3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2019
My husband and I decided to take a 10 day Caribbean cruise for our 20 year anniversary. From the moment we stepped on the Crown Princess it was magical. All the guest are treated like VIPs with some of the best service I have ever ... Read More
My husband and I decided to take a 10 day Caribbean cruise for our 20 year anniversary. From the moment we stepped on the Crown Princess it was magical. All the guest are treated like VIPs with some of the best service I have ever experienced. Fernando and Sergi in the Michelangelo dinning room were the best Waite staff I have ever had. They were knowledgeable about the courses, made recommendations and in general gave us a perfect time. Jasmine in the Crooners Lounge is a “Joy, joy, happy, happy” very funny and attentive. I really enjoyed my time with her. We loved the chance to visit multiple ports and see other cultures and cuisines. All of the ports we visited had wonderful friendly people who genuinely liked having visitors. Truly a memorable cruise. The only problem we had is trying to figure out when we can take another cruise. Princess has hooked us for life! Read Less
Sail Date: January 2019
We chose this ship for ports or call and length of trip. We loved all the tucked away areas on the ship. The Sanctuary was quiet and enjoyable, we booked it for three half days. The restaurants were fantastic and the service provided by ... Read More
We chose this ship for ports or call and length of trip. We loved all the tucked away areas on the ship. The Sanctuary was quiet and enjoyable, we booked it for three half days. The restaurants were fantastic and the service provided by Antonio and Anthony was five star. We never visited any specialty restaurant because the food in the main dinning room was so delicious. Behind the fitness center is a free unisex sauna and steam room that can be used free of charge. The TRX classes lead by Dan were outstanding. We enjoyed the outside jogging track on 18 as long as people walking didn't get in the way. The shows were very good and we enjoyed all of them. The ports of call were our favorite. We went to Pirates Cove in Barbados, The Marriott in St. Kitts and in St. Lucia we did the "Joy Tour Excursion". They took us to the mud baths, waterfalls and finished up with a delicious local meal. Our tour guys Captain Phil, Nano and Jonathan were polite, informative and fun. Our least favorite excursion was in Antigua. We visited Church Valley Beach which was disappointing because the bar service and food were horrible and way overpriced. The steep slope to enter and exit the water was challenging for the ederly. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2019
Love to cruise in winter to the Caribbean.Weather was great,actually a little on the cool side.Ship has had a recent upgrade to a few areas and was apparent.Could use a few more chairs in the atrium area.Store personel were very nice and ... Read More
Love to cruise in winter to the Caribbean.Weather was great,actually a little on the cool side.Ship has had a recent upgrade to a few areas and was apparent.Could use a few more chairs in the atrium area.Store personel were very nice and helpful,and not pushy.Main dinning room food was very good.Specialty dinning was 50/50.Crown grill was great but Sabbatinis was fair to poor.Menu lousy,service strained despite few dinners.Ventriliquist was very funny,and other shows were good.One strange thing I thought was no Ragae band on a caribbean sailing.Big mistake in my opinion.They had one guy playing a steel drum.Ships service was excellent ,somebody had a talking to I believe.Visited all ports but just walked around.Took no tours but they are the best way to experience the Islands.Safety must be a concern and it's dangerous to go off on your own.Have been a long time Princess cruiser and this cruise was one of the better ones. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2019
My husband and I won this cruise at our Jack casino in Cincinnati, Ohio. This was the first time we cruised with Princess cruise line. We have enjoyed over 25 cruises over the last 25 years with Carnival, Royal Carribbean, Norwegian, ... Read More
My husband and I won this cruise at our Jack casino in Cincinnati, Ohio. This was the first time we cruised with Princess cruise line. We have enjoyed over 25 cruises over the last 25 years with Carnival, Royal Carribbean, Norwegian, Holland America and Celebrity. We flew into FLL airport day of the cruise and took a taxi to cruise terminal. The Princess Cruise line is extremely organized and we moved thru the embarkment process very quickly with employees stationed throughout telling us what to do and how to get aboard ship. We arrived around 1130 at the terminal and were aboard ship by 1pm. We ate at main dining room every night except for formal nights. Check the formal dress code before going to make sure you have the right clothing packed. Entertainment was fantastic, cruise director and his staff were great as well. The were all kinds of activities planned daily. Service both forcabin, di ing room and bar service was phenomenal. Disembarkation was well organized, painless and option to have Princess transfer our luggage to airport and check it for us was a pleasant surprise. We are in our early 60s and noticed most of the passengers appeared to be in their 70s on this cruise. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2019
This was my first experience of long haul flight and cruise, usually we (my wife and daughter) embark Southampton. Following 20 hours traveling including 1 hour to exit Miami airpo rt we were met by a Princess representative to ... Read More
This was my first experience of long haul flight and cruise, usually we (my wife and daughter) embark Southampton. Following 20 hours traveling including 1 hour to exit Miami airpo rt we were met by a Princess representative to facilitate transfer to The Shula hotel for our overnight accommodation. Unfortunately this was an extremely shambolic affair with my family and our fellow travellers left hanging around for another 20 minutes while suitable transport could be found. The following morning more chaos ensued with Princess reps not calling people to their shuttles and we had to keep a check ourselves, embarkation at Fort Lauderdale was very slow. Once onboard we visited our stateroom, a mini suite on Dolphin deck, which was prepared for only two guests, the steward would not even try to facilitate a third chair for the balcony instead suggesting one of us could use the foot stool (not the service we come to expect from Princess). We had chosen 2nd seating set dining, and found both the food of a high quality and the waiting staff excellent.The food in the Horizon Court Buffet was plentiful with a great variety, the only caveat to that was that the desserts appeared pretty samey each day. As usual, burgers good and pizzas made in front of you. The entertainment was OK the highlights being both the comedians. We chose to explore the islands visited (Aruba, Curacao, Grenada, Dominica, St Thomas & Grand Turk) by ourselves and unlike other Princess cruises around the med, found a distinct lack of help from the staff to access shuttles, instead having to access local taxis.It felt that if you preferred to explore independently rather than take a Princess excursion they simply left you to it. For a great rum experience try the Ruins rum bar in Dominica (next to the museum) A most fabulous experience, however, was walking from the ship in Grand Turk, onto a Palm lined beach 5 minutes away and snorkelling in what felt like an exotic fish aquarium. We found that 99.9% of staff were extremely helpful and courteous with the exception of the Fine Art team who did not live up to expectations. Disembarkation was as usual a seamless affair with bags ready and good shuttle link to Miami airport. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2019
Absolutely wonderful 10 day cruise in Jan toSouthern Caribbean Medley on Princess Crown. The Crown is a beautiful classically decorated ship with Serene and elegant decor. Easy to get around. From food to excursions to weather....awesome. ... Read More
Absolutely wonderful 10 day cruise in Jan toSouthern Caribbean Medley on Princess Crown. The Crown is a beautiful classically decorated ship with Serene and elegant decor. Easy to get around. From food to excursions to weather....awesome. We were on Caribe deck 10 room 219 and had an extra large balcony. Excellent service from steward. We did 5:15 traditional dining in Davinci. Samrun was the head waiter. Pancakes in dining room in am excellent. Buffet provided plentiful variety. Pizza was great! We spent two afternoons in the Sanctuary which was very pleasant. However you must go immediately to the Sanctuary to reserve upon embarkation as it sells out and options were not our first choice. Plan ahead know your schedule for the week when you arrive to make your reservation. We were offered citrus or cucumber water, tea, sandwiches, pastries, and desserts in the Sanctuary. The Entertainment and activities plentiful. Only blemish was princess tour in Curaco called Made in Curaco which varied from advertised itinerary and took us to a market in an area that is being turned around. Overall this was very minor. The items for sale were really a donation and of little value. We took a spice island tour in Granada by Mandoo Seales which was excellent. He is a local and really gives a insiders view of the island. In Aruba we selected a tour by Vacations to Go for tour of Aruba Aloe with our guide Gary. Dominica Princess cocoa plantation tour with our guide Sharika was great, even if the road was not for the faint of heart. Sharika was funny and spoke excellent English. The information on how chocolate was made was exceptional information. Ample samples given at end of tour complete with a cooking demo. If it was raining I would not want to be on this road. The January weather was perfect. Mid 80’s no rain, beautiful sunshine. Wonderful vacation. There were four in our party and I would actually repeat this trip in a few years. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2019
We took the redeye flight from Seattle so we were very tired when we arrived in FLL. We had to wait for 5 more hours in the airport before the Princess bus arrived. The embarkation went smoothly and fast. We chose to take the stairs ... Read More
We took the redeye flight from Seattle so we were very tired when we arrived in FLL. We had to wait for 5 more hours in the airport before the Princess bus arrived. The embarkation went smoothly and fast. We chose to take the stairs to our room and avoid the elevator congestion. We left our belongings in the room and went right to the buffet and enjoyed a restful lunch. The Crown Princess is an older ship and the interior colors need to be updated but overall she is beautiful, comfortable and in good shape. We love the dining room menu with all the seafood options for dinner. The Horizon Court buffet has lots of food options for all meals and they are very accommodating. I especially enjoy the different "Chocolate Journey" pastry and dessert items everyday. The Princess production shows are very good and loved the comedians. We chose this 20 day cruise because of all the different islands that we had never visited before. We especially enjoyed the river tubing in Dominica and relaxing on the beach at Princess Cays. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2018
Its vacation made better! The opputunites that arise are not some you would see often so its like the saying goes. Travel while You can as your money will always return! Its about the expierence and what it does for you. This how ever was ... Read More
Its vacation made better! The opputunites that arise are not some you would see often so its like the saying goes. Travel while You can as your money will always return! Its about the expierence and what it does for you. This how ever was my third cruise and again!! Some how! it was made even better then the first two but they were still amazing experiences and thats simply because princess strides for nothing but the best! My first ever cruise was this year as well so it just shows how life changing it can be or has been for Me anyways. The photos speak for them selves. It just goes to show any princess cruise is well worth every penny as no one else can provide such an unforgettable time! (Dolphins,Stingrays,Sea lions,) with nice calm relaxing travelling to the Caribbeans Islands and so much more! I thank you once again princess cruises! You are the Top Cruise Line in my books! Its something i will be able to share and remember for the rest of my Life. But that also means i will be back! N thats what counts the most! Providing such a great time that everyone want ones to keep coming back, heck id live on one of the ships if it was possible! In good Time I will be back! Last but not least I Highly recommend princess cruises if you never have before! Read Less
Sail Date: December 2018
Dec. 17 -27, 2018 in mid-ship interior cabin C403. We have cruised with Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity and Holland America. This is our third Princess Cruise. Advantages: quick and easy embarkation at 11:30 am, great ... Read More
Dec. 17 -27, 2018 in mid-ship interior cabin C403. We have cruised with Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity and Holland America. This is our third Princess Cruise. Advantages: quick and easy embarkation at 11:30 am, great value, hot shower, very comfy beds, refrigerator, quiet room, good selection of movies on the TV and outside for movies under the stars. The thermostat was easy to work and the air conditioning got chilly. Wi-fi is faster in the internet room than in the cabin. We ate most meals in the buffet. Buffet and dining room were both good; on certain nights the buffet featured foods from Germany, England, Asia, Italy, etc. We signed up for anytime dining and ate in the dining room at 5 or 6 pm on the formal nights. We did not have to wait for a table. The food was tasty and the service was prompt. The almond croissants in the coffee shop were great. The band in the wheelhouse bar was good and played songs for the ballroom dancers among us. Disadvantages: we wake up at 6 am to see the sunrise but the gym opens at 7 am; not enough gluten free items in buffet, no fresh berries at breakfast. During the nightly shows, the comedian was good but during the song and dance shows, the sound was too loud; if only one person sang, the sound was OK. On Christmas Eve, they had caroling in the atrium which was touching, a turkey dinner was available, and the holiday show was the best of the shows, while on Christmas they served eggnog and Santa visited to distribute presents to the kids. The weather was pleasant and we wore shorts the entire time. We should have taken a tour in Domenica as downtown was a long walk from the pier. The spice tour in Grenada was worthwhile. We took a tour of Bonaire from a local company; it covered the entire island and was informative but a little too long. In Curacao we walked to the Catholic Cathedral but could not believe it was closed on Christmas Eve. We roll our own luggage off so disembarkation was quick and easy. We will be taking a transatlantic cruise on Princess in April. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2018
Crown Princess Cruise 12/7/18 This 10 day cruise on the Crown Princess went extremely well with a few minor problems that were addressed by Customer Service Manager, Franchesca Guerrina. Embarkation went really smooth. We were able ... Read More
Crown Princess Cruise 12/7/18 This 10 day cruise on the Crown Princess went extremely well with a few minor problems that were addressed by Customer Service Manager, Franchesca Guerrina. Embarkation went really smooth. We were able to board as soon as we arrived at the port around 11 AM. The main dining room was not opened as yet so we had a nice lunch at the International Cafe. We still had coffee cards from our previous Princess Cruise so we were able to get our favorite drinks at the coffee bar served by Francis. The Blackforest and the Banoffi Blast are our favorites. When ever anyone sees us drinking them they always say where did you get that and what is it called. After lunch we were able to go to our cabin where we met our cabin steward, Antonio Jr. F.D. Ampoon. We saw Antonio at least twice a day during our 10 day cruise. We were able to get all of our special requests from Antonio. He was a pleasure to deal with. Fortunately his working hours were later than other ships (8-2) so we able to sleep late every day. Unfortunately almost everyday the Captain woke us every day on the intercom with his daily announcements. The first of which was we were not going to be able to go to Princess Cay because the winds were too strong. We had been there before so we really did not mind and enjoyed another sea day and also received some on board credit for missing that stop. Our cabin had a large screen TV with a sleep control. We only wish they had more movie choices on the TV like the Regal and the Royal have. I had trouble sleeping at night and not having more choices to view made my sleepless nights boring. Having more choices and the pause function is way superior. There was plenty of room in the cabin for storage, however, I would recommend an over the door shoe bag for the bathroom to store your bathroom items. Air conditioning worked well and having extra blankets and bathrobes helped to avoid getting chilled. The mattress and bedding was excellent. My husband and I led the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet Party in Sky Walkers Lounge. We were grateful that 4 of the officers arranged their schedule so they could attend our party. We had a very good turnout. We were fortunate to be greeted by our Cruise Director, Kevin, who spoke to our group and made everyone feel welcome. He answered many questions our members had and when I reminded the group that this was supposed to be a party to have fun and not a gripe session any griping ceased. Following the party about half the members joined us in the casino for a Slot Pull. We really enjoyed it and we all won some money as well as some bonus prizes the casino hosts gave us as a thank you gift. I did not know it when I set up the party but half the casino is non smoking and the other half is for smokers. Had I knew this in advance I would have set it up in the non smoking section. The Cruise Directors entertainment team aboard the ship was excellent. They always had many activities daily. Their staff was excellent. Very easy to understand them. Our favorite was Song from South Korea. She would be an excellent candidate to be a cruise director. Lorenz, from South Africa, had a habit of shaking up the bottles of champagne before presenting them to the winners of whatever contest was being played. He thought it was funny but it is dangerous to shake a bottle of champagne. Bottles could explode and hurt someone. The shows in the theater were enjoyable especially the comedians. We did not realize until mid cruise that handicapped cruisers can sit in the front of the theater by entering thru the front/side door of the theater on deck 6. We had been seeing the shows in the last row of deck 7 which did not work very well because the seats are too low and the railing in front of the seats blocks your view. The shows in Explorers Lounge were enjoyable especially the “Marriage Game”. Each night upon leaving the Explorers Lounge between 7-9PM we noticed a fowl odor in the walkway near the Lounge. Food on the cruise was excellent. The Chateaubriand was the best steak I ever tasted. The lobster was also excellent. The waiters did a fine job and Dante, the Maitre'd, was so caring. Since I had an allergy he made sure I saw the menu for the next night and placed my order so I would be assured I would not have a problem with my diet. Since we are Elite cruisers we are entitled to have free laundry service during the cruise. They did an excellent job. If they do damage something during the cleaning process just let the front desk know and they will resolve the problem. Our favorite port is St. Kitts. My favorite shop to buy my tropical clothes is called Treasures of St. Kitts. Very nice people and very good value. This was about our 4 th visit to this store and the owner greeted us upon entering the shop. Could not believe she found my sipper cup I had left there a year ago on our last visit and she cleaned it and saved it for me. Amazing!!!! Debarkation took longer than we anticipated. We had a rather long wait for wheelchair assistance. Evidently they could use more wheelchair pushers. I believe we were the next to last passengers leaving the ship. This made finding our luggage pretty easy. However, all the porters had left the area. Fortunately they were able to page someone to help us. Definitely recommend this cruise and would do it again Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2018
My Princess cruise was great. We wanted a first class cruise and we got it. I love how they spoiled me. I could do all I wanted or nothing. I chose to do everything. We started our day with a great breakfast at the buffet. They had ... Read More
My Princess cruise was great. We wanted a first class cruise and we got it. I love how they spoiled me. I could do all I wanted or nothing. I chose to do everything. We started our day with a great breakfast at the buffet. They had plenty of good food and fresh fruit and melons. The day kept getting better. On sea days I did a lot of onboard activities as well as going out to the pool. The Strawberry Margaritas were gigantic out at the pool. I went into the the buffet for lunch, also. They had two buffets so they were never overcrowded. The food and desserts were a "problem" later on in the cruse. The "problem" was they were so good it was hard to cut back on eating. There were many port days and the ports were all interesting , but different types. Each island had its own personality. Another nice touch is before I boarded the ship Princess had clean wet washcloths that they handed out with tongs to use on your face to cool down. We went to afternoon tea a few times. They served that in one of the dining rooms with all sorts of little desserts. I thought it was such a class act. We chose anytime dining for dinner. They had that in two of three different dining rooms. We went to different dining rooms sometimes, but always always chose a large shared table. We met very nice people from all over the world. That was a learning experience. The food was always really good, but the dining room service was a little slow. We had been on the Crown before when the dining room service was a little better. After dinner we went to great shows in the Princess theater. We continued the evening with dancing or a game show in one of the lounges, then on to the buffet for a late night snack. Then a little late night drink in Crooners lounge to listen to music before going to bed. We had a great time on the cruise and made several new friends!! Read Less
Sail Date: December 2018
This was our first Crown Princess Cruise. Our friends cruise with Princess on a regular basis and referred this ship. We we couldn’t have been more pleased with everything from checking in to disembarking. Every person that we came in ... Read More
This was our first Crown Princess Cruise. Our friends cruise with Princess on a regular basis and referred this ship. We we couldn’t have been more pleased with everything from checking in to disembarking. Every person that we came in contact with was more than helpful. Our room steward, Igor...Bartenders, Bruce, Viktor, William and Dragana. Every employee we passed in the hallway were smiling and friendly. There was so much entertainment on this ship and we loved it all! Just to name a few, Movies under the stars, the voice, ice carvings, fruit and Vegetable carvings. The buffet was excellent as well as all the other restaurants. We have cruised with other cruise lines and found this one to be far better. I thought there were very few children on this ship, however, when I stopped up on the sports deck 17, I saw the youth center & kids area! Very nice! We look forward to another trip soon on the Princess. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2018
From start to Finish, the cruise was wonderful. Embarkation and disembarkation went smoothly. The ship decor was what to be expected from a princess cruise line, the christmas decoration were festive. Entertainment shows were excellent! ... Read More
From start to Finish, the cruise was wonderful. Embarkation and disembarkation went smoothly. The ship decor was what to be expected from a princess cruise line, the christmas decoration were festive. Entertainment shows were excellent! Make sure to go to the Magic show. the best show to see. the guess singers were excellent too. Didnt need to go any specialty restaurants. The food overall was good to very good compare to all the other reviews about the ships food. But I'd stay away from the Salty Dog Gill, I wasn't impress by the food there. The International Cafe is great to catch a quick bite and its free!! The premium balcony has the largest balcony in the balcony room catagories, half covered/half not. Wonderful to sit and enjoy morning breakfast and the blue blue ocean. Staterooms now have large 32" TVs and the most comfortable beds! Overall a very enjoyable relaxing cruise. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2018
We chose it for the itinerary, price, and wanted to try something new. Loved Princess !!! Flew in same day and were transported by Princess transfer to the ship. Embarkation was quick and easy and they are organized. We had balloons ... Read More
