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Home > Member Reviews > bkh's Port Reviews of Barcelona, Villefranche, Florence (Livorno), Capri, Dubrovnik, Venice

bkh's Port Reviews of Barcelona, Villefranche, Florence (Livorno), Capri, Dubrovnik, Venice
Celebrity Solstice cruise in August 2011
Member Name: bkh
Cruise Date: August 2011
Embarkation: Barcelona
Destination: Western Mediterranean
Member Review: bkh's Celebrity Solstice Review
Barcelona
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
Barcelona is a large, bustling city with a wealth of interesting sites--especially for anyone interested in architecture. The creations of Gaudi are fascinating. However, the lines at the La Sagrada Familia are incredible. There are ATM-type machines around the city and websites where you can purchase tickets in advance. Do it! Otherwise, expect a 2-hour wait.

The hop-on/hop-off Turistic Bus is an excellent means of touring the entire city and gaining access to all of the major points of interest. The northern edge of the city (lEixample) is especially lovely and the views from Montjuic are marvelous. All Americans, of course, will want to take a look at the statue of Christopher Columbus pointing West (at the end of La Rambla). This is supposedly the spot where Ferdinand and Isabella greeted Columbus on his return from the New World.

As for La Rambla, unless you enjoy hordes of people and never-ending souvenir shops (not to mention pickpockets), take a quick look and then avoid it like the plague! Spend you time in the Gothic Quarter, Barcelonetta, and the quieter lEixample. We stayed at the Hotel Universal pre-cruise and the Best Western Hotel Dante post-cruise. The Universal is on a busy street and convenient to La Rambla, the port, the Gothic Quarter and Barcelonetta. The Dante is on a quiet street in a more residential area of LEixample with good access to the La Sagrada Familia and the other architectural sites. Both were very nice accommodations at reasonable prices.



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Villefranche
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
Villefranche is a lovely hillside town that often gets overlooked as passengers head for other areas of the Riviera. The 16th Century Citadel features interesting sculptures and beautiful gardens well worth a visit. There are charming shops, churches and restaurants as well.

We had booked an afternoon tour to Eze, La Turbie, Monte Carlo, and Nice with several other Cruise Critic members. We had been to Eze and Nice before, but were looking forward to the other two stops. However, I would definitely NOT recommend the company we used. The company is ShoreTrips out of Glendale, Wisconsin (ShoreTrips.com). First of all, our guide was basically non-communicative. He occasionally pointed out something of interest, but, more often, you had to ask about what you were passing. His answers were then things like, "I don't know" or "It's probably..." Then, to make matters worse, the tour was not at all as advertised. We had a printed copy of the on-line description and our vouchers which promised time to tour Eze village, a stop in La Turbie at the Roman monument, a stop in Monte Carlo at the Golden Square with the option of visiting the casino, exploration of the old town including the Princess Grace memorial, the palace, and the cathedral, followed by a drive around the Grand Prix circuit. Then on to the Roman area of Nice. However, we were given 45 minutes to climb to the top of Eze village, then hustled off to the perfume factory for a sales pitch. We whizzed through La Turbie without so much as slowing down (the guide did point out the monument in the distance). We were then told that we would not be stopping in the Golden Square, only driving through, and there would be no opportunity to visit the casino. At this point, we began to object, and the driver did stop for 15 minutes! We then drove on to Old Town, quickly passing the palace and stopping at the Cathedral for about 30 minutes. The Princess Grace memorial was never mentioned. On the way, the driver did say that "the Grand Prix comes along here." So much for "driving the Grand Prix!" Then the biggest shock of all--we were returned to Villefranche. No stop in Nice at all! When shown the description from the website, the driver said he had no idea why it promised these things and it was not his fault. Upon returning home, I checked the ShoreTrips website to find that the online description has been changed to exclude Nice and the Roman Monument stop. It does, however, still include an option to visit the casino, the Princess Grace Memorial, and the Grand Prix circuit and still includes a visit to La Turbie. Based on our experience, this will not happen!


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Florence (Livorno)
Port Rating: 5+ out of 5+
The port of Livorno gives access to Florence and the area of Tuscany. Since we had visited Florence previously, we chose to book a tour with four other Cruise Critic members to San Gimignano and the Chianti region of Tuscany. Our guide was Marco Stivoli (toursintuscany.com). We had used Marco four years ago when we visited Florence and Pisa. He is the ultimate professional--well-informed, flexible, and friendly. San Gimignano is a lovely, well-preserved village with a wonderful 12th century Duomo and several of the 72 towers which once dominated the city. There are wonderful squares, cobblestone streets, shops and cafes.

The drive through Tuscany was stunning--vineyards, olive groves, fields of sunflowers, and lovely rolling hills dotted with ruins and restored villas. The highlight of the tour was a stop at the Monterinaldi Winery for a private tour, wine tasting and lunch. The "light lunch" (three courses plus antipasti!) was served in the dining room of a gorgeous villa. Homemade pasta, lovely wines, relaxed atmosphere--what more could you ask for?! Marco stopped all along the way for photo opps and included a second village that was not even on our itinerary. If you want to see Tuscany, book with toursintuscany.com!



