Recently returned from the Crown Princess Grand Mediterranean Cruise 10/23-11/3/18 Barcelona to Rome
Booked this cruise about 6 months out with free gratuity sale. This was our 17th cruise on various cruise lines (NCL, Princess, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean). First time to this dream destination Mediterranean Cruise! We are two couples. Used Princess EZ Air for the first time and was happy with the prices which were lower than anything we checked directly with the airlines. It’s a bit confusing to choose flights, and it’s like playing the slots as different prices would come up. Anyway, the best for us ended up being ticketed by British Airways, but flying American one way and Aer Lingus coming back. And even though both couples booked at the same time, we couldn’t get the same price. The Princess EZ Air desk said it was just an allocation issue. Once we booked, we didn’t keep checking for anything better, as we were too busy researching and booking all the other tour components for the trip with only 6 months to do it. Had looked at many itineraries, but this one seemed perfect to us! And this would be our longest cruise to date at 11 nights.
I tend to over-research, but always find valuable info here on CC. So thank you to everyone here that offers tips and advice. We had inside cabins and used anytime dining with short waits with a pager some nights and no wait others for a table of 4. Bedding was extremely comfortable, and cabin was as I remembered with plenty of space for storage and a nice large closet, and large safe. Bathroom is smallish, but nice, with the exception of the clingy fabric shower curtain. I prefer a glass door, like the Celebrity Silhouette offers. Enjoyed having Princess robes. We had one large, mostly non-English speaking Asian group booked on our cruise. They had translated announcements and their own Mandarin Patter. Our room steward Cristian, from Romania was excellent with twice daily room refreshers and kept our ice bucket full.
Sunday, 10/21 Arrive Barcelona
Flew nonstop Chicago to Barcelona with American airlines. Sunny day in the 70’s. Took taxi to Hotel Lleo where we spent two nights. We loved this hotel for the charm, location, price and breakfast buffet. We had renovated double rooms with a small balcony facing the street. Very clean and comfortable rooms. The location is about 2 blocks from Placa Catalunya, so great spot to walk to the area attractions and the Ramblas. We headed out to explore on foot and stay awake to battle jet lag. Secured our belongings to avoid any issues with possible pickpockets and strolled the Ramblas enjoying the sights including Miro’s pavement mosaic, as far as the lovely Placa Reial, where we stopped for a drink and to listen to some live Spanish Guitar. Next we found Irati Tavern where we enjoyed a lite dinner of delicious, affordable pintxos (appetizers on toothpicks that you choose yourself) and wine. When you are finished, they add up the toothpicks on your plate for your bill. Enjoyed visiting the first of many churches on this trip – the Betlem on the Ramblas. Back at the hotel, we enjoyed the night lights view from the roof of our hotel, which is lovely and also has a swimming pool and deck chairs.
Monday 10/22 Barcelona
Sunny day again in the 70’s. At our hotel we enjoyed a delicious breakfast buffet spread with many choices including wine for breakfast?! Prebooked a tour with Barcelona Day Tours based on great reviews here and on TA. Loved that they pick you right up at your hotel in a mini-bus. Our city tour had about 8 people on it. The ½ day city tour showed us many highlights including a few stops for photos, an inside tour of Gaudi’s Parc Guell, and an outside tour of the unbelievable Sagrada Familia, along with the Olympic sites on Montjuic and a ride down Passeig de Gracia to view the Block of Discord and the Gaudi buildings. Our tour guide Mirabel was excellent and we loved the tour and the introduction to Barcelona. After getting dropped off at our hotel, we headed out to Placa Catalunya for lunch at the El Corte Ingles Department Store 9th floor food court (house wines from a self-serve tap) with reasonable prices and fantastic views of Barcelona.
Next, more exploring of the Ramblas, including the very colorful and tasty Boquiera Market (affordable fruit, meat and cheese snacks, in addition to tapas and drinks). We explored the Gothic District, including beautiful Barcelona Cathedral (I believe it was 7 euros fee) with the outstanding rooftop view included with your ticket, using a downloaded Rick Steves audio guide on our phones. Also, check out the geese in the courtyard. Enjoyed more tapas and wine for dinner. A very full day with jet lag.
