2 weeks ago I was onboard the Azamara Pursuit that held about 700 guests and today I am on the NCL Bliss which holds about 6000 guests. As you might guess there is a huge difference! Personally I like the smaller quieter ships but for this cruise we are sailing with extended family so the bigger ship that offers more options made sense. It is also Thanksgiving week so this ship seems to be full of extended families all traveling in large groups. Sailing on such contrasting ships within a month really makes it clear that there is a ship for everyone and also every occasion.
For our Mediterranean Cruise a small ship was perfect since we were visiting ports everyday and were spending all day exploring on land. A smaller ship can get into smaller ports which is a big advantage in Europe. This cruise is in the Caribbean which tends to have more sea days so a ship with more things to do onboard is helpful. The Bliss has 20 decks and includes things like go karts, laser tag, water slides, kids clubs, multiple dining locations, and lots of activities. If you are traveling with kids they will love this ship. If you are looking for a romantic quiet vacation this probably isn't the right ship. There are some adult only areas but this is one thing I think they need to improve on. NCL offers some options to pay more for some private locations on the ship such as the Vibe, a private area on the sun deck, and the Thermal Suite, a private area of the spa. You can buy a length of cruise pass for these. If you really want a private experience you will want to consider booking a room in the Haven. The Haven is like a ship within a ship where you will have your own private decks that include a pool, restaurant, and lounge. The Haven comes with all the pampering you can imagine like a butler and priority embarkation and debarkation.
If you are looking for a floating resort where the ship really contains everything you need for vacation full of activity then one of these mega ships, like the Bliss, are for you. If you are looking for a quieter more relaxing vacation where the ports are the highlight then I recommend the smaller ships. If you want something in between the two there are ships perfect for that as well. No matter what you are looking for there is a ship just waiting to take you sailing away!
I would be happy to help you find that ship and itinerary that is the best fit for your vacation.
After our sea day I was starting to feel like I might be getting a sore throat which did turn into a cold so I have been a bit tired and that is why I am behind on the blog. Since I go so behind you are getting the rest of the cruise all in this post.
Palma de Mallorca
Today's stop was one where I actually had pre-planned a shore excursion. I was partly thinking that all of our other stops up until then we were going to wing it so it was good to choose at least one stop and make advance plans. I read about the Caves of Drach and they sounded interesting and it wasn't something we could easily make our way to on our own. I booked our excursion with Project Expedition but the ship also offered a very similar one for a higher cost. Our tour was said to be 8 hours and the ship's only 4 and half hours so I thought we were getting a better deal. I think I was spoiled by our Colosseum tour and having such a small group and was hoping for the same this time but no such luck. This tour sent a small van to pick us up at the port and at first I thought this is great the tour won't be bigger than this maybe 20 passenger bus. Well that small bus took us to a place where other small buses met up so all guests from those could board a bigger regular motorcoach type bus. I thought oh well we probably ended up on a tour the same size as the ship's tour and I guess that is how this one could be cheaper. Then our guide started talking and we realized he would be saying everything in 4 languages all day. At first it was interesting but then I realized it meant we would have to hear a lot of talking all day. Our first stop was called an "authentic" Mallorca Pearl factory that was advertised as giving us an exclusive demonstration on how the pearls are made into jewelry. Well our bus pulled up to a run down looking outlet store it the middle of nowhere and I thought this cannot be right oh but it was. We were to spend the next 40 minutes at this place where the store and restaurant were not even open. I guess maybe this was more of a restroom break but the bathrooms were terrible - kind of what you would expect at a run down looking middle of no where shop I guess. OK so now I am seeing the advantage to the shorter ship excursion - no stop at this place. Then we board the bus and find out that some of the guests on the bus booked different tours so our first stop was to drop the guests off at a different cave for their excursion. OK so I guess I can deal with that but then I find out we are to spend the next 90 minutes at the nearby beach town - which I thought had sounded like a great part of the tour until we got there and realized it was off season for this small beach town so as you can guess not a lot to do. There was a triathlon going on which was about the only excitement. A few shops were open and a couple places to eat but nothing that really could take 90 minutes. There was a nice beach here so I can see in the summer it is probably a great stop on the tour where you could have time to swim and enjoy the beach but not this time of year. Finally 5 hours into the tour we get to the caves! They were impressive and the classical mini concert inside was wonderful. After having done this and comparing to the ship's version I think I would recommend the ship's tour in this case. By the time we got back to the ship it was almost time for the ship to leave so we didn't really get to explore the city itself. I was also feeling very rundown by that point so I was happy to get back on the ship anyway.
