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cruisemom42

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  1. As a veteran Med cruiser (I am now in double digits, lol), it would take me pages to share my insights, but off the top of my head these are some of the best insights that I learned along the way: It's better to plan a cruise that starts in one city and ends in another. Most of the cities that are the terminus points of cruises are large and very interesting and deserve a few days pre- or post-cruise to explore. These days 'open jaw' flights generally are not any more expensive than flying to and from the same city. (Of course, special fares can change that...) Look at time of year, holidays, and what days the ship will actually be in port (and even what hours). All of these are important. Nothing is worse than finding out your only day in Rome is a Sunday and the Sistine Chapel is closed. Europeans celebrate some different holidays from the US -- one that always seems to trip people up is the May 1 Labor Day holiday. Most everything is closed on that day. Also keep in mind that in Europe, Monday is the closing day for many museums. If you are going to Florence, avoid being there on a Monday at all cost! Finally, some of the non-US cruise lines (Costa, MSC) tend to have shorter hours in port. If you are only in Athens for one day, believe me it is far better to have 12 hours than 7 hours.... Finally, unless you have to, avoid the summer months. It is unbelievably crowded, and very hot. Look at the 'shoulder seasons' of late spring and mid fall for a better experience. Itinerary trumps cruise line -- most of the time. Med itineraries are very intense and have few sea days. Choose an itinerary that you like and worry less about the cruise line (unless you know from past experience that you loathe it). You'll be off the ship for most of the daylight hours in every port. Look for variety. If it is a first Mediterranean trip, look for a cruise that gives you a variety of places to visit. I wouldn't recommend the Greek Isles, for example, pretty as they are, because the Med has far more diversity. Look for at least a couple of major cities, a couple of pretty islands, and maybe a few different or unexpected stops. Do keep in mind that a few of the larger cities that are popular destination are a long way from the ship. (Rome is 70 minutes; Florence 90 minutes). Some of the reading already suggested should help you get an idea of what ports appeal to you. In general, Western Med = Spain, France and Italy; Eastern Med = Italy, Croatia, Greece (and when safe, Turkey) Flights are expensive. Amortize your time by staying as long as you can. I'd rather spend two weeks in Europe on a tighter budget than one week on an 'over the top' spree. Take the Oceanview room instead of the Balcony or stay in a small local hotel instead of a large chain. Don't feel like you have to buy souvenirs for everyone in every port. And so on.... Do some things on your own, and don't overdo it. Already covered above, but sooo important. On my first Med cruise, after about 5 punishing days of long tours in a row, I was about ready to throw myself overboard. Private tours in Europe are expensive, should be reserved in advance, and are of fairly good quality. They give you an option that is generally better than the big-bus ship tours, at a lesser cost, and many now have the ability to let you open up a "tour" on their website and then share it with others. (Some reading on these boards will help you to understand the options better.) But don't rule out doing some ports on your own. Ports that lend themselves to this, even for first-timers, are Mykonos, Venice, Rhodes, Dubrovnik, Split -- even Athens and Barcelona if you are comfortable getting around a big city on your own. Once booked, do even more research -- I find the more I put into it ahead of time, the more I get out of it. And research doesn't have to be boring: watch some movies about the history or just for the locations; read some books by local authors or set in places you'll visit, etc.
  2. I'll be a bit more reassuring -- I have read posts from and have talked to folks who have used any number of different private services -- some recommended here and some from other places like Tripadvisor -- and I have only heard a couple of times about someone not getting dropped at their ship/terminal. (Generally those are from providers that were not well vetted to start with...) Even the 'budget friendly' shared shuttle I have used can do the same. As long as they have a passenger with a ticket to board, they are generally allowed in, assuming no prior problems. It's the pick-up FROM the ship where there may be a bit more of a question (because the driver doesn't have an obvious passenger). But even then, I've heard of very few problems that were not disclosed in advance by the driver. And again, the more budget-friendly shuttle I've used has been able to pick up ship-side. The key is to ask and ensure you get a response.
  3. Since no one has mentioned Princess, I will. Princess was my son's preferred line from about age 8-9 through teenage years. It was not as rambunctious as Carnival/RCL could be, but less sedate than HAL. (For the record, we did try a HAL cruise but he did not like it and spent a good deal of time in our room on his Gameboy due to a not very enticing schedule of events in Club HAL. Princess also has many more daytime and evening activities for adults including a wide variety of interactive trivia and "game show" take-offs. (On their newer ships they have a specialized lounge for this.) When we last sailed on Princess, I was also wowed by the wide variety of live music, from Caribbean music by the pool to a relatively large orchestra that accompanied the production shows and many things in between (country western guitarist/singer; classical string trio; popular music cover band, etc.) This was for NYE cruise two years ago; I really think they go an extra mile for the holidays. Princess tends to attract a lot of families on the holidays; it is one of the more multi-generational lines I've sailed on. It may have the right mix for your group.
