Hotel Mozart, Rome, for 3 nights, then Carnival Freedom 14 August, 2008
This cruise, our 3rd Mediterranean voyage, in successive years, was for me, my wife Rosy and 16 yr old son, Luke.
We left home at 20.30 on Sunday for the 2 hr drive to London Heathrow. We had a good journey, in quite busy traffic, but found our hotel easily. We stayed at the Sheraton Skyline, where we have stayed before. We were allocated a club room, due to my SPG gold status. The room had a queen bed and a double sofa bed, for my ds. The bathroom had a full bath and power shower. The room also had toiletries and tea / coffee making facilities. The TV kept turning itself off, so we gave up. I awoke at 05.30, which was annoying, as our flight didn't depart until noon. I walked a ¼ of a mile to McDonalds for coffee and wifi! We have decided to catch the 423 bus, from opposite the hotel, to Terminal 5, which should be free of charge. You'll learn that we're very thrifty.
We successfully caught the bus and had an easy ride to Terminal 5. We waited quite a while for 'Fast' bag drop and then waited a while in the Departure lounge. It was quite boring, but eventually we boarded our flight and were on our way!
We landed in Rome, pretty much on time and after a long wait we met our chauffeur from Rome Shuttle Limousines (35 Euros). He drove us quickly to our hotel and gave us a good commentary on the sights, so we gave him a 5 Euro tip.
We settled into our very nice apartment - Vittoria Suite at Hotel Mozart, which was centrally situated. We had dinner in Trastevere at a tourist guide recommended Pizza restaurant, NAPULl'?, Viale Giulio Cesare 89-91. The bill for three including wine and water was 70 Euros. Next day we toured Rome, visiting many sights, but concluding that in order to see the Vatican City, it would best to arrive at 07.00, so that's what we did the next day! Luke stayed in bed and so Rosy and I looked around the Basilica and were able to climb St Peter's Dome, by 08.30, with magnificent views all over Rome. We then travelled around Rome by tram, which I love. In the afternoon we travelled a circuitous route to the Botanical gardens, which turned out to be closed for the week! We had a fantastic, typical, Italian dinner at the Trip Advisor recommended Trattoria Der Pallaro, Largo Del Pallaro 15. There was no menu, but the place was packed out with a mix of locals and visitors with their various guidebooks. On arrival, you are brought a jug of red or white wine and a litre of water. Luke had a cola. Then various courses are served, again, with no choice, but it was a wonderful meal and experience. We sat next to some Delta airline pilots, who regularly eat there.
Our final day in Rome comprised shopping and sightseeing. We visited the Trevi fountain, which was ever so crowded. Dinner was at a local pizzeria, after the take-away pizza restaurant, recommended in Trip Advisor, Michelle's, and was closed. The meal was very poor and the waiter didn't bring us what we ordered. After complaining, he told us he would discount the meal. I don't think he did, so we didn't tip him, even though he specifically asked for a tip. I reminded him that he had got our order wrong!
The day of the cruise finally arrived and we were picked up, as arranged, at 10.30. The drive to the port took about 1.5 hours and we were soon on board. We couldn't access our cabins until 13.30, so we had lunch on the lido deck, in hot sunshine, which fortunately stayed with us all cruise!
We went to our cabins as soon as were able and were delighted with them. Luke had an inside 6258 on Upper deck and we had a balcony opposite, 6256. We quickly emptied the mini-bar from the fridge and filled it with our own 'stock'. Limoncello from Rome and Pimms / Champagne from England. We also brought some bottled water and 2 bottles of red wine. Our balcony cabin, on Upper Deck (6) was very comfortable and spacious. We had plenty of space to put our clothes and the bathroom was also quite large, with decent shower and all very clean. Razors and anti-perspirant were provided, along with soap bars. The shower cubicle housed shampoo and shower gel dispensers. The balcony was a decent size and very private. One couple on 'Mr & Mrs' admitted to 'Whoopee' on the balcony! I had brought my laptop, so purchased the wifi package of 250 minutes for $100, with a bonus 20 minutes added. When using a laptop it is best to enable pop-ups, which reduces the chances of unintentionally staying on-line!!!! The connection speeds aren't very good, but seem to be best, either late at night or early in the morning.
