Port and Shore Excursions
We booked Barcelona Day Tours to pick us up from the ship, take us on a 4-hour tour of the city, and drop us off at our hotel. It was great! Our guide/driver, Alberto, was there at 8:30 (we opted to carry our own bags off of the ship so it was very easy) and he took us to see the main sites of the city. There was a lot of grafitti as we drove out of the port, and we had been warned of pick pockets....It was nice to have Alberto take us to the sights, and he guarded our luggage in his van at the places we wanted to stop at.....He gave us a lot of information and packed so much into the time we had with him! Do not miss Gaudi's creations.....especially Sagrada Familia ......the buildings and lamp posts and lots of other things he designed in the city are very cool...Alberto was great to explain everything. Also, Gaudi's Park Guell was FANTASTIC....the mosaic benches and the colors and the curves and everything...it's very beautiful. There are little food/souvenier stands at the entrance and exit, but there are also vendors selling different things inside of the park (not sure if they are legal, but everyone was buying stuff from them). Alberto also took us to see the Barcelona Cathedral/small part of the Roman wall still standing. Beautiful!!!!!!!. We drove down Las Ramblas, but it was very crowded and none of us wanted to go and explore anymore......but we did go up to Mount Montjuic, where we saw the big fountains that they light up at night..Also saw the Olympic stadium from the 1992 games ....The swimming venue overlooks a beautiful part of Barcelona, where you can see Sagrada familia in the distance..very cool! Alberto did a wonderful job showing us his city that he is so proud of....We were all tired out from our week, but hope to get back to Barcelona someday..It is a beautiful city!
Our driver/guide from ROME CONNECTION, Francesco, was waiting for us (holding a sign with our name on it) right as we got off the ship at 8am. It was a hot, muggy day and the 5 of us got into an air-conditioned beautiful mercedes van. Francesco was born and raised in Florence so he gave us so much information....first took us to Pisa, so we could beat the crowds and walk around field of miracles before it got too hot out. He bought us waters while we walked around...Then off to Florence, where he pointed out walls, baths, etc. along the way. He pointed out the mountains where the carerra (???) marble for famous statues came from. Upon entering Florence, stopped at Michelangelo square (breathtaking views of the city with the fake-green-statue of David). Francesco gave us an overview of the area...He was professional, funny, and full of information! He took us to Accademia museum, where they had pre-reserved tickets for us to get in to see the David....There was a long line, but Francesco went right to front and got the 5 of us right in......it was amazing...be sure to see it!. Francesco was like the "mayor"..seemed to know everyone in Florence, and knew where to park so we could easily see all the sights. Among others, got to see amazing things such as Sante Croce church, Signoria square, the bell tower and the cathedral and the baptistry and the Duomo, of course. We did not get to climb to the top of the Duomo because the line was VERY long. Francesco recommended a little local restaurant, where we had a WONDERFUL lunch and the people were so nice (and our waiter spoke good English)......On way back to ship, we made a brief stop at the Medici Petti Palace...We were worried about getting back to the ship on time so did not want to stop for gelato or anything...but Francesco (and all of our future driver/guides) knew what he was doing, and we got back with lots of time to spare!
Be sure to be able to see the shore from your balcony or the ship deck as you pull in and out of Monte Carlo..It is very beautiful. You can walk off the ship right into the port (you will pass a small tourist info place where you can get a "Monte Carlo packet", including map). As you walk toward the big "rock", you will see some tour busses (hop on, hop off) , and we saw herds of people pushing to get on these...We decided to keep walking.....The casino and Hotel de Paris are a little distance from here, but we couldn't go in to casino (with kids) so did not need HOHO bus..we just wanted to see it, along with the other sites......We followed signs for the palace as we walked up the (many) stairs........the views were spectacular........The path brought us to the Jaques Cousteau Oceanographic museum and across the street was a little tour "train" that took about 30 minutes to drive by all the major sites (including casino) for 7 euros pp. It was great! It ended up back where it started, so we walked up to the Palace from there so that we could see the changing of the guard (every day at 11:55). We walked around a bit and then decided to go back to the Oceanographic museum for the aquarium...but once we got there, the kids decided that they'd rather go back to the ship (!). We walked back down the "rock" (I've heard that there is also an elevator) and went back to the JADE.... In this port, It would have been very easy to come and go from the ship ..we were perfectly happy spending a few hours walking around and then having drinks/ a nice lunch while viewing beautiful Monte Carlo from the ship....