Tuesday 10/23 Barcelona Embarkation Day
Sunny day in the 70’s. Prebooked the inside audio guide tour of Sagrada Familia for 9AM. Worked out perfect and were stunned by the beauty of the church. Definite must see, perfect reflective way to start our day in thanksgiving for this amazing trip of a lifetime. Checked out of the hotel at noon. Taxi rank right out front where we got a cab to the port. Arrived about 12:30pm with no real wait to check in and got called to board within 15 minutes! We have been on the Crown about 9 years ago, and we enjoyed getting reacquainted with her and the recent renovations. Overall everything appeared to be in good shape to us. I remembered that the buffet had two identical sides to it, but I forgot how small each side is compared to our most recent cruises on Celebrity. People aren’t sure which way to go on this cafeteria style buffet with free standing salad bar area in the middle. These did tend to get crowded at times and early mornings were very hard to find a seat on this port intensive itinerary. It’s nice to have the staff bring you drinks such as coffee, or use the self-serve. They also have another mini buffet aft, that has random times. Plenty of food choices, but more about that at the end of this review. Signed up for the Princess @ Sea service to be able to text sister and BIL that we were travelling with, but it didn’t turn out very useful as it doesn’t ding when someone texts you. You need to just keep checking it which I didn’t want to do on vacay. The staff said they are working on a fix for that for the future. After sailaway, the Captain updated that winds would be strong tonight, so waves would be high. I took a preemptive non-drowsy Dramamine. I also use ginger pills and gin-gin candy. It was a bit rough and woke me about 3am, but I didn’t get sick and didn’t see anyone having any issues. The other 3 in my group had no issues with it.
Wednesday 10/24 Toulon, France
Bonjour! Sunny 70’s…Loving this weather! As we knew we might still be jet-lagged, we chose an easy ½ day Princess Tour: Scenic Drive, Sanary-Su-Mer & Bandol, which are two quaint seaside villages. Our guide was good and we had free time to stroll on our own in both villages and enjoy a cappuccino and wine. Bandol was bustling with their large, colorful weekly outdoor market. We also had a quick stop for a photo where she showed us grapes on the vine and olive trees. Liked our choice which allowed us to enjoy lunch on the ship and activities. I believe it was this evening that there was a medical evacuation, which I think was handled by boat, not helicopter. It was announced while we were eating dinner and was taken care of rather quickly, but the ship did have to backtrack bringing us slightly late into Livorno the next day. Hopefully the person was okay after medical treatment.
Thursday 10/25 Livorno, Italy
Buongiorno! Partly cloudy/sunny later 60-70’s. Here 3 of us chose the Princess Tour: Best of Florence & Pisa all day tour including lunch and inside visit of Accademia in Florence to see David, with our excellent guide Sam, who gave us his cell phone number in case we got separated at any point at the crowded sites. Started with the visit to Pisa, where we had about 45 minutes to explore on our own. Beautiful buildings including the leaning tower, where everyone is taking photos holding the tower up! 90 minutes to Florence where we had about a 15 minute walk from the large bus to the historic areas of Florence. Along the way, we saw the Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno River from afar. Next to the Piazza Croce for a view of the church and time for lunch at a quaint restaurant with a room in the back for our group (can’t remember the name) Delicious food and wine included. Refreshed, we had a quick stop at the leather shop for a demo of embossing and then a little free time in the Piazza for shopping or in our case a quick cappuccino.
Continuing on we walked as a group to the Piazza Della Signoria with the David replica and other statues, and the Duomo and Baptistery with the stunning golden Gates of Paradise doors, for fantastic outside views and commentary from our guide. Lastly, we toured the Accademia with skip the line tickets, to see David, which was amazing and we were surprised how tall the sculpture actually is. This museum also houses the haunting Rape of the Sabine women statue, which is beautifully carved, but disturbing. Don’t miss the Prisoner sculptures and Pieta leading up to David. Waiting outside we learned that one couple from our group was missing. That museum is not large, so not sure how they got lost or didn’t pay attention to time. Unfortunately, all of us had to stand outside waiting for about 45 minutes. They still hadn’t showed up, so we all walked 15 minutes backed to the bus. Lo and behold the nice guide had found them by phone and they were put in a cab to meet us at the bus. Nice for them, but annoying for the rest of us. We returned late to the ship, but were okay because it was a Princess Tour, so they didn’t leave without us. Not so good for the people on early dining who arrived back after their set dining time began. So people, be considerate of others on your tour and return on time to the meeting points!! Other than that, we loved the tour. It’s a full day to get all that in, but we probably won’t be back, so it was worth it.
My sister had already been to Florence, so she chose the Princess Cinque Terre Tour, which is also an all day tour because it is far from Livorno, but unfortunately does not include lunch for that expensive price. She liked it, but did not love it. She was actually a bit disappointed that it didn’t look like all the color enhanced photos that we see of it. Of course, that’s personal opinion, and she was glad she saw it, but felt that Positano and the Amalfi coast was just as lovely, if not more beautiful.
Enjoyed the comedian, Rikki Jay that evening in the Princess Theatre.
Friday, 10/26 Sea Day
Mostly sunny, but cool breezes on deck. Not really swimming weather, but some were. Did enjoy the hotubs however. Really needed this restful day to regroup. Attended the CC Meet & Greet, with a nice turn out,including many doing the transatlantic segment. Did some trivia. Caught some of the port talks. One of the highlights of the day was passing close by the volcanic island of Strombolli, and later through the narrow Strait of Messina with terrific views of Sicily and Calabria. Attended a Captain’s circle party (our third Princess cruise) and received a voucher for a free drink anywhere on the ship, which was nice. First of two formal nights. Enjoyed watching the Captain’s champagne waterfall in the piazza, with complimentary champagne. Delicious dinner of beef tenderloin, shrimp and fancy chocolate dessert. Loved the Tre Amici opera group in the Princess Theatre. DH watched Jurassic Park on MUTS with blanket, popcorn and pizza.
