Our cruise plans were made far in advance, but how could one fly to Rome without seeing the sights? One glance at hotel prices in Rome encouraged me to rent an apartment for a couple weeks. We settled into an apartment in Trastevere just a block from the pedestrian bridge Ponte Sisto south of the Vatican. Fortuitously, we stayed just around the corner from an English language bookstore whose Irish proprietor was most helpful, "Can I tell you how to get anywhere?" A tempting artisanal bakery lured us at the end of our one block long Vicolo de' Renzi.
Thank goodness our adult son accompanied us, as he was a much better traveling companion than his father. After a few days we bought a weekly bus pass.
Highlights: Sistine Chapel, Galleria Borghese and Villa Borghese, Piazza Navona, Campo de Fiori, Parco Giacolense, and the Pantheon (for all 3 of us); Capitoline Museums, Fontana di Trevi, Piazza del Popolo, Villa Farnesina, Forum and Palatine HIll, Largo Argentina, baroque Il Gesu, Via Giulia, Castel Sant'Angelo and St.Peter's (for son and me); the Sunday flea market at Porta Potese plus scooters and motorcycles (for son and father); Etruscan Museum and the enchanting Santa Maria de Trastevere (for me).
Small electric bus #116 was our favorite, traversing narrow cobblestoned streets. Cobblestones is Papa's new curseword.
I got pastaed out, but liked pepe e cacchio, chestnuts, panne cotta, and the bread. Got to sample truffles (liked the expensive white ones best) and limoncello. Guys ate quite a bit of pizza. Cooked breakfast with good Italian eggs in the apartment.
Finally, tram#8 to the Trastevere Station to catch the airport train (son) and the cruiseport train (the 'rents). After a miserably rainy morning in Rome, we reached sunny Civitavecchia.
Boarded relatively early. No problem (husband disagrees). Economy interior cabin on deck 9 unexpectedly comfortable. Plenty of room to stash belongings, outstanding bathroom fixtures and lighting. Just enough room to do yoga in the morning. Cabin attendant Miriam of St. Kitts unfailingly pleasant and helpful.
Although some more experienced cruisers complained about running out of food items, we were always satisfied. Lots of fresh fruit. Usually ate breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer; some breakfasts and lunches in the dining rooms.
We'd selected anytime dining. Jeffrey the maitre d' always seated us well, usually at a table for two, but occasionally joining other diners. The first night some patrons were exasperated at having to wait to be seated, but it was no problem for us after that. I gorged on seafood, which my husband doesn't like. He ate more desserts, but only gained one pound. As excessively early risers, we usually snacked at the Cafe Promenade before the fitness center opened at 6 a.m. The coffee was bitter European for most American tastes. Would we were offered Folger's!
We relished the winds and waves, although the 2 main swimming pools were often drained and some decks occasionally closed due to the weather--up to 14 foot seas.
I thoroughly enjoyed activities with the dance instructor, the origami instructor, the entertaining and informative lecturer Cathy Eck, and Captain Nielsen's talk.
We made calls at Palma de Mallorca; Cartagena, Spain; Funchal de Madeira, Portugal; Santa Maria de Las Palmas, Canary Islands; Nassau, Bahamas. Papa was delighted to find El Corte Ingles in Mallorca, familiar from Madrid, following directions from a friendly tourist info gal. I bought so much chocolate in the department store's basement supermarket that I had to host a chocolate tasting party near Valentine's Day.
Cartagena with its marble streets was wonderful. Papa sitting solo at a sidewalk table indulging in Spanish hot chocolate and burros, was soon joined by a bevy of curious tourists. In the afternoon I was moved by the Museum of the Resistance(Spanish Civil War) and got great views of the bull ring, roman arena, harbor and town, from the top of that mount where the castle is located.
We loved the market in Madeira, but my husband claimed I made a bank guard nervous by taking photos of the tiled scenes on the building's exterior. The distinct difference in ambiance from the Spanish stops struck both of us. After tasting the madeira, my husband proceeded to buy a bottle.
Having seen the alfombra produced by Canary Island artists using multicolored volcanic sand in San Antonio, Texas, where Islanders settled in 1716, it was interesting to note how strikingly apparent the volcanic origins of the islands were. We were too early to dine in a flower bedecked house, but enjoyed some gelato up the block. Had fun looking at crafts and interacting with vendors.
Nassau was a bit hectic. We'd planned a sailing and snorkeling tour in the morning, but it was delayed until the afternoon. The cruise rep offered a full refund or a 25% discount for those who still wanted to take the tour. I'd visited Nassau about twenty years ago, but now they had traffic jams! I'd
known the straw market had burned down, but not that the vendors were now crowded into small tents hugging the harbor. We did enjoy some music and a little shopping. The sail and snorkel was a total bust for my husband and he was not alone. However, cheers for Royal Caribbean for giving him and, unexpectedly, me a complete refund.
The maps of the ports provided on board were helpful. There was however, some confusion about where the tour groups were to meet, as well as sometimes inadequate guidance about routes into the towns. We also had to figure out for ourselves how to reach our assigned rooms on board. Deboarding was long and late. It would have been helpful to know approximately how long it would take to go through customs.
The distribution of passports by lining up alphabetically was made less tedious by chatting with other passengers, but surely could have been handled more expeditiously.
Finally, My husband liked the experience well enough to book a transatlantic cruise from New Orleans to Barcelona in April.