Carnival Freedom Cruise Review by gelateria: Fantastic Med Cruise
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Fantastic Med Cruise
Great company, fantastic private tours, superb cabins, perfect itinerary, sunny skies ... what more could you ask for? Three families were celebrating the high school graduation of their sons who had spent 4 years together on their high school debate team. The 10 of us consisted of 6 adults, 3 18-year old boys, and 1 16-yr old girl. The trip provided something for everyone, and a perfect memory to the boys before they went off to university. Excuse me for this stream of consciousness rambling and the grammatical errors. I'm getting ready for the holidays but wanted to finish this before I forgot the details, so I'm writing this fast ... Let me first say that I am not at all related to any of the hotels, restaurants, or tour guides/transportation companies listed in this review. I live near San Francisco. Happy holidays, everyone.
FOOD/PRICE: We had traveled on two Princess Cruises (Grand Mediterranean & Baltic)previously. The cuisine on the Princess Cruises greatly More surpassed that of the Carnival Freedom. However, the cost of the Princess Cruises were also twice as much. Food on the Freedom was slightly above average. Nothing special except for some chocolate molten cake that was to die for. We did not reserve at any of the specialty restaurants. BTW, this Carnival Cruises was very affordable. All 3 families have to somehow pay for private college, and we were thankful to be able to have a Mediterranean cruise at such a great price! My family of 3 booked our frequent flier flights as soon as the flights opened up (about 330 days in advance) so we were able to save approximately $4500 on air. The euro was at approx. 1.61 to the dollar when we traveled so we did not purchase very many things, particularly since the itinerary was very port-intensive and we were saving our money for the tours.
CABINS: Our group booked 4 cabins. We were able to upgrade about 1 month before departure for 3 balcony cabins at the rear of the ship. These were incredibly spacious. It was worth the extra expense, particularly when entering Dubrovnik (wake up early to see the entrance into the bay) & Venice (start watching around 11:00am). The views were spectacular. The rear cabins, which allowed for a 180 degree view, were 7442 (Empress at corner), 6485 & 6487 (Upper). Cabins 6485 & 6487 were adjacent and accommodated 3 from one family and next door were the 3 teenage boys. (Note: when registering, "officially" one adult had to be registered in the same room as the boys; you have to go to the pursers desk later to figure out the card keys for the real people staying in the cabin). The balcony exterior door between the 2 cabins on the upper deck could be opened to pass through. What a highlight for all 10 of us to enter Venice together viewing it from the upper balcony rear deck. The balcony accommodated all 10 of us and the views were spectacular. We had lunch (not very good) delivered to the cabin. I was confined to my cabin for >24 hours due to suspected "norovirus" because I asked for immodium. Always travel with immodium. It helped to have the balcony.
PRE-CRUISE: Transfer from Rome Fiumicino Airport-Used Stefano Constatini of Rome Cabs www.romecabs.com 50E for 3, 55 for 4, 65 for 6, 70 for 7 people
3 days in Rome. Hotel: Bellesuite Rome by Piazza della Reppublica. Great location, close to metro, breakfast included, concierge very helpful. Booked via email & called in credit card number. In the same building as Residenza Cellini & Hotel Adler (Rick Steve's recommended). Also highly recommended is Hotel Oceania (reasonable). Our neighbors stayed at the Residenza Cellini which was on another floor and more upscale and pricey too. It's hard to find the hotel. Look for the large wooden door that it shares with apartments & other business in the building. An ATM and grocery store are on Via Nazionale about 5 minute walk from the hotel. The metro stop is 5 minutes. The colosseum is about a 15-20 minute walk. Spanish Steps about 15 minutes. Ask the concierge where the gelato (great almond gelato) is around the corner (it's in a little shopping alley).
Highlights: Roman Forum/Colosseum tour (3 hrs-50E/hr) by Francesca Caruso. By far the best tour guide I've ever had. Excellent English; vivacious; interesting. Recommended by Rick Steves. I contacted her 9 months in advance, & most of her slots were already taken. Go early; it got stifling hot by 9:30. Francesca brings history and art alive. Book her also for a Vatican tour. chris.framclink.it. She ended the tour at the Pantheon. I had found a wonderful little restaurant nearby that only serves lunch. Enoteca Corsi (Via del Gesú 87-88); it's popular with the locals, inexpensive, good food. My sister-in-law went there last month and said her group had a nice lunch there. Have Francesca show you where it's at on the way to the Pantheon.
