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Nancy Zupancic

Age: 35

Occupation:Systems Analyst

Number of Cruises: 14

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Royal Princess

Sailing Date: April 7th, 2004

Itinerary: Manaus to Rome


Have a great adventure and remember be a traveler not a tourist.

On this voyage, we were a group of four, my sister, my mom, my aunt & myself. We are all addicted cruisers because we think it’s a very civilized way to see the world. I had never been to any of these ports previously. We have been on at least ten cruises each. Also we do not understand the meaning of traveling light therefore, we had an abundance of luggage.

It started out being just my sister and I on this trip. We booked it 9 months before and used the time well to do an abundance research. A few weeks before the trip departed, I asked my mom and aunt to join us when I saw an e-mail come out with discounted pricing. I asked if they were interested around noon and by the time I came home from work around dinner they had both decided they were in.

The trip we had was absolutely one of the best (of course, I say this every time). We have been on Princess many times and were worried about the changes coming in since the Carnival take over. This cruise was just the one we needed to get our loyalty back in check. We loved everything from the ports & excursions to the onboard service and staff. I may make some negative comments along the way not to complain, but more for an advantage to those who are reading to make necessary changes.

Before you go:
· This trip had a lot of extras to do such as medications, vaccines and a Brazilian Visa.
· Make sure you fill in the passenger questionnaires on cruise line website prior – so the info will be already there when you check in
· We brought some currency of the embarkation port. So we would have some handy cash. Actually I brought enough Brazilian Reals for the length of our stay in Brazil because I read that our ATMs and Brazil’s are not too compatible and it is hard to get money. I did notice while we were there, there are plenty of exchange bureaus and we did use them but I try to avoid the unfavorable exchange rates.
· Brazilian Reals pronounced ‘hey-ow’ singular or ‘hey-ice’ plural was about 3 Reals to the US dollar. In this report if I mention dollars I am speaking in USD. We Canadians are so used to converting our dollars that I never think in terms of CDN dollars when abroad.
· Be careful of the older bank notes, often if the notes are out of circulation they will not be accepted. Therefore, if you get one that doesn’t look like the others, don’t accept it. I had a similar problem in London with an older 20 British Pound note.
· The Amazon region wasn’t as rainy and bug ridden as I expected. I expected a lot of both. In fact, when we went in April it wasn’t rainy at all. However, it was still very humid as you would expect in a rainforest. Bring light breathable clothes and a light rainwear. It is muddy so bring good shoes that cover your feet. I went as far as bringing a bug hat and never had the need to put it on. Some good bug repellent with Deet is all you need and cover yourself in it when going out into the jungle.

MEDICATIONS & VACCINES

We had to book an appointment with a travel doctor specializing in what meds you need to visit different countries. We had to get a vaccine for yellow fever in order to embark the ship in the Amazon. I already had the booster with includes tetinaus as well as the hepititis vaccine mine was called ‘Twinrix’. We also took an oral vaccine for cholera put out by Aventis but I can’t remember the name. Also an anti-malarial drug called malarone. Pretty much everything was covered by my Health Insurance at work (even the vaccine) so I got what I needed. The only thing that was mandatory was the Yellow Fever Vaccine.

I would suggest going to www.cdc.gov/travel or www.travel.state.gov to check out requirements.

Here's the website with information about the visa we need before going on the Amazon trip.
http://www.brasilemb.org/consular_visa_tourism.shtml

Brazilian visas were needed to enter Brazil. There are a few ways to obtain the visas, your travel professional can assist, you can use a visa service or prepare the forms and go to the consulate in person. You can get the forms from the Internet and print them off and complete them, you need a passport-type photo taken and a money order. If you live close to a city where there is an Embassy it is probably easiest to bring it and pick it up in person. The Brazilian visa took ten working days to process and it is valid for five years.

We used our Air Canada points for the open jaw air flights. The Princess air rates were very competitive. If we didn’t get the flights ‘free’ on points (and I use that term loosely), we would have booked through Princess.

My Mother and Aunt used the Princess air and they had a flight to Fort Lauderdale with a mandatory overnight at the Embassy Suites FL. The next day Princess flew everyone down to Manaus on a charter flight via ‘World Airlines’. There was probably about 2 or 3 charter flights to Manaus. They said they enjoyed their flights down as well as the stay at the Embassy Suites in Fort Lauderdale.

APRIL 4TH DEPART TORONTO TO SAO PAULO BRAZIL

We left on our flight to Sao Paulo at about 10:30pm. The flight was about half full so we got to spread out a bit. Since the flight was direct (about 10 hours) they must use a large plane because of the fuel requirement. The flight was uneventful and outside the window there was a beautiful full moon to gaze at.

APRIL 5TH ARRIVE SAO PAULO BRAZIL
I remember the sunrise being spectacular (as they always are at altitude). We were arriving in Sao Paulo about 9am so we were flying past the Amazonia region at dawn. The area is so vast and the rivers were immense. It was hard to believe we were passing the Amazon overhead and by that night we would be back. My sister Lisa and I work for the same corporation and we have plants in South America so some of the people at work who have been to Sao Paulo had said to make sure we had windows in order to look out at the Amazon region. It went on for over an hour on the flight and the jungle was dense.

We could have flown into Rio instead of Sao Paulo. We choose Sao Paulo because I may never get back to see this city and being a city of approx. 22 million people it is the largest city in South America and the 3rd largest city in the world. I know Mexico City is one of the three but I couldn’t think of the other.

I figured I would have to get to Rio on another trip. I also knew it wasn’t going to be a city I would be satisfied seeing in one afternoon. Since Lisa and I still work, time was a constant problem with this itinerary. We were pushing it to be away the 3.5 weeks as it was. We couldn’t get any more time to go to Rio. It will just have to be a future trip.

When we were descending down to Sao Paulo, it was a fabulous sight. I am just in awe of these South American cities so huge and so many high rises. There was a mass of buildings all nestled in and around the mountains, it was so beautiful.

We booked the use of a day room that way we had a place to hang around and leave our luggage if we wanted to go on a tour. Or we could also just laze by the pool.

We stayed at the Marriott out by the airport. Like many big cities, the airport was about 40 min out of the city. We arrived at 9am and our flight to Manaus wasn’t until 8pm we wanted to be close to the airport because I was worried about being caught in afternoon rush hour from Sao Paulo. This way, if we wanted to see the city we could go on a tour from the hotel and be back in time to go to the airport and it would be very close. Usually we stay right in the city being visited but on this trip Sao Paulo was an added plus not a pre-requisite.

We arrived and went through customs and we had to get a tourist card we had filled out stamped. We got our luggage and went to go look for the hotel shuttle. The hotel was very nice and the staff was friendly. English isn’t widely spoken at all so we struggled with our Portuguese but they were very accommodating. The hotel information is;

Marriott –Day room
Address: Av Monteiro Lobato S/N
Guarulhos
Sao Paulo BR 07190-000
Phone: 55 11-6468-6999
FAX: Phone: 55 11-6464-0594

Guarulhos has a population of 1.2 million and is 17km from Sao Paulo. It is 1 hour ahead of NY and around these parts of Brazil everyone (men & women) are very beautiful.

After we got into our room, we went down to see the concierge about taking a tour. She was away on vacation and no one was taking her place so we decided to take a cab to a big mall I had read about. The International mall was about a 40min cab ride and cost about $30,00R (Brazilian Reals) about $10USD.

The mall had a lot of stores and we walked around for a few hours. The main things I was looking to buy in Brazil was leather, leather shoes, Bossa Nova or other Brazilian CDs, and gem stones. We were not very lucky we found nothing we were interested in. By this point we were tired and them we came across the ‘Hypermercado’ something like WalMart. This was a great store that I wish we found right away. We bought some bottled water and drinks we needed for when we were in Manaus. You could buy liquor, wine and beer. I also found some CDs there. I knew they were going to be a crap shoot but they were really cheap $6,90R (about $1.30usd each) and I listened to them when I got home (3 weeks later) and I made some great choices.

Now my feet were really killing me, we got a cab back to the hotel. It was so nice to take a shower and get into bed to relax before we had to back to the airport at 6pm for our 8pm flight. The weather in Sao Paulo that afternoon was 82F “Hot & Humid”!! It was very welcomed since we were leaving snow behind in Toronto.

We got back to the airport by the hotel shuttle, it took a few minutes. At the airport we had to check in with Varig airlines at the domestic terminal and then we had to pay a departure tax. I can’t remember how much but less than R$10. Once we were through security, we went looking in the shops. We found a cool piranha fish key chain that we know someone at home would like and I found my Bossa Nova Cds. One thing I have learned through the years, if you find something you like ‘strike while the iron’s hot!!’ and buy it. In this case ‘yes’ the airport is more expensive, but we did not see any more piranha key chains or the Bossa Nova Cds. So I was very happy with my purchases. We then ate dinner at McDonalds. We had to check the quality control of the Big Macs in Brazil. They hit the spot!

Since my sister and I both like window seats we usually sit apart from each other on the plane. I liked watching the lights of Sao Paulo as we left.

I had mentioned about the anti-malaria drug I was taking called ‘Malarone’, well, it has the strangest side effects. A common side effect listed was vivid dreams. I didn’t have to be sleeping to have odd effects. Earlier in the day I heard an Avril Lavingne song playing in the mall. I couldn’t get the song out of my head. It was like an obsession and I felt very light headed and dazed the entire time on the drug. It was a little unsettling, I felt like I had malaria. Who needs to drink when you’re on that!

The flight was right across Brazil so it was 4 hours. It seemed like an eternity, but that may have been the Malarone. However, during the flight you could see many flash thunderstorms around the region. The lightening put on a fantastic show.

While we were in Manaus we made all of our tour needs through Luciana at Viverde.

They offered many tour choices and even arranged our airport pickup and made the hotel reservations. I found her on the internet on one of the websites and we contacted them. Luciana was very prompt with her responses. In fact she responded first out of them all and that is how we came to use her services. We even called her and her English was perfect. She was very nice and she said that correspondence through e-mail would be the best way to organize what we needed in Amazonia.

In total this is what they arranged for us

-airport pickup
-reservations at Manaus hotel for one night
-meeting of the water tour (full day)
-flightseeing tour over Amazon (1/2 hour)
-private guided tour (full day)

They offered many other tours and adventures. I couldn’t say enough about their service and tour selections. She gave us exactly what we needed and made very good suggestions.

When our flight arrived at 11pm at Eduardo Gomes airport there was a girl waiting for us holding a sign with our name on it. That is always a very welcomed sight! Especially when you are tired, jet lagged and on Malarone. I was wondering how she was going to lift all our bags into the car? But when we got outside, there was a guy waiting with the van. We booked a non-guided airport pickup which means they don’t speak English. It was cheaper and we didn’t care. They spoke better English than we spoke Portuguese so we made very small, small-talk and we were off. They were very nice and welcoming to Manaus.

They dropped us off at the Taj Mahal Hotel and we paid the driver R$ 50,00 + tip for the pickup.

There are a few hotels in downtown Manaus, the Taj Mahal was one of them. I also remembered seeing the Novotel and a Best Western. I always am weary of hotels that don’t show photos of the hotel property and if they show one or two and it looks seedy or tired you know they are. They always show the best photos of the best configurations. The Taj Mahal looked better than the others and Luciana also recommended it so we stayed there.

A few comments regarding the hotel. It was right downtown, so it was very close to downtown sights and the pier. It was just a few blocks east of the Opera House (Teatro Amazonas). The people that worked at the hotel were so sweet. Especially at the front desk and the bell boys that looked after dragging our luggage around and storing it for us the next day.

The hotel is a high rise and we booked a deluxe room. It was more like a two star dorm than anything else. It was clean, but very sparse. It was fine for one night, but I was glad to be going to the ship and not staying there for a few nights. I have to stress there was nothing wrong with the hotel, but I was expecting a five star downtown hotel and it wasn’t. I don’t know where the ratings come from. There was other room options that were more expensive, so I would suggest taking a higher priced room perhaps. The room as it was, were very reasonably priced and it was worth the money we paid. This reminded me of a hotel that students would stay in. It reminded me of a dorm and there was lots of young adults there.

There is another hotel option about 10-15 min away called the ‘Tropical Hotel’. It is the biggest hotel in Brazil and is a huge sprawling resort. It is right on the Rio Negro and is a five star that looks like a five star. Luciana also recommended that hotel, but then because we were coming in after midnight and leaving first thing in the morning on our tour, we decided on the TajMahal.
The rate of one night at the Taj Mahal was R$ 142,50 + 10% (Subject to change) Payment: in cash or credit card on check-out.

APRIL 6TH MANAUS BRAZIL

Weather: Hot & Humid (80F & 80% respectively) We woke up early and checked out. Make sure you call for the bellhop far in advance because he is very busy and the elevator takes a long time. We stored our luggage with him so we could pick it up after our tour later on in the day. Breakfast was included with the room rate, it was a buffet but I only had some coffee and toast. Everything looked good and people seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The tour operator picked us up in the lobby at about 8:30am. A van went around to all the pick up points and then dropped everyone off at the pier where we met the tour guide. The tour operator was called ‘Amazon Explorers’ and they were excellent. I think many of the tour brokers in Manaus use them as well as the ship tours. They have a kiosk in downtown Manaus not far from the pier as well at the Tropical Hotel. You can also book them through Luciana at Viverde, which is what we did. This particular tour took us to the Meeting of the Waters, Lake January and to see the giant lily pads as well as a jungle boat ride and hike. It was all day and included lunch for the price of R$ 70,00 each + R$ 3,00 harbor tax. We paid in local currency to the Amazon Explorer driver. The similar all-day tour with the ship called ‘Meeting of the Waters & Lake January’ cost $89 USD compared to ours which was less than $25USD and we had a great lunch buffet and the ship tour had a box lunch with a sandwich and fruit.

Manaus was not what I was expecting. It was a very bustling city of 1.7 million. It is a duty free zone so you can do some shopping here if you desire. A woman we met on our tour was from SaoPaulo, she was a photographer and she bought a nice Nikon digital camera while in Manaus so you may want to check some stores. The general store hours are open 9am-noon, closed noon to 2pm and open again from 2pm –5pm.

I was expecting more rain in the rainforest but it was a beautiful sunny day. We caught our tour riverboat right in front of the Royal Princess. She was a beautiful sight. Manaus is a city of tourism there is lots tours offered and lots of guides available. You can book ahead or find tours available right off the ship. There is no need to book ship excursions if you want to go on your own. The locals are very friendly, however, English is not widely spoken. Unless you are talking to a guide most will not know any English so bring your dictionary. Police, security guards and taxis will probably not know any English.

AMAZON RIVER INFORMATION

Our guide Ally was very knowledgeable on his facts but I could only write so fast, so take my facts and figures with a ‘grain of salt’. I didn’t verify them in the encyclopedia.

In Manaus there is very much a population made up of city folk and then along the banks of the Amazon, the people are very much river dwellers. You can tell these people depend on the river for every facet of their life. The city folk drive their cars and live in high rises and go to work just like any other city. Those on the river banks and outlying areas, adapt to the river. Their houses are either up on stilts or float because the river water levels change so much between the dry and the rainy season.

In July at the height of the rainy season, the water can be 15 feet higher then when we were there in April. The entire pier area is a floating pier to accommodate the changes in the water levels. The water depth at the pier was 105 ft. Down river at the meeting of the water it is 280 ft, remember, in July it is 15 feet higher than that.

The gas stations are floating out in front of the harbor and the buses are riverboats. There are no highways leading to Manaus you can only get there by airplane or boat. It was cool that we did both. Manaus is located 1000 miles upriver from the Atlantic Ocean. So when we sailed from Manaus that is how far the Royal had to sail downstream to get back out to the Atlantic.

In Manaus there are two main rivers the Rio Negro and the Amazon. They come together just down the river from Manaus. This is what is known as the ‘Meeting of the Waters’. The Rio Negro is the color of black coffee and comes down from Columbia. (As an aside: a far distance up the Rio Negro from Manaus is where the ‘Survivor Amazon’ took place if anyone watched it. The river boats they departed on, were the exact same type we took on our tours. The beginning of the show was all taped from Manaus.) The Rio Negro is very acidic and has a pH level almost of vinegar. They said not as many fish live in it and I could see why, however, they do have manatees in the Rio Negro. Up river where the ‘Tropical Hotel’ is, the river is 9km wide and down near Manaus it is between 2 and 6 kms. There a lot of long islands in the area so it looks like you are looking across the river but it is actually just an island. In the rainy season all these islands disappear in the high water levels.

