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  1. Yes, the walk was worthwhile. We took this tour with EXPLORA MÁLAGA S.L. B93452118 info@exploramalaga.com Tlf: +34 611454404. https://exploramalaga.com/ It's one of several different tours by different organizations.
  2. The shuttle in Mykonos was indeed provided for free by Celebrity Cruises.
  3. We were on a back-to-back cruise on Celebrity Reflection to 15 ports where we visited over two dozen cities. This review is about the ship experience. For very detailed information on the ports with lots of pictures jump to: http://www.lavasurfer.com/info/mediterranean-secrets.html or for individual ports, check the Cruise Critic "Ports of Call" boards (which also allows you to ask questions). Part I - Precruise For really helpful precruise information (packing, useful apps, passports, ATMs, etc) see: http://www.lavasurfer.com/info/western-mediterranean.html II. Embarkation (Departure) From Rome By Ship A. Back to Back Passengers (B2B) We were among approximately 56 passengers who had booked a back-to-back cruise. Some of the benefits included: $50 cruise discount on the second cruise, lunch in the Opus Dining Room on the changeover day, a special Transit Pass that allow you to skip the general boarding process if you decide to leave the ship, the ability to stay on the ship, full access to your cabin if you keep the same cabin, and a genuinely easy immigration and changeover process. We changed cabins and it also couldn't have been easier. We simply packed our suitcases, except for everything that was hanging in the closet and vacated our room around 8:30 am. Our bags and closet items were all relocated by ship personnel. Around 1:00 pm we moved into our new cabin. We did not wish to leave the ship for an excursion. Instead we took it easy, stayed onboard, and basically had the run of the ship. All B2B passengers that stayed onboard met around 9:00 am outside Cellar Masters. We settled our bills, turned in our old Seapass cards (which they gave us back later as souvenirs), completed a new express pass and health form, got our new Seapass cards and had a new security picture taken. It took no more than 5 minutes per couple to complete. It was a ridiculously easy process which was greatly appreciated. B. Civitavecchia, Italy Originally, we flew into Rome's Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO) four days early to explore Rome (details under "Ports") and help avoid the stress of travel delays. We left our hotel at 11:00 am via Rome-Airport.net Shared Shuttle Transport to the port. Cost was €75 per couple with pickup at your hotel and dropoff at the ship. Check their website for rideshares that need more passengers or start a rideshare yourself. This is one of the most efficient ways to arrive. It's a lot more trouble if you arrive by train (requires walking, shuttles or taxi upon arrival) or by bus (dropoff is outside the port with shuttle service to each ship). C. Security Processing and Boarding at Civitavecchia When we arrived for the first half of the cruise at the pier about 12:45 pm, gave our luggage and a tip to a baggage handler and immediately entered the terminal. Security took 5 minutes and we headed to Celebrity Check-in. Priority lines were set up for Suites, Aqua Class, Concierge, Elites and Select members, and a line for all others. In any case, the lines were minimal. Once in line, we waited until being directed to one of about two dozen Celebrity check-in agents. The agent checked our passports, credit card, and embarkation form. Within 10 minutes we had our Seapass (which is used as your ship ID, ship credit card, and door key) and a couple of security checks later we were on the ship. C. Explore The Cabin We were in cabin 9310, a category C3 Concierge Class Stateroom with about 194 square feet of space, plus a 54 square foot veranda, on Deck 9. With the exception of the balcony, it seemed identical in size to our 177 square foot OceanView cabin we were in on the first half of the cruise. We were located slightly aft of midships, starboard side. The location was great, and serviced by a bank of 6 elevators just down the hall. The cabin was well laid out. Lots of drawers and enough room in the closets and over the bed for our clothes. The bathroom had a toilet, sink, and a spacious glass-enclosed shower. Hangers and small light robes were provided. The small safe had plenty of room. The desk featured a number of informational brochures including Monday's event newsletter "Celebrity Reflection Today" as well as a note informing us of our 6:00 pm dinner seating and table number. Our veranda had two lounge chairs, two footstools, and a table. Being Cruise Critic members, we received an invite to the gathering scheduled for later that day. We asked our cabin attendant to empty our mini-fridge, which he did before we retired for the evening. All of these items were taken care of promptly by our efficient and friendly cabin attendant, Dewa. Although we were on the "starboard" (right) side of the ship, we often had the best view of the port. It all depended upon where our specific pier was located in relation to where the most interesting views of the port were. D. Tour of Ship and Search For Food The ship is gorgeous, and really well laid out with ample sets of stairwells and elevators. 