Travel: We left Seattle On Saturday June 21 for Rome at 11 am. We flew Continental and had an easy trip; Seattle to Newark and Newark to Rome. We arrived in Rome Sunday June 22 at 12:30 pm. We met our driver for a transport to our B&B upon arrival. We are a family of 6. Two adults (ages 43 and 44) and 4 young adults (ages 16, 18, 18 and 19. The transport was arranged by our B&B and cost 60 euros. We had 9 suitcases and one or two carryons each and given how tired we were, I am thankful we did not try to do the public transit to the B&B.
Pre-Cruise Stay in Rome (5 nights):We arrived at the Obelus B&B, which I highly recommend, at 3 pm and were greeted by Therese. We enjoyed a cold beer while she showed us the rooms, gave us some maps and keys. The Obelus B&B (http://www.obelus.it/Sito-5/ENGhome.htm) was a fabulous find. We had two rooms of 3. The Obelus only has three rooms and they book up fast. We paid 110 euros per night per room. We got a discount for staying a min of 3 nights and for being a group. The B&B is small, with only 3 rooms, each with their own bath, a delightful breakfast area and use of the refrigerator (to keep our wine and water cold!). It's on the second floor of a building about a 10 minute walk from the Colosseum. Each morning Therese or Carola had a lovely breakfast with pastries, yogurt, cheese, jam, nutella, coffee and cappuccino ready when we awoke. They are both very knowledgeable of Rome and speak fluent English. They provided great information as to where to eat, how to get somewhere, bus/transit connections...you name it..they were fabulous! Each bathroom had a toilet and a bidet...my daughter found a great use for the bidet...a foot wash after a long day of walking!
Activities Tours in Rome: Sunday June 22, 2008 We got settled in to the B&B, unpacked and freshened up. Our adrenaline was high and to help with the 9 hour time change we set out to see Rome. I had arranged with Through Eternity Cultural Association (http://www.througheternity.com/group_tours_rome.htm) 3 different tours during our 5 day pre-cuise stay. Our first tour was the Rome at Twilight Tour among the piazzas and fountains. This tour was led by Ian and although it was a group tour with a max of 15, there were only 8 of us. We met at the Spanish Steps, then saw the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo D'Fiori and many other sights. Ian was so knowledgeable as to the history and details as to what to were seeing. We ended the tour at 9:30 pm and then walked to the St. Ignatius church and ate a wonderful meal right outside in a Trattoria under the stars. We arrived back to the B&B at 12:30 am promptly fell asleep.
Monday June 23, 2008 We slept in until 10 am and were met at noon by Jennifer from Through Eternity at our B&B. We arranged this tour as a private tour. Cost was 285 euros. We had a 5 hour Vatican City tour which included the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. This was a wonderful tour. She was so knowledgeable and it was very interesting. After the tour we climbed St. Peter's dome for fabulous views. We went back to the B&B, changed and set out for dinner. In bed by 10 pm. We were tired!
Tuesday June 24, 2008 Several of us couldn't sleep and were awake at 4 am! Yikes! Sarah and I went out to look for a Roma Pass. Research told us you could buy them at tabacchi shops, well that was a bust. We went to four, even to the termini station and no one had any. We were told you had to buy them at the Colosseum or Borghese gallery. But we wanted them now, so we were frustrated. We left the B&B at 11 and headed towards the Vatican for our 1:30 Scavi tour. This was phenomenal...all of us were in awe...only 90 minutes, but packed with history and information and to think we walked on the same streets Romans did over 1800 years ago. After the tour we wandered down Via Nazionale, did some shopping, stopped for cold beer and a pizza which was quite good. We then headed towards the Travestere area (Jennifer our vatican guide) said they have great restaurants and fun shops...not as touristy as Via Nazionale. She was right. We used the Rick Steves guide book to find a restaurant and we weren't disappointed! Homemade pasta, veal, great wine all outdoors in a lovely setting. But finding it was like a treasure hunt. The streets were no more than 8 feet wide and half weren't marked with street names...but it was an adventure and it was fun. To get back to the B&B, we took the the bus, then a train and then a taxi...we were tired!!!