The Solimoes River comes from Peru and it is muddy. It looks like café au lait (coffee with milk). This is where the piranhas live. The widest part of the Amazon is at the delta at the Atlantic. It is 200 miles wide and the fresh muddy water actually goes out 200 miles into the Atlantic before it mixes. The Amazon Region has the largest supply of fresh water in the world and the Great Lakes are the second. These rivers are large and wide and also have many arms flowing out and in. I bought a map of the Amazonas region in Manaus and it is amazing to study.

Back to the meeting of the waters. When the Solimoes and the Rio Negro meet to become the Amazon River they run side by side for 13 miles without mixing. It is absolutely fascinating! This is due to the fact they are very diverse in make up, speeds and temperature. Just as we were leaving Manaus towards the meeting of the waters we saw two pink dolphins.

It mostly rains in the afternoon, so they told us it is better take tours in the morning. Just as we were taking our pictures of the meeting huge black clouds rolled in and there was a big storm. It made for fabulous shots of the black sky against the two different rivers. It rained for about 40 minutes and that was the last of the rain.

After the meeting of the waters we steered down an arm of the river called the Solimoes. We went to a small outpost in the area of Lake January where we got off our river boat and there was a handicraft market and a restaurant. From there we took a walk through the jungle to a raised walking platform (like a dock). It was about 20 feet off the ground and remember, in the rainy season the water would be right up to the planks. At the end of the path was the ‘Vitoria Regia’ lily pads. They are easily 4 –5 feet in diameter and were fabulous. Seeing these lily pads have been on my list of ‘to dos’ for years. I saw them in National Geographic once and remember thinking ‘I have to see them’. Well today I can cross that off my list. They were unbelievable!

After that we shopped a while in the store. You could buy most things you wanted here, t-shirts, hats, key chains, postcards, lacquered piranhas, amazon head dresses and Indian bow and arrows, beaded necklaces etc.

After we made our purchases, we boarded smaller wooden boats and went on the jungle cruise down a bunch of little streams and veins of the river. From there we got out and went on a short jungle hike where they pointed out beetles, spiders, flora and fauna. It was fairly muddy so bring closed toe running shoes preferably. This is certainly where you are going to need your bug repellent. We then boarded our boats and went to a very small boathouse and dock where again you could buy things but the draw here was the many kids with their jungle pets out for pictures. You give them a dollar either local currency or USD and they would pose for a picture or you could hold their animals and take a picture. I held everything possible from alligators, parrots, monkeys, snakes but my favorite was the sloths. I have held these many times in Columbia before. They are so cute the way they cling to you and don’t move and they are the softest things I have ever touched. I had read a review on CC where a woman said she hated the kids with their pets and to stay away from them. Well that was one of my favorite parts of the day. People at work said I was crazy and asked if I was worried about bugs they might have on them. Honestly I didn’t care for a second during but I was washing my hands and arms with a gallon of antibacterial soap afterwards. We saw pink dolphins again on the ride back to the outpost.

When we got back to our outpost we saw a small group of 5 or 6 people in the restaurant, we found out later on that that was the Captain of the Royal Princess and some others. They had a big spread put out for us to eat. The food was excellent. There were some salads, vegetables, pasta, manioc (similar to the Italian polenta) I had to try that because that is what they were always eating on ‘survivor’. There were a few types of fish and I don’t usually care for fish and this was outstanding. There had some hot pepper sauce made from local ingredients. It was amazing and had a real burn to it. The drinks were extra, I tried a locally made soda. It was pretty good very similar taste to cream soda but looked like ginger ale. It was a great meal to end a great tour. After we ate we got back on our original large riverboat to sail back to Manaus. You could buy some items like t-shirts, souvenirs and drinks on the riverboat. I bought a great book about of the amazon with many incredible photos. The riverboat took US currency.

On our tour were some people from other parts of Brazil, also many people from the ship. The majority of the passengers were embarking in Manaus like us. We also met some of the entertainment crew from the ship. The female headliner Laurie Miller and a few guys from the show band, John and Graham. It was cool to meet them before we even got on board and then see them performing in all the Production shows.

It was recommended by Luciana to bring on this tour; zip away pants, rainwear, flashlight, snacks (watch what you eat in Manaus), apply a lot of bug repellant and sunscreen, wear good sturdy shoes but they will get muddy, drink plenty of water (bottled only)

After the tour docked they drove us back to the Taj Mahal Hotel where we picked up our luggage and finally got to the Royal Princess to embark. The taxi from the hotel to the pier was R$10,00 ($3.30usd) for a 10min ride. We felt like we had already been away a week and it had not even been two days. By the time got aboard it was about 4pm, mostly everyone must have been onboard because not one other person was checking in with us. So we gave in our passports they checked our yellow fever vaccination certificates ( I was beginning to think no one cared about them). We gave the porter in charge of getting luggage onboard a big fat tip to look after our bags and on we went.

As I mentioned before my mom and aunt decided at the last minute to come as well and they used the cruise line air and transfers so they were on board already. We dumped our knapsacks off in the room and went to look around. One of our usual stops just after embarking is to go meet the Maitre’d to see if our table is in a good location. We met Rui from Portugal and he had a good table for us so we kept our original table assignment.

Our cabin was Aloha 224 mini suite. It was the size of a hotel room rather than a cabin. It had a large bathroom with tub and shower (all rooms had a tub) a sitting area and a double size balcony. We asked our cabin steward Rudy if he could take away the table and chairs on the balcony and put two chaise loungers and when we came back from our night tour they were there.

I have been on 6 princess cruises (with a 7th booked) and I have always been on Aloha deck. Even times we didn’t book Aloha, we have been upgraded to Aloha. Thank you Princess! It’s like I have some kind of ‘Aloha Deck’ Karma.

We had booked the tour ‘Alligator Hunting at Night’ through Princess. It wasn’t offered elsewhere. So we had to unpack with lightening speed eat at the buffet (I call it the trough) and get outside to meet with our group.

In the months prior to leaving we had a cruise critic roll call of about 10 people. I knew two of the members were going on the alligator hunting tour as well, so we made plans to meet up prior to the tour. We met Barbara from Arizona and Bob from Ohio at the gangway, they had both already been on the Royal since Fort Lauderdale. We liked them right off the bat and had a fun night. We took the same sort of riverboat to the same outpost on Lake January where we had been in the afternoon. The night was very hot and humid, there was a full moon and the jungle was making a lot of noises. It was a magical night.

When we reached our same outpost we saw the same guy who drove us in the smaller wooden boats that afternoon. We waved to him right away and we got him to be our alligator catcher for the night. There was just the four of us (me, my sister Lisa, Barbara, Bob) our guy ‘the catcher’, a boat driver and a guide. It was very personal service. We went into the darkness into those little streams I saw earlier that day and we went very slow looking for the alligators eyes which were bright red. As soon as the eyes were caught in the beam of the flashlight the boat moved in and the catcher leaned over the front of the boat and swooped down to grab at the alligator. Once the alligator was grabbed and pulled into the boat we all sat around in a huddle and the guide spoke about the alligator and pointed out the facts. Obviously this had just come out of the wild so we were not picking it up, but we could pet it and touch it’s feet while it was held by the catcher. He showed us his war wounds from other nights of hunting alligator tours. Our alligator was just a baby and was small and cute. You could tell our guy wanted to get us a bigger one because he kept searching with the flashlight. Then he found some more eyes the boat swooped in and out he pulled an alligator covered in weeds and swamp grasses. This one was huge! Probably the biggest one that would be allowed inside the boat. You could tell they were very happy with that one. At this point we had two alligators in the boat (oh! If Princess only knew). Anyway they ended up bringing the big one back to the outpost in case other boats didn’t get a chance to see a good one. Some boats didn’t even get any at all. I knew our afternoon guy was going to be a good catcher! We still don’t even know his name.

We could take pictures with the alligator and Barbara told him she wanted to hold it and I asked if I could hold it. It didn’t seem to be moving around, so it didn’t appear dangerous. You could tell the guy holding it was uneasy letting me do this. All he said was “if it starts moving, don’t let go!” So we both held it and got out pictures. It wasn’t until we got home and I was looking at the pictures that I realized it was the same alligator that we caught and was brought back to show. I had thought it was one they had there like a pet. Our tour guide we had in Manaus the next day said it must have had fishing line around the jaws. Well I looked in the pictures and not only was it the same alligator our boat brought back, but it clearly had no line tying it’s mouth shut. Oh Boy! I’m braver than I realized. That was worth the $66 just for that.

When we got back to the ship I showered and flopped into bed. I would say it was a successful day.

APRIL 7TH MANAUS BRAZIL DEP 7PM

Today was going to be another very busy day and our last day in Manaus. We had room service deliver our coffee and danishes at 6am and we had to be off the ship by 7am in order to find a cab to take us to the Tropical hotel. We were taking a airplane flightseeing tour at 8am that we had booked through Luciana and the Hydroplane dock was at the Tropical Hotel. After the flightseeing our tour guide for our Manaus tour was to meet us right at the dock. At 8:30am.

The Tropical Hotel was about a ½ hour away by car. Getting the taxi driver to understand where we wanted to go was very interesting. It was R$24,00 for the ½ hour ride, the cabs were really well priced. The Tropical Hotel is a gorgeous hotel property out near a very affluent beach area of West Manaus called Ponta Negro. Once we found where the plane took off from we walked over and found the flightseeing tour office at the hydroplane dock. The rate was US$ 120 x 2 for a ½ hour ride – paid in cash. Luciana recommended the hour ride and when we were there so did the tour office. They showed us the map and it goes all over the Rio Negro archipelago it would have been better but we didn’t bring enough cash that day and our tour was meeting us at 8:30 so we stuck with the original plan. Maybe next time for us. But any of you may want to consider this for yourselves.

The airplane took us all around the area we had been seeing all along Lake January, meeting of the waters, river solimoles. It was great to see it all from the air. We then flew over the thick Amazon jungle as well as all around Manaus. We could even see the giant lily pads from the air. It was well worth the money and we got some great shots.

After saying goodbye to the pilot, we saw our tour guide approaching. I tell you these tours from Viverde went off like clockwork. We met Sena and he was so cute and sweet. We barely walked 2 feet when we saw some rocks that were a great purple color. Lisa and I collect sand and rocks from all over (it’s just one of those things we do). We asked Sena if it would be alright if we collected a few rocks to take with us. He smiled and said sure (even though he was probably wondering what the hell we wanted the rocks for) and he even helped us get a few good ones. It was at that moment, I knew we were going to love our tour with him. We went up to the parking lot and met Marcos the driver and then we were off.

Viverde has some pre-planned tours on their website. We told Luciana we were interested in seeing the opera house and that we wanted to see all the animal sights. This is what we decided on 5-6 hour tour including INPA, Natural Science Museum, CIGS zoo and Fast city tour. It was US$ 85 x 2 - Payment: in cash to the driver. It included all admissions.

We started at the CIGS zoo. This is a military zone used to train the soldiers in jungle maneuvers. Sena told us they have to really protect the borders from Columbia and because it is all jungle the soldiers must know how to survive for weeks in the jungle. At the zoo they have specimens of all the species found in the amazonas region. Years later, they decided to open this zoo to the public and the admission cost goes to fund the zoo. Generally there was a strong military presence around Manaus.

We saw all sorts of animals, birds and reptiles. Things to note were mainly boas, tapirs, jaguars, monkeys, vultures, toucans and parrots.

The Natural Museum was really nice & when we arrived there we were the only ones in there. There’s something really great about being the only three people in a museum. It was like it was a private viewing. Here they show all the species of the Amazonia region both from the water and land. Some of the fish they had on display were absolutely prehistoric looking and really bizarre. They are had a lot of creepy things like specimens of parasites you can get from the water to gigantic specimens of spiders & insects (bugs and flys). They also had beautiful displays of butterflies and moths. They had some tanks of fish such as piranhas and pirarucu which are huge. They use the scales from this fish for a lot of the detail work on handicrafts that you will see. As we were nearing the end of our visit to the museum, two bus loads of cruisers came in and overrun the small museum. That could have been us on that tour, if we didn’t have Sena.

Next we went to the INPA botanical garden. Here we mainly went to see the manatees that they have. They are on display in aquarium tanks. We saw eight manatees then went on to see the different trees of the jungle and some huge spider webs and an electric eel.

The Opera House (Teatro Amazona) was truly a highlight of the day in Manaus. One of those things I was only going to see because it was on the tour and everyone said it was a “must see”. I was definitely more interested in the natural aspect in Manaus. Well this opera house blew me away! Not only is the architecture a fabulous example from that era, but the art and design inside was so brilliant that I could have wandered around in there for hours. This Opera house dated back to 1897 and was built during the rubber boom. During this time Manaus was the richest city in the world, they told us of how the rubber barons would light their cigars with hundred dollar bills. The Opera House had a lot of influence from Amazonia and Manaus mixed in with the French architecture. Throughout the theatre there was the symbols of the meeting of the water. This was seen in inlaid wood on the floor and on details on the walls. There was a huge ballroom with grand outdoor terraces overlooking Manaus. You could just picture debutante balls taking place in this grand ballroom.

We sat down for a bit in the theatre, at first in the first few rows and then up in the balconies. We were very lucky that an orchestra was practicing to we could listen to a performance in there. The acoustics were so good it still gives we chills to think about it. Some friends of ours who spent some time in the Amazon said ‘make sure you try to catch a performance in the opera house’. I though ‘yeah OK, I’ll get right on that’ well now I understand why they wanted us to hear a performance in there. It really was spectacular. It was nice to sit and listen and not have to follow a schedule. Again, I was happy not to be on a large tour. Sena made everything so easy he would go ahead and buy the tickets to the attractions and then we would wander around together as he would explain everything. You cannot use flash photography inside so we bought the packaged set of postcards. They were really nice so you may want to get them as well.

After the Opera House Sena took us to a souvenir shop just across the square. It was big and had everything we would ever need to buy. We picked up all the remaining amazon souvenirs we needed. For example, I got an oil painting of a toucan and some old vintage postcards from Manaus. At the front steps of the opera house we bought some pretty good maps of the amazon and Manaus. They were about $R10,00 each.

At this point we needed to buy some bottled water for consumption on tours and on the ship for the next few days. We asked Sena if we could go to a grocery store or market. Him and Marco discussed it at length and came back and said there are two places; a huge one that was more expensive but would have everything or a smaller store where they shop with good prices. We decided to go to the smaller store first to see what they had. He was right it was so small I wouldn’t even have noticed it driving by. We bought all the water they had (approx 6 large bottles), as well as 6 bottles of pop and a big slab of cheese (Sena was buying this for himself and we told him to throw it on our bill). Altogether this came to about $R25,00 which is about $8USD. You can’t go wrong with that.

We loaded our supplies into the trunk and Marco filled up the car with gas and we were off to the Central Market. The downtown area near the port was busy, hot and dusty. We really lucked out and Marco just pulled right up to the market and we parked the car right there. He waited with our stuff and Sena, Lisa and I went to see what was in the market. The market was one of the older buildings of Manaus also dating back to the rubber boom. It was adorned with beautiful iron work, stained glass and woodcarvings.

They had lots of stuff for tourists to buy such as t-shirts and souvenirs. Of course we had already picked a lot of that stuff up so we went to see the fish market area. There were all those weird species of fish I had seen previously at the natural museum and here they all were, available for sale. Sena said some of the breeds could live a long time out of water and there was this type that would move along the counter as if it was walking. Not our regular fish back home! If you go to the market you must also take a look at the area with all the Amazonia lotions & potions. There are lots of special plants and herbs that are used for medicinal purposes.

Now our day with Sena and Marcos was coming to an end. We liked the tour so much and they were so nice. We traded e-mail addresses and hugged goodbye at the port. I would really like to go back to Manaus on a future trip and spend more time there.

I could not say enough about the service we received from Luciana from Viverde and all the people she put us in contact with. They were all very professional and personable. They made our time in Manaus so special. I think they had a lot to do with the fact that we loved every moment there and we would want to visit there again in the future.

Luciana was always very prompt with her e-mails, she answered every question or concern we had. Viverde offers a lot of tours and I would imagine could set up anything you wanted. If they didn’t offer something in particular I’m sure they could get you in touch with someone who can. The private guides (Sena) and the tours from Amazon Explorers were excellent. We spent two full days using her services as well as our airport pickup and reserving our hotel room. Every thing she planned went off like clock work. In fact she gave us all her numbers in case we needed to contact her and we never needed to use them.

