Just got back from our Mediterranean cruise. I can give you all the information you want.
First, in Valletta, Malta, right as you get off the ship there is a tourist company waiting there that will take you on a two-hour tour. We did not do that, but wished we had. We walked all over the city on our own. Overall, this was my least favorite port. Perhaps if we had done the tour and seen Mdina, we would have enjoyed it more.
Second, Naples/Sorrento/Pompei--we did the ship's tour called Flavors of Sorrento and Pompei. It was one of the best ship tours we've ever taken. First you go to Sorrento and have some time on your own to do some shopping. They have some amazing wood working crafts. TIP: Do NOT buy anything at the shop they take you to right away--their prices are the highest. As we walked around to some of the smaller, less traveled streets, we found much better prices. Then they take you to a farm where they make their own homemade mozerella. There was a demonstration and then a wonderful lunch! Then you drive to Pompei and have a guided tour. Wow-it was so interesting. Great pizza there--you must try it. We got one slice (which was 1/4 of the whole pizza!) and all split it. Don't know if this kind of tour is what you like, but everyone we know that took it really liked it. I had read a lot of info. that you should go with the ship's tour here because of the narrow streets and traffic. We probably would have been okay if we'd hired a driver, but they weren't kidding about the narrow streets and traffic and since we really enjoyed our tour, it worked out fine. The ship's tour guide did a good job of showing Pompei. I didn't know too much about it before hand and now I would really like to try to find the movie, "Pompei,the Lost City". It definitely inspired my curiosity.
Third-Rome--we hired our own driver. I did a LOT of research before the trip and read a lot of blogs. I hired a man named Fabrizio. He was fabulous! Great sense of humor too. We designed our own tour (I researched beforehand and made a list of places we wanted to go and sent it out to all the companies I requested info. from). Fabrizio had been highly rated on one or two of the blogs I read, so we went with him. The coliseum was our first stop. He told us he could hook us up with a group tour when we got there, which would be less expensive then a private tour and we'd get more info. then doing it on our own. He did just that and we only had to wait about 10 -15 min. before the tour started! He was very good about getting us back to the ship in plenty of time. We absolutely LOVED our day in Rome, thanks to Fabrizio. IF you'd like, I can find his info. and send it to you. Just let me know.
Also, we spoke to some people who took the ships tour to the Vatican and a couple other places (I can't recall exactly where) and they said they were VERY disappointed. They were going to try to get some of their $ back. They said that they felt very rushed. They couldn't stay anywhere very long and it took forever to get everyone herded together in each spot. They also complained about the restroom stop at the beginning and how much time that took.
Our feeling was that we might never get back there and we didn't want to waste any time. I think we saw more than almost anyone else. We did not do the Sistine Chapel, so I can't tell you which is more worthwhile, but I can tell you that seeing the coliseum was very interesting. We also saw the famous keyhole, the catacombs, the Forum, the Spanish Steps, Circus Maximus, and much more. We wouldn't have thought about the Catacombs except my in-laws did a land tour of Italy and highly recommended it. Since we're not really into cathedrals and museums, it was much more interesting to us.
Fourth-Livorno--we hired another great driver and got to do more than anyone else we talked to. We started in Pisa. Unfortunately, we didn't know that you had to purchase tickets online at least 16 days in advance to climb the Leaning Tower and we missed it by a day. We were very worried we wouldn't be able to do it (a must for my husband). We got there at about 8:40 and were easily able to purchase tickets for the 9:00 climb. It was the first climb of the day. There is no guided tour of the tower, you just get to climb to the top and see the bell tower and a view of the city. The driver we hired knows the owner of a castle in Tuscany (which was one of the reasons we chose him). He then took us to the castle and gave us a tour. Since we like that sort of thing, it was very impressive. We then drove to Florence and had lunch at a wonderful restaurant Paolo, our driver, recommended. My husband wanted to order a 2nd serving of the lasagne, it was so good! My husband also wanted to visit a winery in Chianti, so that's what we did next and we were able to sample wines and purchase both wine and olive oil to take home. Just driving around the Tuscan countryside is amazing! IF you've seen the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun" you can just imagine how beautiful it is.
NOTE: Our two days with private drivers were our very best days. I don't know how many people you have in your party (of course, the more people you have to divide the cost among, the less expensive it is). We were just a family of 3 and though it was a bit more expensive than the cost of the ship's tours for the 3 of us, it was well worth it. My philosophy was that since we'd probably never make it back to these places, I wanted to make the most of our days there and by hiring a driver who caters to your wishes and needs we were able to do that.
Finally, Nice. We did the ship's tour of Nice and Monte Carlo. This tour was okay, but we didn't feel like we got to see much of Nice. The tour we took started at a flower/vegetable market and you had time on your own. Then we drove to Monte Carlo. The scenery is fabulous and my son amazed by all the Bentleys and Ferraris. He loved being able to gamble in Casino Monte Carlo. We got to spend time on our own here. TIP: IF you take this tour, either bring a snack or purchase one in the market in Nice, because you don't stop for food and don't get back on the ship until about 2:00 (the tour began at 6:45 in the a.m.). We deciced to do a ship's tour in this port because it was a short day. It probably worked out fine, but again, had we had our own driver, we could have seen more of Nice than just the market.
We stayed in Barcelona for a couple of days at the end. I don't know if you're planning to do that. IF you are, let me know and I can give you some tips on that as well as the hotel that I found that was very convenient and very affordable.
As far as the ship goes, it's lovely. It's nice that it's so new. We did not experience the problems dining that I'd read about in the blogs. Many said that they had to wait in line for a table in the nice restaurant every night. We like to clean up and eat at the nice restaurant each evening and we never had to wait. I think perhaps it was because there were a lot of children on board and many people chose to go to the restaurant where you could wear jeans or shorts. In the Grand Pacific (the nice restaurant) you couldn't wear jeans or shorts. There are several restaurants you can make reservations for that charge a surcharge per person. We did not do that. We felt like eating in the Grand Pacific was nice enough and was already included. We did meet one family that ate in one of those that charged a surcharge and they told us that many of the items on the menu have an additional charge above and beyond the surcharge. As we looked at the menus for the "pay restaurants" we noticed that was true.
IF you've been on other cruises, you will notice that the service is not at the same level as many of the other cruise lines. I think with the Freestyle cruising the waitstaff don't feel like they have to work as hard for their tips. We also did not have a great cabin steward. The food choices were also more limited and lower quality than on other ships we've been on; however, since we weren't on the ship for the food, it was fine for us.
IF you have cruised before you will be thrilled with the shower doors in the cabins. The only problem was the way the shower was designed the water accumulated in the bottom of the shower and didn't drain off, but again, this was very minor.
All-in-all we had a fabulous time. The best days were the two days we had with the private drivers. Italy was fabulous!! If there weren't so many other places in the world we want to visit, we would definitely go back again.
Let me know if there is any other information I can help you with.