom") is actually NOT impromptu, but the same exact show he does with planted audience members...we heard the same jokes and gags six years ago on Triumph. In addition, we found him to be incorrect on several things. At various ports, he told us the bus driver for the shuttle would only accept U.S. dollars. Therefore, we should take out money from the Bank Atlantic ATM on the ship and get charged $6 for the withdrawal. But we found out when we got to the bus that they took euros. We were told that the old town of Dubrovnik only accepted kunas (their local currency). The merchants there gladly took euros or U.S. dollars. Lastly, he had incorrect information on the cost of the vaporetto passes...someone in our cruise critic group corrected him but he wouldn't hear it. He did make an effort to show up for our second meet and greet we held for our cruise critic group and thanked us for posting on cruise critic and stated that he and the industry monitors the postings closely. Therefore I'm making a concerted effort to let others know about our trip so that they have this information. But it's almost like Carnival wanted to discourage people from doing things on their own by scaring them with various stories and higher costs for things.
The SPA: Jenny treated herself to a massage as a birthday gift, and the ship was nice enough to provide a coupon. She booked one of the advertised specials on a day at a sea...the wrap and massage were amazing, but she didn't appreciate the way the spa peddles their products. As soon as the masseuse rang the bell and brought her a glass of water, she launched into a speech about hydration and detoxification. The products they wanted here to buy cost four times what the massage cost. Then she charged her the wrong price, claiming the special was not good for days at sea. When Jenny left, she picked up the flyer and went the manager, explaining that the flyer mentioned nothing about when the special could and could not be used. The manager said the special was for a 90-minute treatment, whereas hers had been two hours. Jenny specifically asked for the special when she called for the appointment so the manager had no choice but to refund her money...so she actually got more massage than she paid for. Don't let the spa staff bully you into products or services you don't want or didn't request!
THE DINING ROOM (CHIC)We had an issue with the Chic Dining Room maitre'd in that a group of us from cruisecritic, had specifically provided Carnival with our booking numbers (thanks Nick and Chick- it was great dining with you guys and the others), so that we could be seating together at the same table where were initially confirmed for 6:15 p.m. dining. However, upon arrival, we were placed at the 5:45 seating, which we thought was a bit early. Dino said the only way to accommodate our group was to have us stay in Chic, but we could arrive at 6:15 (even though dinner in that room started at 5:45), if we liked. So we always felt rushed during dinner and would have our main course interrupted by the same cheesy dances they do on all the other cruise ships (I thought for some reason that a Med cruise would be a bit more sophisticated). Later in the cruise, I spoke with a lady who had said this was their family reunion of some 20 or more people. She said they had planned it all out and had worked tediously with their travel agent and Carnival to get a set of dining tables for her family to sit together. On the day of arrival, Carnival changed everyone's seating and caused her group to be all broken up across various tables and not sitting together. She told me she went crying to the maitre'd about getting this corrected and that they said they unfortunately couldn't accommodate that. It was unfortunate that this had to happen to her group. Lastly, I'm not much of a wine drinker, but we had a couple in our group who liked a particular type of wine. In the first few days, our dining room ran out of Riesling. We later found out that Posh and Chic have separate wine cellars, but our dining room staff did not make the effort to look on the other side of the ship. And the Chic dining room never restocked their wine supply, even though we stopped in numerous ports. We also have friends who had an issue with a bartender...the drink the wife ordered was a little too strong. When her husband asked the bartender to remake it less strong, the bartender asked, "What do you expect me to do with the first drink?" as if to say, you're going to have to pay for two drinks, in that case. The right response would have been, "Let me take care of that for you as you are on vacation and I want you to enjoy it." Some of you may find these to be small things, but as I've found out small things can eventually add up to make it a big problem. When people are on vacation, the last thing they need to worry about is going back and forth with staff on the ship. Granted, this is a new ship and the crew was probably assembled from various ships, but the message needs to be clear that the small inconsistencies only help to further erode a customer's loyalty to the brand or product.
CARNIVAL EXCURSIONS: I don't have anything to say about the Carnival Excursions, as we did none of them. We were smart and planned these privately thanks to research and cruisecritic. We winged it in Dubrovnik and Venice. Keep in mind that Carnival gives priority to guests taking their overpriced tours, especially in ports like Cannes, where tenders are used. (And this might be the case with other cruise lines as well, as it's their product being purchased, so they want to give their customer's top priority in disembarking, which still should be no excuse.) We found out the morning we arrived in Cannes that guests NOT taking Carnival tours had to wait 1-2 hours to debark the ship, at which point we were herded like cattle and branded with a number as to when we could leave the ship. The crew was very short with guests...again, Carnival is really lacking in the customer service department, especially when compared to cruise lines like Royal Caribbean.
