We had a great cruise! I wanted to post a review , because I found cruise critic to be so helpful. It was our first time to Europe. We could have never been so well prepared without reading these boards and reviews. We also met a lot of nice and fun people through our roll call. This is going to be long...
Our group consisted of me, my husband (forty-somethings), and our 2 boys (ages 12 and 14), my sister and her son, and my parents. I booked the cruise directly through Carnival over a year before the cruise. Since we were past guests, we got upgraded to an 8C balcony room and got onboard credit. Keep asking your PVP for deals.
Rome-We could only do one night precruise. I wish we had more time, but I was glad to get to Rome at least one day early.We stayed at the Hotel Alimandi Vaticano. I booked directly through their web site. Found them on trip advisor with good reviews. What I liked about them was-they had a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel, quad rooms More
(hard to find in Rome), nice modern bathroom, good buffet breakfast, included in price, and friendly staff, who watched our bags while we were on our tours. I would definitely stay there again. We were jetlagged after flying all night on Continental Newark to FCO, but everything was uneventful. We met Scot of Vatican Art Walks at a little cafe that he recommended. We ate lunch and then went on our Vatican tour at about 1:30pm. There were no lines to get in. We did see lines to get in in the am, being that our hotel was directly across the street from the museums. We loved the Vatican, especially climbing the dome and seeing St. Peter's. It was just amazing! We couldn't have seen or understood as much as we did without a guide. Scot was very informative, but more like hanging out with an old friend. He kept us hydrated too. That night we ate outdoors at Piazza Navonna-it was wonderful.
The next day we met Scot again and saw San Clemente church ( which I didn't even know about- it was in one of my guide books- I really enjoyed that tour), the Colosseum, and Palantine Hill. We'll have to go back to Rome one day because we couldn't see everything. Then 6 of us took Romecabs in a nice minivan to the ship. Excellent service.
Embarking-Easy, easy. They took our bags, we got our sign and sail cards, and that was it. Our room was 8434. I love this room. It was port and aft. Right below the pizza place/lido deck. You could hear some chairs being moved sometimes, but that doesn't bother me. Meet and greet-Next we went to a meet and greet that Robb, etc. set up for everyone on our roll call. Excellent job getting people together. It was so nice to put names to the faces! (even though I don't remember half of the people's real names!) What was funny was there was usually one spouse that was way into cruise critic, while the other one thought we were nuts. By the end of the trip, I think everyone is now a believer.
Ship-The ship was a typical Carnival ship. I I thought the food was fine in the dining room. Chic, late seating, by a window. Our waiter, Gaspar, was excellent and went out of his way for my younger son, teaching him how to be a waiter. A great dancer too, we found out! Really an asset to Carnival. I thought the ship was very clean, and our housekeepers were excellent. Entertainment-I thought this was one area that was lacking. I don't know if it was because of a busy itinerary, but during sea days it was boring. They did not make good use of the big screen TV, showing the same old thing day after day. Not much from the cruise director trying to get people together. The Caribbean is more fun at sea. We saw 2 shows; they were ok. Karaoke was very funny one night with the people we met from Boston. My husband like the casino. Although he didn't win at roulette, his friend won alot at the slots! The kids liked the slide, pool, chess, minigolf, water wars game, and game room. The Venetian mask party was good. They never made it to the kids club. It looked like the 15-17 year olds hung out more together.
Ports- I loved this itinerary and cannot even think of my favorite port. We booked all of our tours privately or did them on our own using taxis. I tried to mixsightseeing/church days with beach days to break it up. All of our drivers or guides were excellent. Each and every one was prompt, professional and friendly. I highly recommend them all. One of the best things about doing it this way was that we were able to be the first ones at just about every site. It was a pleasure to avoid crowds. Each port has something to offer!
Naples-Took Drive Amalfi. Busy day. We saw Pompeii-paid extra for a private guide, Franco. He was excellent. Then off to Ravello where my family promptly fell asleep in the van. Another beautiful place. We then went to Minore and Maggiore, the driver's seaside hometown. Had I known there were black sand beaches here, I would have brought our bathing suits. No worries, my son jumped right in with his clothes on! The water was phenomenal. We ate at a local restaurant across from the beach. Then on to Amalfi, where the kids ran down rock jetty, and we roamed around the town. We went to the ceramic store and also saw the Emerald Grotto. That was cheesy, but we had a good time. By now we had to get back to the ship. Never made it to Positano.(reason #2 to go back).