We chose it for the itinerary, price, and wanted to try something new. Loved Princess !!! Flew in same day and were transported by Princess transfer to the ship. Embarkation was quick and easy and they are organized. We had balloons and a cute sign on our cabin door as we were both celebrating our 60th birthdays this cruise. The Guest Safety Assembly (Muster Drill) is mandatory, and scheduled shortly after embarkation, we met in one of the dining rooms, fast and done. Then Sail~Away...loved being on deck for that, sailing by Ft Lauderdale beach as it appeared and disappeared before us. The Sail~away Party was fun, then a fantastic sunset. Meanwhile, many things are going on inside the ship... from EFFY store, shopping at the Caribbean Cove, Piazza entertainment, spa raffles, music in Club Fusion, Wheelhouse Bar, and Crooners, photo gallery meet, trivia in Explorers Lounge Movies Under the Stars, Bingo...the list is almost endless what goes on at once. You really need to look over (the Princess Patter, delivered to your stateroom every evening) the evening before and check off what you want to do so you don't miss something you look forward to. We had a great itinerary, loved all the ports of call... Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Dominica, St Thomas, and Princess Cays, Bahamas. We were lucky with great weather, even light misty rain early morning in Bonaire didn't deter us from going out and enjoying the port areas. We had two fun filled Sea days to begin the cruise. Found alot to do after we looked over the Patter the evenings before and checked off what we didnt want to miss out on. We had our first time cruisers welcome meet and that was fun with raffles and information. 1st seaday enjoyed The Crown Grill (Specialty restaurant... extra cost) had a special (free) lunch that day so we went to that had had the fish/chips special. It was called the Brit Pub Lunch event. Later, at 3pm we enjoyed the daily Princess event of the "Afternoon Tea", and it was really a special time. Met some nice people there to visit with. 4pm: Casino time.. won some quarters from the 'sweeping quarter machine'...don't think you will get them all to drop just because they are hanging on the edge...lol. Again many things going on all day. 7pm Comedy Show with Eric Lyden was hilarious. In the Piazza, Festivals of the World was nice to watch. 2nd seaday they had some $10 sales set up in a dining room that had some great stuff, got a shawl to match my formal dress, the color matched exactly. Later, enjoyed the Captains Welcome Aboard Party & Champagne Waterfall event, and later "Encore" a musical in the Princess Theater. Every day/evening, I went out to capture the sunrise and sunset in photos and video. First port of call: Aruba !!! We always had Bfast in the Horizon cafe or the dining room before leaving the ship for the port days. Aruba, was the most gorgeous place ever. Beautiful and colorful. Stayed in the port areas, and had a long day there from 8 am - 7 pm...so amazing, walked all over the place and found a few beaches (Surfside beach) to relax at before we were off on more explorations. Don't miss a photo op by the "I >> a lady positioned her lounge chair right in front of people nearby us so she could get the sun directly on her (obstructing their beach view), and there was a close call when the blind crippled man came by again as he nearly toppled right over on top her. Please, just some simple manners people !!! Event that night was "DISCO...Blame it on the Boogie"...very entertaining in the Princess Theater. There was a Yes/No Gameshow we missed tht people said was funny. We had to go have dinner sometime...lol. Have to prioritize the hours, cant do it all, no matter how hard you try. Later, up to the Movies Under the Stars on deck 15 for the football game on the huge deck TV, snuggled under red plaid blankets with popcorn/beer (and my coffee card special coffee treat)...Purchased this prior to sailing...its a card good for 15 specialty coffees (and or treats) from several locations on the ship. Fantastic experience we enjoyed several times for movies too. Day 6 Fourth port of call: Dominica !!! 7am-3:30pm. Arrived at a shipping dock, because the ship is too large for the regular port. Nothing much to see there, but walked around a little there. A local man with a sign (Gordon) caught our attention offering a half price ($25.pp) excursion to see waterfalls, sulphur pits, a stop at the Water Bar way up in the mountains, and beautiful mountainous scenery. He had roped in 3 other couples with the same offer, so aboard we all piled into his air conditioned van. The waterfalls were a distance away, but the sulphur pits were bubbling right under our feet on the viewing planks. He also brought us to the Water Bar where a very strong concoction served from a gallon jug, and an array of exotic fruits and spices were sampled by all. The bar owner had a cat who sat on top of the housed water spout roof and everyone loved her. Beautiful views He also brought us to a beautiful park with many beautiful flowers and trees, He explained them all to us. Back on the ship later that evening was the Love Boat Deck Party, where we danced like kids. After icing my feet and ankles we decided to skip supper in the dining room and grabbed some food at the Horizon cafe and took it to our cabin. Vacation is hard work. Day 7 Fifth port of call: St Thomas !!! We walked around Havensight Port, found a Crocs Shop and got a pair of elastic strap Crocs...heaven for my feet. Stopped by the P{ortside Bar for banana daqueris and beer. Texted my daughter as it was her Birthday (in the USVI so can text for free)... Later that evening enjoyed The Magic Show also saw Bobby Brooks Wilson (son of Jackie Wilson, singer) He was fabulous...he stayed on a few days and took our tender boat with us to the Princess Cays a day later...exciting) Next day finally a Sea~day !!! Day 8 Seaday!!! (By this day, I was taking Diurex pills a few days already...lol every time I'm in the tropics, i swell up....very helpful for those who think they might need that) The evening was Formal dress night too. Enjoyed the ship activities.Bobby Brooks Wilson performed again with Erik Bryan. Very good. Marriage Match game show, saw part of that. After dinner, we had the Balloon Drop Party in the Piazza. So much fun, took pictures of each other on the stairways since we were all dressed up. Also we had many photos taken when on the ship, going off the ship at ports, and embarkation, but didnt purchase them. We took our own and they are almost as nice, I think. We went to the photo gallery to look at them all though. Still in our formal dress strolling on deck, enjoying the balmy Caribbean breeze, we found the ping pong table on the sport deck and had a few games with no one else around. You never know when you will find something unexpected to do.My new jade shawl/scarf ($10 sale on the ship), took off in one of those breezes and landed in a corner of the ship, fortunately, not out to sea. Good memories. Day 9 port of call: Princess Cays !!! Princess's private island of beauty and fun. We finally relaxed the whole day there. Good BBQ, walked around, took photos. Watched fish and snorkelers at the pier. Fantastic. Back on ship headed for the International Cafe for lunch and had 3 desserts...(starting to feel like we aren't going to beon the ship for long anymore...lol). Last dinner that evening and said almost tearful good-byes to our waiters we saw the last 10 evenings...John Paul, Pete. Hugs. Day 10 Disembarkation day. Went fast and we were off to 2 more days in Ft Lauderdale extended vacation time. I could go on and on about all the things we did, or could have done, on the ship and off the ship. We usually do excursions off the ship on our cruises we have gone on. This cruise, excursions weren't a priority, we just wanted to relax for a couple weeks away from wintry Minnesota before Christmas rush. Totally enjoyed this cruise, it was mainly an adult (mostly elderly) oriented cruise, only 4 children aboard. The ship was 75% filled at sailaway. We will go on another Princess cruise Read Less
Sail Date: November 2018
Enjoyed the differences among the islands, from the deserts in Aruba and Bonaire to the lush greenery in Grenada and Dominica. Snorkeling excursions in Aruba, St. John and Dominica were great. Always like spending time at Princess Cay, ... Read More
Enjoyed the differences among the islands, from the deserts in Aruba and Bonaire to the lush greenery in Grenada and Dominica. Snorkeling excursions in Aruba, St. John and Dominica were great. Always like spending time at Princess Cay, too. Dinner at Sabatini's was amazing! Dining room food for dinner was always very good. Loved the International cafe or Horizon Court for a quick breakfast. The pub lunch was also very good. The ship's crew was excellent, very friendly and helpful everywhere on the ship. Embarkation and debarkation were very well organized. The choice of daily activities was plentiful and the entertainment at night was very good. The cruise director, Angela, and her staff (especially Song) were great! The Crown is a beautiful ship, well maintained and layer out so that it never feels crowded even with 3000+ passengers. There was seldom a long wait for elevators and always seats available for shows. All shore excursions were booked through Princess and we enjoyed them all. The debarkation excursion in Fort Lauderdale to Las Olas Blvd and the Intercoastal Waterway was very good. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2018
It is soooo rare to have quality entertainment on a cruise ship. We were so impressed with Princess for having the entertainer/singer/comedian Steve Moris on board. A great entertainer!! Thanks to Princess and Steve who made our cruise ... Read More
It is soooo rare to have quality entertainment on a cruise ship. We were so impressed with Princess for having the entertainer/singer/comedian Steve Moris on board. A great entertainer!! Thanks to Princess and Steve who made our cruise way above average!! We are elite status on princess. A requirement for the next cruise we book will be that Steve Moris is on board!! The other parts of the cruise were fine but Steve put it over the top. We ate at the Buffet and we ate at the main dining room and we ate at a specialty restaurant. All of them were decent. The specialty restaurant we ate at was the Italian one and the service and food was delicious. The cabin was as expected and kept clean and the cabin steward was friendly and did a good job We loved the parts we visited and had very good weather most of the time We do not do shore excursions we do things on her own like taking the bus to where we need to go or Rent-A-Car or get a cab. We saw some great things !! Read Less
Sail Date: November 2018
We received a great last minute rate offer and found we could both arrange to go. The service was outstanding. The waitstaff in all the venues was wonderful. In the Horizon Court Buffet after helping ourselves to our meal we never ... Read More
We received a great last minute rate offer and found we could both arrange to go. The service was outstanding. The waitstaff in all the venues was wonderful. In the Horizon Court Buffet after helping ourselves to our meal we never waited more than a minute or two before being offered a beverage, our used dishes were whisked away quickly. I saw many instances of staff helping those using a cane or wheelchair make their plates and take them to a table. There were plenty of choices including options for vegetarian, gluten free, sugar free, etc. The International Cafe staff was very attentive. Drinks and snacks were offered with a smile, quickly and politely, the area was clean and cheerful. We used anytime dining and each evening the waitstaff catered to our ever wish. Lastly, our room steward (Mark) flawlessly maintained our room and provided little extras as we requested, he was cheerful and it seemed always on duty. Best steward service ever! Our balcony cabin on Carbe deck was everything we needed with a good sized balcony. Nice and quiet, and the new beds were great. Embarkation and disembarkation were a breeze. I highly recommend the program that delivers your baggage to your home airport. I liked the live music, the violin duet and classical guitarist were very musical and entertaining. The house band (especially the horn section) really “made” the shows. (The sound balance in some of the venues needs some attention but I’m especially sensitive to that due to my profession.) I wish they had a caricature artist on board. I’d do this cruise again. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2018
This was my 18th cruise. Never had a favorite (they’ve all been fun) until now. The beautiful unspoiled Atlantic Ocean is a sight to behold. 3 sea days from Barcelona to the Azores and 6 more to Ft. Lauderdale. Nowhere else can you ... Read More
This was my 18th cruise. Never had a favorite (they’ve all been fun) until now. The beautiful unspoiled Atlantic Ocean is a sight to behold. 3 sea days from Barcelona to the Azores and 6 more to Ft. Lauderdale. Nowhere else can you see the world so unspoiled. Venus was so bright it reflected off the ocean. We traveled with another couple and took advantage of many dining options. We opted for anytime dining and were happy except for a few minor quibbles with the food. I always prefer Horizon Court for breakfast but my wife likes the dining room for breakfast so we ate their a couple times. Wait staff was in good cheer as usual. My wife and I celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary at the Crown Grill for a memorable occasion. Crown Princess and crew were a delight. Entertainment was typical high energy Princess product. We traveled to Italy a few days early via Princess EzAir. Great airfare! Venice was fabulous as expected. View from St. Mark’s bell Tower was epic. Trip from Venice Airport to the vicinity of our hotel (Canal Grande) via water taxi was a unique treat. Train to Rome was a smooth comfy ride and ended too soon! A couple days in Rome at Albergo del Senato (wonderful location) for a little shopping and sightseeing and we were ready to sail. Such fun! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2018
This review includes information on our November 3, 2018, Mediterranean Passage transatlantic cruise on the Crown Princess. We combined this cruise with a 5-night precruise stay in Rome, with side trips to Ostia Antica and Orvieto. ... Read More
This review includes information on our November 3, 2018, Mediterranean Passage transatlantic cruise on the Crown Princess. We combined this cruise with a 5-night precruise stay in Rome, with side trips to Ostia Antica and Orvieto. CRUISE ITINERARY: MEDITERRANEAN PASSAGE (14 DAYS) Civitavecchia, Italy; Genoa, Italy (canceled); Livorno, Italy (added); Toulon, France (canceled); Barcelona, Spain; Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal; Port Everglades, FL; One reason we booked this cruise was that it featured two new ports for us: Genoa and Toulon. However, 11 days before sailing, Princess informed us that they had been “advised by the port authority of port congestion in Genoa” and we would no longer be calling there. This was a major disappointment for us as we had planned to go from Genoa to Milan and view Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” Also, the morning we were to call in Toulon, the Captain canceled that port due to high winds that made attempting to dock unsafe. Alas, port changes are a risk of cruise travel. Our reviews of previous port calls in Civitavecchia, Barcelona and Ponta Delgada can be found here: Civitavecchia: www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=105512 Barcelona: www.independenttraveler.com/trip-reviews/diy-highlights-of-spain-and-portugal-barcelona-madrid-segovia-toledo-porto Ponta Delgada: www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=515984 ABOUT US John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our late sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I would not need to acquire any flags. We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. We have cruised to or toured all seven continents, primarily in the Americas and Europe. On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, towers, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up for a good view. We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, with over 650 days cruising on Princess. We have also sailed with Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Viking River and Commodore. ABOUT THE REVIEW Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, food etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including web links to tourist information sites and maps. In general, we prefer DIY port tours, private tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members or shared public tours. However, we will take a Princess tour when the logistics or cost make that a better option. Tour operator contact information is included in each port review. SUGGESTED RESOURCES Rome and Mediterranean Cruise Ports “Mediterranean Cruise Ports,” by Rick Steves (available on travelstore.ricksteves.com or www.amazon.com) “Toms Port Guides,” by Tom Sheridan (www.tomsportguides.com) “Rome for Visitors” (europeforvisitors.com/rome/) “Rome Toolkit” (www.rometoolkit.com) Although there are myriad sources available that provide insight into the history, art and architecture of Rome, John and I found the following particularly helpful in preparing for our precruise stay: “Rome Guidebook,” by Rick Steves (available on travelstore.ricksteves.com or www.amazon.com) “Europe 101,” by Rick Steves (available on travelstore.ricksteves.com or www.amazon.com) “Rome: Engineering an Empire" (www.imdb.com/title/tt0465589/?ref_=nm_flmg_slf_20) “Art & Architecture Rome,” by Brigitte Hintzen-Bohlen (available on www.amazon.com) “Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling,” by Ross King (available on www.amazon.com) “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (www.imdb.com/title/tt0058886/), staring Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison Those who are not familiar with the dining experience in Italy and/or do not speak much Italian may find the information on the following web sites helpful. Budget Travel: Italy Menu Decoder (btsrv.budgettravel.com/bt-srv/misc/0812_ItalyDecoder/italy_menu_decoder.pdf) Restaurants in Italy: Complete Guide to Etiquette, Ordering, and Tipping (www.fodors.com/news/story_3483.html) Italian Language Lessons: Going Out for Dinner (www.slowtrav.com/italy/language/lessons/restaurants.htm) REVIEW OF THE CRUISE SUN, 10/28/18 IN ROUTE TO ROME, ITALY (FCO) We chose to fly from Raleigh-Durham (RDU) to Rome (FCO) via Toronto (YYZ) on Air Canada, so that we could sleep more on the longer second leg to Europe. To ensure a more comfortable flight on that leg, we paid an additional $100 pp for Preferred seats above Princess' EZAir price ($288.19 pp). Our previous experience flying Air Canda to Budapest was not the best. John had to spend hours on hold trying to submit our Global Entry and frequent flyer numbers and to confirm that our passport numbers were correct. Also, we were never informed about changes in our flight itinerary; we only discovered changes when checking the Air Canada website. [Note: Those changes caused our flight to Toronto to arrive after our flight to Budapest left! We were able to change to other flights but were left with a seven-hour layover in Toronto.] This time we received notifications regarding changes to our original air itinerary but could not view our flight details on the Air Canada website. We originally had nearly seven hours in Toronto before the flight to Rome. We decided to purchase a pass for the Plaza Premium Lounge (www.plazapremiumlounge.com) through LoungeBuddy (www.loungebuddy.com). Our plan was to relax and snack in the lounge so that we could skip dinner on the plane and go to sleep as soon as possible after taking off for Rome. Even though our flight from RDU to YYZ was delayed by 2.5 hours due to mechanical problems, we still had ample time in Toronto to enjoy the lounge, which was very convenient to our departure gate. MON, 10/29/18 ROME, ITALY—FIRST OF MANY CHURCHES, WALKING & FOOD TOUR OF TRASTEVERE NEIGHBORHOOD The flight to Rome had a bit of turbulence but we both got a lot of sleep on the plane. Once at FCO, we at first thought that we were experiencing a repeat of our 2008 arrival, where the airline lost John’s suitcase for two days. This time, the luggage carousel stopped and John’s bag had not appeared. Then there’s that sad feeling when almost everyone has left the carousel area. We waited awhile and were just about to report his bag missing, when we heard a clunk and his bag popped out. A few other people also appeared to be missing bags and hopefully theirs emerged shortly after John’s. We had pre-arranged a private airport transfer through the hotel for 45€ total. We waited by a sign with our surname that was taped to the wall at the exit; our driver soon scurried over to greet us. Shortly after, we were on our way to the Hotel Mimosa (www.hotelmimosa.net) on Via di Santa Chiara in the Centro Storico of Rome. Even though it was only 11 a.m. when we arrived at the hotel, our room was already available. Check-in was very quick; in addition to our room key and the WiFi password, we were given a key to the street door and the code for the lobby door so that we could come and go on our own schedule. This was our second stay at this tiny and exceptionally affordable hotel; in 2008, the hotel staff was extremely helpful in dealing with the lost luggage department at FCO for us. As on the last visit, the staff was a great help to us before we arrived (by securing the airport transfer and restaurant reservations) and during our visit (loaning a plug adapter). Because we intend to do little more than sleep and shower in a hotel room, our criteria are: clean, comfortable, inexpensive and in a great location; an included continental breakfast (served from 8-10 a.m.) and Wi-Fi are bonuses. The Hotel Mimosa fits the bill perfectly. The hotel has an elevator and air conditioning and provides amenities such as shampoo, soap, shower cap, sewing kit, toothbrush, razor and slippers. Some additional notes: the bathroom is modern, the towels are great, sometimes the water could have been a little hotter and the breakfast pastries are exceptional. However, the best thing is the excellent location: it is only 330 ft (100 m) from the Pantheon and a 5-minute walk from the Piazza Navona. Most of Rome’s major sights are within walking distance and public transit is also nearby. John and I had not only slept well on the flight but also we had advanced our internal clocks three of the five-hour time difference by gradually going to sleep and getting up earlier in the weeks before the trip. After getting settled in our room, we were ready to start sight-seeing. We had toured the Vatican, the Forum area, the Colosseum and other must-see sights on our previous visits. This time we would be seeking out other must-sees as well as some slightly less crowded attractions and looking, in particular, for works by Caravaggio and Bernini. On October 21 (a week before we left for Rome) Rome experienced a severe thunderstorm, followed by a freak hailstorm that dropped the temperature 18° F (10° C) and covered the streets with knee-high drifts of hail. The resultant flooding closed several Metro stations. The weather during our five days in Rome was also quite unsettled, with strong winds, heavy rains and flooding throughout Italy from Storm Adrian (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018%E2%80%9319_European_windstorm_season#Storm_Adrian). Today we endured high winds and intermittent showers and thunderstorms. Despite our rain jackets and umbrellas, our shoes and pants would be drenched several times during our stay. Throughout our walks, we saw a number of uprooted trees (reportedly, 300 were downed in Rome alone), large broken-off branches and lots of debris—smaller branches, leaves and pine needles. Oddly enough, our jackets and glasses were pelted with mud drops! Apparently Adrian caused dust storms in Africa and directed a plume of Saharan dust over Italy that mixed with the rain. We were also unaware that schools in Rome and even the American Embassy had been closed today in anticipation of the severe weather. We were ignorant tourists! At least 11 people died in Italy this week as a result of the storms. We had hoped to visit two nearby churches with Caravaggio paintings today but the first was already closed for the midday break. The second, San Luigi dei Francesi (St. Louis of France), was still open and we were able to admire the three fine Caravaggio paintings in the Chapel of St. Matthew. I expected to have to pay 1€ to illuminate the paintings but some other Caravaggio-lover had already provided the light. After that we walked over to the Tourist Office in the Piazza Navona to purchase Roma Passes (www.romapass.it/en/home/). It was nice to finally see the three fountains in the piazza—del Moro, Neptune and Bernini’s Four Rivers—free of the scaffolding that surrounded them in 2008. The Four Rivers Fountain includes an ancient Roman copy (named Agonalis) of an Egyptian obelisk. Although we were not specifically on an obelisk scavenger hunt, we would encounter many of them on our rambles. Rome has more obelisks than any other city—eight from ancient Egypt, five ancient Roman copies or imitations and many modern ones. The 48-Hour Roma Pass (28€ pp) includes free entrance to the first attraction visited, reduced admission to later attractions and use of public transportation for two calendar days. The person at the Tourist Office said we were supposed to validate the Pass in the machine on the bus with its first use; perhaps I misunderstood because the Pass would not fit into the machine. We did write our names and the date of first use on the Passes (as required) but no one ever asked to see them on any of our bus rides. In any case, we did not have any trouble using the Passes at the attractions or on the Metro. Although we still needed to buy a few Metrebus tickets for the days before and after the pass was valid, our total cost was less than paying á la carte. From the Piazza Navona, we walked through the Campo de’ Fiori open-air market towards the Piazza Mattei to see the “Turtle Fountain” (the turtles were added by Bernini). This piazza is on the edge of the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood, which contains a number of interesting Roman ruins and monuments. Rick Steves has a walking tour of this area in his guidebook and we followed part of that. We walked past the Portico d’Ottavia, Teatro di Marcello and the three remaining columns of the Temple of Apollo and Bellona. Closer to the Tiber River, we viewed monuments in the Forum Boarium: the temple of the port god (Portunus), the circular Temple of Hercules Victor and a fountain with Tritons. From here we could also see the Arch of Janus, closer to the Palatine Hill. Across the street from the park with the temples is the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The church’s portico is the home of the “Bocca della Verita” (Mouth of Truth), which was popularized in the 1953 film “Roman Holiday’”as an ancient lie detector (it’s probably really an ancient sewer cover). There was a fairly long line of people waiting in the rain to pay for the privilege of being photographed with their hands in the Bocca; we didn’t see any hands getting bitten off. We did manage a photo of the Bocca from outside the portico, in between people posing. The church is very near to the north end of the Circus Maximus, so we made a short detour to see the famous racetrack and views of the palaces on the Palatine Hill. From there, we returned to the Tiber River and crossed the Ponte Palatine. Looking back at the cityside bank, we could see an outlet of the Cloaca Maxima—Rome’s ancient sewer system—which is still in use. On the other side of the bridge is the lone remaining arch of the Ponte Rotto (broken bridge), Rome’s first stone bridge built across the river. There is also a view of the Isola Tiberina, the only island in the Tiber. We were now in the Trastevere (across the Tiber). This working-class neighborhood is a tangle of narrow cobblestone streets, some named for the type of business or product (e.g., Via del Salume or Cold Cuts Street) that once predominated there. The neighborhood is now a trendy area to live and is noted for its restaurants and nightlife. Today, however, the rain-swept streets were mostly deserted, except for determined tourists! We roughly followed Rick Steves’ Trastevere walking tour, stopping to buy some gelato (chocolate and melon) and Metrebus tickets. Three of the churches we wanted to visit were on lunch break, so we headed up two sets of stairs behind the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere to the Church of San Pietro in Montorio. There is a locked gate on one side of the church that allows a peek through its bars at Bramante’s Tempietto, his prototype for the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. This courtyard was once thought to be the site of St. Peter’s crucifixion. We followed a belvedere alongside the church and up the Janiculum Hill. This route passes a memorial to those who fell in Italy’s Wars of Independence (1849-1870) and finally reaches the huge Acqua Paola fountain. After Pope Paul V Borghese restored the Trajan Aqueduct, he had this fountain built at its terminus. There is a terrace across the street from the fountain with great views over the city. We decided to continue up the hill to the Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi. There is an equestrian statue of Garibaldi, a military leader in the Italian unification movement, and, farther along, a monument to his wife, Anita. The large Janiculum Terrace here provides more panoramic views of Rome. There were very strong gusts of wind on top of the hill and it looked like more bad weather was coming, so we hurried back down to avoid being hit by any falling branches or roof tiles. The wind was so strong that it was hard to descend some of the stairs back down to the Basilica. The piazza in front of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is thought to be the site of the oldest fountain in Rome (8th century). Over the centuries it has been renovated and restored many times (e.g., by Bramante and Bernini, among others). Its water comes from the same source as the Acqua Paola fountain. The