Saturday 10/27 Katakolon, Greece (Olympia)
Kalimera! Sunny 60’s-70’s. I learned prior to leaving home from my independent tour operator that this port would now be tendering. We had pre-booked the Niki Olympic Tour "Olympia Explorers" - 6 hour semi-private tour, includes lunch. Because it is not usually a tender port we had to get early spots to ensure we made the tour. We got in line ready to go at 8:15am by the Michaelangelo restaurant for a 9am open to ensure we got an early tender, which we did, after waiting a short while in the DR and a delay as they changed sides of the ship for tenders due to swells in the water. I know it’s unavoidable at some ports, but I am not a fan of the hassle of tendering.
Our Niki Olympic Tours Greek tour guide Georgian was waiting for us and our small group of 8 was ready to go on a mini-bus. She was a wealth of information about Greece. We visited an olive press factory, where we had a nice tasting with snacks. On to Olympia for a very informative tour from our same guide. This location really needs a guide to enjoy it. She also found a few spots to give us shade while she spoke. She made the history of the Olympics come alive and when we ran the course she honored us with olive branches to adorn ourselves! Cooling off in the bus, we headed to a beautiful Greek Taverna up in the hills that Rick Steves uses on his tour: Bacchus Taverna. This place is beautiful and we sat out on a covered patio that had great views of the hillside. They were using the plastic window cover as the weather is changing at this time of year and can be too breezy. We had an amazing pre-fixe authentic Greek meal of olives, Greek type bruschetta, Greek salad with a slab of amazing feta cheese, bread, Greek fire water liquor, choice of white or red wine, an eggplant dish and a choice of entrée of rooster or lamb dishes that were both delicious. And, of course, Baklava for dessert. The owner’s son showed his pride in his restaurant by telling us of his mother’s family recipes and showed us actual Olympic torches that both his father and brother have officially carried after the torch lighting in Olympia! Loved this tour.
Back in town, we had time to browse the colorful streets and stores, stopping by the small beach before getting in the long tender line (took about 45 minutes to board). Enjoyed the buffet this night which was featuring some tasty Oktoberfest items (based on the time of year, not ports of call); did some trivia and listened to some wonderful Greek music in the Piazza performed by X-Trio.
Sunday 10/28 Mykonos
Sunny 70’s. Beautiful sail in. The dock is a little further out for walking, so you need some transportation to Mykonos town. We would be DIY walking tour today. We chose the water taxi for 2 euros each way pp. Takes you right into town at the dock near the cute little church Agios Nikolakis. We knew that this was a special holiday –Ochi Day celebrating anniversary of the “No” to Mussolini in WWII. There would be a parade around noon with all the school children. First we strolled the waterfront past some shops, the beautiful Church of Paraportiani with amazing photo ops against the blue Med sky, until Little Venice where we stopped for cappuccino and lovely views of the windmills. On to the windmills and more of the delightful white and blue streets of Mykonos. So much to see around every little corner.
Around noon we gathered to watch the parade which was a delight to see many of the children in their authentic Greek costumes. All the Greek families were out to enjoy the day. After the parade, the families either ate right at the port restaurants or gathered at homes to celebrate. We enjoyed some Greek beer and snacks. We walked up to the Boni Windmill which offers great views above Mykonos port. Back to see the beach and heard the Greek music begin for the celebration of Ochi Day. Much merriment and dancing, which the locals were happy to pull the tourists in to join them, in their traditional circle dance. We were very thrilled to be able to visit here on this special day for the local flavor of this beautiful island and the warmth of the people. After another beautiful sunset, we enjoyed the Surf and Turf (shrimps) in the dining room this evening.
Monday 10/29 Santorini
Sunny 70’s!! This was one of those ports I had dreamed about and sold me on this cruise. Another tender port that sometimes gets cancelled, so we were thrilled we made it. The tender was fast. We had pre-booked another Niki Tour – The Oia Experience. This tour takes you by boat from the tender dock (to avoid the cable cars, steps or donkeys up) directly to a dock closer to Oia. After a 25 minute boat ride with beautiful views of the cliffs and white village on top which look like snow, we walked a short but steep walk uphill to our mini-bus of 16 people to begin continue on to Oia. Our guide Kevin is an American transplant to Santorini and very knowledgeable about the island. This tour gets you quickly to Oia to avoid some crowds and allows 2 ½ hours in the village partly on your own after his walking tour, which leads to the fort. Breathtakingly beautiful on this sunny day. The blue domes looked exactly as I had seen them in photos.