We could see the amazing cathedral from the back of the ship so we decided to eat dinner at the buffet and sit out on the back deck so we could watch as we left port. It was a little chilly but well worth it.
I was surprised to find out that our next stop of Valencia is the 3rd largest city in Spain. I guess I hear Valencia and I think oranges so I was kind of picturing a small countryside. I was way off. The city is so big and the port wasn't very close to the center so Azamara had shuttle buses for us at no charge. Valencia is a bustling city with a medieval past. From where the shuttle dropped us off we could easily walk over to the La Lonja which was the silk exchange was built in 1492 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Right near there is the Central Market of Valencia which is one of the largest in Europe, covers more than 8,000 square metres. It is a gorgeous Valencian Art Nouveau style building. We wandered through the huge market which was mostly meat vendors.
We left the old city and headed for the new to see the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies (Museum of Arts and Science). The buildings here are very modern and eclectic. We wandered around them a bit and it was such a strange contrast to the section of town we visited first. We looked at the map and it seemed from where we were it was a closer walk to the port terminal than to the shuttle drop off point. We remembered the ship had also mentioned there was a shuttle that went from the ship to the terminal center so we figured we would just walk to the port and find that instead. When we got to the port terminal we realized how large and busy this port really is. I was very glad for that shuttle that went from the terminal to the ship because it was probably another 15 minutes walk. This was our shortest port stop with a departure of 6 pm, which was fine with me since I still wasn't feeling 100%. I am sure they also do that so that everyone has enough time to pack since this was also our last stop before the end of the cruise. The ship's finale was a large chocolate buffet that they set up in the atrium area. It was a sweet ending to a great cruise.
Since the ship ended in a different port than we had started in this was like another port day to me so I had booked us a hotel for a night in Barcelona before flying home. In the morning we disembarked in Barcelona which was a breeze. I have to say it was one of the easiest I have had. We were off the ship, bags in hand, and at the curb in a few minutes. We use Uber many times when we travel so didn't even think about it much when we saw it was an option in Barcelona we used it. What we didn't realize is that Spain seems to have a rocky relationship with Uber and that it just recently came back in March. We were not sure where to look for our driver as the app just said the meeting point. When we asked around no one working in the terminal area seemed to even have heard of Uber which we thought was odd. We did find our driver and he explained that many people in Spain, the taxis especially do not like Uber. On our way to the hotel he also explained how Uber was different in Spain and it isn't the driver's own business like it is in the US. The drivers all drive company cars and are required to work set hours.