8 elevators can be found midship with 3 additional elevators forward. We found sustenance in the Oceanview Cafe on the Deck 14 for a buffet lunch. E. Dinner in the Main Dining Room - 6:00 pm "First Seating" Opus Restaurant is the main dining room (MDR), located on Decks 3 and 4. Passengers with assigned dining times (Early or Late) ate on 3 while passengers with anytime dining at upstairs on 4 (with some accommodated overflow on deck 3). The dining room is beautiful. F. Lifeboat Drill At 4:15 pm (about an hour prior to leaving port), we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill at our assigned muster station. We were not required to wear lifejackets. We simply had to get to our muster station, watch a humorous lifejacket demonstration, and listen to announcements from Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis and our muster crew. Part III - Food! Celebrity has a good reputation for their cuisine. The meals met our expectations. Not only was it good, it was downright outstanding on many nights. There was excellent variety throughout the ship. A. Our Favorite Items The Best Breakfast Items: Made-to-order eggs and omelets, fresh fruit, oatmeal with choice of toppings, and smoked salmon in the Oceanview Cafe; and the donuts and pastries at Cafe al Bacio. The Best Dinner Appetizers: Escargot, dill salmon, anything with goat cheese, roasted beets, and meats in puff pasties. There were at least 6 appetizers each night. All appetizers were well presented. You can't go wrong. The Best Soups: Butternut squash, French onion, and Mushroom. The Best Lunch Items in the Oceanview Cafe: Fresh fish and chips, a buratta station, grilled colossal shrimp, salad bar, caesar salad, fruits, pasta bar, and daily grilled special. The Best Entrées in the Main Dining Room: Prime rib, Portabella mushroom with spinach and goat cheese, Lamb chops, Veal, Roasted trout, Australian Sea Bass, Lamb shank, Braised beef ribs, Seared Salmon, Mediterranean seafood with orzo. The Best Desserts: Baked Alaska, cheesecake, ice creams and sorbet; and the coconut macaroons. B. Opus Restaurant Opus Restaurant is the main dining room (MDR), located on Decks 3 and 4. Passengers with assigned dining times (Early or Late) ate on Deck 3 while passengers with anytime dining at upstairs on Deck 4 (opposite the dedicated dining room for suites). The Opus dining room is beautiful with nicely plated presentations at dinner. Meats were cooked to order, including Medium Rare upon request. We never needed to send back an undercooked or overcooked item. Our Waiter (Carlos), our Assistant Waiter, and our Sommelier were all very friendly, efficient, and offered good guidance. In addition to the daily menu, the following items are available every night: shrimp cocktail, escargot, seasonal fruit, French onion soup, Caesar salad, chicken, salmon, NY sirloin steak, NY Cheesecake, creme brulee, apple pie, and chocolate cake. On our first cruise we requested a large table and were assigned a table for 4 with a delightful couple that was also on a Back-to-Back cruise and had ironically also requested a large table. Between cruises, the four of us once again requested a large table for the second half of the cruise. We were accommodated with a table for 12. Unfortunately, we averaged only 6 passengers per night at this table. Apparently we should have specifically asked for a large table with passengers actually assigned to the seats. C. Specialty Restaurants and Premium Casual Dining Reflection has four premium "dressy" specialty dinner restaurants for which a cover charge applies. Murano is very fancy and serves a "blend of Classic and modern continental cuisine, freshly prepared in multi-course meals, as exquisite European-style service attends to your every need". Qsine is now exclusively featuring Le Petit Chef, an animated character that appears beside your plate via an immersive table display technology and prepares each course you’ll be enjoying right in front of you before you’re served the actual dish. Tuscan Grille is an italian-themed steakhouse that serves pastas, seafood, steaks and salads. Lawn Club Grill is a casual outdoor grill with an expansive salad bar, build your own