Background: 4th cruise, 3rd on Carnival.
Flew into Venice. We took the ACTV bus to the main Plaza Roma; from there we walked to our hotel that was near the train station, there is a new bridge that makes the walk short. Hotel Abbazia was very pleasant room, nice service at the front desk and a lovely European breakfast. ($470.00 for 2 nights). We choose this hotel due to departing by train very early in the morning on our last day. We were in Venice for 1 ½ days. Purchased a 12 hour water bus pass for the day. During our stay we walked the streets a lot, used the water bus, walked in several beautiful churches, walked around St. Mark's Square which has the bell tower that we went to the top of (5 euros), Basilica di San Marco (free, you can get a timeslot online to avoid the long lines), Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) (10 euros) and Museo Correr Museum (price included with Doge's Palace). We really enjoyed Doge's Palace, lot of great architecture, sculptures and artwork. We also went on the water bus to Murano Island, the glass island, lovely island with lots of glass items. Glass blowing is open during the week and Saturday mornings. In summary, we loved Venice and would enjoy a longer visit.
Train to Rome from Venice. We purchased 1st class tickets on line before the trip, in 1st class there was plenty of room to store our luggage, the train was very nice. The ride was 4.5 hrs was pleasant, but the views were ok, near the cities lots of graffiti and laundry hanging out the windows of apartments. ($150 per person).
Arriving in Rome, we stored our luggage for a few hrs, (3.80 per piece for 5 hrs), the line was long due to lockers being closed that day. Restrooms were .80 to use. Subway is below the train station - A and B line. We took the B line 2 stops to the Coliseum, this was inexpensive to do and very quick. When you walk out of the subway you are right there at the colosseum. The ticket for the Coliseum, Palatine Hill and Forum was 12 Euros and was good for 1 day. There were offering English guided tours so you would not have to wait in the long line for additional 10 Euros. When we were there the line was about ½ hour long, we would reconsider paying the additional fee to by pass the line. This area was amazing, many things to be seen here, we needed a full day to fully enjoy the sites. Sites within walking distance was Constantine Arch, Palatine Hill, Coliseum, Plaza Veneza and the Forum. It is illegal to buy counterfeit goods from vendors on the street; you can be fined by the police. We rushed back to the train station on the subway to catch another train to the port of Civitavecchia, which was 50 minutes away by train. Rome's train station is huge and very busy. There is an ATM machine, shops and restaurants in this train station.
When arriving at the town of Civitavecchia, there are lots of steps to carry the luggage up and down. You have to work about 5 blocks to get to the shuttle area for the cruise ship. A few men are out on the street and will carry your luggage to the port entrance for you for 1 euro, this is good deal. You have to use the free shuttle at the edge of the port due to the cruise ship being a few miles; you cannot walk there. You can pay for a transfer from the airport to the cruise ship; arranged through the cruise ship for $75 per person. This would be a simpler way to get to the cruise ship. We have arrived!! Embarkation was simple due to having previously completed the fun pass and luggage tags. Before going on the trip we had read about the pink gaudy dEcor in the public areas, it was all true. After a few days you don't really notice it anymore; but this was not as elegant as other ships we have been on. Our inside cabins are nice, the stateroom felt a little larger than previous cruise ships, the layout was really good. We were on deck 6; this was a problem due to being located right over the main lounge. We would never recommend getting a room on the 6th floor due to so many activities on the 5th floor; this was a problem late at night and early mornings. The flat screen TV in the room was really nice.
Dining - we had early setting with a large table. We were assigned the Gold Pearl, we experienced lots of vibrations and loud rumbling when the ship was sailing. The Black Pearl located toward the center of the ship did not have the same problem. But we had the best maitre de Ken, he sang every night and was wonderful; very personable person. We enjoyed him a lot. Our waiters were Nina and Peter, they were wonderful. Our tablemates at dinner were the best, we enjoyed the 12 days making friends with this group of people. Food overall was good, most of the meals were enjoyable. We also ate most of our breakfasts in the Gold Pearl, which we enjoyed a lot. We prefer the sit down dining over the buffet.
