Since we spent 3 weeks traveling around Europe on our own and then 2 weeks on the Celebrity Summit, perhaps our ideas will be helpful to someone who is trying to decide what kind of a vacation suits them best.
First, to summarize: We flew into Prague, then traveled to Berlin, Munich, Melk Vienna and Hallstadt in Austria, Muerren and Zermatt in Switzerland, and Lake Como the Cinque Terre and Venice in Italy. Part of our travels were by train and the rest in a rented car. Train travel in Europe is easy and cheap and we had no problem with driving. Thanks to Rick Steve's travel books we stayed in lovely pensions run by wonderful people, and ate at inexpensive, smaller restaurants that had wonderful native food. We also knew exactly where we were going and how to get there, but it does require a considerable amount of pre-planning (part of the fun for me).
Cruising is like staying in an American hotel, going ashore for a few hours, then returning to your hotel for dinner and a show - little opportunity to really get to know the country, its cuisine or its people. However, very convenient and requires very little planning. The food was much better than I had expected. You don't really need the specialty restaurant to find good food. We ate at the Normandie twice, but the food really isn't that much better and we enjoyed the people at our table so much that I'd only do one night if we did it again. My big beef is that there is so little time to see the country at each port of call. On the other hand, we had wonderful dining companions that were well matched to us. Again, the big thing is EASY. The only planning necessary was for our shore excursions and everything else is done for you.
Now more details on each,
Europe: We planned our trip many months in advance following the advice in Rick Steve's guide books. These books give you many choices of inexpensive but clean and friendly pensions and wonderful restaurants in various price ranges to choose from. They also have guided tours of sites where you might otherwise rent headsets or follow a group tour, thus saving time and money. I love traveling this way. We have the opportunity to get to know wonderful people in each country. I have been learning German by Rosetta Stone (in addition to my High School Deutsch) and loved having the chance to speak German with some wonderful and patient people. My Italian, Czech, and Greek are nonexistant but I found people everywhere happy to be helpful. Also, many speak at least a little English. This is "total immersion" and I really like feeling part of each country. Also, we have gone to many cities that you obviously are not going to get to on any kind of a cruise ship and even to small towns that you can't even get to on a bus. I never feel part of a herd.
Cruising: Thanks to Cruise Critic I was able to line up Taxi drivers in Athens, Naples, Civiteveccia, and Livorno before our trip. I absolutely feel this is the way to go. In most cases the cabs are as cheap as the ships shore excursions (for 2) and would be much less expensive if there were another couple to share the fare with. I liked this way to sight-see much more than the follow the umbrella (or the X on a pole)way.
In Dubrovnik, we choose to go it on our own and were perfectly happy with that. We bought a book but really didn't need it as it is quite small. Walk all of part of the wall, eat at the harbor, go down the main street, go to the beach. That's about it, although we did take a glass bottom boat cruise.
Athens: We learned about "George, the best cab driver in Athens" on Cruise Critic and contacted him. Unfortunately he was tied up, but we had John (George's partner)- the second best cab driver in Athens. We enjoyed the tour very much with one exception. John took us to a jewelery store owned by a friend and we got a high pressure sales pitch there. I'd have preferred to shop at the Plaka on my own. Otherwise, he was great and the day was wonderful.
Santorini: Here we did a ship excursion. Which was a fine way to get your bearings on the Island. On the other hand, it is a small Island. This is one of those places that I would love to visit again - this time for several days. I'd rent a scooter, stay at one of those white hotels on the cliffs and eat lots of Greek food. I was really sorry that we had to be back to our ship so early that we couldn't go to a taverna for some real real Greek singing and dancing - that real Greek experience you dream about.
Naples: Here we had Mariano as our Taxi driver. He was fabulous! Not only did he spend a wonderful day with us, he arranged for our Taxi drivers in Civiteveccia and Livorno also. He is Mariano Fiorentino. His business is Pleasant Travel and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And again NOT ENOUGH TIME. Mariano picked us up early, we drove to the Amalfi coast, then in the afternoon to Pompeii, both of which were FABULOUS! This is the only place that I think Rick Steves got it wrong. He likes the Cinque Terre better - as pretty and less crowded. I thought the Amalfi Coast was prettier - more lush, and at least when we were there, the Cinque Terre was very crowded. Loved Positano. It really needs several days there. And Pompeii was amazing. I had no idea how perfectly preserved it is. However, most of the artifacts are in the National Museum in Naples and we didn't have enough time to get there too. Darn!
Civiteveccia: Having been to Rome before we asked our driver, Fabio (www.romelimousineservice.com), to take us to the countryside. We had a wonderful day, ending up in a small town, Viterbo, where they were having the Festival of Santa Rosa. That was tons of fun - there were parades all day that we were able to see, however the big deal was at night and the next day when the Pope was expected to be there. That, of course, we had to miss! Dang!