Restaurant: Santo Padre Via Collina 18 Rome. Prior to leaving on our trip, I had the hotel concierge reserve dinner at Santo Padre, about a 10 minute walk from the hotel. This restaurant was recommended in a travel magazine. The concierge said it was an excellent restaurant in the vicinity and that it wasn't touristy. The mama cooks and the family waits on the tables. Our party of 11 arrived and the antipasti were already on the table, including the best meatballs I've ever eaten. We ate pasta (okay) and never made it to the main course. Of course, we made room for great desserts. This place is packed with locals. They recommend reserving in advance. The antipasti were great! Wonderful evening with the group and fun too.
The first evening we walked from the hotel to the Trevi Fountain past the president's mansion. Two blocks from the Trevi Fountain, we had gelato at San Crispino (ask anyone around who works around there; it's famous). Another day, we enjoyed going to Piazza Navonna and also walking around the Spanish Steps.
Vatican tour-you have to see it, but the crowds were horrible. We went at 1:30 on a Thursday and had reservations that our tour guide booked for us. Tour guide was mediocre so I won't recommend her. Didn't have to stand in line. It was worth taking a detour to the Raphael Rooms.
Transfer from Rome to Civitavecchia: by this time we had 13 people in our group (found out that a neighbor's family was also on the trip), so I ordered a vehicle from Roma Shuttle (www.romashuttle.com) to pick us up at the hotel, drive us through the Italian countryside, visit Orvieto, visit an overlook with a phenomenal view of Civita di Bagnoregio, and drop us off at Civitavecchia Port. I thought it was strange that they couldn't pick us up right in front of our hotel. But the manager said that the vehicle could not negotiate the little road in front of our Rome hotel. So at 7:00am on the day the ship disembarked, 13 of us hauled our suitcases down 1 block to the main blvd, Via Nazionale. Within 5 minutes a huge bus (the size of a Greyhound bus!) pulled right up. No problem with fitting our suitcases in. For 650 euros, we had the bus for the day! What a deal! Let me tell you that it was worth it that I took Italian at the local community college for 3 quarters before this trip. It definitely helped here as the driver did not speak any English. Also, we had 9 days total in Italy and having the language made the trip very easy for everyone, the conversations that I had with locals was very special indeed. It's so nice to be able to interact with the locals in their language; people are much friendlier. In Orvieto, approximately 90 minutes north of Rome, we took the tram up to the hilltop village and then walked 10 minutes to the main piazza where the cathedral is. The town goes back to the Etruscans. Orvieto is famous for its Cathedral, Orvieto Classico wine, and pottery. We browsed through the town and ate a wonderful meal alfresco in a little piazza. It took about 2.5 hours from Orvieto to the Port with a little stop at Bagnoregio. The hilly Umbrian countryside was beautiful. This transfer allowed us to get off the beaten path inexpensively and also get us to the port.
PRIVATE TOURS/ADVICE: We had previously taken Princess excursions and were not impressed with the cattle call. With such a large group, we had economies of scale and were able to book all of our excursions privately. The cost was generally cheaper/person and the experience so much better. I did most of my research from cruise critic & trip advisor reviews. Note: for most of these tours you have to pay in euro CASH at the end of the tour, so make sure you plan accordingly and increase your daily withdrawl limit before you leave home and travel with backup ATM cards (in case your card doesn't work or gets stolen). Also you need a 4-digit numeric ATM card pin. Notify your credit card & bank when & where you will be traveling so that they don't put a hold fraud alert on your card. BTW, you can buy a MCI international phone card at Costco to make your reservations (I usually call in my credit card number after the initial contact as I don't like to give my personal info on the internet due to identity theft). We usually tipped 10-15%, but each family tipped at their own discretion.
Naples: Drive Amalfi (contact Salvatore Lucibello firstname.lastname@example.org)-1150 euros for private bus (max 16 people) with private guide. Anna, our guide was with us the entire day & gave us a great tour of Pompeii. We needed to buy our own entrance tickets (11E/person) to Pompeii (no big deal). Insist on going to Pompeii first as soon as it opens when it is not crowded & is cooler. This is extremely important. I had previously taken a Princess Cruise tour to Sorrento & Pompeii and it was a major cattle call. It was very difficult keeping up with the guide in Pompeii when there are hundreds of other folks on the ancient streets. Bring hats, water bottles, suntan lotion! Pickup at 8:00 am, Pompeii, drive along Amalfi Coast (bring dramamine if you're subject to car sickness), stop at a place to buy lemoncello, Emerald Grotto (sort of hokey, but I asked for it, some of the people in our group enjoyed it-5 euro/person), nice stop in Amalfi on our own). Lot of camera ops!