Here is her contact information:
Amazonas by Viverde - www.viverde.com.br/home.html
Viverde Website hosted in US - www.amazonastravel.com.br
Address: Rua Guariúbas, 47 - Cj. Acariquara
Zip Code: 69085-350 - Manaus/AM - Brazil

There were other tour guides services you could use but I would go with Viverde. If you want to play it by ear and not reserve in advance, you could go to the Amazon Explorers kiosk in Manaus or at the Tropical Hotel. You could get all sorts of boats tours, meeting of the waters etc right on the pier when you get off the ship. Many guides were out there with tour options. The long and short is; in Manaus there is no need to take the ships tours. There are many alternatives that will either be half the people and/or half the price. Sena told us that tourism is the main source of income of many people in Manaus, so you know there will be many tours available. Do not plan on taking a tour with a taxi driver, English is not widely spoken by anyone who is not a tour guide.

We sailed out of Manaus around 7pm. I’ll never forget the sunset we had that night. Many colours of orange, pinks and red as well as great cloud formations. It wasn’t what I was expecting to see in the rainforest. We went to dinner a bit late so we could see the meeting of the water one more time. It is just east of Manaus. So if you are sailing out it is about 40-50 min after you sail. If you are arriving it is just before you start seeing the factories and industry of Manaus. The water colours are so different you can see it even at night.

DAY OF THE WEEK:
We were in Manaus on a Tuesday & Wednesday so it was business as usual and we had no problems with anything not being open.

APRIL 8 BOCA DE VALERIA (AMAZON RIVER) BRAZIL 11AM TO 6PM

TEMP 77F
High 31C/88F
Light Breeze/Calm Waters
20 knots

Doesn’t that weather forecast sound great. Well it was! That morning we woke up to the brown water of the Amazon and we sailed gently down river until about 11am when we anchored at Boca de Valeria. By this time the light breeze had vanished and it was extremely hot and humid!

Boca de Valeria is a small tributary of the Amazon made up of about 13 buildings including modest dwellings, a school, church & a town meeting place (bar). It has about 75 permanent residents, but the day the ship arrives it seems all the neighboring river dwellers paddle in for the day. There is no tourism infrastructure, so everyone was on their own for the day. You could meet the people or explore the town. Many people went for a hike up the paths and hills behind Boca and many said they saw macaws and all sorts of wildlife. You could also somehow negotiate a deal with the locals to take you around the surrounding area in their boats. Princess is one of a few cruise lines that stop in Boca de Valeria. Of course they only go in maybe twice or three times each year. For example the Royal Princess goes in twice a year; when they go to Manaus and when they come out.

There can only be approx. 200 people allowed to go to ashore at a time. So the tenders are very regulated at the beginning of the day. If you allowed 1 to 2 hours ashore that would be enough. If you wanted to go on a hike or similar allow for more time. If you wait to let the hordes of people go first and stay back enjoy your lunch you will have plenty of time to go in the afternoon. The ship doesn’t leave until 5pm. You may not want to go in the heat of the day either (11am - 2pm).

The ship drops lines at the back of the ship so locals can hook up their boats and they get close to the ship. The crew throws food, soap and toiletries over the side to the people. Make sure you go up on deck and watch this.

The people in the town were so nice and even though we could not speak to each other at all, it was nice to spend time with them. You can take a look in their homes and other buildings of the town or just take pictures with the children. You will be expected to give them something in return for this so you can give a dollar or some sort of trinkets. I read a few reviews before our trip so I knew we would be visiting here and we wanted to bring something for the kids. It is not recommended to bring candy because it isn’t good for their teeth. We decided to bring all sorts of coloured pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners, stickers, bright coloured ‘post-it’ notes and erasers. We put them into small snack size ziploc bags. We weren’t sure how this would go over but the kids absolutely loved them. They loved the fact there was a little pack to hold them in. We also brought Canadian flag pins, every kid in that community must have been wearing a Canadian flag. We were like the pied pipers, there were tons of kids following us around. They could also use clothes and flip flop type sandals. When we went back to the ship we saw how the crew was throwing them food and toiletries so we threw all our toiletries from our balcony. Right away the mothers were eyeing the ziploc bags we put them in. We also threw running shoes, sandals, slippers, sweatshirt, jacket, pants and a few t-shirts. They went wild for the clothes and you could see the mothers were really happy to get the stuff. Others from surrounding balconies asked us if we had any clothes left…trust me we had plenty. This was stuff I figured they needed more then me. They could really use kids t-shirts or socks. If I had known I would have brought some especially since you could get a few and it doesn’t cost that much.

Even though it was a beautiful hot and sunny day, there was a rainbow just over the little town when we were getting ready to leave. It was very precious. We also saw many pink dolphins swimming around the ship so keep and eye out for them the whole time. There was also the most gorgeous sunset as we sailed away with the clouds forming the shape of a seahorse. People were claiming this stop was exploitation at its finest, however, I felt no one got anything for free we got our pictures and they got something in return & it was an even trade. We not get anything for free and we didn’t take anything from them. I think everyone got what they wanted. I really enjoyed the day and so did a lot of others.

On the nights that the ship is sailing along the Amazon, make sure you go out and look at the stars. Since there is no big cities around, there is minimal lights and the constellations are spectacular. You can see so much more than you will at home. Although we were south of the equator, we were not south enough to see the southern cross and other southern constellations.

APRIL 9TH AT SEA (Good Friday)

Temp 29C/84F HIGH 31C/88F
Humidity 90%
24 knots/Calm seas partly cloudy

Today we got up early to watch Brad Pitt and George Clooney in Ocean’s 11. Well to our surprise it was vintage movie day on the TV and it was the original Ocean’s 11 with Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Okay so it wasn’t Brad Pitt, but there is something about the original, I love it and could watch it many times (Okay, I admit it, I have watched it many times!)

Up until now the trip has been so busy we hadn’t had a chance to really enjoy the room. We had A224 mini suite with private balcony. The room was fantastic! It was bigger than the size of our Marriott hotel room in Sao Paulo and had a huge bathroom complete with tub and shower (all rooms on Royal Princess have bathtubs). There was a big marble vanity in the bathroom and the shower spray was very powerful. The balcony was large enough to get rid of the chairs they supplied out there and have two chaise loungers. This room was so great to have for such a long sailing and we lived on the balcony. I give A+ for the room and the room stewards that go along with it, Rudy and Leo from the Philippines. The room was located just across from the stewards’ station and they were always milling around outside our door. Now some people might not like this and at first we thought it was weird that they were always standing out there. But then we realized very quickly that they were always very handy when we needed anything, towels, glasses, coffee & conversation. We loved having them around and they were all so nice. So we felt the location was a positive. Now, the self-service laundry room down the mid section hallway, I wouldn’t want to be near. So keep this in mind.

Today we left the region of Amazonas and entered the region of Para. After we went to breakfast we went to the Recife lecture given by Joe May who gave all the port lectures. He was a great speaker, in fact, he spoke about 10 languages.

After lunch we sat on the balcony and watched the world go by. Actually, we saw the customs officials and the pilots leave when we passed the city of Macapu. Just moments later we crossed the equator. The only reason I would know that is because they made an announcement I think people actually believe there are markers (my sister may be one of them!)

In the weeks (months) prior to the cruise I had been in touch with our Cruise Critic contingency e-mailing and sharing the growing excitement. At 3pm today we met for the first time in the Horizon lounge. Lisa and I had actually already met two fellow CC’rs Barbara and Bob (on the alligator hunting evening) they and a few others were some of the lucky ones that sailed in on the prior sailing from Ft. Lauderdale to Manaus. We had a very good turn out only one person didn’t show. We found out later, he came looking for the meeting at the wrong time. It was nice to meet these people, especially on such a long sailing we had time to get together on the sea days and plan ahead to take excursions with. We met quite a few people that I will keep in touch with for future travels.

Later on in the afternoon, we were getting closer to the ‘Amazon bar’ where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. It was time to say goodbye to the muddy waters of the Amazon (sniff, sniff!)

Tonight in the dining room it was Italian night that always has all my favorite appetizers. The old Sinatra movies were still on the television so I watched ‘Robin and Seven Hoods’.

APRIL 10TH AT SEA

TEMP 25C – 77F
HIGH 28C – 82F
19 KNOTS

I woke up today to see the blue water of the Atlantic – a more familiar sight. But already I missed being on the river.

My days at sea were beginning to shape into routine of going to a lecture in the morning, walking on the teak jogging track, then lying out on the balcony in the afternoon, again, walking on the jogging track at the sunset then leisurely getting ready for dinner.

I remembered reading in other reviews of amazon cruises where they mentioned seeing a lot of bugs and really huge bugs on the decks of the ship. We were careful not to keep the balcony door open at all just in case, but we never saw any bugs on the ship. Well tonight nature made up for all that! We came back from the show and I went to go out to see the stars. When I went to move the curtain back I felt something on my shoulder (do you sense where this is going?) I brushed my shoulder, and down fell a HUGE winged bug with big antennae. After the shear shock wore off, I yelled for Lisa to come look. She took action armed with a hiking sandal. After 4 huge whacks with the sandal it still hadn’t flinched! She whacked and whacked until it was in pieces, then I picked up the pieces and put it in the garbage. No joke we were scared it would plug up the (very sensitive) toilet because it was so big! This thing was Smithsonian material. As you can see I am still not over the trauma.

APRIL 11TH AT SEA (Easter Sunday)

TEMP 28C/84F
HIGH 28C/82F
19 KNOTS
POSITION: ATLANTIC OCEAN

When we went down for breakfast the chocolatiers (sp?) were working on a huge Easter display outside the dining room. They told us they worked all night on the huge chocolate eggs. They were very proud of their creations and were so excited to see the people’s reactions. Even Rui the Matre D was busy hanging streamers and balloons. I noticed that the head waiters and Rui were very hands on in the dining room.

There is something about spending the holidays on a cruise. I have spent a few Christmas’ on a cruise and it is fantastic – what’s not to like!?! Our first cruise in 1984 was at Christmas and people kept on saying how could you not be home for Christmas. To this day my response is, ‘try it you may like it’. I would take being on board a ship vs being at home any day. Especially when your family is with you.

After breakfast there was an exceptional lecture on the Olympics. Then of course, the balcony was beckoning on this sunny afternoon.

The dining room was even more decked out for Easter celebrations than the lobby. There were tons of pastel balloons and streamers. After dinner the children that were on board (there was probably less than 10) came out to break the eggs (wrapped in a table linen) and they served the chocolate to the tables along with dessert.

APRIL 12TH RECIFE BRAZIL 1PM TO 8PM (Easter Monday)

TEMP 28C/83F
HIGH 29C/85F
HOT & HUMID
19 KNOTS

Recife is known as the ‘Venice of Brazil’ because it is a city built on many waterways. It has sun- drenched beaches and emerald green waters. It is much bigger than I was expecting, it is very built up with wall to wall skyscrapers. Recife means ‘reef’ and it is the capital of the Pernambuco state. It has a population of over 1.5 million people and is Brazil’s 5th largest city. It would be a great vacation destination for travelers offering a mix of cosmopolitan metropolis, historic cities and great beaches.

Today definitely reached a temperature high. The ship docked in the early afternoon at the commercial pier. There was nothing in the surrounding pier vacinity as far as tourism infrastructure. It looked like a far walk to get anywhere nearby. They had pre-warned of lack of taxi’s and tours right off the ship. They even mentioned to book the tours early because transportation in general in Recife was a problem. We booked the Recife and Olinda tour with Princess.

There were many buses that did this tour, probably about 7 or 8. My guess is that when they saw how many people wanted the tour, Princess secured more buses. I guess this because our tour guide (and I use this term very loosely) had no idea what he was doing. It was apparent he was not used to this task. He was always fumbling, didn’t lead us to see specific items at the different stops and so on. We stopped at the beach for ½ hour then only had 10 min at the shopping stop. We were supposed to go shopping first and then pass by the beach very quickly. There was no time management. Others on the first groups of buses had perfectly fine tour guides. We just got stuck with a last minute stand in, however, Recife was beautiful and we just had to make the best of it. The good thing was that there really wasn’t a lot of historical info. We needed more time for shopping and we just banded together and made the bus wait until we had enough shopping. I find when the tour isn’t working for you, you have to make the best of it. Either ‘dial the tour guide in’ or just put up with it and enjoy it for what it is. I have learned nobody is going to care later that you didn’t like the tour! Especially the cruise line!

Both Recife and Olinda were beautiful and very different. Recife is very modern and filled with high rise buildings like Waikiki. Olinda was the complete opposite, up high on a hill and has barely changed since the 16th century.

However, let’s get down to it! The ‘Casa Cultura’ a former prison that’s now an artisan and handy craft market was excellent. What a great idea! Not only was it cool to be in an old prison but to have all the artisan shops in the cells, is purely ingenious. Friends of ours told me previously they had bought some good things there (Thanks Dorothy!). There was great shopping there. Things were so cheap I wasn’t even bargaining – I was just paying what they were asking for. Plus, because we had so little time I didn't have time to haggle. At the end of one of the halls was a small leather shop. He had great stuff; leather briefcases, shoes, boots, purses. I bought a fabulous suede cowboy hat (that I love) for R$30,00 (that’s $10 USD and that was the asking price). I also bought a few small paintings and some souvenirs. The small jewelry shops had nice things as well. There was not much as far as Amazon items to buy here except for the very obvious souvenirs. Get your Amazon purchases in Manaus.

This was our last stop in Brazil and I loved every part of my visit. It is definitely a place I would love to return. Brazil is very diverse offering the excitement and glamour of Rio, the beauty of the Amazon, beach destinations like Recife, beautiful people and fabulous music all over.

The ship sailed just before 8pm. I said goodbye to Recife, goodbye to Brazil (sniff,sniff) and GOODBYE TO LAND!!! As this was the beginning of my first transatlantic voyage.

OTHER SHIP TOURS: Here we only had a choice of two tours Intro to Recife $40 and Intro to Recife and Olinda $56 (we took the later one)

The tour of Olinda sells out fast so sign up early. There was a choice to take the ‘H.Stern’ (not Howard Stern to many passenger’s dismay) shuttle to their jewelry store in the Boa Viagem area of Recife. You could easily walk around to a lot of Recife sights from there.

Don’t rely on taking a cab they probably won’t speak English and many that did rely on cabs were disappointed in their choice.

DAY OF THE WEEK:
We knew we would be in Recife on Easter Monday and Brazil is a very Catholic country so this was another reason we made use of the ship’s tour. We had no idea what would be closed or how many cab drivers would be available on this holiday.

APRIL 13TH AT SEA

TEMP HIGH 30C/86F
17 KNOTS
SUNNY

Today was the most gorgeous day at sea. As you can see from the above temp it was full out sun tanning weather! We slept in past breakfast, wow that was nice! Then went to the Dakar lecture. Even though Dakar seems like a world away at this point. They were very smart, I must commend them on this. They did all the upcoming port lectures during the transatlantic because once we started into the last leg of the itinerary, it was ports everyday and way too busy to attend lectures. Later on in the cruise they replayed the lectures again on TV.

Since we left Manaus, we ate every lunch and dinner in the dining room. We always prefer the sit down meals. Of course, we had our regular wait staff every night for dinner. Then at lunch we started getting the same pair a few days in a row. Their names were Roberto and Rico and they were fantastic! They were fun, professional, cute, just a pleasure to be around. It became a highlight for us to have lunch with them everyday.

We had a second CC meeting with our group in the Horizon lounge. We discussed the ports visited so far and what we’ve been up to, along with what everyone’s plans were in the upcoming ports. If we had tours together, we made plans to meet up.

Today on the TV menu was all Hitchcock movies (sweet!). Gems like Dial ‘M’ for Murder, Psycho and Strangers on a Train.

For such a lazy day, it filled up very quickly!

APRIL 14TH AT SEA crossing the equator ceremony

TEMP 24C/81F
HIGH 30C/86F
17 KNOTS
SUNNY/LIGHT BREEZE

Actually made it to breakfast today (not leaving the room in the morning, threw off our poor cabin steward Rudy). Went to the lecture on Morocco.

After the lecture the balcony was beckoning. The ocean was like glass today. For some reason I was expecting to have rougher weather. Hooray for calm seas! I sat in the sun until it was time to go see Rico and Roberto for lunch.

