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bigpete

(Really Overdue) Jewel of the Seas 7/1/18 Greek Isles Cruise

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Hello! This is my first post as a blog, but I still vividly remember the trip (of a lifetime). I live in 'central' New Jersey, in between Philadelphia and New York City, so our flight to Europe out of Newark Liberty was convenient. The ship itself left out of Civitavecchia (roughly translate to old town), about an hour and a half from center-city Rome. I've been reading a lot of live blogs lately and was inspired to write a recap of my outstanding trip... In fact, this was my first Royal Caribbean cruisers. We are generally fans of Carnival, however, after this trip, it may be hard to swerve back over to Carnival.

 

Day 1 - Portugal and Rome

We flew overnight to Lisbon, Portugal and had a 7 hour (approximate) layover before our next flight to Fiumicino, the major airport serving Rome. The city of Lisbon is rich with culture and has amazing pastries, statues, monuments and history. Besides the airport being confusing, we navigated through the city with no problem and made it back in time for our flight to Rome. Landing at around 4PM, the peak rushhour time, it was a hassle for our driver to navigate the narrow streets of the countryside and to our hotel. If you were driving in America, with a 3 lane highway, the Italians would find a way to make it 5 lanes. This was our second time in Rome, the first being five years ago. The food, like last time, was out-of-this-world and after dinner, we retired at our hotel for our first sleep in over 30 hours.

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If anyone is interested in seeing further Rome sightseeing, drop a comment and I could share some images. This forum is for cruises so I will be posting cruise information in the coming hours/days.

Please let me know if you are interested in reading more about the trip or the Rome pictures!

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Night Before Embarkation:

Fast-forward three nights, Rome, Italy: 

Earlier in the morning, my family, as well as another family we took on the vacation with us, traversed the beautiful Vatican Museums (pictures below, although pictures can not nearly show the beauty of the museums. PRO TIP: if you want to go to the museums without waiting in lines for hours sweating, either 1) have a connection to someone who can have tickets for you or 2) be on a tour that allows you to cut the line. For a normal admission, a line wrapped along the wall of Vatican City for about half a mile.) After the museums, we did two things, the first of which was eating gelato.. at 10AM. yummy! we made our way to the top of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica... nearly 500 steps. AMAZING to say the least, and well worth it. DSCN0738.thumb.JPG.eecd63ab8847bf892e05c436223b8c93.JPGDSCN0695.thumb.JPG.95c414f8221744bb5eeff0ab4697783e.JPG

Following this, we tried to seek shade (the temperatures were brutal, almost reaching 95 by noon). That night, after getting refreshed and all, we walked around some more and went to "Fontana di Trevi" or as most tourists know it as, "The Trevi Fountain". Also, insanely beautiful!DSCN0814.thumb.JPG.3ec45d85208a1aab751098d5ef9d2215.JPG

Lastly, we went to dinner at "Le Tavernelle" and walked through a few public squares before retiring to our hotel for our last night in Rome.DSCN0825.thumb.JPG.8b9a80b8271509dd17d8c2ca840abaef.JPG DSCN0819.thumb.JPG.d225c9a90b7405b16bdb5a1a31cc45b7.JPG

 

Day Five of Trip - Embarkation Day!

Our driver to the port of Civitavecchia, Domenico, was promptly at our hotel doorstep at 11:30 and from there we were driven to the port. About an hour and a half later, we arrived to a beautiful ship and were from then shown the way to board. It was a really easy process - we dropped off our bags and showed some documentation and went through a very small security line. I had my doubts and felt like I would meet no Americans on board - but boy was I wrong! (more to come). Within 10 to 15 minutes we were on one of the beautiful scenic elevators with a family from Pensacola, Florida. Even more surprising, within 10 minutes of being on the ship, our luggage was already outside of the room. However, we put off packing and went to the Windjammer to try out Royal's food. 