PORTS AND PRIVATE EXCURSIONS: Naples (Napoli), Italy: We arrived early Tuesday morning into Naples. I believe it might be Italy's third busiest port. Debbie, one of our cruise critic friends, booked a private tour with Drive Amalfi Tours. The company is owned by Salvatore Lucibello, a Senior Driver & Guide. Our driver and tour guide was Adriano and he met us promptly at 8:00 a.m. with his minivan. There were 8 of us. The tour had a general description of where we'd go, but also offered us flexibility on what we'd like to do. The minivan was clean, spacious and had great air conditioning. Adriano put on his little microphone and began telling us about the history of the region as soon as he put the van in drive. We drove on down to Pompeii from the port. They were expecting some minor showers in the morning and these quickly cleared up on our way to Pompeii. As soon as we arrived in Pompeii, Adriano introduced us to Roberta, our authorized archaeological Pompeii Guide. We paid extra to have her guide us around but it was worth it, as one can easily spend a day in Pompeii alone. Roberta took us on a two and a half hour tour of the highlights of Pompeii and it was a very moving place. While we were there, we did see the larger tour groups with headsets, but it was much nicer to have our small group with Roberta as she could get us in and out in a jiffy and we could go off into a corner while she provided insights; meanwhile, the larger tour groups had to corral their way in and out. After Pompeii, Roberta took us to back to Adriano just outside the main entrance. From there we rode up the coast through Sorrento, Positano, Praiano and Amalfi. It was a fun ride and we made several stops along the way for photos and to visit roadside vendors selling those giant lemons. When we got to Amalfi, Adriano offered to stop and allow us to shop; however, we saw MANY motorcoach buses and crowds, so we passed. We wanted to get away from the tourist traps and Adriano was happy to oblige. He drove further up the mountain behind Amalfi on a small road the motorcoach buses are not able to access, to a hillside village near Ravello. There we enjoyed lunch at a small traditional restaurant overlooking the coastline, lemon trees and hills. It was beautiful. It was great that Adriano called in the order ahead of time, and we were able to sample a lot of different things…appetizers, pasta, desserts and wines, plus various limoncellos. We ate and drank well. There was no one besides our group of eight in the restaurant, except for a writer from Philadelphia who is a regular and we found that to be very refreshing. It was awesome. After lunch, we boarded the minivan once more and went up to Ravello, where Adriano let us explore the town there for about half and hour. Ravello was very cute, and although It has tourists there, It wasn't as bad as Amalfi at all. It offered great views of the coast and the villages down below, and the village Itself was almost medieval In nature with some cute little shops. After Ravello, we headed back across the mountains toward Naples, enjoying some very panoramic views. Some of took a nice siesta as Adriano sang - yes, sang - Italian songs to us on his little microphone and talked some more about the region, its history, his family, etc. It was very educational, fun, and stress free. We'd recommend Adriano from Drive Amalfi Tours any day of the week and will use him next time we visit the Amalfi Coast. Thanks to Debbie from our cruisecritic group for organizing this excursion. It was a very memorable one. Links: Drive Amalfi Tours: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naples
Venice (Venezia), Italy: As I had worked on planning tours and excursions at various ports of call, I gave my wife this port as one we wouldn't plan. I know she appreciates my planning efforts and knows it pays off, but for once, she really did want to get lost in a port and in Venice we got both lost and soaked. The one thing I did plan was the one thing that helped us get around all of this: the vaporetto 24-hour passes. I read about the vaporettos on our cruisecritic roll call discussion thread. I believe it may have been Joyce or someone else in our group that brought up the discussion. Boy was that a lifesaver. I believe we figured out that it would be about 15 euros for a 24-hour pass. We told other couples with us and they too decided to get their passes as well. We arrived in Venice on a rainy Friday afternoon at about 1pm. It didn't take away from the beauty. I had my doubts, but was pleasantly surprised at this marvel. As we came into Venice, the city was on our starboard side. It was cool to see Piazza San Marco and the Campanile. The ship moved up the Canale della Guidecca and pulled into our dock at the Bacino della Stazione Marittima, just west of the city center. We were the only ship docked there on Friday. Carnival said there would be a shuttle we could use from our pier to the Piazzale Roma. From there we could take water taxis, walk, or do whatever. To our surprise we saw only one shuttle bus and a long line of Carnival passengers waiting (under a covered waiting area) in a long line. Despite the rain, we decided to walk, rather