After a great business class flight on US Air from PHL, we arrived in Rome 3 days prior to the cruise. We reserved a Rome In Limo transfer from the airport to our hotel, The Albergo Del Senato. We reserved other tours with Rome In Limo, so we decided to also use them for our transfer to the hotel in Rome & our transfer to the pier on 9/3/11. We picked up our luggage and left the baggage area to look for our driver with a sign with our name on it. We were happy to see him and he quickly took our luggage and off we went to our hotel. We arrived at the Albergo Del Senato in the morning and we were able to check in quickly. We didn't plan much for this day because we thought we would be so tired from the long flight. Our hotel was right next to the Pantheon and within walking distance to many of the sights. Our room was quiet even though it faced the Piazza area. Unfortunately, the air conditioning was not as cool as we would have liked it to be. We called the desk each day to have the temperature lowered, but it never got cool enough for us. Our room was on the second floor with a view of the Pantheon and we walked up the stairs many times rather than waiting for the elevator. We were surprised that the carpeting on the stairs looked like it hadn't been cleaned in quite some time. The service was excellent at this hotel and they made excellent recommendations & reservations for dinner during our stay. We also enjoyed the rooftop bar and our chats with Joseph, the bartender there. This bar had magnificent views of the city and was a great place to have a pre &/or post dinner drink.
At the Albergo Del Senato, breakfast was included, but we were disappointed in what was offered. We weren't looking for an American breakfast, but we thought that this highly rated and expensive hotel would have offered a small assortment of hot items too. They served pastries, cereal, juice, cold meats/cheese and very watery scrambled eggs that guests were staying away from. Guests had to toast their own bread in the toaster on the buffet table & all items were served buffet style.
The next day, we had a full day tour of the highlights of Rome reserved with Rome In Limo. Maurizio, our driver/guide, picked us up at our hotel right on time. We then picked up another CC family at their hotel and off we went on our tour. Maurizio had a great personality and drove us right up to each site. We visited the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the Forum, the Jewish Ghetto, the Pantheon, etc. We never waited on any lines because our Coliseum tickets were purchased before we left home. Maurizio took us to a wonderful restaurant filled with locals for lunch. After lunch, he took us to his favorite Gelato store. Thanks to Maurizio, it was a terrific day. He shared his knowledge of Rome and we saw many of the sites in a short time.
The next day, we reserved a 3 hour Vatican tour with Rome In Limo. Massimo/our private guide, arrived at our hotel along with 2 other CC couples who were sharing the tour. We took 2 taxis (our cost) to the Vatican and we never waited on any lines because our Vatican tickets were purchased on line before we left home. Massimo was an excellent guide and he seemed to know everyone who worked in the Vatican. His knowledge of the Vatican was unbelievable & he used his iPhone to display pictures of the artwork that he was discussing. His tour was very interesting and he too had a terrific personality. We visited the museums, Sistene Chapel, and St. Peters, and never waited on any lines. Massimo was great at weaving his small group of 6 in and out of the larger tour groups. This was a wonderful tour and we were so glad that we reserved our own guide...Massimo was great!
The next day, Mauro from Rome In Limo transferred us to the pier. Mauro picked us up at our hotel, took our luggage, and then we picked up another CC couple at their hotel to share the transfer. Everything went as planned and we arrived at the pier at 10:30 AM. The porters took our bags and we went inside to board. We boarded at 11:15 AM and went directly to our cabin to drop off our carry on bags and wine that we purchased in Rome. We like to begin our cruise by eating lunch in the Main Dining Room and we were able to do so. We had a nice relaxing lunch and it set the tone for a great cruise!
We booked an Oceanview Guarantee and when we received our cabin assignment we were concerned about the bunk beds in P305 causing an obstruction. This cabin was fine and its location was terrific...we were close to the International Cafe for our morning coffee & the bunk beds never caused any problems. The location of this cabin was also great for this itinerary because we were off the ship 11 out of 12 days.
Our Meet & Greet was held in Skywalkers after dinner on the first night and was well attended. We had a large Cruise Critic group who arranged to share private tours together and it gave us the opportunity to put names to faces. Great friendships began at this Meet & Greet.