Next we saw more of the island as we travelled to Venetsanos winery for a private wine tasting with snacks. Beautiful views and good wine. Lastly, we stopped for photos at the Blue Domes of Firostefani with amazing views of the Caldera and our ship in the distance, on our way back to Fira. On our own now, we once again enjoyed exploring the interesting Fira streets dotted with shops and restaurants. We worked our way back to the cable car line which was really long with only one ship in port (don’t know how this works with more ships). We decided to walk down the donkey path instead. It definitely is a challenge. Make sure you have the right footwear and water. You do have to dodge donkeys and their droppings along the way. It took us about 40 minutes with rest and photo stops. We enjoyed a well deserved cold Greek beer at the bottom of the hill, before boarding a tender with no wait this time. Another beautiful sailaway watching the twinkling lights of Santorini fade away.
Tuesday 10/30 Sea Day
I believe it was partly cloudy 60’s-70’s but coolish breeze on the ship. Ready for another relaxing sea day, beginning with a delicious sit-down breakfast in the dining room. Went to the Kotor port info talk. Trivia. Hot tub. Second formal night. DR naturally crowded, so we had to take a pager and enjoy a martini in Crooners. Lobster was very good. Tried for the early 8PM show of Disco, but no seats available. Watched a little while standing in the back, but it seemed very dated to us. Enjoyed some music around the ship, before turning in early as we knew we wanted to be up early for the sail in to Kotor.
Wednesday 10/31 Kotor, Montenegro (Halloween)
Up at 5:15am to view the amazing sail in to Kotor through narrow winding fiords, past a couple of small islands near the entrance. Just stunning! Little villages with their lights still on in the dawn looked like ceramic villages under a Christmas tree. Then a beautiful fog rolled in, which added to the Halloween atmosphere. The ship had to repeatedly sound its foghorn, until that cleared and we could see villages again, before finally anchoring in the harbor in front of Kotor for yet another short tender boat ride. Many passengers were up on deck enjoying the scenery. I feel bad for any that missed it. My husband said it was one of the top highlights of his trip! Mostly sunny later, 60’s-70’s. We planned mostly DIY here. We quickly decided to take the HOHO bus for 20euros which takes you on a 90 minute tour outside of Kotor to Perast and Risan, before returning to Kotor for a walking tour.
It was an open air bus, but quite chilly in the morning breeze. Good headphone system onboard. First we stopped at Risan to view some Roman mosaics and the bus waited for 20 minutes, so we just got back on. In Perast we got off to walk into the beautiful seaside town, to enjoy the sights of our Lady of the Rock Island and island of St. George. You can also pay to take a boat out to the islands, but we chose not to. We did, however, enjoy a cappuccino with great atmosphere as Perast woke up.
Returning to town, we viewed the massive city wall and soon it was time for the noon walking tour included by HOHO. Our guide was excellent and took us thru the various major squares of Kotor the medieval walled city. Another interesting town. On our own we decided to climb part way up the city wall as far as Our Lady of Remedy Church for more stunning views of the harbor. It costs 8 euros now to access the hike, which is expensive. However, the views were worth it, over the red-roofed village of Kotor to the mountains and harbor where our Crown Princess was docked. Another somewhat challenging hike, be sure to have good shoes and water. You can double the hike and go to the fort on the top. On the way down we enjoyed a local Niksicko beer. Back in town to explore more and see the churches, before hunting out the famous Krempita cake which we found in a bakery and enjoyed the delicious layers of flaky crust and cream. Last stop, was at a café in the Weapons Square for a glass of the local Vranac red wine. Lots of friendly cats in Kotor.
Back on board, things were getting festive and spooky for Halloween with the buffet workers dressed in costume. There was a large jack-o-lantern display in the piazza and some in the buffet. We had packed minimal light costumes parts to become witches and pirates for the evening. We dined in the dining room enjoying the servers in costume. Afterwards, we joined in the fun for the Halloween Party at Club Fusion which was well attended. Later, watched part of Hocus Pocus on MUTS, but it was really cold up there so we bailed out. Fun evening.
Thursday 11/1 Sea Day
Cloudy skies with some showers and chilly, which made it a good day for starting to pack as tomorrow would be a busy port day. Did some trivia and enjoyed our last meal in the dining room and that delicious Crème Brule for dessert. Passed on the Magic to Do show and the balloon drop in the piazza in lieu of some much needed sleep.
Friday 11/2 Naples
Rainy. Up early for what we thought would be a 7:30am meeting time for our independent tour with Joe Banana’s Italy Tour Sharing. We had pre-booked and created a group online, meeting the third couple on the ship at Vine’s. Waiting for the clearance, we instead get an announcement that there will be a surprise Italian ship inspection and we can’t get off until the ship clears. We would get updates about every half hour for the 2 ½ hours that we were delayed. Don’t know what they were looking for, but the announcement said that they apologized for entering our cabins! Most people were waiting in common areas and we were in the casino which was closest to the door they would eventually be using. This was very frustrating and the crew and officers seemed just as frustrated with the situation.