After lunch there was the crossing of the equator ceremony. What a comedy show! Assorted members of the crew dressed up as King Neptune, his wife (a male crew member in drag) and the King’s court. They sacrificed some virgins….blah, blah, blah….threw food all over the deck to appease the gods….threw Captain Burgess in the pool (yeah, they threw the captain in the pool!) I believe his crime was smuggling ladies underpants. A good time was had by all in the blasting equator sun!

At this point the balcony was beckoning but I resisted temptation and walked a mile on the deck. It was so hot I thought I was going to pass out. When I finished I went up and took a cool shower and napped on the balcony.

Tonight they had a Russian dinner in the dining room, complete with caviar, borscht, stroganoff and flambéed strawberries Romanoff for dessert.

After dinner we watched a John Grisham movie in the theatre.

APRIL 15TH AT SEA

TEMP 24C/75F
HIGH 27C/81F
17 KNOTS
MODERATE SEAS

After breakfast we went to the lecture on Gibraltar.
Sat out on balcony.
Lunch with Rico and Roberto.

APRIL 16TH AT SEA

TEMP 27C/81F
HIGH 27C/81F
17 KNOTS
MODERATE SEAS

After breakfast we went to the lecture on Spain.
Sat out on balcony.
Lunch with Rico and Roberto (see a pattern forming here?)
After lunch, Tom Ecker, our Olympic historian had a great talk on the 1968 Games in Mexico City and 1972 Games in Munich. These of course, were extremely controversial games that resulted in kidnapping, demonstrations & hundreds dead and terrorist attacks, respectively. Gripping subject matter that left us wanting more.

The afternoon was incredible. The seas were not as calm as the day before, yet, the Royal plowed through those waters so steady, it felt like we weren’t even moving. The sun was so glorious, so of course……I sat out on the balcony.

I went for a walk just as the sun was setting a few hours before dinner. This was a scene I will not soon forget. The sun was a HUGE pale pink ball just above the horizon. It was like pictures I have seen before from Africa or the Middle East, where the sun is simply huge! I knew a photo wouldn’t do this sight justice, so I stared for a moment and committed it to memory. This was a true African sunset, so I knew we were getting close to the ‘dark continent’. Today was a good day to be alive.

APRIL 17TH DAKAR SENEGAL 8AM TO 5PM

This morning when I walked outside I saw my first glimpse of Africa. I have waited for this moment for more than 20 years and today I was going to be setting foot on Africa.

A major centre of West Africa, Dakar has a population of over 3 million. Senegal has a population of approx. 11 million.

We took the ship’s tour to ‘THE PINK LAKE OF RETBA’ for $74. We were shown to our buses and we met Wade and Fatou our Senegalese tour guides. As we were sitting on the bus, we saw someone being loaded off the ship in a stretcher and on IV & oxygen. No one told us what had happened to that person but I hope they were okay. I don’t know what would be worse being four days at sea with only the ship’s doctor to treat you or going to a hospital in Dakar.

We left a few minutes later. We drove through Dakar to the lake about 40 minutes away. Dakar streets appeared to be chaotic. The sidewalks were packed with people were selling stuff everywhere. Cars, donkeys and carts were all over the road. It was fascinating for me to watch out the window of the bus. Many people of Senegal speak native languages; wolof is one of them. However, French is the official language. On the way to the lake we made a stop at a wolof village, we could get off the bus and walk around and check out where locals lived and worked. I felt very strange, like we were descending on them in droves. As we walked around, us staring at the villagers and them at us, I whispered to my sister, ‘who’s on display here, them or us.’ I was glad we stopped but I felt uncomfortable, like we were imposing. Lisa wanted to take a picture of me with a wolof woman and her baby. Where we have been you always ask a local before taking a picture and it has usually been that you must given them some token amount to pay for the service. I asked if she had a separate dollar bill to give after the picture was taken. Well when she pulled the dollar bill out and gave it, within seconds she was surrounded and being mobbed! So much so that Wade and Fatou had to pull her out and bring her right onto the bus. Myself, and a few other people also got on the bus ‘toute suite’. I must say that was unnerving and I was glad to leave. The whole thing happened in seconds. My advice would be to keep money (no matter how small the amount) out of sight and ask to snap a photo but do not offer anything but a ‘thank you’. By the way, the woman whom Lisa gave the money to, was at the bus window demanding more! Oh yeah! I’ll get right on that.

Next stop the pink lake of Retba. The lake is really pink. This is because the amount of salt in the lake. It isn’t very deep and many people work harvesting the salt. They make huge piles on the shore. The people that harvest the salt live in small dwellings at the shores. We got into huge 4x4’s and drove around the shores on the lake. If the sky is cloudy the lake appears ‘pepto bismol’ pink. Of course, we had a beautiful day so the lake appeared more of a greyish-rose colour. This must be the first time I hoped for a cloudy day on vacation.

After the visit to the lake we went 4x4ing in the sand dunes on a huge deserted beach on the Atlantic ocean. That was very cool until our truck started slowing down and then stopped. We all got out and presto, a flat tire. No wonder we stopped. As the driver’s dealt with the tire we explored the seemingly deserted beach. Out of nowhere, two guys came out with a knapsack of their wares, mostly carvings. They set up, there was some bargaining and a few of us came away with some great stuff. I bought an abstract carving of ‘the thinker’ for a great price.

After they fixed up the tire we drove down some country roads and stopped at another village. Dakar was described similar to Jamaica at the port talks. Well it’s not like Jamaica. It’s ten times worse. The locals are relentless with their peddling and hassling. It is very uncomfortable. When we stopped again at the next village a group of us had had enough, so we stayed on the truck. Well with in a little while the truck was completely surrounded and we were again being hounded. We ended up buying stuff just to appease them.

It was time to get back to our coach buses and head back to the pier. On the road back to Dakar we saw many baobab trees. Way back in high school we read ‘The Little Prince’ & I remember the baobabs had significance in the book (OK I don’t remember what the significance was…) and since then I’ve always wanted to see a baobab tree. Today I can cross that off my list as well. These trees don’t have any leaves they look really odd. The time spent in the bus driving to and from the attractions allow the guides to speak about life in their culture. Wade spoke to us about being Muslim and the practice if polygamy. It is very common in Senegal and he himself had three wives and twenty-five children!!!

Back in Dakar, Lisa and I both agreed we didn’t want to go into the city to the market. We didn’t want to leave the security of the pier. There was a cute market set up among the huge commercial paper rolls and skids at the pier. I figured the prices are going to be at a premium but that just means I will have to bargain harder. In fact I came away with some excellent goodies. This is the type of stuff you would find for sale; ebony carvings, caftans, jalabas, leather shoes, snake skin shoes, leather or snake skin purses, leather bags, wooden carved boxes and chairs, soccer (football) shirts. They also had some great African masks and drums. You must remember our countries do not allow a lot of these animal products back in the country so do not by items made from them. You can check government websites for info on this before you leave. Do not buy any type of skins or bones. We only buy leather to be on the safe side. Obviously, nothing made from exotic animals.

BARGAINING 101

In general, they come out asking for outrageous prices. You must stick with the game and keep bidding low. You should try to come out paying around 10% of what the original asking price is. I always referred to it as ‘the dance’. I would say to the sellers ‘OK let start the dance, how much do you want?’ The same goes as in Mexico as well, NEVER let them know you want something. Sometimes I pretend to bargain over something I don’t want and then switch to the item I want and pretend to leave. I always get it in the end (of course, not always at the price I was looking to pay). My bargaining expertise becomes more advanced with every trip. Another course of action is you could….take out how much you want to pay (a fair price for both parties…I never try to completely take advantage of anyone) have it in your hand and when you get sick of ‘the dance’ slap it in their hands and they usually take it.

At this marketplace or with any locals in Dakar, French was the language that was used. You should have seen me operate…I was pulling my high-school French out of my hat. It is surprising what you remember when you have to. Of course, they were very forgiving of poor grammar and pronunciation. The people in the market were my favorite part of my visit to Senegal.

The folklore show onboard was really something to see. A Senegalese group came on board to do a show in the late afternoon. I usually miss these shows but this one I was sorry I missed. It was really something. They did tribal dancing and limbo dancing under a flame. There was fire eating and a contortionist that was all curled up and came out of a suitcase! I was one step away from a circus freak show. Many people spoke after how they thought the stage was going to go up in flames. The captain and CD acted calm but I think they were worried. I mean half the ship’s passengers were in that show and there was a lot of fire on stage. Later on they re-played it on TV so I got a chance to see it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t happen on board again.

At sail away as well as dinner that night, everyone was decked out in caftans and jalabas that they bought during the day. They all looked like they were wearing their pajamas. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the first and last time they wore them.

OTHER SHIP TOURS: Dakar City Drive $40 not the most picturesque city and very bustling and dusty. Ile de Goree $60 good interesting tour with difficult subject matter. I was sorry that I couldn’t do this tour as well. I would have been very interested in this history.

Pink Lake of Retba $75 Where else would you get to see a pink Lake? We had to do this tour fun for all ages, 4X4, sand dunes, Wolof Villages.

Dakar is not the type of port you want to go on your own BOOK A TOUR! That is my advice. The locals are very persistent. They compared it to Jamaica, well it was 50x worse. Princess offered a shuttle to town and people weren’t even comfortable with that. The only thing I heard people were okay with doing was taking the public ferry over to Ile de Goree. I don’t know if I would want to deal with it but that of course is my opinion.

APRIL 18TH AT SEA

TEMP 19C/66F
Clear Skies
Winds gale force 6 to 7
19 knots
POSITION: paralleling African coast

Today was a gorgeous day not a cloud to be seen but very windy.

We had set a date with our CC group to meet for lunch. We met and there just happened to be a special Sunday brunch in the dining room. It was very nice. I have never seen a Sunday brunch on a cruise before today, but this is just some of the special venues the ‘Royal’ had available that were out of the ordinary. They had a huge buffet set up down the middle of the dining room but you could also order from the menu as well. Of course, we had to have our special brunch including Rico and Roberto as well. It just wouldn’t be enjoyable without them around.

After lunch of course, I sat out on the balcony…

Tonight was formal night and dinner was by candlelight - very nice.

All the movie selections today on the TV were Audrey Hepburn classics.

APRIL 19TH AT SEA

TEMP 19C/66F
Cloudy with sunny spells
Winds gale force 6
17 knots
POSITION: Atlantic paralleling African coast

Today was our last day at sea. After breakfast we went to the culinary demonstration and galley tour. We pretty much always take the galley tour and this one seemed to take us through the entire kitchen areas. Usually we see a small portion and out another door. We went through many areas and the chefs were all standing there with a beautiful display of cookies and fancy sculptures all made from food.

We thought we would try some activities so we went to the bartending classes and learned to make some killer margaritas. After class, trivia was just starting so we thought we would just be spectators. We were approached by a couple who were looking to form a team. We told them we don’t usually play but we would join them if they had no one else. Just Like that we had a team going. They were Americans so we told the husband to go find a British couple to round out the team and better our chances. We had heard that they ask a variety of questions regarding British subject matter. We called ourselves ‘The 3 Nations’ and I’ll have you know we really gelled as a team and we took our first victory. We won some really cool Princess Passport wallets.

Later on in the afternoon they had the jackpot bingo. We had talked about it the night before with our table mates and decided we would all show up and each play a card and make a pact if any of us won we would split the winnings. My card was filling up quite nicely until I only had a few numbers left. Then a few were called and I was getting nothing. Then 3 numbers left, then 2 numbers left, then (do you see were this was going!?!) they called my last number. If you can believe it $2100 big ones!! Just after they checked my numbers, some other guy calls bingo, (what the heck) is this allowed? So I had to share and I got my $1050 in a little ceremony on stage. So at the end of it all, we all got $116 smackers. If we weren’t at sea off the African coast I would have gone out to buy lottery tickets.

APRIL 20TH AGADIR MOROCCO 7AM TO 3PM

When we woke up we were already docked in Agadir Morocco and waiting for clearance. We were taking the Princess Tour ‘BERBER MARKET / TAROUDANT $36 that left at 8:15am and returned around 1:15pm.

Agadir is a wonderful seaside resort area. The history is, it was destroyed by an earthquake around 1960. It had to be completely re-built. Today it is very new and an affluent area made up of beautiful hotels and condos. It reminded me a lot of Cancun. I knew this prior to arriving in Agadir, this is why we decided to go to Toroudant to see the medina (old city) and Berber market.

We had a nice scenic drive to Taroudant through the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The first stop was the casbah founded in 1050. A casbah is a walled city, this one was gorgeous with it’s ramparts and high stone walls. Of course, I have no previous casbah viewing experience but I really enjoyed this one.

The next stop was the souk. It was much more than the local market, even though it sold many household items, dry goods, spices and other food items. They also sold many items made from silver & leather. Of course they also had lamps and carpets.

After visiting the casbah and the souk we went to a beautiful small resort where we had freshly squeezed orange juice and/or Moroccan mint tea. The resort had extremely clean facilities, a beautiful pool area and manicured gardens.

On the bus ride our guide, Aziz answered questions and gave insight into Moroccan life. As on the bus ride in Dakar the customs regarding marriage was discussed. The Koran allows men to have four wives. So polygamy can not be made illegal. What we were told was that the first two wives must agree on the third wife – of course, this never happens so there usually only one or maybe two wives.

The next stop was for shopping at a Co-op in Agadir for most of our souvenir shopping. Here the prices were set and it wasn’t that cheap but they sold everything imaginable. If you couldn’t find it here, you weren’t going to find it. Of course, I still bargained even though the prices were supposed to be set. I started by just trying to get them to stop bothering me with their hard sell. Next thing I knew I was getting a deal on something completely different.

The people in Morocco were amazing. They were very civil, kind and very warm. If you were friendly to them especially when bargaining they were very friendly in return. I really enjoyed the people here. I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I was in Dakar, where people were much more pushy and had no qualms sticking their hands right into your pockets or touching you. This is not the case in Morocco at all.

You must go out of Agadir to see the real Morocco, but Agadir would be a great place to stay on vacation.

Again at dinner there were more jalabas out on display. The fashion started to become a real sight in the dining room everyone looked like they were going to a pajama party afterwards. “Not that there’s anything wrong with it”.

OTHER SHIP TOURS: Berber Market of Taroudant (our tour) $36
Agadir and Inezgane $29 see a Kasbah and landmarks, resort area, walk through old village (we heard there were camel rides up there). There only other choice was the above tour with a folklore show as well for an extra $5.

APRIL 21TH CASABLANCA MOROCCO 8AM TO 9PM

Casablanca is the busiest port in Northern Africa and has a population of 5 million people. It is the financial centre of Morocco so it is a bustling city. Not exactly the picture we would imagine from watching Hollywood movies.

We took the Pincess tour to ‘MARRAKECH’ for $115. It was from 8am to 8pm and I thought it was well worth it.

Many people were apprehensive about taking this tour because it was a 3 hour drive approximately to Marrakech. It is 225 km or 165 miles from Casablanca to Marrakech. I rather enjoyed the drive (but I love road trips), I felt we saw a lot of the countryside of a country I was very interested in seeing. Our tour guide Majid was also very knowledgeable and spoke almost the entire drive there on anything and everything Moroccan and Berber, such as; history, daily life, language, religion, economics and so on. On the drive, we went through two towns called Settat which was university town and Ben Guerir. The rest of the scenery was mostly driving past fields and rural areas.

MARRAKECH
Marrakech is known as the ‘Pearl of the South’ and it is said to the most beautiful city in North Africa. There has been a mystic about Marrakech that has peaked my curiosity my entire life. I have wanted to go there since I was little and I have no idea when or why, I just had to go there. Back to the list of things I have to do during my life. Marrakech was at the top of that list.

Just as we were approaching Marrakech, there were a lot of date palms encircling the city. It was truly an oasis, what an amazing site. Marrakech has been the ‘gateway to the Sahara’ and a jumping off point for Caravans to Timbuktu.

Once we entered the city limits of Marrakech is doesn’t take long to notice all the buildings are a salmon pink colour. It was very attractive. It actually reminded me a lot of Sedona Arizona.

Our first stop was the Bahia Palace a great example of Moorish architecture. Here we had a guided tour of many rooms and beautiful gardens that displayed excellent Moroccan wood carved wall and doors, tiled floors & mosaics and wonderful fountains. I must have taken a roll of film just on the décor.