We had some holes punched in our s&s cards and got duplicates, so we each had access to the other cabin. I collected lanyards from the casino, which is all I got from them! Our bags arrived at about 15.00 and we were soon unpacked and ready to explore the ship. Luke decided to have dinner with us on the first night, but actually managed one course, prior to joining in an O2 event (15-17 year olds).
We hardly saw him again, for the remainder of the cruise. He stayed up 'til late, then slept 'til lunchtime. He left the ship once, for a tour of Athens with his teen club! I can't comment on the club facilities, suffice to say he wasn't complaining. My wife did see two young girls leave his cabin, with bed-clothes, one lunchtime!
The muster drill took place just before dinner and was a real 'pain'! We got there early, anticipating a comfortable seat in the lounge, as on Sea Princess, but we all had to line up on the deck, for quite some time, which was quite tiring for those with back problems. Many people arrived late, so it was a bit of a shambles. I hope no-one ever needs to find out how efficient a 'real-life' situation would be.
We opted for late dining, with a large table. Our tablemates were charming; a mid-thirties couple from Holland, then the remainder of us, probably in our 50's, a couple from New York and one from Philadelphia. We all got on very well.
The food was, without exception, excellent. The service was usually pretty efficient, but sometimes slow. The food in the buffet was usually pretty good, but not as good as in the dining room.
We were disappointed with the quality of the entertainment, apart from three excellent shows and 3 good entertainers. We felt there could have been more variety and Todd is certainly no John Heald. I looked forward to child-free events, but there were none, apart from the discos. Bingo sessions often overran, which was a nuisance. Drinks are only available on level 3, so if you were seated in levels 4 or 5, you had to fetch your own.
Lots of sunbeds were reserved from early in the morning, but staff never seemed to carry out their pledge and remove the towels / belongings, leaving individuals to do the deadly deed themselves.
Our cabin was always spotless, but when we first arrived, there was litter in some draws / cupboards and we only had one bathrobe. Our cabin steward was efficient, but not very cordial.
Our previous two cruises were with Princess and we found the cabins, service and food to be equally good, but there weren't as many organized activities, particularly on port days. Princess didn't assume that all pax would leave the ship!
The weather was fantastic and we only experienced any motion, one night, when it was unexpectedly rocky, but nothing like we had previously experienced between Southampton and Gibraltar. Luke will remember this night, as he lost his newly purchased Rayban sunglasses, over the side.
We will probably return to Princess, next summer, partly because Rosy prefers the ease of sailing from our home port, without flying, and the fact that Carnival has pulled out of summer time Mediterranean voyages, next year!
One note of criticism for Carnival is their lack of enforcement of the non-smoking areas. They seemed to want to avoid confrontation, as I had to keep asking them to advise smokers to do so, in the permitted areas. The security staff didn't appear to know where the non-smoking areas were!
We have cruised the Mediterranean for the last three summers and my best advice to anyone, is to either take ship's tours and accept the high cost, or do it yourself, but plan meticulously, taking written / typed notes for each port. Most ports can be 'done' on a 'shoe-string budget', so long as proper planning has been done. Todd, the Freedom Cruise Director, played very heavily on how unwise it is to tour independently, but we found this to be poor advice, but Carnival provided little or no information for independents, which unless they have access to Cruise Critic or Trip Advisor, life could be very confusing and stressful. A good tip for first time cruisers is to take a tour on the 'HoHo' buses, which give commentaries on all the tour highlights, as well as giving a basic guide to that destination, or take a ship's tour. We have done much planning, but sometimes feel that we haven't made the best use of our time.