Finally, got clearance around 10am and luckily we were some of the first off the ship. Our tour guide had also been waiting all that time without knowing what was happening as we didn’t have any cell service. And it’s still steadily raining with no end in sight. Our guide Ciro warmly greeted us and ushered us into his warm, dry vehicle to begin our tour: Pompeii, Positano and Sorrento All Inclusive La Tagliata lunch all day tour. Obviously, we were not going to get all that in now. Sadly we had to scratch our visit to Sorrento totally. We stopped briefly at the Limoncello store for a tasting. Continuing on we weaved our way through the winding roads of the Amalfi Coast for stunning views, despite the rain, and Ciro shared his knowledge of the area. We had our scheduled stop in Positano, and began the march of the umbrellas to visit the tiny shops along the route to the bottom. Some chose not to go all the way down to the beach.
Time for lunch at the beautiful La Tagliata perched on a cliff above Positano, with stunning views. We had an amazing authentic family style Italian meal of bread, mozzeralla with prosciutto, two kinds of beans, spinach, broccoli, lasagna type appetizer and that’s all before the four different pastas arrived! The red wine and Peroni beer were also included - Saluti. Dessert was a choice of five different delectable items and a shot of limoncello as a digestif! Mangia, Mangia! This amazing meal warmed our bodies and souls.
Time to move on to our Pompeii visit…in the rain. Rain coats, hats, ponchos and umbrellas ready to meet our funny guide Paulo. This is an amazing, huge site. You definitely need a guide here also, and we had a great one who made the sad story come alive as we maneuvered through the site along with many other visitors with umbrellas. Glad we were able to visit and learn about life in this town so long ago. Finally, time to head back to busy Naples port in the dusk to bid farewell to our excellent driver guide Ciro. Felt like wet rats slinking back on the ship. A warm hot tub and drink delivered to us was just the thing to warm us up as we viewed the twinkling lights of Naples from the aft of the ship – the rain had finally stopped. Last chance to get those amazing street tacos at the Salty Dog Grill, before finishing packing up, and putting our luggage out by 10pm.
Saturday 11/3 Civitavecchia - Rome Disembarkation
Early in the cruise, we had received a form to indicate our preference for disembarkation. We requested the 7:15-8:00am time slot, and were pleased to be assigned that group. One last crazy-busy early morning in the buffet for breakfast. We needed to wait in the Explorers Lounge and were quickly called close to the 7:20am time assigned us. This was one of the easiest disembarkations we have ever experienced. Although, it could be because there were quite a few people who were continuing on the ship for the transatlantic repositioning cruise to Ft. Lauderdale. We had pre-arranged a transfer to our Rome hotel with Stefano’s Rome Cabs for 8am. Shortly after exiting the building we saw our driver, Andrea, with our name greeting us about 20 minutes early. It was an easy commute (less than 90 minutes) to Rome on the expressway early on a Saturday morning. He even helped get our luggage into the hotel lobby. I would definitely recommend RomeCabs.
We had pre-booked a two night stay at the Albergo del Sole Al Pantheon Hotel right on the Piazza della Rotonda where the Pantheon is located in the historic district. This is a charming, elegant little hotel dating back to 1468!! The hotel allowed us to leave our luggage with them, so we could head out to begin our busy day of sightseeing. We had pre-booked online tickets for the Vatican Museum for 12:30pm. Since we had arrived so early, we were happy to know that we would have time to visit St. Peter’s Square and Basilica first. Saw a very long line wrapping to the other side of the massive square to go through security, so we joined it while we viewed the details of this huge square. We used a Rick Steve audio download on our phones. The lined moved pretty fast. The first view of the massive size of St. Peter’s as you enter is jaw dropping. It was crowded, but you could move around fairly easily. The chapel with the Pieta was our first to enter and it is very beautiful. We worked our way around the church in awe of the inspirational art and sculptures that we saw. The area in the front of the altar was roped off but we had a view of the altar and the Swiss Guard.
After completing this, we exited to begin the 15 minute walk over to the Museum entrance, stopping along the way for coffee. Glad that we had pre-booked tickets, because the line to buy tickets was about two blocks long! We were able to enter immediately and go through security quickly. I knew in advance that the Vatican Museum is huge, but it was so packed with people that it was really hard to navigate and find anything in particular. We were glad when we got to the open courtyard to get fresh air, and see the giant pinecone and Pomodoro Sphere, now in a rain shower. The art collections are amazing, but the excessive crowds, shoulder to shoulder in a hot stuffy building really took away from the experience. They definitely let too many people in there at once. Also, we had adhered to the no backpack rule, and were dismayed that others were let in with backpacks. We viewed some of the Egyptian art, tapestries, map room, other rooms with equally impressive ceilings, etc. Inching closer to the Sistine Chapel we were routed down narrow hallways and stairways that felt like fire traps to me.