Wednesday June 25, 2008 We had tickets to the Papal Audience and arrived at 9:30 am...us and 30,000 others had to go through security to get into St. Peter's square. It didn't take too long, we were in by 10:30 and then the Pope arrived in his Pope mobile. We actually saw the Pope!!! We stayed for the entire blessing, they do it in 5 languages, Italian, French, English, Spanish and Russian so it takes a while. But we had brought some things with us to be blessed so we stayed the whole time. The weather was extremely hot and although we had tickets for a seat, it was so crowded and with us getting there without time to spare we stood the whole time. It was too crowded to find our seats. After 1 1/2 hours we were very hot and very tired. It was time for a beer. We took the underground to the Colosseum area and had a great meal of pizza, paninis and beer/wine. We met up with Nicki from Through Eternity (our last private tour arranged) at 1:30 pm. We got the history of Rome, Emperors, you name it we learned it. Nicki presented the information is such a wonderful way, full of antidotes and facts that it went by so fast. We toured the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, the Roman Forum and the newly opened Augustus Caesar private house. The tour ended at 7 pm. Cost was 285 euros. Nicki is from the US but married an Italian and loves history...she was fluent in English. After touring with her it made us realize how special the area was and if we were to see it without all the history and information we would have been truly lost and would have had no idea what we were seeing. We ate dinner at Macharroni (near the Pantheon) and it was wonderful.
Thursday June 26, 2008 We took the train to Orvieto (about a 1 hour ride). This was such a quiet, relaxing day. We had a wonderful lunch, did some shopping and took the 7:30 pm train home. The views from Orvieto were stunning. It's a walled city high atop the area with sweeping views. The Duomo in Orvieto is a sight to behold. Inside are beautiful fresco's by Signorelli. It is interesting to note that Michelangelo admired the athletic build of the males in his fresco's and it was the inspiration for his work in the Sistine chapel. The Duomo is huge and it appears stripped because of the layers of colored marble used to build it. We had a nice dinner near our B&B and hit the sack by 11 pm.
Friday June 27, 2008 Therese (our B&B host) arranged for transport for us to the port of Civitavecchia. We had a pickup at 10:30 am. Arrived at the port at 11:50. Cost was 160 euros. Check in was smooth and we were on board by 12:20 pm. We got settled into our cabins. My husband and I had cabin 8275 and the 4 young adults had 8277. They were adjoining cabins. We had the cabin steward open the balcony divider as well. The cabins were spacious and very clean. We met our cabin steward, Andre and he unloaded the mini-fridges of the alcohol so that we could use them for the pop and wine we brought on board. We purchased 6 bottles of wine and the equivalent of a case of pop in Rome. Put these all in our suitcase and they made it through just fine. First thing we did was get some lunch on the lido deck. It was really good, I was pleasantly surprised. Typically I'm not a fan of the buffet but maybe it was because I was hungry? I don't know, but we all recommend the mongolian grill on the lido deck. After lunch we went back to the cabin got settled in and unpacked. Since we were in Rome for 5 days prior, we had a bunch of stinky clothes (it was very hot and humid). I did 2 loads of laundry, the laundry area wasn't too far from our room and since the cruise had just started, no one else was using the facility. Cost is $2 per load to wash and $2 per load to dry. I brought some liquid tide packets I purchased at Target. They also sell detergent for $1.50 a box. I had the rooms to myself while everyone else explored. I opened a bottle of Proseco and enjoyed watching the activity outside our window while I unpacked and folded some laundry. Our dinner table was 529 Upper Posh dining room at 8:15...we were pleased as this is the time we requested. Our table was in the back in front of a window so we could see the sunsets each evening as we ate. Our head waitress was Suzannah (from Slovakia) and her assistant was Oscar. They were both very attentive and friendly. We opened our own wine bottles each evening in our room and brought them to dinner. She never said anything and didn't charge us a corkage fee. Cappuccinos after dinner (and breakfast) are free and oh so good!