We got to the hotel and of course since you have to get off the ship rather early we couldn't get to our room but they were happy to store all of our things while we explored. Like in Rome I chose a smaller boutique type hotel, Erik Vokel, in the heart of things. The rooms here were actually like apartments so they had a full kitchen and even a washer/dryer (which would have come in handy if the ship hadn't had free laundry). We could easily walk to a lot of sights and hotel staff kindly showed us on the map where to go and gave advice on how to get there. Since we only had a day (which I realize now was not even close to enough time) we wanted to squeeze in as much as we could. If I had to do it all over again I think I would have booked 2 nights in Barcelona. When I was booking everything I was thinking that most times after a long cruise I am really just ready to be home, however this is one of the few times where our cruise was a one way so without staying an extra day we would not have seen Barcelona at all. Also it was my birthday so I was looking forward to celebrating it in Barcelona! After all the walking we have been doing we knew we just didn't have the energy to see everything on foot so we weighed our options for seeing things via a vehicle. It was between biking (too much energy needed for me), the hop on hop off (which are usually good options) but then we decided on the more fun way of driving ourselves around the city in a small GO Car. We had seen them on TV and they looked like a similar idea to the electric car we rented in Norway that had a guided tour built in and told you things along the path. What we hadn't counted on was that Barcelona was very different from the small Norwegian town we had driven around in. Barcelona traffic was a bit hectic and at times it got a little dicey. We missed a few turns and didn't really do all of the set tour but we did a lot and saw the highlights including a stop at the beach where we actually parked the little car and got out. In the end it was a fun way to see the city in less than 3 hours. After that we wandered around exploring places like the Gothic Quarter (which dates back over 2000 years!) on our walk back to the hotel. We took a siesta and headed back out for a little more exploring. Barcelona really is a wonderful city and I definitely want to go back and spend more time there one day.
Our hotel didn't have a breakfast location like the one in Rome but they did deliver a cute breakfast basket to the room that had juice, milk, and some bread with stuff for toast and some pastry. I forgot to mention earlier that the rooms used Uber to get back to the airport (we did compare rates since some locals told us Uber was more expensive but we found that was not correct and Uber was actually cheaper than a taxi). Personally for me I like that I can use the app on my phone for Uber and I see where my driver is and then I can pay in the app so no need to worry if I have enough euro left.
We are flying American Airlines this trip, which is our first time using them for international. For the return flight I bought the Premium Economy which I wasn't sure what to expect since on the other airlines we pay for the extra comfort or whatever they call it and have not really been impressed. That is not the case with American. I really like the Premium Economy and to me it was similar to what you might get in first class on a shorter domestic flight. It was well worth the extra price we paid for it. Maybe one day I will be ready to splurge on the business class for international flights but for now I will be very happy with this. While we have a non-stop from Barcelona to Miami which is nice it technically isn't non-stop for us since we will have to get in a car and drive a few hours but I am OK with that for the savings and also not having the worry about a connecting flight.
I am a little behind on my blog due to having a sea day. The internet on sea days can be a bit spotty and slow so it was easier to just enjoy the day relaxing.
First I will backtrack to the day before though. That was the day we were supposed to be docking in Monaco but due to storm damage we docked in Nice just around 30 minutes away from Monaco. Azamara provided us with shuttle buses into Monaco which was a nice touch. The ride over actually made it well worth docking in Nice instead since the views were breathtaking! We hadn't made any previous plans for this day so we were going to just explore on own so this was like getting a bonus mini-tour. Monaco was lovely. We caught the changing of the guard, walked through town and up to Monte Carlo. The casino didn't open until 2 pm and we were way under-dressed to go in anyway so we just walked around outside. They really want to keep the formal atmosphere there so you really need to be dressed up to get in and also pay to get in I think they said it was 17 euro per person. There was lots of outrageous sports cars parked around the Monte Carlo along with driving around town so it was fun to watch those. After that we made our way back up what the residents call the rock so that we could visit the cathedral before getting our bus back to the ship. The cathedral is where Princess Grace is buried. There is also a beautiful Royal Garden across from the cathedral that we walked through and took in the amazing coastal views. You can see why this area is call the Côte d'Azur (coast of Azure) as the water is a bright blue/green color.
Back on the ship it was one of Azamara's special events - White Night Party. They set up a wonderful buffet and the band was playing out on the pool deck. It was a little chilly though so they also put out blankets for guests to use while dining al fresco. I can see how this would be really fun in warmer temperatures but it was still nice. I laughed when I realized some guests chose to wear the robes from the room up to the party but since the robes are white and warm it made sense.