Basilica is the oldest in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary; the original structure dates to the 4th century. The facade of the church features a gorgeous 12th-century mosaic of the Madonna (nursing Jesus) and ten women, representing the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The wall inside the portico is covered with stone fragments from the earlier church, bits of sarcophagi, memorial floor-slabs and covers of burial niches from the catacombs. As we entered the church, we looked for the ornate 15th-century repository for sacramental holy oils, the “Olea Sancta.” This church is also known for another kind of oil, petroleum, which allegedly flowed from this site, down the Via delle Fonte dell'Olio, to the Tiber River in 38 BC and was thought to foretell the coming of the Messiah. This miracle is indicated in the Nativity mosaic in the apse by a small building labeled “Taberna Meritoria", an old soldiers’ home, which formerly stood on this site. The Epiphany mosaic also shows a building with oil flowing from its door, although the olive tree in that mosaic suggests it was olive oil. Whatever, there is a plaque in the altar rail to the right of the main altar that marks the source of this “Fons Olei.” The highlight of the church is its apse mosaics. The depiction of the coronation of Mary, enthroned in glory at Christ’s right hand, in the half-dome of the apse is said to be the first of its kind. This and the frieze below, with Jesus represented as the Lamb of God and the Apostles as sheep, both date to the 12th century. The lower mosaics that portray six scenes from the life of Mary (including the Nativity and the Epiphany) were added towards the end of the 13th century. All of the mosaics are partially blocked by the huge altar canopy; we had to go to both sides of the altar to get good views. In addition to many other mosaics and frescoes, other gorgeous aspects of the church interior include the gilded coffered ceiling and the floors, decorated with intricate Cosmati-style geometric mosaics. The huge granite columns that line the nave were repurposed from the Baths of Caracalla and other ancient buildings. The “Madonna di Strada Cupa” once graced a vineyard gate. That painting enjoyed a brief reputation in the early 17th century for its miraculous powers; it now resides in the Chapel of the Winter Choir in the transept. A more down-to-earth note is struck by the statue of St. Anthony of Padua near the exit: the base is surrounded scraps of paper bearing prayer requests from the locals. It was around this time that my “windproof” travel umbrella proved that it was indeed not “windproof.” Fortunately, after returning home from the Apocalyptic weather in Rome, the company that sells them sent me a free one to replace it. By now the Church of San Francesco a Ripa Grande (www.sanfrancescoaripa.it) was open. The sacristy contains the cell where St. Francis of Assisi stayed when he visited Rome and the main altar features a wooden statue of St. Francis in ecstasy, supported by angels. The church itself contains numerous tombs and memorials of various holy men and women of the Franciscan orders and of others associated with the history of the church. The most famous work of art here is one of Bernini’s last masterpieces, the funerary monument of Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. The statue depicts the saint on her deathbed, as her death throes merge with the religious ecstasy of her impending union with God. Next we backtracked to the Isola Tiberina, which once housed a temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Now part of the island is a hospital and the site of the temple is occupied by the small Basilica di San Bartolomeo all'Isola (sanbartolomeo.org). We had hoped to descend to the plaza in the back of the church for a better view of the Ponte Rotto but the access stairs to the riverside were blocked off (probably due to the recent heavy rains and flooding). The church was originally dedicated to St. Adalbert of Prague. It was rededicated to the Apostle Bartholomew in the 12th century; the saint's relics are contained in a porphyry sarcophagus under the main altar. As part of the Great Jubilee of 2000, Pope St. John Paul II established the Basilica as the Memorial of the New Martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries. The final church on today’s agenda was the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, reportedly built above the home of the 3rd-century virgin-martyr. Maderno’s noted statue of the saint is in a case under the high altar. The sculptor was present when her tomb was opened in 1599 and saw her perfectly-preserved body before it crumbled to dust upon contact with the air. Thus he was able recapture her appearance moments after her martyrdom. The archaeological area under the church is also well worth a visit (2.50€ pp) to see the remains of earlier structures, fragments of ancient sarcophagi and patches of mosaic floors. It was just starting to get dark as we returned to the Piazza di San Bartolomeo to join our 4-hour walking food tour of Trastevere (www.eatingeurope.com/rome-food-tours/twilight-trastevere/; 95€ pp). We were surprised to learn that we were the only two people signed up for the 5 p.m. tour, whereas there were about a dozen on the 4 p.m tour. Our guide, Toni Brancatisano (tonibrancatisano.com), has many years of guide experience in Rome and was an outstanding guide, providing plenty of background and commentary. We walked back across the Ponte Cestio into Trastevere; parts of our route would duplicate the Rick Steves walking tour that we had already done. Our first stop was Da Enzo al 29 (www.daenzoal29.com/en/), which had also been recommended by an acquaintance back home in NC. Here we sampled two classic Roman dishes—Jewish-style twice-fried artichokes and Burrata with fresh tomatoes—with a glass of prosecco. This must be popular spot: several groups that saw us inside had to be turned away because the trattoria did not open for dinner until 7:30 p.m. The place is very small and I expect reservations are essential. Rick Steves’ tour had directed us to stop at the location of an ancient Jewish synagogue and notice the Hebrew letters carved into the columns. Toni had quite a bit more to say about the history of this building, which is now the location of Spirito di Vino (www.ristorantespiritodivino.com). Excavation for the wine cellar here revealed Roman ruins that are 150 years older than the Colosseum. Here we tasted Pork Mazio Style, a stew made with a recipe from Julius Caesar’s cook (www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/gaio-mazios-pork-ancient-recipe-from-giulio-cesares-time-recipe0-1913249). Spirito di Vino’s Chef was a student of the Nobel prize winning biologist Rita Levi-Montalcini (we’re scientists and so love details like that!). Next we visited Innocenti (www.facebook.com/BiscottificioInnocenti/), a family owned and run cookie factory, where we tasted three varieties of traditional biscotti. The century-old bakery has an enormously long oven; the cookies bake as they travel through on a 52.5 ft (16 m) conveyor belt. The building was actually constructed over the oven since it would have been too large to fit through any opening. We next visited La Norcinaria di Iacozzilli (www.facebook.com/pages/category/Grocery-Store/La-Norcineria-di-Iacozzilli-145989095809711/), where we sampled mouthwatering Porchetta (roast pork) and amazing cheeses. Then it was on to I Suppli (www.suppliroma.it/?lang=en) for a taste of that classic Roman street food and Roman-style pizza. On the way to our next stop, we passed through Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere; the church and bell tower were now beautifully illuminated. At Casa Mia (www.casamiaintrastevere.com/ristorante-casa-mia-in-trastevere/), we indulged in outstanding Mezze Maniche (short tubular pasta) Amatriciana and Cacio e Pepe, two classic Roman pasta dishes. The final stop was at Fatamorgana (www.gelateriafatamorgana.com/web/index.php?ll=us), a local gelato chain. This gelateria is known for its “gourmet gelato” and features many unusual flavors, such as Black and White—black garlic with white chocolate. We decided to stick with more traditional flavors: Prince's Kiss (with whole roasted hazelnuts) for me and Zabaglione for John. At the end of the tour, Toni pointed out the route to Viale di Trastevere and the #8 tram, which would cut our walk back to the hotel in half. We got tired of standing in the rain waiting for the tram, so we just walked all the way back. The tram finally passed us just before we reached the stop where we would have gotten off. Perhaps we should have taken this as an indication of the usefulness of the trams and buses in Rome. [Note: ATAC has a route planner on its website (www.atac.roma.it) that works occasionally; we got better results from Google Maps.] Today we walked approximately 9.5 miles (about 15 km). TUES, 10/30/18 ROME, ITALY—CHURCHES, BATHS OF DIOCLETIAN, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ROME, AQUEDUCT PARK, VILLA DEI QUINTILI This morning was forecast to be rainy, with better conditions in the afternoon. We decided to rearrange our touring plans in the hope of staying drier. After breakfast, we set out to visit the church that was closed yesterday, San’Agostino. On the way, we decided to take advantage of the early hour to revisit the nearly empty Piazza Navona and admire the fountains again. We also took the opportunity to duck into the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone; Bernini’s student, Borromini, designed its Baroque facade and it features his signature concave lines. Despite the large facade, the actual church is very small inside. The nearby Church of San’Agostino has two main claims to fame: the “Madonna di Loreto” by Caravaggio and a fresco of the Prophet Isaiah by Raphael. The Caravaggio was controversial in its time because it showed Mary and Jesus as ordinary people, like the two dirty-footed pilgrims worshiping them, and not in majestic glory. It is definitely worth the 1€ coin needed to illuminate this painting for a good look. This church also contains the tomb of St. Augustine’s mother, St. Monica. From San’Agostino, we walked a short distance to Largo Chigi, passing the Palazzo Montecitorio (designed by Bernini), the Egyptian Obelisco di Montecitorio (Solare) and the Column of Marcus Aurelius (with a spiral relief of his military campaigns). Thankfully, the bus stop there has covered waiting areas because we endured several short downpours in the half hour that we waited for bus #85 towards Termini. Truly, we could have walked the distance to our next destination much faster, although we might have gotten wetter. Buses in Rome, unlike in many other major European cities, do not indicate upcoming stops in any way. That makes it hard to know when to get off, especially when the bus is crowded. And do they get crowded, especially in the rain! On several occasions, they were so packed that the doors could not close until the last to board were hauled or pushed farther into the bus. We got off the bus at the Largo Santa Susanna, near the Piazza di San Bernardo. This piazza features the large, ornate Fountain of Moses (terminus of the Acqua Felice aqueduct) and the Church of Santa Susanna, noted for its elaborate Baroque facade. Also on the square is the Church of San Bernardo, circular in shape because it was built in one of the corner towers of the Baths of Diocletian. Just off the square is the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, which holds Bernini’s most famous and amazing statue: “St. Theresa in Ecstasy”, depicting the nun swooning in rapture after being pierced by God’s fiery arrow of love. Observing the saint from balconies on either side of the statue are statues of the family that commissioned the work. The name of the church derives from an icon of the Virgin Mary located above the opulent main altar—it is credited with bringing about numerous victories during the Thirty Years’ War. From there, we walked to the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian. These huge baths were the largest ever built in Rome, covering over 30 acres and accommodating over 3000 people. Water for the baths was supplied by the Acqua Marcia. Bits and pieces of the baths are scattered among the modern buildings and are part of the Museo Nazionale Romano; we could view some sections from the streets in this area. The best preserved part of the baths, the main hall, is part of the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Michelangelo converted the main hall into the nave of the church in 1561; as part of a later renovation, the nave became the transept. The transept is enormous—28 m (seven stories) high, 90.8 m long and 27 m wide (almost as large as an American football field)—and the eight original red granite columns are five feet in circumference. Going into the Sacrestia and the courtyard beyond, we could see more of the original brickwork and the niches that once held statues. An interesting astronomical feature of the church is La Meridiana, a long brass strip on the floor that marks longitude 12° 30' E and serves as a sundial and celestial calendar. Although we could see the small hole through which a sunbeam could enter, it was not bright enough today to read the time. After visiting Santa Maria degli Angeli, we headed towards the National Museum of Rome. We passed the Piazza della Repubblica, which was once a garden in the center of the Baths complex. The original fountain here was the terminus of the Acqua Pia, a branch of the Acqua Marcia, which supplied the Baths. That fountain featured four lions, which were replaced in 1901 by four Art Nouveau water nymphs; it is now known as the Fountain of the Naiads. We also passed the Einaudi Gardens, a small park that is the setting for an Egyptian obelisk (Dogali) from the Temple of Ra at Heliopolis. The Museo Nazionale Romano-Palazzo Massimo (www.museonazionaleromano.beniculturali.it/it/170/palazzo-massimo) was our first attraction using the Roma Pass and thus free (regular price 12€ pp or 7€ pp with the Roma Pass). The galleries around the central atrium of the museum feature busts and statues of Rome’s leaders (and their family members) and famous citizens from the Republic through the decline of the Empire. There are many Roman copies of famous Greek sculptures (Discus Thrower) as well as some Greek originals (Dying Niobid). An especially impressive statue is the original Greek bronze “Boxer at Rest”, where different metals were mixed with the bronze to form his scars and drops of blood. The top floor has beautiful mosaics and frescoes taken from Roman villas. After this impressive museum, we strolled to the Piazza dell’Esquilino; its ancient Roman obelisk (Esquiline) once stood at the Mausoleum of Augustus. The piazza is at the rear of one of Rome’s four major basilicas, the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. The column in the piazza in front of the church, which once stood in the Forum’s Basilica of Constantine, is topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Inside the Basilica, there is a beautiful gold coffered ceiling. The nave, chancel arch and apse are adorned by gorgeous mosaics. Most of the mosaics in the nave and chancel arch date to the 5th century; the ones in the nave tell the story of Moses and the ones in the chancel arch depict the life of Mary. Underneath the main altar is a lighted niche with a statue of Pope Pius IX praying before an urn that contains the purported relics of Jesus’ Holy Crib. To the left of the main altar is the Pauline Chapel. Above the altar in that chapel is a bronze relief of the miracle of the snow. Pope Liberius dreamed that the Virgin Mary said to build a church where the snow would fall—the next morning, on the Esquiline Hill, in August! To the right of the main altar is a chapel with the tomb of Pope Sixtus V (he of Sistine Chapel fame), who reconnected the aqueducts and built the churches and boulevards that renovated Rome in the late 16th century. In the center of the chapel is a gilded monument showing four angels carrying a model of Michelangelo’s dome for the new St. Peter’s. Across from the chapel is a simple marble slab marking the tomb of Bernini—the man who did so much to remake Rome in the opulent Baroque style. Santa Maria Maggiore is very close to the Basilica of Santa Prassede, noted for its Byzantine-style mosaics. However, it had already closed for the midday break before we could reach it (we would have better luck tomorrow). After a morning of churches and history, it was time to head to the Roma Termini Train/Metro station to visit a site rarely on tourist itineraries: the Parco degli Acquedotti (Aqueduct Park). Before catching the Metro, we purchased train tickets for our day trip to Orvieto; that way we would not be so rushed on Thursday morning. John had already researched the train schedules and ticket prices, so it was relatively easy to buy the tickets at the self-service machines (we did need to use our chip-and-PIN credit card though). The Metro station is inside Termini, so we caught Line A in the Anagnina direction for a 25 minute ride to the Gulio Agricola station. To use the Roma Pass in the Metro, you simply touch it to the yellow pad at the turnstile. From the station, we walked about 0.5 mile to the modern Church of San Policarpo. From the church, we could turn either left or right and walk a short distance to find paths leading into the Parco degli Acquedotti. The park contains the remains of six of the eleven aqueducts that supplied ancient Rome with water from springs and rivers in the hills and mountains around Rome; a seventh aqueduct here was constructed during the Renaissance. This park is part of the Parco Nationale dell’Appia Antica; maps and brochures for the various sections and attractions in the park can be downloaded at www.parcoappiaantica.it/home/risorse-e-utilita/download and www.parcoarcheologicoappiaantica.it/downloads/. The Aqueduct Park (www.parcoappiaantica.it/home/risorse-e-utilita/download/category/1-flyer?download=1:acquedotti-eng-2014, www.parcoappiaantica.it/home/risorse-e-utilita/download/category/4-itinerari?download=79:aqueductsrouteeng-pdf) is a popular open space for dog walking, jogging and bicycling. The large open area is crisscrossed with dirt paths and we could wander at will. Right in front of us we could see the Acqua Felice, built during the Renaissance over the courses of the older Marcia, Tepula and Julia aqueducts; this is the aqueduct that ends at the Moses Fountain We chose to turn right from the church to see some ruins of the ancient Villa delle Vignacce. The weather was improving but we could see uprooted and broken trees as a remnant of the storms. After that, we headed in the opposite direction, walking between the Acqua Felice and a tall double aqueduct, the Acqua Claudio with the Acqua Anio Novus on top. Although the later are in various states of ruin, they are still quite impressive. A 12th-century irrigation ditch (Marrana dell’ Acqua Mariana) runs down the middle of the park. There are several spots along the Felice aqueduct with small fountains (not potable) and stairs to climb the top of the pipe for good views. We did not walk all the way to the southern end of the park because public transport to our next sight was too difficult from there. Instead, we left the park at the Via Claudia exit. After this point, the Acqua Claudio/Anio Novus is more complete and stretches off scenically into the distance. To exit the park, it is necessary to walk under the towering aqueduct; there is a tunnel of scaffolding to protect visitors from falling pieces of aqueduct. Via Claudia is a narrow (but lightly trafficked) road that leads through residential neighborhoods to the Via Appia Nuova. The Via Appia Nuova is a busy highway but there are crosswalks and signals near the bus stops where we could cross safely. We could see our goal, the Villa dei Quintili, ahead on the right, atop a bluff overlooking the Archaeological Park. Villa dei Quintili (www.parcoarcheologicoappiaantica.it/luoghi/villa-dei-quintili-e-santa-maria-nova/) was built by the Quintili brothers. This huge site extends from the Via Appia Nuova to the Via Appia Antica. It is so large that, when the site was excavated, it was originally thought to be a small village, Roma Vecchia (Old Rome). In addition to residential areas for the Quintili's many family members and servants, the complex included a theater, baths, stables, gardens and a branch aqueduct for water. It was so lavish in fact, that the Emperor Comodus had the brothers executed so that he could take possession. Admission to the villa (5€ pp, 2.50€ pp with the Roma Pass) also includes admission to the Tomb of Cecilia Metalla on the Via Appia Antica. Although there are many "you are here" information boards throughout the site, it is helpful to pick up a brochure with a sugggested tour route (www.parcoarcheologicoappiaantica.it/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/folder_quintili_7_2_2017_stampa.pdf) at the entrance desk. First we checked out the small museum, then headed up the bluff to the extensive ruins, roughly following the tour route. After exploring the main villa site thoroughly, we decided to return to our hotel for a short rest before dinner. There is a stop for the #118 bus just across the street from the villa entrance; we took that bus to the Piazza Venezia and walked to the hotel from there. Bus #118 travels along part of the Via Appia Antica, along the Aurelian Walls and past the Baths of Caracalla, giving us a preview of sites we planned to visit tomorrow. Altogether, we walked about 8.7 miles today, with about 4.5 miles of that being in the Aqueduct Park and at Villa dei Quintili. A week ahead of our arrival in Rome, I had asked the Hotel Mimosa to make dinner reservations for tonight and Friday night. All of the places we dined on this trip were mentioned in Rick Steves’ book and had four stars or better on TripAdvisor. Tonight our reservation was at Da Gino Parlamento (www.ristoranteparlamento.roma.it), a tiny, cramped restaurant down a narrow alley (Vicolo Rosini) near Parliament Square. Although it is only 800 meters from the Hotel Mimosa, we missed a turn in the dark and were a few minutes late for our 8 p.m. reservation. And it was a good thing we had made a reservation: walk-ups were being turned away. Although the restaurant had just opened, it was already nearly full with locals (there seemed to be only one other non-Italian table). This appeared to be the sort of place that people would bring their family, generation after generation. Despite the kitschy decor (walls and ceiling painted with vines and flowers, lots of memorabilia on the walls) the food is well worth the effort to find the place. John started with an outstanding version of Spaghetti alla Carbonara—a beautiful golden color, thick with pancetta and much richer than any version we have had before. I started with Antipasto Misto—salami, cured meats, cheeses, stuffed pepper, stuffed tomato and zucchini pie. We split both of those generous dishes. For our mains, I had the Saltimbocca alla Romana and John had braised rabbit. You can’t beat the liter of vino rosso della casa for 10€; it was a really good, young Rosso di Montalcino. Da Gino is the kind of place that you’d like to go to as a tourist: mostly locals, quality food but inexpensive, and local color. Come here for authentic Roman cuisine! [Note: Cash only.] WED, 10/31/18 ROME, ITALY—OSTIA ANTICA, CATACOMBS, BATHS OF CARACALLA, COLOSSEUM BY NIGHT This morning we caught the #30 express bus in the Laurentina direction near the Piazza Navona, on Corso del Rinacimento. It was hard to count the stops to our destination, but we knew we had arrived at the Porta San Paulo stop when we saw the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius, the tomb of a 1st-century BC magistrate. During our ride, we got an unwelcome slice of Roman life: a man holding a beer paced up and down the bus aisle, ranting loudly in Italian. John said he could recognize some obscenities from “The Godfather” movies. Our Roma Pass was valid for the 30-minute train ride from the San Paulo train station to Ostia Antica. From the Ostia Antica station, there is a footbridge across a busy highway and a short walk down Via della Stazione di Osta Antica to the archaeological site. The total trip (bus and train) took about an hour. Ostia Antica (admission 12€ pp, 7€ pp with the Roma Pass) was the old port for Rome, at the entrance to the Tiber River. However, the river changed course, the port silted up and the city was eventually abandoned and became covered with mud. Being a prosperous ancient city, this is an enormous site. However, most of the sights lie on or just off the main street, Decumanus Maximus (Rick Steves has a walking tour in his guidebook). From the entrance, we walked past the necropolis located, like all Roman cemeteries, outside the city walls. Entering through the main gate (Porta Romana), we walked past the warehouse area and the Baths of Neptune (with some nice mosaic floors), occasionally leaving the main road to explore the ruins. We turned off the main road again, just before the theater, to see the Square of the Guilds. That large open area had a temple in the middle and arcades of stalls (now in ruins) on three sides. Those stalls were the offices of the various businesses at the port; the mosaic floor in front of each stall illustrates, in words or pictures, the type of business. On the fourth side of the square is the theater, one of several buildings that can be climbed for a good view of the site. Farther down and also off the street are an ancient flour mill and a tavern. Finally, we reached the Forum, the heart of the city. Here we found the large Capitoline Temple (dedicated to the state gods: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva). At the opposite end is the Temple to Roma and (Emperor) Augustus. Nearby are the Forum Baths and the latrine. We wandered around the buildings for a while and visited the small museum of statuary found at the site before returning to the train station. Altogether, we spent about two hours at Ostia Antica and walked about 3.14 miles. Back at the Porta San Paolo station, we walked into the adjacent Piramide Metro Station and caught the Line B in the Jonio/Rebbibio direction to the next stop, Circo Massimo. From there, we walked down Via di Terme Caracalla to the entrance of the Baths, opposite the soccer stadium. The Baths of Caracalla (admission 12€ pp, 7€ pp with the Roma Pass) were only about half the size of the Baths of Diocletian. However, the remains of this huge structure are set in a park, not buried under modern buildings or incorporated into a church, so they seem more impressive. These baths are still used for concerts and exhibitions. While we were here, there was an aural exhibition (“All Rivers Lead to Rome” by Alvin Curran), with sounds of nature piped through speakers hidden throughout the ruins and grounds. After spending about a half hour at the Baths (and walking about 1.3 miles), we returned to Via di Terme Caracalla to find the Terme Caracalla/Valle Camene stop for the #118 bus to the Via Appia Antica. Along the way, the bus passed under the Arch of Drusus, part of the Antoniniana aqueduct (a branch of the Acqua Marcia) that once supplied water to the Baths. Again, it was almost impossible to count the stops but once we passed the Catacombs of Callisto (closed on Wednesday), I knew we were close and managed to get off at the stop for the San Sebastiano Catacombs. The San Sebastiano Catacombs (www.catacombe.org/uk_index.html) are not part of the Roma Pass program. We hurried over to the ticket office (8€ pp) and were happy to learn that a 40-minute tour in English was just starting. We went down a series of steps and through passages lined with burial niches. The guide described the different types of tombs and pointed out the remnants of Christian symbols and inscriptions. As we climbed up closer to the surface, there were three well-preserved 2nd-century pagan family mausoleums. Even higher, were the remains of an early church dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul. Finally we had ascended to the crypt of the church, where an altar and marble slab marked the original tomb of St. Sebastiano (the one always depicted as perforated by arrows). In the church above, the altar containing the saint's remains is topped with alleged relics: one of the arrows and part of the post to which he was tied. Another relic here is the original "Quo Vadis" stone, which is said to bear the footprints of Christ but is more likely a votive offering made at the end of a successful trip to Rome. Another noteworthy item in the church is a statue of St. Sebastiano, sculpted by a student of Bernini. From St. Sebastiano, we walked cautiously along the Via Appia Antica, partway between the second and third mile stones (www.parcoappiaantica.it/home/risorse-e-utilita/download/category/1-flyer?download=3:appiaantica-eng-2015). The Appian Way was Rome’s most important road and stretched 362 miles (582 km) from Rome to Brisindi, on the Adriatic Sea. Although the road is inside the Archaeological Park, it is lined by high walls and fences and heavily trafficked; the pedestrian walkway is narrow and often used for parking. When we reached the first attraction, the Villa and Circus of Maxentius (free), we found the entrance gate locked even though the sign said it was supposed to be open. We continued on to the Tomb of Cecilia Metella (joint ticket with Villa dei Quintili), the largest and best-preserved tomb along the Via Appia Antica. During the 14th century, the tomb was used as a tower for the Caetani Castle; those ruins are also part of the site. As the Appian Way continues farther south, the traffic diminishes, there are fewer walls and the road is line with cypresses, pines and crumbling tombs. Although this is the most scenic part of the road (www.parcoappiaantica.it/home/itinerari/appia-antica) and we had only walked about a mile from San Sebastiano, we did not have time or energy to follow more of it today. We decided it made more sense to find somewhere to eat near our hotel and rest a bit before the next event on today's schedule. We caught bus #118 at the stop on Via Appia Pignatelli (near the intersection with Via Cecilia Metella), got off at the Piazza Venezia and walked to the hotel from there. It was now late afternoon and we wanted a casual late lunch near our hotel. Following Rick Steves’ recommendation, we found Miscellanea (www.miscellaneapub.com) on a street behind the Pantheon. When we entered, Minervini Michelangelo (Mickey), the owner, enthusiastically welcomed us. Mickey and his staff were busy hanging a giant American flag as well as Notre Dame, Penn State, Iowa, Iowa State, and John Cabot (an American University in Rome) banners. One wall is covered with framed bar towels and they have their own copy of the Bocca della Verita. You can tell this place is aimed at younger American tourists. That’s not a bad thing. They serve inexpensive, good food. The menu is honest when it says their pizza crust is frozen but the ingredients are fresh. The four cheese pizza was outstanding and the Siciliano was covered with prosciutto, capers and roasted red peppers. The conto for two pizzas, water and a half-liter of of vino rosso della casa only came to 24€. Mickey loves college students and the 400 little kids in the school across the street. He is a character! We loved talking with him. This was his birthday but he gave us the presents: two tiramisu and two glasses of his “sexy wine”, fizzy sweet stuff. His house Rosso di Montepulciano was much better! After a short rest, it was time to contend with the Rome bus system again. We walked to Corso Vittorio Emanuele to wait for bus #87 in the Largo Colli Albani direction. The buses were packed but the Colosseum is easy to spot and we had no problem knowing where to get off. We made sure to arrive well ahead of time for our Colosseum After Dark (www.coopculture.it/en/events.cfm?id=177) tour with CoopCulture, the company that operates the Colosseum and other cultural sites. Booking a tour directly with CoopCulture is less expensive than using a third-party tour company but it is quite an exhausting experience. Six months prior to our trip, I got up at 3 a.m. (when the booking window for today opened) in order to make our reservations. Although the CoopCulture website says they accept AmEx, it is not configured properly for that credit card and I had to use another one. Nevertheless, I was finally able to purchase two tickets at 20€ pp for my desired time. Out of curiosity, I checked later that morning and almost all the tickets for tours in English were sold out. Note that even if you wait closer to the date to book through a third-party tour company (at a much greater cost), the tour inside the Colosseum will be led by CoopCulture staff. The purchase confirmation gave virtually no information about when or where to meet for the tour—it merely said to present the confirmation email at the ticket office. We arrived well before our 8 p.m. tour time and were distressed to learn that the ticket office is inside the Colosseum and locked up tight until the night tours begin. Also, there was no signage to indicate where the tours were to meet. Fortunately, we eventually found some CoopCulture staff hanging around outside who told us to meet at 8 p.m. at the Group Entrance. While we were waiting for the ticket office to open, we had the opportunity to walk around the Colosseum and get some nice photos of it and the Arch of Constantine all lit up. We had thought that the Roman Forum would also be illuminated, so we walked over there. However, we were disappointed to see that it was mostly dark, with only a few of the monuments lighted. We walked back to the Colosseum to wait for our tour, passing the time by watching the faux gladiators hustle souvenir photo ops. Around 8 p.m., there was a flurry of activity around the tour entrance gate but we could not go inside until the security guard arrived. After he finally showed up, we all had to pass through a metal detector. The guard did inspect one woman’s purse but he didn’t even blink when John set off the alarm with his camera. Once we made it to the ticket office, I exchanged the confirmation email for two stickers and we were assigned to tour with a group of six other people who had booked through an outside tour company. Despite all the hassles of booking and redeeming the voucher, this was a fabulous tour. You get to go into bowels of the place to see the locations of the elevators and trap doors and where the animals were kept. You get to see the small river that actually flows under the Colosseum. You also get to go to the second level of the structure to look down on the Colosseum when it’s empty. It’s quite a different sight than when the place is crawling with tourists during the day! Even though the tour started late, we received a full-length tour (1.25 hours) and were not rushed through the site. The CoopCulture guide gave a very thorough presentation at various points and was eager to answer all our questions. This is a must-do tour in Rome! After the tour, we had planned to take the #87 bus back to Largo di Torre Argentina. For a change, the Colosseum bus stop had an electric sign that indicated when the next bus would be arriving. It was 20 minutes away! We decided it would take less time for us to walk back to the hotel. Along the way, we had the opportunity to see Trajan’s column and the Altare della Patria (Vittorio Emanuele II Monument) illuminated. I had thought Rome would be more like Paris, with many landmarks lighted at night, but most were not. Anyway, we were back in our hotel room before the #87 bus would have arrived at the Colosseum stop. With all the walking before, during and after the tour, we logged about 4.1 miles tonight. THURS, 11/01/18 ROME—ORVIETO—ROME When we were planning this trip, John explored the idea of a tour outside of Rome to the Ovieto wine region. However, the tours he found simply provided a train ticket to Orvieto and then met you at the station and took you around to some wineries. John started to think that we could take the train on our own and find local transportation to the wineries. However, after learning more about Orvieto, he realized that there were enough attractions in the town to spend the whole day right there. Also, if we caught the train on our own, we could take a later train than the tour required and still arrive in Orvieto just as the sights were opening for visitors. This morning we left before breakfast. As we exited the lobby, we saw the box of pastries from a local bakery that were destined for the breakfast buffet. We were sorely tempted to swipe a couple to enjoy on the walk to the train station. To get to Roma Termini, we walked along Via del Seminario and Via XX Settembre to the top of the Quirinale Hill, the highest of Rome’s seven hills. The 16th-century Palazzo del Quirinale (palazzo.quirinale.it/palazzo.html) was formerly the summer papal palace and is now one of three official residences of the President of Italy. The ancient Roman obelisk (Quirinale) in the piazza in front of the palace is the twin of the obelisk in the Piazza dell’Esquilino; both once stood outside the Mausoleum of Augustus. It is now part of a fountain that also includes statues of the Horse Tamers (Castor and Pollux) that once stood at the entrance to the Baths of Constantine. We walked along one side of the palace down Via del Quirinale to Via delle Quattro Fontane; this intersection has a 16th-century fountain on each corner. We continued along Via delle Quattro Fontane to the Piazza dell’Esquilino and from there to the Basilica of Santa Prassede. The plain exterior of this church gives no hint of the exquisite Byzantine-style mosaics inside. The small, cross-shaped Chapel of St. Zeno, was originally intended as a funerary chapel for Theodora, the mother of the 9th-century pope (Paschal I) who built the church. The mosaics above the chapel’s entrance are arranged in two arches of tondi (circular works of art). The inner arch features the Madonna and Child, flanked by various other saints. The tondi in the outer arch depict Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. The inside of the chapel looks dark and gloomy until you put a 1€ coin in the box to illuminate the glorious glass tile and gold mosaics that cover the walls and ceiling. A large tondo with an image of Christ dominates the vaulted ceiling; the tondo is borne by four angels, who stand on the gilded capitals of the columns supporting the vault. The walls depict various saints, including St. Prassede and St. Pudenziana (her sister), and allegorical scenes, such as Sts. Peter and Paul on either side of the empty throne that sits ready for Christ’s Second Coming. This chapel also contains a section of the pillar where supposedly Jesus was scourged before his crucifixion. The altar is much more recent; the altarpiece is a 17th-century mosaic of the Madonna and Child flanked by Sts. Prassede and Pudenziana. Because of these splendid mosaics, the chapel was dubbed the “Hortus Paradisi” (Garden of Paradise). It’s worth another 1€ to illuminate the mosaics above the main altar; they also date to the time of Pope Paschal. The half dome of the apse shows Sts. Peter and Paul presenting Sts. Prassede and Pudenziana to Christ in heaven; St. Zeno and Pope Paschal (holding a model of the church) look on from the sidelines. The wall above the half-dome depicts a scene from the Book of Revelations: the Lamb of God resting on the book with seven seals and being worshiped by angels, the four winged creatures and the elders. The triumphal arch between the apse and the nave shows saints and martyrs being guided by angels to meet Christ in the Heavenly Jerusalem. The church has undergone many renovations over the centuries in order to stabilize the structure and to add and remove decorative elements. The frescoes in the nave were added near the end of the 16th century, as were those in a funerary chapel designed for the Olgiati family. The Cappella Olgiata is practically a mini-Sistine Chapel—the ceiling is spectacularly frescoed with scenes from the New Testament and portraits of saints, prophets and sibyls. The altarpiece depicts St. Veronica wiping the face of Jesus along the route to Calvary. A table in this chapel was used by St. Charles Borromeo to distribute alms to the poor in the courtyard of the church. This morning, Mass was being celebrated in the late 18th-century Chapel of St John Gualbert, who is shown in the apse mosaic being venerated by angels. The mosaic in the apse half-dome shows monks and nuns venerating the Virgin Mary's Assumption into heaven. After admiring St. Prassede’s mosaics, we headed over to the Termini train station to catch the 9 a.m. regional train (8.15€ pp each way) for the 75-minute ride to Orvieto (this is also the train to Florence). We allowed lots of extra time because today was All Saint’s Day (a national holiday); many people would be traveling and we expected the trains to be crowded. After we passed through the ticket-check gate, we looked around for the machine to validate our tickets. Unless you have reserved seats, it is crucial to have your ticket validated before the train leaves and the conductor comes around to check it—otherwise, you can be hit with a hefty on-the-spot fine. However, there was no machine to be seen, either here or on our platform. We boarded the train in hopes that we could spot a conductor to validate our tickets; no luck there either. Fortunately, we had lots of time before the train left because I eventually became so nervous about validating our tickets that I left John on the train and took the tickets in search of a machine. I had to ask three station agents before I finally found a machine near gate #1 (the only other one was by gate #12). Tickets successfully validated, I scurried back to the train. It was a good thing that John had stayed on the train to hold our seats because it did become quite crowded and people were going from car to car (hampered by huge rolling suitcases in the aisles) trying to find a place to sit. After all of that worry, the conductor never seemed to check anyone’s tickets—he spent most of the ride chatting with his friends seated across the aisle from us. Once in Orvieto, we wanted to buy the Orvieto Carta Unica (www.cartaunica.it/?page_id=507), which would allow entry to all the sights we wanted to see today. During high tourist season, there is a kiosk selling the card; today we bought ours at the tabacchi in the train station. The lady at the tabacchi didn’t admit to speaking any English, but she had a hand-lettered sign that asked whether we were over 65 (the senior rate is 17€ pp, cash only). The card includes free entry to 11 museums and monuments, a round-trip ride on the funicular, public bus transportation in the city center and discounts at some shops, hotels and restaurants. One thing that is confusing about the Carta Unica is that it needs to be presented at the box office at most sites to obtain a separate entry ticket but it serves as the entry ticket at other sites. Cards in hand, we crossed the street to the funicular station, where we had to show the pass to the ticket agent and use a particular turnstile. The medieval section of Orvieto (www.orvietoviva.com/en/) sits on a volcanic tufa outcrop above a vast underground network of Etruscan-era caves and tunnels; it only takes a few minutes to reach the top by funicular. We didn’t wait to take the bus to the Piazza del Duomo because we hoped to secure a spot on the first Orvieto Underground tour at 11 a.m. When we reached the box office, we signed up for the English tour, received tickets and were told where to meet our guide. The English tour actually started at 11:15 a.m. so we had time to visit the Tourist Office to pick up a good map and to admire the exterior of the Duomo. Because it was a holyday, the Duomo would not be open for tourist visits until 2 p.m. From the Piazza del Duomo, we could see the Torre di Maurizio. On top of the tower is a bronze statue of a bearded man, who marks the hours by striking a large bell with a hammer. The clock tower and its automaton were built in the middle of the 14th century to regulate the shifts of the men working to build the Duomo. This is documented as the oldest timekeeping automaton in the world that is still functioning. Orvieto Underground (www.orvietounderground.it/index.php/en/) gives you a really nice tour of some caves in the volcanic tufa that the town is built upon. The hour-long tour takes you into two areas of the underground maze that consists of over 1,200 grottoes, tunnels, wells and cisterns. Our guide Isabel did a good job of explaining the history of the caves and how the Etruscans used them; then she explained about the relatively modern uses (e.g., as a factory for pressing olive oil). We also saw dovecotes where people once raised young pigeons for meat. Although it had been raining lightly earlier, after the tour it was coming down much harder. John had researched two restaurant possibilities for lunch and we decided to try Trattoria dell’Orso (www.orvietoviva.com/en/trattoria-dellorso/), which is on a small side street near the Piazza Sant’Andrea. The place was nearly empty when we arrived at about 12:30 p.m. and we were quickly shown to a table where we could watch the rain. The restaurant filled up more later but there did not appear to be any other non-Italians. We decided to try the tasting menu, which was 30€ for two; we thought it would have been worth every cent of 30€ per person. This was kind of a “feed me” Chef’s choice. They surprise you with three courses: soup, pasta, main plus contorni, along with a liter of water and a quarter-liter of house wine. It was truffle season and our soup was faro with sliced anise and shaved truffles; the pasta was cingiale (wild boar) ragu over umbrichelli (local thick spaghetti) with truffles. The main was pan-fried chicken in tomato sauce, served with a side of chicory (tastes like collard greens) sauteed with olives and pine nuts. We shamelessly used our bread to soak up all the soup, ragu and red sauce. That should tell you all you need to know. Great food; great place! After lunch, it was still raining heavily. Our plan was to climb the Torre del Moro (www.orvietoviva.com/en/torre-del-moro/) clock tower, for a 360º panoramic view of the town and the surrounding countryside. I’m sure the lady at the box office thought we were crazy to head up the 170 steps in the rain. However, by the time we reached the top, the weather momentarily cleared for some great views. We could see the rain clouds moving in again though, so we hurried over to the Duomo to try to get some photos in the sunlight. The Duomo (www.opsm.it/duomo/duomo/index.html) is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It has many similarities to the Siena Cathedral. For example, the sides are constructed of alternating bands of local white travertine and blue-gray basalt stone. The Gothic facade astounds with its riot of bas reliefs, statues and bronzes which surround a beautiful rose window. However, the most impressive parts of the facade are the spectacular gold mosaics, which depict major events in the life of the Virgin Mary. The Cathedral was the only site we visited where we merely needed to scan our Carta Unica for entry. The black-and white striped theme is continued by the walls and columns inside. At the beginning of the nave, there is an ornate late 14th-century baptismal font with a red marble basin. The windows in the nave are unusual: the tops are stained glass while the bottoms are thin sheets of alabaster. There is another beautiful stained glass window in the apse behind the main altar; the walls of the apse are covered with frescoes portraying scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. The Cathedral has two important chapels. One relates to the Miracle of Bosena. Allegedly, a priest in that town had doubts about the doctrine of transubstantiation, which asserts that that a consecrated host is literally the body and blood of Christ. During Mass, at the Consecration, the host began to bleed and the blood dripped onto the corporal, which is now housed in the Cappella del Corporale. The walls of this chapel are covered with frescoes that depict other miraculous bleeding hosts. When we visited, the doors of the reliquary containing the corporal were closed, so we could not see this miraculous piece of cloth. The second chapel, the Cappella di San Brizio (www.travelingintuscany.com/art/lucasignorelli/sanbriziochapel.htm), is the highlight of the Cathedral. The overall theme of the chapel is the end of the world, from the appearance of the Antichrist to the final bliss of the just in heaven and the torments of the damned in hell. Fra Angelico painted the frescoes of “Christ in Judgment” and “Prophets” on the vaulted ceiling. However, the bulk of these magnificent frescoes were executed by Luca Signorelli fifty years later, at the beginning of the 16th century. The artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari claims that Michelangelo admired these frescoes and that they inspired his own “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel. After visiting the Duomo, we went back out in the rain to find the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (www.opsm.it/duomo/museo/001.html). The museum is housed in the Palazzi Papali, the residence of three popes during the Middle Ages. Inside are many art objects that formerly decorated the inside or outside of the Duomo. The most impressive piece is the sculpture of the Madonna and Child sitting under a bronze canopy supported by bronze angels, which once stood on the facade of the Duomo (it has been replaced there by a copy). We still had some free time, so we sloshed over to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Orvieto (www.archeopg.arti.beniculturali.it/?page_id=153). This museum organizes archaeological finds from this area in chronological order. The are many artifacts displayed, such as Etruscan pottery items and a complete set of Etruscan bronze armor (helmet, breast and back plates, shin guards and a shield). Highlights are the two chamber-tombs from the necropolis at Porano. The original frescoes were detached from the tombs for conservation purposes and reassembled here in their original positions. We were practically the only people in the museum and the docent had to scurry over and turn on the lights so that we could see the interiors of the tombs. Our last planned site to visit was the Pozzo di San Patrizio (www.inorvieto.it/pozzo-di-san-patrizio/?lang=en), near the funicular. Although the entrance had an OCR, the Carta Unica doesn’t work that way at St. Patrick’s Well; we had to return to the box office in the funicular building for an actual ticket. Despite having to stand in line twice, a tour here goes pretty fast. There is no water in Orvieto’s tufa outcrop, so deep wells are needed; this one is 177 feet (54 m) deep. It is unusual because of its double helix staircase (1537): pack animals (and now tourists) could go down 248 steps on one set of stairs and up the other, without having to turn around. This staircase was inspired by the Bramante Staircase (1505) in the Belvedere Palace, which is now part of the Vatican Museums. It also reminded me of the “Grand Shaft” (1809), a triple helix staircase on the Western Heights at Dover, UK. We still had a little time before we needed to take the funicular back to the train station, so we visited the Fortezza Albornoz (www.orvietoviva.com/en/fortezza-albornoz/). We had a nice view of St. Patrick’s Well but views of the countryside were hazy. Still, this was worth the few minutes needed to tour the grounds. Back at the train station, we had no problem finding the machine to validate our tickets for the 5:25 p.m. train back to Rome. Of course, the conductor didn’t check anyone’s ticket this time either. When the train pulled in on Track #1 at Termini, we couldn’t believe that this was where we were supposed to get off—we were at the very end of the platforms, a quarter-mile (400 m) from the main part of the station. At least we were out of the rain as we trudged along. When we reached the station, we tried to find the exit leading to the large bus parking area in front. Naturally, we picked the wrong one and had to walk all the way around to the park in front of the station and back to the bus bays. We had three choices for a bus back to the Largo di Torre Argentina (#40, #60 or #85). The #40 was sitting in its bay, so we chose that one. When we tried to validate our bus tickets, we kept getting an error. Other riders were very nice, trying to help us get it to work, but no luck. People who came along later were also unable to validate. When the bus driver finally returned from his break, we learned that the validation machine was broken. The bus was already fairly full when it took off and more people crammed on at every stop. We barely managed to force ourselves off at Largo di Torre Argentina. Today we walked about 1.9 miles in Rome and another 2.5 at Orvieto. FRI, 11/02/18 ROME, ITALY—VATICAN MUSEUMS & GALLERIA BORGHESE This morning we had to get up before the crack of dawn for our early-entry tour of the Sistine Chapel. On our 1.7 mile walk to the Vatican Museums, we got some nice sunrise photos of the Castel Sant’Angelo, Bernini’s angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo and St. Peter Basilica (with an Egyptian obelisk (Vaticano) in front). We had previously experienced the sardine-can atmosphere of the Sistine Chapel when we visited there on a DIY shore excursion from Civitavecchia in 2012. In order to avoid the crowds, this time we booked the Express Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums Entrance tour (darkrome.com/vatican-tours/sistine-chapel-early-access) with Dark Rome, part of the City Wonders group. This tour (52€ pp) basically only provides you with first entry into the Sistine Chapel with some commentary. However, that is precisely why we signed up for it. Our guide Louisa made sure everything was in order and actually got us to be the first group into the chapel. Bravo Louisa! To be fair she gave us more than basic commentary and was quite helpful. We actually got to sit on both sides of the chapel in order to savor at leisure Michelangelo’s amazing ceiling and wall. After this, before the huge crowds appeared, we also got to view on our own a selection of the Vatican Museum’s treasures, including the incredible Rafael Stanze and the fantastic sculptures in the Octagonal Courtyard. We even had time to visit areas that we had not visited previously, such as the sections on Egyptian and Etruscan antiquities and the Bramante Staircase (the real one—not Momo’s 1932 homage at the museum exit), and to re-visit the Pinacoteca to see some favorite paintings (e.g., Raphael’s “Transfiguration”) before exiting. The Museums were closed yesterday, so the crowds waiting to get in were even more gigantic than usual. We later talked with people who had to wait in line for over an hour to get in, despite having “skip the line” tickets! After our morning in the Vatican Museums, we walked to the Ottaviano Metro station and rode to the Spagna station. Usually there is an elevator in the Spagna station that takes you to the top of the Spanish Steps; today the elevator was not in service. Elevators/escalators at several Metro stations were out of order because of the flooding caused by the recent storms. From the Metro station, we walked around the corner to the Spanish Steps. As usual, the entire area, from the Sunken Boat Fountain (built by Bernini’s father, Pietro) up the steps to Trinita dei Monte, was full of tourists. The obelisk (Sallustiano) in front of the church is an ancient Roman copy of the Egyptian obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo. From the fountain, we walked in the direction of the Piazza del Popolo and turned left onto Via della Croce. We were looking for the Grano Frutta e Farina Bakery (granofruttaefarina.it) at #49a but the street seemed to go on forever (maybe because we hadn’t had breakfast). We were about to give up looking for this place until there it was. Rick Steves’ guidebook said this might be a good place for a quick lunch. Good advice! It’s a tiny place on street full of such places but it’s worth seeking out. They sell pizza by weight. Point out how much of a pizza you want and they cut it, weigh it, heat it, then cut it into smaller pieces for easier eating (or sharing). These were really good, crusty pizzas! We had potato and truffle pizza (try it, you’ll thank us) and a roasted veggy pizza. We managed to snag a tiny table and chowed down. Fast food and really delicious. After devouring the pizza, we continued on Via della Croce, turning right on Via del Corso; from there it is a straight shot to the Piazza del Popolo. The entrance to the piazza is marked by twin churches. An Egyptian obelisk (Flaminio) stands at the center of the piazza; the Fountain of Neptune marks the west side of the piazza and the Fountain of the Goddess of Rome marks the east. I had hoped to visit the Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo at the north end of the piazza. However, I got the opening times confused and it was already closed for the midday break. Among other great art in the church, the Cerasi Chapel contains two paintings by Caravaggio. The Chigi Chapel was designed by Raphael, who died before it was finished. Construction and decoration continued sporadically for over 130 years until it was finally completed by Bernini. Many other famous artists also worked on the chapel over the years. I was sorry to miss this site but it gives us another excuse to return to Rome. Along the south side of the church are stairs and paths that lead up to the Villa Borghese (www.sovraintendenzaroma.it/i_luoghi/ville_e_parchi_storici/ville_dei_nobili/villa_borghese). The Villa Borghese is a large public park atop the Pincio Hill that is comprised of smaller garden areas, museums (in particular, the Galleria Borghese), attractions, fountains and other art and monuments. We first climbed up to the Piazzale Napoleane I, which has great views of the Piazza del Popolo and the city. The Pincio Gardens, behind the Piazzale, are formal gardens lined with busts of famous Italians (roma.andreapollett.com/S1/romac23i.htm); these gardens also contain an ancient Roman obelisk (Pinciano) and a 19th-century water clock. We had intended to roughly follow, in reverse, a suggested walking tour (www.rometoolkit.com/walks/villa_borghese_walk.html) of the park. However, when we tried to reach the Temple of Aesculapius, that whole area was closed due to downed trees and other damage from the storms. That was disappointing because the temple is set on a lake in one of the most scenic parts of the park. We wandered around looking at some of the other faux temples, such as the Temple of Antonino and Faustina. After rambling about 1.6 miles in the park, we eventually reached the series of pavilions and gardens associated with the Casino Nobile (home to the Galleria Borghese). The first is the Meridiana (Sundial) pavilion, followed by the Uccelliera (Aviary) pavilion. Between the two pavilions lies one of the three “secret gardens”; this one was devoted to rare and exotic plants. The secret garden between the Uccelliera and the Casino Nobile is called “dei melangoli" (bitter orange); we could see some sort of enormous citrus fruits (probably citrons) growing there. The final garden is a flower garden on the other side of the Casino Nobile. In the back of the Casino Nobile is the Piazzale Scipione Borghese, a formal garden lined with statues and with a fountain in the center. The Piazzale dei Museo Borgese, in front of the Casino Nobile, is no longer a garden but two patches of lawn. Admittance to the Galleria Borghese (www.galleriaborghese.beniculturali.it/it) is by timed ticket for a period of two hours. We had booked the 3-5 p.m. time slot online (20€ pp plus 2€ pp booking fee) and exchanged our vouchers for tickets at the box office in the basement. Although the web site says that tickets are often available on the day, a sign was posted announcing that they were sold out for the next three days. In addition to the obligatory gift shop, there is a cloakroom in the basement, where umbrellas, purses, backpacks, etc.