  4. Instead of heading north to Taormina, consider going south to visit Syracusa. It has beautiful ancient ruins and a very pretty town (Ortygia) -- you can visit both in a day. It's about an hour by car. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/italy/sicily/syracuse
  5. If jogging and having a view is important to you, why not jog ashore? I've run into (lol) plenty who do this, especially those who run the distances you mention. Sorry, but just because you find running in the provided areas onboard "boring", it doesn't give you license to run in areas where it is clearly not allowed.
  6. Once you get free of the city traffic, the drive is about an hour from Rome to Civitavecchia. The problem is that city traffic can take a while. Lots of traffic during the day, many one-way streets in the center. I'd allow about 90 minutes. It could take slightly less, but probably not much.
  7. Unluckily for me, my first visit to Rome had me staying waaaay north near the via Flaminia. This was back in "the day" when my parents had a TA put together their itinerary for Italy.... Second visit, a good dozen years later, we stayed at the top of the Spanish Steps. While I shouldn't complain (in-laws footed the bill for a 9-day visit in a great hotel), I didn't particularly care for the area which is more about shopping and less about ancient Rome. Finally on my third visit I chanced to find Albergo del Senato overlooking the Pantheon. And that has remained my favorite through many more visits -- although quite expensive now (two renovations later....)
  8. As a museum lover, and one who has visited the two museums several times each, I would vote for the National Archaeological Museum for a first visit and with children. It covers all of ancient Greece, not just the small area pertaining to the Parthenon. Although it doesn't have the modern and beautiful display galleries of the Acropolis Museum, the CONTENT is far superior. You should definitely think about seeing only the "highlights" though, as the collection is huge. Some of the things I will recommend (not all of them are easy to find in the museum): -- The bronze statue of Poseidon (or Zeus, depending on your interpretation) -- Beautiful marble statue grouping of Aphrodite, Pan and Eros -- The gold items excavated from Mycenae by Schliemann (including the gold masks (you can't miss them, they are very near the entry) -- Collection of Greek drinking vessels known as Rhytons shaped and painted to resemble various animals (very kid friendly) -- The small scale replica of the statue of Athena Parthenos (the goddess for whom the Parthenon was constructed) that is supposed to be one of the few surviving "copies" of the actual statue (from antiquity) that would have been housed there. -- Fresco fragments from Akrotiri (on Santorini) -- The Antikythera Mechanism -- known as the "world's first computer" this sophisticated device was discovered in a shipwreck. Fascinating history. Have your kids read about it in advance (there are also YouTube videos):
  9. Ooh, now you are speaking my language! Lovely pics. I loved your shots from Tarragona as well. One of the hilliest Roman cities I've been to, lol. You certainly earned a nice dinner.
  10. I find the Colosseum much easier to understand without a guide than the Forum or Palatine Hill. There is very little signage at either site, and they both represent a number of different periods and different phases of buildings and monuments. Whereas the Colosseum is a single building built in a single era and used for a single purpose. But Cruiser Bruce is right to an extent -- a lot depends on your own interests.
  11. I agree with VennDiagram. Unfortunately it may take some effort but you are NOT getting what you paid for which is an assurance that you will have a place to stay. Do what you can to document the issues you mention and escalate where you have to. (I will also just add that I tend to agree with FF about the Air BnB thing. In addition to the odd changes they are bringing about in certain urban areas, I also feel that many of them do NOT meet safety standards that regulated hotels and the like must meet.
  12. The Colosseum area (once you get away from the actual Colossum) tends to be a bit less touristy than the real "center" (Trevi, Pantheon, Piazza Navona). There are some good restaurants there, tucked away. And I sometimes want to be near most of the "ancient" sites in that part of the city. That said, I do prefer the area around the Pantheon because of its centrality -- walking distance to just about anywhere, except perhaps the Vatican. Also, I really like the area in the evening (which is the only time I tend to be near my hotel when I'm in Rome, lol) just because it is so lively and festive. I feel very safe as a woman traveling alone to walk around, find a good restaurant, do a little passeggiata with the other tourists and locals, maybe some window shopping and gelato -- it's all right there, together with the beautiful monuments lit up at night. (I honestly think Trevi looks nicer in the evening than in the daylight.)
  13. It may also be that Carnival cruises are generally short. By the time someone notices noro symptoms they are probably already off the ship...
  14. I'm pretty sure that the same situation and restrictions existed previously, but they apply to those leaving from the US (and presumably to those who follow the rules even if the US isn't looking). It has not stopped many Americans from getting to Cuba via channels such as those described by Don and Ian. I wouldn't do it due to potential repercussions with my employer. But I know plenty who have.
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