As I said when I started the next was our sea day. It was a pretty rough day at sea so I don't think a lot of people did much. I felt like Azamara had read my mind though because the night before I was thinking how much I love sleeping in on Sea Days but I hate to miss breakfast. I looked at the times for breakfast and saw the special sea day brunch in the dining room. I thought this was so perfect for me and I wish all ships did that. Breakfast is some of my favorite stuff so being able to still get some at 11 am. Brunch was set up as a buffet in the dining room and even had live music from the band so it was lovely. After brunch I did what I love doing on sea days - reading.
Today is our second day in Livorno and we chose today to head over to Florence. We walked back to the train station (if you read yesterday's entry you know it was more of a hike than a walk). The second time around though it seemed shorter since we knew where we were going and the weather was a little better. Florence it a little over an hour away by train but the train we caught had a few stops so it took a little longer. When we arrive in the Florence train station it was so much bigger and busier than the Livorno and Pisa stations. We made sure to double check our return options as we didn't want to be running back to the ship or worse miss it.
Florence is full of wonderful sights but we only had a couple hours so we chose to head towards the Duomo di Firenze and see everything around there. It was insanely busy around that area with lines that looked to be hours long and even the skip the line lines were long. We walked around took a few photos and then went towards David where we found more lines so we decided to skip that. We wandered a little, did some shopping and picked up a couple of Italian leather items before heading back to the train station. I would love to get back to Florence one day and explore the Tuscan countryside more one day.
Next stop was to be Monaco but we found out that the storm we rode out in Rome also did some damage to the port of Monaco, specifically to the dock we were to use. Azamara lives up to its Azamazing theme and got us a spot in Nice which is just about 30 minutes from Monaco. Not only that but they also are going to provide us with free buses to go back and forth to Monaco so we don't miss out on that port at all.
We finally got out of port and our cruise has started. After missing the first 2 stops we are in Livorno and this was already scheduled as an overnight stop. Azamara tries to include an overnight stop somewhere in each itinerary which is very nice since it can be rare to get to enjoy the nightlife of a stop when on a cruise. This also usually when Azamara will have their Azamazing evening event which is complimentary for each guest.
This is a pretty good place to have an overnight since Livorno is close to both Pisa and Florence so there is a lot to see. Pisa is about a 20 minute train ride while Florence it a little over an hour away by train. Since the Azamazing evening event is tonight we decided to go to Pisa today since it is closer. We walked to the train station, which we didn't realize was a good hike from the port. It was about a 2 mile walk but we figured this was also a good way to explore Livorno. It wasn't that interesting of a walk so it mostly just seemed long. I am sure most people opted for either a taxi or the bus to get from the port to the train station but what fun is that. We easily found our train and before we knew it we were in Pisa. Of course the main thing to see in Pisa is the leaning tower. It was an easy walk from the train station. Along the way we walked through the University of Pisa and oddly enough it was graduation day for some students. It was kind of fun to see them celebrating - instead of a cap and gown there wore wreaths like the Romans wore on their heads. We explore the grounds around the Tower and laughed at the tourists taking the funny posed photos like they were holding up the tower. One thing that we have learned is that finding a restroom can be rather difficult and then when you do find one it will usually cost money. We did find one conveniently located by this tourist attraction and it was .80 per person but when you gotta go you gotta go. Walked the wall around the area and made our way back to the train station. We got back to the ship in time to eat and get ready to go back out for our Azamazing evening which was a special Opera show just for us. On the way back to the ship we did see some kids out trick or treating in the shops. It was fun to see that Halloween is very similar in Italy. Onboard the dining room had a scary dessert buffet with lots of fun Halloween themed desserts.
The event was all very orderly with guests being called by deck to board the buses that would take us into town to the theater. It was wonderful to have the whole Goldoni theater to ourselves. We had our own booth in the balcony and enjoyed a lovely show by the Incanto Quartet. They preformed some classic opera along with some contemporary songs too. Back onboard they were waiting to welcome us with champagne and hot chocolate. There was also a late night buffet with snacks and more dessert. Up in the Living Room there was a Halloween party but there wasn't anyone dressed up. I guess if maybe Halloween wasn't the same night as the Opera event more people might have brought a costume for the night.
