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This is ridiculously long . . . tried to organize to allow you to pick the items of interest to you. Enjoy - we sure did! Overall - we loved our experience. However, I wouldn't say that we are HUGE cruising fans. Cruising isn't the only vacation we do and I wouldn't want to do it every vacation. But it does make sense for an itinerary like the Med and given the exchange rate, it was more affordable way to see Europe right now. On the plus side: cruising is very relaxing and an easy way to travel. On the other hand, I am happy we've had other experiences in Europe. If you really want to experience a city in Europe - you need to spend at least a few days there. But it was a fun way to see the Med and or get an overview of Europe and great for those like us with limits to the amount of vacation time and spending available; I was very happy we did it. o In hindsight, our Rome tour was my biggest regret. I was happy we had private tour - but I knew better - I've been there before . . . quantity vs quality thing. Being able to say you saw everything isn't the same as picking a few spots and really enjoying them. If you don't mind rushing and racing around - then you can see it all. Mind you, you will jump out of the car and only have a few minutes to snap a photo ("look everyone - there's the Forum, sorry, don't have time to tour it, hurry back!") o I also regret we didn't spend the night in Rome, then take the high speed train to Florence and catch up with the ship the next morning. I love Rome and it would have been a better way to enjoy more of it and enjoy the evening when all the day tourists are gone. Better yet - I wish Celebrity would overnight in Rome since the port is so close to Florence anyway! Or at least leave at 11pm. o Sharing personal drivers was terrific - however, you might want to trim your list of places to see (especially Rome where you spend 3 hours to/fro eating up much of your day) so that you can experience a few spots fully, especially if you are really interested in something - AND experience great food in relaxing setting. You could always set a time/place to rejoin your private tour so that you can do some things at your own pace. That's our preference and won't work for everyone - we are healthy, active and prefer to be away from crowds as much as possible. We loathe wearing stickers and following a group of people - we are more independent travelers. Our ship was a floating hotel for us. We did share private tours at nearly every port as it made financial sense and saved time from taking local transportation. If we had several days in port - we would do it all on our own. La dolce vita! o Do separate from your group as much as possible and just pick a time to meet up. You don't need to spend every minute of a 10 hour tour with these folks. o Suggestions for Celebrity: ? I do wish our entire cruise experience reflected the ports we were visiting. British Pub night while in Florence made no sense to me. Also wish the evening menu reflected the ports of call. Maybe one drink of the day could also reflect the port of call/country. ? Put sliders on the chairs on deck 10 to reduce noise. ? Implement non-smoking staterooms - maybe one side of ship? ? Improve the newsletter - way too much paper. Front page should include: dress for eve, weather forecast. Each page should have date . . . we had so much paper - mostly sales stuff selling other cruises, spa treatments or something in the store. Show videos on other ports of call instead! Expand the section for common phrases in the language of port of call. ? What would you do if you miss the ship? Is there a phone number for any of the ports?? Something I thought about a few times . . . but thankfully didn't need. Tired the "port agent" once, phone just rang and rang. ? Show National Geo videos or travel channel stuff for each port of call - and only for the next upcoming port of call. ? Implement something so that vacant pool chairs for a certain period are cleared for new guests. Seeing all chairs "taken" yet 1/3 empty is annoying. ? Get rid of party band by pool each eve - use local musicians instead, again reflecting the port of call. o We did hear chair scraping noise in morn and at night (cabin 9201) and sounds from revelers every now and then on deck above - it did wake me (I am a light sleeper) but not enough that I would give up my room. I would prefer a lower deck to avoid that though. Not a big deal though. o Our cabin steward was Antonio and we was awesome - our room was refreshed every time we stepped out! Lovely! Can't say enough about the service - I don't think it could be much better! o We will most likely cruise again for unique itineraries where cruising makes sense (Alaska, maybe Galapagos, etc.) We will consider Celebrity again (so far our best experience over Holland America (Yuk!) and Carnival) we and very much enjoyed the Millennium, although I am intrigued by the idea of smaller, more personal ships. I am sure there are higher quality ships and lines - but for our price range - it certainly met or exceeded expectations. o I have online photo gallery - if you want to see it, send me an email to Psuflita (at) gmail (dot) com ? A note about airports in Frankfurt & Munich - we flew Lufthansa from SFO to Frankfurt, then to Venice. We had plenty of time between flights - or so we thought. There we were in terminal not far from our departure gate (or so we thought.) So we decided to spend our extra hour in the business class lounge, after all - we used a bunch of miles to get these seats, lets enjoy all the benefits (LH biz class lounge was just OK.) A few minutes before our flight was to board, we decided to mosey on over to our gate - WRONG! What we saw was several hundred people standing in another security line! Arrrgghhhhhhh. No one mentioned that we would need to clear two more passport checks and another line for metal detector and x-ray our carry on items! It took us an extra hour to get through these lines (and we were thankful because the line was even longer for EU members) . . . and we RAN the mile or so (who the heck spaced those gates so far apart; they sound so close?) and then had the lovely added benefit of some woman from Lufthansa yelling at us about not planning our time better and that they were about to take our luggage off and leave without us, etc. etc. etc. Yelling! Seriously - she scolded us all the way onto the plane! Can't she see we are running and well aware we almost missed the plane? Did Lufthansa employees think to mention to us at the lounge or when landing -something like: "hey, you connecting flight people better hoof it on over to your gate 'cause it takes FOREVER and we aren't happy to check your passport just once, we like to do it at least at two different stops with two different lines! Viel Glueck!" (good luck in German). In any case, the flight attendant who witnessed the tongue lashing in Frankfurt was incredibly kind to us . . . we shook it off happy to be on our way to Venice! The return connection through Munich was better; the airport is smaller and we knew better than to wait on the other side of security. Again we had to go through two passport checks AND a line for x-ray screening of our carryon, etc. but the lines were quick. Our gate was on the other side of the extra security and had no lounge, no place to get coffee, etc. But we were happier not to nearly miss our flight. They also stamped my passport in and out of Germany - what is up with that? I am just connecting flights - didn't even have time to pee in the country! Our luggage arrived without a hitch; although I did cross pack and include two outfits in my carryon, just in case. Advice I picked up on CC! ? Transportation from Venice to pier - although I love the water taxi . . . didn't make sense for the location to pier. We used http://airports-shuttle.com/, cheaper than the ship transfers. Driver