In 2009, my husband and I embarked on a 12-night Western Mediterranean cruise that took us through Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Dubrovnik.

In the summer of 2012, we're heading back...only this time, our three kids will be joining us, and it will be a 12-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise that will have us sailing through Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

This blog is a chronicle of our cruising experiences - the good, the bad, the ugly. It includes a day-by-day journal of what we did, how we did it, what we did right - and what we didn't do so right.

Not only do we use this to "remember" our adventures, but our hope is that our story will assist others in their own planning.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Planned Itinerary: Naples

Naples, Italy
Friday, June 19th
Hours: 7:00 am - 7:00 pm in port

This port incorporates both Naples, Capri and Pompeii. This port also is where we have our 3rd and final tour with the Rome in Limo tour company ( Because our group of 8 booked 3 tours with them, we got a discount. Our cost, which includes the all-day tour, tip and guide for Pompeii, is $271.50E.

This day trip is designed to enjoy an overview of the Amalfi Coast, visit the picturesque village of Positano, and explore the archaeological site of Pompeii.

Our port is in Naples (or Napoli), where the untidy sprawl at the heart of this city is one of its authentic charms. Did you know that pizza was invented in Naples? And a good choice would be Pizza Margherita, flavored with tomato and cheese, and eaten folded in half.

After our driver picks us up directly at the port, we'll head towards Pompeii. Together, the live volcano and the extensive remains of the Roman City, which the volcano destroyed at a stroke on August 24, AD 79, form one of the greatest sights of southern Italy.

The unmistakable bulk of Mount Vesuvius (or Vesuvio), looms inland to the east of Naples. It has erupted several times over the years, overwhelming the settlements on its lower slopes - most recently in 1944. While scientists monitor the mountain and try to predict the next blowout, visitors can walk up the steep, broad, cinder-strewn track to the crater's rim and look in.


In Pompeii, we've booked a guide to help us explore. We'll walk along the streets and peer into the houses and shops, exploring the details of murals, bathhouses, and shop signs. Life ended here in AD 79, when Vesuvio spewed out a cloud of poisonous volcanic gas, followed by a blanket of ash. Many citizens died where they stood; plaster casts of the spaces left in the ash layer by their long-since decomposed bodies can be seen, some raising their arms against the onslaught.

Tips: There is a bar/restaurant with self-service at the site, and numerous restaurants outside. The site here is huge, so a guide can be very helpful; also, be prepared for a lot of walking. It can also be very hot here; take a bottle of water with you.

Next, we'll drive part of the Amalfi Coast, a 50-mile stretch of coast between Positano and Salerno, which is a highlight of any visit to southern Italy. A zig-zag road along jagged cliffs links vertiginous villages that seem to tumble into the azure sea - a sleepy confusion of pastel-painted houses with red-tiled roofs and steeply terraced fields, overflowing with a bounty of vines, olives and citrus fruits.

We'll stop for lunch in a local restaurant in Sorrento, which is a well-established and laid-back tourist stop. Here's where we plan on buying some of the famous vivid yellow lemon liqueur, limoncello.

After lunch (and some limoncello!), we'll drive further down the coast to Positano, surely the most beautiful seaside village of the coast. We'll stroll through this quaint village with its narrow, winding streets, where we can shop or head to the beach.

Our driver will then (unfortunately) take us back to the port - and once I'm home, I'll post reviews and my own photos of this beautiful port!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Planned Itinerary: Livorno

Livorno, Italy
Wednesday, June 17th
Hours: 7:00 am - 7:00 pm in port

Livorno is the port of Florence and Pisa...our plan is to utilize a private tour company, Rome in Limo ( All of the tour arrangements were set up by Erin (part of our group of 8) and the cost split amongst us. We are doing a combination of two tours: Cinque Terre, as well as Pisa. For the tour, gratuity, and a boat ride, our cost is $212.25E.

Cinque Terre

The stunning coastline of the Cinque Terre (Five Lands) is named after the quintet of fishing villages clinging precariously to the steep cliffs that descend to the sea. Cinque Terre (pronounced chink weh terr ay) is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For years it was secluded from most of Italy due to its isolated area. Once the railway arrived and connected The Chink (as we now affectionately call it) with the rest of the country, they began exporting their wine and Lemoncello all over the country. The Cinque Terre is noted for its beauty. Over centuries, man has carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm is the lack of visible "modern" development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages and cars can not reach it from the outside. It is a very popular tourist destination.

Monterosso is the largest, with a port usually filled with brightly painted fishing boats. It is the only one of the five villages with a beach.

Vernazza, arguably the most beautiful of the five, is a charming tangle of tiny streets and avenues, and has a fine 14th-century parish church with an octagonal bell tower.

From Vernazza, it's an easy drive to Corniglia, the smallest of the villages, perched high above the sea.