Surprise Sea Day
Due to the weather we were not able to leave Rome until the morning so we did miss our first 2 ports on this cruise and now will have a sea day while we make our way to our 3rd stop which is Livorno. Even though I was bummed to miss those first 2 ports I do always enjoy a sea day. The sun came out and eventually the waves died down and it turned out to be a nice day. I found a cozy spot to read in the Living Room, which is on the top deck at the very front of the ship (still inside). The ship has a nice sized library which came in handy for me since when I packed for this trip I brought a book for flying but since this cruise was very port intensive I didn't think I would have much time to read. You could tell that the library was recently stocked as many booked still looked brand new. Even though this is a smaller ship there are still plenty of places to get comfy inside. There are also lots of really comfy looking spots outside so I am hoping we get at least one warm day to be able to sit out there too.
As I mentioned before sailing with Azamara really includes a lot in your cruise fare. There are many options for drinks to order in any area of the ship. Even if you are in your room the mini bar is stocked with drinks that are all included in your cruise fare and your room steward will refresh it each day. Also when getting off the ship there will be plenty of chilled bottled water to grab as you get off which is perfect for exploring. Another nice free option is the self serve laundry onboard. I know I might be in the minority but I almost always do a load of laundry when I cruise and having the self serve laundry is nice and even better when it at no charge. I probably should have done a load of wash today during our sea day but I got sucked into my book and did not get to it.
Later tonight we will arrive at our next stop a little earlier than scheduled and this is the port we were already scheduled for an overnight visit anyway so now we get 2 nights even though we won't be able to get off the ship until tomorrow morning.
We spent all day still in port and the weather was really bad. Some people opted to take excursions into Rome but since we had already seen plenty in Rome and the weather in the port area wasn't good we just stayed on the ship. It was very windy so it made sense to stay inside. We were just hanging out in the room when it got a little darker outside so I looked out and next thing I know we were moving. An announcement came on saying echo, echo, echo. I looked it up to see it pretty much meant high winds be prepared. In this case it meant our lines had broken and we were no longer tied to the dock. We were now floating out in the middle of the channel and spinning a little. My view did a 180 turn before tugs came to bring us safely back to dock. It was a bit crazy but quickly under control and the captain came on to say there was no damage and no one was hurt. Now that my view was of the dock I could see how much the wind had damaged the terminal. We were now tied up at the MSC cruise terminal, which was a little further down from where we were tied up before. Thankfully the MSC Meraviglia was able to leave port the day prior or we might have hit her. The port building itself had a few sunroof panels that come loose and some of the glass doors had blown open. The temporary metal gates were blown over and scattered around. It really looked as though a hurricane had blown through. A firetruck came later to take the pieces of the sunroof off. We were supposed to finally get out of port tonight but the captain came on around 10 pm to say sorry it is still not safe to leave so we will be staying overnight and hoping to push off in the morning. That also meant we were going to miss our second port of Bastia. It is bummer to miss these 2 quaint little ports but safety is more important. After seeing what the winds did in port I am very glad that we were not out in the open water for that. It sounds like tomorrow will be a sea day and we will arrive at our 3rd stop, Livorno (Florence/Pisa) a little early.
After squeezing in as much of Rome as we could in our short time we are now headed to the port to board the Azamara Pursuit. The port for Rome is in Civiavecchia which is about an hour away. If you take a Mediterranean cruise that doesn't start in Rome but says it stops in Rome this is the port you will be in so keep that in mind when planning your day. Since we are on a smaller ship we will be visiting some ports that the big ships won't do on a typical Mediterranean cruise. I love the idea of visiting the smaller less busy ports, especially after spending a couple days in crowded and busy Rome.