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Although there were no Guy's burgers or Pizza Pirate (both carnival restaurants I have become accustomed to), there was a day for all the Canadians on board for Canada Day!DSCN0851.thumb.JPG.3f3ceb1c86acd0ce732690bc0e0cd55c.JPG Overall, I was pleased with the design and layout of the buffet and after eating a quick slice of pizza and some french fries, I went to the mini golf with my brother and tried that out. Before we knew it, the PA went off and told us to meet at our designated musters. After a short drill, we were cleared for departure and left the Italian harbor 20 minutes early! A World Cup game was on the pool screen, providing excitement to all the Russian and French families onboard. From this first glance of the ship and its' occupants, I was totally aware that this cruise would have been memorable. That night, my brother and I went to Fuel, the teen disco, and met people who lived in the town over from us - how crazy! I never thought I'd meet people that are 10 minutes away back home, 5000 miles away in Europe! The next day was a sea day as the Jewel travelled from Civitavecchia to Santorini, Greece.

 

 

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On 10/16/2018 at 4:14 PM, bigpete said:

If anyone is interested in seeing further Rome sightseeing, drop a comment and I could share some images. This forum is for cruises so I will be posting cruise information in the coming hours/days.

I have a land vacation there next June  - I get in around 12ish and am free til late afternoon the next day. Did you use regular taxi or Uber? Anything you suggest (pre tour) for me?

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4 hours ago, ellcee said:

I have a land vacation there next June  - I get in around 12ish and am free til late afternoon the next day. Did you use regular taxi or Uber? Anything you suggest (pre tour) for me?

How long are you in Rome for? Where is the hotel? From this I can suggest things that are close by that are really amazing and I can link some photos too. To get from the airport to the hotel, there are plenty of options. We used "Roma Cab", but there are plenty of options that can be found by doing a quick search on tripadvisor.com.

 

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21 hours ago, ellcee said:

I have a land vacation there next June  - I get in around 12ish and am free til late afternoon the next day. Did you use regular taxi or Uber? Anything you suggest (pre tour) for me?

Do you have Amex?  When we went we used their concierge service to get a personal driver for 2 days.  We had the driver basically all day, or about 9 hrs. each day.  It was worth the cost because not only did he wait for us in the car at every stop, including when we would have lunch, but also took us to places that are off the beaten track and not typically touristy. Took us to some not famous churches and explained why they had multiple placards outside...basically it was to show the floods and how high the water rose. He also was kind of like a tourist guide, giving tidbits about the city as he was driving like why there are Bumblebees on top of certain buildings..  Some of our best photos we took was bc he knew where to go to get the best background shot for their iconic buildings.   I want to say it was $85 a day per person, impo it was well worth it, especially since we didn't have to worry about finding a taxi or getting an Uber every time we went from 1 place to another, IE Catacombs to the Pantheon.  

We also used Amex concierge service to hire a private tour guide for the Vatican.  These tour guides are licensed, can't remember by whom..  There are many perks using a private guide, and you will notice them starting the minute arrive.  Private tours enter in through a different line than if you just showed up by yourself.  I think we arrived at 9:30 a.m., and the public/group tour line had hundreds of people in line.  Our driver dropped us off at the other entrance, and we were in the Vatican within a minute.  The public tour groups go at their pace, but bc we used our own tour guide she went at our pace and was able to show us the little hidden areas.  My DS is a huge history buff, and she kept trying to stump him with questions, but he usually won.  Her questions were unique, IE why is January named after Janus?   The only time on our tour we were with the group tours was entering the Sistine Chapel, bc they time it due to occupancy levels.  You pay the same amount to enter with a regular ticket and then pay the private guide cost.  IMPO, the Vatican is a bucket list aspect.  We spent a solid 4 hrs there.  OBTW, FYI, if you go, right next to the Vatican is their "store".  You can ask them to have your items blessed by the Pope and have them deliver it to your hotel, or at least that was what we did, but I don't know if that was bc we had a private tour.  You also need to buy a postcard bc the Vatican has it's own postal code/stamp, it is not Rome.  You just drop it off there.

