Carnival Freedom Cruise Review by Claire D: EUROPE FOR BEGINNERS
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EUROPE FOR BEGINNERS
Our sail date was May 22nd. My husband and I are frequent cruisers but we had never been to Europe before. Our grown daughter traveled with us. She's been to Europe several times.
We arrived in Rome on USAirways three days prior to our cruise. We flew overnight on USAirways and were jammed into a very small area. Most of the time we were in Rome it rained which made it hard for us to use a map to navigate around the city and find the bus stops. We ended up using cabs frequently. We stayed at Carnival's chosen hotel, The Visconti Palace, which was very expensive but the rooms were a nice size and they treated us well.
The first day we walked around a good bit and went to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Because we were exhausted and wet most of the time we felt like we didn't accomplish much but we did get a sense of the city.
The next morning we had a tour of The Vatican with Angel Tours (angeltoursrome.com). The lines to get in are generally huge but More with our tour we walked right to the front and went in. Our guide, Jimmy, took us on a 3 1/2 hour tour to see the highlights. The 50 euro charge included admission to the Vatican museum. That afternoon we went to the Domus Aurea (Golden House of Nero) excavation. You must book this tour ahead of time and it lasts about 1/2 hour. From there we crossed the road to the Colosseum and had a tour we had booked ahead of time. I was somewhat annoyed because our tour guide had a leather coat on and she did not want to go out in the rain. It's hard to do a good tour from inside. Both of these tours should be booked ahead of time. We then proceeded to the Pantheon. Bands were playing inside and we enjoyed listening to them in such a neat setting. We ate dinner at a sidewalk cafe right outside the Pantheon.
The next day we went to the Forum and walked around the area for a while. Our ticket for the Colosseum was a two day ticket that also included the Forum and Palantine Hill. After walking around that area for awhile, we headed back to the hotel where we got our shuttle to the ship. I know Carnival charges a lot for their shuttle service but they take care of everything. They picked our luggage up at our hotel room and delivered it to our cabin on the ship. Embarkation was a breeze. We were on the ship and in our cabin in under 15 minutes.
Our first stop was in Naples although we spent no time in Naples. We left the ship at 7:30 and met Guiseppe from driveamalfi.com. We had made arrangements through cruise critic to join up with others. The cost of the full day tour was 650 euros. We spent the morning driving down the Amalfi coast. Our driver did a great job as it is not an easy drive. The scenery is spectacular. I would have liked to spend more time exploring some of the towns but we had so much planned for the day it was difficult to spend time in any one place. We did make numerous stops for scenic picture taking and spent time in the town of Amalfi so we could buy some souvenirs. That afternoon we headed back up the coast and went to Pompeii. We had to arrange for a separate tour in Pompeii which driveamalfi has arranged. This was an additional 100 euros which was split eight ways. Our guide, Vinny, showed us the highlights. After the rain in Rome, we enjoyed the great weather and spectacular sights.
After a sea day where we relaxed as much as possible, we arrived in Dubrovnik. Several ships were scheduled to be in port that day and we were the first to arrive. We got off the ship and took Carnival's shuttle (7 euros)to the Pile Gate. At exactly 8:30 when the gates opened, we paid the entrance fee and walked the walls. It was spectacular. Since we were the first ones up there it was peaceful and we could walk around unhurried. It is quite a climb and a long walk but we enjoyed it. We came back down and walked around the town for awhile. We ate lunch and did some shopping. We were back on the ship by mid afternoon. Some of the shops and museums do not take euros, only the local currency. Dubrovnik is a beautiful town. We enjoyed our day. Next it was on to Venice. We were supposed to arrive at 2:00. Carnival decided to have the return cruiser cocktail party at 11:00 am. Since our cabin was on the wrong side of the ship for the sail in, I knew we'd need to be on the deck to enjoy the sights. My husband and daughter went to the cocktail party and I went up on deck to save us a spot. Well, we ended up beginning the sail into Venice while the cocktail party was going on. At about noon they announced that we had entered the lagoon and everyone made a mad dash for the decks. They had also said they'd play Pavarotti on the big screen on deck. Instead they were doing a trivia contest so that Pavarotti never started until we had almost docked. It really ruined the experience. Fortunately, our cabin was on the right side when we left so we had a better experience. Carnival will try to scare you into taking their shuttle to the public Vaporetto. It is much more convenient to take the shuttle that is right next to where the ship docks to St. Mark's square. It was 11 euros round trip and was very reliable. Everyone gets to sit down! When we arrived at St. Mark's we went up in the Campanile. It was a great view of Venice. We had made a reservation for St. Mark's Basilica for 4:05 but they let us in early. It really pays to made a reservation ahead of time, however, you can only do it a month in advance. We spent most of the rest of this day walking around. We had dinner at a sidewalk cafe. The next day we did the Secret Itinerary tour of the Doge's Palace. It was interesting. You must also book this in advance. Most of our time in Venice was spent just wandering around. We did not take a gondola ride. They are way overpriced. Mostly the gondola drivers are talking to each other. Don't expect them to sing.