Last night Daylight Savings ending here in Europe, which is a week earlier than back home in the US so now I am 5 hours ahead instead of 6. It also means that now sunset is around 5 pm which is a bit of a bummer. When we got up this morning it was rainy and windy. We realized we were lucky that we had such nice weather for our 3 days of walking around. On the ride to the port the weather seemed to get a little worse with the winds picking up along with some thunder. When we arrived at the port it was easy to see that that seas were very rough as the waves were crashing over the seawalls around the port. The boarding process was quick and easy, another plus of sailing on a smaller ship. We explored the ship, which has only been sailing for about 3 months since coming out of drydock so it still had that just like new smell. I really love everything about this ship. She isn't too big but not too small either. She seems brand new with a modern sleek style. There were a few other ships in port with us. The MSC Meraviglia was right in front of us and she is a mega ship so you really got a feel for how small the Pursuit is in comparison.
The weather was still pretty rough when we went to the muster drill and luckily since this is a smaller ship the muster locations are inside in either the theater or dining room. I have been on many cruises where weather has caused adjustments to our itinerary but this was a first to find out that our ship would not be leaving port today due to the weather. That obviously meant we were going to miss our first port of Olbia, Sardinia. It is always disappointing to miss a port but that is something you do always have to be prepared for when cruising. Since this cruise only had 1 sea day originally and it wasn't until the end of the cruise I am OK with a rest day to recover from all the exploring we did in Rome. It will be nice to sleep in and just enjoy the ship. The Captain said the plan is to leave port at 9 pm tomorrow so that is a long time to wait out the storm. For anyone that didn't arrive early for the cruise they might be happy to have a whole day to go visit Rome. I am thinking if the weather isn't too bad maybe we will get off the ship and wander around the port area which is in a city dating back to the 2nd century.
WOW! Like the saying Rome wasn't built in a day, the same goes for seeing Rome - you cannot see it in a day or even 2. There is just so much to see in Rome and we are trying to squeeze it all into 2 and half days while battling a little jet-lag! If you are like us and haven't been to Rome before and are taking a cruise out of Rome you really do need a couple days to even scratch the surface. If your cruise is round trip it might be easier to do Rome after the cruise but either way I think you need at least 3 days to just get a sampling of Rome.
As I said yesterday, I chose a hotel based on location that was close to things I knew we wanted to see and we really have walked to everywhere we have been in these 2 days. Yesterday our step meter said we did 13 miles! Our hotel's location allows us to walk to the Trevi fountain in about 2 minutes which is nice since that place is always crowded. We found this morning when leaving for an early tour we passed the fountain at 8 am and that was the least crowded it we have seen it. Our front desk said the best time to go is 3 am - which would be possible being this close but don't think we really need to do that unless we cannot sleep tonight for some reason. We have also easily walked to the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and Piazza Navona. All of these you can just walk around for free no tour needed. Slightly longer walks but still easy to handle were the Colosseum and Vatican City. I did pre-book us a tour for the Colosseum with Project Expedition and I am so glad I did. Even though this is considered slightly off-season for tourists things have still been very crowded. Our tour not only allowed us to skip the lines but it also got us into places you cannot go on your own. It was very cool to go underground and also up to the very top level of the Colosseum. The tour also included the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Having a guide over there was really great since there was so much to see and learn about.
We weren't really sure how we would be feeling so I didn't want to pre-book too much and I am glad I didn't since we really couldn't have been up early the first day after an overnight flight. We decided for the Vatican we would just explore the outside for this visit. By the time we got over there the crowds were already large so I wouldn't recommend doing that without a tour that lets you skip the lines.
We also walked around the river and other things like Circo Massimo, Castel Sant Angelo, and Largo di Torre Argentina (this is where Julius Caesar was killed). There are also lots of shops, churches, monuments, and piazzas we wandered around. You can see how easy it was to do 13 miles in a day!