Hope that helps.  If you are going to Venice also, let me know.  Venice is my favorite city in the world, we have been there several times.  Be prepared in Italy the food in the North is much different than in the South.  Think of it like getting pizza in NYC and getting pizza in Chicago.  Lastly, people expect leather to be much cheaper in Italy, but that really isn't true.  What is true is the quality is much higher, so expect to spend the same amount, but the leather to be like butter(soft/supple) and not like toast (hard/unpliable)  

Back on topic.  Our 1st cruise was the med.  Started in Venice, did the entire boot, plus Greece.  Ended in Nice, France.  Very port intensive, Yugoslavia, Greece, Sicily, Naples,  Elba, and Portofino.    Just like any cruise, you have to decide whether you want the bigger ship with all the bells and whistles, but can't fit into smaller ports, or the smaller ship with fewer bells and whistles, but can fit into the smaller ports.  Obviously, for that cruise we opted for the smaller ship.

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If you are going to Venice, look into the hotel Splendid Suisse Venice, Star Hotels.    This is where we stay.  The location is ideal.  5 min walk to San Marco or the Rialto.  It has a rooftop bar that overlooks the canals.  It is a very unique hotel.  It does not look like a hotel, due to its location.  Basically, it is hidden on a well traveled/busy street to get you from the Rialto to San Marco.  The hotel is basically two insanely old building where every time you turn there is another hallway.  Our rooms have always been on the canal.  Little known fact about Venice,  almost every address has a street entrance and a canal entrance.  

Here is a link to the hotel.  https://www.starhotelscollezione.com/it/i-nostri-hotel/splendid-venice-venezia/

 

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Waytoo, you are correct.  Imagine how stupid I felt that my 16 yr old son knew the answer and I didn't.   It actually continued all day long, regarding statues.   I will also say, as a Catholic, I walked away ashamed.  The artifacts there really are ill gotten gains. Hundreds of yrs ago Popes cared about acquiring wealth and their own safety.  I learned so much on that tour, and again I think I learned more bc of that tour guide.  I am a cheap wad overall, but I do spend big $$ when it comes to bucket list or experiences.  This trip I am referring to was my bucket list, not for Rome or Venice, but we took our kids to the Winter Olympics in Italy, and those cities, plus Milan were included in the trip.  FYI  we hated Milan.  We are NY/NJ people living in DC area, and felt that we never experienced such rude people as we did in that city.  OBTW, we also lived in the UK for 4 yrs., so I get Europe.  

Just saying from a cruise aspect, if it comes down to an ocean view with private tours or a balcony and group tours, I would take the ocean view.  

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My bad, that link is in Italian.  Pics are correct.  We used AMEX, and told them this was our hotel we wanted (we stayed there on our 1st cruise...belated honeymoon).  The room that AMEX booked for 5 of us, was INSANE.   All of our hotels in Italy were connecting rooms with our kids.  Splendid Suisse, went over and beyond.  Yes, we had to walk through different stair cases (they brought the luggage up), but when we finally got to our rooms, it was a door that entered into a small room, think foyer.  Opened the next door and it opened to a living room, with a bedroom to the left and a bedroom to the right, both having their own bathroom.  Best yet, it was the typical Italian  feel, you had to open up the shutters on the windows to see outside.  When you did, you looked down to the canals.

We stayed there 2x before just the hubby and I.  We were young and took the cheapest room.  Honestly, the only other hotel in Venice that peaked my interest was the Best Western in San Marco Square.  Cipriani, being an NY/NJ resident is like the Plaza or the Pierre.  Go there for lunch or cocktails, but not worth the cost when it comes to sleeping in a bed.  

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@ellcee if the price for a personal driver is too steep, the transit system in Rome is very easy to get around. A one or two day transit pass will get you unlimited use of busses, subways and trams. As of today, the 48-hour pass is 28Euro per pass. Both times I have been to Rome, this was the route I’ve taken. 

