June 3rd sailing—Arrived a few days early in Rome. After flying all night, we chose to not take a nap upon our 8:00am arrival. This proved to be a great choice. Stayed at Residenza Cellini, and we could not have asked for a better place and better service.
Every single inch of Rome is spectacular. Started with Hop On/Hop Off tour then walked back to each site to spend more time. Make sure you get tickets in advance to The Vatican—this saved us about a 3 hour line plus our guide was brilliant. We got lost by the Vatican, and a Nun took the time to walk us to where we needed to be—a TRUE servant. Take time to see the Trevi Fountains, Coliseum, Pantheon, Forum, Sistine Chapel, etc. I won't go into these as we all know how great they are.
Embarkation was easy and quick after our struggle to get to the port. Elena at www.rome-shuttle.com failed to pick us up which caused us a two hour delay and 50 euro more just to get to the ship. I was very disappointed as I had booked this in November and reconfirmed in March and the week prior to leaving. When we got on the ship, luggage was delivered quickly and we were able to unpack and get ready for the duration of the trip.
We had requested to sit with 4 others we had met on Cruise Critic, and that was a problem the first night. However, Claudio (have you seen him on the new Samantha Brown's Carnival Inspiration cruise?—He is famous!!!!) fixed this for us, and we had the BEST table, best waiter (Gaspar) and best ass't waiter (Jeffrey) for the remainder of the cruise. Every meal was perfect with Gaspar's recommendations. If anyone complains about the food, I don't get it. I sure did not see anyone starving. In fact, this was a black mark for us—people will push you down and trample over your dead body for a bite of food in a buffet line. It is SHOCKING! It got to where we preferred to skip lunch if we were on the ship rather than fight the crowds.
Cruise Director, entertainment, daily activities—VERY average. A video of excursions played OVER AND OVER on the big screen by the pool. This technology could be used for playing music, concerts, etc. all day. The few games that were attempted by the pool were flops mainly due to the girl running them. She was so rude and obnoxious and would just say, "Fine...if no one wants to play, we won't. We will just cancel the fun." No REAL fun for a "fun ship"—CD seemed tired and loved himself more than others... Just My opinion. There is one great band called Lifeline that we liked the first few times we saw them. We just kinda got tired of the same music over and over, but they are really good. OH! There was ONE fun night—a deck party. They should think about doing this more. Cabin 1015—GREAT Room Steward (Jacinto)—went above anything expected. Room VERY noisy due to what we THINK may have been chairs above us on deck or in the spa. Not sure but VERY loud. We were seldom in the room, so this was okay for the most part. Balcony was perfect for this itinerary. We had room service each morning on the balcony so we could watch us sail into port.
Ports (we shared tours with the (GREAT) friends we met on Cruise Critic)
Naples—Pompeii, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Coast—All we can say is you HAVE to book Salvatore at firstname.lastname@example.org . HE IS THE BEST. He not only gave us an in-depth tour starting the minute we were leaving the port but he also scheduled us the most FANTASTIC lunch with Lemoncello at the end and a "FANTASTIC" tour with Gessippi at Pompeii. If you are fortunate enough to tour with Gessippi, you will understand why we say" FANTASTIC!" There is no better person or tour—trust us and book Salvatore! Details will not it justice.
Dubrovnik—We walked the wall on our own, then we got lost on purpose in the old city. We loved watching an old lady sit by her door(for the light) and read her Bible, we loved watching kids in school, it was fun seeing how neighbors talk through their second story windows across the tiny alleyways, the markets were original, and the backstreet restaurants were delicious. Just enjoy the day leisurely as you are about to be worn out over the next few ports!
Venice—Sailing into Venice while Pavarotti sang was chilling except when Todd (CD) needed to hear himself speak over the beautiful music. We have to say for a second time that we hired the BEST tour guide. email@example.com could not be beat. She picked us up in a boat at the ship, we toured about an hour through the canals, then we walked about two hours through Venice. Again, details will not do this tour justice. You just have to book the best in Venice, and it is Sabrina. That night as it was getting dark, we (husband and I) took a gondola ride for 100 euro and it was worth every penny. It got dark while we were on the gondola, the opera started as we maneuvered down one canal and we paused to listen. It was so quiet and peaceful—a magic moment for sure. We then sat in St Mark's square until almost midnight listening to three small orchestras take turns playing. Staring at St Mark's Basilica (which Sabrina had already toured us through earlier in the day) and listening to the music while sipping wine was unforgettable. When leaving Venice, there was SUPPOSED to be a big mask party, but nothing really happened. This could be done much better.