Food in Italy is pretty much as you would expect lots of pasta, pizza, and gelato pretty much every where you turn! There are just so many restaurants it can be hard to choose. I asked our hotel for a suggestion and they gave a great one. I also checked google reviews to get an idea. As you walk down the street many of the restaurants will try to pull you in. That wasn't as bad as some of the other people in the streets trying to get you to buy things. As with most tourist areas you will find the street art like the different performers and artists which can be fun. Then you have the "pop up" shops and guys walking around selling things which is fine to me as long as they are not pestering you to buy. Apparently selfie sticks are the biggest thing for these guys in the streets to sell as they were pretty much at every major attraction trying to get you to buy one. One thing I can stay about them is that a simple no thanks and they left you alone. The one thing I really didn't like were the African men that seemed to line the street around the fountain and they would pretend to want to shake your hand but really slip a bracelet on and then expect you to buy it. They were very aggressive and very annoying. It made me not want to walk that street and I am sure I wasn't alone on that. We went into the wonderful gelato shop right next to our hotel and the owner even said something about them and how he isn't happy about them being out there. The funny thing is we were going to walk down towards the fountain to get gelato but then decided we didn't want to deal with those guys so just went next door. It worked out since we realized that shop was great and very convenient for us. We have had a great time in Rome and definitely would come back again. Tomorrow morning we head for the ship. The port is about an hour away so you really do need to plan for transportation over there. There won't be much rest for my feet as the cruise is 9 nights and out of 10 days only 1 sea day! Most Mediterranean cruises are like that since there are just so many great places to see in a short distance. On one hand it is great to pack so much into one trip but on the other hand can be exhausting as well. I highly recommend planning at least a day or 2 after a Mediterranean cruise to relax and recover (kind of like a Disney World visit).
Our cruise starts out in Rome. I always recommend arriving a day early for any cruise but even more so for European cruises when you will be flying further and also dealing with some jet-lag. I also think it is very important to not forget that the place where your cruise starts should also be considered a port of call. If you were to fly in the day of your cruise you will miss out on exploring that port. If your cruise is a round trip cruise then you can also plan to explore that port after the cruise. My cruise is a one way cruise so I cannot do that.
For this cruise I know Rome is huge with so may things to see that it could be a vacation unto itself but with already doing a 9 night cruise we could only add a couple days there pre-cruise. The port is about an hour from the city of Rome so the day the ship departs doesn't really leave you much time to see anything. This means we had to plan our time wisely and choose the things we wanted to see and do most.
When searching for flights it can help to be flexible and also a little creative. Living in Orlando we are lucky enough to have quite a few airport options withing a few hours drive. Generally Orlando has some pretty decent flights to just about everywhere but being a travel agent I cannot help but explore all options to find the best flights for my needs. This time it turned out that I could save about $500 per person by flying out of Miami so for me a 4 hour drive is worth $1000. It turned out even better when we boarded the flight to Rome and found the plane wasn't even half full so we lots of room to spread out and get comfy for the overnight flight.
Finding a hotel in a place like Rome can be overwhelming, even for a travel agent like me. There are just so many options and it is not like in the US where you have all the chain names where you pretty much know what you are going to get. Most of the hotels in Rome are in old buildings many that might not have started out as a hotel. I decided I wanted a hotel right in the heart of things and then realized I needed to narrow that down even more so I picked the Trevi Fountain to be close to and then started sorting through all the options. Reviews are helpful but I will be honest what really made up my mind was when I read the hotel rooms have a mini bar where everything in it is just 1 euro each. I know it may seem like a silly reason to some people but when there as so many hotels and many seeming to be very similar that stood out to me as something I know I would like to have. I just know so many times when I travel we will spend the day exploring and when you get back to the room you are thirsty or maybe just need a snack and are too tired to venture back out to find something so the mini bar comes in handy and knowing I am not going to be gouged for that is nice. Most European hotels will come with a free breakfast but the hotel I chose has a bonus and the free breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace, another feature that stood out as a reason to choose this one for me. Since we are short on time in Rome having a hotel that was in easy walking distance to a lot was important too. I am very happy with my choice of Relais Trevi 95 Hotel. As the name suggests it is super close to Trevi fountain. So far we have been able to walk around and get to see a lot very easily. Will add photos later :)