Port and Shore Excursions
We booked a tour with a private tour company in Italy that was recommended to us by someone who had used them previously many times. The company website is www.italianhighlights.com and they provided a driver/guide with what appeared to be a brand new mercedes benz van - very comfortable. The tour guide, Louise, was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. She kept us enthralled (including the two teenage daughters) the whole time and ensured that we got to see all the Florence highlights (esp. Michelangelo's David), the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, etc. Her enthusiasm was evident for her subject matter and her knowledge helped bring the past alive for us. We ate lunch at a small cafe right next to el Duomo that Louise recommended - the food was outstanding and the cappucinos were to die for! I wish I could remember the name of the cafe but if you are facing the duomo front door - the cafe is to your right. I found that having a private guide and car ensured that we got to see everything we wanted to see with the minimum amount of fuss and the greatest flexibility to meet our needs. I would highly recommend the use of a private car and driver and this company in particular - they were professional and worked with me to ensure that our tours were perfect. Cost of private tour company car/guide was actually less than cost of per person tour bus or private car option via cruise line - approx. 25% less for bus tour for 4 people and 40% less than private car option.
We visited Pompeii and then the Amalfi Coast towns of Positano and Sorrento. We used a private car/guide and www.italianhighlights.com tour company as well. Our tour guide, Nelo, was absolutely wonderful. He made the ruins of Pompeii come alive for us. Strongly urge you to arrive for the 8 AM opening of the site - that way you beat the major crowds and the heat of the day. That is what our tour guide recommended and what we did - we literally were walking down the streets and ruins by ourselves for a good hour and a half of the morning - what a feeling. Our daughters were fascinated by Pompeii and the way of life that at that time. You can't miss the "boinga-boinga" house in Pompeii - the red-light district of the time. The spa was amazing in its complexity and size - you are just overwhelmed by how they lived and died. Do not miss a visit to Pompeii but go early!! We drove along the coastline to Positano and then to Sorrento. Go window shopping in Positano but buy your things in Sorrento (less expensive). The views from the Amalfi and Sorrentino Coast lines are amazing!!! The narrow roads are even more amazing and how folks live in the homes along the cliffsides!
We booked a tour of Nice (the French Riviera coast) and St. Paul de Vence (a medieval village high on a hill of artists that has great shops and restaurants). The tour was booked via RCCL and lasted for 4 hours on a large tour bus with about 40 people. The length of time was perfect to see the village and to see the coastline which is stunning. Consideration was given to the fact that I had 2 teenage daughters (19 and 16 years old) and wanted to ensure they were not bored by too long a tour. They enjoyed it immensely and were very impressed with the beauty of the Cote d'Azur as you drive along the coastal road. The village of St. Paul de Vence is quaint and if you love to browse the shops, it is a wonderful place to do so. There are art galleries, clothing stores, jewelry stores and restaurants. To get to the village of St. Paul de Vence, you need to be able to walk up an incline with cobblestones - wear shoes with good rubber soles since the cobblestones are slippery - sandles with leather bottoms will slip easily. The village has a cemetery at the very top of the hill were Marc Chagall is buried. This port was very quaint and beautiful. The ship must tender you ashore - no dockage available - so plan on extra time to get on and off the ship to the shore.
Rome is outstanding!!! The history and beauty that is in Rome is unparalleled. Again, we booked a private car and guide via www.italianhighlights.com and they were outstanding. Our guide, Helene, was able to take us through all the highlights of Rome including the Colisseum, the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and much more. She knew when to go where and we never had to wait in line for more than a few minutes to do anything. Again, the advantage of having a private car to drop you off where you need to be and a knowledgeable guide is invaluable to ensure you make the most of your time. Our guide, Helene, was so wonderful and again ensured that our daughters were enjoying themselves and kept them interested in what she was showing them. She really took the time and made the effort to ensure that we saw what we came to see and got a good taste of Rome - we want to go back and see more!!! There are no words to adequately describe the works of art in the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica. The Colisseum is awe inspiring. Again, as I recommended in Florence, the best bang for your buck is a private car/guide and do your research to get the best deal - the company we used was excellent and much more cost effective than the cruise line offered tours.
The ship docked at Toulon, France where you can take excursions to St. Tropez. We did not get off at this port of call because our daughters were suffering from jet lag after the long flight and were not feeling well that day. The weather was also not good and there was rain so since our tour was to a beach at Bandol Resort, we decided to rest. I chose the beach stop at Bandol Resort versus St. Tropez because that was recommended by someone who had been to both before. The beach at the Bandol Resort is less crowded and more private - St. Tropez is beautiful but is always packed and is a fair distance away so a tour there is a full day affair. Wish we didn't miss it but we will be back.