was waiting for us and zipped us right to the ship - no waiting. ? Note about money: ATMs work great - only had one cranky machine. It was the way to go. Do remember to do the conversion; when I first took out withdrawal I forgot it was in Euros and thus, exceeded daily withdrawal amounts so it didn't work. After I had the "DUH!" moment, it worked like a charm. Also . . . almost everyone does everything in cash in Europe! All guides, taxis, etc. Just for backup, make sure you have a pin for cash withdrawals with your credit cards in case your ATM card doesn't work (or is stolen.) We hardly ever carry that much cash around anymore . . . but you definitely need it in Europe. DO call your credit card companies and bank before you leave home - we heard of folks having their credit cards frozen for fear of fraud. Read up on tipping - we encountered Americans who were tipping WAY too much for local standards. Here is further info on subject http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/eurotips.htm http://www.fodors.com/wire/archives/001892.cfm ? Embarkation: NOROVIRUS Notices everywhere! GULP. We had to fill out special questionnaires because the last cruise had an outbreak of noro. Had overwhelming urges to wash my hands! Staff was on hand to greet us as we walked in and explain the situation. They were very kind and apologetic. Maybe a cruise for our 25th anniversary was NOT the right idea - but then we remembered that most outbreaks of noro do NOT happen on a cruise, it can happen anywhere. If people would just wash their hands . . . Boarding was delayed for extra sanitation (some passengers annoyed - but I felt differently - take your time people! If you need more time to clean - have at it!) Embarkation did begin at 4pm promptly and we were in the first group to board (we had concierge class cabin.) Yeah! People cleaning EVERYWHERE. My hands are now raw from washing already! We went to our room (9201) it was very nice, balcony awesome - and quickly showered to freshen up. By the time we were out of shower, our luggage had arrived! Bleach smell in our bathroom was a tad overpowering but after running the shower was fine, and frankly, it gave me some peace of mind that our room really was clean. Because the ship was late embarking, the shuttle to Venice was free! Yay . . . away we went! ? Staying in touch - my Blackberry rocked. See blurb below in what I packed. ? Food- we were delighted to be in such a rich culinary part of the world. We wanted to really taste where we were - even if it meant skipping the dining room or some courses at dinner (which always left my waiter asking, "are you sure?"). We drank local wine - and purchased wine for our room in many of the ports. I had Frommers recommended restaurants and was delighted with results. The only times I was disappointed was when I let one of our tour guides select the restaurant - they always picked an overpriced spot with the menu in multiple languages and the only other guests in the restaurant were other tourists. Next time I will listen to my instincts and my Frommer's guide. o We skipped the dining room several times for dinner, never used for breakfast or lunch. My only real criticism - need more vegetables in the meals - and if there is a way, fresher veggies. I bought some real tomatoes in port and they all teased me about it. We gave the extras to our waiter assistant and he was soooo happy. Otherwise - it met our expectations for a dining room serving 1,000+ people at a time. It isn't gourmet - and the ship isn't the Ritz Carlton. I think too many people have unreasonable expectations that this is a 5-star dining experience. It isn't. But it isn't costing that either. Eating in a dining room with hundreds and hundreds of people is never going to be 1st class. Its way better than Olive Garden though (and our experiences on Holland America and Carnival) so adjust your expectations and make the most of it! o We had a table for 2. Dining room food was very good; service was excellent. Breadsticks are amazing! Our waiter was Kressov (sp?) and Asst waiter was Edgar - they were awesome! Asst Maitre D - can't recall his name, but he looks like a tall Buddy Holly - also outstanding. Our wine stewards were awesome and tolerated our slow decisions. Seriously - Celebrity really shines with service. Outstanding! Saw some whiners giving the staff a hard time; I feel for the staff, they really go out of their way to please. It reminded to be thankful for my table of 2. One woman made a big scene about wanting to be at a table of 8 and yelled at several staff . . . then repeat performance the next night when the other 6 guests at new table didn't show. Again, thankful I don't have to sit with any poopy people. Maitre D said it right . . . on a ship of 2,200 people, thank goodness we only have a few like that. o The Olympic was very nice, food was great - service hovered a little too much, but I think they were just trying to impress. We also splurged on the wine pairing service (another $30) - very happy we did so! We had planned to dine twice here . . but there was just too much food on the ship (and in port - hello gelato!) Didn't feel like one more big meal and cancelled our 2nd night. Besides, we loved our dining room team and it was fun. o We ordered breakfast room service every day - usually just for coffee and the yogurt parfait! o We only used the buffet for ice cream and sushi bar; once for tea and goodies. Happy to see they don't allow people to touch everything. Staff handled all that. o The aqua cafe was awesome for healthy lunch - yummy gazpacho! o Ordered a latte from Cova was very good; didn't indulge in the baked items. Hey, eating every 2 hours anyway . . . never could work up an appetite! o I forgot to tell them we didn't want bread at every restaurant in port - as a result we had to pay for it (usually $2 Euro per person.) For some reason, bread in Italy is substandard at restaurants. Pass it up! It is tasteless and often stale. Save your money for gelato! ? Things I wished I had packed - or was sooooo happy I did: o Pump hand soap for our stateroom bathroom - I don't like slimy soap bars and didn't use any public restrooms for sanitary reasons (read CDC website on noro) o Corkscrew (it was coveted by many!) o French press coffee maker + our own coffee (we ordered a pot of hot water and steamed milk each morn - perfect for us finicky coffee aficionados) o Suntan lotion - the spray on kind, put it on in the morn, and away you go o Good hand lotion to carry in your purse - all that hand washing and sanitizing leaves your skin dry! o 25 year old wine to celebrate our 25th anniversary -we brought an amazing wine, but ended up bringing it back with us. Our hotel sent up champagne on our anniversary - so we decided to celebrate again when we got home. That bottle is well traveled now - great idea though! o Travel power strip - LOVED it. http://www.shop.com/Monster_Power_MP_OTG400_SLV_Outlets_To_Go_4_Outlet_Power_Strip_%28Silver%29-42342158-p!.shtml o Small scissors o My own shampoo & conditioner o Sewing kit - sure enough, we needed it o SpaSensials foot socks for my aching feet! They saved my life! Was perfect way to refresh them after long days in ports . . . http://www.spasensials.com/products.asp#Foot o Sleeping pills to help me sleep once I got to destination and adjust to new time zone! o Seasickness patch - I cut in half (recommended from someone on CC Board) - had ZERO side effects this time, and no seasickness. YAY! o My Blackberry (T-Mobile service)- I emailed in each port and at sea to give a travelogue of sorts to my kids. Stored all details of our schedules and contacts in it so I didn't have loads of paper. Incurred NO additional cost for email and web use, did use the phone a few times and incurred $64 in international phone rates - 2 calls while at sea. Delighted with its functionality and reception - in fact, laughed as it had way better reception in