We (early 30's) have been anticipating this particular itinerary (Jun 22 sailing) from Princess for several years. Being this was a milestone anniversary, we decided now was the time. This was our 9th Princess cruise, 11th overall. This review is lengthy, but I appreciated those who took the time to detail out their trips on this itinerary (i.e. SingerEsq), especially since this is a bigger trip/investment than most itineraries. (Note: all prices below are per person)
The ship was wonderful, as expected from the newest Princess ship in fleet. Service was spotty, and food is good but we continue to see spotty Princess service (see Princess Specialty Restaurant review below). The itinerary was perfect, and the weather couldn't have been better.
Rome Transfer: Marco to Termini was 14Euro each. Once to Termini be sure to take a taxi to your hotel. DO NOT transfer from Termini to Red/Blue Line. I cannot count the amount of steps we took with no escalator in sight. Take a taxi with luggage since they are reasonably cheap.
Rome: Spent 2 nights at Westin Excelsior using points. Room on 6th floor facing courtyard was exceptionally nice & spacious compared to Euro standards. Everything regarding the room was perfect. The only complaint was the concierge service (or lack thereof). Our friends lost their luggage & for 3 days their only answer to helping find the luggage was "no news". In contrast, after boarding the ship Princess located & had the luggage in their stateroom w/in 2 days...And the ship moves everyday! Westin Excelsior Rome Concierge Staff...You badly suck! As for Rome, we loved the city. Used RomeinLimo for a '1-day tour of Rome'. Visited the Colosseum (12Euro), Catacombs (6Euro), Vatican (15Euro), and other highlights of Rome. We opted for a private guide inside the Vatican (150Euro total for party), which was well worth the price. The trip can be done on your own, but with our first visit & limited time we wanted to see everything.
Ship Transfer: Taxi was 8Euro from Westin to Termini (worth the price with luggage!). Train was 3Euro from Termini to Civitavecchia. We each had baggage & no steps in station. As long as you can carry your own luggage on/off the train, there is no reason to pay the excessive 150-200Euro for a private transfer...You'll need that cash for more pizza & gelato. Once off the train, proceed toward the boats (you'll see them). Once inside the gate look to your left for the free bus shuttle stop to take you to your ship. The guards didn't tell us this while watching us haul our luggage down the street, so we walked more than necessary before figuring out on our own. Shuttle drops you off at the check-in area where you proceed to the ship's check-in from there. We arrived around 4P, & looked to be the last people checking in so there was no line (VIP style!).
Cabin: We had an inside room (Cat J) on the Baja deck. Room was standard Princess cabin. We always find them roomy enough for 2 with plenty of storage. Steward was good, except we had dirty glasses again as we found on the Emerald in Mar10. We don't think they bring clean glasses like some hotels, so we always wash them ourselves to be sure, or just get some from the bars. I think we're bringing a small spray bottle of 409 to do our own germ spot cleaning next time. Oh, & if your bringing wine onboard (see Monte Carlo), don't forget to buy your own wine opener. The bottles fit easy in the fridge, and for wine glasses just call room service & they will bring as much as you want.
Monte Carlo: Did on our own. We took the public bus from outside the dock area to a stop on the other side of the harbor (1Euro) to catch the bus going to Eze/Nice(1Euro). Got off in Eze & visited for over an hour. Then we caught a bus from Eze to Nice(1Euro). Enjoyed the sights of Nice & caught local train to main station (1Euro), then regional train back to Monte Carlo (3.3Euro). Walked to the Casino & then back to Port. This was all easily doable in a day. Also, there is a supermarket (aka Casino Supermarket) a few blocks from the port on the main street facing the water. This was the best & cheapest wine/champagne & bottled water stop on our entire trip. So stock up & carry as much as you can to your stateroom...A 6-pack of 1L water bottles was less than 3Euro! And great wine/champagne for 3-6Euro.