flatbread pizza, and several grill specialties, including USDA Choice Beef, poultry, seafood, and vegetables. We ate at Lawn Club Grill twice. Both times my wife ordered a beautiful, huge, filet mignon; and both times I ordered the milk-fed veal chop (essentially a bone-in veal ribeye). Both are really good. The veal chop is simply incredible --- very tender and flavorful. A secret gem of the Lawn Club Grill. We did not visit any of the other three venues, though fellow passengers gave especially high praise to Murano. There are also two premium "casual" restaurants on Reflection that charge a cover. Sushi on Five (formerly Bistro on Five) offers freshly prepared sushi and Japanese favorites; while The Porch features fresh seafood and raw bar. We enjoyed a meal at The Porch while watching Greek islands pass by. We enjoyed the Seafood Tower (cold lobster, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and seafood salad) as an appetizer followed by lobster bisque and a lobster roll. The mussels are the tastiest I've ever had and everything else was also quite good. Most passengers never find The Porch which is hidden on Deck 15 next door to The Lawn Grill Club. Seek it out if you like seafood. For just $30, you'll be glad you did. Most of the restaurants are located on Deck 5. Lawn Club Grill and The Porch are on Deck 15. While the food in the Main Dining Room was quite good, we ate at the Lawn Club Grill and The Porch as a change of pace. The cover charges run $15 to $50, but discounts of 10% to 50% can be found most nights at one or more of the venues --- depending upon the current bookings. You'll find representatives from the restaurants each morning outside of the Oceanview Cafe on deck 14 at breakfast and sometimes at lunch. Ask them about any available discounts. D. Oceanview Cafe Found on Deck 14 aft, Oceanview has several hot, cold, and carved meat buffet stations which change daily; as well as a salad bar, pasta bar and pizza station. Be sure to wonder around to check out all of the offerings before plating. Surprises abound. The food was generally quite good. Hint: at breakfast, check both grill areas. Although both offer omelets, one seemed to always be busier. E. Cafe al Bacio Hit up Cafe al Bacio on Deck 5 for a variety of espresso, cappuccino, latte, mocha and macchiatos; as well as a dozen premium hot teas and premium iced teas. My wife fell in love with the Cafe Mocha and the Caramel Machiatta on a prior cruise. Once I discovered the Raspberry iced tea I would pick one up as soon as we got back from each day's port excursions. Very refreshing! It is also a great place to stop in the morning on the way to breakfast. If you want a quick bite to eat, they offer free croissants, brioche, fresh muffins, berliners (great jelly doughnuts) and apple turnovers in the morning; light lunch items; and desserts at night. The baristas at this cafe are very friendly and efficient. F. Gelateria Located next to Cafe al Bacio, the Gelateria offers 12 flavors of Italian gelato. We enjoyed a refreshing gelato after one of our day's excursions. The mint chocolate chip is a winner. G. Mast Grill Located midship on Deck 15, Mast Grill offers limited bar service, hamburgers (beef, turkey or vegetable), chicken breast, hot dogs and french fries --- along with favorite toppings like sauerkraut, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, American cheese, bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Yes, you can ask for just a BLT. Hint: there is a softserve ice cream station here and the flavor changes daily, and almost nobody knows it exits. My wife loved the fudge brownie ice cream. H. Aqua Spa Cafe The Aqua Spa Cafe is open for lunch and is located midship in the Solarium on Deck 14. They only have about 7 tables which is usually plenty since most folks either don't know it's here or think it's only for Aqua Class passengers. Hint: The food is free but it's no lounger the gem it once was when they offered poached salmon. There is only a surcharge for fruit juices, smoothies and parfaits. They offer grains, fruit plates, and salads. The food is good but very limited. I. Room Service You can order from morning to late night. We didn't order anything from room service this trip. From past experience, they are generally punctual and they don't just drop the order off at your door --- they come in and set it up for you. Be sure to tip! J. Classic Drink Package We had the Classic drink package on this trip. Bars are plentiful and the bartenders and service staff (looking at you Alexandra) did a great job of getting drinks out to everyone. We enjoyed wine each night at dinner. Plenty of red and white wine choices. If you have a package (or not) you won't go thirsty. The Classic Drink Package