Europe and remote spots than it does in my home! Of course, I had disabled work email before leaving home ? o My husband's camera phone so we could immediately send photos (silly and otherwise) to our kids. o Wish I had brought little packets of salt/pepper - the ship ones were sterilized so much they didn't work well. o iPod + little travel speakers ? Favorite spots on ship/entertainment o Loved the T pool!!! Great spot to have indoor/outdoor feeling. The spa was invigorating - but warning: don't shave your legs 24 hours before using it. All that salt water - Ouch! o Loved 2nd floor pool bar and Fabian, my favorite bartender o Our private verandah . . . I had my lounge chair in the sun, and hubby prefers shade. Perfect. Also fit a large table and two regular chairs. Could have fit more! o Missed having a fun $10 store like we experienced on Mercury. Other stores were OK. Only purchased from the temporary boutiques, nothing inspired me. Prices were fair and often much better than in port. (What's with the cruise line emphasis on shopping anyway?) o Didn't use spa services this time around (itinerary way too busy) but we did tour the facilities and began cracking up when the sauna door got stuck (with a guest inside!) They called someone to fix immediately - and the guest decided she really didn't want the sauna after all ? o Casino - we went there a little; cigarette smoke always got to me though. They do have non-smoking area, but it only has regular slot machines which don't ring my bell. o Used a few bars before dinner - usually whichever was closest to the dining room. . . service was always great and bartenders often very entertaining! o Entertainment -went to the pick pocket show - it was really good. Not a big fan of cruise ship entertainment so we really didn't sample much else. We had 2nd seating (delighted about that) and we were usually first off the ship in port (and once almost the last back-story to follow ?) We did enjoy the classical music - it was first rate. Other music seemed a tad cheesy (but that's always been our experience on cruise ships, and frankly, to be expected. Remember all those comments from Simon Cowell? Its true!) Even guitar dude was just OK. Can't they get someone who plays Jack Johnson or John Mayer? Listened to DJ music twice in the Navigator Club - wowie, Elton John and Barry Manilow. Dismissed ourselves early. Thank goodness for the iPod. o Missed having a yoga or pilates class first thing every morning as we were arriving in port like our Mercury Mexico cruise experience. Just as well though, we were off to our ports first thing. ? Excursions: we only did 2 ship sponsored - everything else we did on our own or pre-arranged, see ports of call for details: o Jeep tour in Croatia - A bust - see ports of call below o Riedel wine tasting seminar - it was OK, they will work the kinks out. Would have preferred tasting better wines - would even be willing to pay more for it for really good wine. It was $85 a piece and included having 4 Riedel crystal tasting glasses sent to you (you pay shipping) Fair deal. ? Ports of call: o Venice - ahhhhhhhhhhhh, such a magical place. We wandered away from St. Marks Square. Holy cow - way too many Ps (people and pigeons.) We went off the beaten path and had awesome meal which was very reasonable for Venice standards, and did some great shopping. Toured Doge's Palace - awesome. Otherwise wandered and experienced. Lovely! We did enjoy the dueling orchestras in St. Mark's square after nightfall (when the Ps are gone!) It is overpriced to get a table there and who cares! The live entertainment and ambience was worth every penny! o Dubrovnik - I researched and knew that there were 4 cruise ships in port. Ugh. So I selected a ship excursion - 4WD jeep tours; far away from crowds. Now this has an upside and a downside. As it turns out, it was a windy day and our ship couldn't get close to the port - so the tenders were far away and took forever. Some folks didn't get off the ship until 1pm! We didn't tour the city because of time, but I didn't feel like it was huge loss - others reported huge crowds and overpriced shopping. And it was HOT and humid! The positives to this tour: ? We were first to get off the ship - but still much later than we hoped because of tender situation ? It was just 10 of us ? We had amazing and authentic lunch that almost made the whole excursion worth it - it was in someone's private olive oil press room. Awesome! ? We made great friends and laughed so hard at the comical situation ? Tour guide was good at skipping rocks (I am really reaching here!) and he had a crush on Ashley (one of guests on our tour) - she was our ploy! We took a real road back to town from lunch; not sure if that was his plan all along, but we credit adorable Ashley and will be forever thankful! The negatives of this tour: ? Think: Deliverance meets Dubrovnik! ? Tour was way overpriced for what it was ? "Jeeps" were beat up vehicles with broken vents, broken gas gauge, broken air conditioning and at least ours was in desperate need of shock absorbers! So, we had our windows open . . . we ate a lot of Konvale dust! We should have known from all the dents and serious scrapes on the vehicle what we were in for! Mirrors were broken, etc. ? Outside of one scenic path - the tour was nasty dirt road, while we ate dust from the vehicle in front of us, we were poked by bushes from the narrow overgrown path and bounced all over. o But all this aside, the friends we made and laughs we shared made it all worth it! I wouldn't do it again, and wouldn't have done it if I had known what it was . . . but luck was on our side as we had 10 of us in 3 jeeps - all of whom were so much fun to be with! o Santorini - we prearranged a rental car with Damigos. We were first ones off ship (yeah concierge class) and took the first cable car up. Our rental car dude was waiting for us with a sign and walked us to the rental car place. The streets aren't named so thank goodness he took us. We got the car for the day for $42Euro - very happy. We wandered all around the Island - loved Ia (we were leaving as the buses were arriving!) and then headed to the beaches. Loved Kamari beach - and we had awesome lunch there (Maxi!!!) It was so damn hot - and this beach was magic. Nice breeze, amazing local wine and beer! We shared a Greek salad that was amazing and my husband had a stuffed burger thingy - beef pattie stuffed with feta and prosciutto -YUM! I also had a beef pattie thingy no stuffing that was so delicious . . . round potato thingys, tsatsiki, lemon and pita. Our best meal of the trip - MAGIC! We also found a winery, did more sitting in the breeze, purchased some olive oil soaps and local wine. Watched the sunset, ate another Greek salad in Fira. I don't know why I wasn't hungry for dinner! That eve it rained and the rest of the trip was perfect - not hot or humid!! o Athens - one of the best deals of the trip. I originally secured Spiros (Athens taxi http://www.athenstaxi.net/) but last minute our group expanded and we needed a mini van. So Spiros' colleague George was our awesome driver. Tour was $450 Euro and could easily accommodated 12 very comfortably. George lived in South Africa for a time so his English was great; he was happy to let us all do our own thing and meet up at agreed upon times. Terrific - LOVED the Acropolis. Note about Acropolis: It is very slick walking surface! We saw two spills and one person on the ship broke her arm! She was wearing Sperry Topsider tennis shoes! Thousands of years of wear makes the marble like glass . . . so do wear shoes that don't slip. Both my husband and I slipped a little, I was wearing rubber soled shoes. But don't let that stop you, just walk slow - hold onto railings and prepare to be in awe! Had greek salad - yum (yes, my 3rd in 2 days!) Plaka was totally fun. Museum very impressive. I liked Athens so much more than I expected! o Naples - went with private