Amanda, Since you are hiring a driver you will be able to get some ideas from him/her. But, lets lay out your options. It takes about 1:20 min to get from the port to Florence. Once you are in Florence you will not be able to use your car in the main tourist part of town (its pedestrian only). You will find that a short port day will not do Florence justice. However, if you want to make a quick stop in Pisa that is very possible on either end of your Florence trip, but it will take about an hour (assuming you spend little time at Pisa) our of your day. As to seeing Tuscany, other than what you see along the road to Florence you will have little time to go exploring. We have spent months driving in Tuscany and have yet to truly dent the place (it covers a large section of Italy). I will mention one other thing for price comparison and others reading this post. You can also easitly get to Florence on a train from Livorno. The train fare is currently about 13 Euros round trip. In order to use the train you also need a taxi to and from the train station, and this will add about another 50 Euros round trip. So, for a couple of 6 you could all take the train to Florence for about 130 Euros (total for 6). You might also be interested to note that the trains to Florence all stop in Pisa where its about a mile to the tower.
So, if I was to take the train to Florence and wanted to spend time at the Uffizi (2-3 hours) and also the Galleria dell'Accademia (up to 1 hour), what would good times be to book these ahead of time, in terms of getting back to the ship. Would there be time to see the Uffizi say late morning ll:00 ish, then do lunch and then do the Accademia?
Those are both good museums, but if you had never been to New York City and had only one day would you spend it at the Metropolitan and Guggenheim? Just fruit for thought. Lets talk about the train schedule. There is an 8:11 that gets you into Florence at 9:33. If you miss that train you will have to wait one hour which of course means you don't get to Florence until 10:33. Try to be off your ship by 7:30, fight to get a taxi to take you to the station (not always easy) and you might make that 8:11. You can walk to the Ufizzi (or grab a taxi) from the Florence station, but you might want to find a taxi to the Academia to save time (its a 15 min walk if you move fast). Keep in mind that the Academia is a bit out of the way when compared to the other main tourist sites, so you need to allow some extra time for getting to that museum.
As to lunch, if you are planning to have a nice lunch at an outdoor cafe (great idea on nice days) you will need to allow at least an hour (my DW and I once sat at a nice cafe in Rome for 6 hours!) And of course to go to Florence without grabbing some gelato would be a major crime (we have found it to be good everywhere). We could also talk about the fun outdoor market, strolling along the Arno River, browsing the shops on (and near) the Ponte Veccio, etc. One tip about the Academia. Everyone (including moi) go there for one reason, to see David (he is amazing). For those looking to salvage some time for their day, there is an exact replica out in full display at the P. Della Signoria.
The trains back to Livorno leave Florence at 27 min past each hour and take about 1:25 min. Most of the wise travelers take the 3:27 to give themselves a large margin of safety, but the 4:27 also works for those of us who live dangerously (of course you must be prepared to catch-up to the ship the following day if your luck runs out).
So, lets put it all together and see what happens. If you did get in the Ufizzi at 11, and spent 2 hours, it would already be 1 and you still would not have eaten lunch. Assume you could finish lunch by 2 (that is rushing things) and than got a taxi to the Academia (it saves you the 15 min walk and arrived there by 2:15. If you could limit yourself to about 45 min, you still would be cutting it very close to get to the train station to catch the 3:27. And we are assuming you do not get stuck in lines to get into either museum. You might have to alter your lunch plans depending on when you finish the Ufizzi, but that's the fun of doing things on your own (you can be flexible).
When we first started visiting Europe on cruises (about 25 years ago) we had lots of days like you are planning and we got home from those cruises we needed a vacation! After many many trips we finally learned to slow down and "smell the roses." I am still amazed at how much cruisers can squeeze into a single day, but that's part of the fun (and challenge) of cruising the Med.
You present both sides of the picture so well! Thank you! I don't know now which way we'll go. Just soaking up Florence in the way you spoke is so appealing and yet, still have this feeling I'd be missing something not to go to the Museums. I guess you have to say to yourself, there'll be another time!!
I guess the one disadvantage of pre-booking (and paying) for things like museums is that you lose your flexibility. When we are driving in Italy (usually for a few weeks) we have the luxury of time and will try to save museums for rainy days. With a cruise, you are forced to make choices in every port. We think Livorno and Naples are probably the most difficult ports because there are just too many options. The point is that no matter what you do, you will miss a lot more than you will see. This is why you need to already be planning the next trip
Touche!! On to the next one. Another thing just cropped up for us. I found out yesterday that no back-packs are allowed in the Accademia. My husband has recently bought a back--pack/camera bag--all in one. He usually brings all his attachments for the camera, etc. and he thought he could use it as both a carry on and camera bag. Well now, we know we can only have 1 carry on and 1 checked bag each.
So there's that issue. But, as well, what does he do now--I read somewhere we could leave the backpack at the train station in Florence in a locker, but then we're walkingto the Accademia and then to walk back to get the bag???? Or is that feasible?
Should he return this bag and get something different, or what do others do that bring camera equipment etc.?