than stand in line. We were at Piazzale Roma within about 15 to 20 minutes. Once there, we all purchased our Vaporetto passes. I asked the attendee if our passes included access to Murano, Burano, Lido, and Torcello. She said yes and I was very happy with this. I thought I let the rest of our group know this. We boarded the vaporetto and most of us got off at the rialto stop. Within minutes our group of 6 to 8 couples was separated. We knew this might happen so we said our goodbyes and went off on our own. The vaporettos were sooo much fun to ride. You could take them all the way down the Grand Canal and then out to the other islands like Murano and Burano. It's important to note that you just need to validate the passes in the machine at the dock prior to boarding the first time. Also it's imperative to pay attention to the route on the vessel approaching and where it's coming from, as the vaporettos run in both directions. One good way to find out is to simply look at the electronic sign posted on the vessel. It should list the terminating station and the direction it is heading. Otherwise just ask them if your stop is on their route. After we split up, we continued exploring and getting lost. We ended up next to this great tie store, Andrew's Ties, at which I couldn't resist the urge to get some brightly colored Italian ties. We went into many little shops off the many narrow streets we explored. We finally ended up at Piazza San Marco. The rain changed from light to heavy to light again. We explored all of Venice with our little DK Eyewitness book and stumbled across a cheap pizza place where we chowed down on some yummy pizza that was extremely cheap: for 7 Euros, you got a giant slice of pizza, a drink, and a gelato. This fast food place was called "Pizza and Ice Cream" and it was located on the San Giovanni Crisostomo, just north of the San Giovanni Crisostomo church, but south of the Rio dei Santi Apostoli. It was like an Italian version of Sbarro. It was fun to get lost In Venice, although some of our friends got lost and did not have fun as they ended up on the other side of town. Couple this with the rain and wind, and you can imagine how trying of a day it was for those of us exploring. By 6 pm we were ready to come back to the ship. We were getting cold from the rain, had done a little shopping, took a ton of photos, and really got to see some cool things in Venice, albeit on a cloudy and rainy day. So we hopped back on the vaporetto and took it to Piazzale Roma station. There we walked over to see if we might be able to get on one of those shuttles back to the pier. We saw the crowd building there for the carnival shuttle and it was a mad house. People were all over the place and the shuttles weren't moving fast enough. We knew the line was long again, so we decided to go ahead and walk back to the pier. This was a big mistake, as the downpour came as soon as we headed back. The umbrella bent a couple of times and we were officially drenched. All the time, the same shuttle we had seen pull up to load people still had not passed and we were 3/4 of the way to the ship. One of our cruise critic friends told us a merchant said it had been the worst rain they had received in four months. We finally made it back to the pier's security area where people were filing in from the shuttles, walking on their own or private water taxis or excursions. It was also chaos as multiple lines were formed in the downpour. After we got back to our cabin, we had a view of the city from our balcony. The sun even came out a bit before sunset. I believe this is what caused half of our ship to get sick. We didn't pick it up until our flight home. Saturday morning we awoke bright and early to beautiful sunshine, which was very exciting…how different the city looked with blue skies! We boarded the Carnival shuttle (for 5 euros round trip), then the Vaporetto from Piazzale Roma to Murano. It was a fun trip and we arrived before the shops even opened. We walked around and watched the vendors set up their little vegetable and fruit stands in the early morning. All very pleasant. At the end of Murano, near the "Faro" vaporetto stop, we paused to enjoy Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas coming into port. We could see her from a distance, and even at 90,000 tons, she dwarfed the Campanile and the Venice skyline. From Murano, we took the vaporetto to Burano. It was a little longer ride as these islands are a little bit away from Venice, but well worth exploring. It was a cute little town and we enjoyed the bright houses very much. We debated heading to Torcello, which was within distance, but we felt that time wouldn't permit, as I was trying to get us back in time for our 2 p.m. departure. In addition, because Burano was not as busy a stop as something along the Grand Canal, the vaporettos only come by once every hour, so we had to wait a bit, but it was nice people-watch and explore. We took the "LN" line vaporetto to get us over to St. Marks, by way of Lido. This was a pleasant leg of the vaporetto as it circled the eastern side of the lagoon and took us past some cute islands. Our vaporetto boat became crowded when we picked up