tour (arranged by another) with Francesco Marrapese - he was very good, rode in Mercedes mini-van. Pompeii was soooo totally cool! We had a private guide and it was worth it. Also did a tour of Amalfi coast - Sorrento & Poisitano. Spent a little too much time in the car for me - and stopped at some wood inlay place that we could have skipped. Road is verrrryyyyy narrow - had our mirrors tucked in so they wouldn't be taken off by oncoming traffic! A little harrowing at times. Had OK lunch. Great tour overall. o Civitavecchia/Rome - went with private tour (arranged by another) Rome in Limo. Driver drove like a bat out of hell . . . the plus side, got in and out of Rome in record time! I should have asked him to slow down . . . mind you, I have been accused of being a lead foot many times, but he was going so fast - and on return trip, in the pouring rain. I thought about asking him if he was headed to a fire. On the plus side, he was very knowledgeable and certainly kept us on schedule. But as you will see in my overview above . . . we did the speed demon tour of Rome, had a mediocre overpriced lunch at restaurant selected by guide (with only other tourists in restaurant and menu in multiple languages - a sure sign of a trap) and had no time for wandering or shopping. It was go, go, go. This was the only tour I really wish we had done differently. Oh well! We did see it all - while in the fast lane perhaps! o Livorno/Florence - soooooo happy I didn't sign up for any private tours for this. This also was a return trip for me so I knew it was a small and manageable city. We took a taxi mini van to the train station - total fee $20 Euro divided by your group. (Walk past all the taxis that want to take you all the way to Florence and there are a number of local guys.) We got to the train station early and got on the 7:43am train (it wasn't the express, but got us to Florence before the 8:11am express train.) Train cost $25 Euro, round trip for the two of us. Doing Florence at our leisure was just what we needed after rush of Rome. We toured Pitti Palace - I spent $8 Euro for guidebook, did a fair amount of shopping; found great leather, jewelry and tomatoes! We had lunch at Il Latino (recommended on Frommers) it was AWESOME! We were only Americans in restaurant - it was 2nd best meal of trip. Wine was lovely also! Shared a slice of cake with hubby - not uber sweet. Portions are so right in Europe - not dripping with cheese or ginormous servings! Gelato was amazing as a great afternoon pick me up . . . decided to take the 4:27p train back. Oopsy, it was late leaving by 25 min. Note: Livorno doesn't have many taxis - but be patient. It is small town and they will drop off the other passengers and be back in 10 min. We were close to being a little panicked (Ok, more than close!) that we might miss the ship . . . but alas, we arrived with 20 minutes to spare! And there were 50 or so of us, so I don't think the ship would really have sailed without so many. That said - it was a nail biter. We did witness 4 passengers pull up just as the ship was pulling away . . . they lowered the gangway and several hundred passengers were all watching and cheering those late lucys! Met at the bar with our pals to bring our blood pressure down after thinking we might miss the ship. More laughs and excitement! o Villefranche - went with private tour Sylvie di Cristo . . . oopsy, she wasn't there as planned. She had 4 flat tires (discovered when the person who planned the tour called her!) Our tour started an hour late, but she brought some fresh French bread as a peace offering and still promised us the full tour. As luck would have it though, she drove a Peugeot mini van. While it did have 4 brand spanking new tires ?. . . it had waaaayyyy too many people for it. It supposedly accommodated 8 passengers - which might be doable if you were all midgets. Or at least all on the petite side. My husband and I are 6' tall . . . my legs were wedged in. And I mean wedged! (he was cracking up - glad I could provide the comic relief.) I couldn't sit at a slant unless I crowded out my neighbor further! Sardines come to mind. The seat didn't fold up, just the back pushed forward so wearing a skirt was fun while climbing out of the backseat. It also didn't have vents in the back and the poor folks who were wedged in the front seat had to endure the fan on super high so that air could reach the back. They were on the petite side and their knees were also wedged in. This was the most expensive guide we hired on the trip ($800 Euro!) Sylvie was lovely person and knowledgeable - but not worth the price especially with the sardine vehicle - IMHO. We toured St. Paul de Vence and had lunch there because it was already late, (found cute bistro with view - enjoyed wine from Provence - overpriced but to be expected considering location,) we also toured Eze. Note: I wouldn't tour both of these two Medieval towns - and you certainly don't need an hour to walk the town. The cities are super small and everything is overpriced. I looked at a scarf I liked - made in India. Totally charming, but I could have skipped one and experienced more of area. Then we headed to Monaco, I wish we had had time to tour the palace, and we went to the casino. Yay for that! So classy . . . I wore my open toed shoes, no problem. Marilyn in our group agreed to this tour as long as she had at least an hour in casino. I don't think others were too keen on this - but we had all agreed to this in email before the trip. This was highlight . . . we were on our own in the coolest surroundings. We enjoyed a glass of champagne in casino and were told to check out the bathroom, but I forgot. It was the highlight of the tour . . . so much classier than Vegas. No blinking lights or annoying noise. Great to experience and we aren't gamblers. Took photos of all the amazing cars parked out front. We spent a little time touring Villefranche before boarding the ship; I would have liked more time there - and more time on our own (not to mention less time as a sardine.) o Barcelona - we spent two nights here. Had great time, but it was such a huge modern city - quite a contrast to some of the other charming and quaint ports of call. We walked most of it - and took the hop on/hop off bus. It was nice that narration is via earplugs so if you prefer to use your guidebook and not have loud narration, it was possible. We discussed for several days and decided the best description of Gaudi was: Aliens meets Dr. Seuss! Didn't realize that the real Spanish tapas were mostly fried meat, so non-fried offerings were few and far between. Still, we had some very good food and Spanish wine. Stayed at the Hilton Diagonal Mar - enjoyed the executive club level breakfast and afternoon wine. Was very quiet and in the new part of the city - ocean view room, close to beach. Doorman was incredible - I gave him an extra bottle of champagne that had been gifted to us. Really, all the staff was awesome. Speaking some Spanish was a necessity in this city. We took a taxi to airport, ran about $30 Euros. ? Cruise Critic - I have to say, finding this website was a HUGE highlight and allowed me to really plan the trip. Thank you to the dozens of people who provided advice. DO take some advice with a grain of salt - look at their other posts - remember to consider the source. Some folks just expect WAY too much. We prefer to avoid lines, crowds, loud and "negative nellys" and each time we did our own thing, we would usually find ourselves leaving a spot just as the Celebrity tour bus was arriving. This made us very happy and off we would go to next spot to stay ahead of the crowds and buses - or better, find spots not visited by the crowds. I also have to say that we totally lucked out and we met awesome friends on this board. Our cabin neighbors made our cruise that much more enjoyable! I value meeting these folks and treasure the time and laughs we had together!