Sicily—our friend had booked a bus for 18 to Taormina with sicilylife.com for 590 euro. Although we did not pay for a guide, the man gave us great info all the way and stopped for photos at beautiful spots. We went to the Greek Theatre and strolled the streets. It was a quaint "village." We sat and had a drink while a two man band played Italian music—Priceless.
Barcelona—The six of us again got together and did the Hop On/Hop Off. We started the tour together, but then we branched off. We did this in a few places as we had different goals and plans than our friends. We like getting off the beaten path, climbing bell towers, walking a lot, etc., so our group was really good about doing our own things then meeting up later. I say all of this because the four others enjoyed Barcelona, but we did not. We did not like it because we went to a market which had a Tapa place that was disgusting and then as we were leaving we witnessed a pick pocket which turned into a violent situation six inches in front of us. We quickly walked away to find our friends sitting calmly enjoying Sangria—they had chosen the better path! We must say though that Sagrada Familia was the most incredible and detailed building we saw the entire trip. Take time to sit and stare at each portion.
Cannesfirstname.lastname@example.org was another outstanding guide for The Riviera Highlights. We saw Cannes, Eze, Nice, Antibes, Monaco, Monte Carlo, and much more. We had another outstanding lunch on top of a hill in the village of Eze which served delicious Crepes. Silvie is one of the sweetest and most genuine people I have ever met. I am not sure if my husband is leaving me for her or for Sabrina in Venice yet. However, if he does...Salvatore (Naples) is BEAUTIFUL—who cares if he is happily married?!!
Livorno—Tuscany by Taxi—Michael was a very nice man who had pre-ordered tickets to the Academia. David is worth seeing. Husband does not LOVE art and was overwhelmed. Our driver, Michael, was always waiting right outside every door and was willing to take us anywhere; however, he was not necessarily a "tour guide." Very limited English. We climbed the Bell Tower here for an amazing view. I am petrified of heights, but it was worth it. Pisa was a site to see, but you only need about 30 minutes there. If you want to climb it, get tickets in advance also. Debarkation—easy and uneventful. Just listen for your number and leave!
Tips/Suggestions: EAT GELATO—LOTS OF IT, drink the local wines and beers, try new foods. MOST importantly, hire private guides. The Carnival busloads did 1/10th of what we did and saw even less. The big busses simply cannot maneuver through the places we did plus the tours move at the pace of the slowest person on board. Find a few great friends like we were blessed with, and the private prices will average to less than the Carnival excursions. GET A MONEY BELT—we got our's through Amazon.com and it was the BEST investment. We never had to worry about ALL the pick pockets. One lady even had her wallet taken out of her zipped purse in Pisa. Mail postcards home from each port. We are still enjoying our daily mail! Use your cell phone on the ship for $2.99 per minute instead of a calling card or credit card on land. Less than a two minute phone call cost me $14 through AT&T from Venice! ATMs will work fine but we found out we needed to do 250 euro at a time. We tried more and it shut us down for 24 hours. You can do 250 over and over, but don't do 1000 in one transaction. I know...it does not make sense. Don't waste time going to Todd's lectures. They will be on TV 100 times and you can listen while you get ready for dinner or something. Carry an umbrella—this became a joke with me. I bought 5 or 6 because I was not smart enough to carry the one I bought the day before. And don't let rain ruin a day! Be kind to everyone—I heard rude Americans and there is just no sense it that. You are on vacation. A bad day in Europe is better than a good day at work. If something is not working out, just figure out a different way—don't get angry. We may not have loved every single thing, but life is short—be happy! This is a once in a lifetime trip. Enjoy the food at each port instead of stealing food off the ship to take in your purse. You may never go back—enjoy the food and the experience at each restaurant! (Plus if you carry your own food, where will you go to the toilet? ?) Eat at the Sun King—worth it! Take LOTS Of pictures. Carry on a bag with a few changes of clothes for each of you in case your luggage does not make it. Some did not get luggage for days and did not prepare for this. We took wine and beer onboard at each port. We did not hide it and nothing was said. We had a cork screw we had brought from home, so we enjoyed a glass of wine before dinner some nights. We chose this trip based solely on the itinerary. If we booked it for the cruise part, we would be disappointed as Royal Caribbean does such a better job.
Please e-mail me any questions as I know I have left out a ton! One could truly write a book after a vacation like this. I cannot stress enough how important the private tour guides are. Find FABULOUS friends like we did, then book our guides!
Jodie and Jeff