Driver/guide we booked through Rome Connection was again waiting at 8am with his beautiful Mercedes a/c van.....His name was Joe Banana, and he was GREAT! He drove us strait to Pompeii, giving all of the history and showing us Mt Vesuvius along the way. We got there as soon as it opened, so avoided the crowds (recommended). We did not schedule a private tour of Pompeii and were glad...We did rent audio guide (about 7 euros each), but we found it and the map confusing. It was very hot out so we didn't want to commit to a 2-hour tour in the ruins, but there were many english-speaking guides offering their services as you walk in. The cost for them would have been much less than if we had pre-reserved guide (for 100 euros). Pompeii was amazing..but would have been better on a cooler day. Joe Banana then drove us along the beautiful Amalfi coast..He was born and raised there so taught us so much! Glad he was a great driver along the curvy, narrow roads along the steep cliffs overlooking the sea.....SPECTACULAR! We stopped along the way to take in the views and take pictures. Joe Banana then took us to the most wonderful restaurant in Poisatano ....with amazing views and amazing food (and amazing homemade lemoncello). No menu...They just kept bringing wine and food and they were so nice...and it was very reasonable...Ladies room had the best view.....The restaurant was one of the hits of our whole trip! We then went to do some shopping/touring in Posatano ..BEAUTIFUL..beautiful church (?of the Assumption?) down by the sea ..I bought a plate from the restaurant we went to at a local ceramics shop because I loved it so much..., stopped at roadside fruit stands (check out the HUGE lemons!) and then went to Sorrento...SO BEAUTIFUL! No time for Capri (this time).......Joe Banana drove us back to the ship and he gave us some wine!!!!!!! We were so sad to be leaving Italy......It was nice to see Naples as the ship pulled out of port...Great views of Mount Vesuvius where you can really see it's a volcano!
We decided to see Palma on our own...Walking out of the port terminal, there were many taxis and drivers offering tours, but all had small cars so we would have needed 2 cars so we decided against it. We walked outside to wait for the HO-HO (#50) bus, but never saw one in the 20 minutes or so we were there. People we tried to speak to spoke minimal English. There is a bus stop right outside of the port terminal where we caught the #1 bus to downtown (cost was 6.50 euros for all 5 of us). We got off in town and asked people to point us toward cathedral......many streets were surprisingly empty, but we stayed on the busier streets ......some nice shops/cafes on the way...we had yummy gelato...and it eventually led us to the cathedral and palace...SO BEAUTIFUL!!!!!! There was a lot going on down on the waterfront next to the cathedral.....We saw a man playing the Spanish guitar..so beautiful, we bought 2 of his cds. We walked around a bit, but then decided to head back to the port. The #1 bus runs every 15 minutes, so we walked back to where we had gotten off and the bus took us right back to the port terminal. It was easy, and much less expensive then the transfer that the ship was offering!
Another GREAT day with our ROME CONNECTION driver/guide. Her name was Francesca and she was waiting for us as we got off the ship at 8am....She was full of energy and perky and full of information! Francesca had grown up in Rome area (same town as Romulus and Remus), so gave us the history as we drove in her beautiful mercedes van with a/c from the port to the city (over an hour). Francesca was a GREAT driver and was able to park close to all of the attractions because she knew everyone! We stopped to take a great view of the ancient Roman Forum as she explained everything to us. We saw the Colosseum (we paid to get in and our kids LOVED it)..Francesca was able to get us to the front of the lines :)..Among other things, visited Circus Maximus, Trevi fountain and the amazing Pantheon..Francesca planned it so that we'd be visiting the Pantheon at just the right time for the beautiful light to shine in..it was amazing. The city was very hot and crowded (Wednesdays are apparently super busy in Rome) so we saw some other sights briefly (spanish steps, aquaducts, wedding cake building, etc...) Francesca zipped around the city and helped us make the best of our time...She made lunch reservations for us at a little place near the Vatican (so we wouldn't be late) and joined us for lunch (and helped us order). She dropped us with our private guide they had reserved for us at the Vatican and met up with us later.....Unfortunately, we did not have a great experience at the Vatican....our guide was very nice, but unable to cut lines so we spent over 2 hours being herded through museum collection (impressive) to get to the Sistine chapel and St Peters Basillica. The private guide had cost us an extra 150 euros (plus admission to the Vatican..20 euros each) These places are definitely worth seeing...unbelievable...maybe just too much to fit in during one day. We happily got back to Francesca (and her a/c). She drove us back to the ship and gave us a bottle of wine!!!!!!