Our group was 6 adults staying in 3 adjacent rooms: me (34 years old), my wife (31), her sister (36), our friend (31), and my in-laws (58, 59). Our two-week vacation to Italy involved this cruise in the early portion of the trip. For convenience, the cruise ship review will appear first, followed by our Italy tour information for those planning to stay there longer that just the cruise trip. The Cruise's ports of call descriptions are separate per the format of this site. We arrived in Rome on Saturday morning (red-eye flight), stayed one day, and headed to the port on Sunday. After the cruise returned to Civitavecchia the following Sunday, we toured Italy until the following Sunday and then returned to the US.
The Navigator of the Seas was a very nice ship. The room (Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Balcony) was nice; plenty of room for the two of us. We were on the Starboard side which I recommend for the best views of the ports of call.
Dining - More
We had the 8:45pm dinner time and it actually worked out fine. I thought going in that it would be a little late, but the alternative earlier time was too early for most of the ports of call return times and we would have had to get back to the ship to get ready for dinner to early. As with any cruise there's gonna be dinner selections you like and don't like. But since you can just ask for something else, none of had a dinner meal we didn't like.
Our dining wait staff were the most professional and entertaining members of the staff we had contact with all week.Languages - Since this ship ports out of Italy but is still an American-owned cruise line, all announcements, etc. are said in English followed by Italian. My wife found it annoying, but I
don't know what else she expected considering half the ship's guests are Italian. I noticed that all the ship staff speak English (to be expected, although some staff still need to work on their English...) and around 40% or so speak Italian as well.
Shows - All the entertainment was good, a few were great, especially the Motown group. Only complaint would be there was no comedian.
Pool/Deck - RCCL claims that there are enough lounge chairs for everyone on board. This is because the put a bunch on the back end of the ship where there is no pool, little direct sun and NO ALCOHOL because this area is a alcohol-free family/teenage area. So, you still have to play the game of saving chairs, etc. Towards the end of the week, the staff was removing items left on chairs after 30 minutes. I get it, but this is a problem if you just want to go in and get lunch and then come back out.
Other - Casino was OK, nothing special, but probably something for everyone. The Ice rink is just too small to really be usable, especially when it's crowded. Works well enough for the ice show, which I could take or leave. Lastly, Johnny Rockets is a waste if you are going there for a milk shake. It's $5 a person to get in, eat pretty much the same quality of burgers and fies you could get from the free buffet and THEN (and this really makes RCCL look cheap) you have to PAY for the milk shake on top of the $5 you paid to get in. That's garbage; you basically paid $11 for a milkshake. Waste.
All-in-all, the ship was fun, clean, and very entertaining. See the ports-of-call details below as in the end, these are really what make the cruise.
Below is the itinerary of our Italy tour. I'm trying to keep it brief and highlight the hotels, companies, and sites that really made the trip fun. All our hotels cost between $150-$200 a night and were either 3 or 4 star hotels. To save space below, I would recommend ALL the hotels we stayed at. If there's something special about a hotel, I'll mention it.
July 30th, 2011 (Sat)
Arrive in Rome at 10:30 A.M. Reserved transportation through Hotel Alexandra where we stayed one night. 5:30-7:30pm Monumental Tours of Rome - Avventure Bellissime: http://www.tours-italy.com/rome-day_tours-rome_day_tours.htm. This company will let you spread this massive tour over 2 days, so we took the evening tour before the cruise and the rest after. Our tour guides were Luca and Francesca and they were AWESOME! Ask for them by name.
July 31st, 2011 (Sun) Pickup at Hotel by Greenline Tours (booked through Viator.com) to get to the Crusie ship - 45-60 minute drive.