Afterwards we had lunch in a Moroccan restaurant. The restaurant was close we walked to it from the Palace. It was really good and there was a spicy condiment they had that was spectacular on the chicken and rice.

All of the stops we made on the tour were within the walls of the old city or ‘Medina’ of Marrakech. We walked to each stop and everything seemed very close by, but within a myriad of paths and streets. Marrakech is the place to shop, but of course, we never seem to get enough time. They should give a alternate shopping schedule such as, those who want to stay longer in the market can meet at a certain time and those who don’t could go onto the visit to the mosque. I would forego the religious aspects of any tour to have more shopping time. Anyway, back to the available goods to shop for. There were the regular jewelry, leather products, clothes and shoes available, but there were also a great variety of things for the home that were of most interest, I thought. There were items such as; old leather suitcases and bags, old doors, beautiful woven carpets and Berber rugs, iron work, Berber pointy shoes or slippers, fabrics, scarves, clothes, paintings, antiques, coins, lamps, hanging lights, mosaic mirrors, different types and sizes of tassels, ceramics, Moroccan tiles, leather foot stools and furniture, dates, olives and other fruits.

Everything had the look of ‘Old Morocco’ and there was some fabulous finds. Of course, being the ship’s tour they always have to take you to a shop vs. the market. We went to a huge shop within the souk that sold everything. When there are time constraints on these types of outings, and I am in the shop where I need to do some fast browsing, I take advantage of the first person that says, ‘may I help you?’ I had this guy running ragged in the store, I described everything I wanted, he showed me the areas, I picked around, he picked around. He carried everything around for me. I need to have free hands to sort through everything and can’t be carrying a basket. I can never understand those people who send them away and say they are ‘just looking’.

Soon enough I had a little pile forming and I knew I would have to start the dance of the bargain. The way they worked it was you paid one price for the whole lot. I calculated what I thought things should cost back home and that was my high-end price and then I figured a fair price that I wanted to pay and we haggled back and forth and ‘voila’ I think I paid $80 for whole pile of stuff. The best part was how they packed everything for me to carry. They put everything inside each other and wrapped it all up and my pile fit in two shopping bags.

They then took us on a walk through the Souk (old Market) where there was everything to buy. However, the tour guides did seem to spend a lot more time in the shops they wanted you to shop in and moved through the market very quickly. Stay with the group or tell someone if you stop to buy something. We were lost for a few minutes and it was terrifying because it is a maze of alleyways and paths. Once out of the twisting and turning paths of the market you came out to the main square. I believe it was called ‘square if the dead’ and there were snake charmers around this area. It was bustling with people walking and riding motorbikes and scooters everywhere. It wouldn’t have been hard to get run over in this area. The snake charmers eyeballed me in the crowd right away (maybe it was because I was the only one getting right up to the cobra), they called me over and with in a second they had a snake around my neck. I loved them and we took some great pictures. I gave them $5 for the pictures and we moved on.

There were two hotels of note in Marrakech. La Mamounia is an incredible five star hotel that would be fabulous to stay for at least one night. It is supposed to be the best hotel in Morocco and is world famous. The Club Med in Marrkech is right around the corner off the main square of the market. An Excellent location, right there where you would want to be in the old city. Marrakech is definitely somewhere I would love to go for 5 or 7 days and just explore and take it all in.

As you can see, I thought this tour was well worth the money and the drive. Another great day!

We arrived back into Casablanca a little late but all the tour buses were together (I think there were three). We requested the bus driver to take us to see the Huge mosque at the waterfront. I believe this is the largest Mosque outside Saudi Arabia (Mecca) and Oman. You can tell the driver and Majid were very proud of it and wanted to take us to it, but they were worried about the time and being back to the ship. We were all yelling ‘this is a ship’s tour, they will wait for us’. Well after a bit of convincing we had the driver racing through downtown Casablanca and we came up to the mosque for a fast photo op. What an incredible sight it dominated the waterfront and parts are built right on top of the water.

When we arrived at the ship it was very close to 9pm and we had to go right into dinner. Of course, I had all my gear and purchases so we all compared what we did and what we bought during the day. Later on after dinner, when Casablanca was just a glimmer in the distance you could still see the bright lights of the mosque. It was now time to say ‘goodbye’ to Africa. Next up, Europe and the busiest part of our trip. It was going to be very port intensive for the rest of the itinerary.

Other Tours: Visit to Rabat or Casablanca City Tour for around $40 each.

DAY OF THE WEEK:
We were in Morocco on a Tuesday & Wednesday so it was business as usual and we had no problems with anything not being open.

APRIL 22TH GIBRALTAR 12PM TO 6PM

TEMP 16C/61F
HIGH 25C/77F
SKY: CLEAR
WIND NE FORCE 3
18 KNOTS
POSITION: Atlantic Ocean until the approach to the western end of Gibraltar Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) while going through the straight was really controlled.

The straight of Gibraltar is 7 miles point to point. Half way up the ‘rock’ is a Moorish castle about 700 years old. It flies the Union Jack. Gibraltar is self sufficient in regards to providing it own water and electricity. The population is 30,000 plus. The territory is 5km long and 1 km wide. Mount is 426m high. The town and harbour lie on the west side, the east side is very steep. On a clear day you can see Africa across the straight, we had a great view the day we were there. We had really been lucky with weather.

We were docked at the ‘North Mole’. Keep this in mind for any directions I give further on. This is a port that is easy to do on your own with out taking a ship’s tour. However, you must get to the cable car station if you are going up the rock on your own. Get there right away before the ship’s tours get there. I would consider taking a cab to the cable car station because from where the ship docks it is about a half hour walk to the main street. But this is the other end of the main street from where the cable car station is. It would be another 10 - 15 min walk to the other end (past all the shops). So with out getting lost it is about a 40-50 min walk to the cable car station (30 min at a really brisk pace/run). I do find the ship’s tours very over priced, but I do like the services of a guide to describe what you are seeing, history, everyday life etc. We spoke to some people at the tourist info counter and once we calculated the costs of the taxi to the station, the cable car itself, entrance to St Michael Cave it was more than the price to take the tour and have a guide. The taxi drives all over the rock so you don’t need the cable car (I think that was 7 pounds alone). Get a map from the tourist info centre. Once we went out of the port terminal building there were a lot of taxi tours available. For $30usd each we decided to get a taxi and guide after all.

Up on the rock we saw the Costa Fortuna coming into port. It is the 300th anniversary of British Gibratar 1704-2004.

There seemed to be two options when doing Gibraltar on your own.

Option 1: You can Take the cable car up to the top of "The Rock" and walk down - go into St. Michael's Cave on the way down, also you'll see the apes etc. - can detour over to see the Siege Tunnels. It's a beautiful walk on a clear day, and you can't get lost - you can always see the town below you, and the roads up on The Rock are fairly well signed.

Option 2 Taxi tour:
We planned to do the above but when we had six people with us we decided to do the taxi tour of the rock that many people said don't bother with. It was $30usd or 25 euros. It was about $5 more than you would spend anyway with the entrance to the cave and the cable car etc. For those who don’t want a lot of walking this was a good option. Our driver ‘John’, who was a native Gibraltarian drove us to all the sites and explained the facts and history. You go see the apes, cave, siege museum and then he drops you off at the beginning of Main street so you can walk from one end to the other. Here you will want to browse the shops, stroll the lovely streets and alleys and then you eventually get to the main square where you can sit in a café and enjoy the rest of the day.

Seemed to be lots of duty free shopping on electronics, gems and liquor. As usual the prices increased the closer to the end where the ships were. It was very beautiful and quaint. It reminded me a bit of Hamilton Bermuda.

On the walk back to the ship there is a Safeway grocery store where you could stock up on water, wine and provisions. You must take the street before you get to the pier compound. It looks like a residential street with a lot of pinky-beige condos. That’s the street. We missed it and then got to the pier area. We were getting tired so we decided to go back to the ship, have a rest and a bite then venture back out to find the Safeway. From the ship to the safe way it is about a 15-20 min short easy walk. Here you can buy “Cadbury“ British chocolate bars or provisions for the room. It was still very expensive – nothing was a bargain being in British Pound Sterling.

The starboard side had the better view today. They overlooked the port of Gibraltar. We were on the port side and we overlooked the Costa Fortuna. It was a nice looking ship but we liked the ‘Royal’ better. We saw the ‘Bolero’ seized in port and not a soul on her.

It was a beautiful sail away.

OTHER SHIP TOURS: Choice of about 4 Gibraltar tours for about $40-50 dollars each. In mini buses. The other tour that was a little different was a dolphin watch tour out on a sailboat in the bay about $45.

APRIL 23RD ALICANTE SPAIN 12 PM TO 6PM

TEMP 16C/61F
HIGH 25C/77F
MAINLY SUNNY
SEAS: SLIGHT
POSITION: MEDITERRANEAN
20 KNOTS

We originally had booked the Princess Tour ‘ELCHE & ALICANTE’ for $40. It took you to an archeological dig that dated back to the ‘stone age’. We then later found out the dig, would not be operating we would only be walking through where the dig was and so we decided we would take this day to just enjoy Alicante and stroll the promenade. Alicante has been called the ‘best place on earth’ and I can see why. You can walk up to the Castillo Santa Barbara, take a walk on the esplanada de espana or just sit in a café and sip coffee and watch the boats in the harbour.

We went to the municipal market it sold mainly fruit, vegetables, meats and flowers. The market was extremely clean and very appetizing. However, the best part of the market was that I found 10 euros. Which I in turn bought a pair of euro-style designer ‘knock-off’ sunglasses they were selling on the promenade in front of the sailboat harbour. There was an excellent beach on med sea that was packed with people enjoying their time off for siesta between 12 & 4pm. We sat for a while on some chairs that are available on the esplanada de espana (pedestrian walkway) and just watched the afternoon go by it was absolutely beautiful there.

Today the temperature definitely hit the high. Alicante has a population of about 300,000. It is a large town with a city-like feel. There is a brand new cruise terminal building it’s very attractive. The other thing that was very attractive was the ‘Men’ you could tell you were now in Spain. The people (men and women) seem to be beautiful ‘inside and out’. When we came back from our great day in a great port all the ladies got carnations. What a sweet gesture! A great port!

The starboard side again had the better view today. They had the city view with the great view of the fort high a top the mountain. Port side (our view) just had the gorgeous Med Sea to look at. Okay both sides were good!

Alicante would be a great vacation destination as well if traveling to Spain. There was another place called ‘Benidorm’ which was about 25miles down the coast. There, there are hundreds of hotel rooms and thousands of condos for rent. They have a fabulous nightlife that rivals ‘Ibiza’. Two hotels in Alicante that were noteworthy would be the ‘Melia Alicante’ and the ‘Alicante TYRP’. These are two well known Spanish hotel chains.

OTHER SHIP TOURS: Two city tours for about $40 each they both go to the fortress etc. or there was a tour to an 8th century village called Guadalest $40+. Two of our tablemates enjoyed this tour, however, to totally miss seeing Alicante and I thought this port had a lot of charm on its own.

APRIL 24TH BARCELONA SPAIN 8AM TO 5PM

Barcelona is a traveler’s dream. Beautiful and clean, cultural and cosmopolitan. It is a city of 4 million people. Having one day is not going to be enough. Everyone loved Barcelona.

Again, we had a spectacular day in regards to weather. Sunny, clear skies and a cool light breeze. Perfect for sightseeing.

Things to see here include; Las Ramblas – a famous store lined pedestrian walkway, the Gothic Quarter, Olympic park & ‘anything Gaudi’ (including Park Guell and the ‘La Sagrada Famillia).

Today we used the services of the ‘Turistic’ bus. Barcelona’s hop on/off bus (two different lines ‘red’ and ‘blue’). When we got off the ship, we were hoping to catch the hop on/off bus right there. There were none there and they didn’t appear to make stops there. Moving on to plan B, we knew we were very interested in seeing the Cathedral ‘La Sagrada Famillia’ the most. So we decided to take a cab straight to the cathedral. We got there around 8:30am and it opened at 9am. NOTE: to anyone really wanting to see this site this would be a great plan to follow. There was nobody there yet, we walked around the outside for half an hour just taking in the detail and workmanship and there was a lot to take in. Then we got in right away when it opened, we had time to look around with only a handful of people in this giant cathedral. What was very unexpected was that it was still fully under construction!. There was scaffolding and buckets of cement and pieces of unfinished columns and decorations scattered everywhere. I knew there was a roof on the building, but I don’t know what I was thinking. Where else can you see a cathedral, hundreds of years old and still being constructed? Anyone the least bit interested in architecture this will be your favorite stop. After looking around a bit, we then we got in line to go on the elevators up to the top of the spires. There was already a line of a few people forming. I think it cost 2 euro for the elevator (well worth it)! I read in some research before going some posters said the ‘elevator was out of service so they just hiked it up the stairs for free’. Let me clear this up! The elevator is worth it, it is a pretty far hike. And let me make this clear, for anyone with a fear of heights or in my case, a fear of staircases (or falling down the stairs). Take the elevator back down!!!! Once at the top the view was spectacular. If you wanted to you could walk up even higher.

The elevator part was fine but I somehow was talked into going down the stairs and they were very scary as I am afraid of winding stairs as well as heights. There were big holes in the walls where I felt I would fall, there were these crazy balconies that had big cut outs in the floors this was 100+ feet high. At some point the stairs become really tiny and like a winding spiral. The best part was that there was no centre pillar so if you looked down the centre of the tower there was nothing to catch you or to hold onto!! This was a very traumatic experience at 9:30am. I crept down those stairs and when I reached the bottom, short of kissing the ground, my heart was pounding and my legs were all wobbly it is unbelievable how the mind controls your body.

The overall work of this church is beyond intricate. There is a museum underneath explaining what they are doing and explaining all about Gaudi. I ended up buying a book so I can read up on it at a later date. We didn’t have time to see as much as we wanted to.

I saw the ship tour buses and be aware, if they mention a stop as a photo op this means from the bus. The bus tour I saw go by only stopped for a moment. So if you want to enjoy the cathedral keep this in mind.

After we left the church, we caught the hop on/off bus right out front of the Cathedral. The stop was on the left hand side if you are walking out of the church and then across the street. NOTE: this is on the ‘Passions’ side of the church (the side with Jesus dying on the cross). The other side of the church, shows the ‘Nativity’ Christmas theme. You will see the bus stop for the hop/on/off ‘Turistic’ bus the symbol is an eye with big eyelashes.

We mostly rode the turistic bus around. We caught the red line on the corner in front of the church and bought the tickets on board. They were about 21 euros. By the way, the cab from the ship to the Gaudi Cathedral was 15 euros.

If time permits, what we usually do is take the bus all the way around the route once to get the narration as well as the lay of the land. We took the red line most of the way around and then switched to the blue line. We took the blue line pretty much the whole way. Went to Olympic park and way up in the surrounding hills of Barcelona and then over to the ‘Red Line’ intersection to go back to ‘Parc Guell’ (pronounced Park Way). The city was very busy especially around Las Ramblas, people were packed in 20 deep. When we made our way up to Parc Guell it was also packed. We barely got a chance to see some of the Gaudi Mosaics and we were out of time and it was getting ‘down to the wire’. We had to grab a cab and get right back to the port. We would have to save Las Ramblas, the Gothic Quarter and the rest of Parc Guell for the next visit.

A few notes on the Turistic bus. We enjoyed it very much and thought it was very good value. However, they announce the stops but they do not have a narrative of the sights. They provide a map and guide where you can read about the sights. I like to hear about the sights while I am looking at them. I find it hard to read in a bouncing bus the same time you are trying to look around. The second item is go to your most important stops first thing in the morning. I was very glad we went to the Sagrada Famillia first but we should have then high tailed it to the Parc Guell. It would have been empty while we were riding around on the bus. Then the bus took way longer than we ever anticipated to get back and then the Parc was packed in the middle of the afternoon.

If you like Dr.Suess you will really like the ‘Gaudi’ architecture. Everything is rounded and no square angles and a lot of crazy shapes and creatures. I just loved everything Gaudi. Also the Gothic Quarter is also supposed to be fantastic as well. Las Ramblas even though it will be busy in the afternoon, I think it can be left to the afternoon because being busy just adds to it’s excitement. Be careful of pick pockets anywhere people are pushed up close together.

There were a few little shops with souvenirs at the cruise terminal. Where you could buy last minute postcards, Spanish dolls and other souvenirs.