Livorno: One of my favorite places EVER! Our cab driver here was Giovanni Sirabella (Sunflower Tours - www.sunflower-tours.com) This is another of those places that just has to have MORE TIME! It would be wonderful to rent a villa and spend a week visiting those tiny medieval hilltop towns and eating Tuscan food. I loved it! We ate at a wonderful little restaurant called Il Vescovino at Panzano in Chianti. The chef/owner was happy to do a Caprese Salad for me (not on the menu) and recommended his Lasagna (to die for)! It would be worth a trip, and a week in Tuscany, just eating there every meal. AT any of these towns these Taxi drivers would be happy to recommend a hotel or villa to stay in.
Cannes: I didn't make a reservation for a shore excursion here because I thought we might be too tired after 3 straight days, but I was wrong and it was probably a mistake. We did go into town with our table mates and it is a lovely town, but we certainly don't feel like we have really been to the famous "French Riviera". Again MORE TIME!!!!
Hope this has been helpful, and if you are planning a trip to these places.....TAKE US!!!!!!
We were in the smallest available suite. It was perfect for us. The balcony was larger than most, we were close to the elevators which was a big plus. I had been concerned with motion sickness but even being fairly high, I didn't have any problems. Very clean. Very bright and sunny.
This is easy to do on your own. I suggest walking 1/2 the wall from the front gate to the harbor, take a short cruise, eat near the harbor, walk the main drag back to the gate, visit the beach. That's it. I thought Dubrovnik was overrated. Nice, but not as good as many other places we visited. My husband was very interested in how the war damage had been repaired.
Athens was actually better than I had expected having heard that it wasn't worth a visit except for the Parthenon. My husband and I both liked it although we (I) wished for some time to shop at the Plaka. Our Taxi driver, John, took us to the highest point in Athens where we were actually looking down on the Acropolis. Worth a visit but a tour bus won't take you there. I thought we could have skipped the temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounian, but loved the Temple of Zeus and the Parthenon. The changing of the guard was also wonderful.
We took a shore excursion here. Mainly because it sounded a little complicated to get up the cliff. The Santo Wine stop was fun - very interesting because they are harvesting grapes now. We then went to Oia which was great, but we needed more time here. Wonderful little cafes on the top of the cliff to eat and fun places to shop. We were on our own here. Then we drove to Thira where we were again free to shop on our own and given a ticket to ride the gondola down whenever. Again - WE NEEDED MORE TIME HERE!!! Oh to be a millionaire and ride from Island to Island on my Yacht!
We had a wonderful Taxi driver (Mariano) email@example.com, pick us up at 7:30. He took us first to Sorrento, then over the hill and along the Amalfi Coast, stopping frequently for us to take pictures and shop - and eat Gallato! We especially loved Positano and would love to spend days here eating, in the water, shopping and exploring. Mariano took us to a wonderful small restaurant - owner/chef - who recommended his own specialty. It was GREAT! I had never known that pasta could be that good. Mariano then drove us over to Pompeii where we had 2 hours to explore. It is far better preserved than I had expected, amazing! We only wished that we had had time to visit the National Museum in Naples where most of the Pompeii artifacts are kept.
Our Taxi driver here was Fabio. We had been to Rome before so asked Fabio to take us around the countryside. He took us to many lovely small towns and ruins, some by beautiful lakes. The best part of the day, however, was in a tiny town called Vitorbo where they were in the middle of the Festival of Santa Rossa. We saw the parades and speeches, but there was much more happening that evening including fireworks and the next day the Pope was scheduled to come. How we wish we'd had more time to stay here, but no - back to the ship by 5:30. Dang!
We had been to Florence before so asked our Taxi driver, Giovanni to take us around to the best of Tuscany to see what the fuss was all about. It was wonderful - tiny medieval villages on the tops of hundreds of hills, villas, grapes, everything that I thought Tuscany would be and more. People hanging laundry from ancient medieval arches - yes people live there! Giovanni was wonderful (www.sunflower-tours.com). We ate Gelato at the Gelateria that had been the World Champion for the past 2 years (Yes, to die for), and lunch at a small restaurant - Il Vescovino in Panzano in Chianti. The owner/chef was happy to fix me a caprese salad that was not on the menu and apologized that the Mozzarella he had was only in balls, not slices.(But OHHHHH so Good!) And Lasagna without tomato sauce that I could have eaten every day for a week. Worth a trip to Italy just to eat there. Giovanni would be happy to recommend town and villas to anyone who would like to spend more time in Tuscany. Oh yeah! Sign me up!