Celebrity Millennium - Western Mediterranean

Celebrity Millennium Cruise Review by Coreopsis

Trip Details
This is ridiculously long . . . tried to organize to allow you to pick the items of interest to you. Enjoy - we sure did!
Overall - we loved our experience. However, I wouldn't say that we are HUGE cruising fans. Cruising isn't the only vacation we do and I wouldn't want to do it every vacation. But it does make sense for an itinerary like the Med and given the exchange rate, it was more affordable way to see Europe right now. On the plus side: cruising is very relaxing and an easy way to travel. On the other hand, I am happy we've had other experiences in Europe. If you really want to experience a city in Europe - you need to spend at least a few days there. But it was a fun way to see the Med and or get an overview of Europe and great for those like us with limits to the amount of vacation time and spending available; I was very happy we did it. o In hindsight, our Rome tour was my biggest regret. I was happy we had private tour - but I knew better - I've been there before . . . quantity vs quality thing. Being able to say you saw everything isn't the same as picking a few spots and really enjoying them. If you don't mind rushing and racing around - then you can see it all. Mind you, you will jump out of the car and only have a few minutes to snap a photo ("look everyone - there's the Forum, sorry, don't have time to tour it, hurry back!") o I also regret we didn't spend the night in Rome, then take the high speed train to Florence and catch up with the ship the next morning. I love Rome and it would have been a better way to enjoy more of it and enjoy the evening when all the day tourists are gone. Better yet - I wish Celebrity would overnight in Rome since the port is so close to Florence anyway! Or at least leave at 11pm. o Sharing personal drivers was terrific - however, you might want to trim your list of places to see (especially Rome where you spend 3 hours to/fro eating up much of your day) so that you can experience a few spots fully, especially if you are really interested in something - AND experience great food in relaxing setting. You could always set a time/place to rejoin your private tour so that you can do some things at your own pace. That's our preference and won't work for everyone - we are healthy, active and prefer to be away from crowds as much as possible. We loathe wearing stickers and following a group of people - we are more independent travelers. Our ship was a floating hotel for us. We did share private tours at nearly every port as it made financial sense and saved time from taking local transportation. If we had several days in port - we would do it all on our own. La dolce vita! o Do separate from your group as much as possible and just pick a time to meet up. You don't need to spend every minute of a 10 hour tour with these folks. o Suggestions for Celebrity: ? I do wish our entire cruise experience reflected the ports we were visiting. British Pub night while in Florence made no sense to me. Also wish the evening menu reflected the ports of call. Maybe one drink of the day could also reflect the port of call/country. ? Put sliders on the chairs on deck 10 to reduce noise. ? Implement non-smoking staterooms - maybe one side of ship? ? Improve the newsletter - way too much paper. Front page should include: dress for eve, weather forecast. Each page should have date . . . we had so much paper - mostly sales stuff selling other cruises, spa treatments or something in the store. Show videos on other ports of call instead! Expand the section for common phrases in the language of port of call. ? What would you do if you miss the ship? Is there a phone number for any of the ports?? Something I thought about a few times . . . but thankfully didn't need. Tired the "port agent" once, phone just rang and rang. ? Show National Geo videos or travel channel stuff for each port of call - and only for the next upcoming port of call. ? Implement something so that vacant pool chairs for a certain period are cleared for new guests. Seeing all chairs "taken" yet 1/3 empty is annoying. ? Get rid of party band by pool each eve - use local musicians instead, again reflecting the port of call. o We did hear chair scraping noise in morn and at night (cabin 9201) and sounds from revelers every now and then on deck above - it did wake me (I am a light sleeper) but not enough that I would give up my room. I would prefer a lower deck to avoid that though. Not a big deal though. o Our cabin steward was Antonio and we was awesome - our room was refreshed every time we stepped out! Lovely! Can't say enough about the service - I don't think it could be much better! o We will most likely cruise again for unique itineraries where cruising makes sense (Alaska, maybe Galapagos, etc.) We will consider Celebrity again (so far our best experience over Holland America (Yuk!) and Carnival) we and very much enjoyed the Millennium, although I am intrigued by the idea of smaller, more personal ships. I am sure there are higher quality ships and lines - but for our price range - it certainly met or exceeded expectations. o I have online photo gallery - if you want to see it, send me an email to Psuflita (at) gmail (dot) com ? A note about airports in Frankfurt & Munich - we flew Lufthansa from SFO to Frankfurt, then to Venice. We had plenty of time between flights - or so we thought. There we were in terminal not far from our departure gate (or so we thought.) So we decided to spend our extra hour in the business class lounge, after all - we used a bunch of miles to get these seats, lets enjoy all the benefits (LH biz class lounge was just OK.) A few minutes before our flight was to board, we decided to mosey on over to our gate - WRONG! What we saw was several hundred people standing in another security line! Arrrgghhhhhhh. No one mentioned that we would need to clear two more passport checks and another line for metal detector and x-ray our carry on items! It took us an extra hour to get through these lines (and we were thankful because the line was even longer for EU members) . . . and we RAN the mile or so (who the heck spaced those gates so far apart; they sound so close?) and then had the lovely added benefit of some woman from Lufthansa yelling at us about not planning our time better and that they were about to take our luggage off and leave without us, etc. etc. etc. Yelling! Seriously - she scolded us all the way onto the plane! Can't she see we are running and well aware we almost missed the plane? Did Lufthansa employees think to mention to us at the lounge or when landing -something like: "hey, you connecting flight people better hoof it on over to your gate 'cause it takes FOREVER and we aren't happy to check your passport just once, we like to do it at least at two different stops with two different lines! Viel Glueck!" (good luck in German). In any case, the flight attendant who witnessed the tongue lashing in Frankfurt was incredibly kind to us . . . we shook it off happy to be on our way to Venice! The return connection through Munich was better; the airport is smaller and we knew better than to wait on the other side of security. Again we had to go through two passport checks AND a line for x-ray screening of our carryon, etc. but the lines were quick. Our gate was on the other side of the extra security and had no lounge, no place to get coffee, etc. But we were happier not to nearly miss our flight. They also stamped my passport in and out of Germany - what is up with that? I am just connecting flights - didn't even have time to pee in the country! Our luggage arrived without a hitch; although I did cross pack and include two outfits in my carryon, just in case. Advice I picked up on CC! ? Transportation from Venice to pier - although I love the water taxi . . . didn't make sense for the location to pier. We used http://airports-shuttle.com/, cheaper