Croatia-took taxis right off the ship first thing to the Old City to climb the walls. 10E each cab. Walls opened at 8:30am. Worked out well because it was hot! Beautiful vistas around every corner. Can't believe there was a recent war there-very disturbing. We don't know how lucky we are. Next we swam in Banje beach, which is right outside Ploce gate, opposite of Pile gate where we started. The water was cool, clear and refreshing. We brought water shoes with us, because the beach is rocky. Met with Laura Adventures next for kayaking around the city walls, by some caves, and to Lokrum, the island nearby. The guide was cute, but didn't speak too much. This was a highlight for my son who got to do some cliff jumping. The other one saw the "dead sea" and peacocks on the island. It was harder to get back with the current, but we made it! Hints: The cheapest gelato is here, 1 E. Also,they take euros inside the walls, but they seem to want kunas if the shop is outside the walls.
Venice-Arrived and it was raining (only day of alittle rain), but still awesome to look at. Rain stopped. I didn't find the walk from the ship to Piazzale Roma to be that bad (20mins). There we bought 24 hour vaporetto tickets. No one ever checked these… #1 was slower, #2 faster. It was awesome going down the Grand Canal for the first time. Went up the bell tower/campanille. There's an elevator. 8E each. Views. Took a gondola ride. Should have been 80E, but we paid 100E for 6, still worth it. Shopped around, ate. Got into the Basilica San Marco . I forgot I was wearing shorts and a tank top (oops) and a lady sold me 2 paper towels to wear inside. The next day we went on the Secret Itinerary tour. This was the only one I didn't really like. Too hot and not too interesting. I almost fell asleep standing up! I did buy some beautiful watercolors of the canals.
Messina- Surprise! We loved Sicily. It was like a compacted Amalfi coast. I rented a 16 person minivan with driver through Sicily travelnet. Unfortunately, one family got sick and couldn't make it. I felt badly for them, because we had such a good day . First we stopped at the clock tower in town, which was nice. Then we proceeded to Taormina. Our driver couldn't really speak English too well, but he gave us an overview of the area. My Italian isn't so hot either, but it's getting better. Andiamo, si. Ate cannolis--the best ever! The bakery is down some stairs on the right when you first start walking to Corso Umberto, the main road. Shopped around alitlle. Went to the Greek theater (other vistas with Mt. Etna just as good) Then took the cable car down to the beach. Even I jumped off a cliff there! Back up the hill for lunch in a cute restaurant. The gnocchis were the best.
Barcelona-This was the one port that I really didn't have plans for. Took a taxi 10E to Sagrada de Familia. Took our outside pics. Doors opened at 9 am and up the spires we went. Elevator up, walk down. This church has a totally different look to it-cool. Took taxis to the beach. There are nice walkways all up and down the beach. Again, very clean city and water. I wish I had taken the cable car from San Sebastian beach up the mountain-that looked great.
Cannes-Used Michel as a guide from Revelation Tours. This is a tender port. We were a ½ hour late getting to the shore, but Michel was waiting for us. Carnival does have a big job here trying to get everyone off the ship. I found Randy from Carnival to be helpful. We went to Monaco, Eze, and St. Paul de Vence, where we had time to walk around each of these places. The French Riviera. Michel was very informative. Everything was great, but I liked St. Paul the best. It was a quaint, artsy medieval village.
Livorno-We used Tuscany by Taxi, which was more transportation, but the driver was very informative anyway. Got picked up at 8am from the ship, to Pisa at 8:45am, picked up the tickets I had prebooked for the climb, and they let us up right at 9. I really enjoyed Pisa, even though I had read that it was tacky. Saw the sunflowers on the way to Florence. Got a scenic overlook of the city from on top of a hill. Went to the Accademia for 12 noon pre booked reservation to see David. Our driver made sure we got into the right line to get in.Wow. Then we were free to roam around Florence for a while. Of course I had to climb my last belltower. This one was the hardest- 414 steps! Every time I thought I was done, there was another level to go up. From the top, you had a great view of the duomo and a nauseating view of the people below.
Disembarking-Easy as embarking. Had a 2pm flight and was off the ship by 7:30am. Rome cabs picked us up at 8am. I think I could have even made the earlier flight. Trip home was uneventful. But I did sleep this time… Summary and hints-This defiantly was a trip of a lifetime! As you can see I was more into the itinerary here than the ship. I thought the ship and service were fine. There is so much to see and do. There is no way we could have done everything. I'm glad that I concentrated on certain things and broke up the touring days with more relaxing days. We did take euros with us to start and used the atms, while we were in Europe. We never felt unsafe, although I heard some people almost got pick pocketed. For us, the private tours worked out better with the kids. If you could split the costs with others, it becomes more affordable. Eat gelatos, drink espressos, and find that cannoli store! Hopefully, one day we all will be back. Less
Carnival Freedom Cruises to the Western Mediterranean