Cruise Review – Carnival Freedom 6/15/08 – 6/27/08 Eastern Mediterranean
This cruise visits Rome (Civitavecchia), Naples, Livorno , Italy, Marmaris, Izmir and Istanbul, Turkey , as well as Athens (Piraeus) and Katakolon, Greece.
This is a great cruise but it is exhausting. There are only 3 sea days on the itinerary. So it seems like you are constantly visiting ports that require a lot of walking. This is great if you want to get the most ports for you money, but you can easily over do it trying to see as many sites as possible. It also gets very hot in these ports. Being from Texas, we were used to the heat, but northerners and those not accustomed to high temperatures had trouble. The ship itself still looks brand new (which it almost is). The crew keeps her in great shape. The food was fantastic but several menu selections seemed to be repeated through the cruise which seemed like they were trying to stretch a 7 day cruise menu into the 12 days. The service was good overall, our cabin stewards did a great job. The only complaint I would offer is that the entertainment was lacking. Definitely not up to Carnival’s standards. Don’t get me wrong, the ship’s dancers were great in the shows they performed and the sets and costumes were unbelievable. But we are used to having comedians, magicians, hypnotists and singers come on as entertainment. Not on this cruise, there was one comedian/magician act and 2 singer acts. The 2 singing acts were very average and we left the theater for better things a couple of minutes into both acts. The singers on the carnival staff were as good or if not better. The dancers only did 3 shows. The other 6 nights the entertainment was game shows and deck parties. So the guests entertained themselves for half of the cruise. The reason given for this was that for the European sailings the corporate planners decided that the entertainment should be more relaxed than on Caribbean cruises. But in reality I’m sure the logistics and costs of providing a variety of acts for one ship half way around the world forces their hand here. It’s a shame because one of the reasons for choosing a Carnival ship over the other lines was because we enjoyed their style of entertainment. But it did not ruin our cruise.
There is plenty of entertainment throughout the rest of the ship. The piano bar was great! Ask Brad to play the beer song. There was karaoke every night, the lounge singers/bands did a great job. Then there is always movies under the stars on the pool deck. The giant screen TV works much better than I would have thought and it can be seen clearly even under the sun of daylight. You can even sit in the hot tubs and watch the movie.
The port of Civitavecchia did a great job here. The Freedom is a very large ship but yet the embarkation process made things go very smoothly. We arrived at the port about 1PM and were on board by 1:30. Carnival provided drinks and snacks in the waiting area which were greatly appreciated after a long, warm train ride from Rome. If you do this cruise, I suggest staying in a hotel in Rome the day before your cruise. There are hotels to be had in Civitavecchia, but there is more to see in Rome. We were able to see the Coliseum and Circus Maximus and part of the Forum area in the morning before heading to the port. This helped when we returned to Rome so we did not have so many things on our list. The ship does not leave Civitavecchia until 7PM but they were letting people board as early as 12:30PM. If you stay in Rome the night before, book your train ticket that night. The IC+ express trains sell out quickly.
First stop Naples-
Naples itself is not the destination. From Naples you can get to many great places- The Herculaneum, Pompeii, Mt Vesuvius, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, the Isle of Capri, etc. The cruise ship will push its tours very hard. If you are a first time cruiser or are not comfortable with the idea of going out on your own, then by all means, use the ships tours. But realize that these are very expensive compared to what it costs to see the same things on your own. You can easily get to the train station and get to any of the areas I mentioned above (except of course Capri). We took the train to Ercolano and saw the Herculaneum where we could buy a combination ticket that gets you into Pompeii as well. Using the train we got there before any of the tours from the ships did and we had seen a great bit of the ruins before the first big group arrived. We then continued down the coast to Pompeii and walked through it and saw about half of the site before we became “ruined out”. We then headed down to Sorrento and had a very nice sidewalk café meal and some gelato (this is a must, it is something you must experience even if you don’t like ice cream.). We walked around Sorrento for a bit before heading back to the ship. We did all of this and still returned to the ship with an hour to spare. You can do Herculaneum or Pompeii and still get to the Isle of Capri, but we decided to leave Capri for another visit (giving us a reason to go back)
Day at sea – lots of fun activities and the first formal night.