Finally, we reached the Sistine Chapel, but were quickly herded in to the middle by the guards. People were not adhering to the no talking policy so it took away from the spiritual enjoyment of the moment. Finally, we heard an order “Silenzio” = Silence! And, of course, some people insist on taking forbidden photos. I loved seeing this masterpiece, but definitely didn’t enjoy the circumstances and was glad to finally leave the crowded chapel. But we still had a long walk back to the exit, using a different hallway that was less crowded and had more artwork that we hadn’t previously seen, which was good. Finally, to the amazing spiral staircase to exit. We approached one cab who gave us a ridiculously high price quote, so we went to the next one who was properly metered and headed off to the Colosseum. Glad to see the rain had stopped.
We had again pre-booked online “after 2PM entry” tickets for entrance to the Colosseum. There were several long lines, but the staff let us know which one to enter. We had about a 30 minute wait to get to security and they were still selling tickets even though the last entry time was fast approaching. We were relieved to finally enter and begin our Rick Steves audio tour downloaded on our phones of this fantastic structure with such a sad history. There were lots of people here also, but it is much more spread out with fresh air. At least we could get to a railing for the amazing views. Did the second floor first, where you can also get some amazing views of the Forum. The main level gets some good views of the lower level and an awesome photo op of the back of the cross. My DH loves the movie Gladiator, so he really enjoyed his visit here! A quick taxi ride returned us to our hotel for check in.
We quickly checked in to the Sol Pantheon and were given an actual key on a heavy medallion key chain to return each time you left the hotel. The bellboy took us and our luggage up in the small elevator to our third floor room, facing the Piazza. He opened the window and pushed out the shutters and an amazing view of the Piazza della Rotonda, fountain and looking to the left…the Pantheon appeared! We loved that this property had the quaint Roman charm that we were looking for. The room was smallish (which is normal for Rome), but had plenty of room for us and our luggage. The bathroom was nice, clean and with plenty of towels (except washcloths, which most European hotels don’t offer. I bring my old ones and toss them when finished). Safe and refrigerator in the room, and free wifi also. Our bed was comfortable in room 310, but my sister's bed in 212 (overlooking inner courtyard) was very hard (so they should change that mattress for an easy fix). Our room was quiet, but again 212 was next to the elevator and DS said it was a bit noisy at night.
I understand from their website and reviews that they also have annex rooms in another building on the piazza, so be sure you know what you are booking. I don't know anything about those rooms, but preferred being in the main property. The property is old (1468!) but has been remodeled while keeping its architectural charm. Breakfast buffet 7-10am, offered some hot choices such as egg sandwich and scrambled eggs; along with hard boiled eggs, breads, pastries, yogurt, cheese, fruit, juices and the nice ladies offered cappuccino, in addition to coffee and tea. They do have a small elevator which we used with our luggage, but mostly we used the stairs. We had booked easily directly with the hotel on their website. Prior to arriving, I had emailed them with some questions and they were always prompt with answering back. The location was within walking distance to many of the key ancient sites. We also used taxis when time was short. When in the room, it was a delight to watch the activity down below, and even hear a beautiful violinist one evening. Totally satisfied with our choice for charm, location, value and Roman ambience.
After freshening up, we headed out to the Piazza Navona, stopping along the way for a Happy Hour drink of wine, beer and Aperol Spritzer for our group, and a small plate of aperitivo sandwiches. This piazza is large with three fountains and looked magical with all of them lit up now that it was dark. Many lovely restaurants with patrons eating outside enjoying the sights and some entertainers to delight the crowds. Took many photos of Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (four rivers fountain) and Neptune fighting octopus. Once again used a Rick Steves audio for details of the Piazza. On the way back we stopped for Pizza al Taglio (‘Pizza by the slice’) and some gelato. We browsed the local COOP grocery store and some local shops to buy some Limoncello after a free tasting. Exhausting but exhilarating day. Be sure to have good walking shoes.
Sunday 11/4 Rome on our own
Woke to a cloudy day, but enjoyed a nice warm breakfast buffet before heading out with all our rain gear to explore Rome on our own by foot. We got in the short line to wait for the Pantheon to open at 9am, as the light rain began to fall. Umbrellas up. Entering the massive doors, we were once again stunned by the size and the beauty of this well maintained Church and thrilled to be seeing it with minimal crowds. One more Rick Steves audio explained what we were seeing.
