We started our trip with an extra day in Barcelona, and we're glad we had the extra night, because we were both quite jet lagged and needed to rest up before we tackled trying to see all we could in one day. Not easily done, but we got to the major attractions and sights. Finally it was time to board the ship. Just driving to the pier was exciting, seeing that wonderful huge ship just waiting for us to board! The boarding process was extremely fast and within about 15 minutes we were being welcomed with a glass of champagne! The ship itself isn't as flashy as I had assumed, a bit understated, but by no means lacking in any way shape or form. It was just right! We made our way to our stateroom, and were quite surprised that it was almost larger than our previous night's hotel room! Thanks to this site, I knew to pack our swimsuits in our carry-on so that we could relax by the pool before our suitcases arrived, but before we could even change into them, the suitcases were at our door!
Leaving Barcelona at sunset, was beautiful, but we were ready to start our cruise. Our first sea day was fun, we got to sleep in and relax by the pool listening to the live band who were quite good. This was our first formal night and I must say that I was quite impressed to see that people really did get dressed formally for dinner. Mostly suits for the men, although we did see a lot of tuxes too. We were planning on having dinner at the Normandie restaurant on this cruise, but didn't end up doing that. The food and service in the MDR was just great so we just continued having dinner there. Our waiter Danny and our wine steward Kevin were great. Our room attendant Newton and his assistant were incredible. I don't know how they knew we were gone, but if we left,then came back in a few minutes, the room would be completely clean! Whenever they'd see us coming down the hall they'd open our door for us, and every time they'd have a warm smile and greeting for us!!
Our first port was Villefranche. It's a beautifully small picturesque port. You could easily do Monaco, Monte Carlo and Nice on your own, which we did. The bus routes are extremely user friendly and straightforward. The yachts and the cars in Monaco were all just jaw dropping. The old town was lovely and quaint with old world charm. We did all of these gorgeous places on our own and were back on the ship on time. Exhausted from all that walking but happy that we did it!
Florence and Pisa were next. We took a taxi at the pier with another group of people from the ship. We first went to Florence, saw all of the incredible sights, did some shopping for leather at the market stalls and ate the best Gelato I've ever had!
On to Pisa! The drive along the Tuscan roads were incredible, sunflowers everywhere! At Pisa we all took the inevitable touristy shots (trust me you too will do it, you just can't help yourselves),did some more shopping, then back to the boat. It was really nice to have cool towels and cold drinks waiting for us at the pier. This was a nice touch and with the heat... completely welcomed!
Next day was Rome. We also did this one on our own. We met up with some other people at the pier and then got a taxi to take us for the day in Rome. First stop was the Vatican. We lined up for about 30 minutes to get into St. Peter's but we'd do it all again even for longer if need be, just to see the magnificent church. It really is breathtaking to see all of the statues, paintings and artwork throughout the entire place! We really were in awe of the entire Basilica!!
Onto the Trevi fountain, more gelato, threw some coins in the fountain, then the Spanish steps and onto the Forum & the Colosseum ....wow! Next stop was the Pantheon, but on the way we saw Circus Maximus and Piazza Venezia and a few more fountains and piazzas along the way. What can I say about Rome, but WOW!!
We met up with another Cruise Critic couple and took a wild taxi ride along the coast. First stop was to Herculaneum. It was great timing on our part, as we were some of the very first people that morning, so it wasn't crowded and the heat wasn't stifling yet. We then drove along the incredible coast to Amalfi. This was truly breathtaking! The town is amazing, but it is overshadowed by the most beautiful coastline we have ever seen. Our taxi driver took us to a beautiful restaurant on the cliff overlooking the town. We had a great meal, followed by the mandatory shot of home made Limoncello, by the owners grandmother! Then we drove to Positano, and kept stopping along the coast for incredible pictures.
It's hard to say which of these ports were our favorites, but I must say that Amalfi is high on the list! Unforgettable!!
Ahh Santorini....what a change from the previous ports. We opted for the cable car ride up the cliff to Thira. The donkeys were not that appealing in the stifling heat so early in the morning. Thira is a cute town, easy to get lost in, but each way you turn is something else to see. We took the bus to Oia and strolled through the beautiful paths taking lots and lots of pictures. Beautiful white washed doomed top homes, with tiny windows and beautiful decks clinging to the cliff sides, overlooking the sea. Truly beautiful and picturesque.
Again we opted to do Athens on our own. We walked out of the port and walked into Pireus for a while, then decided to take a taxi to the Acropolis. This was much cheaper than taking a cab from the port. He left us just near the base of the south entrance to the Acropolis. We walked up and marvelled at all the ruins on the way there. It is a steep climb, and the sweltering heat didn't help much either. We were prepared, with bringing our own water, we had on sunblock and both wore hats, and still the heat seemed overpowering at times. The Parthenon didn't disappoint. It was everything I had thought it would be. The sights from high up on the hill were amazing, the ruins were incredible. We made our way down to Mars Hill, then onto the Agora. Incredible! This was at the same time that the fires outside of Athens were happening and you could see the billowing smoke over the hill. We shopped along the Plaka, then had a nice lunch nearby. We did have a bit of a problem, when we found out that there were some problems with the Metro and they weren't running in the afternoon, so we tried to get a taxi back to the pier, but they were taking advantage of the metro being down and charging double the fees to take tourists back to the pier. We opted to try to take the bus, but that just got us lost (but without knowing it, closer to the pier). So we got off the bus and just hailed a cab who quoted us less than 10 euros to get us to the pier, so we took it. This was one of the most exhausting of the ports we had. We're not sure if it was because of the sweltering heat, or the constant walking both up and downhill, and then the shopping!! We were glad to be back on board and just relax for a while.
Next was Dubrovnik....this was quite a surprise for us,as we did not expect to see such a beautiful place. We had not heard about this port before, and thought that we may just skip it and relax on board. Boy are we glad we didn't... it really is a little jewel hidden away from the rest of the usual ports. It was a surprise port that we're still talking about!!
Onto Venice! This was our last port, so it was bittersweet when we arrived. It's truly a breathtaking entrance into the city, but knowing the cruise was over was a bit of a downer. We took the Vaporetto into St. Marks, then we went to try to find our hotel as we had booked an extra night's stay in Venice and we wanted to see how far the hotel would be from the vaporetto stop (as we would need to be lugging our suitcases ourselves) We were lucky that our hotel was close to St.Mark and it wouldn't be too far to carry them. Then we just settled in and enjoyed the city. It really is like no other city we know. Their buses are boats, their cars are boats, their taxis are boats....it's just incredible. We went to Murano and watched the mestre make a glass sculpture right in front of us! I loved Venice and it truly is one of the most romantic cities we have seen. At night we took a stroll along St. Marks square after dinner, and listened to the bands playing outside of their cafes, and watched one of the most incredilbe sunsets we have ever seen.
What a way to end the trip of a life time. For our very first cruise ever, this one will be hard to top!