 

If you would like amazing dinner places/pastry shops/gelato shops, please let me know. I have about 20 on a list!

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Our last night in Rome we went to what in NYC/NJ would call a deli/butcher.  We purchased meats/cheeses, breads and pastries to take back to our hotel room bc we had a long day of doing touristy things, including a large lunch on the patio at the Museum in Rome (Ocean 12 Movie).  We just wanted to decompress and get ready to take the early train to Milan the next day (packing).  Kids were happy bc we let them get gelato while we walked back to the hotel.  My Hubby is Italian, and trust me even in NYC Prosciutto is nothing like you will get in Italy.  Coliseum, Pantheon, Vatican should be on your list, but also go to a deli.  We went to one near the Spanish steps.  OBTW I was not a fan of this site.  It was just a bunch of stairs.  Nothing in the OMG look at that view realm.  More of OKAY, seen it, checked the box, can we move on now?   I felt the same with Trevi fountain. I was more impressed with the church around the corner (see earlier posts regarding placards).  I also didn't like these places bc every time I turned around someone was trying to sell me a rose pushing it in my face.. 

I agree Europe has a much better transit system than the US.  That being said, if you have a TA or use the concierge with your credit card to see if they offer deals.  Many people think doing it on their own is the best option, not realizing you do not pay for a travel agent and they can hook you up for better deals. 

Which brings us back on topic regarding cruising.  

I got an amazing deal on Adventure using a TA.  This will be our 3rd cruise within 2 yrs.  1st time we used a TA.  The deal was outside Balcony deck 7. 2 specialty dinners and 100 OBC for 2800 (2 people)  for 8 nights out of Cape Liberty. I keep looking (fake booking)  to see if I could get it cheaper...NOPE!   They beat the price of Costco or the RCCL website.  I am not paying them to book the cruise/vacation.  RCCL is!  Just like if you use your credit card concierge. 

FWIW, we planned that Italian vacations a yr out, and used AMEX concierge.  I paid everything on our AMEX to get points.  Gas, groceries. food, cell phone, etc..  I just thought of AMEX like a debit card and deducted it from my checking account.  We had so many points that my entire family flew 1st class (5 of us) to Italy from NYC and back at the cost of economy.  We were also allowed to use their private lounges while we waited for our flights,, aka Delta Crown Room as AMEX card holders.  I don't know about Visa or MC, but I would strongly suggest looking into the benefits your credit card offers when it comes to traveling, including  early or late check out

 

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1 hour ago, Pima1988 said:

 Coliseum, Pantheon, Vatican should be on your list, but also go to a deli.  We went to one near the Spanish steps. 

A bunch of good gelaterias too... gracchi, the original near the Castel Sant’Angelo (also visit) gets their pistachios from Mt. Etna in Sicily. 

Trattoria Cadorna, in the more Northeast part of the city,  has an exceptional turkey dish as a “Secondo”. Don’t fall into the tourist trap places, especially ones that promote things such as an English menu.

Frigidarium (gelato) and Il Fornaio - bakery (translates to ‘the oven’) are close by to Piazza Navona and worth a visit. At Il Fornaio, I had a chocolate raviolo topped with powdered sugar... absolutely amazing. If anyone from New Jersey is reading this, Old Bridge Gelateria is very tasty and right near St. Peter’s Basilica. (Old Bridge is a town in central Jersey)

There are tons of churches sprinkled around, but for people there for only a day or two,  the four major Basilicas (St. Peter’s, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni Laterano and San Paolo fuori le Mura) are exceptional. Every church has exceptional art! 

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I was born and raised In Middlesex county NJ  (East Brunswick)   My Hubby came from the same town. Old Bridge is next door. That being said,  even the crappiest place in Italy, will make you go OMG when it comes to gelato.  Same with prosciutto.   

Prosciutto is very unique.  You want it sliced fresh bc it will be soft and tender, not salty 

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