Livorno: Did on our own. The problem with this port is you cannot walk to any public transportation. You are bound by the shuttle or taxis to take you out of the port (very industrial & far). A taxi will take you to the Livorno train station for 20Euro. So round up some people & share the cost. We caught the 830A train to Pisa San Rossore Station (3.6Euro). You will transfer trains at Pisa Centrale to get to San Rossore Station which is only about a 5min walk to the Leaning Tower (no signs, follow crowds or ask). We took pics & walked back to Centrale station (about 2mi), found some cheap clothing stores, and then caught the 10A train to Florence. (Search online for the Tom Ogg review of Florence for step-by-step guide of Florence). We walked around, took pics of Duomo, David, & bridge, shopped, had lunch, and then took 335P train (6,6Euro) back to Livorno Centrale. Shared 20Euro taxi back to port.
Naples: Used Pleasant Travel for a private tour of the Amalfi Coast & Herculean with other CC'ers. Public bus/train strikes appear to be common here so be wary of doing on your own. We visited towns of Ravello, Amalfi, Positano, Sorrento, and Herculean (11Euro). We purchased radio guides inside Herculean for 6Euro each, which provided lots of info & easy to use. With so much driving, we were only able to explore for 20-30min in each town, and 1hr for Herculean. We will go directly back to Amalfi on our next trip to Naples (and Capri which our friends did on their own & loved). Capri is easier to get to on your own by hydrofoil. Boats to Capri are private owners so no strike worries.
Kusadasi: We took a private tour with other CC'ers to St John's (2,5Euro), Ephesus (10Euro), Houses (inside Ephesus for an addtl 7,5Euro!), & House of Virgin Mary (6,5Euro). Did not enjoy our guide & not many fond memories for this port. Ephesus is well preserved, but it's very hot & this would probably have been easier & cheaper on our own by getting a taxi. Shopping is lots of pushy salespeople. Kusadasi is checked off our list. If we ever find ourselves back here on another cruise, we heard from many people that the beaches just south of town are amazing.
Santorini (awww, Santorini!): We rented a car & explored on our own. Driving & parking is very easy on this island. We were on one of the first tenders into Fira. Took cable car up (3Euro) & rented a 4dr manual from Tony's (40Euro), who said we were 1st to check-in & last to check-out. Drove to Oia first & explored the town for several hours (much larger than I expected). Then drove to Kamari Beach (8Euro for chairs/umbrella), and then to the Red Sand Beach (6Euro). Both beaches were very nice. Dropped off car & shopped Fira for a little before deciding the line for the cable car was too long (what a mistake that was). We proceeded to walk down the donkey path dodging nastiness & missing the views down. That's a one-time only experience I need. Cable car is your best (& should be your only) bet.
Mykonos: We did on our own. We paid 5Euro for the shuttle from the ship to the main port area (worth it). Then we walked from the drop-off point around the harbor to windmills & up to the bus station to go to Paradise Beach. Bus was 1Euro each way; just find the store sign which says "Bus Tickets". Paradise Beach is very nice; just don't get too close to the rock barrier as several friends were stung (luckily not harmful). Chairs & Umbrella were 12Euro. We then proceeded from the bus station visiting some shops & getting some excellent gelato in the harbor area (like Roma) before catching the last 5P shuttle to the ship.
Athens: We did on our own. You take the free shuttle to the terminal. Once outside, no taxis will take you to the train station. So if you are able to walk about 2mi, then do so & catch the train to Akropoli for 1Euro each vs a 20-40Euro cab. Station is a few blocks from the Plaka & Acropolis entrance (12Euro). We hiked up the entrance for pics, then visited the museum for 9Euro, which had great A/C to cool off but we're not museum people so we didn't find too interesting for the price. Afterward, we walked to the Plaka for some excellent gyro's & moussaka. Then took train back (1Euro) & walked lunch off with the 2mi trek back to the ship.