Dubrovnik: took 3 taxis to & from town (about 10-15 minutes). About 50 kuna ($10) for entire taxi one way. Carnival bus is I believe, 10 euros/person round trip. The taxis are parked very close to the ship. They drop you off at the pile gate right be the entrance to the ramparts. Walk the ramparts first early before it gets hot! Wear a hot & bring water and a camera. You need to be able to walk up & down steps for about 1 mile. Takes about 1 mile. The views are spectacular of the sea and old town. Bring euros to pay for the entrance fee. Students are cheaper. The gelato in Dubrovnik is outstanding. Ate at Moby Dick. They speak English in town. What a most beautiful town!
Venice: make sure you are on deck or on a balcony at the entrance & exit to Venice. Walked 15 minutes to Piazzale Roma & bought a 24 hour vaporetto pass for 16 euros. Takes about 45 minutes to get from P. Roma to San Marco along the Grand Canal. You must validate your ticket in the yellow machines before you get on the first time. Also, Alilaguna at the cruise terminal runs vaporetti 6 euro one way every 30 minutes on the non-scenic route. Transferred to vaporetto to go to Murano (glass), then Burano (lace). 2nd day, took early Secret Itineraries Tour (in English) of the Doges Palace(it gets hot). Must reserve on line in advance (bring vouchers) & arrive well before the tour time.
Sicily: I was quarantined to my cabin so I missed this port (this automatically happens if you ask for immodium at the medical clinic on the ship; they deactivate your boarding pass). However, everyone in my group said that this was the most enjoyable day of the entire cruise because of Sebastiano, one of the owners of Sicily Life. He lives in Taormina and is so proud of Sicily and wants to share it with his clients. Contact: www.sicilylife.com This is what my group told me. Even a cynical teenage boy raved about the day. Pickup was at Messina port at 7:30 in a 16-passenger van. Curvy roads highlighted the scenic drive to Mt. Etna. The group walked on Mt. Etna, visited a winery & bought table wine, tasted local honey (a hit), & walked with Sebastiano through Taormina, a very charming town. Sebastiano brought the group to a local bakery, and there he explained the Sicilian delicacies and had the group taste some Sicilian pastries including some fantastic cannoli. A real treat! Lunch was on their own. 590 euros for the entire day for private deluxe minibus with driver and separate English-speaking escort guide. The pictures that I see of Taormina & the beaches are gorgeous.
Stromboli: North of Sicily is the volcanic island of Stromboli. Make sure you're on deck to see it!
Barcelona Drive: Angie's Taxis (Barcelona Luxury Drivers)-90 euros for 1 van & 1 taxi (10 people) for 1 hour. phone: 00-34-68698614 They picked us up at the port at 8:45 am. The 2 students & I who had studied Spanish went in the taxi with the non-Spanish speaking driver. It was nice that the teenagers were able to understand mostly everything. He gave us commentary in Spanish of the sites we passed on the way. The English-speakers went with the English-speaking driver. They drove us past the beaches, Barceloneta, stopped at La Sagrada Familia (we walked around it for 10 minutes), past the modernismo hospital, and dropped us off up on the hill at Parc Guell. We walked down through Parc Guell then walked about 1 miles to the closest subway station. Watch your wallets & cameras everywhere in Barcelona particularly on buses, on Las Ramblas, on the subways. I once studied Spanish with my son in Barcelona for 2 weeks a few years back; pickpockets (gypsies) are everywhere; just be aware. Do not wear fancy jewelry. One of our group was harassed by a pickpocket as we were getting onto the subway (she had her hand in his pocket but he was aware and was able to evade the theft; the pickpocket stepped off just as the subway doors closed). Got off at Urquinaona, walked passed the mosaics at the Palau de la Musica Catalana (great tour by the way), then to the Picasso Museum (couldn't get in, the line was too long) & chocolate museum a few blocks away. Had a great authentic lunch at Senyor Parellada, Carrer de l'Argenteria, 37, a few blocks from the Picasso Museum. Walked passed the Cathedral up the shopping street to Placa Catalunya, and down Las Ramblas to Placa Colon. Took a taxi for 15 euro to the port from Placa Colon. You can take the shuttle bus too. However, some folks were pickpocketed on the shuttle bus (very crowded bus for easy pickings!).
