We took a 10 day Holland America cruise starting and ending in Rome. Just got back two days ago. I used various Blogs to plan our trip so I thought I would give back in the form of my experience and recommendations. Not sure where to post this, so I may put it on two or three Blogs that I used earlier in the month. We spent 2.5 days in Rome after 10 days cruising Greece, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Turkey, Malta and Messina.
We booked our cruise through www.vacationstogo.com/ (ask for Curtis Baker) and the price was great but Curtisís service and assistance were wonderful. I give Holland America my highest recommendation and specifically urge you to book the Noordam. it is there newest ship and was beyond belief compared to my last cruise experience (which itself was pretty good). the Noordam has huge rooms (we were in the cheapest class), every little detail was improved. Especially storage in the room, the layout and size of the bathroom, flat screen TVs and DVD players, and the signature of excellence beds. Staff was unbelievable and the food was A+++. The only ding I can give them is the desserts in the Lido dining area were unimpressive. Desserts in the dining room were A++.
Other recommendations: If you stay a few nights in Rome, don't skimp on the hotel. Our first one was like a closet and our passports were stolen from our locked room (inside job obviously). Specifically don't stay at the Aphrodite hotel. In all hotels, use the in room safe for everything. Our trip was saved by wonderful people at the Rome embassy who skipped lunch to get us emergency passports (otherwise we would have missed the cruise departure). When we returned to Rome, we upgraded to the Hotel Mondial which was dramatically better and still mediocre. Air conditioning is non existent in these hotels and the elevators are like phone booths. I do recommend using the Metro (subway) and the taxis weren't too expensive. Buses are supposedly great but we didn't use them. Watch the pickpockets (one group of young female gypsies had their hand in my Dad's pocket but we were smart enough to keep everything in front pockets.
Two specific recommendations for Rome. If you need transport (airport to hotel to ship, etc) use Mario De Santis. His number is 334354609 (remember to include Italy country code). He does not speak English, so you need to have bi lingual people tell him where to pick up and where to drop you, but he was phenomenal. Always 15 to 30 minutes early. Always did all the loading and unloading. Tremendous concern about our comfort. Nothing upset him. When our passports were stolen he sat in the van for three hours waiting outside the embassy and escorted my Mom to the bathroom. I canít give him a high enough recommendation.
The other recommend is our tour guide. Scale of 1 to 10 she is a 15! Very expensive I will warn you. For two people she charges around 50 euros per hour and for our six she charged 65 euros but she was worth 200. She is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and very focused on everyone in the group having a great experience. The ages of our six were 11, 14, 46, 49, 75, and 80. She engaged everyone from the 11 year old to the octogenarian. She knew all the facts that the other guides donít know. We overheard one guide saying the Spanish steps were built by the Spanish when in fact they were built by the Greeks. She told us when archaeologists or historians had disagreements about a fact. We spent about $1200 US over 2 Ĺ days but we had seven days worth of tour experience. Her name is Daniella hunt and she has a website at http://www.rome-tours.com/. If you use her, make certain to give her tons of info on your group, because she will really plan well. Give her some control over decisions and she wonít let you down.
As far as restaurants in Rome, we had no bad meals and some were great. I specifically recommend a brand new place that is a few blocks from the Vatican called Ristro (address is Via Della Conciliazione 2). It was so good we went back a second time. I also recommend walking around Piazza Navorno at night. Donít miss St. Peters, Roman Forum, Colosseum, and Pantheon.
Rome is a lot of walking and all of Europe was a lot of walking and a ton of stairs. Very few elevators on tours. If you like Ancient history, roman and Greek, and walking into a 2000 year old building, tour the eastern med. The one place that absolutely lives up to its billing is San Torini. If I had known about this when we got married, I would have had our honeymoon there. Get euros from local ATMs (conversion rate is the best though the transaction fees are high so get the most you can each time you withdraw). Euros are easier to use then dollars even in a non-Euro country.
We used the cruise lines tour guide in some of the stops and went on our own in the others. While the cruise line guides were no where near Danielaís level, they were better than doing things on our own. Never knew what we were looking at and didnít know where to go. Also, book the excursions on line before departure. The best excursions were fully booked before the cruise started.
We're just about to do this very cruise. Any good tips for the different ports? I'm particularly keen to know how far you got in Sicily, given the short stop. I'd like to get to the top of Etna, have lunch in Taormina and then hopefully back to the boat in time.
Also, how long does it take to get off the boat in each port? When it says that it arrives at 7am, when can you expect to be on shore? And leaving at 2, when should you be at the port?
The only Sicily day was Messina. The Etna tour is hours of driving so we didn't do that. Etna is erupting a little right now so you can see it from far away but it might be cool up close. We hated the messina excursion we did. It was mainly seeing places where they filmed the godfather. We would have stayed on the boat if we had known. Olympia is ruins that are mainly 2 feet high. Ephesus and Rome are ruins that tower above your head so they are much more interesting to me. If you are not up to TONS of stairs, certain ports will be very hard on you. I recommend signing up for an excursion on line before the trip for each port that you want to go into. You might pick one of them to skip (it is exhausting). Some stops we had to use a tender boat, which meant you had to wait your turn. This could take 20 minutes or 2 hours. The people on scheduled tours go first (once again I would sign up for these even though they are of variable quality). The stops that don't use tenders, you can get off quickly. Within 30 minutes of docking being complete. Normally you have to be on board the ship (or the last tender boat) 30 minutes before departure. San Torini was the absolute highlight of the tour. Schedule as much as you can there and consider skipping or limiting one of the days before if you think you won't have the strength. Try to budget some time in Rome before or after the cruise if you haven't been there before. Rome was the second best stop after San Torini. Malta was kind of cool. Lots of shopping in Rome, malta, San Torini, etc. Ephesus tours end with a carpet sales pitch. I just walked away.
Thanks for that (and the quick reply). I'm now thinking we'll probably end up having lunch in Taormina (where we honeymooned a decade ago) and that's it.
We are indeed spending a week in Rome beforehand.
Thanks for the tips. Really not sure I need a carpet!
I am certain there was a trip that involved Taomina. I don't remember if that was teh one we were on. If it is a particularly important event like a honeymoon, you might call the hotel you stayed at 10 years ago and have them arrange a special event. keep in mind we left that port earlier than the others. I think you had to be on board by 2PM and the driving times were substantial. Lunch might have to be early.
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