Everybody liked Barcelona it was a very popular stop and certainly a place that would be nice to stay in. We didn't get a chance to walk down La Rambla (Las Ramblas) but many did. It seemed like a far walk from the ship's berth to anywhere so we would have cabbed it.

A handy website I used to get information on what to see was www.barcelona-traveller-guide.com

OTHER SHIP TOURS: The regular big city choices; half day tours from $30-50 city drives and a museum stop. This city you can research ahead of time and see what you want on your own. The full day tour $100 went to Montserrat and included a city drive of Barcelona. This I guess could be an option if you have seen enough of Barcelona on previous visits. The cathedral was one of my favorite places, not the usual church visit. It is still all under construction so take the time to go inside.

Well it is coming to the last few days of this journey, I guess you are probably thinking this review is coming to a close? Well guess again, go get a snack and a beverage because the three busiest days of the trip are coming up with lots to see and lots to report.

APRIL 25TH CANNES, FRANCE 9AM TO 7PM

Showers in the AM
Sunny in the PM
TEMP 20-22C

Famous for the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ as well as a gateway to St Tropez, Villefrance, Nice and Monaco. Ships that stop in the French Riviera often stop at Villefrance. Both Cannes (Kan) and Villefrance (Vilfronz) are tender stops. Both are excellent for port stops.

We had booked in the weeks prior with Alain from dream tours (E-mail Address: infos@dream-tours.com). I had also read about ‘Sylvie’ who is prominently recommended on the CC boards as well. I had e-mailed them both and usually wait for the first person to respond and usually I end up going with them. Alain responded very promptly and he was so wonderful to correspond with I fell in love with him and his great passion for our tour right away. He seemed as excited about the tour as I was, you gotta love that!

I must note that I did send another e-mail to Sylvie requesting information. She responded very promptly as well and mentioned she had never received the first e-mail. Well I found out later, that when I replied using the link from her website it created an error in my MS Outlook (I use AOL) and there was the e-mail never sent! So to her defense she didn’t get a chance to respond to me. When I finally did get in contact with her she was wonderful to deal with as well and I could see how others liked her. I felt bad for saying I already found someone else, but I knew Alain was for us. I told Alain where and what I was interested in and asked him to recommend some other attractions to round our visit. He came back with a great itinerary and I was very excited.

Below I have copied his original plan from an e-mail he sent.

Pick up at the port (Cannes) to direction of Monaco.

First stop on the way in Eze village to visit if you wish one perfume factory to see the secret of making perfumes and cosmetics.

After that direction of Monaco to visit everything.

Walking 1) The Old town with the Prince Palace Square, the Cathedral

Walking 2) Monte-Carlo and the famous Casino, the Golden Square, the very nice Hotel de Paris

3) City tour, formule1 race circuit, beach area.

Back to Nice with Panorama, maybe if you wish the chocolate and jam factory

the Old town with the famous flower market, and maybe a free time there to have a lunch.

4) Direction of St Paul de Vence,walking in the medieval village well known for the presence of artists, painters, stars of show business, and actors.

5) continue direction of Cannes to see the Film festival Palace, the beaches, and Hotel Palace.

6) Back to your boat.

As I mentioned we had to tender in so all the tours go first, and we made sure we went to the area they give out the tender tickets earlier than posted. The way the ship and the port authority worked the tender process was extremely efficient. We used about four of our own tenders (so there was one always waiting) as well as a huge tender from the port. This tender was even bigger than the large ones I’ve seen used in Grand Cayman and Cancun. It must have held 300 passengers easily. We actually got out and over to Cannes earlier than we hoped for. We got off the tender and walked to the steps and there was Frederic standing there holding a sign with our name on it. He greeted us hello and asked if we were sorry not to be meeting Alain. I said I loved Alain’s correspondence so much I was hoping to meet him. But Frederic quickly surpassed any concerns we may have had.

He told us about how he was born is Cannes (an actual native!) they are called ‘Canois’ but now he lives in Beaulieu sur Mer. We drove around Cannes seeing the Film Festival Palace, Casino, Hotels and the Croisette (the seaside walk). It was so early no one was even on the streets yet. We drove to a vantage point at the Cap de la Croisette, where we could see the ship and a good view of the bay area. Just off the mainland in front of us was the island, where the prison that was made famous from the Leonardo DeCaprio film ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ was. I had forgotten that was a true story.

On towards Monaco, had explained to us we were going to drive down the coast further than the eye could see at this point. He also mentioned right away that the ‘Nice Marathon’ was running that day and it would be very busy so he wanted to go straight to Monaco right away while it was busy in Nice.

The entire tour was supposed to be approx. 8 hours or a full day tour. We were planning to eat lunch in Monaco, on Frederic’s recommendation. He said ‘you can’t go wrong in Monaco’ it is always nice! However, the day’s plan and where we went essentially was up to us. We always let the guides take the lead, first of all they want us to enjoy it and secondly, they live there and they are the experts. The main thing I was fairly interested in seeing Monaco and the F1 track etc so Frederic focused on showing us a lot of Monaco and Monte Carlo.

We went through all the coastal towns on the way;

Juan Les Pins – a gorgeous little seaside town that had a lot of jazz clubs, cafes, casinos, night clubs and places to stay. Again it was very early morning when we were driving through and it was just before the season started so it was very pretty and sleepy looking. Although I could see how this would just be booming at night and busy during the summer months. This would be the place I would like to stay for a longer visit. Frederic mentioned they had a great Jazz Festival in the summer.

Antibes – again very sleepy at the moment we drove through but extremely picturesque. Picturesque is a word I could to describe all these towns and villages on the French Riviera.

Nice – we approached Nice and you can tell because you come upon this huge complex shaped like an Aztec Pyramid. It is a condo/,marina complex the ‘Marina Baie des Anges’, it looks like it should be in Cancun not on the outskirts of Nice. I knew all about it because my parents had stayed there a few years ago for the month of March. Probably to the locals it is an eyesore. By the time we approached Nice, it started to get very busy and backed up from the Marathon blocking off the access to the shore.

This gave us a good overview of the town because we had to take many detours and navigate all the one-way and narrow streets. I did notice the ‘Sheraton Four Points’ in Nice looked very good and had a great location. I try to note affordable hotels in good locations for future visits. The ‘Comfort Hotel’ also was right in the centre of Nice, excellent location.

We passed the market area, famous for its flowers and food. There looked to be many little places to walk around and browse in shops. Frederic was always asking if we would like to stop but we pressed on. Then we knew when he said ‘we are going to stop here’, that it was a good spot to see.

We drove around many of the streets and it was so interesting because Frederic would say ‘my friend owns this shop’ and knew people that worked here and there. You just don’t get that personal knowledge of your guides on the big tours. Also we had that van going in and around all the little alleyways and streets.

We approached a very panoramic view atop a large hill one side over looked where we had been, Cannes, way in the distance and then Antibes, Nice in the fore ground. It was so populated with the beautiful terra cotta roofed buildings and Villas. We took some great pictures and then we drove to the other side of the hill. On this side we had a view of Villefranche and Beaulieu sur mer. This is a view that is burned into my imagination, what an exquisite coast! The bluest sky with terra cotta rooftops against the Mediterranean Sea. The water is many shades ranging from emerald green to sapphire blue (even the colour of the sea was expensive). Frederic mentioned the water is always more beautiful and clear at the beginning of the season when the numerous people and boats haven’t churned it all up. He lived in Beaulieu sur Mer and beautiful it was. I could see why he was attracted to it. For those cruise passengers that call in Villefranche it is very beautiful. He pointed out a few favorite haunts of famous actors and musicians. Then we were off to Monaco.

As we were approaching Monaco the clouds had all disappeared and a beautiful day had arrived. Frederic said ‘Yes, of course! It is always sunny in Monaco’.

When got to Monaco we saw Prince Albert’s Mercedes and a motorcade how exciting! But when they passed us it was his car but he wasn’t in it. Frederic also told us that Albert was getting ready to take over the duties of the throne when it is passed on to him.

We went to the area Monte Carlo and its famous casino, the hotel de Paris and the beautiful gardens. This area is jammed from the morning until night. There some rules for the Casino, you must be dressed according to dress code, you have to check your bags at the door (it is very safe to do so) and you must pay a cover regardless if you are gambling or not. The documentation states you need your passports for the casino. Actually you only need it to collect winnings over 750 euros. The ship didn’t give everyone’s passports back out to the passengers but if you wanted it you have it you must remember to get it before you get on the tenders. We didn't feel the need to go into the Casino, one thing I never enjoy are places that are packed with tourists.

It was King Charles of Monaco that started the Casino and it is such as cash cow that no one in Monaco has to pay tax, it foots the bill for the entire principality. (I’m glad I saved my money). So back to Charles…the Casino is on a mountain…get it…Monte Carlo!?!

After taking our pictures of the rich and richer and their Bentleys and drivers. We moved on towards the Cathedral and Palace area. Frederic told us he was going to drop us off in front of the Cathedral and go look for parking. Parking as you could imagine can be a real problem, so he told us to wait for about 5 minutes or so and he would be back. If he didn’t come back he told us to go walk around the area and meet him back in 40 minutes because he would have to stay with the car. We barely changed our film and there he was all ready to go for a walk. We went to the Cathedral first, very regal but your basic cathedral in style. I guess it’s the grave sites and thoughts of Princess Grace Marrying Prince Rainier that gives you a feeling of nostalgia. After the Cathedral we walked along the narrow streets of Monaco. Many cafes and shops nestled among pastel buildings. Monaco is so clean you could eat off the sidewalks it seems.

We walked through a large café area behind the Cathedral and we saw a lot of fellow passengers and friends from the Royal Princess. I asked Frederic if we would be eating lunch here and he said ‘no’ it was too expensive here (so keep that in mind). We walked along and I got some souvenirs from the Formula 1 Grand Prix that was going to be taking place in a month. If you are interested in F1 don’t worry about finding souvenirs and items. Everything is F1 in Monaco at this time of year. Frederic also mentioned the Prince’s official souvenir shop was good for F1 souvenirs. I thought ‘is he crazy they’re going to cost a fortune there’. Well I learned my lesson not to doubt my dear Frederic, he was right. At the prince’s shop right across from the palace, they had official F1 and Ferrari souvenirs a really good selection for a good price. They weren’t cheap by any means, but nothing concerning F1 ever is.

We missed the changing of the guard at the palace and Frederic also told us that this is a time when the Prince chooses to come into the palace. Apparently, he drives right in while the hoards are watching the guards. He just drives in right behind everyone. So watch for this in future, you may just catch a glimpse. Prince Rainier was in residence the day we were there. You can see the flag, which denotes he’s in. In the summer, you can take tours of the Palace when they are not around.

We walked around the top of the hill overlooking the many condos and yachts surrounding the seaside then we went back to the van. He had excellent parking right there, he said only locals seem to know about it because it’s hidden away. Sometimes you get lucky and find a spot.

We were ready to move onto the Grand Prix circuit that was one of my personal requests. We drive the track which is one of the only the ones that is comprised of the city streets. There is one hairpin turn over towards the casino that they must slow down to navigate during the race. Now here I was being driven around it after watching for many years on TV, I love it! Monaco is certainly the playground of the rich and privileged. If you don’t want a view looking over the principality, or the Grand Prix track, you can have a condo overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, what decisions!?!

We parked again right near the ‘poll positions’ at the starting line for the race and Frederic told us he wanted to go to an Italian restaurant he knows for lunch. I guess because it was Sunday it was closed. So we headed for another just along further down the street, along the marina. It was a nice outdoor café and they had a good selection of pizzas and pastas. We had a personal pizza each, a drink and a coffee (espresso) after lunch and it came to less than $50 Euro plus tip. I thought it was very comparable to similar places in any city and what a location! In fact, I could have shared my pizza with Lisa, half each would be plenty, neither of us finished ours. I ordered a bunch of seafood on mine that she wasn’t interested in, so we each got our own. We always invite the tour guide to eat with us, it is nice to share their company and it’s nice to be in the company with locals, it makes me feel like less of a tourist.

After lunch we stopped by the Dream Tour office. They have an office right in Monaco on Rue Grimaldi (nice address). Since we wanted to pay in visa Frederic asked if we could take a moment to stop in and process the Visa payments on their machine. No problem! In fact I wanted to go see their office. Of course there was no one else there, it was locked up tight, being Sunday and all. We picked up some brochures and once again we were off. If we were to return to the French Riviera again, we would definitely use their services again.

Once we were back in the van we drove all through the streets of Monaco, he showed us hotels we could stay at, expensive condos, the beach area and the new convention centre. After we saw all we wanted to see in Monaco we were off towards other locals.

The next stop was Eze, we had planned to see a French perfume factory which would have been of interest to us, but at this point looking at our watches we didn’t want to spend the time. We drove right up to the base of the Medieval town of Eze. I remembered my mother saying they walked up from the train station, she said by the time they made it up the trail she could barely navigate Eze. It was up a mountainside and you must take this into consideration. However, there is a shuttle-type bus that runs very seldom, but it’s an option or you can take a cab. In fact, my mom said it was steep to walk back down that they wanted for the bus a long time but they didn’t want to walk back down. We were very glad to have the services of Frederic he told us where to walk and what to look for within the town. Eze was gorgeous I would have liked to have had more time here, however, I couldn’t have spent the day here. I would have tired of all the stores with items I can’t afford or have no room for in my luggage. A couple of hours here would have been perfect. Eze had many shops selling paintings, French perfumes, chocolates, spices, herbs, anything that you think of when you think French provincial. I bought some vintage postcards and Lisa bought some watercolours. Then we went to look for Frederic at the meeting place.

The next stop was St Paul de Vence. We drive towards there on the autoroute so we could get there faster. This was another Medieval Artisan town. It was so gracious looking sitting a top the mountain as we approached. Very similar to Eze, it is made up of tiny alley ways and small pedestrian streets. These streets are lines with shops, cafes, chocolate or ice cream shops. We sat for a spell and looked over the French countryside and marveled at the beauty of this area. We took a number of pictures and then went back to the van.

At this time I was realizing our day in the French Riviera was coming to a close. As I looked at my watch it was coming to a close very fast! The ship sailed at 7pm with the last tender being at 6:30pm. It was now 5:30 and we were still at least 40 min from Cannes. At this point, I start to become a worry wart. I never want to be one of those people to have to catch up to the next port so I usually like to be back at least half hour to forty minutes before the sail away time. This was even a tender port so you couldn’t just run up to the ship. Frederic was putting pedal to the metal. He was assuring us we would not miss the ship, but if we did he could get us to the next port of Livorno, because Monaco is right at the Italian border. He also assured us it would only be a three hour drive (well it was nice to know we had options). Then Frederic says that he wants to make one more stop and then show us around Cannes. ‘I don’t think we have time!?!’ we replied and he said ‘I still want to show you more!’ Well we made him go straight back to the tender dock. We made it back safely and with a lot of time to spare. Once again, we could have listened to Frederic. After all, he is the expert! The worry wart is my mother coming out in me.

We kissed goodbye and thanked him for the wonderful day and the great memories. Back on the ship we sat out on our favorite haunt (the balcony) for a rest and to watch the ship get ready to sail away towards Italy. That night I will never forget, there was the reddest sunset over Cannes I have ever seen! The colour was oozing between the mountains and the clouds like lava erupting from a volcano.

I could have stayed and watched the sail away for another few hours it was beautiful to see all the bays and areas we had been all day from the sea. However, it was formal night and I had to go take a shower and select an outfit.

After dinner we took pictures of our table mates and waiters along with all the other favorite waiters (Roberto and Rico) from the weeks past.

The last formal night is the night Princess has the champagne waterfall. After dinner we went to the trivia meet and then watched the placing of the glasses and the pouring of the champagne for the waterfall. After that, I dropped into bed. We had a big day ahead of us touring Florence.

OTHER SHIP TOURS: This port mainly offered some big full day tours; Monaco & Monte Carlo $150+ takes you to all the sights but I think it is a lot of money to spend to be on a bus with 80+ people. There was also a Monaco on your own for $65+ where the ship takes you to Monaco dumps you off to do what you want and then takes you back. This may be a good option to those who don’t want to try the train, however, you don’t get the narration of a guide to explain the sights.

For those interested in the other side of Cannes a tour to St Tropez for $140 is offered. There were also tours offered to each of St Paul, Nice, St Raphael & Antibes. These tours were ranging from $45-100. I still think the tour booked independently was worth it because we saw all these places and more.