In Manarola, where steep cobbled lanes lead down to the sea, the streets are two narrow for cars:

Last, but not least, Riomaggiore, which has a good selection of hotels and restaurants:

After leaving the Cinque Terre, we head to Pisa, where of course, no trip would be complete without a visit to the Leaning Tower:

The Leaning Tower was originally conceived as the cathedral's bell tower. Construction began in 1173 and the tower started leaning soon afterwards due to subsidence of the ground underneath its base. A project to keep the tower from leaning more and tipping over finally reached a successful conclusion in 2001, and the tower is again open to those wishing to climb it.

Climbing the tower requires a reservation-based ticket for 15 Euro. Expect 45 minutes to 2 hours wait, but there is a lot to see while you wait. It is better if you buy tickets online for 17 Euro well in advance at
Warning: The tickets are non-exchangeable, effectively non-refundable, and only good for the Torre, so they're a bit of a risk to purchase in advance. Make the effort to climb, though, and you'll be rewarded by the view.

Be sure to check back after the cruise for reviews and photos!

Planned Itinerary: Rome

Rome, Italy
Thursday, June 18th (My birthday!)
Hours: 7:00 am - 7:00 pm in port

Another port where we are using Rome in Limo Tours! If you've read some of my other posts, you'll have figured out that Mike and I formed a group with some other cruisers "pre-cruise" by posting on The details of our "group" are posted on another entry - but a quick summary: there are 8 of us altogether (Erin & Bryan from Orlando, Laura & Chris from Utah, Amy & Bill from New Jersey, and Mike & I).

Our plan in Rome: We have booked the "Highlights of Rome" tour with Rome in Limo ( Including the cost of the tour, gratuity, and admission fees, our portion of this tour is approximately $287.25E.

Our guide will pick us up directly at the port and then the adventure begins!

One stop will be in the heart of Rome, where the Victor Emanuel Monument is located. This is sometimes called the "Wedding Cake" - you'll see why in this photo:

Then, it's on to even more ancient sites in this beautiful city, including:
The Roman Forum

The Forum, the heart of the Roman Empire for almost 1,000 years, is today a romantic jungle of ruins. The historical significance is overwhelming; after all, you're walking in the footsteps of Julius Caesar, Nero, Claudius, and countless other resonant names from antiquity. The tour books say to allow up to 2 hours to explore the site.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum, or "Colosseo", once the scene of gladiatorial combat, is now Rome's most majestic monument. It was begun around AD 70 by Emperor Vespasian on the former site of an ornamental lake. The marshy conditions required the laying of enormous drains, many of which survive. By the time of Vespasian's death in AD 79 the monument was finished to its third tier. Additions were made by his son, Titus, who inaugurated the Colosseum in AD 80 with celebrations that saw 100 days of festivities and the slaughter of 5,000 animals.

The completed structure had tiered seating and 80 exits, allowing huge crowds to leave in minutes. A vast roof could be unfurled to protect spectators from the elements. The stage area could also be flooded for re-enacted sea battles. Spectators were rigidly segregrated - and some groups, such as gravediggers and actors - were banned altogether.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is one of Europe's best-preserved ancient buildings; its majestic outlines have remained virtually unchanged despite the passage of almost 2,000 years. It was built between AD 115 and 125 by Emperor Hadrian; it was converted to a Christian church in AD 608.

The tour includes a walk through Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps and an opportunity to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain. After lunch and shopping, we'll visit the Vatican City, the smallest state in the world.

We'll also visit the Catacombs, as well as St. Peter's Basilica, which is considered the world's most famous church. It has a rigid dress code, forbidding shorts, short skirts, or skimpy tops. Women should cover their shoulders and men should dress with decorum. I am planning on wearing a cotton skirt, with a lightweight t-shirt, while in port this day.

After the cruise, I'll post my own reviews, as well as photos. Be sure to check back!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Planned Itinerary: Cannes

Cannes, France
Monday, June 16th
Hours: 10:00 am - 8:00 pm in port

On February 3, 2009, I made online reservations with Revelation Tours, at

This was because I had read excellent reviews of their services at

I booked the "Full-Day Private Tour" which costs $650 euros - for up to 8 people. This price includes the service of the driver/guide, the 8-passenger minivan, the gas, the parking and the pay toll. It does NOT include tip/gratuity, entrance fees for any museums/casinos, or lunch. Although they prefer payment in cash (euros only), they do accept traveler's checks or credit cards.

I have arranged Michel, our guide, to pick us up directly at the port at 11:00 am, and he is "ours" for the day. Because we have a very active group on the Meet & Mingle, it didn't take very long for us to get 6 other people on board for this tour, therefore making the cost per couple at $275.14. (This would include the entry fee to the Monte Carlo Grand Casino.)