—almost everything large except cameras—must be deposited before entering the museum. Most people seemed to be waiting in the basement for their time slot to open. However, we were sitting outside in the piazzale and noticed that people were being allowed to leave through the doors at the top of the outside stairs to the ground floor. We decided to ask whether we could also enter through those doors; the answer was yes and we were among the first people to enter the museum at 3 p.m. We had at least 15 minutes practically alone with the fabulous art before people started trickling up from downstairs. While the lavish villa—with frescoed ceilings and mosaic floors taken from ancient Roman villas—is an art work itself, the main attraction on this floor is the magnificent collection of sculpture. Although there was a special exhibition of Picasso sculptures (which we ordinarily would have made an effort to see) scattered throughout the rooms on this floor, the permanent collection is so spectacular that we barely noticed the Picassos. Each room on this floor is filled with statues, busts, paintings or other works of art. The centerpiece of the first room is Canova’s famous 19th-century sculpture of Napoleon’s sister, Pauline Borghese, as Venus. Most impressive to us, however, are the four Bernini sculptures in Rooms II-V: David, Apollo and Daphne, The Rape of Proserpina, and Aeneas, Anchises and Acanius. Books have been written about Bernini’s incredible mastery of marble—suffice it to say that we were blown away by these astounding masterpieces. Room IV also houses a rare 2nd-century Greek original: Diana the Hunter. Room VII houses six Caravaggio paintings, the largest gathering of his works in a single collection. Unfortunately, three of the paintings were currently on loan to other museums in Europe. Nevertheless, we were able to view his “Self-Portrait as Bacchus”, “St. John the Baptist” and “Madonna of Palafrenierri.” There are many more paintings in the Pinacoteca on the second floor. The collection includes two Bernini self-portraits and several of his other sculptures. We thought it was playful to exhibit Picasso’s She-Goat alongside Bernini’s The Goat Amalthea with the Child Jupiter and a Faun. There are also major works by such important artists as Raphael ("Deposition"), Titian ("Sacred and Profane Love"), Domenichino (“The Hunt of Diana”) and van Honthorst (“The Concert”). After walking through the museum twice, we left the Galleria Borghese and walked down the Viale del Museo Boghese towards the Porta Pinciana. Along the way, we saw more evidence of the storms’ destruction—downed trees and other debris. After passing through the city gate, we followed Via di Porta Pinciana along the Aurelian walls, eventually ending up at the Trevi Fountain, the terminus of the Acqua Virgo. This enormous and elaborate fountain is the definition of “tourist attraction”—it always seems that every tourist in Rome is there. Even so, John was able to gently elbow his way through for a good photo to prove that we were there too. We couldn’t resist adding one more sight to our long day: the Church of Sant’Ignazio di Loyola (santignazio.gesuiti.it/en/). Many of the decorations in the church were painted or sculpted by Andrea Pozzo, who seemed to like visual tricks. His huge ceiling fresco is an allegory of the Jesuits spreading the faith to all four corners of the globe; the actual 3-D pillars of the church merge into the 2-D pillars of the fresco. There is a mirror in the middle of the floor to help see the ceiling better but the lighting is rather poor. One of Pozzo’s most famous trompe l'oeil is the fake central dome. As you walk down the nave, it looks like a real dome but as you pass under it, you can see that it is flat. Pozzo also painted the frescoes in the apse, which depict important events in the life of St. Ignatius. There are three Jesuit saints entombed in the church. The beautiful marble carving of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, above the altar containing the urn of his remains, was also done by Pozzo. The church also contains the opulent tomb of Pope Gregory XV, a work by students of Bernini. It was about 1.8 miles from the Galleria Borghese to our hotel, or about 5.1 miles total for the day. Tonight we had dinner at a local wine bar, Enoteca Corsi (www.enotecacorsi.com), which is only open for dinner on Thursdays and Fridays. Naturally, with a 7 p.m. reservation, we were the first customers. There were five or six tables in the wine shop area (all reserved for later times), where we could dine surrounded by the wine on offer. There seem to be another room or two in the back. You can pick a wine from the wine store shelves and have it with your meal for just a corkage fee; there were also good, inexpensive wine choices on the menu. The menu is a list of specials for the day and offers an innovative spin on traditional dishes. For starters, John ordered calamari rolls wrapped in bacon with fresh tomato and arugula; I ordered eggplant balls in a cream sauce with black truffles. For his main, John selected the fresh sea bream with clams and mussels. But mine was the best course: Stracciatella cheese with octopus, tomato sauce and peppers. Tonight, we also choose chicory as a contori. Yum! This enoteca was just a quick few steps from the hotel. We had good service and great food for a reasonable price. We even bought two bottles of wine to go after staring at them next to us throughout the meal. We ate in other Roman restaurants that were more rustic in their food styles and they were quite good. But the food here was ambitious and not expensive at all. And they take credit cards! SAT, 11/03/18 CIVITAVECCHIA, ITALY (DEPART 6PM) This morning it was not raining and the sun was actually breaking through the clouds! After breakfast, we wanted to visit two nearby churches before catching our shared transfer to the port. Although we thought it would open at 6:40 a.m., the Church of Santa Maria Supra Minerva was locked up tight. This church’s piazza is easily recognized by Bernini’s statue of an elephant, which is supporting an Egyptian obelisk (Minerveo). We hoped that the church might open later, so we proceeded to our next target. The Gesù Church is the main church of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Rome. The facade looks ordinary but it is the first church to be built that shows curved elements of the Baroque style. Stepping inside, the ceiling is a riot of figures surrounding a cross bearing the Jesuit’s motto “IHS.” Executed by a student of Bernini, painted figures segue into stucco statues in an interesting 3-D effect. Again there is a mirror in the middle of the floor to help see the ceiling better. In either transept is an altar dedicated to the most prominent members of the order: St. Ignatius Loyola (the founder) and St. Francis Xavier (the famous missionary). On the left of the main altar, St. Ignatius’ altar and tomb is flanked by two statues portraying religion overthrowing heresy. On the right side, the altar/tomb of St. Francis Xavier is topped by a reliquary containing his right hand. In front of the main altar are stairs down into the crypt, which houses the tombs of other leaders of the order. The rest of the church is a typical riot of Baroque decoration. We headed back to Santa Maria Supra Minerva, hoping it had opened at 9 a.m. No such luck! We decided to continue on to the Pantheon, John’s favorite building in Rome. The original temple dedicated to all the gods was built by Marcus Agrippa (accounting for his name on the facade); however, it was later completely rebuilt by Hadrian. The dome is a marvel of Roman engineering—constructed of concrete that diminishes in thickness as it rises to the peak; the coffered ceiling and hole at the top (oculus) further reduce the weight of the dome. The span of this dome could not be surpassed for another 1300 years, until Brunelleschi's dome in the Florence Cathedral. Thankfully, the temple was later converted to a church dedicated to all the Christian saints, which accounts for its excellent state of preservation. Famous tombs in the church are those of the Renaissance painter Raphael and those of the first two kings of united Italy. It was a treat to see the sun shining down through the oculus: when we visited in 2008, rain was pouring in. Despite the fact that we had not made any special effort to find obelisks, the Egyptian obelisk (Macuteo), in the Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon, marked the eleventh obelisk we saw on this visit to Rome. Of the 13 ancient Egyptian/Roman obelisks, we only missed two Egyptian ones: the first in front of St. John Lateran (Lateranense) and the other (Matteiano) at the Villa Celimontana. Yet another excuse to come back to Rome! We returned to the hotel, checked out and waited in the lobby until it was time to meet our shared shuttle (70€ for two) to Civitavecchia. We used Roma Shuttle (www.romashuttle.com), the same company we used for transfers in 2008. We headed downstairs earlier than the scheduled pick up time of 10:15-10:30 a.m. and the driver was already walking toward the hotel door as we exited. The vehicle was a spacious van that easily held four couples and their luggage for the 1.5 hour drive to the port. Although a number of roll call members planned to take the train to Civitavecchia and taxi or walk to the ship, we thought the convenience (especially if it had still been raining) of door-to-door service was worth the extra expense. We arrived at the port a little after noon. Besides the Crown Princess, the Star Breeze and MSC Sinfonia were also in port. Once inside the terminal, we quickly completed all the boarding formalities and were directed to the ship. Our cabin steward, Raul from Portugal, had just finished preparing our cabin, so John called the Dine Line to make dinner reservations for tonight, the Chef’s Table ($95 pp) and the Super Tuscan Wine Lunch ($100 pp). Then I called Room Service to exchange some of the items in the Elite minibar setup and request two wine glasses. We had originally booked a category BF balcony guarantee stateroom and, three months before sailing, we were assigned a category BB cabin on Aloha Deck 7 starboard near the forward stairs/elevators. It was nice to see that the robes supplied for use during the voyage were the thick, plush ones—not the skimpy, shrunken waffle ones. Those tasks accomplished, we headed up to Slices Pizzeria for some pizza and Stromboli to tide us over until dinner. Although Princess’ pizza is very good, it dims a bit in comparison to the pizza we had in Rome. The Stromboli (cheese and salami rolled up in pizza crust like a jellyroll) is a nice addition to the menu but did not taste quite as good as it sounded. Back at the cabin, Raul soon arrived with our luggage. We only have a few special requirements for our cabin steward: a steady supply of laundry bags and of bar soap for the shower. When Raul made up the bed later in the evening, the extra laundry bags were accompanied by a note that, due to the number of Elite passengers, we should expect the next day laundry service to take 72 hours. We had anticipated this delay and packed a few extra clothes. That was a wise decision because every batch of laundry did indeed take 72 hours to be returned. The Passenger Safety Drill (which no longer requires passengers to bring their life vests to the muster station) was held later in the afternoon. For this cruise, we chose “Anytime Dining” instead of a traditional fixed seating. Regardless of our dining choice, we generally dine in a specialty restaurant to avoid the confusion of the first night in the MDR. Tonight’s dinner at the Crown Grill ($29 pp) included the Sterling Silver Beef Chop, Blackened with Mushrooms and Onions for John and the Madeira-glazed veal chop for me. With those, we shared a bottle of Oberon Merlot 2016. John was able to buy a 12-bottle Gold wine card without any problems. We were also able to use the two-for-one offer at a specialty restaurant on embarkation night, which was included in the coupon book we received on our last Princess cruise. [Note: The wine packages offered were Silver (wines up to $31) 12 ($240), 10 ($210) or 7 ($161) bottles and Gold (wines up to $45) 12 ($336), 10 ($290) or 7 ($217) bottles. Note that a 15% gratuity is added to the price of each package. Also note that either package can be used to purchase more expensive wines: the list price of the wine is charged to your on board account (no gratuity added) and your account receives a credit for either $31 or $45.] SUN, 11/04/18 LIVORNO, ITALY 7AM—7PM When our port call to Genoa was canceled, we we first told that this was due to port congestion. The full story was that the Port Authority had assigned the Crown Princess to a berth that was too shallow; by the time that was discovered, no suitable berth was available. Regardless of the reason for substituting Livorno, we did not have time to arrange an independent tour with other roll call members. Because we had spent a week in Florence in 2014 and had previously visited Pisa twice, most of excursions offered by the ship did not appeal to us. We had prebooked a ship’s excursion to Cinque Terre that included a boat ride along the coast. However, there were no tickets for that tour in our cabin when we embarked. Upon investigation, we learned that that tour had been canceled, along with a similar tour that did not include the boat ride. Cinque Terre (which had been devastated by storms in 2011) had again been badly damaged by the storms of the last two weeks. The storms had caused small landslides around the Cinque Terre villages, resulting in several road closures. The road leading to the historical center of Monterosso was closed, separating the village into two parts. Disappointed, we managed to book a full-day ship’s excursion to San Gimignano, a winery and Pisa. With more time to plan, we would likely have arranged an independent tour to several wineries. Nevertheless, this turned out to be an enjoyable tour. The drive from Livorno to San Gimignano (www.sangimignano.com/en/) took a little over 1.5 hours. Along the way, our guide Carla indicated points of interest such as a Vespa factory and the hometown of blind musician Andrea Bocelli. Once in San Gimignano, she turned us loose for 1.75 hours to explore on our own. Similar to Orvieto, the town was built on a hill atop an earlier (3rd-2nd century BC) Etruscan settlement. The Medieval walled city originally had 72 towers but, due to earthquakes, only 14 remain. The bus parking was outside the Porta San Giovanni. We decided to walk along the main street from there through the center of town to the Porta San Mateo. Along the way, we passed the Piazza delle Cisterna (with the old city well) and the Piazza Duomo (with the cathedral). It would have been nice to visit the Duomo or climb the Torre Grossa but we would have to be back on the bus before their 11 a.m. opening times. Once at the Porta San Mateo, we tried to take the path along the bottom of the walls clockwise. We soon ran into a closure, so we retraced our steps and tried the other direction. We eventually reached the town’s high point, the Rocca di Montestaffoli fortress (1353). This is a very small fort but entry is free and we could climb up to the top of the walls for some good views. After that, we walked the cobblestone streets seeking out the various viewpoints. We also tried to find the Medieval fountain (with no luck) and, despite the map we had obtained from Tourist Information, we got a little disoriented. Nevertheless, we made it back to the bus by the appointed time. It was only a 20-minute drive from San Gimignano to the Tentuta Torciano (www.torciano.com/en/), where we spent two hours tasting nine wines and four olive oils, accompanied by some sausage, bread and cheese. The only white wine we tasted was the local Vernaccia di San Gimignano. After that came a Chianti, a Chianti Classico, a Brunello di Montalcino and three Super Tuscans. Each of the Super Tuscan wines was paired with a flavored olive oil. The tasting finished up with a Vin Beato dessert wine and Prosecco. The Vernaccia was of particular interest since this grape is unique to San Gimignano. There are others grapes with similar names but this varietal has been shown to be genetically different. The reds were a collection of Italian standards and quite good. The Super Tuscans showed how the Italian soils and climate modify the classic French varietals into something really different. It took about 1.5 hours to drive from the winery to Pisa (www.turismo.pisa.it/en/); napping may have occurred. Carla walked 10 minutes with us to the meeting point and then turned us loose for an hour. Although we had visited Pisa fairly recently, climbed the Leaning Tower and toured all the sights at the Field of Miracles (www.opapisa.it/en/home-page.html), it is always an impressive place. We considered buying a ticket to some of the sights but decided just to walk around enjoying the views and the nice weather. We did see some people walking on top of the old city walls but when we found the entrance, we were told that it was closed for the day. From Pisa, it was a 45-minute drive back to the ship. [Note: For those touring independently, there was a cash-only shuttle for 5€ pp round-trip that that ran from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and dropped passengers in downtown Livorno on Via Cogorano, next to the Piazza Grande. Of course, taxis were also available at the dock; walking through the port area is prohibited.] This morning John had made reservations for 6 p.m. in the Michelangelo Dining Room. It was Italian Night and we both enjoyed the Brasato (Italian pot roast) with a bottle of Ruffino Chianti Classico 2014. MON, 11/05/18 AT SEA Today we had planned to join an independent full-day wine tour around Bandol and Cassis that was organized by another Cruise Critic roll call member. However, as we were getting ready in the morning, Captain Lubrano announced that the wind conditions made it unsafe to attempt docking at Toulon; we would spend the day at sea instead. We had prepaid for this tour and I knew the tour company would only be refunding 90% of the tour price (which they did promptly). I stopped by the Passenger Services desk to request an official letter stating that Toulon had been skipped and the reason why; I would need the letter to submit a claim on my travel insurance. I received the letter a few days later, after the passengers had been issued a refund for the $7.17 pp Toulon port charge. [Note: For those touring independently, there would have been a complimentary water shuttle that would have run from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. and taken passengers from the dock in La Seyne to downtown Toulon. The ride takes about 15-20 minutes each way.] A bright spot for us was that the New Orleans Saints beat the Los Angeles Rams yesterday. Our normal sea day schedule consists of waking up, showering and getting dressed, finding a spot to read that gets us out of Raul’s way so he can make up the cabin, having a slice (or two) of pizza for lunch, relaxing and reading on our balcony (when it’s warm enough), enjoying an afternoon drink or ice cream, going to a show, having dinner and reading until it is time for a good night’s sleep. Occasionally we vary that busy program by attending a port or enrichment lecture, watching a movie, going for a walk or participating in some other activity. Because the first four days of the original itinerary were port days, the port lectures by Julio Delgado had been prerecorded and were playing on the stateroom TV. Now that we had an extra sea day, he gave a live talk on Barcelona. We attended that and picked up a few useful hints for independent travelers. Today we enjoyed the pizza with some of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo we had bought at Enoteca Corsi in Rome. I also tried a slice of the foccacia with meatballs; again this was something that looked better than it tasted. To console ourselves for missing Toulon, we dined tonight at Sabatini’s ($29 pp). Often Sabatini’s offers daily specials that alternate during the cruise. Usually, there are only two—Osso Buco and Veal Milanese—but the Crown Princess has added Veal Saltimbocca to the rotation. Tonight the special was Osso Buco, known to all who read my reviews as one of our all-time favorite dishes on Princess. Of course, we had to have that plus a bottle of Giordano Barolo 2012. TUE, 11/0/18 BARCELONA, SPAIN 8AM—11PM Finally, a beautiful sunny day with mild temperatures! We needed to wear our wind jackets but felt safe leaving the umbrellas and plastic ponchos on the ship. The Crown Princess was docked at Pier D, as far away from town as possible. The MSC Fantasia was only slightly closer (at Pier C) and the Azamara Pursuit had a prime position on the other side of the harbor, close to the city. Although the distance is walkable, we wanted to save our energy for more interesting strolls. There was a cash-only shuttle that was heavily touted at 5€ pp for an all-day ticket. That service would run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and drop passengers next to the Tourist Office at the Columbus column. We chose another option: the blue Port Authority T3 Cruise Bus (www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/faq/cruise-ship-terminals/shuttle-bus-barcelona-cruise-terminal.html) for 3€ pp one-way or 4€ pp round-trip, cash only. The Cruise Bus coordinates with the cruise ship schedules and the stop is behind the Maritime Museum, across the street from the Columbus column. The shuttle was in a more obvious location outside the front door of the terminal but the T3 bus stop was located a few feet from the terminal along the street. We caught the 9 a.m. Cruise Bus for the 15-minute drive to the drop-off point. There was plenty of time before we had to meet our 11 a.m. market tour, so we strolled up Las Ramblas, which was not crowded at this time of the morning. We ducked into the La Bouqueria, much larger and more touristy than the neighborhood market where we would have the tour. Nevertheless, it was fun to walk past the colorful fruits and vegetables as well as the delicious-looking seafood, cheeses and other wares. We continued on to the Plaça Catalunya, then turned left to pass through the University district to the Eixample district. John had booked a three-hour, small group “Market Lover Tour” (foodlovertour.com/barcelona/tapas-lover-tour/) for 49€ pp. We had used this same company for an evening tapas tour when we spent several days in Barcelona in 2016. This tour was almost canceled because we were the only ones who signed up. Ultimately, we received a private tour led by one of the owners of the company (Zoltan). Although originally from Hungary, Zoltan is quite knowledgeable about the food of Barcelona and also writes books and articles about wine. He started with his normal presentation but then really opened up when he could see that we were excited to be trying the unusual foods and wines he offered on this market tour. We met Zoltan at the main entrance of the Mercat del Ninot (www.mercatdelninot.com) in the Eixample district. This historic market (dating to 1892) was revitalized by a grocery chain, which now has a location in the basement. The grocery sells non-food items as well as out-of-season and imported foodstuffs. The independent food stands on the upper level sell seasonal, local produce, fish, meat and poultry. After telling us about its history, Zoltan led us through the market. Most of the food stalls have been managed for generations by the same families and have likewise been patronized by the same families for generations. The vendors freely share their expertise with their clients: you can tell them what you want to prepare for dinner and they will advise you on the best fish or cut of meat/poultry and then prepare your selection so that it is ready for you to cook when you get home. We already knew that people in Europe usually shop for food daily or every other day. Zoltan