Cannes: Ming Tour Services 10:15am-6:15pm prepaid with visa. 1 minibus for 690euros. phone: 330493555947 This was the only tender port of the trip. The seas were rough, so that we didn't get on land until 11:00am. We had to pay for the parking tolls. The driver did not speak English, but 3 of us had enough French to get by and he gave us basic commentary in French. Something about pirates??? Anyway I hired the service only for the transportation, not as a guiding service, and we had enough multi-lingual people in our group to get by everywhere we went. I had him drive us along the coast. We stopped in Antibes for about 90 minutes to shop at the market & eat lunch. Bought some nice, very good sea salt as gifts. He dropped us off at Eze for about 2 hours. We asked him what we could do for 1 hour and he suggested going to Cagnes-en-Haut (no tourists, authentic!). He was right. What a gem! He got out and walked us around the little medieval village. He knew the fellow at the museum and got us in for free. We walked around the museum and he started singing a cappella in one of the rooms. Come to find out, once a year as a native son he dresses up in costume and sings in that very room. A very special day with a very kind person. The fellow was a history buff and he gave us very interesting commentary in French (well, what we could make out). He kept on saying, "Vous comprenez, Caterine?" Do you understand? "Un peu ..."
Pisa/Florence: Hired Unforgettable Tuscany for transportation from 8:00am-5:00pm. 2 vans for 450 euro per van. Could fit 16 passengers. Unforgettable Tuscany was booked so they subcontracted this out to Maurizio Mancini of Tuscany Taste Tour www.tuscanytastetour.com. We had previously taken an excursion with princess cruises for transportation into Florence. Big buses can't enter the historic site so they park outside of the historic center & you have to walk in and out. Since it takes 90 minutes each way from Livorno to Florence, you have to maximize your time. People on the Carnival tours commented that they did not have enough time for Florence and that they paid more than our transportation. Maurizio was worth it. He picked us up in comfortable Mercedes Vans and caravanned with the other van so that our group could stay together. He drove through the countryside on the way to Florence and we stopped at a beautiful overlook surrounded by olive trees and vineyards. But before that we stopped at Pisa for 1 hour to look at the Tower. We decided not to climb the Tower. Before entering Florence, he stopped at the overlook above Florence for a photo op. Then we had 1 hour at the church where Galileo, Michelangelo, & Machiavelli are buried, which is surrounded by leather shops (for those interested in shopping). From there the two vehicles separated. Our vehicle went to see Michelangelos David (they purchased tickets in advance) and the other went to the Duomo. We had lunch on our own. Then the groups met again to walk around the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio. My group specifically asked to be taken to the best gelato in Florence and it was the best gelato that we had tasted in Florence. Maurizio maximized our time in Florence. He and his partner pay for the privilege of parking next to the historic sites. It was amazing how much time he saved us. He parked right in front of the Museum where David is, adjacent to la Basilica of Santa Croce, & only 1 block from the Ponte Vecchio. Maurizio is not a licensed guide so he can't enter the historic sites. However, as a professional sommelier during the drive he gave us interesting info on the regions wines and also Tuscany's cuisine, including how to make panzanella (bread salad), pesto, etc. Highly entertaining!
Civitavecchia departure: Hired Rome Cabs, 2 vehicles. Requested early departure at 7:30 am from ship. Drive to airport is 45 minutes. One vehicle was 170 euros for 7 people. Our vehicle for 3 people was 130 euros.
3 day stopover in Madrid on way home: Hotel Europa on Puerta del Sol (great location and reasonable; recommended by Rick Steves). Best restaurant for suckling pig: Restaurante Botin a few blocks from Plaza Mayor. Best activity: doing the paseo (evening stroll) after sundown
Hope this was helpful. Happy holidays. I would suggest that you take the time to reserve private excursions and transportation and ask for English-speaking drivers and tour guides. BTW, if you speak Spanish, it's incredibly easy to learn Italian ... just pick up some tapes at the library & listen to them when you're driving. Buon viaggio! Bon voyage! Buen viaje! Less
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