Venice was followed by a sea day and then we went to Sicily. There we took the godfather tour with sicilylife.com. Our driver was Antonio and he did a great job of showing us the sights. This tour was only 420 euros and again we shared with others we found on cruise critic. We were off the ship at 7:20 at off to Savoca where we saw some of the places they filmed The Godfather. It was very scenic. We also went to Forza D'Agro and Castlemola. We ended up in Taormina. It was very crowded. We did walk up to the Greek Theater. The view of Mt. Etna wasn't great since the mountain was somewhat covered with mist/clouds. We got lunch in Taormina and shopped a bit. We were back on the ship by 3:30.
Following a sea day we arrived in Barcelona. We had decided to take a Carnival tour this day: Barcelona and Gaudi. It was a Saturday and many ships were scheduled to be in town. After taking private small group tours being on a bus with 50 people was not the same. Carmen, our guide, did a nice job however. We saw two buildings Gaudi had designed and then we went to La Sagrada Familia, a church also designed by Gaudi. It has been under construction for a long time and it still isn't finished. We then went to Parc Gruell. It was so crowded at the park but it seemed like a beautiful place. We drove through the Olympic village and got dropped off at Las Ramblas. We walked for a bit and got some lunch then headed back to the ship. We were impressed with the cleanliness of Barcelona. After all of the ancient cities of Italy and Croatia, Barcelona is much more a modern city. Our next stop was Cannes. We had arranged a tour with Alain at dream-tours.com. Our driver was Jean Marc. Again we had arranged to travel with other cruise critic members. The cost was 600 euros which we split eight ways. We had some confusion getting off the ship. If you get there before they start to unload the Carnival tours on the tenders you can get an early start on the day. We had trouble finding one of the couples in our group and didn't realize they had already gotten off the ship. Jean Marc first headed to Monte Carlo. We saw the changing of the guard and toured the palace. We then went to the casino. We didn't want to pay to get in the casino but we walked around the area. We drove the grand prix circuit and headed to Eze. Eze is an amazing ancient town built into the mountain. We ate lunch at a Creperie. The lunch was more like dessert since we all opted for dessert crepes! The people in our group decided to go to a perfume factory. It ended up cutting into our time but everyone bought something so I guess it was worth it for the women. We then proceeded to St. Paul De Vence. It is an artsy type community similar to Eze. It was very charming but by this time on the cruise we were all getting pretty tired. We drove back along the coast line in Cannes.
Our final stop was Florence. My daughter had been to Florence so she took the Carnival trip to the Italian Riviera. It was rainy and she didn't enjoy it too much because it isn't much fun to travel alone. She said the area is beautiful, however. My husband and I did Carnival's Pisa and Florence tour. Again we were on a bus with 50 people, some of whom have trouble following directions. It was a Monday and also a national holiday so some things were not open. Pisa was our first stop. When we got there it wasn't crowded but by the time we left it was. Pisa was worth visiting. In Florence we basically just walked around with whisper units and our guide told us about different buildings. Lunch was included in our tour. The lunch was good but we were in a restaurant that was not air conditioned. It was very uncomfortable.
The next day we were back to Rome for our very long flight home. Overall, this was a great trip. It really wasn't about the cruise. The time we spent on the ship we tried to relax and get our rest. We did go to the big production shows but not much of the other entertainment on the ship. What he did attend was not very good. The cruise director spent most of his time trying to see Carnival tours. Taking private tours is definitely worthwhile. They are not any more expensive than Carnival tours and you're able to accomplish so much more. The food was typical cruise food. We don't really enjoy sitting at a table making small talk with other people every night. Dining was often a two hour ordeal. The people were nice but it just seemed like service was slow. Less
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