August 7th, 2011 (Sun) Disembarked Cruise at 8am. Went on Pompeii, Sorrento and Positano Day Tour through Tredy Tours: http://www.italy-tours.org/s.php/tour-pompeii-sorrento-positano-pompeii-tours-en-141-s.htm. Typically this tour leaves from and returns to Rome, but the company was happy to pick us up in Civitavecchia and return us to Rome. Our tour guide, Rick,
was great and took us to a couple awesome restaurants and really knew the Amalfi Coast area well. This actually worked out well for the first trip after the cruise as you will have 3-4 hour trip south from Civitavecchia to Pompeii to catch up on sleep.
Stayed one night at Dei Consoli Hotel back in Rome (arrived late that night).
August 8th, 2011 (Mon) Checked out of hotel (left the bags for later pickup) and met up with Avventure Bellissime tour (the other two portions of our Rome Grand Tour package). Saw Coliseum, Palentine Hill and Vatican. Again, ask for Luca or Francesca as your guides, they are fantastic.
After the tour, we picked up our rental van for the week at Hertz near the Vatican and return to Dei Consoli Hotel to retrieve bags and head to Florence. There, we checked into Axial and stayed there 2 nights. This hotel is in a PERFECT location in downtown Florence - highly recommended. It's newly renovated as well.
August 9th, 2011 (Tues) Florence all day. We booked two tours with Avventure Bellissime: (1) http://www.tours-italy.com/florence-private_walking_tours-Medici_florence_tours.htm and (2) http://www.tours-italy.com/florence-private_walking_tours-private_florence_italy_walking_tours.htm. We had the same tour guide for both and she was awesome. She is from the area and very knowledgeable of the city's rich history plus she lived in the US for a short time so her English is perfect.
A note on Florence: I cannot recommend this city enough. I as well as our whole group liked it more than Rome and wish we'd had another day or two here. Beautiful city, over 150 museums, strolls through the city streets at midnight and feeling completely safe as half the city residents are out for their nightly walk. Just amazing.
August 10th, 2011 (Wed) Checked out and drove to Venice, stopping in Bolonga for lunch and an hour of self-guided touring on the way. We parked in the massive parking garage at the entrance to Venice, which we pre-paid before leaving the states. Prepaying is recommended as this ensures you a parking spot and makes leaving a breeze. Google "Piazzale Roma" for details. We stayed at the San Marco Hotel for two nights. Small rooms but great location for
the price. All rooms in Venice are small unless you are paying $500+ a night. Also, hotel is kinda hard to find after dark if you're arriving for the first time.
August 11th, 2011 (Thurs) Venice tour. We hired our tour through Venice Guide and Boat. We took the Essential Venice tour: http://www.veniceguideandboat.it/one-day-tours.html#EssentialVenice. I CANNOT recommend this tour and here's way. Our guide was great for the Doge's Palace and San Marco Cathedral but that's where I'd stop. We asked if we could forgo part of the Venice tour (after the Palace and Cathedral) to give us time to go to the island of Burano and she had no problem with this. Here's my issue: this guide likes to take her tourists to her friends' places in Burano and Murano. Not a problem except she is only friends with the most expensive places on each island. In Burano, we asked her to recommend a restaurant for lunch. She took us to her friend's restaurant that costs a minimum $40 USD per
person for lunch. LUNCH! We didn't want to offend anyone and just bit the bullet and ate there. The tour of Murano island wound up being a trip to the most expensive glass shop on the island and that's it. Very disappointing.
I would recommend hiring this company for only the tour(s) they offer within Venice as these were fine. Be sure to make the trip to Burano and Murano island as they are gorgeous. Just use the local transportation boats to go to each island on your own; you don't need a tour guise for these places.
August 12th, 2011 (Fri) Checked out, took the boat back to the parking garage and headed out of town. We drop to Pisa and saw the Leaning Tower. Much better than the last time I visited here. You can go up in the tower now and all the wires and junk are gone. Be aware, if you want to go up in the tower, you need to make reservations (if they take them?) or arrive with at least a few hours to kill before heading up. The tickets are sold for time slots and obviously they limit the number of people in the tower at a time. We got there at 3pm, the next available time was for 6:30. We saw the tower, took pictures and moved on to our destination, Volterra, Italy.