APRIL 26TH LIVORNO ITALY 7AM TO 7PM

TEMP 13C/55F
HIGH MID 60S/LOW 20S
FRESH BREEZE

Here it was the second last day of our trip and I was actually up early enough to go out and watch the sunrise. We were just pulling into the harbour at Livorno Italy. Today we reserved a tour to take us to both Pisa and Florence with the tour services of www.driverinrome.com The tour we booked was called the 'Exclusive Florence and Pisa tour' on their website. We just did it myself and my sister, so there was only two of us in the van but the van could accommodate a lot more. I would think that six people would be the most I would have because with six pax everyone could have a window seat.

We got off the ship about 8am and Pepe was waiting for us. He had a brand spanking new van with only a few kms on it. That was nice. Everyone had their own controls for heat and A/C. But we didn’t have an entire vanload it was just me and Lisa. After our introductions with Pepe (Guiseppe), we were off to Pisa right away.

It took about 20 min to drive to Pisa by way of the Italian Countryside. When we got to the square ‘Campo dei Miracoli’ where the Leaning tower is. Pepe told us exactly what to look for, where to go, what to see and we said we would be back in 40 minutes. He stayed with the van. When you walked through the gates there is a long pedestrian street. One side is filled with souvenir kiosks, the other side is the lawn where the baptistry, the Duomo and of course, the leaning tower. We some how managed to get one of those days where there was not a cloud in the sky and the blue sky against the white tower made for some outstanding photos. To the right and the left of the tower were the offices where you could get tickets to climb up to the top of the tower. Lisa and I knew we were taking this tour and so we ordered (and paid) for the tickets in advance. Daniele & Monia from driverinrome.com whom we were in contact in the weeks prior to leaving told us what time to book the tickets for and there was a link to the ‘tower ticket’ website from their wesite. It was easy to follow along. You must pick the data and time and fill in the required information including credit card and passport numbers. It cost about 17 euros. We had 9:30 reservations to climb the tower. Unfortunately, after the ‘Spire Stairway’ incident from the day before in Barcelona. There was no way I was climbing this. If they would have let me start out and come back down it I didn’t feel comfortable, I may have given it a try. Also you had to climb up to the eighth level before you could go out on the balconies. I wasn’t going to climb that high up to realize what I already know. I hate spiral stairs…so I was out. It was fairly regimented. You went up with the group and a guard and you had certain amount of time up there. For those interested, don’t think I am talking you out of it. If I didn’t have this affliction I would have loved to go up just to say ‘I was up there’. It is well worth it. It is even more worth it to get the tickets in advance and avoid the lines. I bought the tickets a month ahead of time and here are the directions the website gave me when I printed out the ticket vouchers…..

Due to the tower restorations, we regret for the inconveniences may occur during the visit.

SALE INFORMATION
· For security reasons, children under 8 years are not allowed to access the Leaning Tower . · After downloading the voucher, the tourist will have to go to the ticket offices of Opera della Primaziale Pisana working in Piazza del Duomo di Pisa at least 1 hour before starting the visit. · At the voucher handing the cashier will be given the ticket valid for the visit in the time showed on the voucher itself. · You must show the cashier the same document printed in the tickets purchase procedure. Tourists will have to go to the proper left-luggage office to leave voluntarily bags/luggage before starting the visit. · The visit will last about 35/40 minutes on the whole and tourists will be led by the staff of Opera della Primaziale Pisana.

I guess we were still early enough in the season, it was empty on the lawn and a mixture of people around the tower. I have heard from others that have visited more during the tourist season or even later into the day that this area gets jammed packed. We are so lucky we saw it when there was no one around.

The tower was begun in 1174 and finally finished in 1350. Unless engineers can put a halt to it's tilt, it is speculated that the tower structure will collapse in the next two hundred years. Currently it is leaning 16 feet out of perpendicular.

On the way back to the van we came across a little kiosk selling ‘knock off’ designer purses. This was on my list to get a bag from the Louis Vuitton ‘Rainbow’ collection. I saw them as I walked by and the first thing I thought is ‘they are going to be a rip off in this tourist trap of all tourist traps’. I mentioned to Lisa and she said ‘we better check them out’. Again, I went in with my mind set on what I wanted to pay as well as what I would be willing to pay. Since I really wanted this bag, I was willing to pay about 20 to 30 euros. Then we went in with all the set rules;
1. know what you want to pay before you start
2. enter the area smiling (flirting doesn’t hurt) making small conversation – be very friendly
3. act like you don’t know what you’re doing
4. inquire about a (similar) item that you are not interested in at all and start setting precedence
5. when he highballs – you lowball
6. when you aren’t getting anywhere yet you feel you’re getting a response
7. this is the time to go to what you really want, all the while you are acting nonchalant and are ready to ‘pretend’ to walk away.
8. At this point go in for the kill and take no prisoners

Well he came out with the initial price that I thought was totally doable (it must have been this guys first day). Lisa didn’t think it was low enough. I think he asked for 20 or 25 euros. We banded together (which always works) she had two or three bags, I just wanted the one. It was a real whirlwind & we were all over the place. Then Lisa said ’40 euros for everything’. He didn’t know what hit him. We slapped the money into his hands and he was packing up the bags.
Victory was enjoyed. He sold four bags and we were proud new owners.

I can’t stress enough to the shoppers, ‘strike while the irons hot’! This is my new motto and I haven’t been disappointed since I adopted it. Buy the item and never look or price it out again. Move on to the next item!! I’ll have you know we did not see those bags again the whole day in Florence and once we got to Rome we were way to busy to shop so if we didn’t ‘strike’ we would have been ‘out of luck’!! I think that purse in my favorite purchase of the trip. Since then I have only seen the knockoffs (fakes) on the internet and they are around $149USD for the exact same bag same wrapping and everything. I think we did quite well.

After we put our wallets back into their holsters, we met Pepe and we were off to Firenze via the autostrata for a 90 minute drive.

It was a Monday so we knew that none of the Museums would be opened. That was OK because you couldn't do both the outdoor sights and museums. There just would not be enough time. So we figure we would do all the driving around with Pepe get a great overview and go back some other time to do the museums. Had they been open I would have seen David for sure at the Accademia Gallery. But there was so much to see, having the museums closed almost relieved us of some of the ‘pressure’ to get it all done.

As it was we saw a lot! We drove to the hill where you get that exquisite vantage point of Florence. I think it is called the Piazzale Michaelangelo and it was the best views of the various bridges and the Arno river. This is ‘the’ spot that everyone who has been to Florence has a photo of all the terra cotta roofs, steeples and domes of Florence. It is quite exquisite.

The next stop was the Santa Croce Church and the piazza di Santa Croce square, we had free time there. Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei were all buried inside this church and you can see the funeral monuments. You can spend some time in the square and there are some gardens as well as a leather school to the side of the church. We took about 40 mins and we went on to the next stop. The time was all up to us we could stop where we wanted and spent as much time as we wanted. Since he was the expert we let him tell us how much time we should be spending to get a good idea and then move on to the next item.

Pepe had mentioned some interesting tidbit such as Italy had 92,000 churches. All Italian words come from Greek or Latin origins. The upper class spoke Greek and the ordinary folk spoke Latin. Pepe also mentioned that Caesar named Florence. He was traveling from Rome through the valleys and he came upon many flowers, hence the name ‘Florence’. You never know how true this stuff is, so bear this in mind.

Next we went to the Piazza Duomo and the Santa Maria del Fiore church. Work began in 1296 and 140 years later it was opened. The Duomo itself was frescoed in 1572-1579. Here we had free time there to have lunch in a cafe just around the side of the church. We looked around inside the cathedral and the Bapistry as well as the museum to see the Unfinished "pieta" of Michaelangelo and get a good idea of the history of the cathedral. I still don’t understand why that museum was open? My sister climbed the 464 steps to the very top of the Duomo. I thought she was crazy, but she said it was great. Outside in the square I bought a painting of a scene of the red roofs of Firenze. I also bought a book of Florence called the ‘Golden Book of Florence’ I bought the same book of Rome as well. These books are great. They are cheap easy to pack and have Maps, history, they describe all the art and things in the museums that you forgot. They are a great aid to use to decipher where and what the subjects of your pictures of. They are about 8 euros and they sell them everywhere.

After we met back up with Pepe about 2 hours later. We were off to the Piazza della Signoria ‘the heart of Florentine life’ and then to the Ponte Vecchio to check out all the jewelry shops. On the way to the square we drive by the Pitti Palace which was also closed on Monday. The Pitti palace was home of Medici family rich in the history of Florence.

The Piazza della Signoria is the square out front of the Accademia Gallery where we would have seen the sculpture of David. In the square was a replica of David (but just not of the same greatness as the original) and there was also a huge fountain dedicated to Neptune. My favorite sculpture, Perseus sculpted by Cellini in bronze 1500-1571 depicting the ‘killing of Medusa’ is also in the square. It’s just such a cool statue. This is the square where everything in the movies depicting Italy is filmed. I have seen this square so many times in the movies I felt like I had been there already.

Florence is overwhelming in its wealth of art, history and culture. It is the ‘Renaissance city’ and it is a ‘must see’. I couldn’t see getting tired of going to Florence it is absolutely fabulous and almost fairy-tale-esque.

Here are some general Notes from the tour’s website at www.driverinrome.com.

Please dress respectfully for visiting religious monuments; local custom requires covering knees and shoulder. Comfortable walking shoes recommended. The vehicle will escort you for the entire tour. Walking is limited unlike bus tour where you have to walk approximately 5 miles during the whole day. The tour sequence may be altered to avoid congestion but always covering mentioned sights.

!! Keep an eye on your wallet and purses at all time. Do not wear jewelry or carry large amount of cash It is best to make an advanced reservation for the Accademia museum and the Uffizzi gallery. If needed please ask us and we will provide it at no extra cost.

Again, if it were not Monday, there would be more options in Florence, but perhaps it would be busier. Monday or not we saw some great things and I knew going in that we would have to return to Florence someday anyway, so the way I see it ‘A Monday in Florence is better than a Monday at home’.

OTHER SHIP TOURS: Same as other ports Full day tours range from $100-200 going to Florence (and Pisa) or to the Tuscan countryside. There is also the ‘Florence on your own’ option for $70. The half day tours go for about $50 and went to Lucca, Tuscan wine tasting and Pisa.

A word on the ships tours:

Of all the trips I have been on, or organized on my own, either privately or through the ship. I have had probably four completely horrible experiences and they have all been half day ship tours. I was never reimbursed or compensated for any of them. I find the ship’s half day tours are often ‘hit & miss’. Since our bad experiences, I avoid these ship’s tours like the plague. If there is nothing else offered such as a private tour or something I can organize myself or even a ship full day tour, only then I will take the ship half day tour. They (the cruise lines) don’t seem to care if you have a good tour or good value of the tours. The long and short of it is they charge through the nose and don’t always deliver. The full day tours are very expensive so I guess they must do a better job because they couldn’t take that money in good faith and deliver mediocre tours. Actually I must admit the full day ship tours have always really been enjoyable and I have taken many.

Since this was our last night and we had to go back to the cabin and pack I will take this time to talk about various aspects of the ship instead of reliving the horrible packing moments.

SHIP
Beautiful, cozy and elegant. The 10 days after we docked in Rome she was being refurbished. While we were waiting for our ride at the pier I noticed she was getting new chairs delivered for the lounges, new railings on the balconies and the crew mentioned new carpets.

There were vibrations in the dining room from the engines but nothing to worry about. The most scary thing about the ship is probably the plumbing. I was never quite comfortable with it and it did brake down a few times. But as you can see that isn’t the end of the world. I would love to sail on this ship again. It reminded me of the way things should be on a Princess cruise elegant, attention to detail and intimate.

Built in Helsinki in 1984, it is 44,588 gross tonnes. The dining room was on deck 2 Plaza Deck along with the purser’s desk, main entrance/staircase and shore excursion desk. Mostly everything else was on Deck 3 Riviera Deck. On this deck starting from the aft and going forward you would find; Riviera Club Lounge, future cruise office, library and some PCs for internet use. The PCs were pretty lacking, but that gave an excuse not to feel tempted to check in with work.

Then coming towards midship you will find the Casino, the boutiques, Princess Court (where they had the shop’s sidewalk sales everyday at sea), photo shop, princess theatre (movies),bridge and game room and finally International Lounge at the forward end. The International Lounge is where all the production shows, lectures and bingo would take place.

Our room was A224 mini suite and boy did we love that room and the balcony, of course!

ENTERTAINMENT

The entertainment was a negative for me. I think we were spoiled on the Celebrity Constellation last summer on our Baltic cruise. They had West End singers and a concert pianist from London. They had a retired astronaut from the Apollo missions. They even had Cirque de Soleil acrobats. This entertainment was magnifique!! Celebrity was like a downtown performance and Royal Princess was like a country fair.

I understand that it is a smaller venue but they seemed to be accommodating more ‘down home’ entertainment than art. They had a juggler, a banjo player and a harmonica player…do we see a pattern here. The male headliner was such a clod he reminded me of Eugene Levy doing a spoof of a bad lounge act. I’m not being cruel here I am stating the truth, people were walking out of the shows like steady stream and sometimes I had to leave because I was worried I was going to start laughing and I wasn’t in the comedy show. They finally got a comedian on board in the last week on board. And he was about 20 years past retirement. I mean when I go to a Jazz club I like hearing ‘the standards’. However, in a comedy show I don’t want to hear the same old jokes. I have been on many princess cruises – mostly small ships and this was by far the worst line up I have seen in a long time. I hold the cruise director responsible for this. He was pretty hokey himself.

I’m not going to mention the names of these less than desired acts because I don’t think it would be fair. I am only going to note the exceptions.

The female headliner Laurie Miller was great. We had met her the first day in Manaus on the Amazon tour and we saw her many times in port, even at a little café in Florence where we had lunch. She was so nice. It was weird we would go to the show and she would be up on stage. She had star qualities. She didn’t have the same cruise ship type style – she was different, almost bluesy. She would also sing later on at night in the Riviera lounge.

Alan and Alana were also a favorite among the passengers. They really multi-tasked, they would play in the Princess Court before dinner for cocktails and it was quite a popular spot. Alana also did all the dance lessons during the sea days. At night they would host the trivia at 10pm. They were excellent. Alan was so sweet too, you could be walking by and he would be singing and playing the piano and he would always say ‘hi’ right during his performance and I only saw him from a few times in the trivia. He was just a nice guy.

LECTURES

The lecturers are usually a big draw for me. I want to hear about the ports and their history. They did have a great port lecturer named Joe May. He had great knowledge but it was mostly just port talk for shopping and tours. I would have like a speaker to discuss history or the some of aspects of these fascinating ports. I was surprised there wasn’t anything like that. They did have a good speaker whom people really enjoyed that was an expert in shipwrecks. I wished I had seen more of his lectures. They had another lecturer who was very knowledgeable, unfortunately he seemed to not stick to the topic at hand and was very textbook. I felt like I was back in a university lecture hall. It was hard to keep my eyes open…I went to one lecture of his and never went back.

My favorite lecturer was Tom Ecker. An Olympic Historian following the games for 50 years. He was a coach, technical committee member, researcher and even a torch bearer. He has authored many books but his recent book titled ‘Olympic Facts and Fables’ was researched for over 31 years. He was a very entertaining speaker. Even though I am interested in the Olympics I would have never thought to go to lectures on, so it was a great draw. We tried to go to all of his lectures.

TELEVISION/MOVIES ON BOARD

I am one of those people where TV is a big part of my life. I have to watch in order to fall asleep at night and I turn it on when I get up in the morning. Some people read I watch TV. I love documentaries and anything informative. Especially travel shows and I also like to watch movies. Princess has very good TV. Unlike Celebirty that has the worst TV selection afloat. Princess had a full TV listing with movie stations, discovery channel, CNN, ESPN. There were also Music stations and satellite channels that vary accordingly as well as others. There was usually a choice of good things to watch. They also had a movie theatre on board that had an excellent variation of comedies, dramas and action movies. You could tell they put some love in the choices they made because they showed ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ in Recife, ‘The Italian Job’, ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ in Florence and of course ‘Casablanca’. How great was that! They also showed some really recent releases that I wanted to see at on the big screen so made a lot of use of the theatre. It’s a good thing because I didn’t like the shows that were offered so the theatre made up for the lack of cosmopolitan culture.

