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Home > Virtual Cruises > Exotic Mediterranean on Azamara Quest
Exotic Mediterranean on Azamara Quest
Day 1: Trip Planning, Arrival in Istanbul
Day 2: Kusadasi/Ephesus
Day 3: At Sea
Day 4: Cairo, Egypt
Day 5: Jerusalem
Day 6: Haifa
Day 7: Limassol, Cyprus
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: Sorrento
Day 10: Debarkation in Rome
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Day 9: Thursday, Sorrento
A visit to Sorrento, our final part of call, felt positively homey and familiar -- especially as we'd spent the first part of the trip calling in exotic destinations in very foreign countries. It's true that I've never been to the small town up on the cliffs of the Amalfi coast, and I certainly don't speak any Italian (other than "pizza" and "gelato"), but after a couple of Western Mediterranean cruises, I'm used to the look of the beautiful Italian coastline.

I also had an inkling as to what I'd find in town -- lavish cathedrals, plenty of shopping, and a gelato store on every corner. I couldn't wait!

Sorrento was the only tender port on our trip, and though I've heard stories of calls getting canceled due to rough seas, the water was like glass, and our tender easily zipped to shore. The tender pier is located at the Marina Piccola (literally, little marina), but it's the perfect transit center for explorations ashore. Just steps from the pier, you'll find the ticket center for ferry trips to the Isle of Capri and other nearby destinations, such as Naples and Positano. Orange buses (buy tickets at the tobaconnist) line up to shuttle passengers to the train station in town, where you can easily travel to Pompeii or Naples. The blue buses (buy the one-euro tickets from the driver) shuttle passengers to Sorrento's main square, Piazza Tasso. Stairs also climb up the cliffs into town -- but, of course, it's much less tiring to take these back down than to climb up. The Marina Piccola also offers the requisite cafes and souvenir shops.

Most cruise travelers use Sorrento as a jumping-off point to destinations like Naples, Pompeii and Capri. Having called in Naples on a previous cruise, we took the advice of many of the ship's staff and opted for a leisurely day in Sorrento proper. We divided our day in half -- leisurely sightseeing in the morning and shopping in the afternoon.

Sorrento is a small town, so seeing the attractions is a pretty laid-back affair. The Duomo (Cathedral) of San Filippo and San Giacomo has beautiful marble columns and Renaissance artwork on the ceiling. Sorrento is known for its inlaid woodwork, and the cathedral has intricately designed wooden depictions of the Stations of the Cross. (How cool that we'd just been to the locations of those scenes!) We paused to admire the outdoor frescoes of the Sedile Dominova, a 15th-century gathering place, on our way to the 11th-century Basilica di Sant'Antonino. The Basilica was less impressively decorated than the Duomo, but downstairs, you can see walls of ex-votos -- votive offerings to the saints that come in the shapes of people and body parts. (The shapes of the ex-votos correspond to the miracle or healing one is seeking.)

A modern-day Italian wedding was taking place at the Church of San Francesco, but we peeked into the 14th-century cloister courtyard while the bridal party was still taking photos outside. With its gorgeous trees, fauna and Arab-style archways, it was the perfect setting for a wedding (ironic, too, since it was formerly home to nuns). The nearby Villa Comunale gardens is a pleasant setting for resting weary feet and getting panoramic views of the Bay of Naples. We easily spotted our ship, anchored off the coast, as well as it sister, Azamara Journey, also in town for the day.

Our last sightseeing stop was the Museo Correale di Terranova, an 18th-century villa-turned-museum on the other side of town. On our way back across Piazza Tasso and down the road, we came across a lemon grove with a pathway leading to a little open-air store, where we tried limoncello (a lemon liqueur, local to this part of Italy) and gawked at the enormous lemons, which were the size of grapefruits. The museum contains the private collections of the Count of Terranova and his brother, so the eclectic displays include intricately decorated wood furniture, old cameras, clocks, china dishes, Roman ruins and pages from an Italian herbarium. Afterwards, don't miss a stroll through the gardens, which are shady and pleasant and lead to a terrace with another great view of cliffs, sea and sky.