DAY #2-MONTE CARLO, MONACO:
We went on a full day tour with Revelation Tours to St. Paul de Vence, Eze, Nice, & Monaco. We shared the tour with 3 other CC couples that we prearranged through our Roll Call. Michel, our driver, was very
knowledgeable about the areas we visited and we were glad to be able to see everything in one day. When we arrived in St. Paul de Vence the shops were closed because it was so early, but I was able to purchase 2 paintings before we left. St. Paul de Vence is gorgeous, with winding stone walkways, and little quaint shops selling art and other items. We were able to visit Chagall's grave in the local cemetery. Next, we drove to Eze and we were dropped off near the top of the hill so we didn't have to walk so far. Eze is a beautiful medieval village with winding pathways, shops, and restaurants. We had a lovely lunch there in an outdoor cafe...very scenic! Next, we drove to Nice and stopped at the famous outdoor flower market. Gorgeous flowers, fresh fruits, & vegetables were sold in the market. After that, we went to Monaco, but we decided to go back to the ship because we were exhausted. It was another great day...loved St. Paul de Vence & Eze.
DAY #3-FLORENCE/PISA/SAN GIMIGNANO (LIVORNO):
Vinny, our driver from Rome In Limo, picked us up in Livorno for our full day tour to Pisa, Florence, San Gimignano, and the Tuscany Region. First, we drove to Pisa in the rain and were able to see the famous leaning tower and take some quick photos. After that, we drove to beautiful Florence. Vinny continued to share his knowledge of the area with us. He stopped at an overlook area of the city of Florence and it was breathtaking. We drove down into the city and he dropped us off and we planned to meet at a specific time. We shopped in the leather shops and walked around this beautiful city. Today was Monday and unfortunately, the museums were closed, but we were able to see the copy of the David statue in the Piazza. Next, we drove to San Gimignano where we had free time to shop and have lunch. Vinny called the restaurant so they would be ready for us when we arrived...another wonderful lunch! I purchased some photographs in San Gimignano of Tuscany by award winning photographer Claudio Calvani...they are beautiful! Vinny also recommended an award winning gelato shop to us. After that, we drove through the Tuscany Region on small two lane roads. The views were unbelievable and Vinny pointed out wineries and shared his knowledge and love of the Tuscany region. This tour was also shared with 3 other CC couples and a great time was had by all.
DAY #4-NAPLES: POMPEII, SORRENTO, AND POSITANO
Giovanni, our driver from Rome In Limo, picked us up and drove us to Pompeii. We hired a private guide there and our tour lasted 2 hours. Our guide was very interesting and she walked us through Pompeii explaining everything. Our group of 8 (Cruise Critic members), were all glad we hired the guide because she made everything so interesting. After Pompeii, we drove to Sorrento, but we stopped at an overlook above Sorrento on a coastal road. Giovanni had us pose for pictures and he was the cameraman. After pictures, Giovanni told us to stay there and he went to the van and came back with champagne and glasses to celebrate. We all toasted our day! We drove into Sorrento and Giovanni played Italian songs in the van and then he took us to a great restaurant for lunch. After that, we had free time to walk around beautiful Sorrento. Then, we met at a prearranged spot for our drive to Positano on the Amalfi Coast. In Positano, we had time to walk around and shop. At the end of this wonderful day, Giovanni gave us a bottle of Limoncello to share. We all decided to have a Limoncello Party at the pool tomorrow (our 1 and only sea day)!
DAY #5-AT SEA
Since this itinerary had 11 port days, everyone was happy to have a sea day. We slept late and got some well-needed rest. We went to the hot tub and had a nice relaxing lunch in the Main Dining Room. In the afternoon, I called room service to get 8 Limoncello glasses delivered for our party. Eight "shooter" glasses were promptly delivered to our cabin. We walked to the pool with a tray of glasses and our bottle of Limoncello. Our CC group was there and everyone had a great time.
We took a private 5 hour tour with Ocean Wave Tours to see the highlights of Santorini. After 7 of us rode up on the cable car, Dimitrius, our driver/guide was waiting for us. He drove us all around and took us to a waterfront restaurant for lunch. We also had free time to walk around in beautiful Santorini. If we visit there again, we would not take a tour...this is a very walkable port.
Mykonos was filled with art galleries and interesting shops...a great place to wander around. We had a Greek lunch in town and walked back to the ship later in the day.
We booked a full day private tour (with 8 CC members) with Private Greece Tours. Our driver picked us up in a van and we visited all the highlights of Athens. We spent the afternoon at the Plaka and everyone ate lunch there. We enjoyed our time wandering around the Plaka area.