DINING

Even though you try not to make eating a big part of your cruise, it always ends up a big part of your cruise. Being on a cruise for 21 days you must tone down the in take. Although I didn’t deprive myself of my favorites I tried to remove others where possible. We tried to eat very light for breakfast (bagel and juice) but not miss breakfast. I tried to have salad at lunch but I also ate whatever looked best. I usually also had dessert at lunch instead of dinner. At dinner I got what I wanted, but tried to leave some on the plate. I also tried to never eat dinner rolls and butter. Having said the ground rules, the food service was great. The selection was great and so was the service. It always blows me away how people complain about the food and I feel….I went away full and I didn’t have to bring it home, cook it and clean it up. I am always thankful at the food service. I just can’t understand it. Some things I liked better and some things I didn’t. Overall it was great.

I found on this trip more than any others the Matre D’ Rui, and the head waiters were very hands on…serving, decorating, talking with passengers getting meals. Their presence was noticeable. I was very happy to see they had a different menu every night. I was fearful they would have the same 7 day menu repeat 3 times (even that wouldn’t be the end of the world). We had a candle light formal night, a Sunday brunch, a Russian dinner and there was the head waiters flambéing something every other night. This was nice because you do not see this anymore on cruise ships.

There were some excellent waiters to note: Roberto, Cesar, Jose and Salvadore. Although all seemed very good. Our cabin steward Rudy was wonderful as well. Amy in the boutiques was also one to note as very nice.

APRIL 27TH CIVITAVECCHIA (ROME) ITALY

TEMP 16C/61F
SUNNY

Today we had to say goodbye to Royal Princess. It has been a great voyage, it seemed like we were in Brazil ages ago. It didn’t whiz by but I was in no means to leave the ship yet. I was getting to feel very comfortable on the Royal. It’s no wonder that people live on this ship.

Again we booked a tour with driverinrome.com. They were coming to pick us up at the ship and drive us back to Rome and give us a full day tour of Rome. From there we were even spending the night at ‘Angela & Remo’s apartment, the B&B they rent out for $90 euros/night.

This was one of the best disembarkation’s we ever had. We slept in, then had a leisurely breakfast. We were probably the last off the ship and that was about 9:30 or 10:00. We did not have to present ourselves to immigration, we weren’t sure why, perhaps the European Union doesn’t have strict rules.

We met Remo (who was driving someone else to the Airport in Rome) and we also met Aldo our guide for the day. To say the least Aldo is a ‘character’. You would be lucky to have him as your guide for the day. Within 10 minutes of leaving the pier, he claimed he had us ‘all figured out’. I felt like saying ‘that’s funny – men have been trying to figure women out for hundreds of years!’ and oddly enough, he wasn’t married! Anyway, his diagnosis consisted of telling us we were judgmental and picky…and his point was??? Then we diagnosed him and told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Then we proceeded to talk about all the subjects you aren’t supposed to talk about…religion, politics, and so on (and he called us judgmental!!) Oh we had a great time picking on each other and then finally we were in Rome.

This was a very busy day. Also being the expert knew the right times to see certain attractions. He said because it was lunch time, we should go directly to the Vatican museum to see the Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina). He told us exactly were to go and what to look for and he stayed with the van and our stuff and we went into the museum. The Vatican is the smallest state in the world. When you walk towards the Sistine Chapel you pass through many galleries with amazing tapestries Maps. There was the Candelabra Gallery and the magnificent Raphael Rooms that eventually lead to the fifteenth century Sistine Chapel. The chapel is famous for the invaluable collection of masterpieces like the Michelangelo's ceiling painting of the "Creation of the World". We looked around just a little and then we went back to the van to meet up with Aldo.

After that we went to a great little place with Also to get a bite to eat. We asked him to choose a nice spot that wouldn’t take too much time. He referred to it as at ‘bar’ but it was more of an Italian bakery. They had tons of pizzas and sandwiches on panini and focacchia (sp?). This was just what we wanted. All three of us had sandwiches, a drink and espresso after lunch and Lisa and I even had some homemade gelato and it all came to about 18 euros. It was just a few streets over from the Vatican and there were a bunch of guys working there that Aldo knew well. I wish I was eating lunch there today!!

Afterward we went on to St Peters Square where the Pope addresses the masses in front of St Peter’s basilica. We went inside st Peter's Basilica (basilica of San Pietro) and it was absolutely incredible! One of the only words that come to mind is vast, it is the largest church in the world. It includes 800 pillars and 44 alters. There was a structure in the centre near the front ‘the gilded Papal Canopy’ suspended over the the altar where the Pope celebrates mass. This bronze sculpture was made from the bronze that was taken from the dome of the Pantheon. This is a little fact that Also told us during the tour. Of course there is also one of best known pieces in the world - Michelangelo's Pietà. Everything was a wonder the alters, sculptures, even the floor was a masterpiece. I’m not one for churches and this was probably the one that awestruck me the most, not for it’s riches (trust me, it had a mother load), but for the draw it had over me, it’s immense sense of being was quite powerful. I enjoyed it more than the Sistine chapel. That was also powerful in it’s art but it was just too crowded for me to enjoy. We spent quite a bit of time wandering around and taking pictures inside the Basilica and out in the square. Could you believe walking out in the square we saw some friends from our Cruise Critic group. How does this happen? You couldn’t meet people like that if you planned it. There they were in St Peter’s square. We talked for a few minutes, it was nice because we never got a chance to say goodbye on the ship. When we met back up with Aldo, we said ‘what happened did you get lost?’ I guess we were gone longer than expected. I must add that just across the street from St Peter’s square, there is some souvenir stands. Here we got a pack of 20 post cards for 1 euro. They were a great collection all the sights and they were wrapped in a little map of Rome. This was an excellent buy and you couldn’t have got anything cheaper. They were cool like they were from the 1970s I really liked them and wished I got another pack, they are good to put in the album next to the your pictures.

Aldo was such a character, we would be kidding around with each other, then he would say ‘we are at the next stop we must be serious’ and he would switch to his tour guide persona and he would be completely serious and factual. He took his duty as a guide very seriously. You won’t be unhappy with his service at all. He told us an interesting story how at the fall of the Roman empire, the Pope was the king of Rome. The pope at the time of 1505 was Julius II. He was very money oriented and was extremely ruthless, everyone hated him. Everyone except for the Swiss, in fact the Swiss protected him, this is why to this day the Swiss guards are the guards of the Vatican state. Aldo I hope I got that right? He also told us how in 2005 it will be the 500 year anniversary.

Next stop was the Piazza Nevona, a beautiful square with many souvenir shops, artist’s selling their paintings and cafes. It was a real centre of life. Here I bought my ’Golden Book of Rome’ in one of the newsstands. Piazza Navona was described by Aldo as the ‘nicest square in Rome’

Next we were off the Centre of Rome, including Capitoline Hill, Palzzo Venzia in it’s Venician style architecture (that was Mussolini’s Headquarters) and the Wedding cake building. A Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, tomb of the unknown soldier, one of the newer buildings being circa 1911. It is so hard for me to imagine the age of these areas in Europe. In North America, a building for the 1800s or even the turn of the century is considered old. It is hard for me to conceive things from the pre 1500. In Rome and Florence that was almost everything. When we visited the Pantheon built in 27 BC. It was very hard for me to believe Aldo. How did they do it? The structure, the floors were just incredible how have it lasted? How has it survived? The Pantheon is the ‘nicest monument of Rome’ not to mention a architectural marvel.

Then of course, it was a whirlwind of structures being presented to us; Trajan’s Forum dating back to 113 AD, the Colosseum, Arco de Constantino, Circus Maximus all right there in downtown Rome. I could tell you pages of thoughts and information on our visit to all these sights but I would double the size of this review. Let just leave it to Aldo to show you.

SEVEN WONDERS OF ANCIENT ROME
7. CIRCUS MAXIMUS (Emperor Trajian (sp?) 100 AD) - This is where the Christians were eaten by Lions.
6. TRAJIAN’S FORUM (Trajian’s Market – the world’s first shopping mall)
5. ROMAN AQUADUCTS (Trajian)
4. ROMAN BATHS (Caracalla – begun building in 212 AD) He was a tyrant that ruled after Nero and Caligula.
3. ROADS – Credited with the 1st road system The Appian Way
2. PANTHEON – Temple to the Gods. Emperor Hadrian
1. COLISEUM - Construction of the amphitheatre was constructed after Emperor Nero in 70AD. During the inauguration , 5000 exotic African wild animals were killed. Sometimes 5,000 animals were killed a day.

We still had more to see…. We went to the Trevi fountain to throw our coins in. Throw it over your left shoulder and you will return to Rome. We were starting now to wind down, Aldo took us to the Spanish steps and we got a little treat…they were covered in flowers, Aldo told us only the flowers are there only during the month of April. What shocked me was how Aldo navigated all these little streets and Squares, we drove right through the square at the Spanish steps. To look at it you would not think you would be permitted to drive a car in there.

On the way towards Remo’s home we drove past the famous shopping area of Rome as well as a bunch of other monuments and obelisks dedicated to emperors and others. I have to read up in my Rome book to figure out everything that Aldo was telling us. He certainly had a lot of facts and information to share.

Entrance fees and notes

You must remember to dress appropriately when visiting the churches and religious monuments

Colosseum is 10 euros
Vatican Museum is 10 euros
Catacomb is 5 euros

Once back at Remo’s house we took some goodbye pictures with Aldo and we then said our goodbyes to dear Aldo. We were tired!!! Remo and Angela invited us to eat dinner with their family so we had a nap and got ready for dinner about 8:30pm. The apartment was great, it was 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, a large sitting room with a dining area and kitchen. I would definitely recommend it and I would stay there again on my next trip to Rome. You can see pictures of it through the links on their website.

Dinner with Remo, Angela, Daniele and Monia was great. They reminded me of my family and my Italian friends’ families. They were great dinner companions and Angela is one hell of a chef. She had all my favorite italian dishes. They had antipasto including Olives from their own trees. An appetizer of proscuitto and melon. The pasta course was penne alla vodka and the main course was chicken with a white wine sauce and salad of course. For dessert she had fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream. How lucky are these people to have cooking that that available to them all the time. It was superb. After dinner we talked for a while and they were so hospitable. Then it was time to retire to our apartment and drop into bed.

The tours are described on their website www.driverinrome.com. It is a family run business and I couldn't say enough of their hospitality and their professionalism and knowledge and love of their city. Staying at their Bed & Breakfast was a lovely end to a fantastic trip of a lifetime. There are some places we must return to and Italy is definitely one of them. We can't wait to visit Rome and see all these people again that we met through driverinrome.com.

APRIL 28TH ROME ITALY

Here we are on the last day. We woke up early to get to the airport by about 8am. The night before Angela asked us what we wanted for breakfast and we just requested coffee and toast. When we went into their dining area she had a variety of cereal and rolls and she was making the foam for the top of our cappuccinos. How nice was that! There is nothing like a really good cappuccino. She had told us she got the little foam pot in Toronto. They had previously lived in Toronto for 20 years. Angela and Remo were married in Toronto and built their house there. They moved back to Italy in the late 80s. Their son Daniele who is the Director of DriverInRome was born in Toronto. This familiarity created an instant connection between us and their family. We e-mailed quite a bit before we left on the trip and Remo was even in Toronto a month before we left. We found out when we got to their house Remo was in a private hospital for a hernia operation. This hospital is literally in my backyard – probably a five minute walk from my house. What a small world.

We were using their service to drive us to the airport as well so after breakfast Remo to us to the airport in Rome. It was 60 euros for the airport transfer. Once we were at the airport he parked out front and helped us with the bags. We were worried about him doing this since he was not supposed to aggravate his condition. This is why he was only doing small runs to the airport and not the full day tours at that point in time. Anyway, he came into the airport with us and helped us find the correct check-in and line up. Then we had big hugs goodbye, until we meet again. They really were special. When he left the people in line asked us if he was our uncle? Little did they know he was our tour guide and we had just met him the day before.

This is the end of our wonderful voyage onboard Royal Princess. I will end with a few travel notes and some closing thoughts.

NOTES:

RULE : Bottle it, boil it, peel it, cook it - or forget it! This is the rule I follow regarding eating on shore this doesn’t really apply to Europe or North America. Unless I know of a water problem.

STICK TO: Good quality beer, carbonated water, bottled water (that you open), tea & coffee

AVOID: uncooked fruit & vegetables, ice cubes

MEDICATION: CIPRO for diarrhea, MEFLOQUINE: for malaria, start taking one day before travel take with lots of food & water avoid alcohol. Could have G.I. upset, dizziness, insomnia, vivid dreams, anxiety

JET LAG: don’t overeat, over drink & avoid alcohol. On the plane get up and stretch, walk around, drink lots of water. Try to adapt to local time immediately

WEATHER: I did not know what to expect in regards to weather in April. Spring weather can really be a ‘crap shoot’ in regards of temperature and precipitation. At the same time I never let weather get me down. The weather will not ruin my vacation. As it turns out; not only was it ‘shoulder season’ but it was a great time to be in the Med. The attractions were not busy yet, it was a great temp. for walking around and the air was very fresh. It was also fabulous weather for Senegal and Morocco. Not to hot but hot enough that you didn’t need a jacket.

Brazil of course, was very hot and humid and that was to be expected when it is right on the equator. But again we had very bright sunny days.

CLOTHING: I always prepare for the worst and dress appropriately. In fact I was expecting it to be cold and rainy in the med. Well we couldn’t have had better weather. I brought enough underwear for every day and a few extras, so 30 pair. I brought good rain gear and good running shoes (both made of ‘gore-ex’). I brought a pair of mitt and a hat in case any mornings were cold (these are made of a light breathable microfibre). I always keep them in my raincoat/windbreaker pocket.

For the Amazon I brought a long sleeve t-shirt and pants that I could tuck into my socks to keep from being bitten by mosquitos on my night excursion. I brought and extra pair of runners for use in the Amazon in case it was muddy I didn’t want to wreck my good runners. I didn’t need any of these clothes (but I was glad I had them) so I gave them away in Boca de Valeria.

I had a denim shirt that could have doubled as a jean jacket but would pack a lot smaller. I tried to bring clothes that could both be worn to some casual dinners or out on a shore excursion in Europe (a little more dressy than Brazil or Africa). I brought one pair of shoes for formal nights and wore the same shoes for each one. Then I had a second pair of shoes that I wore every non-formal night for dinner, so only two sandals for night time use. I brought two very good pairs of comfortable sandals for walking in port. So altogether I only had about six pairs of shoes. The Royal had self serve laundry rooms so we did wash about 3 times. If I had to I would have got the ship to wash some of my pants and a few shirts at least.

In the ports if it is cool in the morning when going to shore I always dress in layers. I have a light t-shirt underneath, then a long sleeve microfibre shirt that breathes, but can be very warm and my windbreaker on top. I strip off layers as the day wears on and it start to get hot. I just tie them around my waist or put my shirt in my knapsack.

I always leave bulky sweaters, sweatshirts & jean jackets at home. They are just too big to put in my luggage. I always have a hat for sun protection. I don’t bring a lot of t-shirts because I know I will end up buying a couple so I just wear the ones I buy.

SHOPPING:
1. Price out what you want at home first, know what things cost. This goes for housewares, electronics, food, toys and especially jewellry. Especially for the amber, They sell it everywhere there and I couldn't tell what was a good price or not so I didn't get it. But price it at home in the mall first you would be surprised what they offered at the neighbourhood TJ MAXX.

2. If you see something you like get it!!! Don't be dispointed later when you don't see it again. 'Strike while the iron's hot' then don't look for it again.

REGRETS:

I can’t say I didn’t do enough shopping because as it was I had to buy another suitcase on board. I love the stuff I picked up on my travels.

I knew going in that some of these places I would not have enough time to see them and I would want to return. I don’t look at this as a regret, in fact, I think that is a positive in regards to cruising. You get a flavour of some great ports that will give you a feeling if you want to return and further explore. I know I will want to come back to Manaus (Amazon & Brazil in general), Marrakech, Costa Blanca Spain, French Riviera, and of course, Italy.

I felt we had busy days and time was well spent. I didn’t feel overwhelmed at all and we got some great overviews of most of the ports.

So I guess I can come away saying…’No Regrets’! And for me that is success.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed….Thank you Princess!!!

Next up! Southeast Asia, Istanbul…the world!

Nancy

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