than the ship transfers. Driver was waiting for us and zipped us right to the ship - no waiting. ? Note about money: ATMs work great - only had one cranky machine. It was the way to go. Do remember to do the conversion; when I first took out withdrawal I forgot it was in Euros and thus, exceeded daily withdrawal amounts so it didn't work. After I had the "DUH!" moment, it worked like a charm. Also . . . almost everyone does everything in cash in Europe! All guides, taxis, etc. Just for backup, make sure you have a pin for cash withdrawals with your credit cards in case your ATM card doesn't work (or is stolen.) We hardly ever carry that much cash around anymore . . . but you definitely need it in Europe. DO call your credit card companies and bank before you leave home - we heard of folks having their credit cards frozen for fear of fraud. Read up on tipping - we encountered Americans who were tipping WAY too much for local standards. Here is further info on subject http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/eurotips.htm http://www.fodors.com/wire/archives/001892.cfm ? Embarkation: NOROVIRUS Notices everywhere! GULP. We had to fill out special questionnaires because the last cruise had an outbreak of noro. Had overwhelming urges to wash my hands! Staff was on hand to greet us as we walked in and explain the situation. They were very kind and apologetic. Maybe a cruise for our 25th anniversary was NOT the right idea - but then we remembered that most outbreaks of noro do NOT happen on a cruise, it can happen anywhere. If people would just wash their hands . . . Boarding was delayed for extra sanitation (some passengers annoyed - but I felt differently - take your time people! If you need more time to clean - have at it!) Embarkation did begin at 4pm promptly and we were in the first group to board (we had concierge class cabin.) Yeah! People cleaning EVERYWHERE. My hands are now raw from washing already! We went to our room (9201) it was very nice, balcony awesome - and quickly showered to freshen up. By the time we were out of shower, our luggage had arrived! Bleach smell in our bathroom was a tad overpowering but after running the shower was fine, and frankly, it gave me some peace of mind that our room really was clean. Because the ship was late embarking, the shuttle to Venice was free! Yay . . . away we went! ? Staying in touch - my Blackberry rocked. See blurb below in what I packed. ? Food- we were delighted to be in such a rich culinary part of the world. We wanted to really taste where we were - even if it meant skipping the dining room or some courses at dinner (which always left my waiter asking, "are you sure?"). We drank local wine - and purchased wine for our room in many of the ports. I had Frommers recommended restaurants and was delighted with results. The only times I was disappointed was when I let one of our tour guides select the restaurant - they always picked an overpriced spot with the menu in multiple languages and the only other guests in the restaurant were other tourists. Next time I will listen to my instincts and my Frommer's guide. o We skipped the dining room several times for dinner, never used for breakfast or lunch. My only real criticism - need more vegetables in the meals - and if there is a way, fresher veggies. I bought some real tomatoes in port and they all teased me about it. We gave the extras to our waiter assistant and he was soooo happy. Otherwise - it met our expectations for a dining room serving 1,000+ people at a time. It isn't gourmet - and the ship isn't the Ritz Carlton. I think too many people have unreasonable expectations that this is a 5-star dining experience. It isn't. But it isn't costing that either. Eating in a dining room with hundreds and hundreds of people is never going to be 1st class. Its way better than Olive Garden though (and our experiences on Holland America and Carnival) so adjust your expectations and make the most of it! o We had a table for 2. Dining room food was very good; service was excellent. Breadsticks are amazing! Our waiter was Kressov (sp?) and Asst waiter was Edgar - they were awesome! Asst Maitre D - can't recall his name, but he looks like a tall Buddy Holly - also outstanding. Our wine stewards were awesome and tolerated our slow decisions. Seriously - Celebrity really shines with service. Outstanding! Saw some whiners giving the staff a hard time; I feel for the staff, they really go out of their way to please. It reminded to be thankful for my table of 2. One woman made a big scene about wanting to be at a table of 8 and yelled at several staff . . . then repeat performance the next night when the other 6 guests at new table didn't show. Again, thankful I don't have to sit with any poopy people. Maitre D said it right . . . on a ship of 2,200 people, thank goodness we only have a few like that. o The Olympic was very nice, food was great - service hovered a little too much, but I think they were just trying to impress. We also splurged on the wine pairing service (another $30) - very happy we did so! We had planned to dine twice here . . but there was just too much food on the ship (and in port - hello gelato!) Didn't feel like one more big meal and cancelled our 2nd night. Besides, we loved our dining room team and it was fun. o We ordered breakfast room service every day - usually just for coffee and the yogurt parfait! o We only used the buffet for ice cream and sushi bar; once for tea and goodies. Happy to see they don't allow people to touch everything. Staff handled all that. o The aqua cafe was awesome for healthy lunch - yummy gazpacho! o Ordered a latte from Cova was very good; didn't indulge in the baked items. Hey, eating every 2 hours anyway . . . never could work up an appetite! o I forgot to tell them we didn't want bread at every restaurant in port - as a result we had to pay for it (usually $2 Euro per person.) For some reason, bread in Italy is substandard at restaurants. Pass it up! It is tasteless and often stale. Save your money for gelato! ? Things I wished I had packed - or was sooooo happy I did: o Pump hand soap for our stateroom bathroom - I don't like slimy soap bars and didn't use any public restrooms for sanitary reasons (read CDC website on noro) o Corkscrew (it was coveted by many!) o French press coffee maker + our own coffee (we ordered a pot of hot water and steamed milk each morn - perfect for us finicky coffee aficionados) o Suntan lotion - the spray on kind, put it on in the morn, and away you go o Good hand lotion to carry in your purse - all that hand washing and sanitizing leaves your skin dry! o 25 year old wine to celebrate our 25th anniversary -we brought an amazing wine, but ended up bringing it back with us. Our hotel sent up champagne on our anniversary - so we decided to celebrate again when we got home. That bottle is well traveled now - great idea though! o Travel power strip - LOVED it. http://www.shop.com/Monster_Power_MP_OTG400_SLV_Outlets_To_Go_4_Outlet_Power_Strip_%28Silver%29-42342158-p!.shtml o Small scissors o My own shampoo & conditioner o Sewing kit - sure enough, we needed it o SpaSensials foot socks for my aching feet! They saved my life! Was perfect way to refresh them after long days in ports . . . http://www.spasensials.com/products.asp#Foot o Sleeping pills to help me sleep once I got to destination and adjust to new time zone! o Seasickness patch - I cut in half (recommended from someone on CC Board) - had ZERO side effects this time, and no seasickness. YAY! o My Blackberry (T-Mobile service)- I emailed in each port and at sea to give a travelogue of sorts to my kids. Stored all details of our schedules and contacts in it so I didn't have loads of paper. Incurred NO additional cost for email and web use, did use the phone a few times and incurred $64 in international phone rates - 2 calls while at sea. Delighted with its functionality and reception - in fact, laughed as it had way better reception in Europe and remote spots than it does in my home! Of course, I had disabled work email before leaving home ? o My husband's camera phone so we could immediately send photos (silly and otherwise) to our kids. o Wish I had brought little packets of salt/pepper - the ship ones were sterilized so much they didn't work well. o iPod + little travel speakers