We rarely take ship's excursions, partly because we feel they are very expensive and partly because we prefer the freedom of making our own plans, without being herded around. We usually left the ship as soon as it berthed, often rising before 07.00. Carnival, unlike Princess, was less than helpful to guests wanted to go their own way. There was little or no advice on what to do, just threats of what could happen to us, if we didn't have the security of a tour. The one tour we did take, we received plenty of hassle form local traders trying to sell us 'tat'!
Last year we toured the Amalfi coast, so this year we opted for Capri. We took the short walk to the Hydrofoil quay, avoiding all the touts, and purchased tickets for the first available departure, returning on 14.10 voyage (we actually changed this to 13.35, as we were early. On arrival at Capri, there was a really long line to purchase tickets for the funicular and bus, so we decided to walk to the top. It took us over 1.5 hours and we hardly had a breather, but we must have shed some pounds! We returned on the chairlift and bus, and then walked the last 15 minutes. I enjoyed some Gelato, while Rosy had a swim. I purchased some water and a chocolate croissant on the ferry, for a very reasonable 2 Euros. We returned to the ship, for a late lunch.
A wonderful, beautiful fishing village. The ship docks about 15 minutes walk from the centre and it is a lovely walk. The beach is shingle and very narrow, almost totally occupied by loungers / umbrellas from local businesses, but we found a place to swim, prior to taking the local bus to Amutulam Haman (Turkish Bath). This is aimed at tourists and there were several groups from our ship, on arrival. We were sold a full package for 55 Turkish Lira each. This is about 60 USD. We first had a 10 minute sauna, followed by a cold shower, then seating on hot tiles. Then our bodies were scrubbed by local men, with coarse cloths, followed by a cold shower, then soaping and another shower. The next stage was a 10 minute spell in a Jacuzzi tub, along with about 20 other customers. It was really intimate and fun! After this we were given a face pack of mud and then a top to toe oil massage. It was very firm. Then we were driven back to the ship, thoroughly relaxed and invigorated.
An industrial port, used by cruise lines with the one purpose of taking guests to Ephesus. We opted to walk around the city and through a local park, followed by a return visit to a Hamam. We received directions from the tourist office and made our way there, or so we thought. In fact, we were in a local school, having an open day for new pupils. Fortunately, a pupil directed us across the road to the correct place. On arrival, I was quickly ushered out, as it was ladies only, at this time. We decided to take the bus back to the ship.
Here we opted for the 'Highlights of Istanbul + private Bosphorous cruise, with lunch' tour. In retrospect we felt this was a mistake and we should have followed good advice offered on cruise critic, to our on our own. The traffic in Istanbul old town was horrendous and we could achieve all that we wanted to do by tram, for a fraction of the cost and in much less time. The tram stops just outside the port and goes to where the tour buses set down. It is then a free-for-all, to obtain entry to the attractions. Several people on our ship bought carpets / rugs at very high prices, though they did negotiate. All we bargained for was Turkish Delight! We felt the tour was a waste of money and didn't offer any protection from local traders, who thronged around tour groups. Had we been on our own, it would have been less of a problem.
We docked at Pireas and walked about a mile around the water's edge, to the metro station. We purchased a 3 Euro ticket, which allowed us to use the metro, trams, buses and trolley buses for 24 hours. We took the metro to Monestirakis, where my wife walked to the Acropolis and I changed to the line which took me to Syntagma Square, where I walked to the nearby tourist office, getting a good map, and then awaited Rosy. We then took the tram to the coast, for my enjoyment and returned on the metro to Thisio, where we stopped at a Taverna for lunch, then Rosy visited some more museums on the Acropolis site and I walked through the Plaka (a sort of bazaar). We met at Syntagma Square for the return journey to Pireas, via the no. 040 bus, a very efficient method. It took us right to the dock gates.