Marmaris is a very small port town. There really is not much to see here. There are a couple tours you can take here. We took the beach break tour just because there didn’t seem to be much else. You can take a tour to Rhodes also (the ship used to port in Rhodes but me thinks someone in Marmaris offered better incentives). You can also just get off the ship and negotiate for a tour from one of the local tour guides. Be prepared for a high price though. We had someone in our group that could speak the language and managed to get a tour for a good price, but most people didn’t. The taxis will charge 7 euro to take you about a mile into town and drop you off in the shopping district. This reminded me much of Freeport in the Bahamas. The taxis are the only game in town to get a ride into town and they know it. Your other option is to walk along the harbor into town but it is about a mile walk and it was deathly hot (over 100). We did see one bus pull into the taxi area and they were offering a free shuttle to the “Atlantis water park”. This looked like a decent option. They were charging 20 euro entry to the water park which had a large wave pool and access to the beach. So if we didn’t have a tour scheduled we probably would have done that. Everyone who went into town said that everyone was very nice. Be prepared to barter heavily despite their pleas that their children will starve…oh and try the apple tea. Yummy.
Here we took the ship’s tour to Ephesus. It’s about an hour bus ride to get to the site and we were not comfortable in negotiating a taxi or local car to take us there. There isn’t much of anything else to see in Izmir itself. If you had a decent size group, you might be able to arrange for a van to take you and save some money, but I’m not sure it’s worth the hassle as the price for the tour was not that high. Many busses including ours were late getting back to the ship. The ship waited for the tour busses, which I guess says something for not trying this on your own. However in saying that, I will say that our tour guide spent way too much time talking. With an audio guide, we probably could have seen the entire site in half the time and gotten back on time. But we had paid for the tour so we mostly stayed with her.
This is another port you can do on your own. The ship provided shuttle busses to the grand bazaar. The bazaar is in easy walking distance to the major attractions – The Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, The Hage Sophia muesum, and the Topkapi Palace. We did all three and still had plenty of time to shop in the bazaar before boarding the shuttle bus back to the ship.
Before getting off the ship you need to practice chanting these words- “No thank you I do not want a carpet…. No thank you I do not want a carpet.” Show ANY weakness in saying these words and you will own a carpet before the end of the day. Even if you BUY a carpet, they will still be after you to buy a second carpet to “balance you out”
My wife loved the bazaar. Maybe more for the thrill of the hunt in bartering than the actual shopping opportunity. They stores seemed to repeat them selves often. – Carpet store, jewelry store, porcelain item store, smoking paraphernalia store, leather goods and handbag knock off store. Rinse, Repeat. The Grand Bazaar is miles of the these same shops, so pay attention to were you came in and where you walked to or you can get lost easily. Be careful of the knock offs. They sell fake purses and fake watches (and even fake carpets). They will start at a price that is nearly as pricey as the real thing. Pick a price you think is too low and then start below that. Then work a deal. If they won’t except your deal, move on… there are plenty of stores to try from. Did I mention to, try the apple tea? Buy some apple tea to take home… yummy.
Do this port on your own also. You can walk to the train station from the port (or grab a taxi if you can find one that will take you the short distance) Buy the all day metro ticket and you are good to go. From the metro you can get to the Acropolis and the plaka I recommend the Thissio station or the Acropolis station(you will have to change metro lines to get to the Acropolis station). The Monastiraki stop is close but you have to walk all the way around the acropolis to get to an entrance. The acropolis station is the closest to that entrance to the walk up to the top while the Thissio station gets you close to the back side near the temple of Agora and you can work your way up to the Acropolis…
Wow… why does this place even have a port. The whole town can’t be more than about 300 people. When we were there, there were 3 ships in port. So you can imagine the chaos. Those that didn’t go into town (there is a nice little beach there and you could rent a car or scooter and drive up the coast) took the tour to Olympia. I know this because when our bus got to Olympia, there were at least twenty busses parked there already. My advice if you want to see Olympia, take the tour. Once you get there, find out what time the tour guide wants to meet back up to leave and then go explore on your own. There are plenty of signs to tell you what you are looking at. You really don’t need the guide unless you are into that sort of thing. Take the picture of you running on the track… like anyone would really believe you are an Olympic athlete. See the Olympic flame…watch out of the gianormous ants…
Livorno allows access to Florence and Pisa and the Tuscany area. If you want to tour Tuscany, you are probably safe on a ship’s tour (safer meaning not getting lost and being assured getting back to the ship) But Florence is beautiful and there is a lot to see and Pisa gives you the Leaning Tower of course. We managed to get a taxi to take us to the train station. You can’t walk to the station, it’s just too far. The taxi drivers don’t like to make this short trip as they are trying to sell all day tours for a couple of hundred Euro. So they overcharge for the trip to the train station. Its probably 2 miles total and they want 20 euro for the trip. But we had four couples to share the expense so it only cost 5 each which was better than trying to take the busses. The cruise line does provide a shuttle bus out of the port and down to a central market area where you could catch the 1R bus route (not sure on the R, the return route was 1R) to the train station from the market. Ask the shuttle bus driver which route goes to the train station. They will know.