a group of French students on tour in Lido. As we got closer to St. Marks, we began to notice all the crowds. The gondoliers were busy too - some were even on their cell phones - and the canals looked like a lunch-hour traffic jam. We even had some friends tell us they could tell their gondolier was making fun of them, while they were riding with him. I just didn't feel this kind of experience was worth 120 euros. We continued to ride the Vaporetto, which proved to be more fun and romantic in its own way. The shuttle buses were a bit more in control on this day and we got back the ship quickly. We later found out from some other friends on the ship, that Carnival had an excursion that charged people to take the tour of the Murano Glass factory, when apparently you can take the tour for free If you are visiting Murano or something like that. In addition we had some friends on board who forgot Murano and Burano were included in the 24 hour passes they purchased with us a day earlier and were wishing they would have just went on their own versus paying for the carnival excursion. We arrived back on the ship, no bubbles no troubles. As we left the pier, we noticed something strange…we noticed Vaporettos coming directly to Brilliance of the Seas. All the time we had been there, there was not once that we had seen this happen. We only had seen private water taxis, and also private excursion boats docking alongside Carnival Freedom. I'd almost like to know if Royal Caribbean paid a little extra to have vaporettos make an additional stop at the Brilliance of the Seas for a particular route. It would have been nice to have had this feature with Carnival in addition to the shuttles. Again, even with the rain, Venice was a very nice place. It was pleasant, fun, and, yes, you could get lost easily. I had no problems with our wing-it plan and the vaporettos helped tremendously to connect us from one point to the next as well as provide great views of all the great buildings. I would come back to Venice, which was a pleasant surprise to my wife, who didn't think I would want to see it again. Links: http://www.actv.it/english/navigazione.php?pagina=tariffe_vaporetto
Dubrovnik, Croatia: We had not read much about Dubrovnik except that the old city was the place to visit. So we took the Carnival shuttle to the old city. You can choose to get their on your own, but it would be a difficult walk. The Carnival Shuttle was 10 euros per person round trip (even though Carnival told us the shuttle would only except US dollars) dropped us off at the entrance to the gates of the walled city. Upon entering the fortified walls, on your immediate left is a staircase up onto the wall (for a small fee - maybe 3 euros?). It's well worth it to pay the fee and go on this 2.5-mile hike, which provides great views of the city below and the islands in the distance. Before heading back to the ship, we explored the many shops and enjoyed yummy gelato, where they accepted U.S. dollars or euros. Links: http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31&id_site=95
Messina, Sicily, Italy: One of our cruisecritic friend from our roll call reserved a bus from Bluestone Tourism to take 50-some of us cruisecritic folks to Taormina. Even though our private chartered bus was parked next to the Carnival excursion buses, we were forced to exit through a special terminal building instead of proceeding onward to the bus right off of the gangway, as other guests who had tours booked with carnival were able to do. This wasn't really a problem with us, but it was an inconvenience and another instance where the ship treated guests not using their tours like second-class citizens. The bus driver didn't speak English but knew where to take us and provided a smooth drive to Taormina. Luckily one of our cruise critic friends, Stanley was from Malta and spoke fluent Italian with the driver to confirm a pick up time. The bus dropped us off just below the entrance to Taormina. We each paid 10 euros for the round trip ride (I heard carnival had been charging as high as $75 dollars per person to get to Taormina, but I can't confirm or deny that as I didn't do their tour.). We were able to get to Taormina before many of the other Carnival buses arrived. Jenny and I made a dash to the other side of town and the old Greek amphitheater, which is a must see. The only large group in front of us was a school group with their teachers. We paid a small entrance fee and were afforded some marvelous views of Mt. Etna and the coast. It was beautiful. As we were leaving the amphitheater, we saw the bigger tour groups arrive with their little stickers. We walked back down through the main street to check out the shops. We sampled canolis, granitas (at a little bar called BAM Bar), and purchased some brightly colored canvas paintings done by a street artist. Taormina was beautiful, but touristy. It's hard to feel like you are getting away to a "medieval" town when you bump into the other 3498 passengers on your ship. But we had a good time, and even stopped at an internet cafe, where we were able to check email for half an hour for only 1 euro. Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taormina http://www.bluestonesicily.com/