Saturday June 28, 2008 Naples We arranged a private tour of the Amalfi Coast with Francesco Marrapese (http://www.francescomarrapese.com/index.htm). Cost was 550 euros. We started off towards Pompeii where Francesco had arranged a private 2 hour tour of Pompeii for us with Vini (cost 100 euro). This was phenomenal. We were all truly surprised by Pompeii. After Pompeii we traveled towards Ravello and had a wonderful lunch with limoncello and great views of the sea. The tour then continued on through Amalfi with a stop in Positano for shopping. Francesco was a pro and his air conditioned mini van was wonderful and roomy. Francesco spoke fluent English, provided commentary most of the way as to what we were seeing, etc. Highly recommend him. We ate in the dining room and had planned to go the first show of the cruise, but we were tired so we didn't. Sarah found club 02 (for 15 - 17 year olds) and so we didn't see her until 1:30 or 2 each morning! She loved the teen program.
Sunday June 29, 2008 Sea Day Bingo, Massage for me, Facial for my daughter, swimming, sunbathing and relaxing. This was a great day. First formal night and captains cocktail party. Dinner menu was lobster, duck and new york steaks. The duck and beef was great. The lobster was overrated, it must be difficult to prepare lobster for 3000 and keep it from getting rubbery. Nothing else disappointed though. They had a Broadway dance show, but we decided to do other things...casino, walk on deck, movie on the lido deck. There is something for everyone!
Monday June 30, 2008 Croatia, Dubrovnik What a wonderful day, although hotter than heck. We walked the city walls first thing..so glad we did because it got hotter and more crowded as the day went on. In 16 short years the city has rejuvenated itself (from the widespread violence and destruction in the early 90's) and it was a wonderful day. After walking the walls, we went to Buza Bar and had some delicious Slovenian and Croatian beer. We went swimming in the Med..you just walked down four steps and jumped in the water. We did some shopping, found some beautiful linens and silk ties. We were back on the ship by 2:30 pm. We could have done more in Dubrovnik but our day started early at 8 am and we enjoyed what we had done so we rested by the pool and relaxed for the afternoon.
Tuesday/Wednesday July 1 & 2, 2008 Venice We were up on deck at 11:15 as the ship made its way through the canals. Stunning views. Although we had a balcony cabin, it was great to be on deck because there was stuff on all sides. We had downloaded Rick Steves ST. Marks audio tour onto our iPod's and spent 40 minutes in ST. Marks Square listening to it. We then wandered around little passageways, shopped, did all the touristy things...Rialto Bridge, gondola ride etc. The gondola ride was 120 euros for the six of us, but so worth it. We had purchased a bottle of champagne and although we had no glasses we opened it up and just passed the bottles as we made our way through the small canals for 40 minutes. The vaparetto system is kind of wild, there are boats everywhere but it's somewhat confusing to figure out which boat to take and which one goes where. We were told it was a very long walk to Piazzale Roma and then again from Roma to St. Mark's. We paid 10 for the RT shuttle ride to Roma...what a waste. only a 15 minute walk at best. We did purchase a 24 hour vaparetto pass for 14 euros (one time ticket is 6 euro) but we only used it once...walking was much more fun and once you left the Rialto Bridge area towards Piazzale Roma, you really got into the heart of Venice..not nearly as touristy. Before returning to the ship we paid a ridiculous sum of money for the experience of having a drink in St. Mark's square. But the orchestra, the stars..it was worth it..6 drinks cost 110 euro!!!! On Wednesday morning we had a 9:55 Doge's Palace Secret Itinerary Tour. The tour was good, but it was very hot and the kids were toured out. I think they had seen enough museums and churches. It was only 90 minutes and I think we would have enjoyed our time elsewhere...like on the ship. We did enjoy Venice but the day before was plenty of time for us. It is very touristy in the St. Mark's to Rialto Bridge area. We did find some wonderful murano glass jewelry and trinkets to bring home, but I think one day in Venice would have been sufficient. We set sail by 5 pm. Steve Rawlings was the comedian for the evening...He was so funny..physical comedy at it's best.