This is a charming seaside town, with little to do apart from walk or sit on the beach, no boats, sun-loungers or umbrellas, well very few. The port is used to transfer guests to Olympia. We thought we would take the train, but we missed the first one at 08.36 and the next one is 11.15, which doesn't allow enough time at Olympia, so we joined two Mexican girls for a taxi tour. This cost 75 Euros between 4, so very good value. However, the drivers are crazy!
This port is the gateway to Luque, Pisa and Florence. Any, or a combination of these destinations can be done independently. We were in port on a Sunday, which made things more difficult. The first shuttle (1 Euro return) left at 08.10, and then we took a No. 1 bus to the station (1 Euro each way). The first bus was at 08.45. We took the 09.11 train, which goes to both Pisa and Florence. Change at Pisa for the 09.50 to Luque. We walked to the leaning tower, but a bus is possible. The walk is very pleasant and direct and takes about 30 minutes, avoiding all the Touristy bits, as the tour buses approach from a different direction. There were plenty of Gelato shops, and I tried many of them! The Basilica is free of charge on a Sunday, instead of 2 Euros, but this stops one from wandering around, as only a small roped off area is available. We could have climbed the Tower, for 15 Euros each, but we didn't want to wait, although contrary to ship reports, there were no lines! After a good look around we decided to take the train back and had lunch on the ship.
This is the port for Rome. We have visited for a day in each of the last 3 summers, so we knew what to do. For those who don't, the port offers a free shuttle to the port entrance, which is in the middle of town. The rail station is a further 10-15 minute walk, along the seafront. It is best to buy a BIRG ticket (9 Euros) at a newsstand, to avoid the long lines at the station, but don't forget to validate your ticket at the yellow machines, to avoid the risk of a big fine! We caught the 09.41 train, which was packed. We alighted at San Pietro and took the 64 bus to near the Pathenon, for a self-guided walking tour, during which time we visited the best Gelato shop in Rome, its called Giolitti and is situated in Via degli Uffici Vicario 40. The Gelato was truly scrumptious. Please note that as in many places, payment must be made at a central till, where a receipt is issued, which is taken to the counter for service. Please don't then sit down outside as the charge will then be doubled! We also sampled drinks at Cafe Sant'Eustachio, in Piazza Sant'Eustachio 82, which again comes highly recommended.
After the walk we took buses and walked to Orto Botanico, Botanical gardens, which are probably best visited in spring or autumn. Then we took the 64 bus back to San Pietro, where we caught a train back to Civitavecchia, arriving at about 16.00. The port was very busy with 7 cruise ships, including Noordam, Ventura, Emerald Princess and Carnival Freedom. Other ships were from Costa and Aida.
Last night was quite subdued, due the fact that many of the ship's facilities were closed, as the vessel was in port. The entertainment staff seemed to have the day off and there was little to do, apart from watching films on the big screen. I believe that once we arrived in Civitavecchia, for the final day / night, the crew were making plans for the new arrivals and the current passengers were almost forgotten, though the cabin and dining room service was still excellent. We went to bed reasonably early in readiness for the 06.00 wake-up call, when the first disembarkations were called. We had a quick breakfast on Lido deck, my last omelette for a while (back to porridge tomorrow), then were disembarked at 07.15 and quickly found our luggage, very good organization by Carnival. Then we had to wait for our car to take us to the airport, which was booked for 08.00. The car, from Rome Shuttle Limousines, arrived on time and the journey to Fumicino took about 1 hour.
We quickly dropped our bags, having checked-in online the day before. We then had a 2.5 hour wait for our plane to LHR. The prices for food and drink in the airport were very reasonable, so save a few Euros, plus 1 Euro for the baggage trolleys.
After all the negative publicity about Heathrow Terminal 5, we have nothing but praise for BAA. Our experience there was all positive. On our arrival from Rome, we quickly collected our bags, took the local bus(423) to our hotel, to collect our car and were soon on our way, about 1 hour from landing.