First, it was my wife (45), son (16) and my nephew (17) who is buds with my sonn and I (46). All of us in pretty good health; we are on the adventorous side. Wife and I have been on about five cruises but none in the past seven years
KIDS VS NO KIDS: We brought our son but not our 7 year old daughter. we ;made the right decision in our opinion.... it would not have worked considering our temperaments and our dear daughters, regardless of the kids care. She had a blast staying with an assortment of family and friends...and going to amusement parks.
CELL PHONES: We purchased two internations cell phones..... When you have a group more than four you definately want to be able to communicate when on shore. We used the "national geographic international cell phones".... they were at best OK... two key ports.... Athens and Venice they weren't able to send calls all day.... all other places they worked.... It's good to have.
On ship INTERNET ACCESS: Still a ways away from working well... unless you go around 2 am at night and want to wait another 20 plus minutes to get access...you aren't going to like it. This service just isn't yet really functioning well... fYI
PRE AND POST VACATIONS ARE A MUST: Extra day night in Rome; extra two nights in Venice:You definately want to spend extra time...if I had to choose one over the other I would go Venice.. although personally both is the way to go.
PRIVATE NON-CRUISE TOURS ARE A MUST: We actually only did one... Naples/Capr ... but it was just great... a great contrast to our other days... (we used the recommend tour (Pleasant Travel)
DON'T OVER DO IT: There is so much to do on these Mediterranean Cruises... so, so cool... just understand that if you are doing an 11 port trip like this don't over book each day.
IF NON-FAMILY TEEN IS COMING... Make sure you follow the guidelines for doing such. Our cruise trip company said "don't worry about the signed documents" they rarely check... well they did! Very closely! Be sure to read up on this.
RUBY PRINCESS WAS FANTASTIC: Granted we haven't been on another cruise line since around 2003, everything about the Ruby Princess was just great. Food was great! (yes we had lobster and steak and all other great meals). Service was great! The ship was great, great ship. OK Let's begin:
Rome/Venice/Barcelonia CRUISE ITINERARIES:
After carefully looking at all the choices we went with the Rome to Venice. Glad we did. (Note: there are no Barcelonia embarkment Cruises that included Rome and Venice. Personally, you want Venice at the end... it was so fun to look forward to Venice and to us Rome is not an "end of cruise" type distination.... by the end of this cruise Rome would have been too much for us.
FLIGHTS: We did a direct Flight from Newark Airport to Rome's International Airport. We tried to do the train, but the lady there talked us out of it... She said it was the same price to for her taxi guys to drive us there and much easier. I didn't fight so we did it. All worked nicely. We flew the Venice to Frankfurt Germany, then to Newark. It was the cheapest for us at the time.
GET TICKETS: before you go for certain key things: Vatican, Colosseum, stuff like that.... go to the websites of the specific site and away you go!
CLIFF JUMPING!? Black beach in Santorini and a bar/restaurant paradise called La Grotta Beach Bar in Carfu Greece
(I wrote Port Reviews on most of the islands... however they only gave me six! I must speak about Venice!
VENICE: You must spend at least two days in Venice. We went around July 4th it is was just tremendous. IT was very warm, but the streets are so narrow that there is a fair amount of shade. Read below about disembarkment!
Compass? Get lost is a fun thing in Venice-- apparently GPS's don't work... a good large sized map and a compass did the trick! The compass is very useful in giving a general direction... it worked great for me. However I was quite surprise to see no one doing the same... hmm.
Favorite Restaurant in Venice: My wife found such a winner! It is the restaurant just below the Hotel Al Gazzettino in San Marco.... It is nothing too much too look at but when you come in meet the owners and try their food.... it is amazing. Here is our suggestion: tell them to treat you to their recommended meal... it was such a delight... cannot describe.
WARNING! Disembarkment in Venice... Wow.. it was quite a mess. Here is the scoop... somewhat different than what the Cruise seems to communicate. When you get off the boat hoping to get a water taxi to take you to the approximate hotel destination.. look out! It is just a total mess. Ticket booths that make no sense.. .long lines everywhere...hot, hot in mid day... luggage.. yuck. There are many costly ways to excape this.. I suggest this... Apparently you can get off the boat first thing if you leave very, very early.. .if so do it! If you wait for the normal disembarkment times and you hope to get on a water bus... you are in for a chaotic, long wait. Naturally you can do the taxis that cost a lot but even that is choatic. Try to get off early!
Let me try to explain why this is the only way to go. First, you are picked up right off the boat. Not only did we have a Mariano who was in a three piece suit! We had the driver also! In a great, great vehicle. Such luxory! There is no comparison to going on a silly cruise ship tour. Virtually same price ..if not cheaper... so you got to go with this.
These Pleasant Travel team know how to do a trip! Since their vehicles are small, compared to a bus, they travel up through the mountains... it is just amazing. There are small towns they take you to that you cannot get to by a commercial bus...These small towns up in the mountains are quiet, gorgeous, historical, picturesque... we can only hope to go back. Naturally during this private tour Mariano was giving us the full history and stories of everywhere we want.... He would leave us a lone at each town for perhaps 30 minutes so we could walk around....all the time keeping a careful eye on us. The tours are also flexible.... he asked what we wanted to do for lunch.... he suggested visiting an Italian, real life farm for lunch. It was just great... a very different feel than the normal tourist stuff. Half way through the day, our nephew wanted to go see Pompei...no problem...they dropped us off ...and we met them a few hours later.... Pompei was good and interesting... I am not sure I would say it is a "must see"...the neatest thing about Pompei where the recovered ash/bodies....