Stomachs grumbling, we headed back to Piazza Tasso for lunch. We'd gotten a few restaurant recommendations and chose Don Vincenzo, an outdoor cafe that looks out on the plaza. We knew it was the right choice when a few minutes later, it began to fill up with crew from the ship, including the spa and fitness staff and the cruise director herself. (As repeat visitors to most ports, cruise ship crew often know the best spots in town.) The Naples area is the place in Italy for pizza, and I was not disappointed with the vegetable one I chose. The thin crust had a fabulous grilled flavor, and a pile of veggies was hidden under a very generous heaping of melted cheese. In Italy, pizzas tend to be individual-sized -- that is, if you're a huge man with a very healthy appetite -- so consider splitting a pizza, perhaps with a salad, if you're dining with a friend.

Time to shop! Sorrento's Via San Cesareo is a narrow pedestrian street, lined with shops that sell everything from jewelry to leather goods, limoncello and lemon products, ceramics and T-shirts. Here's a tip: Many stores carry quite similar merchandise, so take your time and compare prices before purchasing. Another tip: In the limoncello stores, the owners let us taste lemon-flavored chocolates and cookies, so stop in even if you don't intend to buy. We were able to convince the leather sellers to knock a few euros off the price of our purchases, though full-scale bazaar-style haggling is not the norm here.

And, of course, when in Italy, gelato is a must. If you've never tried it, gelato is a creamier version of ice cream that comes in fruit, chocolate and nutty flavors. Although you can find gelato on practically every block, I led Rachel on a hunt through Sorrento's warren of streets to find Davide gelato, recommended in both of my guidebooks as having the best selection of flavors. My two-scoop cone of caramel and Ferrero Rocher-flavored gelato (you know, the Italian chocolate candies that come in the gold foil) was the sweetest ending to the last port stop on our cruise.

We took the steps back to the tender port (making sure we got on the correct Azamara ship!), and got onboard in time to quickly pack up our belongings before our early dinner reservation with three of our new cruise friends at Prime C. Definitely make your specialty restaurant reservations early in the trip -- we were lucky that we got to dine at Prime C twice, but some people waited until the last minute and never ate there at all. On our cruise, the alternate dining venues were definitely busier on the last days of the trip than they were at the beginning.

We had a perfect view of Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey sailing away together from Sorrento (both headed to Civitavecchia, the port of Rome) from our table by the window. Prime C was, again, ridiculously delicious, and Ahmet was still the epitome of the perfect server -- he explained the menu to our buddy Zvi (who had not eaten in Prime C previously), laughed at our jokes and commended our menu choices -- even when we ordered three chocolate fondues, two plates of donuts and a creme brulee for the table. Our friend Chuck and I asked for a vegetarian entree (there are none listed on the menu), and Ahmet very quickly offered to procure some gnocchi from Aqualina next door (the two restaurants share a kitchen) and have the chef whip us up some pasta with vegetables.

Dining again at Prime C at the end of the cruise meant that we benefited from everyone's prior experience dining there. I convinced everyone to order the fabulous mushroom soup; on the hotel director's recommendation, Zvi ordered the enormous steak; Chuck recommended the spinach side, so we all ordered a plate of the creamy vegetable; and Heather, Chuck's wife, had learned from another passenger that the ultimate dessert was dipping the donuts into the caramel sauce that comes with it and then into the chocolate fondue -- and it was definitely the most delicious (and probably sinful) dessert we concocted from all the menu choices.

My only disappointment: I loved the mushroom soup so much that I requested the recipe, and when it was brought to me (for 25 servings), I noticed that half the instructions were how to make chicken stock. I had asked during my first visit to Prime C if the soup contained meat or chicken stock and was told no. So much for the soup being vegetarian -- if you're very strict, you may actually want to sit down with the ship's chef at the beginning of your cruise to make sure switcheroos of that kind don't befall you.

And then, before we knew it, we were putting our luggage outside our door and preparing for our very last night onboard Azamara Quest, sad that our tour of the exotic Mediterranean was quickly coming to an end. Tomorrow, we disembark in Rome.

Image of the Duomo of San Filippo and San Giacomo appears courtesy of Rachel Greenblatt. Image of Davide gelato shop appears courtesy of Erica Silverstein.
Day 8: At Sea red arrow Day 10: Debarkation in Rome

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