Volterra is the perfect small Tuscan town. We stayed one night at the La Locando Hotel which was probably the best (and ironically the cheapest) hotel room we stayed at all week. From this town, you can day trip to several wineries and other small towns, the coast is 30 minutes away and the views of the surrounding Tuscan valleys from this hill-top town are second to none. Plus there are not that many tourists in town. Most of those around you live there. For a tour guide, find Giulia Munday, she's excellent. If you are there on a Saturday, be sure to visit the open farmer's market on the north end of the city. In a small family-run BBQ truck you will find the best dry-rub ribs and chicken you can find. I was fortunate enough to live there for 3 months in college 11 years ago and it hadn't changed too much in that time. Just perfect.
August 13th, 2011 (Sat) After walking around the town for the morning and afternoon and wishing we had more time there, we headed back to Rome to catch our flight back to the States the next day. We stayed at the Euro Hotel near the Airport. If you just need a room near the airport and don't need to go back into the city, this is a good place. Clean, good size rooms, free parking and 5 minutes from the airport. Less
Navigator of the Seas Cruises to the Eastern Mediterranean
This was our favorite stop of the cruise. We hired a private tour prior to leaving the US. He was AWESOME and his information is below:
Nikos Loukas, the owner, was also our personal guide/driver. His English is near perfect, he's entertaining and completely knowledgeable about the area as he grew up there. He responds quickly via email and book him ASAP as his tours can fill up fast. The URL above should take you directly to his 1-day shore excursion tour plan; if not, find it on his site. He will take your group wherever you want to go, however, we trusted his plan as described online and
wouldn't change a thing. Again, we were a group of 6 adults so his cost was just about even with the cost of RCCL tours, plus, we were not in a group with 20-30 other people. You will be much happier taking a private tour in Athens than anything RCCL offers.
Chania, Crete, Greece
This was a short stop but really nice port of call (although the actual port is pretty industrial and not picturesque). We did the RCCL tour "Taste of Crete - IQ07". The best part of this tour was the winery stop. A family-run place with really good fruit wines and homemade olive oil like no other. Highly recommended. Tour guide here was probably the best of those hired through RCCL.
This was our least favorite port of call. We took the RCCL Tour "Ultimate Ephesus - KD78". I would recommend this tour as the history involved is really interesting. The tour is described in detail on RCCL's site and is accurate. Particularly, the house tours are incredible. The final part of the excursion (as well as just about every excursion at this stop) is the Turkish rug demonstration. This is the worst part of any tour unless you are actually interested in getting a rug. And when the rugs start at $2,000 for a 6x10 foot rug, I'll pass. Yes, the quality is second to none, but like pretty much ALL the other cruisers in the room with our group, we weren't interested in buying. The Turks LOVE to haggle, it's pretty much expected. But, they are relentless and you will have to fight your way out of the store. BTW, RCCL uses the same store/company for all their tours. If you are interested in a rug, at least you can trust the place. Their prices did not seem to be higher than other shops.
After the tour ended, we had 2-3 hrs before having to return to the ship. The shops are at the port, so you pretty much have that whole amount of time. We ate lunch at a local restaurant which was exceptional. All local food is the way to really experience the country.
Messina, Sicily (Italy)
We selected the "Sicilian Nature: Fire & Water - MY28" tour from RCCL. It was purely a nature-driven excursion with a trip to an active volcano, Mt. Etna (which had erupted 3 days prior to our arrival no less) and a trip to a nature center with access to a clear river canyon.
RCCL's description online is good so I won't go on about that. I will say that I probably would recommend the Tourmina and Mt. Etna trip over this one. Don't miss Mt. Etna for sure though. There are very few places in the world to get this close to an active volcano and this is one. The other portion of the trip did show us a beautiful rock formations carved by the local river. BUT, from what I heard back on the boat, the Tourmina portion was outstanding. Should have picked that one. Oh well.
Lastly, be prepared as the trip to Mt. Etna is long and our tour guide was not very entertaining... = sleep.