Please, Please do at least one guided tour on the cruise. Naturally I am biased and feel we got the best one... there were things that we never would have seen if it wasn't for this great tour of the Amalfi Coast
You don't want to miss this place. It is a Beach Bar built into the "cliffs" which is cool enough. However it has its own little blue "Lagoon" paradise-- Greak style! Naturally pictures don't do justice but here is one http://www.corfuvillarododafni.com/foto-corfu/La%20Grotta%20(Paleokastritsa).jpg The two teenagers and I has such fun! Cliff jumping, swimming, music, diving board, exploring.... This place was just amazing. Easily the highlight of our day!
Oh. I forgot. We rented a vehicle. We drove all around but by then we had already seen countless Greek islands on our tour...so what can we say? The Beach Bar just too, too cool.
Ok back to Florence and Pisa. I didn't plan anything because we had a big day ahead of us on the follwoing day. My son wasn't impressed so he said "we are going to Florence".... so we jumped on the train and went to Florence with our Cruise ship Map in hand. I would say this day was the worst day of our trip because we planned nothing ...and nothing worked. Ugh. The train ..had no AC so it was hot and felt long! We wandered around...saw the amazing church there.... I loved that..however due to Rome, the other three had zero interest in building and churches... we wandered around but not one was happy. They wanted to find an "open air market"... well they never found it. We got a taxi and jumped back on the train. To salvage the trip I said "let's try to hit Pisa. They reluctantly agreed.
Then it was my turn to mess up. There are hardly ANY taxis in Pisa. You can't walk from the train station to the tower. I didn't want to wait the long taxi line so I thought "let's do like we did in Rome...we will pick up a taxi as we walk..." Big mistake. There were zero. I couldn't believe it. After walking around we gave up and hoped back on the train and went home.... NEVER seeing the tower. It pays to plan!
I was really torn whether or not to have booked a tour on this day. The reviews of Ephesus speak for themselves... having said this keep in mind that we had a full day just prior with Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast..... It is all about what you can handle. For two teenage boys and my wife, I made the decision to lay low....which was likely right for them. Would I have preferred to go on another private tour? You bet.
This cruise is about pacing yourself..... so be very careful about how many excursions you do.... On this day, the wife and the boys crashed till about noon. We then went in out into the town and bought the majority of our gifts and souvenirs. Turkey is a great place to buy things... we had no problems spending our money!!
ONE KEY, KEY THING; We made the MISTAKE of going to the MAC machine to get some money... since we where in all the previous ports we thought nothing of it... we assumed Euros!! Oops! Not so! We got stuck with a lot of money from Turkey... and if you don't use the money in Turkey you will be kind of stuck.... Don't make the mistake we that did and assume Euros....
Taxi from airport to Hotel: at that time the price for the taxi was same price as train... Economic times may have been hard with the slow economy in 2010. In hind site it is the way to go... we were in no mood for problems on a train/subway after the long flight. Just do the cab thing.
We crashed at the hotel and then struck out around 3 pm. Asked the hotel lady of a local place to eat lunch where locals go... she told us of a place.... a little bar type restaurant...it was just perfect!
We did the Double Bus thing to get us around for a bit... we where still tired. That worked for us...took us to key sites and allowed us to soak it all in.
Trevi Fountain in the Evening! Trevi was one of my all time favorites of the who trip... however going in the night made it just amazing. Can't describe it...just go at night if you can.
Collosium: Great. My son definately wanted to see it. We didn't get to go inside because of the lines...wish we did. We walked around it and some of the ruins but wish we had gone inside.... we also tried to return at night... to see it lit up.... subway station was shut down! ugh.
Pantheon: Really, really cool building.
Vatican/Cistean: naturally is a must. whatever you do get tickets on line! You don't want to wait in those hedious lines! It was a great time. By placing this early in the AM it worked nicely to get us to Civitiveccia to Embark the Cruise later that day.
In hind site: Rome is naturally a tremendous place. If you haven't been there certainly go. Be aware though, that if you are going to Venice and Florence they have similaritiest or Rome. Venice is now my #2 city...second only to Paris!
Santorini.... what a great, great day. First the donkey ride up the cliffs was just something that you must do. Even my conservative wife did it and she was glad she did. The boys and I couldn't stop laughing. I was shooting the video camera on the descent up. YOu don't want to miss this.
Naturally walking through the towns are just tremendous too. But that has been said many times before. Oia was great too..we did that near the end of the day.
Another thing that was just great. We took a bus to Black beach. There along the far side are these cliffs that they native kids jump. So naturally I and the two boys went over to check it out. We had such fun! The cliffs are not that tough to jump.... there were 12 year old girls jumping! They were scared but they did it!
Santorini is a place you do not want to miss.