Thursday July 3, 2008 Sea Day Bingo, trivia, lots of fun relaxing. Great day!
Friday July 4, 2008 Messina, Sicily, Italy We rented a 9 seat mini-bus and set our for Taormina. The drive was less than an hour and easy once we got on the main road. Getting out of Messina was a bit tricky. Cost was $240 (US dollars) (including, gas, tolls, car rental through argusrentals.com). Taormina was fun, nice views but after a while the walled cities become the same. Same shops, same trinkets for sale...we did the greek theater but were surprised that it cost 6 euros per person. We did not know this and a map was extra. We only spent 15 minutes there, not much to see. Perhaps a map would have been worth it? I don't know, but the greek theater seemed kind of a waste of money. They didn't tear out tickets so when we left we gave them to another family going in. After Taormina we went to a beach and had an absolutely delicious meal and swam in the sea. Only spent about 90 minutes there because we wanted to make sure we got back to Messina by 3:30.
Saturday July 5, 2008 Sea Day Another wonderful day...sun was shining, lots of relaxing, bingo, trivia and family fun. :) We went to the tribute to Beatles show and although the songs were fun (because everyone knows them) it was very cheesy).
Sunday July 6, 2008 Barcelona, Spain This was a fabulous day. We had arranged with Jose Soler of Pepito Tours (http://www.pepitotours.com) for a private 4 hour tour of Barcelona, he picked us up right at the pier. This guy knows his stuff...385 euros and well worth it. The Gaudi Houses, Park Guell, Olympic area, ancient Barcelona, Montjuic and Sagrada Familia. The tour was about 2/3 walking, 1/3 driving. I definitely want to spend more time in Barcelona. He dropped us off at a great tapas place and from there we walked down Las Ramblas and toward the Christopher Columbus monument. We took a cab back to the ship (7 euros per cab - can hold up to 4). The cruise line offered a shuttle from this point for a lot more.
Monday July 7, 2008 Cannes, France This is a tender port and they were only getting the carnival excursion folks off first. We arrived a bit late due to a very strong headwind, and we were due to meet our driver at 9:30 am. Our group went down to the 3rd floor lobby by the pursers desk and talked with Randy (one of the cruise directors helper with tender stickers) and said we had a private excursion and needed to get off the ship by 9. He said it was no problem, added our name to a list and we were off the ship 10 minutes later. We spoke with several others that didn't realize this and they were late for their private tours because they thought they couldn't get off until after all the excursions...which was over an hour later. We did have fun on this day, however our tour guide was a complete disappointment. I had booked with Alain of Dream Tours and was assured that we would either have him, Jean Marc or Fredrick. We got Lucien, a nice older gentleman although he was really only a driver. He did point out a few highlights in Cannes (casino and hospital were Angelina Jolie was due to give birth...who the heck cares!!!) We had told him we wanted to see Eze, Nice, perhaps St. Paul de Vence and go swimming. He said 'no problem'. He started out by taking the beach scenic road all the way from Cannes to Antibes (lots of traffic) and it was over 90 minutes before we got to Eze. We realized later upon our return we could have taken the autostrada from Cannes to Eze in half the time. Eze was nice, the Jardin (garden) was well worth the 5 euro pp entry fee. The views are great, and we found some fun shops. We did get a tour of the perfume factory which was fun. It's a pedestrian only city with tiny, narrow streets. FYI - get a map before going in...it's kind of hard to navigate. After Eze we went to Nice and had a nice lunch (the service was very slow but the food was good) and then we only had about 20 minutes to do some exploring. We then set out for ST. Paul de Vence, which was pretty, but again another walled city, although this one was bigger than Eze. We never got a chance to go swimming, apparently we were supposed to do it in Nice, but he only told us that after we were in St. Paul de Vence. In hindsight I would have skipped St. Paul de Vence and just explored Eze and Nice which would have allowed more time to explore Nice and swim. This was the most costly private tour we did, 570 euros and I expected more information. He was just a driver. His van was not in the greatest shape either, no headrests and the arm rests were broken. Very disappointed in Dream Tours. To be fair, some friends went on a tour with another driver driver from Dream Tours and they enjoyed it very much. Perhaps it was just Lucien, regardless I don't recommend them.