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Capri
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
When the ship docks in Naples, passengers have a choice of seeing the Amalfi Coast or the island of Capri. Since we had driven the Amalfi Coast, we chose Capri. It is an easy port to visit on your own. The walk from the ship to the ferry stop is quite long, but there is a shuttle. The ferry is approximately 45 minutes and docks in the Marina Grande. From this busy port, you can easily book a boat tour around the island, which offers stunning views of the coastline and a close-up look at the magnificent yachts anchored all around the island. There are stops at the Green Grotto, the White Grotto, and the famous Blue Grotto. At the Blue Grotto, passengers hop into a small rowboat, lie flat, and slip through a small opening into a cavern of beautiful turquoise water. As we marveled at the beauty of the cavern, one of the rowers was singing an aria that echoed magnificently off the stone walls.

After our cruise, we boarded the Funicular up to Capri Town. Wonderful views and interesting people-watching. Very upscale shops, no cars, lots of sidewalk cafes. If time allows, you can also visit Anacapri and the Marina Piccola.



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Dubrovnik
Port Rating: 3.0 out of 5+
While Dubrovnik is in a beautiful setting on the Adriatic Sea, it can be a very crowded, hot port in August, and there appears to be no effort at crowd control. In order to visit this walled city, visitors enter and exit via the Pile Gate, which becomes dangerously packed with people pushing and shoving their way through. Visitors should be aware that "walking the wall" involves not just going up a flight of stairs to access the wall and then walking until you come down. There are constant flights of stairs up and down and once you get on the wall, there are only a couple of opportunities to exit. There are several squares along the way that offer refreshments and one small cafe near the end that has air conditioning. The views from the wall are stunning, but I would suggest visiting in the Fall or Spring. Passengers who took excursions into the countryside reported having a much nicer day.



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Venice
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
Of course Venice is a fabulous port. Take either the ship's water shuttle or a vaporetta into the city. Other than perhaps a walking tour of the city, there is really no need for a planned excursion. Buy a day pass for the vaporetti, hop on and off at will and explore the narrow streets on your own. There are wonderful churches, including, of course, the magnificent Basilica di San Marco. Be prepared for long lines to enter the basilica, but it is well worth seeing. I would recommend visiting veniceforvisitors.com for great information on do-it-yourself walking tours, dining, etc. A walk all around the Dorsoduro area is a great way to get away from the crowds and see more of "the real Venice." Also, consider walking around the Rialto area across the Grand Canal from the major tourist attractions. Be aware that Venice is very expensive (even the public restrooms are 1,50 euros!) We had dinner at Vino Vino in the San Marco area. The food was quite good; however, we were a bit shocked to be charged 2 euros for butter and 2 euros per person just to sit at a table! We did the gondola ride at night (130 euros for 4 people). It is, of course, a must even if it is a tourist trap! Much better at night. Remember that, in Venice, you WILL get lost. It's OK. Just keep heading toward the Grand Canal and asking passers-by. Use the Piazza San Marco as your orientation point.



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Kotor
Port Rating: 5+ out of 5+
Kotor is, in mu opinion, one of the most beautiful ports in Europe. The mountains and water are stunning. We booked a sailing adventure in the Bay of Kotor with two other couples on the Monty B (www.montenegro4sail.com). The young couple who live on the Monty B are the ultimate hosts. The sail is scenic, relaxing and informative with stops along the way for swimming in the crystal clear water. The boat is comfortable for six guests, and the hosts are constantly serving refreshments and attending to any needs of their guests. In addition, they are taking pictures all along the way, and, at the end of the cruise, each couple is given a CD of the pictures as a keepsake.

Once we returned to the village of Kotor, we still had a bit of time to explore this ancient walled city. Nice shops and sidewalk cafes--everything was very inexpensive. If you are a hearty type, there is the opportunity to climb the 1300 steps up to the fortress!

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Rome (Civitavecchia)
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
The port for Rome is Civitavecchia. Since we had spent several days in Rome previously, we booked an excursion with three other Cruise Critic members to Orvieto and Civitabagnoreggio with Luciano Gulizia of Aurocar. You should be aware that the port of Civitavecchia is not close to anything! Rome or most any other destination will be 1-2 hours away. The journey to Orvieto was about 90 minutes. This lovely Etruscan city contains one of the most beautiful duomos we have seen. However, our visit was supposed to include "an hour long tour of the underground city with it's winding tunnels and Etruscan artifacts." This was never even mentioned by our guide, and, to be honest, we didn't even think to ask until we had left the city. Then, when we did ask, he said he wasn't aware that we were to do that and didn't think to mention it.

From Orvieto, we traveled to Civitabegnoreggio for lunch in a small local trattoria, which, though hot, was quite good. Then we drove out to the access point for the old Civitabagnoreggio. It is only accessible by a very long uphill footbridge, and considering that the temperature was in the 90's, no one in our group chose to venture out.

We then had a stop at Custodi Winery for a tasting and tour. Lovely setting with a great view of Civitabegnoreggio.

Since we had skipped walking out to the old town in Civitabegnoreggio, our guide decided to take us to Tuscania. However, the cathedral was closed, so we returned to the ship.

We enjoyed Orvietto and the winery, but, overall, I would not recommend this tour. Too much driving, not enough checking ahead by the guide, and a lack of communication between the company and the guide as to what was to be included.

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