Katakolon (or 'cat-a-colon' for the smell): We rented a car & did on our own (40Euro for 4dr manual or 80Euro for 8pax manual van). We had no reservations, but as long as you show up early (830A) you should have no problems renting. The roads were very easy to drive as they were much like the US. We drove to Olympus, and walked around (9Euro). The ruins were very disappointing as they were nothing but scattered rocks on the ground. Nothing like Herculean, Acropolis, or Ephesus we visited. We all felt this could be skipped if not that important in your itinerary. Afterward, we drove back to ship and parked the rental car (literally) next to ship for an onboard 'free' lunch. Then we proceeded to Kastro beach for the afternoon. The beach was very nice (but small) with nice facilities & a restaurant.
Corfu: We rented a car & did on our own (40Euro for 4dr manual). Visited the Paleokastritsa beach that was very nice water but ICE cold. Others reported Dassia beach was nice with warmer waters. Island is very easy to drive on own, although signage (as most of Europe) could be better.
Princess Specialty Restaurants: We dined in the Crown Grill for our anniversary dinner with great company. And while our steaks were good, the service needs work. They would not allow us to order 2 main entrees in lieu of appetizers/salad. Now, if this were a normal restaurant we'd understand. But we're paying $25 each additional to dine here. In contrast, the dining room let's you order whatever & however many dishes you please (i.e. my 4 orders of Lobster & Prawns!). So why could I not order a Filet & Lamb Chops? One in our group ordered 2 steaks, but we were made to feel as if the waiter & the kitchen were doing us a huge favor. We were all perplexed & certainly felt $25/each was a waste. As for the food, my medium filet was bloody in the middle which had to be sent back. Shouldn't these "specialty" restaurants have the best cooks & wait staff on the ship for the extra (stiff) price..?!? We also had bad service with Sabatini's on the Emerald in March 2010. I think Princess needs some serious service work on their "specialty" restaurants. We will not be paying extra to dine in the future.
Entertainment: We were too tired to ever see a production show. We did watch & participate in some game shows. Watching the World Cup on MUTS was an experience. This is a port intensive cruise, so we needed our rest.
Venice: We carried our own bags off the ship. Walked outside the building & to the right where you can find the Alliguna (public boats to St Marks Square). Price was 6Euro + 3Euro for each large bag. We walked from the stop to the Westin Europa. Mostly flat except for 2 stairs over water. So if you cannot handle carrying your own bags, then get a private boat (75-90Euro). We enjoyed walking around, but Rome was our favorite over Venice. Found some good restaurants around the Rialto & Traghetto area. This is an expensive city, so save your Euros for this visit.
Westin Europa: We spent 2 nights on cash & points. Hotel refused to check anyone in before 3P, which is their policy but how can all the rooms be ready exactly at 3P...? With Gold status, not a good start Europa. The room itself was roomy & nicely furnished however there was no AC in the bathroom which made for sweating & multiple cold showers. Not something I'd expect from a $500/night hotel. Again, not good Europa. But the location was excellent & after figuring out the bedroom door had to be closed individually for the room to cool, we had a good stay. One bonus goes out to the concierge staff who, when we inquired about visiting Murano, recommended a glass factory that was offering a promo which provided a private taxi to/from Westin to Murano. So we took up the offer, did the sales tour, had lunch in Murano (cheaper than Venice), and headed back to the Westin in a free taxi! The boat alone would have been 12Euro each on the public boat. Free IS better.
Leaving: We had an early flight out (650A), so the only viable option was a private water taxi for 110Euro (ouch!). Luckily we shared half with some fellow cruisers & the boat picked us up right at the hotel dock. Concierge staff made sure the boat arrived on time. Thanks again Westin Concierge Staff! Venice airport was surprisingly busy at 630A. If not for our business class tickets, carry-on luggage, and preferred security line we may not have made our flight on time. To check-in luggage would have taken at least 30-45min, and the security line, with only 2 stations open, would have taken at least another 45 minutes. So if your coach, be sure to arrive at least 2-2.5 hours before your flight.
Air France Business Class: A disappointment from Venice-Paris with a 3-seat configuration for business. But we flew the 777-300 from Paris to Houston. Excellent. Great Service. Great Food. We were impressed. A great end to a long trip. Thank you miles! ?