First and foremost I want to talk about the excursions. I would say don't book with the ship because it's overpriced and you'll sit on a bus with 100 other people and be on their schedule. Booking a private tour offers flexibility and convenience. I reviewed each port individually but I cannot say enough about Your Tour in Italy (www.yourtourinitaly.com). We booked all three days in Italy with Aldo (the owner) and were so very pleased with every aspect of his service. The cars were in great condition and very clean. Each driver was native to the area we visited that day which was key - they were able to provide personal accounts of each area we visited and recommend restaurants and shopping first hand.
I read several reviews on this site looking for a tour company and Your Tour in Italy came up often. There were several companies with great reviews but Your Tour offered a tour in each Italian port. It was much more convenient to have 1 company to book with than 2 or 3.
There were no hidden costs. We paid the driver at the end of the tour. We used travellers cheques so we wouldn't need cash but my conversion rate was different than theirs so I would recommend asking Aldo for the rate before you buy your cheques. Also we tipped our drivers/guides in cash (Euros).
Please find the contact info below and see my specific port reviews for more details.
Your Tour in Italy di Aldo Monti P.Iva n 02341610596 Via Ferrazza 986 04100 LT Rome Italy www.yourtourinitaly.com firstname.lastname@example.org
As far as the ship is concerned - it was very clean. We had a stateroom with a balcony and that was very nice. The bigger bathroom was worth it. The TV station selection is poor, there's about 5 options. The Internet was extremely slow and very expensive (you pay by the minute and it's about $1/minute). We never dressed up and enjoyed being casual the whole time.
Restaurants: We tried the steak place our first night - Cagney's. It was $15 cover plus another $10 if you wanted seafood. The food was ok but not worth the additional cost. The king crab legs were not king crab legs and the lobster was a very small portion.
We tried the Italian place our second night, it had a $10 cover. It was again - just ok. The food was not worth the cover.
Our third night we tried the Mexican /Tapas place with a $10 cover and were again disappointed. We ate in the included restaurants from t hat point forward.
The service in the restaurants was generally poor. We waited for a while for drinks and sometimes for anyone to even greet our table.
You can get unlimited soda for a flat rate and if you drink a lot it's worth it. If you don't have that you will $2.50 for a can of soda.
You can't bring any food or drinks on the ship so if you buy anything at a port they will hold it until you disembark in Barcelona (pretty standard for a cruise).
There's a guy who gives "talks" about each port on a daily basis - he has good tips and knows a lot. It's worth your time for sure.
Docking into Malta is beautiful, just make sure you're out there early enough. We asked the desk what time to be there and were given a time that was too late. We saw most of it but I would have liked to be on deck for the whole thing.
They add a gratuity to your bill every day so DON'T TIP on every check. You'll be tipping twice. The conversion commission on the ship is horrible, change money before you go on your trip or in a port at a local bank. It will save you some money. You don't need Euros on the ship, everything is paid in USD.
Blacony was larger than expected, nice big bathroom, plenty of closet space and drawers. We were under the pool deck and around 2 am heard them moving chairs around.
We didn't book a tour in this port and I regret that. We walked around on our own and didn't really see much. I think we missed the main part of this port because we wandered around without any real direction. We saw the catacombs which were interesting and that was about it. I would recommend booking a tour for this port either through the ship or own your own.
I love this port! LOVE LOVE LOVE! This was my favorite part of the entire trip. We booked our day with Your Tour in Italy and Dominico was our guide. He is from the area and did a great job. He was very very funny and entertaining. He didn't offer too much history but it suited us just fine.
Sorrento was beautiful and had some nice shopping. Save the shoes/purse purchases for Florence ladies - there is a great market there where you'll find beautiful leather.
The Amalfi Coast is the most beautiful scene I have ever witnessed. It was gorgeous. Since we were on a private tour we were able to drive all the way up into the mountains, on narrow roads where buses could not go. We stopped for lunch in a restaurant in Positano, everything was homemade, great food and a good price (about 25 euros each). If you think you have had good Italian food you ain't seen nothin yet. This place was wonderful. The food, wine, lemoncello...all unbelievably good cooked by "Mama" herself who came out to say hello. A++ Oh and the view - breathtaking.
Pompeii was next and here Your Tour in Italy arranged for a private guide for us for 2 hours. It was an extra price of 100 euros for the entire group. I highly recommend this as there is so much to see in Pompeii and having a knowledgeable tour guide made all the difference. It's well worth the additional cost.
For 6 of us it was 520 euros for Your Tour in Italy's services.
Again we used Your Tour in Italy for this port. Aldo himself was our guide for this port. He was extremely professional and knowledgeable. It was raining in Rome and we had no umbrellas. He had a few in his van and then bought 2 more for us to use. He is very classy and professional. We thoroughly enjoyed our day with him.
Keep in mind you're 1.5 hours from Rome when you disembark.
We visited the Colosseum first. Aldo made reservations so we were able to skip the line. It was very cool...so much history. We didn't have a guide here, I don't know if we would have gotten more out of it if we had. Also gave us a lot of history before we went in. There are interesting laws in Italy that prevent tour guides from doing certain things, for instance they can talk to you about a place in the car ride over, but not out in the street in front of the place, that would be another type of guide. They can get fined if they do not follow the rules.
We saw Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, and several beautiful squares and fountains. We didn't do any shopping in Rome - there wasn't any time. We had lunch in a restaurant that Aldo recommended, very good food and wine. We also tried gelato in Rome. Wonderful!
Aldo took us to Gianicolo hill for a breathtaking view of the city from above. This is not something you will get on a bus!
We also had a private guide for the Vatican. Again I highly recommend this. In the short time we had it was worth the cost to have someone give us the highlights and point is in the right direction to see everything we could in a short span of time. A 2 hour guide was 130 euros for the group.
Our price for Your Tour in Italy's services were 520 euros for 6 of us.
Our third stop in Italy was Livorno. There's a lot of driving this day as the stops are not very close to one another.
We booked the day with Your Tour in Italy. I cannot remember our guide's name, only that it started with an "M". She was from Pisa and our driver, Francesco, was from Florence. They were both great, very friendly. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and gave us many historical facts on our drive from place to place.
We visited Pisa first. It was great to see the tower and have a cappuccino and there's not much else to do here so it was a short stop. We moved on to Florence where we visited a great shopping area with leather goods and scarves. You can haggle prices so don't pay "sticker". Lunch was great at a place our guide recommended. The David is a must see and Your Tour in Italy made reservations so we could avoid lines. The lines were very very long, this was a real time saver. You won't need much time here and it's not far out of your way, I recommend going. We saw the Duomo and some beautiful squares in Florence. Our guide took us to a high point in the city for an awesome view overlooking Florence. It was a great photo op.
During our drive our guide recommended a visit to a winery. We jumped on that idea! It was a great ending to our day. The winery was beautiful, built in the 1500s. It was an experience that most might not see on their trip and we really enjoyed it.
Your Tour in Italy's price for this day was 520 euros for 6 of us.
We didn't book a tour in Cannes because I noticed most other reviewers had not either. We just walked around on our own and saw the city. There's some cute shopping and a casino (we didn't visit that). It was a nice break from all the busy days we had in Italy.