Entertainment - We loved the dancers, they were wonderful all three nights that they preformed. Lots of great singing, dancing and lots of costume changes. We really enjoyed the cruise director, John Herald. He was really good during the evening activities and at the port talks. The other entertainment was hit or miss depending on your personal preferences. We did not have a fancy midnight buffet with ice sculptures, and food carvings; that was disappointing. We did have a Mexican buffet which was not the same. The big screen TV by the pool was really nice, different things were going on there a lot of the time. We really enjoyed Greg at the Piano bar, very nice young man that was good at singing and chatting with the people in the room. Having a live band in the main lounge was really nice.
Ports: Sicily -Taormina and Greek Theatre - 4 hrs -73.00 per person You drive through the town of Messina to see the highlights including the astronomical clock in the plaza then a one hour bus ride through many tunnels takes you to the town of Taormina. In Taormina you will have a very scenic walk through a lovely town along the coastline; the town consists of many small alleys, churches, square and shops to be visited. At the end of town is the Greek theatre that is still in use in the summer. This was a lovely quaint town. We enjoyed the time we spent in Taormina. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Marmaris - A day in Medieval Rhodes Town - 6.5 hrs - 99.00 person Leaving the port you port a large ferry waiting at the pier, the ride to Rhodes is one hour. Carnival employees spent almost the entire hour on the boat calling out tickets with each person's name; this was a waste of time that could have spent giving information about the history of Rhodes. Upon arriving in Rhodes you board a bus and have a panoramic drive up to Mt. Smith, their acropolis and the temple of Apollo ending at the entrance to the medieval town. There your guide gives you history of the town and your walk through the palace of the grand masters. This was a unique city enclosed by castle walls making you feel you are in a huge fortress. This was an area you could spend the whole day enjoying the plazas, cobblestone roads, arched windows, terraced roofs, ancient mosaics, cafes, and small shops. In all directions there was beautiful view and sites to see. Rating: 4 out of 5
Izmir - Ancient Ephesus and Terrace Houses - 4.5 hrs - 69.00 person Take a 1 hour bus ride to Ephesus; upon arriving you will see some ruins from the where the bus drops you off. As we begin taking pictures our tour guide stated this was just the appetizer, we walked down the path of the ancient city and the farther we went the more spectacular the sites were. Unlike some other cities that date back 2000 years, this city dates back 4000 years and is well preserved. The Terrace house was well worth the extra $4.00. This area shows how the wealthy lived in ancient times. It is in three terrace levels up the mountain side, hence the name, terrace houses. It was made with plexiglass floors with enabled you to see the mosaics and paintings in these houses. This was an incredible site to visit. There is a huge greek/roman theatre that held 24,000 spectators build on the hillside. At the end of the tour were shops and we had a few minutes to shop before heading back on the bus. Rating: 4 out of 5
Istanbul - Best of Istanbul and Bosphorous Cruise with Lunch - 9 hrs - 109.00 Take the bus across the bridge to get the center of town approximately 20 minutes in the morning, but due to traffic the bus back took nearly an hour in the late evening. Visited Blue Mosque, St. Sophia Museum, Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazaar, theses are centrally located all within walking distance of each other. At lunch time we left the center of town and took a 15 minute bus ride to a boat on the Bosphorous Sea. This was a large boat that held around 250 people. The seating was very tight, with large windows to view the sites during your meal. There was a second level outside to have better views of the mansions, palaces, villas and the intercontinental bridge connecting Europe and Asia. Lunch was a traditional Turkish meal with baklava. At the Topkapi Palace we visited the kitchens, treasury, and other areas of the palace. We were only able to see a small portion of the palace. St. Sophia Museum built in 537 AD, was originally a church that has been converted into a museum. This structure was amazing due to the scale and size of the building. Some of the pillars were from Ephesus and other locations were used in the building of this church. Blue Mosque was beautiful with all the blue tiles and the stained glass windows. We arrived there prior to prayer starting, so we viewed the washing of the feet right outside the building. We also viewed the three tall obelisk outside of the mosque. During this time you could hear the chats echoing back and forth between the mosques. This was a very unique experience. Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Athens: Acropolis and National Archaeological Museum - 5.5 hrs - 87.00 Drive through the city approximately 20, seeing the coastline, saw several different points of interest then stopped at Olympic Park for a photo opt. Then headed to the National Archaeological Museum - this was one of the best museums we saw on the trip. It was built in the late 1800, room after room of wonderful sculptors and ancient artifacts. From the museum took another 15 minute bus ride over to the base of the Acropolis. Beautiful view from the base and then you begin the walk up to the top and view the city and all the ancient ruins from the top. This is a very windy area. Acropolis is under major restoration. Rating: 4 out of 5
Naples: Taste of Sorrento and Pompeii - 8 hrs - $119.00 We took an hour long bus ride along the coast, got to Sorrento and had to change to a smaller buses to take us to the farm. This farm was not what we expected; we were moved from one room to another to view the olive oil making, but nothing was in process. We did see them kneading mozzarella cheese. Overall this tour was not very good; the highlight was tasting a few products from the farm - olive oil, mozzarella and salami. We could only see views of the coastline from the street. Then we returned to Sorrento for an hour of shopping. This was a great little town to visit; would have enjoyed more time to walk around. We got back on the bus to go to Pompeii, a huge ancient roman town that was ruined by a volcano. This large city was uncovered in 1748; what we saw huge and only 20% has been excavated. It was a lot of quantity but not a lot of quality. After seeing several other sites this one was not as impressive. Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Florence: Uffizi Museum and Florence - 10 hrs - 190.00 We loved our tour in Florence! Bus ride from the port to Florence was about 1 ½ hrs long then you begin your walking tour. The bus cannot park in the heart of Florence so you park in the outskirts walk to the beautiful city of Florence. Our tour walked around the highlights which included the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistery of St. John, Campanile Bell Tower, Ponte Vecchio Bridge, and Plaza Santa Croche. The area outside of the Uffize Museum is beautiful with sculptures and vendors all around. The Museum is full of so much history of art; it was so nice to have a guide tell us about the history of the most important paintings. This was a great tour with only 15 people in the group! We then went to a lovely restaurant and had a great Italian meal. After lunch we had some free time to wonder the streets and go inside some of the beautiful churches. We loved this tour and Florence. Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Rome: Highlights of Rome/Regular Visit to Vatican Museum - 12 hrs - 199.00 Rome has so many great sights to see; but it is a very large city. The beginning of the trip is a panorama tour of the city - the forum, the colosseum, arch of Constantine, pyramid of calus cestius, and Venice square. You stop and walk to the Trevi Fountain, then you have a couple of hours to walk around the city. When you meet back with the group you are taken to a restaurant on the other side of town near the Vatican for lunch. This lunch was good but not as wonderful as in Florence. The afternoon has been saved for the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Square. This was a wonderful afternoon of history, paintings that are overwhelming and many sculptures; this tour was all afternoon, so much to see so little time. It was very crowded here, but you are in such awe it seems ok. We lost our group for a small time, but our guide did find us and direct up back to the group. After the tour they take you to a small area for shopping and snacking. There is so much to see in Rome you need much more time to take in all it has to offer. Rating: 4 out of 5
Over all this was a trip of a life time! All the sights, history, culture and people that we meet and saw made this a wonderful trip. We were very lucky with our weather; it was sunny most days with only a very short rainfall one morning. This will not be my favorite ship we have traveled in but it was clean and we had wonderful staff take excellent care of us. Spring we are heading on another cruise to the Caribbean on a little more relaxing and restful trip.