This was a trip of a lifetime for us, especially since it was our first time to Europe. We were 43 and 58. Unfortunately, I am writing this one year later. We saw 11 ports in 12 days and this is a great way to experience Europe for the first time. I will give tips on exploring these ports independently. We found this much more flexible and cheaper than going on a ship excursion. We took only two ship excursions - Florence & Ephesus. Part of the reason we were able to do most of this on our own is because the ship's port guide was EXCELLENT! If you didn't attend his daily talk about the next day's port, it was televised on your room TV that evening repeatedly. This gave us a good preview and idea of how to get to public transportation, etc. First, the ship and staff were great. We also loved the fact that there was a laundry room on each floor, especially with us away from home for so many days. I need to note that with 3,000 passengers, I never really felt crowded.
Embarkation: We arrived at about 1:30 and were on the ship in 15 minutes. The port is about a 30 minute ride from Rome. We shared a shuttle van with others that we connected with on the CC boards.
Food: It was good, but we prefer more flavor. We chose anytime dining and ate most nights in the main dining room. We also ate in the buffet restaurant a few nights and that was equally good. The dining staff wasn't keen on giving us a table for two when we requested this and some nights we just wanted to be alone so we chose the buffet restaurant. Also, you can each bring a bottle of wine on board at each port. We enjoyed our own wine on our balcony each night.
Cabin: We had a balcony cabin on the Caribe deck. We loved it because the balcony was extra large because this floor is wider than the one above it. While you don't have privacy to above, we liked the large balcony and the ability to get sun there. The balcony actually fit four chairs.
General advice for traveling to Europe: Get in shape before you go. There is a lot of walking and stairs with very little/no elevators. You'll also need to walk after eating gelato on every corner! It is very hard to find public restrooms. Many times, we bought a cup of coffee or water in a mini-restaurant/convenience store to use their toilet. This is not a cheap vacation. In fact, Princess' rates for this trip have increased dramatically in the last year. Pack light! Nobody cares or remembers if you wear something more than once. You'll be happy you did, especially if you have to walk a few blocks with luggage in Venice. The weather in May was amazing! We never saw a cloud in the sky and never broke a sweat. Unfortunately, it is the beginning of tourist season so we incurred some lines. Please feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have any questions.
ROME, ITALY: Trains go frequently from the airport to the termini station and cost about $10 per person. We stayed at the Best Western Hotel Canada. This is a boutique hotel and it HAD a large, fabulous breakfast that was included with the room. This hotel was a few blocks from termini and at the first subway stop from the termini, so everything in Rome was easily accessible from here. We spent 48 hours pre-cruise here. My regret is that we didn't have another day in Rome. I recommend one full day for the Vatican and the Museums, another full day for Imperial Rome and another day for anything else, like Borghese Museum, catacombs, or a night tour. We arrived at noon and spent that afternoon seeing Imperial Rome, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona and a few other things. Needless to say, we were exhausted from our overnight travel. Another regret is that we didn't take the time to go on a tour of the Colisseum. We just saw it from the outside because of lack of time. For the Vatican, get to St. Peter's Basilica early (8ish) to avoid the line to get in. You need at least an hour to tour it. We booked the museum several weeks ahead of time online and were glad that we did this because the line is very long and moves very slowly. This allowed us to go straight in. Seeing the Pieta and Sistene Chapel were the highlights of this whole trip for me. On the day that we were to leave for the port, we walked from the hotel to the Santa Maria Maggiore Cathedral. That was beautiful. This church is known for its mosaics. We arranged a shuttle with other Cruise Critic people to take us the port. This costs about $75 per couple. I've also heard that you can take the train from termini. This, of course, would be much cheaper.
MONTE CARLO, MONACO: This is a beautiful area of the world. We actually docked in a small town next to Monte Carlo called Fontierville (or something like that). From here, we caught a public bus to visit the village of Eze. We saw a Samantha Brown show from here and fell in love with it. We took the public bus West, then caught another bus that took us North. We simply asked the bus drivers. While we had to wait a while to catch our connecting bus, the views were amazing, even at the bus stop. Eze did not disappoint, but be warned that there are a lot of steep steps. After visiting Eze, we walked around Monte Carlo. They were getting ready for the Grand Prix, so some areas were not accessible. This is a great place to see fabulous yachts!
FLORENCE, ITALY: Florence is at least 1.5 hours bus ride from the port of Livorno. We booked an excursion here which I think was called "Florence on your own". This was basically a ride to and from Florence with a guide. Once there, we had about four hours to explore on our own. Unfortunately, the line was too long to go into the Duomo. We regretted not booking a tour of the Duomo. We also did not get to see the real statue of David. There were tons of tourists here. Note: It is extremely hard to find a public restroom here.