explained that most people work from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and again from 4-7 p.m.; they are able to shop during that two-hour break and also often have lunch at the market. A single person like Zoltan typically would purchase pre-made items at the market rather than buy all the individual ingredients and cook a meal. Our first stop was at a Escofet Oliver (stalls #7-9), purveyor of a tremendous selection of olives. Zoltan ordered cups mixed with a number of different kinds—both black and green varieties. We snacked on these as we walked on the way to the next shop, Xarcuteria Alonso Andrés (stall #2), where we enjoyed a plate of chorizo, another smoked sausage (salchichón?), blood sausage (dry Morcilla), white pudding (Morcilla Blanca—no blood) and Manchego cheese. That was a lot to eat (even for us) so the seller gladly wrapped the rest for us to take away. When we were walking through La Bouqueria earlier, we had noticed paper cones filled with slices of sausages and cheese. Zotan explained that that was a typical Catalan breakfast. At our next stop, Bar David del Ninot (stall #40), we sampled ham croquetas and a blood sausage (Morcilla) with rice in it, served hot; those were accompanied by a glass of Clos de Pinell Garnacha (Grenache). Our final stop in the market was at Barra Perelló (perello1898.com/barra-perello/, stalls #18-20), where we enjoyed several specialties—anchovies in olive oil on tomato-brushed bread, bacalao (salt cod) croquetas and bacalao cebiche with tomatoes and olives. This was topped off by wonderful octopus on boiled potatoes! We washed all this down with a glass of red vermouth. Finally, Zoltan guided us outside to a sweet shop a couple of blocks away for a finale of sparkling wine and world-class desserts. The owner of La Pastisseria (lapastisseriabarcelona.com) was part of the team that won the Gold Medal in the 2011 World Pastry Cup. We enjoyed a seasonal treat, Caramel (cake with caramel mousse and caramelized hazelnut pieces), and the specialty of the house, La Cirera (cake with cherry mousse and cherry compote), along with a glass of cava (local sparkling wine). This was a totally satisfying tour and we will be looking forward to future tours with Food Lovers. From the pastry shop, we walked back to the Barri Gòtic. This would be our second visit to the Barcelona Cathedral (www.catedralbcn.org/index.php?lang=en) and we took advantage of the fact that the 7€ pp entrance fee included not only entrance to the cathedral but also to the roof, museum and cloister. Going up on the roof gave great views of the Cathedral’s steeples and a panorama of the entire city; there was also a cute elephant rain spout. The museum was the usual assortment of art that formerly decorated the Cathedral and gold-covered liturgical paraphernalia. The Cathedral is an outstanding example of Catalan Gothic architecture. There are at least 40 side chapels in the church and cloister; the handy brochure (in English!) that comes with the ticket identifies each of them. One significant chapel is that of St. Severus, a bishop of Barcelona who was martyred during the Diocletian Persecution by having a nail hammered into his head. Another important saint buried here is St. Eulalia, the co-patron saint (with Our Lady of Mercy) of Barcelona. For refusing to recant her faith, she was subjected to 13 especially gruesome tortures and finally decapitated. Her remains are kept in an alabaster sarcophagus, carved with reliefs of her tribulations, in a large crypt under the main altar. The flock of geese in the cloister recall the legend that a dove flew from her neck when she was beheaded; they number 13 in honor of her age and number of tortures. There is a fountain in the cloister that is dedicated to Sant Jordi (St. George), the patron saint of Catalonia. We weren’t ready to return to the ship but decided against an earlier plan to hike on Montjuïc (irbarcelona.org/montjuic-mountain-park/). We decided instead to visit MUHBA (Museo d’Història de Barcelona), which is near the Cathedral on Plaça del Rei. MUHBA is actually a scattered collection of museums and historical sites; the entrance fee (5€ pp, senior rate) includes all of the centers except Park Guell. We were primarily interested in visiting the main center, the MUHBA Plaça del Rei (ajuntament.barcelona.cat/museuhistoria/en/muhba-placa-del-rei). The archaeological area under Plaça del Rei includes the ruins of of an entire quarter of the ancient Roman city of Barcino, an area of over 4000 square meters. This is an extremely well done exhibition, with an excellent included audioguide (available in many languages) and informational signs in Catalan, Spanish and English. There are catwalks over the remains of houses, factories, shops, streets, walls—all aspects of daily Roman life. Of course, the area of most interest to us was the late 3rd-4th century wine making facility. The Romans used a gravity-flow system to move the grape juice from the large crushing tub, through ceramic pipes and stone channels, to clay casks for fermentation and finally to amphorae for storage. A few blocks away is the MUHBA Temple Roma d'August (ajuntament.barcelona.cat/museuhistoria/en/muhba-temple-augustus). The only remains of the 1st-century BC Roman temple of Barcino, dedicated to Emperor Augustus, are four large columns. On the way back to the ship, I bought a small Estelada, the Catalan independence movement flag. All of our walking today totaled about 5.5 miles. Back onboard, we enjoyed a pre-dinner folkloric performance by Flamenco José de la Vega. The troupe of a singer, a guitarist, one male dancer and three female dancers was quite energetic. I know that I could never learn to do a dance that requires me to gracefully kick my long skirt out of the way to avoid tripping on it! The female dancers could do that, however, and had lovely costumes. Tonight we had reservations for 7:30 p.m. in the Da Vinci Dining Room. The menus on this cruise feature Mediterranean-style food and there is a special symbol marking the particular dishes. We selected the diver scallops with white beans, accompanied by a bottle of Hartford Court Chardonnay 2016. WED, 11/07/18 AT SEA During the day today, we would be sailing along the southern coast of Spain, close enough to see large towns and the coastal mountains. While we were in the Mediterranean, the sea was fairly calm. After exiting into the Atlantic, however, we had several days of rougher ocean conditions. Fortunately John and I have not experienced any problems with motion sickness in the past. This morning we had a briefing for the Chef’s Table guests to sign the required health forms and to go over the rules for clothing and behavior in the Galley. We had to wait on one person who was quite late; his partner and another couple never showed up at all. The former couple was also very late for the actual dinner and had to be called in their stateroom to come down; then they claimed that they “got lost” on the way to the meeting point! There’s always somebody who thinks his/her time is more valuable than everyone else’s. Tonight was the first of three formal nights on this cruise; the Captain's Welcome Aboard Party and Champagne Waterfall was held in the Piazza between the two fixed dinner sittings. Before the party, we attended a show in the Explorers Lounge. The comedian, Rikki Jay, was funny but we had heard at least half of his jokes before—some were real groaners. After the party we again had reservations for 7:30 p.m. in the Da Vinci Dining Room. We selected the braised lamb shanks with artichokes and feta cheese, accompanied by a bottle of Vall Llach Embruix Priorat 2016. During the night tonight, the clocks would be set back one hour to begin recouping the six-hour time difference between Rome and EST. THURS, 11/08/18 AT SEA This morning John went to a special interest lecture by David Wiemers, “When Hollywood Sails, It Sells,” about movies focused on the sea. Wiemers is former Hollywood writer and producer and an engaging speaker. We were sorry that we had overlooked the note in the Princess Patter yesterday about his first talk, “Rome and Barcelona in the Movies.” Unfortunately, it must not have been recorded as we never saw it repeated on the stateroom TV. Meanwhile I went to the Cruise Critic get-together in Skywalkers. I had hoped to meet some of the people we would be touring with in the Azores, but none of them attended. We were a good-sized group (50-60 people) and eight officers (Hotel General Manger, Food & Beverage Director, Executive Housekeeper, Entertainment Director, Cruise Director, Assistant Cruise Director, Environmental Officer and one other) stopped by to welcome us aboard. Later the "Most Traveled Passengers" luncheon was held in Sabatini’s Restaurant; as usual the food was great. We often say that we are going to choose the fish option and this time we both chose the Lemon and Lime Scallops as an appetizer and the Cannolo Striped Bass as a main course. The bass was encased in bread and fried so it looked like a cannolo—an unusual presentation. Both of those were excellent with a Puerto Viejo Chardonnay. Dessert was a scrumptious Almond and Red Velvet Chocolate Terrine. We felt lucky to be in the “top 40” because transatlantic voyages tend to have so many “Super Elite” passengers aboard. Nevertheless, we made the cut (638 days) and ended up sitting with the Environmental Officer, Domenico Sgroni from Bari, Italy. Despite the filling lunch, we were ready to eat again at 7:15 p.m. in the Da Vinci Dining Room. We did limit ourselves to an appetizer, main and dessert. As the main course, we both selected the Peidmontese-Style Veal Scaloppine, which paired well with Silverado Sangiovese 2013. FRI, 11/09/18 AT SEA This morning we both attended David Wiemers’ lecture on “Tales of New York and Ellis Island.” As far as I have been able to determine, our forebears immigrated to the USA before the Ellis Island processing center was established. Most of John’s ancestors appear to have entered through the Port of New Orleans, while most of mine came in through various ports in the northeast. We dined tonight at Sabatini’s, where we thought the special was going to be Veal Saltimbocca. However, it was the Osso Buco, which John could not resist having again. I had the Veal Chop instead. Those were enjoyed with a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino 2016. The ship’s clocks were again moved back one hour during the night to put us on the correct time for our arrival in Ponta Delgada tomorrow. SAT, 11/10/18 PONTA DELGADA, SÃO MIGUEL ISLAND, AZORES, PORTUGAL 9AM—5PM Ponta Delgada (islandmadeira.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/map-sao-miguel-azores-big.jpg) is the capital of São Miguel Island, one of seven in the archipelago. John and I previously visited the Azores (www.visitazores.com/en) on a cruise in 2015. For today John had arranged a tour with the same company that we used last time, Amazing Tours (www.amazingtours.pt/en). We were joined by three other couples from our Cruise Critic roll call. The cost of this 6-hour taxi tour in an 8-passenger van is 400€, or 50€ pp with eight people. As we approached São Miguel Island, the weather did not look promising. [Note: We later learned at the Captain’s Circle party that Captain Lubrano almost had to cancel this port call.] The forecast was for clearing during the morning, with a possibility of rain in the afternoon. By the time we docked, it looked like we might have a nice day. The temperature was very pleasant, in the low 60s F (16-18 C). The ship arrived slightly late and our group was already gathered in the Art Gallery. As we exited the cruise terminal, our driver/guide, Abraão (Abraham) Brito, was waiting and ready to go. We had chosen Shore Tour #5, “Furnas & Fire Lake Craters,” which would visit thermal areas, a tea plantation and several villages and scenic viewpoints. Abraham was an excellent driver/guide, giving lots of commentary and pointing out sights along the way. First we followed the south coast toward Vila Franca do Campo through the lush green countryside along roads lined with hydrangeas. Although most of the blooms were fading, they were still pretty and must have been spectacular a few months ago. There were many other flowering plants and large stands of the lovely, but invasive, ginger lily. Abraham pointed out other flowers and plants as well. We stopped along the way at a black sand beach for photos of the gorgeous coastline. Vila Franca do Campo was the original capital of São Miguel Island before the village was destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1522; after that, the capital was moved to Ponta Delgada. Abraham parked and took us to the quaint town square, a historic church (unfortunately all the churches seemed to be closed today) and the small town market. The church, dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, is one of the oldest in the archipelago; the bell tower shows damage from an artillery shell when the town was attacked by corsairs in 1624. Next we drove to a hill above the town to visit the chapel of Our Lady of Peace. There is a great view right from the parking lot but a few of us climbed up to the tiny chapel at the top of the hill for even better ones. The steps up to the chapel are divided into sections, each one featuring a large plaque with a scene from the lives of Mary and Jesus. The plaques are done in beautiful blue-and-white Portuguese tiles (azulejos). Part of the great view here includes an island just offshore that is actually the crater of an extinct volcano. Ilhéu de Vila Franca do Campo is a nature reserve and its lagoon, popular for swimming, is limited to 400 visitors per day. We continued north to Furnas Lake, a very large lake with white sand beaches. It also has steam vents on the shore because it is located in a volcanic crater. We each had to pay 2€ to enter the small Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas park where the caldeiras—hot springs and boiling mud pits—are more concentrated. There are boardwalks past the thermal features so that we could observe them more closely and also see the holes in the ground where “Cozido” (a stew made from a variety of meats and vegetables) is cooked. The holes are lined with cement and have openings to let in the steam. A pot with the stew ingredients is put into the hole, covered with a mound of dirt and left to cook for six hours. Although anyone can cook a meal here (for a fee), most of the mounds had marker indicating that they belonged to local restaurants. Naturally, Cozido must be ordered a day in advance and it is normally enough to serve two people. As we left, we saw the designated parking area for dropping off and picking up the pots of stew. Next we descended to the Village of Furnas, inside another volcanic crater. A hot stream flows from Furnas Lake to here and there are a number of hot springs and fumeroles in the downtown area. We had a half hour to walk around the village, observe the thermal features and have a free sample of local fruit-flavored liquors. Both of these sites were fun to visit but once you have toured Yellowstone National Park, other thermal areas pale in comparison. Back in the taxi, we drove up to the Pico do Ferro mirador on the rim of the crater. From here we had a panoramic view of the Furnas Valley, including the Village of Furnas and Furnas Lake. From the viewpoint, we drove to the island’s north coast for a visit to the Chá Gorreana (gorreana.pt/en/), one of the last two tea plantations in Europe. Abraham walked us through the factory, showing us the machinery and explaining the process for converting raw tea (Camellia sinensis) leaves into black and green tea. We bought a gift box of several teas and tried some of the free samples. There was also a movie about tea production for those who wanted to know more. We later drove past the other (much smaller) tea factory. The weather was cooler on the north coast and it looked like we would get the promised afternoon rain. Fortunately, it mostly held off for our next two sights. Just before Ribeira Grande, we stopped at the Miradouro de Santa Iría. Although we had dramatic views of the north coast, we could not see the Sete Cidades volcano or Pico da Vara (the island’s highest point) as is possible on a clearer day. Our final stop was at Cidade da Ribeira Grande, Sao Miguel's oldest settlement. John and I walked down into the central garden, which is along a river gorge. We also viewed the town hall and the Church of Our Lady, the Star. The tour was also supposed to visit another nearby thermal area, Caldeira Velha (2€ pp to take the walking trail). We had stopped there on our 2015 visit and knew that sights inside include a hot spring with boiling water; water from a stream is warmed by the spring and visitors can soak in a pool there. There is also warm waterfall and the basin below is ideal for soaking. The path to the waterfall and springs is surrounded by luxuriant vegetation, including tree ferns. By now, however, it had started to rain and I don’t think anyone minded skipping this attraction. We would be driving back to Ponta Delgada over the top of the Fogo volcano, to Pico da Barrosa, the second-highest point on the island. This was also part of our previous tour and we know there are a number of spectacular viewpoints along the way, including Fogo Lake. Today however, we only had views of rain and clouds. As we descended, the weather gradually improved and Abraham offered to drop us off in town if we wanted to shop. He got no takers, so he took us on a short city tour of Ponta Delgada before returning us to the ship. We passed sights such as the university, Forte de São Bras, churches, the town hall and the old city gates. We returned to the ship at about 3:30 p.m., with plenty of time to get cleaned up for dinner. We highly recommend Amazing Tours and especially Abraão Brito as a driver/guide. Tonight was the Chef’s Table ($95 pp). This special meal, prepared by the Executive Chef, is limited to 12 people. This event would only be offered once on this cruise and the Maitre d’ said there were 50 people (maybe an exaggeration) on the waiting list. The group (minus the tardy couple) gathered at Vines wine bar, where we were greeted by the Maitre d', Oscar Perego, and helped into white jackets or lab coats. Then we were escorted into the Galley, where we scrubbed our hands thoroughly. It was near the end of the first dinner sitting, so the Galley was not so busy as it had been earlier in the evening. We were introduced to the Executive Chef, Naveen Quadros; he and Oscar pointed out all the food preparation areas and explained how everything was organized to work smoothly. After that, we were moved to a table in an out-of-the-way corner, which was decorated with a beautiful ice sculpture and carved vegetables. There we were served Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne and five special appetizers prepared by the Executive Chef. After enjoying those, we were escorted to a special table in the Michelangelo Dining Room. Before being seated, a group photo was taken with the Maitre d' and Executive Chef. The first course was Forest Mushroom Risotto served with Pinot Grigio Danzante from Italy. Next was a roasted orange sorbet palate-cleanser. The main course was a duet of meat dishes: flambeed roast veal shank and rack of lamb with a mustard and pistachio coating. That course was served with Caro from Chile. Next followed a cheese course of baked Camembert with candied walnuts and a port reduction. Dessert was a Limoncello parfait mousse, accompanied by Errazuriz Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and Petit Fours. Needless to say, this six-course meal and accompanying wines were outstanding and served with appropriate pomp and ceremony. After the meal, each couple received a copy of the 50th Anniversary Edition of Princess' cookbook (Courses, a Culinary Journey), the group photo and a souvenir menu; each lady was presented with a long-stemmed red rose. Wow! Great meal! SUN, 11/11/18 Today’s special interest lecture, “Tales of Hollywood,” was held in the afternoon due to a special service commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. The talk was an overview of Wiemers’ career path in Hollywood. Tonight was the second of three formal nights on the cruise. The Michelangelo Dining Room served Surf ‘n Turf: filet mignon with two large prawns. John selected Segesio Zinfandel 2016 to accompany our meal. Towards the end of dinner, our wine was poured by Szenana from Croatia, who was the Food and Beverage Manager on the Pacific Princess and holds the same position on the Crown Princess. We were surprised that she recognized us and she was surprised that she had not encountered us earlier in the cruise (probably because she spends a lot of her time supervising the buffet). She and one of her waiters (Anastasia—currently between contracts) provided truly outstanding service in the two specialty restaurants during our May transatlantic cruise. It was really nice to be recognized! After dinner, we went to the production show “DISCO—Blame It on the Boogie.” The sea conditions had gradually improved during the day and were practically calm by the time we went to bed. Tonight we set the clocks back another hour. MON, 11/12/18 AT SEA Today’s special interest lecture, “Thanks for the Memories,” was back in its normal morning slot. This talk was about famous people (including Bob Hope) whom Wiemers met during his Hollywood career and people he knew before they became stars. The Super Tuscan Wine Lunch ($100 pp) is a special event we had only attended once before, several years ago on the Royal Princess with Maitre d’ Generoso Mazzone. However, that time the price was substantially lower so we were unsure what to expect from this one. Like the Chef’s table, participation was limited—this time to 16 people. We asked a couple of others how they learned about this event as it was not advertised in the Princess Patter or elsewhere. It was only mentioned to John as an afterthought on embarkation day, when he had called the Dine Line to inquire about any special dining events. Apparently, others had learned about it from their waiters in Sabatini’s. We hadn’t received any sort of confirmation or reminder about the lunch but Szenana had checked on Sunday and reassured us that our names were on the list and that it would indeed be held today at 11:45 a.m. in Sabatini’s. Because of the lack of information, we were not quite sure what the event would be like. However, it turned out to be one of the best meals we have ever enjoyed on a Princess ship—with outstanding food prepared by the Sous Chef and magnificent wines selected by the Maitre d’. We knew we were in for a special treat right from the start, with an amuse bouche of chocolate with Parmesan cheese. This was paired with Veuve Cliquot Champagne; this and the dessert were the only courses that were served with a non-Tuscan wine. The other courses were each paired with a different Super Tuscan wine. Super Tuscan is an unofficial name for wines that at one time did not meet the classification requirements of wine in the Tuscan wine area of Italy. Winemakers who wanted to experiment with grape varieties (e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec) and blends not typically found in Tuscan wines had to label their wines simply as “table wine.” The title Super Tuscan evolved to describe these new Italian wines. After the amuse bouche tantalized our palates, we were presented with a generous slab of foie gras with a pistachio balsamic reduction. It was incredibly rich and went beautifully with a 2015 Antinori Tignanello. Saffron risotto with veal ragout followed and was paired with a 2015 Argentiera Bolgheri. Two rather large duck breasts came out next, sauced with pumpkin, cauliflower, and beet root with chili caviar. Excellent flavors! Our server poured a 2013 Frescobaldi Giramonte di Castiglion with that. Not having seen a menu yet, we assumed this was an outstanding main course to end our meal. Not so! The duck was followed by sliced beef strip loin with a rocket salad and Parmesan chips along with a 2015 Frescobaldi Luce Della Vite 2015. An outstanding meal must end with a cheese course and this one was Castelrosso cheese from the Piedmont of Italy and truffles in flaky puff pastry. The wine was a beautiful 2015 Ornellaia. But not so fast! Dessert came next and was an orange-lemon flan with berries and honeyed meringue along with Petit Fours. By this point we were almost speechless with the number of courses, the quality of the food and the ingenious preparations. The wines were almost perfect matches and amazing in quality. A little post-cruise research has shown that the US retail prices of the wines ranged from $85 to $215. Maitre D’ Oscar clearly wanted to show off at this luncheon and literally spared no expense. This Super Tuscan treat was in no way comparable to our previous experience. We were fortunate to have gotten in on this one! Oscar later told us that this was not a regular event, but rather it was something he just wanted to try. This evening as we still radiated from our lunch (and needing no dinner), we attended one of two Captain’s Circle parties in Club Fusion. Of the nearly 3000 passengers on this voyage, 2416 had previously sailed with Princess: 349 Gold, 295 Ruby, 846 Platinum and 926 Elite. No wonder the laundry was taking so long to be returned! The most traveled couple had 1404 days, the 2nd most traveled person had 1232 days and the 3rd most traveled person had 1083 days. One woman was recognized for attaining 500 days on this cruise. TUES, 11/13/18 AT SEA This morning’s special interest lecture was “The Struggle Years: 1977-84.” This was about Wiemers’ early career, especially when he was half of “The Fighting Couple,” hired to ruin parties with their bickering (!?!). The temperatures have been increasing slightly and it was quite pleasant yesterday. Today it was warm enough to enjoy sitting on the balcony in the afternoon. John even saw flying fish! We dined tonight for the third time at Sabatini’s and the specialty was again Osso Buco. John decided to pass this time and ordered the Veal Chop with Barolo Glaze and Mushroom Ragout. I decided to try something new (to me)—the chicken roll stuffed with eggplant, cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. With those we drank a bottle of Amarone 2015. Tonight we set the clocks back another hour. Also, we were warned that the water would be off between midnight and 4 a.m. for maintenance. WED, 11/14/18 AT SEA The special interest lecture this morning was about Wiemers’ “Flops and Failures.” This evening there was a short dance routine in the Piazza, “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, which we viewed before dinner. I forgot to write down what we ate, but we drank Saget Pouilly-Fuisse 2016 with it! THURS, 11/15/18 AT SEA This morning’s special interest lecture was about Wiemers’ “Adventures at the Walt Disney Company (1984-2002).” He is especially proud of his work on “DuckTales.” After lunch I started packing some of the items we would not need during the last few days of the cruise. Later one of three “Princess Grapevine” wine tastings were held. Several events were needed to accommodate all the Elite passengers, who receive a complimentary invitation. The five wines were: Asti Spumante, Rosemount 2014 Chardonnay, Duckhorn 2015 Decoy Merlot, Pacific Bay 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and Giordano 2012 Barolo. Before the tasting started, the Maitre d’ had a little quiz, asking which is the smallest country in the world. John was the first person to shout out the answer (Vatican City) and was awarded a bottle of inexpensive sparkling wine that later made nice Mimosas on Thanksgiving morning. Tonight was the last of the three formal nights. Dinner was three steamed lobster half-tails served over risotto. We also enjoyed one of our favorite appetizers—escargots. We always like sparkling wine with the lobster dishes so the wine for tonight was Nicolas Feuillatte champagne. Tonight we set the clocks back another hour. FRI, 11/16/18 AT SEA The special interest lecture this morning was “From Hollywood to Florida”, about Florida in the movies. We celebrated the end of the cruise by dining tonight at the Crown Grill. John chose the Filet Mignon and I picked the Sterling Silver Beef Chop, Blackened with Mushrooms and Onions. We had a nice bottle of Simi Landslide Cabernet. Tonight we set the clocks back the final hour to EST to be correct for Ft. Lauderdale. SAT, 11/17/18 ARRIVE FT. LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA (FLL) 6AM Alas, it was finally time to disembark the Crown Princess after 14 days aboard. We had chosen the second disembarkation group for passengers with independent arrangements, which was scheduled for 8 a.m., giving us more than enough time to catch our 2:55 p.m. flight from FLL to RDU. Disembarkation was expected to be slow because this was the Crown Princess' first port call in the USA in several months. That meant that every member of the crew would have to go through an immigration inspection at the same time as the disembarking passengers. There was a halt in processing passports when the CBP computers went down; that delay lasted over an hour. Finally, our group was called and we proceeded to baggage claim, where we found our bags quickly. While we were waiting in the Global Entry line to be processed, a person next to us in the regular passport line asked us how we had managed to skip that humongous line (he had already been waiting 1.5 hours). I explained the Global Entry program (www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry) but I think the fee ($100 for 5 years) and the need for an in-person interview discourages a lot of people from applying. For those who travel outside of the USA several times a year, it is well worth the trouble and expense. In only 20 minutes, John and I went from the ship to a taxi for the short ride to FLL. After checking in with Delta in Terminal 2, we walked to Terminal 1 in hopes of spending our waiting time at the United Club there. However, once we found the United Club, it was full and peons like us with one-day passes were not being allowed to enter. So much for that credit card benefit! We walked back to Terminal 2 and made ourselves comfortable near our departure gate. Our flight to RDU was uneventful and we were home by early evening. This was another fantastic trip and we are looking forward to many more cruises and land tours in the future. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2018