Back outside to heavier rain, headed right around the back of the Pantheon to the nearby Piazza Minerva to see Bernini’s elephant. Next up was the big white building that goes by many names: Vittoriano, the National Monumento to Victor Emmanuel II, designed by Giuseppe Sacconi housing the remains of the Unknown Soldier and so called the Altar of the Fatherland. We had maps and a printout of mapquest directions and we still found it hard to navigate the streets as some, but not all are marked on the sides of the corner buildings. It didn’t help that it was raining, but asking locals was helpful. Finally, we arrived to see this stunning structure in person, but learned that it was closed for the day due to the holiday: “National Unity Day” and the “Armed Forces Day”. We could see military around and a huge Italian flag posted to the side of an adjacent building. We could just barely get a glimpse over the fence of the soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. It’s amazing sculptures are still visible from all over. Next we headed around the back to the Michaelangelo steps and Piazza del Campidoglio to go around the back and see a great view of the Roman Forum from above...in the rain. On to Trevi Fountain, which was packed but once you slowly shimmied your way up to the front you could enjoy it in all its beauty. Just like all the movies I have seen it in. Toss that coin for a return trip to Rome! We intended to continue on to the Spanish Steps, but walked in circles and gave up. We probably should have just hopped in a cab, but the rain was getting to us. Along the way back we saw the intricately detailed carvings on the Column of Marcus Aurelius. Back near the Pantheon, we took Seminario street over to St. Ignatius of Loyola Church. The warm glow inside welcomed our chilly selves to this fabulous house of worship. A mass was being held in the front of the church, but we were free to visit 2/3 of the back while enjoying the beautiful sound of the priest saying mass in Italian and a lovely soloist. The really interesting thing about this church is the “optical illusion flat dome”. They ran out of money for a true dome, so they painted it to appear as if it is a real dome! It also has an amazing painted ceiling, ouch, my neck’s getting sore, but if you use the mirror they offer, that won’t happen.
After drying out at the hotel, we headed back out for an early dinner at Taverna del Seminario which looked warm and inviting. It’s just down the block from the Pantheon, but the prices are better than the restaurants on the Piazza. They have an extensive menu, but we chose the Menu Classico which is an appetizer, pasta, second meat dish and dessert all for 15euros. I realize this is geared to tourists, but it was all quite delicious to us for that price. Foodies may not agree. In addition, we got a liter of house wine for 8euros! The rain had stopped so we headed back out to tour the inside of the Santa Maria sopra Minerva Basilica, which is the only Gothic church in Rome. We also enjoyed the music of a cellist outside. Next to view the Trevi fountain at night, which was still crowded, but looked beautiful with lights. On the way back we bumped into a musical lights display being projected onto the column ruins in one of the piazzas. Rome at night is just full of surprises and should not be missed. And more artists come out also, to entertain and show their craft. Time for a relaxing drink facing the Pantheon on our last night in Rome. Must finish packing, but luckily we can hear a violinist down below in the piazza from our window.
Up early for buffet breakfast before our Stefano Rome Cabs Driver, Andreas arrived 15 minutes early for our 8am airport transfer. So nice to know you will be taken care of and know the price up front. He helped load our luggage and we set off for the airport. Once outside of the ancient area we did encounter morning rush traffic, but he evaded some and once we reached the expressway, it was moving along well. I would definitely recommend their company.
The Rome Airport is big and modern, but a little confusing in that we weren’t aware that check in windows are assigned a 3 digit number that you need to find out to check in for your flight. We were flying AerLingus home and it wasn’t on our reservation, but we asked at the “I” Information booths you will see. We allowed 3 hours for check in and needed most of that, with about 45 minutes left for shopping while waiting in the gate area. For a while, the check in wasn’t even open as a long line formed. When it opened, it moved slowly. Our first flight from Rome to Dublin was slightly late taking off and we had to circle Dublin waiting to land, so our connection was quite tight. Then we were in an off-site terminal that required a bus, and then US clearance of customs and more security, which luckily were not crowded or we would have missed our connection. The Aer Lingus connection was 1 hour 50 minutes originally, before time shaved off. Anyway, nice flight home and at least we had already cleared customs in Ireland. Still battling jet let as I type this.
More on the Crown Princess:
We mostly love this ship. We really like this size of ship. It was clean and in good shape. The staff was all excellent. The size and the configuration of the buffet was the only thing we didn’t love, but it’s hard to change that.
We didn’t use any of the upcharge restaurants at all, so can’t comment on those.
The Horizon Court Buffet always had a variety of things we liked (some we didn’t), even if not as extensive as other cruise lines. Breakfast offered made to order omelets brought to your table, ready-made fried eggs (which was a great option), hard boiled or scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausages, smoked salmon, fish, pancakes, waffles, fresh fruit, yogurt, ready-made smoothie, orange juice, cold and hot cereals, assorted breads, pastries, blintzes, cheese and more changing ethnic and/or vegan hot dishes and more. I like that the servers will bring you beverages like coffee to your table, especially when it is hard to find a seat. However, I am not a coffee snob, but I did not like their coffee. I know I could have just purchased better coffee at the International Café, but I am a frugal traveler and chose not to do that. I just drank less and longed for Celebrity’s Lavassa coffee.
There is also a smaller spread offered in the buffet between lunch and dinner (tea time) which had some great choices including among many things, small sandwiches and my favorite: guacamole and tortilla chips!
Lunch and Dinner choices had some standards but many ever-changing choices. Salad bar and fruits, 2 soup choices daily, lunchmeat, great variety of cheese, ready-made cold sandwiches, carving roasts, steaks some evenings, bbq ribs, fish, good Asian and Indian dishes, including yummy Samosas, vegan choices and a variety of side dishes, and stew type entrees. Also some Med themed items including Paella one evening. And the German Oktoberfest themed food one evening had delicious weiner schnitzel, sauerkraut and spätzle. The buffet desserts were good, not always great. The fresh baked cookies were good and you can ask for peanut butter cookies which they will bring out for you. They also offered a variety of hot desserts like cobblers and bread pudding.