? Favorite spots on ship/entertainment o Loved the T pool!!! Great spot to have indoor/outdoor feeling. The spa was invigorating - but warning: don't shave your legs 24 hours before using it. All that salt water - Ouch! o Loved 2nd floor pool bar and Fabian, my favorite bartender o Our private verandah . . . I had my lounge chair in the sun, and hubby prefers shade. Perfect. Also fit a large table and two regular chairs. Could have fit more! o Missed having a fun $10 store like we experienced on Mercury. Other stores were OK. Only purchased from the temporary boutiques, nothing inspired me. Prices were fair and often much better than in port. (What's with the cruise line emphasis on shopping anyway?) o Didn't use spa services this time around (itinerary way too busy) but we did tour the facilities and began cracking up when the sauna door got stuck (with a guest inside!) They called someone to fix immediately - and the guest decided she really didn't want the sauna after all ? o Casino - we went there a little; cigarette smoke always got to me though. They do have non-smoking area, but it only has regular slot machines which don't ring my bell. o Used a few bars before dinner - usually whichever was closest to the dining room. . . service was always great and bartenders often very entertaining! o Entertainment -went to the pick pocket show - it was really good. Not a big fan of cruise ship entertainment so we really didn't sample much else. We had 2nd seating (delighted about that) and we were usually first off the ship in port (and once almost the last back-story to follow ?) We did enjoy the classical music - it was first rate. Other music seemed a tad cheesy (but that's always been our experience on cruise ships, and frankly, to be expected. Remember all those comments from Simon Cowell? Its true!) Even guitar dude was just OK. Can't they get someone who plays Jack Johnson or John Mayer? Listened to DJ music twice in the Navigator Club - wowie, Elton John and Barry Manilow. Dismissed ourselves early. Thank goodness for the iPod. o Missed having a yoga or pilates class first thing every morning as we were arriving in port like our Mercury Mexico cruise experience. Just as well though, we were off to our ports first thing. ? Excursions: we only did 2 ship sponsored - everything else we did on our own or pre-arranged, see ports of call for details: o Jeep tour in Croatia - A bust - see ports of call below o Riedel wine tasting seminar - it was OK, they will work the kinks out. Would have preferred tasting better wines - would even be willing to pay more for it for really good wine. It was $85 a piece and included having 4 Riedel crystal tasting glasses sent to you (you pay shipping) Fair deal. ? Ports of call: o Venice - ahhhhhhhhhhhh, such a magical place. We wandered away from St. Marks Square. Holy cow - way too many Ps (people and pigeons.) We went off the beaten path and had awesome meal which was very reasonable for Venice standards, and did some great shopping. Toured Doge's Palace - awesome. Otherwise wandered and experienced. Lovely! We did enjoy the dueling orchestras in St. Mark's square after nightfall (when the Ps are gone!) It is overpriced to get a table there and who cares! The live entertainment and ambience was worth every penny! o Dubrovnik - I researched and knew that there were 4 cruise ships in port. Ugh. So I selected a ship excursion - 4WD jeep tours; far away from crowds. Now this has an upside and a downside. As it turns out, it was a windy day and our ship couldn't get close to the port - so the tenders were far away and took forever. Some folks didn't get off the ship until 1pm! We didn't tour the city because of time, but I didn't feel like it was huge loss - others reported huge crowds and overpriced shopping. And it was HOT and humid! The positives to this tour: ? We were first to get off the ship - but still much later than we hoped because of tender situation ? It was just 10 of us ? We had amazing and authentic lunch that almost made the whole excursion worth it - it was in someone's private olive oil press room. Awesome! ? We made great friends and laughed so hard at the comical situation ? Tour guide was good at skipping rocks (I am really reaching here!) and he had a crush on Ashley (one of guests on our tour) - she was our ploy! We took a real road back to town from lunch; not sure if that was his plan all along, but we credit adorable Ashley and will be forever thankful! The negatives of this tour: ? Think: Deliverance meets Dubrovnik! ? Tour was way overpriced for what it was ? "Jeeps" were beat up vehicles with broken vents, broken gas gauge, broken air conditioning and at least ours was in desperate need of shock absorbers! So, we had our windows open . . . we ate a lot of Konvale dust! We should have known from all the dents and serious scrapes on the vehicle what we were in for! Mirrors were broken, etc. ? Outside of one scenic path - the tour was nasty dirt road, while we ate dust from the vehicle in front of us, we were poked by bushes from the narrow overgrown path and bounced all over. o But all this aside, the friends we made and laughs we shared made it all worth it! I wouldn't do it again, and wouldn't have done it if I had known what it was . . . but luck was on our side as we had 10 of us in 3 jeeps - all of whom were so much fun to be with! o Santorini - we prearranged a rental car with Damigos. We were first ones off ship (yeah concierge class) and took the first cable car up. Our rental car dude was waiting for us with a sign and walked us to the rental car place. The streets aren't named so thank goodness he took us. We got the car for the day for $42Euro - very happy. We wandered all around the Island - loved Ia (we were leaving as the buses were arriving!) and then headed to the beaches. Loved Kamari beach - and we had awesome lunch there (Maxi!!!) It was so damn hot - and this beach was magic. Nice breeze, amazing local wine and beer! We shared a Greek salad that was amazing and my husband had a stuffed burger thingy - beef pattie stuffed with feta and prosciutto -YUM! I also had a beef pattie thingy no stuffing that was so delicious . . . round potato thingys, tsatsiki, lemon and pita. Our best meal of the trip - MAGIC! We also found a winery, did more sitting in the breeze, purchased some olive oil soaps and local wine. Watched the sunset, ate another Greek salad in Fira. I don't know why I wasn't hungry for dinner! That eve it rained and the rest of the trip was perfect - not hot or humid!! o Athens - one of the best deals of the trip. I originally secured Spiros (Athens taxi http://www.athenstaxi.net/) but last minute our group expanded and we needed a mini van. So Spiros' colleague George was our awesome driver. Tour was $450 Euro and could easily accommodated 12 very comfortably. George lived in South Africa for a time so his English was great; he was happy to let us all do our own thing and meet up at agreed upon times. Terrific - LOVED the Acropolis. Note about Acropolis: It is very slick walking surface! We saw two spills and one person on the ship broke her arm! She was wearing Sperry Topsider tennis shoes! Thousands of years of wear makes the marble like glass . . . so do wear shoes that don't slip. Both my husband and I slipped a little, I was wearing rubber soled shoes. But don't let that stop you, just walk slow - hold onto railings and prepare to be in awe! Had greek salad - yum (yes, my 3rd in 2 days!) Plaka was totally fun. Museum very impressive. I liked Athens so much more than I expected! o Naples - went with private tour (arranged by