Barcelona, Spain: We arrived early into Barcelona on Thursday morning. It was by far the busiest port we saw on this cruise. We were adjacent to Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas (Gabe and Jenny’s wedding cruise ship), a couple AIDA cruise ships (from Germany), a couple unknown cruise ships and also the Queen Mary 2. This totaled about 16,000 or so cruisers in port on this one day, by some estimates. Debarkation from the ship was easy and very quick. Carnival Freedom had a shuttle for I think it was 5 Euros that would take you from the port to a stop near the world trade center, just south of the Columbus Monument at the foot of La Rambla. The shuttle from the ship to the stop was easy and quick. It could be walked but it would be a little hike as you have to walk across a bridge. With such little time in port, it’s worth it to just take the shuttle to the drop off point. Upon drop off, we were at Las Rambla very quickly in time to make it up the street to the Boqueria Market. That was really cool as it’s a large fruit, fish, meat, flower, you name it market. It was cool to see all the vendor stalls and to see everything so fresh. We then continued walking up La Rambla to Plaza Catalunya. Some people call this the Heart of Barcelona. It’s a large plaza, and underneath it is a metro stop I believe and the office of tourism for Barcelona. We had read on cruisecritic about the Hop-On, Hop-Off Tourist Bus. One price gets you access for a full day to all three tourist bus routes. Because we didn’t want to hassle with looking for where to buy these and save a couple Euros, we bought the tickets for the tourist bus on viator.com . Unfortunately, Viator gives you a voucher, which you can redeem at only three of the 42+ tourist bus stops, into an actual ticket to let you ride all day long. But we didn’t find this a problem, as we planned to walk up La Rambla to Plaza Catalunya. We picked up the tickets, which came with a little brochure in english with really good information about the area and neighborhood surrounding the various stops, a map plus a coupon voucher with discounts at various attractions along the route. So if you have the time, this bus pass truly pays for itself. We didn’t hop on the bus right away, as we were on a mission to find the TopShop store around the corner from one of the stops on the red tourist bus lines. After we did some shopping, we boarded the tourist bus's North line. It took about 2 hours to go the whole circuit and it was great. We got to see La Sagrada Familia, the Barcelona soccer team stadium, and many other sites along the line. We really wanted to ride the South line as well, but didn’t have time. By the time the North line bus returned us to the Plaza Catalunya, it was lunch time, but we first hit up the Zara and H&M stores, as Barcelona provides some great shopping. A word of advice: some of the stops for the busses are really busy when many tourists are in port, so you may want to view the map and board the stop prior to the busy stops of places like Plaza Catalunya and Sagrada Familia. Doing this, will allow you to get a seat on the top level of the double decker bus that will allow you to get some sun and get some great photos. For example, There were many people boarding the North line bus at the Plaza Catalunya stop to get a ride to the Sagrada Familia (the line was insane), so what we did, is simply board that very same bus at the stop just before it, (literally one block away from the Plaza Catalunya) and we got to sit at the top and enjoy some great views. Also- the tourist buses do have the right to bypass a stop in the event of protests or parades or anything like that so be prepared. There was a protest at the Plaza Catalunya on our day in Barcelona on our return of the North line, so we stopped at one stop past it, up the street. But this put us closer to the better shopping, so I don’t know if this was good or bad. After riding the bus, we walked back from Plaza Catalunya on La Rambla and picked up some Tapas and Sangria. We may have paid for the fact that we were on La Rambla. But it was yummy and we proceeded to make our way back to the pick-up point for the Carnival shuttle at the world trade center area. We figured we’d get back to the area at 3:30pm as the last shuttle to the ship would be at 4:15. When we returned to the pick-up point, we were in shock to see a VERY long line. We figured it was for the Queen Mary 2 or one of the other ships in port. Unfortunately this was for our ship. There were buses parked for the other ships but these had o lines. Only Carnival guests had to wait over an hour in line. Not only were people in line frustrated, but the Carnival employee in charge did not even speak Spanish, so she was unable to communicate with any of the buses. It was a complete mess. Carnival clearly had issues here. They should revisit their procedures in place for this stop, and while the ship is new, I thought that Carnival Liberty has called on Barcelona before, so they should be familiar with the shuttle bus companies and should not have had this issue. Like I said, all the other cruise ships had their respective shuttle buses there always and no lines. Overall, this was a beautiful port and we loved riding the tourist bus. We just felt we didn’t have enough time. Carnival could easily make this an overnight port. In addition, the terminal facilities at this port are top notch. Their terminal is much nicer than Miami’s and it looks like Barcelona is continuing to invest in the development and upgrade of their facilities to continue to make it a major player as a departure point for Mediterranean cruises in the near future. Links: http://www.boqueria.info/Eng/index.php http://www.viator.com/tours/Barcelona/Barcelona-Hop-On-Hop-Off-Bus-Turistic/d562-2512BBUS