We used mostly the Michaelangelo Dining Room for about 8 of our dinners. Service was excellent with attention to detail, just sometimes slower than we are used to in real life, especially when trying to fit shows or entertainment in the schedule. Excellent shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad available every day. Nice variety of changing appetizers that made it hard to choose some days…then we ordered two, which is fine, including the decadent twice baked goat cheese soufflé and wild mushroom soup. We mostly always found entrees we liked, except for one night when they were all not to our interest, so we chose the buffet. One evening was the Chef’s Menu, which had too many good entrée choices, which we wish had been offered on other nights. DH ordered two entrees that evening. I can’t remember all of the foods and didn’t take pix of all the menus, but some of our favorites were the lobster, beef medallions and prawns, rib eye steak, prime rib, scallops, Moroccan chicken, fettucine alfredo, spaghetti carbonara, grilled seafood skewer. The best dessert is the rather large Crème Brule, and DH enjoyed the variety of ice cream and sundaes.
We had one sit down breakfast in the dining room, which was so nice to be served on a Sea Day. Good eggs benedict, omelets and steak and eggs. Same bad coffee.
International Café on deck 5:
Offers coffee and gelato for purchase. They also offer a deli style option of included in your cost choices all day long. Some different and better pastry choices at breakfast, and an actual macadamia nut brownie one day in the afternoon! Nice, fresh salads for lunch and dinner including the amazing Greek salad offered several days, and a tasty watermelon feta cheese salad. They also have a few hot paninis and sandwiches that they heat up for you. We were disappointed in the quality of the Cuban sandwich and the caprese panini wasn’t warmed and melted enough. Perhaps just an off day for those.
Salty Dog Grill outside on the pool deck:
My absolute favorite was the street tacos: 2 mini tacos per order – grilled chipotle lime chicken and sweet potato green chili – had them several times! They also offer hot dogs (DH enjoyed one) variety of hamburgers (make sure you get it freshly grilled, not reheated), grilled chicken sandwich, regular and loaded fries. Great that it is usually open 11am-11pm.
Slice outside on the pool deck:
Pizza naturally- cheese, sausage, pepperoni and a daily special, which my husband liked. They also have some interesting offerings like Stromboli, Focaccia, and Caprese toast; and Cali Avacado toast which I didn’t realize had bacon bits, so it was ruined for me as a healthier option –should have asked for it without them.
This is also where you can get yummy vanilla, chocolate or swirl soft serve ice cream and upcharge milk shakes. Also conveniently open usually 11am-11pm.
We knew with this very busy, long day port itinerary, we probably wouldn’t get to as much in the evening as we usually do on cruises. We couldn’t make the early shows and found the 10pm show slightly late. We loved the comedian, Rikki Jay and the Tre Amici singing group. We never got to any of the production shows, except 10 minutes of the Disco show with no seats and we left. Some nights, the description of the entertainers didn’t thrill us, like a song and dance man (but to be fair, we didn’t see him, maybe he was good). The evening game shows don’t interest us. However, there is a lot of good musical entertainment throughout the ship in various changing locations. We really enjoyed X-Trio, Party Band Icon and Guitarist/singer Cassie Matthews throughout the week. We used MUTS a few times, but it was chilly out there, so we needed jackets in addition to the nice blankets and pillows they provide. Popcorn and small slices of pizza brought around is a nice touch. Free hot chocolate would have been nice.
We love trivia and that is offered a lot throughout the day, so we took part in that when we could. The port talk guy was interesting, so watched some of that and you can also see it on your room tv at various times. We didn’t partake, but of course there is always the casino, art auctions, dance classes, and the spa. The 3 hour sales in the dining room were packed and offered a variety of $10 choices and more expensive but on sale clothing. The shops on board are typical and mostly out of my budget. Interesting to see that they offered some Chico ladies clothing. Some rather lame activities included penny whistle instruction and paper airplane contest (something for everyone I guess). Many groups of people all around the ship were enjoying playing their own games such as cards, bridge, mah jong, scrabble, chess etc. And many others were enjoying the time to read. It was rather cool on deck, so not too many swimming, but we thoroughly enjoyed the hot tubs several times. We also love that this ship has a promenade deck that goes all the way around, but includes steps. Nice to walk or sit in the shade. Other favorite spot is on the aft pool deck to eat or just relax and watch the mesmerizing wake of the ship. And the piazza mid-ship areas on Decks 5,6 and 7 always offer entertainment and good people watching.
So another fantastic cruise and we thank God for this opportunity to enjoy more of his amazing creation and meet interesting people from around the world and other cultures. The itinerary was amazing and Princess offered really long port times, so that was great. Loved returning to Princess and the Crown and would definitely consider them again in the future if the itinerary and price are right for us. Thanks again CC members for all your guidance.