Visited relatives in Barcelona, and chose to return to USA via repositioning cruise. Great choice, Cruise was super especially the attentive and friendly service of ship's staff. Our cabin was very spacious and accommodating for all ... Read More
Visited relatives in Barcelona, and chose to return to USA via repositioning cruise. Great choice, Cruise was super especially the attentive and friendly service of ship's staff. Our cabin was very spacious and accommodating for all purposes, and the balcony was good sized: a real plus! We will do this again! Dining was excellent--we chose formal, but sampled other venues. The casino was well used by us, a downer was that that there was insufficient non smoking space allocated in our opinion. The enrichment lecture program was excellent, interesting and very informative. The only port visit other than Barcelona for us was the Azores. We had visited on a previous cruise, but still found places we had not explored previously. It would be worthwhile to set up a shuttle from the ship to the city, as it is quite a walk and taxis do not frequent the port area in our experience. Disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale was smooth. We chose the Express Check wherein baggage goes from your cabin door onto the airlines and to your final destination for a small extra fee, Worked flawlessly and well worth it. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2018
We were a group of six friends and loved being together on this cruise. I love Rome, great city to start in for a Mediterranean cruise. Itinerary was great visiting Barcelona, Florence and Ponta Delgada in the Azore Islands. The ... Read More
We were a group of six friends and loved being together on this cruise. I love Rome, great city to start in for a Mediterranean cruise. Itinerary was great visiting Barcelona, Florence and Ponta Delgada in the Azore Islands. The entertainment was superb on this cruise and I come from the event and party business and love theatre and live entertainment and loved the production shows especially. All the bands on boards were excellent. The orchestra was especially talented, too. The food and experience on board a Princess cruise is excellent. The service and staff on board are super friendly, helpful, and always looking to be of service, just remarkable! We ordered multiple appetizers, entrees and desserts like crazy and randomly in between "Monkey See, Monkey Do", and it never bothered the waiters and waitresses that loved us all the same. The staff on Princess are exceptionally friendly and helpful at all times! The new Princess mattresses in the cabins are super comfy and induced great sleep. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2018
time was perfect. relax before all the holiday madness kicks in shows were very good.the casinos gave people playing craps drinks almost every night. food and service was great. liked the gym. they had saunas for men and ladies. ... Read More
time was perfect. relax before all the holiday madness kicks in shows were very good.the casinos gave people playing craps drinks almost every night. food and service was great. liked the gym. they had saunas for men and ladies. we had 3 times where we were able to eat in the British Pub at no extra cost. the afternoon tea in our cabin was really nice. they gave us more food than the 2 of us could eat. the laundry was slow but it was nice that we were able to use the service.we recommend that you send out laundry every day so that you have clothes coming in daily. We did not know this so our first bag took almost 4 days to get back. to go to the 8oclock show we had to be seated at least 45 minutes a head to get good seats. this was a very relaxing cruise Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2018
Recently returned from the Crown Princess Grand Mediterranean Cruise 10/23-11/3/18 Barcelona to Rome Booked this cruise about 6 months out with free gratuity sale. This was our 17th cruise on various cruise lines (NCL, Princess, ... Read More
Recently returned from the Crown Princess Grand Mediterranean Cruise 10/23-11/3/18 Barcelona to Rome Booked this cruise about 6 months out with free gratuity sale. This was our 17th cruise on various cruise lines (NCL, Princess, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean). First time to this dream destination Mediterranean Cruise! We are two couples. Used Princess EZ Air for the first time and was happy with the prices which were lower than anything we checked directly with the airlines. It’s a bit confusing to choose flights, and it’s like playing the slots as different prices would come up. Anyway, the best for us ended up being ticketed by British Airways, but flying American one way and Aer Lingus coming back. And even though both couples booked at the same time, we couldn’t get the same price. The Princess EZ Air desk said it was just an allocation issue. Once we booked, we didn’t keep checking for anything better, as we were too busy researching and booking all the other tour components for the trip with only 6 months to do it. Had looked at many itineraries, but this one seemed perfect to us! And this would be our longest cruise to date at 11 nights. I tend to over-research, but always find valuable info here on CC. So thank you to everyone here that offers tips and advice. We had inside cabins and used anytime dining with short waits with a pager some nights and no wait others for a table of 4. Bedding was extremely comfortable, and cabin was as I remembered with plenty of space for storage and a nice large closet, and large safe. Bathroom is smallish, but nice, with the exception of the clingy fabric shower curtain. I prefer a glass door, like the Celebrity Silhouette offers. Enjoyed having Princess robes. We had one large, mostly non-English speaking Asian group booked on our cruise. They had translated announcements and their own Mandarin Patter. Our room steward Cristian, from Romania was excellent with twice daily room refreshers and kept our ice bucket full. Sunday, 10/21 Arrive Barcelona Flew nonstop Chicago to Barcelona with American airlines. Sunny day in the 70’s. Took taxi to Hotel Lleo where we spent two nights. We loved this hotel for the charm, location, price and breakfast buffet. We had renovated double rooms with a small balcony facing the street. Very clean and comfortable rooms. The location is about 2 blocks from Placa Catalunya, so great spot to walk to the area attractions and the Ramblas. We headed out to explore on foot and stay awake to battle jet lag. Secured our belongings to avoid any issues with possible pickpockets and strolled the Ramblas enjoying the sights including Miro’s pavement mosaic, as far as the lovely Placa Reial, where we stopped for a drink and to listen to some live Spanish Guitar. Next we found Irati Tavern where we enjoyed a lite dinner of delicious, affordable pintxos (appetizers on toothpicks that you choose yourself) and wine. When you are finished, they add up the toothpicks on your plate for your bill. Enjoyed visiting the first of many churches on this trip – the Betlem on the Ramblas. Back at the hotel, we enjoyed the night lights view from the roof of our hotel, which is lovely and also has a swimming pool and deck chairs. Monday 10/22 Barcelona Sunny day again in the 70’s. At our hotel we enjoyed a delicious breakfast buffet spread with many choices including wine for breakfast?! Prebooked a tour with Barcelona Day Tours based on great reviews here and on TA. Loved that they pick you right up at your hotel in a mini-bus. Our city tour had about 8 people on it. The ½ day city tour showed us many highlights including a few stops for photos, an inside tour of Gaudi’s Parc Guell, and an outside tour of the unbelievable Sagrada Familia, along with the Olympic sites on Montjuic and a ride down Passeig de Gracia to view the Block of Discord and the Gaudi buildings. Our tour guide Mirabel was excellent and we loved the tour and the introduction to Barcelona. After getting dropped off at our hotel, we headed out to Placa Catalunya for lunch at the El Corte Ingles Department Store 9th floor food court (house wines from a self-serve tap) with reasonable prices and fantastic views of Barcelona. Next, more exploring of the Ramblas, including the very colorful and tasty Boquiera Market (affordable fruit, meat and cheese snacks, in addition to tapas and drinks). We explored the Gothic District, including beautiful Barcelona Cathedral (I believe it was 7 euros fee) with the outstanding rooftop view included with your ticket, using a downloaded Rick Steves audio guide on our phones. Also, check out the geese in the courtyard. Enjoyed more tapas and wine for dinner. A very full day with jet lag. Tuesday 10/23 Barcelona Embarkation Day Sunny day in the 70’s. Prebooked the inside audio guide tour of Sagrada Familia for 9AM. Worked out perfect and were stunned by the beauty of the church. Definite must see, perfect reflective way to start our day in thanksgiving for this amazing trip of a lifetime. Checked out of the hotel at noon. Taxi rank right out front where we got a cab to the port. Arrived about 12:30pm with no real wait to check in and got called to board within 15 minutes! We have been on the Crown about 9 years ago, and we enjoyed getting reacquainted with her and the recent renovations. Overall everything appeared to be in good shape to us. I remembered that the buffet had two identical sides to it, but I forgot how small each side is compared to our most recent cruises on Celebrity. People aren’t sure which way to go on this cafeteria style buffet with free standing salad bar area in the middle. These did tend to get crowded at times and early mornings were very hard to find a seat on this port intensive itinerary. It’s nice to have the staff bring you drinks such as coffee, or use the self-serve. They also have another mini buffet aft, that has random times. Plenty of food choices, but more about that at the end of this review. Signed up for the Princess @ Sea service to be able to text sister and BIL that we were travelling with, but it didn’t turn out very useful as it doesn’t ding when someone texts you. You need to just keep checking it which I didn’t want to do on vacay. The staff said they are working on a fix for that for the future. After sailaway, the Captain updated that winds would be strong tonight, so waves would be high. I took a preemptive non-drowsy Dramamine. I also use ginger pills and gin-gin candy. It was a bit rough and woke me about 3am, but I didn’t get sick and didn’t see anyone having any issues. The other 3 in my group had no issues with it. Wednesday 10/24 Toulon, France Bonjour! Sunny 70’s…Loving this weather! As we knew we might still be jet-lagged, we chose an easy ½ day Princess Tour: Scenic Drive, Sanary-Su-Mer & Bandol, which are two quaint seaside villages. Our guide was good and we had free time to stroll on our own in both villages and enjoy a cappuccino and wine. Bandol was bustling with their large, colorful weekly outdoor market. We also had a quick stop for a photo where she showed us grapes on the vine and olive trees. Liked our choice which allowed us to enjoy lunch on the ship and activities. I believe it was this evening that there was a medical evacuation, which I think was handled by boat, not helicopter. It was announced while we were eating dinner and was taken care of rather quickly, but the ship did have to backtrack bringing us slightly late into Livorno the next day. Hopefully the person was okay after medical treatment. Thursday 10/25 Livorno, Italy Buongiorno! Partly cloudy/sunny later 60-70’s. Here 3 of us chose the Princess Tour: Best of Florence & Pisa all day tour including lunch and inside visit of Accademia in Florence to see David, with our excellent guide Sam, who gave us his cell phone number in case we got separated at any point at the crowded sites. Started with the visit to Pisa, where we had about 45 minutes to explore on our own. Beautiful buildings including the leaning tower, where everyone is taking photos holding the tower up! 90 minutes to Florence where we had about a 15 minute walk from the large bus to the historic areas of Florence. Along the way, we saw the Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno River from afar. Next to the Piazza Croce for a view of the church and time for lunch at a quaint restaurant with a room in the back for our group (can’t remember the name) Delicious food and wine included. Refreshed, we had a quick stop at the leather shop for a demo of embossing and then a little free time in the Piazza for shopping or in our case a quick cappuccino. Continuing on we walked as a group to the Piazza Della Signoria with the David replica and other statues, and the Duomo and Baptistery with the stunning golden Gates of Paradise doors, for fantastic outside views and commentary from our guide. Lastly, we toured the Accademia with skip the line tickets, to see David, which was amazing and we were surprised how tall the sculpture actually is. This museum also houses the haunting Rape of the Sabine women statue, which is beautifully carved, but disturbing. Don’t miss the Prisoner sculptures and Pieta leading up to David. Waiting outside we learned that one couple from our group was missing. That museum is not large, so not sure how they got lost or didn’t pay attention to time. Unfortunately, all of us had to stand outside waiting for about 45 minutes. They still hadn’t showed up, so we all walked 15 minutes backed to the bus. Lo and behold the nice guide had found them by phone and they were put in a cab to meet us at the bus. Nice for them, but annoying for the rest of us. We returned late to the ship, but were okay because it was a Princess Tour, so they didn’t leave without us. Not so good for the people on early dining who arrived back after their set dining time began. So people, be considerate of others on your tour and return on time to the meeting points!! Other than that, we loved the tour. It’s a full day to get all that in, but we probably won’t be back, so it was worth it. My sister had already been to Florence, so she chose the Princess Cinque Terre Tour, which is also an all day tour because it is far from Livorno, but unfortunately does not include lunch for that expensive price. She liked it, but did not love it. She was actually a bit disappointed that it didn’t look like all the color enhanced photos that we see of it. Of course, that’s personal opinion, and she was glad she saw it, but felt that Positano and the Amalfi coast was just as lovely, if not more beautiful. Enjoyed the comedian, Rikki Jay that evening in the Princess Theatre. Friday, 10/26 Sea Day Mostly sunny, but cool breezes on deck. Not really swimming weather, but some were. Did enjoy the hotubs however. Really needed this restful day to regroup. Attended the CC Meet & Greet, with a nice turn out,including many doing the transatlantic segment. Did some trivia. Caught some of the port talks. One of the highlights of the day was passing close by the volcanic island of Strombolli, and later through the narrow Strait of Messina with terrific views of Sicily and Calabria. Attended a Captain’s circle party (our third Princess cruise) and received a voucher for a free drink anywhere on the ship, which was nice. First of two formal nights. Enjoyed watching the Captain’s champagne waterfall in the piazza, with complimentary champagne. Delicious dinner of beef tenderloin, shrimp and fancy chocolate dessert. Loved the Tre Amici opera group in the Princess Theatre. DH watched Jurassic Park on MUTS with blanket, popcorn and pizza. Saturday 10/27 Katakolon, Greece (Olympia) Kalimera! Sunny 60’s-70’s. I learned prior to leaving home from my independent tour operator that this port would now be tendering. We had pre-booked the Niki Olympic Tour "Olympia Explorers" - 6 hour semi-private tour, includes lunch. Because it is not usually a tender port we had to get early spots to ensure we made the tour. We got in line ready to go at 8:15am by the Michaelangelo restaurant for a 9am open to ensure we got an early tender, which we did, after waiting a short while in the DR and a delay as they changed sides of the ship for tenders due to swells in the water. I know it’s unavoidable at some ports, but I am not a fan of the hassle of tendering. Our Niki Olympic Tours Greek tour guide Georgian was waiting for us and our small group of 8 was ready to go on a mini-bus. She was a wealth of information about Greece. We visited an olive press factory, where we had a nice tasting with snacks. On to Olympia for a very informative tour from our same guide. This location really needs a guide to enjoy it. She also found a few spots to give us shade while she spoke. She made the history of the Olympics come alive and when we ran the course she honored us with olive branches to adorn ourselves! Cooling off in the bus, we headed to a beautiful Greek Taverna up in the hills that Rick Steves uses on his tour: Bacchus Taverna. This place is beautiful and we sat out on a covered patio that had great views of the hillside. They were using the plastic window cover as the weather is changing at this time of year and can be too breezy. We had an amazing pre-fixe authentic Greek meal of olives, Greek type bruschetta, Greek salad with a slab of amazing feta cheese, bread, Greek fire water liquor, choice of white or red wine, an eggplant dish and a choice of entrée of rooster or lamb dishes that were both delicious. And, of course, Baklava for dessert. The owner’s son showed his pride in his restaurant by telling us of his mother’s family recipes and showed us actual Olympic torches that both his father and brother have officially carried after the torch lighting in Olympia! Loved this tour. Back in town, we had time to browse the colorful streets and stores, stopping by the small beach before getting in the long tender line (took about 45 minutes to board). Enjoyed the buffet this night which was featuring some tasty Oktoberfest items (based on the time of year, not ports of call); did some trivia and listened to some wonderful Greek music in the Piazza performed by X-Trio. Sunday 10/28 Mykonos Sunny 70’s. Beautiful sail in. The dock is a little further out for walking, so you need some transportation to Mykonos town. We would be DIY walking tour today. We chose the water taxi for 2 euros each way pp. Takes you right into town at the dock near the cute little church Agios Nikolakis. We knew that this was a special holiday –Ochi Day celebrating anniversary of the “No” to Mussolini in WWII. There would be a parade around noon with all the school children. First we strolled the waterfront past some shops, the beautiful Church of Paraportiani with amazing photo ops against the blue Med sky, until Little Venice where we stopped for cappuccino and lovely views of the windmills. On to the windmills and more of the delightful white and blue streets of Mykonos. So much to see around every little corner. Around noon we gathered to watch the parade which was a delight to see many of the children in their authentic Greek costumes. All the Greek families were out to enjoy the day. After the parade, the families either ate right at the port restaurants or gathered at homes to celebrate. We enjoyed some Greek beer and snacks. We walked up to the Boni Windmill which offers great views above Mykonos port. Back to see the beach and heard the Greek music begin for the celebration of Ochi Day. Much merriment and dancing, which the locals were happy to pull the tourists in to join them, in their traditional circle dance. We were very thrilled to be able to visit here on this special day for the local flavor of this beautiful island and the warmth of the people. After another beautiful sunset, we enjoyed the Surf and Turf (shrimps) in the dining room this evening. Monday 10/29 Santorini Sunny 70’s!! This was one of those ports I had dreamed about and sold me on this cruise. Another tender port that sometimes gets cancelled, so we were thrilled we made it. The tender was fast. We had pre-booked another Niki Tour – The Oia Experience. This tour takes you by boat from the tender dock (to avoid the cable cars, steps or donkeys up) directly to a dock closer to Oia. After a 25 minute boat ride with beautiful views of the cliffs and white village on top which look like snow, we walked a short but steep walk uphill to our mini-bus of 16 people to begin continue on to Oia. Our guide Kevin is an American transplant to Santorini and very knowledgeable about the island. This tour gets you quickly to Oia to avoid some crowds and allows 2 ½ hours in the village partly on your own after his walking tour, which leads to the fort. Breathtakingly beautiful on this sunny day. The blue domes looked exactly as I had seen them in photos. Next we saw more of the island as we travelled to Venetsanos winery for a private wine tasting with snacks. Beautiful views and good wine. Lastly, we stopped for photos at the Blue Domes of Firostefani with amazing views of the Caldera and our ship in the distance, on our way back to Fira. On our own now, we once again enjoyed exploring the interesting Fira streets dotted with shops and restaurants. We worked our way back to the cable car line which was really long with only one ship in port (don’t know how this works with more ships). We decided to walk down the donkey path instead. It definitely is a challenge. Make sure you have the right footwear and water. You do have to dodge donkeys and their droppings along the way. It took us about 40 minutes with rest and photo stops. We enjoyed a well deserved cold Greek beer at the bottom of the hill, before boarding a tender with no wait this time. Another beautiful sailaway watching the twinkling lights of Santorini fade away. Tuesday 10/30 Sea Day I believe it was partly cloudy 60’s-70’s but coolish breeze on the ship. Ready for another relaxing sea day, beginning with a delicious sit-down breakfast in the dining room. Went to the Kotor port info talk. Trivia. Hot tub. Second formal night. DR naturally crowded, so we had to take a pager and enjoy a martini in Crooners. Lobster was very good. Tried for the early 8PM show of Disco, but no seats available. Watched a little while standing in the back, but it seemed very dated to us. Enjoyed some music around the ship, before turning in early as we knew we wanted to be up early for the sail in to Kotor. Wednesday 10/31 Kotor, Montenegro (Halloween) Up at 5:15am to view the amazing sail in to Kotor through narrow winding fiords, past a couple of small islands near the entrance. Just stunning! Little villages with their lights still on in the dawn looked like ceramic villages under a Christmas tree. Then a beautiful fog rolled in, which added to the Halloween atmosphere. The ship had to repeatedly sound its foghorn, until that cleared and we could see villages again, before finally anchoring in the harbor in front of Kotor for yet another short tender boat ride. Many passengers were up on deck enjoying the scenery. I feel bad for any that missed it. My husband said it was one of the top highlights of his trip! Mostly sunny later, 60’s-70’s. We planned mostly DIY here. We quickly decided to take the HOHO bus for 20euros which takes you on a 90 minute tour outside of Kotor to Perast and Risan, before returning to Kotor for a walking tour. It was an open air bus, but quite chilly in the morning breeze. Good headphone system onboard. First we stopped at Risan to view some Roman mosaics and the bus waited for 20 minutes, so we just got back on. In Perast we got off to walk into the beautiful seaside town, to enjoy the sights of our Lady of the Rock Island and island of St. George. You can also pay to take a boat out to the islands, but we chose not to. We did, however, enjoy a cappuccino with great atmosphere as Perast woke up. Returning to town, we viewed the massive city wall and soon it was time for the noon walking tour included by HOHO. Our guide was excellent and took us thru the various major squares of Kotor the medieval walled city. Another interesting town. On our own we decided to climb part way up the city wall as far as Our Lady of Remedy Church for more stunning views of the harbor. It costs 8 euros now to access the hike, which is expensive. However, the views were worth it, over the red-roofed village of Kotor to the mountains and harbor where our Crown Princess was docked. Another somewhat challenging hike, be sure to have good shoes and water. You can double the hike and go to the fort on the top. On the way down we enjoyed a local Niksicko beer. Back in town to explore more and see the churches, before hunting out the famous Krempita cake which we found in a bakery and enjoyed the delicious layers of flaky crust and cream. Last stop, was at a café in the Weapons Square for a glass of the local Vranac red wine. Lots of friendly cats in Kotor. Back on board, things were getting festive and spooky for Halloween with the buffet workers dressed in costume. There was a large jack-o-lantern display in the piazza and some in the buffet. We had packed minimal light costumes parts to become witches and pirates for the evening. We dined in the dining room enjoying the servers in costume. Afterwards, we joined in the fun for the Halloween Party at Club Fusion which was well attended. Later, watched part of Hocus Pocus on MUTS, but it was really cold up there so we bailed out. Fun evening. Thursday 11/1 Sea Day Cloudy skies with some showers and chilly, which made it a good day for starting to pack as tomorrow would be a busy port day. Did some trivia and enjoyed our last meal in the dining room and that delicious Crème Brule for dessert. Passed on the Magic to Do show and the balloon drop in the piazza in lieu of some much needed sleep. Friday 11/2 Naples Rainy. Up