From the train station, its easy to get to Florence (Firenze Stazi). See ftroute’s Italian train how to guide in the Europe port chat for details on how to get there. Once you are in Florence, the Museo Archeologico has the statue of David (the original) is in walking distance. Head towards the Duomo – from the train station, head across the Piazza della Stazione towards tge bascillica, then down Via Panzani this will merge with Via de Cerretani and once on that you will see the Duomo. When you get to the Duomo walk about halfway down the side and you will see directional signs to the Museum. I think we turned down Via del Servi. Head to the museum first thing to avoid long lines. Then you can work your way to the other sites. Obviously the Duomo is one of the popular ones. The Piazza della Signoria has the replica David and other famous statues if you don’t want to wait to go in the museum. It is a good idea to have a good tourist map so you can find the things you want to see.
On the way back we did a quick stop in Pisa to see the leaning tower. Watch your time, it’s about a 10 minute train ride from Pisa to Livorno and then you need to take the bus to the shuttle stop back to the ship. We were able to walk to the tower, take pictures, and walk back to the train in about 90 minutes. It’s about a mile and a half walk, so we were moving pretty fast. If you want to climb the tower, allow extra time for that.
Overall, we did the speediest tour of both cities as you can. There is a lot to see in Florence, there is no way to see it all in a half a day, so pick and choose your must see’s and then determine if you will have time to do the tower.
Last Stop Rome (Civitavecchia again)
The ship docks in Civitavecchia on Thursday and you don’t disembark until Friday. This allows you to have a day in Rome and use the ship as a hotel. Several people disembarked on Thursday, so if you need to or want to leave Thursday, apparently it can be done. I know that for several people, the only workable flights required them to leave for a Thursday evening flight.
You again can do Rome on your own. Get your train tickets the day before in Livorno to avoid the huge lines that form from the people who don’t think of doing this. There is a morning IC+ train (intercity with assigned seats, limited stops and air conditioning) I recommend getting first class seating on this train. First because of the air conditioning and secondly because of the quick trip to Rome. The commuter trains stop at several stations along the route and they take at least 15 minutes more to get to Rome. Once in Rome you are in the Rome Termini station, get an all day metro/bus combo ticket and then you are free to go see the sites. Many of the big ticket sites are close to the subway stations. The Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) have the Spagna station within 50 yards of the steps. We chose to see The Vatican and St Peter’s (be sure to buy a post card before getting there and you can mail from the Vatican’s post office ) From there we walked east to the Castle ‘Angilo . From here it was a tough choice. We could walk about the same distance to either the metro station we stopped at to get the Vatican or to the Trevi Fountain. From the fountain we could walk to the Spanish steps. We figured either way we had to walk to the fountain so we chose the later route and then finished up by taking the Spagna station back to the termini station. We SHOULD have investigated the bus routes before going on the cruise so we could have taken the busses between sites instead of walking. If you plan this trip, save yourself and figure out which bus routes you need before you go. It was very hot and we were exhausted, so we returned to the ship/ showered and ate dinner. Then packed up to have our luggage out by 11PM. After packing we had time for last drinks with our new found friends and then early to bed.
Sadly it was time to leave the ship. We had 11:55 AM flights and had bought the cruise line transfers to the airport. You could take the train to Rome Termini and then back out to the airport but that could take a could of hours. Had we known we were going to be off the ship by 6am, we could have done this. So we ended up have a couple of free hours in the airport.
Carnival Cruise Lines:
Fantasy 90, Celebration 95, Victory 05, Conquest 05, Spirit 6/06, Freedom 6/08, Holiday 7/08, Victory 6/09, Valor 9/09, Dream 6/10, Splendor 8/10,Conquest 8/11,Magic 11/11,Triumph 4/12,Spirit 7/12,Freedom 11/12, Triumph 2/13 - The fire cruise, Magic 1/14, Freedom x 2 6/14
NCL Dream October 2006, RCCL Mariner OTS June 2007, Celebrity Silhouette 2013