NAPLES, ITALY: The southern part of Italy is very poor and controlled by the mafia. Unfortunately, Naples is a very poor and dirty city, however you don't want to miss Pompeii. If you want to get to Pompeii via public transportation (about 10 miles from the port, I think), then take a city bus on the main street just outside of the port. You'll be going right. Get on a bus that will take you to the main train station which is about 2 miles from the port. We just asked each bus driver if he was going to the main train station. Once you are at the station, get a train/subway ticket to Pompeii. You can't get lost once you are on the train/subway. I think it was about a ½ hour ride and cost about 4 euros. I seem to recall that the entrance fee to Pompeii was 11 euros. This was much cheaper than taking an excursion for about $70. At Pompeii, be prepared to walk a lot and be aware that there are a lot of uneven surfaces. Wear comfortable shoes! Be aware that it has little shade. We carried a backpack for water and maps. We met people who toured the Amalfi Coast while we were docked in Naples. They said that it was beautiful, however, since it was quite a distance away, it was very expensive.
SANTORINI, GREECE: I think this is one of the beautiful and photographed places in the world. Unfortunately, there is no port and you have to tender to shore. From there, you either take the furnicular up (sometimes has a long line), donkey or a strenuous walk. Once up on the island, it is worth it. To get to the picturesque town of Oia, simply walk to the bus station and take the bus ride there for a few euros. Oia is beautiful, but be prepared to walk up and down the many levels. There are plenty of shops and restaurants there. Take plenty of pictures as this place is amazingly beautiful!! The line to take the furnicular down was very long, so we walked it with the donkeys. This took about 30 minutes. Again, it was well worth it. Words can't describe this place!
KUSADASI, TURKEY: I recommend a ship excursion here to see Ephesus and Mary's final resting place. These locations are about a 20 minute bus ride from Kusadasi. Mary's final resting place was sacred, but there were too many tourists and vendors pushing their products. We enjoyed seeing the ruins of Ephesus. We actually enjoyed Ephesus more than Pompeii. We also enjoyed seeing the open fish market at the port.
MYKYNOS, GREECE: This is a nice island to rent a scooter or moped and just explore the area. Unfortunately, it is a long walk from the port to the town. We rented a moped near the ship for about $25. After the first one died on us a short distance away, we were off on the second one. We rode around the town and to a few secluded beaches. Much to our surprise, we stumbled upon a nude beach. This was a nice island with picturesque windmills.
ATHENS, GREECE: We explored the Parthenon here. From the port, we walked about 1-2 miles to the left to get to the main subway/train station. We purchased tickets for a few euros to get to the Parthenon. This is very easy to do independently. Again, you have some steep and uneven areas around the Parthenon, so wear comfortable shoes. Many people had hurt ankles on this trip because they weren't wearing proper shoes.
KATAKALON, GREECE: We went to Olympia here. We took the train from the port for a minimal fee. It was about a 30 minute ride and a straight shot. It was nice to see these ruins. Unlike the previous ruins of Parthenon, Pompeii and Ephesus, there was shade here. We had a very nice Greek lunch at one of the restaurants at the port.
CORFU, GREECE: We probably did the most walking at this port. The main part of the town was about a 3 or 4 mile walk from the port. There are a few old forts to tour. We just walked around the town, bought lemoncello, ouzo and another orange liquor. We then had a nice meal on the water.
VENICE, ITALY: Ah, Venice! This is one of the places that everyone should see once in their life! We had 24 hours post cruise here. Our regret is that we didn't push ourselves to go to Murano to the glass factories. We found a great prepaid rate online for the Molino Stucky Hilton, which is across the Giudecca Canal. This was a beautiful place and offered a free shuttle to the main part of Venice. After going through disembarkation, it was about 11:00 when we arrived at the hotel which only gave us the afternoon to sight see. We toured St. Mark's Basilica, walked around, then took a gondola ride (about $100 for 30 minutes). Beware of the prices in St. Mark's Square. We ran into another couple from the cruise who sat down at a cafe' in the square for a cup of coffee to the tune of $15 per cup! The next morning, we boarded a private water taxi with another couple to get to the airport. I think that this cost was about $80/couple. I think you can go by public water bus, but we didn't want to take the chance of arriving at the airport late.
Caribe 603 has an extra large balcony that fits four chairs. It is not totally covered or private, but we enjoyed being able to get sun on our balcony.