We took a taxi from the pier to the beach...about a 5 minute ride. We arranged for the taxi to pick us up in a few hours and we didn't have to pay until we returned to the ship. We felt sure we would get back on board with no problems. We relaxed on the beach and ate Greek appetizers for lunch at an outdoor cafe overlooking the water. A very relaxing day!
We prearranged and shared a 4 hour taxi tour with another CC couple. The tour was with Corfu Taxi Tours and our driver, Cristos, was there to meet us. He drove us all around Corfu, up in the mountains, with stops for photos. We purchased homemade wine from a local stand and tasted some local foods there. Our driver was excellent...he shared his love of Corfu with us and showed us all the highlights.
We walked around beautiful Split and spent much time looking at the beautiful artwork in the shops there. The Cruise Critic port guide recommended a restaurant called Sperun. We had a delicious lunch there and a great house wine. Sperun was about a 15 minute walk from the ship.
We planned to meet 4 CC friends to share a gondola ride. We all agreed that the gondolier had to be wearing a striped shirt (with matching hat) and he must agree to sing during our ride. I was bringing wine, another couple was bringing glasses and ice. We all met and went on our search for the "right" gondolier. We found him and corny as it was...we will always have fond memories of that afternoon in our gondola.
Venice was magical and getting lost was half the fun. Every street corner you turned the views were more beautiful than the last. We tried our best to get away from the San Marco area because the crowds were unbelievable.
We had prepurchased Vaporetto tickets for our stay in Venice & that is how we got around. One day we went to Murano, but we ended up buying a Murano glass vase in Venice because it was cheaper than in Murano.
POST CRUISE STAY IN VENICE
Princess had a package where passengers could pay $39.00 per person to have their bags shipped to their hotel in Venice. Unfortunately, this was not advertised before the cruise. We wish it had been because it would have made our plans easier. We purchased the luggage package from Princess and sent our large bags ahead to our hotel, the Locanda Orseolo.
Getting to the Locanda Orseolo was an adventure in itself. We rolled our carry on bags there using the directions from the hotel. It was a short walk from San Marco and we were glad to be away from the crowds there. When we entered the hotel, Igor greeted us by our first names. The staff came out and introduced themselves and we felt as if we were staying in someone's home. They carried our bags up to our lovely room on the second floor. The room temperature was comfortably cool and we were very happy to be there.
Our breakfast was served each morning in the breakfast room overlooking the canal. A buffet table of meats, cheese, pastries, Italian quiches, and juices were set up each morning. In addition to these items, guests special ordered different kinds of crepes and eggs...everything was delicious!
The shutters were kept open on the windows and we were serenaded with music and songs every morning from the gondolas passing by. Each day we were given great restaurant recommendations for dinner by one of the staff members. We were continuously told that this was our "home"for the next few days. Staying at the Locanda Orseolo was a wonderful experience and if we ever visit Venice again we hope to stay there again.
Since this was such a port intensive cruise, we spent little time on board during the day. The ports were wonderful, but the meals on the Star Princess didn't live up to our 2 previous cruises on this ship. The Portofino Dining Room seemed chaotic and the service was spotty there too. There was a noticeable decline in the quality of the meals served. Since we didn't bring formal wear, we ate at the Crown Grill & Sabatinis on both formal nights. Both of the alternative restaurants were excellent. On the last morning we always look forward to the James Beard French Toast that is served. Our french toast was so cold & hard that it was like a concrete slab. We sent it back and we left the dining room. The headwaiter that greeted guests at the dining room always seemed to be stressed, and many times we felt as if it would be better if we didn't ask for a table.
We didn't attend any shows on this cruise, but we did go to the Platinum/Elite Happy Hours in Skywalkers. The waitstaff during these happy hours was terrific...some sang and played music. We had some great evenings there before dinner.
Excluding the dining room issues and the decline in the quality of the food, the service on the Star was quite good everywhere else. Unfortunately, our on board dining experience in the Portofino Dining Room wasn't anywhere near what our previous experiences had been. Our room steward was terrific...he kept our room clean and we always had ice and everything else we needed.
This cruise was all about visiting some wonderful ports and what we did in those ports was unforgettable. Cruise Critic was a great resource in planning these private tours and the Roll Call was a terrific way to connect with others who wanted to share the tours. Most of the private tours we took were exceptional and the guides made this a trip of a lifetime!