My (hopeful) plan is for Michel to drive us around the area and include a panoramic view of Eze:

...and then visit Monte Carlo & Monaco:

This is the information I have gathered so far on Cannes itself:

Poor Cannes, so underappreciated.

Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, California: "There's no 'there' there." Cannes, sadly, seems to suffer from a similar character flaw. Consider this arch comment from travelmeister Rick Steves in his 2006 guide, Provence & The French Riviera: "Cannes has nothing unique to offer the traveler, except a mostly off-limits film festival. You can buy an ice cream cone at the train station and see everything before you've had your last lick."

Clearly, Steves has no affinity for Cannes' je ne sais quois. But, given a chance, Cannes does deliver. Granted, the Palais des Festivals, which houses the International Film Festival, looks like some no-name warehouse, and its signature red carpet is absent except during the festival's run, so there is a sense of a let-down. But dig deeper and you'll uncover some rich history, a modest but sweet Old Town called Le Suquet, and La Croisette, a glitzy palm tree-lined boulevard that makes up for the missing red carpet.

Best Souvenir
For officially sanctioned souvenirs of the Cannes Film Festival, check out its boutique in the pavilion at the beginning of Boulevard de la Croisette, just across from the Majestic hotel.

Don't Miss

Boulevard de la Croisette just pumps with enthusiasm. If Cannes has a stage, this is it: a two-mile strip with grand hotels like the Majestic, the Carlton and the Martinez. Sublime, sandy beaches are attached to the hotels; yours for the price of admission. (Looking to rent a beach umbrella? It costs about 12 euros.) And glittering store windows with names like Cartier, Fendi, Escada, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Vuitton, just to name a few. If you see a "Cannes Prestige" sign in the window, it signifies the promise of over-the-top service and that at least one sales associate speaks English.

Just wander uphill, and you'll reach Le Suquet, the town's historic center. Narrow streets, like Rue Saint Antoine, wander up the hill, which overlooks the west end of the old port. Among the sights:

the Castre Museum;

and the church of Notre-Dame d'Esperance, built in the 17th century. This is where you'll experience the best views in town.

Cannes evolved into a world-known resort and film capital in large measure due to Lord Henry Peter Brougham, a Grand Chancellor of England who became smitten with the tiny Riviera outpost in 1834. Brougham became a poster boy for his adopted home, leading its development and talking it up among the English aristocracy. Now, primarily known as the host of the International Film Festival, Cannes absolutely erupts during the festival, and it's no wonder when you consider the next two statistics: 900 screenings and 30,000 movie professionals will be in attendance of the invitation-only 62nd film festival.

A shopper's paradise, La Croisette and Rue d'Antibes are where you will find the luxury boutiques and art galleries.

The six-block-long Rue Meynadier, which runs parallel from the port just a few streets uphill, is a colorful pedestrian-only zone with shops selling hats, clothing, wine and cheese, roast chicken and local crafts like the ubiquitous lavender sachets.

Saturdays, under the trees across from the port, there's a flea market selling everything from sterling silver and antique linens to inexpensive trinkets and movie posters. The daily market, where local farmers and fishermen sell their wares, takes place at Forville, two blocks inland from the Hotel de Ville on Rue Felix Faure. It converts to a flea market on Mondays.
Misc Info

The oh-so-romantic French Riviera made a name for itself in the beginning of the 19th century as a fashionable resort with a wealth of activities for just about anybody. Most of the Riveria -- including Villefranche, Antibes, Monaco, St.-Paul, Grasse, and, of course, Cannes -- is accessible by train and bus and car. The train, in particular, offers great sightseeing between Cannes and Monaco, just over four hours. Artsy folks will be in their glory with nearly 100 museums and more than 150 art galleries that surround them, while outdoors-y types can explore the coast via boat/yacht, watersports or while sunbathing on the beach. And, depending on the time of year you visit, you may want to remember to bring your golf clubs or your skiis. Shops along the French Riviera are open Monday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. (department stores may be open until 9 p.m.).

Well, Michel will be the expert here, so we will trust him to take us to most beautiful panoramas, and eat the best food, and really show us his beautiful city....

After the cruise, I'll post my own reviews, as well as photos. Be sure to check back!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pre-Cruise Hotel: Hotel 1898

After much research on the Internet - especially on such sites as and, I chose the Hotel 1898 in Barcelona to book our 1-night pre-cruise stay for the 2009 cruise.

The Hotel 1898 is located on Las Ramblas, one of the more "famous" streets in Barcelona. On Trip Advisor, it was ranked #3 out of 616 hotels in Barcelona - so that spoke volumes.

The hotel has a very elegant lobby:

It has a pool in the "spa" - or basement area - of the hotel:

Another pool on the rooftop of the hotel, with an incredible view of Barcelona:

After deciding on this hotel, I used for booking - saving a few $$$ while doing so, which always helps! When I return from the cruise, I'll post my own review of this hotel, along with more photos of our room.