Cannes, France: We arrived to Cannes on Friday morning earlier than scheduled, but were not permitted off the ship until 10:00 a.m. because we did not book a Carnival tour. We met up with an old friend who lives in Provence. She picked us up right at the dock took us on a tour of the coastline, including the beaches, over to Nice, where we enjoyed the market and a nice lunch, then went up into the mountains to St. Paul de Vence. This was the gem of this stop. Our local guides recommended St. Paul over Eze, as Eze appears to have more tourist traffic. St. Paul was very medieval and fascinating. Today it has many little shops and art galleries. From there you can get some great views of the region below. After our visit to St. Paul de Vence, we came back down some nice streets and our friends got us right to the pier in no time at all. There we were able to get a tender back to the ship. Many people had said that one most try the cuisine in Nice, and I have to say, we enjoyed it very much. We had a three course menu, and the fish was very fresh and delicious. We did encounter a merchant helper (like a stock boy with a hand truck)in the Nice market, who did make an anti-tourist remark as we may have blocked his way as we were walking through the market, but luckily our friend, who is a local, was able to engage in a colorful flurry of words about how us tourists provide him with his income. It was one small occurrence in the entire 12-day trip. Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nice http://www.saint-pauldevence.com/tourism_uk.html ?
Livorno, Italy: We began in Italy and we end in Italy. Livorno is an industrial port used as a way to get people into Florence. We booked a private tour with Tuscany Tours with Paola and Guiseppie, recommended to us by other cruisecritic members. Paola was our licensed guide and driver for our group of 8. She greeted us promptly at the pier, than drove us to Pisa for about 30 minutes. Along the way, Paola pointed out the old Roman road and took us through downtown Pisa, which the bigger tour buses don’t often see. She dropped us off right in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa before any other tours had arrived, so it was nice and quiet. Our drive to Florence was pleasant. We first visited the Accademia, where Paola got us to the front of the line, and where we saw the real David (not the fake version in front of the Uffizi). We saw the Signoria Square and its 14th-century town hall, Ponte Vecchio, Dante’s House, Il Duomo, and Santa Croce where Michelangelo, Galileo and Dante are buried. In addition, Paola took us to a little shop with craftsmen hand carving colored stones to make these intricate and very valuable portraits that were selling for like 100,000 Euros each. After lunch, we had a couple hours to shop in the central area. Once again we visited Andrew’s Ties. Jenny, my dear wife, bought four or five handbags at Carpisa. We regrouped at the minivan and Paola’s father, Marcello, took us up to a great viewpoint of the city of Florence. Finally, Marcello drove us back to Livorno. Boarding the ship was no problem at all. We would definitely recommend Tuscany Tours by Paola to anyone heading to Livorno. Links: http://www.florencetour.com/ firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.andrewsties.com/home.asp?lan=UK http://www.carpisa.it/
SUMMARY So this wraps up the long review of Rome and the Med Cruise. I can’t thank our cruisecritic cruisemates enough for all their insight and recommendations on the private tours we arranged and the things we did. It made the cruise so stress-free.
One last note regarding the private tours: We had to pay cash (in euros) for all of the tours. Rick Steves said it best on his website: "I use my credit card for booking hotel reservations by phone, making major purchases (such as car rentals and plane tickets), and paying for things near the end of my trip to avoid another visit to the ATM. But a dependence on plastic reshapes the Europe you experience. Going through the back door requires hard local cash."
I'd recommend this cruise for the ports and the price. It's port intensive so bring your walking shoes.The customer service and resolving of a couple of the issues mentioned above would have been the icing on the cake, but we won't let that tarnish our memorable cruise experience. We found many gems, we will likely go back and visit, and made many new friends we look forward to cruising with in the future.
Now.. time to plan another cruise, but this time on Royal Caribbean...
-Gabe and Jenny