another) with Francesco Marrapese - he was very good, rode in Mercedes mini-van. Pompeii was soooo totally cool! We had a private guide and it was worth it. Also did a tour of Amalfi coast - Sorrento & Poisitano. Spent a little too much time in the car for me - and stopped at some wood inlay place that we could have skipped. Road is verrrryyyyy narrow - had our mirrors tucked in so they wouldn't be taken off by oncoming traffic! A little harrowing at times. Had OK lunch. Great tour overall. o Civitavecchia/Rome - went with private tour (arranged by another) Rome in Limo. Driver drove like a bat out of hell . . . the plus side, got in and out of Rome in record time! I should have asked him to slow down . . . mind you, I have been accused of being a lead foot many times, but he was going so fast - and on return trip, in the pouring rain. I thought about asking him if he was headed to a fire. On the plus side, he was very knowledgeable and certainly kept us on schedule. But as you will see in my overview above . . . we did the speed demon tour of Rome, had a mediocre overpriced lunch at restaurant selected by guide (with only other tourists in restaurant and menu in multiple languages - a sure sign of a trap) and had no time for wandering or shopping. It was go, go, go. This was the only tour I really wish we had done differently. Oh well! We did see it all - while in the fast lane perhaps! o Livorno/Florence - soooooo happy I didn't sign up for any private tours for this. This also was a return trip for me so I knew it was a small and manageable city. We took a taxi mini van to the train station - total fee $20 Euro divided by your group. (Walk past all the taxis that want to take you all the way to Florence and there are a number of local guys.) We got to the train station early and got on the 7:43am train (it wasn't the express, but got us to Florence before the 8:11am express train.) Train cost $25 Euro, round trip for the two of us. Doing Florence at our leisure was just what we needed after rush of Rome. We toured Pitti Palace - I spent $8 Euro for guidebook, did a fair amount of shopping; found great leather, jewelry and tomatoes! We had lunch at Il Latino (recommended on Frommers) it was AWESOME! We were only Americans in restaurant - it was 2nd best meal of trip. Wine was lovely also! Shared a slice of cake with hubby - not uber sweet. Portions are so right in Europe - not dripping with cheese or ginormous servings! Gelato was amazing as a great afternoon pick me up . . . decided to take the 4:27p train back. Oopsy, it was late leaving by 25 min. Note: Livorno doesn't have many taxis - but be patient. It is small town and they will drop off the other passengers and be back in 10 min. We were close to being a little panicked (Ok, more than close!) that we might miss the ship . . . but alas, we arrived with 20 minutes to spare! And there were 50 or so of us, so I don't think the ship would really have sailed without so many. That said - it was a nail biter. We did witness 4 passengers pull up just as the ship was pulling away . . . they lowered the gangway and several hundred passengers were all watching and cheering those late lucys! Met at the bar with our pals to bring our blood pressure down after thinking we might miss the ship. More laughs and excitement! o Villefranche - went with private tour Sylvie di Cristo . . . oopsy, she wasn't there as planned. She had 4 flat tires (discovered when the person who planned the tour called her!) Our tour started an hour late, but she brought some fresh French bread as a peace offering and still promised us the full tour. As luck would have it though, she drove a Peugeot mini van. While it did have 4 brand spanking new tires ?. . . it had waaaayyyy too many people for it. It supposedly accommodated 8 passengers - which might be doable if you were all midgets. Or at least all on the petite side. My husband and I are 6' tall . . . my legs were wedged in. And I mean wedged! (he was cracking up - glad I could provide the comic relief.) I couldn't sit at a slant unless I crowded out my neighbor further! Sardines come to mind. The seat didn't fold up, just the back pushed forward so wearing a skirt was fun while climbing out of the backseat. It also didn't have vents in the back and the poor folks who were wedged in the front seat had to endure the fan on super high so that air could reach the back. They were on the petite side and their knees were also wedged in. This was the most expensive guide we hired on the trip ($800 Euro!) Sylvie was lovely person and knowledgeable - but not worth the price especially with the sardine vehicle - IMHO. We toured St. Paul de Vence and had lunch there because it was already late, (found cute bistro with view - enjoyed wine from Provence - overpriced but to be expected considering location,) we also toured Eze. Note: I wouldn't tour both of these two Medieval towns - and you certainly don't need an hour to walk the town. The cities are super small and everything is overpriced. I looked at a scarf I liked - made in India. Totally charming, but I could have skipped one and experienced more of area. Then we headed to Monaco, I wish we had had time to tour the palace, and we went to the casino. Yay for that! So classy . . . I wore my open toed shoes, no problem. Marilyn in our group agreed to this tour as long as she had at least an hour in casino. I don't think others were too keen on this - but we had all agreed to this in email before the trip. This was highlight . . . we were on our own in the coolest surroundings. We enjoyed a glass of champagne in casino and were told to check out the bathroom, but I forgot. It was the highlight of the tour . . . so much classier than Vegas. No blinking lights or annoying noise. Great to experience and we aren't gamblers. Took photos of all the amazing cars parked out front. We spent a little time touring Villefranche before boarding the ship; I would have liked more time there - and more time on our own (not to mention less time as a sardine.) o Barcelona - we spent two nights here. Had great time, but it was such a huge modern city - quite a contrast to some of the other charming and quaint ports of call. We walked most of it - and took the hop on/hop off bus. It was nice that narration is via earplugs so if you prefer to use your guidebook and not have loud narration, it was possible. We discussed for several days and decided the best description of Gaudi was: Aliens meets Dr. Seuss! Didn't realize that the real Spanish tapas were mostly fried meat, so non-fried offerings were few and far between. Still, we had some very good food and Spanish wine. Stayed at the Hilton Diagonal Mar - enjoyed the executive club level breakfast and afternoon wine. Was very quiet and in the new part of the city - ocean view room, close to beach. Doorman was incredible - I gave him an extra bottle of champagne that had been gifted to us. Really, all the staff was awesome. Speaking some Spanish was a necessity in this city. We took a taxi to airport, ran about $30 Euros. ? Cruise Critic - I have to say, finding this website was a HUGE highlight and allowed me to really plan the trip. Thank you to the dozens of people who provided advice. DO take some advice with a grain of salt - look at their other posts - remember to consider the source. Some folks just expect WAY too much. We prefer to avoid lines, crowds, loud and "negative nellys" and each time we did our own thing, we would usually find ourselves leaving a spot just as the Celebrity tour bus was arriving. This made us very happy and off we would go to next spot to stay ahead of the crowds and buses - or better, find spots not visited by the crowds. I also have to say that we totally lucked out and we met awesome friends on this board. Our cabin neighbors made our cruise that much more enjoyable! I value meeting these folks and treasure the time and laughs we had together!
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