early for what we thought would be a 7:30am meeting time for our independent tour with Joe Banana’s Italy Tour Sharing. We had pre-booked and created a group online, meeting the third couple on the ship at Vine’s. Waiting for the clearance, we instead get an announcement that there will be a surprise Italian ship inspection and we can’t get off until the ship clears. We would get updates about every half hour for the 2 ½ hours that we were delayed. Don’t know what they were looking for, but the announcement said that they apologized for entering our cabins! Most people were waiting in common areas and we were in the casino which was closest to the door they would eventually be using. This was very frustrating and the crew and officers seemed just as frustrated with the situation. Finally, got clearance around 10am and luckily we were some of the first off the ship. Our tour guide had also been waiting all that time without knowing what was happening as we didn’t have any cell service. And it’s still steadily raining with no end in sight. Our guide Ciro warmly greeted us and ushered us into his warm, dry vehicle to begin our tour: Pompeii, Positano and Sorrento All Inclusive La Tagliata lunch all day tour. Obviously, we were not going to get all that in now. Sadly we had to scratch our visit to Sorrento totally. We stopped briefly at the Limoncello store for a tasting. Continuing on we weaved our way through the winding roads of the Amalfi Coast for stunning views, despite the rain, and Ciro shared his knowledge of the area. We had our scheduled stop in Positano, and began the march of the umbrellas to visit the tiny shops along the route to the bottom. Some chose not to go all the way down to the beach. Time for lunch at the beautiful La Tagliata perched on a cliff above Positano, with stunning views. We had an amazing authentic family style Italian meal of bread, mozzeralla with prosciutto, two kinds of beans, spinach, broccoli, lasagna type appetizer and that’s all before the four different pastas arrived! The red wine and Peroni beer were also included - Saluti. Dessert was a choice of five different delectable items and a shot of limoncello as a digestif! Mangia, Mangia! This amazing meal warmed our bodies and souls. Time to move on to our Pompeii visit…in the rain. Rain coats, hats, ponchos and umbrellas ready to meet our funny guide Paulo. This is an amazing, huge site. You definitely need a guide here also, and we had a great one who made the sad story come alive as we maneuvered through the site along with many other visitors with umbrellas. Glad we were able to visit and learn about life in this town so long ago. Finally, time to head back to busy Naples port in the dusk to bid farewell to our excellent driver guide Ciro. Felt like wet rats slinking back on the ship. A warm hot tub and drink delivered to us was just the thing to warm us up as we viewed the twinkling lights of Naples from the aft of the ship – the rain had finally stopped. Last chance to get those amazing street tacos at the Salty Dog Grill, before finishing packing up, and putting our luggage out by 10pm. Saturday 11/3 Civitavecchia - Rome Disembarkation Early in the cruise, we had received a form to indicate our preference for disembarkation. We requested the 7:15-8:00am time slot, and were pleased to be assigned that group. One last crazy-busy early morning in the buffet for breakfast. We needed to wait in the Explorers Lounge and were quickly called close to the 7:20am time assigned us. This was one of the easiest disembarkations we have ever experienced. Although, it could be because there were quite a few people who were continuing on the ship for the transatlantic repositioning cruise to Ft. Lauderdale. We had pre-arranged a transfer to our Rome hotel with Stefano’s Rome Cabs for 8am. Shortly after exiting the building we saw our driver, Andrea, with our name greeting us about 20 minutes early. It was an easy commute (less than 90 minutes) to Rome on the expressway early on a Saturday morning. He even helped get our luggage into the hotel lobby. I would definitely recommend RomeCabs. We had pre-booked a two night stay at the Albergo del Sole Al Pantheon Hotel right on the Piazza della Rotonda where the Pantheon is located in the historic district. This is a charming, elegant little hotel dating back to 1468!! The hotel allowed us to leave our luggage with them, so we could head out to begin our busy day of sightseeing. We had pre-booked online tickets for the Vatican Museum for 12:30pm. Since we had arrived so early, we were happy to know that we would have time to visit St. Peter’s Square and Basilica first. Saw a very long line wrapping to the other side of the massive square to go through security, so we joined it while we viewed the details of this huge square. We used a Rick Steve audio download on our phones. The lined moved pretty fast. The first view of the massive size of St. Peter’s as you enter is jaw dropping. It was crowded, but you could move around fairly easily. The chapel with the Pieta was our first to enter and it is very beautiful. We worked our way around the church in awe of the inspirational art and sculptures that we saw. The area in the front of the altar was roped off but we had a view of the altar and the Swiss Guard. After completing this, we exited to begin the 15 minute walk over to the Museum entrance, stopping along the way for coffee. Glad that we had pre-booked tickets, because the line to buy tickets was about two blocks long! We were able to enter immediately and go through security quickly. I knew in advance that the Vatican Museum is huge, but it was so packed with people that it was really hard to navigate and find anything in particular. We were glad when we got to the open courtyard to get fresh air, and see the giant pinecone and Pomodoro Sphere, now in a rain shower. The art collections are amazing, but the excessive crowds, shoulder to shoulder in a hot stuffy building really took away from the experience. They definitely let too many people in there at once. Also, we had adhered to the no backpack rule, and were dismayed that others were let in with backpacks. We viewed some of the Egyptian art, tapestries, map room, other rooms with equally impressive ceilings, etc. Inching closer to the Sistine Chapel we were routed down narrow hallways and stairways that felt like fire traps to me. Finally, we reached the Sistine Chapel, but were quickly herded in to the middle by the guards. People were not adhering to the no talking policy so it took away from the spiritual enjoyment of the moment. Finally, we heard an order “Silenzio” = Silence! And, of course, some people insist on taking forbidden photos. I loved seeing this masterpiece, but definitely didn’t enjoy the circumstances and was glad to finally leave the crowded chapel. But we still had a long walk back to the exit, using a different hallway that was less crowded and had more artwork that we hadn’t previously seen, which was good. Finally, to the amazing spiral staircase to exit. We approached one cab who gave us a ridiculously high price quote, so we went to the next one who was properly metered and headed off to the Colosseum. Glad to see the rain had stopped. We had again pre-booked online “after 2PM entry” tickets for entrance to the Colosseum. There were several long lines, but the staff let us know which one to enter. We had about a 30 minute wait to get to security and they were still selling tickets even though the last entry time was fast approaching. We were relieved to finally enter and begin our Rick Steves audio tour downloaded on our phones of this fantastic structure with such a sad history. There were lots of people here also, but it is much more spread out with fresh air. At least we could get to a railing for the amazing views. Did the second floor first, where you can also get some amazing views of the Forum. The main level gets some good views of the lower level and an awesome photo op of the back of the cross. My DH loves the movie Gladiator, so he really enjoyed his visit here! A quick taxi ride returned us to our hotel for check in. We quickly checked in to the Sol Pantheon and were given an actual key on a heavy medallion key chain to return each time you left the hotel. The bellboy took us and our luggage up in the small elevator to our third floor room, facing the Piazza. He opened the window and pushed out the shutters and an amazing view of the Piazza della Rotonda, fountain and looking to the left…the Pantheon appeared! We loved that this property had the quaint Roman charm that we were looking for. The room was smallish (which is normal for Rome), but had plenty of room for us and our luggage. The bathroom was nice, clean and with plenty of towels (except washcloths, which most European hotels don’t offer. I bring my old ones and toss them when finished). Safe and refrigerator in the room, and free wifi also. Our bed was comfortable in room 310, but my sister's bed in 212 (overlooking inner courtyard) was very hard (so they should change that mattress for an easy fix). Our room was quiet, but again 212 was next to the elevator and DS said it was a bit noisy at night. I understand from their website and reviews that they also have annex rooms in another building on the piazza, so be sure you know what you are booking. I don't know anything about those rooms, but preferred being in the main property. The property is old (1468!) but has been remodeled while keeping its architectural charm. Breakfast buffet 7-10am, offered some hot choices such as egg sandwich and scrambled eggs; along with hard boiled eggs, breads, pastries, yogurt, cheese, fruit, juices and the nice ladies offered cappuccino, in addition to coffee and tea. They do have a small elevator which we used with our luggage, but mostly we used the stairs. We had booked easily directly with the hotel on their website. Prior to arriving, I had emailed them with some questions and they were always prompt with answering back. The location was within walking distance to many of the key ancient sites. We also used taxis when time was short. When in the room, it was a delight to watch the activity down below, and even hear a beautiful violinist one evening. Totally satisfied with our choice for charm, location, value and Roman ambience. After freshening up, we headed out to the Piazza Navona, stopping along the way for a Happy Hour drink of wine, beer and Aperol Spritzer for our group, and a small plate of aperitivo sandwiches. This piazza is large with three fountains and looked magical with all of them lit up now that it was dark. Many lovely restaurants with patrons eating outside enjoying the sights and some entertainers to delight the crowds. Took many photos of Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (four rivers fountain) and Neptune fighting octopus. Once again used a Rick Steves audio for details of the Piazza. On the way back we stopped for Pizza al Taglio (‘Pizza by the slice’) and some gelato. We browsed the local COOP grocery store and some local shops to buy some Limoncello after a free tasting. Exhausting but exhilarating day. Be sure to have good walking shoes. Sunday 11/4 Rome on our own Woke to a cloudy day, but enjoyed a nice warm breakfast buffet before heading out with all our rain gear to explore Rome on our own by foot. We got in the short line to wait for the Pantheon to open at 9am, as the light rain began to fall. Umbrellas up. Entering the massive doors, we were once again stunned by the size and the beauty of this well maintained Church and thrilled to be seeing it with minimal crowds. One more Rick Steves audio explained what we were seeing. Back outside to heavier rain, headed right around the back of the Pantheon to the nearby Piazza Minerva to see Bernini’s elephant. Next up was the big white building that goes by many names: Vittoriano, the National Monumento to Victor Emmanuel II, designed by Giuseppe Sacconi housing the remains of the Unknown Soldier and so called the Altar of the Fatherland. We had maps and a printout of mapquest directions and we still found it hard to navigate the streets as some, but not all are marked on the sides of the corner buildings. It didn’t help that it was raining, but asking locals was helpful. Finally, we arrived to see this stunning structure in person, but learned that it was closed for the day due to the holiday: “National Unity Day” and the “Armed Forces Day”. We could see military around and a huge Italian flag posted to the side of an adjacent building. We could just barely get a glimpse over the fence of the soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. It’s amazing sculptures are still visible from all over. Next we headed around the back to the Michaelangelo steps and Piazza del Campidoglio to go around the back and see a great view of the Roman Forum from above...in the rain. On to Trevi Fountain, which was packed but once you slowly shimmied your way up to the front you could enjoy it in all its beauty. Just like all the movies I have seen it in. Toss that coin for a return trip to Rome! We intended to continue on to the Spanish Steps, but walked in circles and gave up. We probably should have just hopped in a cab, but the rain was getting to us. Along the way back we saw the intricately detailed carvings on the Column of Marcus Aurelius. Back near the Pantheon, we took Seminario street over to St. Ignatius of Loyola Church. The warm glow inside welcomed our chilly selves to this fabulous house of worship. A mass was being held in the front of the church, but we were free to visit 2/3 of the back while enjoying the beautiful sound of the priest saying mass in Italian and a lovely soloist. The really interesting thing about this church is the “optical illusion flat dome”. They ran out of money for a true dome, so they painted it to appear as if it is a real dome! It also has an amazing painted ceiling, ouch, my neck’s getting sore, but if you use the mirror they offer, that won’t happen. After drying out at the hotel, we headed back out for an early dinner at Taverna del Seminario which looked warm and inviting. It’s just down the block from the Pantheon, but the prices are better than the restaurants on the Piazza. They have an extensive menu, but we chose the Menu Classico which is an appetizer, pasta, second meat dish and dessert all for 15euros. I realize this is geared to tourists, but it was all quite delicious to us for that price. Foodies may not agree. In addition, we got a liter of house wine for 8euros! The rain had stopped so we headed back out to tour the inside of the Santa Maria sopra Minerva Basilica, which is the only Gothic church in Rome. We also enjoyed the music of a cellist outside. Next to view the Trevi fountain at night, which was still crowded, but looked beautiful with lights. On the way back we bumped into a musical lights display being projected onto the column ruins in one of the piazzas. Rome at night is just full of surprises and should not be missed. And more artists come out also, to entertain and show their craft. Time for a relaxing drink facing the Pantheon on our last night in Rome. Must finish packing, but luckily we can hear a violinist down below in the piazza from our window. Up early for buffet breakfast before our Stefano Rome Cabs Driver, Andreas arrived 15 minutes early for our 8am airport transfer. So nice to know you will be taken care of and know the price up front. He helped load our luggage and we set off for the airport. Once outside of the ancient area we did encounter morning rush traffic, but he evaded some and once we reached the expressway, it was moving along well. I would definitely recommend their company. The Rome Airport is big and modern, but a little confusing in that we weren’t aware that check in windows are assigned a 3 digit number that you need to find out to check in for your flight. We were flying AerLingus home and it wasn’t on our reservation, but we asked at the “I” Information booths you will see. We allowed 3 hours for check in and needed most of that, with about 45 minutes left for shopping while waiting in the gate area. For a while, the check in wasn’t even open as a long line formed. When it opened, it moved slowly. Our first flight from Rome to Dublin was slightly late taking off and we had to circle Dublin waiting to land, so our connection was quite tight. Then we were in an off-site terminal that required a bus, and then US clearance of customs and more security, which luckily were not crowded or we would have missed our connection. The Aer Lingus connection was 1 hour 50 minutes originally, before time shaved off. Anyway, nice flight home and at least we had already cleared customs in Ireland. Still battling jet let as I type this. More on the Crown Princess: We mostly love this ship. We really like this size of ship. It was clean and in good shape. The staff was all excellent. The size and the configuration of the buffet was the only thing we didn’t love, but it’s hard to change that. Food: We didn’t use any of the upcharge restaurants at all, so can’t comment on those. The Horizon Court Buffet always had a variety of things we liked (some we didn’t), even if not as extensive as other cruise lines. Breakfast offered made to order omelets brought to your table, ready-made fried eggs (which was a great option), hard boiled or scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausages, smoked salmon, fish, pancakes, waffles, fresh fruit, yogurt, ready-made smoothie, orange juice, cold and hot cereals, assorted breads, pastries, blintzes, cheese and more changing ethnic and/or vegan hot dishes and more. I like that the servers will bring you beverages like coffee to your table, especially when it is hard to find a seat. However, I am not a coffee snob, but I did not like their coffee. I know I could have just purchased better coffee at the International Café, but I am a frugal traveler and chose not to do that. I just drank less and longed for Celebrity’s Lavassa coffee. There is also a smaller spread offered in the buffet between lunch and dinner (tea time) which had some great choices including among many things, small sandwiches and my favorite: guacamole and tortilla chips! Lunch and Dinner choices had some standards but many ever-changing choices. Salad bar and fruits, 2 soup choices daily, lunchmeat, great variety of cheese, ready-made cold sandwiches, carving roasts, steaks some evenings, bbq ribs, fish, good Asian and Indian dishes, including yummy Samosas, vegan choices and a variety of side dishes, and stew type entrees. Also some Med themed items including Paella one evening. And the German Oktoberfest themed food one evening had delicious weiner schnitzel, sauerkraut and spätzle. The buffet desserts were good, not always great. The fresh baked cookies were good and you can ask for peanut butter cookies which they will bring out for you. They also offered a variety of hot desserts like cobblers and bread pudding. Dining Rooms: We used mostly the Michaelangelo Dining Room for about 8 of our dinners. Service was excellent with attention to detail, just sometimes slower than we are used to in real life, especially when trying to fit shows or entertainment in the schedule. Excellent shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad available every day. Nice variety of changing appetizers that made it hard to choose some days…then we ordered two, which is fine, including the decadent twice baked goat cheese soufflé and wild mushroom soup. We mostly always found entrees we liked, except for one night when they were all not to our interest, so we chose the buffet. One evening was the Chef’s Menu, which had too many good entrée choices, which we wish had been offered on other nights. DH ordered two entrees that evening. I can’t remember all of the foods and didn’t take pix of all the menus, but some of our favorites were the lobster, beef medallions and prawns, rib eye steak, prime rib, scallops, Moroccan chicken, fettucine alfredo, spaghetti carbonara, grilled seafood skewer. The best dessert is the rather large Crème Brule, and DH enjoyed the variety of ice cream and sundaes. We had one sit down breakfast in the dining room, which was so nice to be served on a Sea Day. Good eggs benedict, omelets and steak and eggs. Same bad coffee. International Café on deck 5: Offers coffee and gelato for purchase. They also offer a deli style option of included in your cost choices all day long. Some different and better pastry choices at breakfast, and an actual macadamia nut brownie one day in the afternoon! Nice, fresh salads for lunch and dinner including the amazing Greek salad offered several days, and a tasty watermelon feta cheese salad. They also have a few hot paninis and sandwiches that they heat up for you. We were disappointed in the quality of the Cuban sandwich and the caprese panini wasn’t warmed and melted enough. Perhaps just an off day for those. Salty Dog Grill outside on the pool deck: My absolute favorite was the street tacos: 2 mini tacos per order – grilled chipotle lime chicken and sweet potato green chili – had them several times! They also offer hot dogs (DH enjoyed one) variety of hamburgers (make sure you get it freshly grilled, not reheated), grilled chicken sandwich, regular and loaded fries. Great that it is usually open 11am-11pm. Slice outside on the pool deck: Pizza naturally- cheese, sausage, pepperoni and a daily special, which my husband liked. They also have some interesting offerings like Stromboli, Focaccia, and Caprese toast; and Cali Avacado toast which I didn’t realize had bacon bits, so it was ruined for me as a healthier option –should have asked for it without them. This is also where you can get yummy vanilla, chocolate or swirl soft serve ice cream and upcharge milk shakes. Also conveniently open usually 11am-11pm. Entertainment: We knew with this very busy, long day port itinerary, we probably wouldn’t get to as much in the evening as we usually do on cruises. We couldn’t make the early shows and found the 10pm show slightly late. We loved the comedian, Rikki Jay and the Tre Amici singing group. We never got to any of the production shows, except 10 minutes of the Disco show with no seats and we left. Some nights, the description of the entertainers didn’t thrill us, like a song and dance man (but to be fair, we didn’t see him, maybe he was good). The evening game shows don’t interest us. However, there is a lot of good musical entertainment throughout the ship in various changing locations. We really enjoyed X-Trio, Party Band Icon and Guitarist/singer Cassie Matthews throughout the week. We used MUTS a few times, but it was chilly out there, so we needed jackets in addition to the nice blankets and pillows they provide. Popcorn and small slices of pizza brought around is a nice touch. Free hot chocolate would have been nice. We love trivia and that is offered a lot throughout the day, so we took part in that when we could. The port talk guy was interesting, so watched some of that and you can also see it on your room tv at various times. We didn’t partake, but of course there is always the casino, art auctions, dance classes, and the spa. The 3 hour sales in the dining room were packed and offered a variety of $10 choices and more expensive but on sale clothing. The shops on board are typical and mostly out of my budget. Interesting to see that they offered some Chico ladies clothing. Some rather lame activities included penny whistle instruction and paper airplane contest (something for everyone I guess). Many groups of people all around the ship were enjoying playing their own games such as cards, bridge, mah jong, scrabble, chess etc. And many others were enjoying the time to read. It was rather cool on deck, so not too many swimming, but we thoroughly enjoyed the hot tubs several times. We also love that this ship has a promenade deck that goes all the way around, but includes steps. Nice to walk or sit in the shade. Other favorite spot is on the aft pool deck to eat or just relax and watch the mesmerizing wake of the ship. And the piazza mid-ship areas on Decks 5,6 and 7 always offer entertainment and good people watching. So another fantastic cruise and we thank God for this opportunity to enjoy more of his amazing creation and meet interesting people from around the world and other cultures. The itinerary was amazing and Princess offered really long port times, so that was great. Loved returning to Princess and the Crown and would definitely consider them again in the future if the itinerary and price are right for us. Thanks again CC members for all your guidance. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2018
We chose this cruise mainly based on the itinerary but also our only previous cruise experience had been with Princess on an Alaskan cruise and we had a great time. Overall we had a wonderful trip and really didn't have any of the ... Read More
We chose this cruise mainly based on the itinerary but also our only previous cruise experience had been with Princess on an Alaskan cruise and we had a great time. Overall we had a wonderful trip and really didn't have any of the negative experiences/issues I had read about on this site. We had one of the club class mini suites which has a more central location on the ship but the main perk was the club class dining which is an area of the main dining room with expedited seating. Only having one prior cruise I don't have much to compare the room or the ship to but it was perfectly clean and didn't show any signs of advanced "wear" or "tiredness" I had read about. Now nothing is brand new, I think the ship was built in 2006, but everything looked great and all the ship's spaces were pretty cool. The bed was extremely comfortable. Embarkation/disembarkation was flawless As for our overall dining experience, the food was very good, I don't think its gonna be local restaurant "blow your mind" food but we were always happy. Full disclosure, we did not eat at the Horizon buffet, but dined mainly in the MDR and tried all the specialty restaurants. The shore excursions were all booked through princess and were wonderful, amazing places. Nothing negative to say, especially loved our tour guide in Santorini, he was hilarious. Entertainment on the ship was nothing special but again I don't have much to compare it to, but we missed one of the main shows because there was no seating left. Service was amazing as noted in previous posts Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2018
Good deal on an excellent ship. Nice Itenary. visiting fascinating countries. Food was reasonable and the staff was always professional. Would definitely cruise with Princess again. They demonstrated great attention to the details and ... Read More
Good deal on an excellent ship. Nice Itenary. visiting fascinating countries. Food was reasonable and the staff was always professional. Would definitely cruise with Princess again. They demonstrated great attention to the details and kept their focus on the passenger. Princess personnel do a wonderful job with embarkation. The cruise begins when you get on board, Nice aptmosphere on a can well laid out boat. Ship size is excellent, not too big or small. Entertainment Director and staff are very good, enthusiastic, organized and committed to the passenger. On board games were fun and well managed. Ships entertainment was satisfactory. Generally the entertainers were good and performed great shows. The comedian was outstanding and the tigers and dancers were nicely trained and enjoyable. Dis embarcation was another strong point for Princess. It was fast, efficient and nicely managed. Excursions were well presented, fairly priced and managed very well. Service personnel were always close to answer questions or solve problems.] This was a very good experience for my wife and I we are looking forward to our next Princess Cruise. Read Less
Crown Princess Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.5 0.0
Dining 4.0 0.0
Entertainment 4.0 0.0
Public Rooms 4.0 0.0
Fitness Recreation 4.0 0.0
Family 4.5 0.0
Shore Excursion 5.0 0.0
Enrichment 4.0 0.0
Service 4.5 0.0
Value For Money 4.0 0.0
Rates 4.0 0.0

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