Tuesday July 8, 2008 Livorno, Italy Hands down my favorite. We had the best tour guide ever...we arranged with Paolo Bonetti of unforgettable tuscany (http://www.unforgettabletuscany.com/). He met us at the pier at 8 am and we were off. We headed towards Florence but detoured through the Tuscan countryside. He is from the area and was very knowledgeable and charming. He had a cooler full of pop and water for us as well. Cost was 450 euros and our tour was over 9 hours! He stopped so we could pictures of the scenic tuscan vineyards and olive groves. He took us to Castello di Montegufoni ( a middle age Castle that is now rents out rooms by the week or month). He knows the owner so we were able to wander around the property, explore and take pictures. This place was so scenic and just what I envisioned Tuscany to be like. We then headed to Florence and we stopped atop a large hill for a gorgeous view of Florence, he pointed out all the sights, the bridges, and he told us quite a bit of history. He arranged for us to see the David at noon. There was a tremendously long line, but we got in the group line while he went in and picked up the tickets and we were inside within 10 minutes. We had 45 minutes inside the Academia museum which was ample. The David was so cool! After this we headed to lunch, and we invited Paolo to join us. He was just a delightful man and we told him to pick a place where he would eat. We went to a great trattoria. They gave us English menus, but Paolo said no..'the menu of the day'... we suggested he order for us and wow...what a gastronomical treat. We had fresh fettuccine with mushrooms (not in heavy sauce but a delicious olive oil and lemon sauce), a bruchetta sampler, house wine which was so good, delicious bread, caprese salad, veal ravioli, and penne. He ordered 3 appetizers and 3 pasta dishes and it was a huge amount of food. A very relaxing hour. He offered to pay his share but we said no as we were really enjoying our day. After lunch we had one hour to explore the market. It was fun, but after a while, it's the same old leather shops and silk scarf shops. We then met up for a tour of Santa Croce and then did some wine tasting at a local wine shop and had delicious gelato. We were back on the ship by 5:30...what a wonderful day. We highly recommend Paolo!
We had intense seas until 9 pm after leaving Livorno. It made walking difficult, wine glasses were sloshing...crazy seas....thank goodness for bonine.
June 9, 2008 Debarkation We (along with 10 others had arranged for private transport to the airport/hotels for 17 euro each. Earlier in the week we told the purses desk we were all going on the same transport so they said they would put us in the same debarkation group. We were given group 12. Our number was called at 6:45 am, but we didn't get off, heck, half of us weren't even awake yet. We had all planned to get up and meet in the Victorian Lounge at 8 am to debark as the driver would pick us up between 8 and 8:30. So we had a leisurely breakfast in the dining room, met everyone at 8, walked off and met the driver right away. We were told that you can't debark before your number is called, but you can debark after your number is called. Heck, we weren't ready or willing to get off at 6:45...so we waited. It worked out just fine. Group 12 was for those people who arranged private transportation or doing it yourself (train). We all appreciated the extra sleep.
Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com if you have any questions. This trip was expensive...airfare for 6 from Seattle to Rome, two balcony cabins, private tours, 5 nights pre cruise in Rome...over $40,000...but a trip of a lifetime. I was very close in my budgeting...I spent a lot of time planning but it was worth it. We were over by $1000, due to some ceramic lead free platters we purchased in Orvietto, olive oil we purchased for gifts in Nice our our bar bill on board the ship. My husband really likes martini's and at 8.75 a pop they add up!