includes an array of beers, spirits, cocktails, liquors, frozen drinks, wines (up to $9 per serving), sodas, basic bottled water, and premium coffees and teas from Cafe al Bacio. Although it was never necessary, we could have simply paid the price difference to upgrade to any premium beer, wine or liquor selection on an as needed basis. Part IV - Entertainment A. Celebrity Shows in the Reflections Theater Reflections Theater is located on forward on Decks 3, 4, and 5. The theater itself is beautiful and the viewing is excellent downstairs and with few exceptions the second floor as well. Almost all of the third floor seating is partially obstructed by high glass safety walls, safety rails, or the occasional pylon. Sound and lighting is excellent. The Stars of Reflections Production Cast (aka Celebrity Singers and Dancers) took part in 4 shows (Elysium, Intimate Broadway Cabaret, Broken Strings, and Euphoria). They are a very talented and energetic group. We felt many of the song selections were pretty obscure. The finale "Euphoria" is not to be missed! My wife caught it twice. B. Guest Appearances in the Reflections Theater Our guest artists included: Christopher Caress (hypnotist), Claire Maidin (singer, pianist, entertainer), Peter Grant (singer), Rob Lewis (Tribute to Phil Collins), Anthony Scott (comedian), Ragar (a Rock/Country Duo), and The Sammy Tones (Reflection's house band) headlined "Beatles Around the World" for one night. We enjoyed most of the guests, especially Claire Maidin. C. Celebrity Orchestra and Other Ship Bands The Celebrity Orchestra was truly excellent and performed at most of the shows in the Celebrity Theater as well as occassionally at other venues. Among the other entertainment we enjoyed was Fiesta Duo (Classical Strings) our favorite, The Sammy Tones (House Band), 4 Elements (Fusion Quartet), Devico (Contemporary Duo), and Charlotte Jones (Solo Guitarist). Most played at various venues on the ship. D. Shows in the Celebrity Central Celebrity Central is an all-purpose venue. They offered movies, guest speakers, and travel talks (information about ports that Celebrity sails to to encourage bookings). E. Enrichment Speakers Sea Days are typically when you get to hear at least four fascinating topics from engaging speakers. Celebrity calls it "Beyond The Podium". The topics are endless, but at a minimum you can expect to see credentialled experts providing good historical background to the ports we are visiting. Unfortunately, this cruise was devoid of any enrichment talks from outside speakers. On the second sea day, Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis gave a presentation entitled "Oceans Ahead: Secrets of Ship Navigation". The Captain, full of humor and interesting information, played to a full house. F. Port Talks If you like to shop and only take shore Celebrity excursions (or are otherwise looking to take a nap) then "Port Talks" are for you. They will highlight the excursions available through Celebrity and the port shopping opportunities that partner with Celebrity. I understand this is a commercial venture. Conversely, there is a definite hunger for good port information for do-it-yourselfers that is severely lacking on Celebrity. Along this same line, Celebrity provides each cabin with a map of the next day's port. The bits of the town that they map is very clear and easy to read. However, this is not a map you want to use for sightseeing. The map is typically only useful for finding the recommended stores mentioned at the "port talks". Either bring good port maps with you or seek out Tourist Information booths for free maps. Booths aren't always open and the maps vary significantly in usefulness depending upon the port. In general, fee maps from Western Mediterranean ports were better than those from Eastern Mediterranean ports. G. Casino The Fortunes Casino (amidship Deck 4) is filled with slot machines, two Craps tables, two roulette tables (1 American, 1 European), a few blackjack tables, texas hold 'em table, three card poker table, and a bar with flatscreen tv's. The casino was open while at sea and closed while in ports. The Casino is a fresh-air, non-smoking, environment. Kudos to Celebrity for their non-smoking policy. H. Movies and TV Channels Movies are available on your TV and nightly in Celebrity Central on Deck 4 and occassionally on the Jumbotron on Deck 15. Some of the movies shown included "Shape of Water", "Earth: One Amazing Day", "The Square", "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool", "Loveless", "The Time of Their Lives", "Una", "I, Tonya", "Thor Ragnarock", and "Red Sparrow". Your TV includes both pay-per-view and a dozen free on-demand movies (some of the same offerings as above). Satellite TV channels were very limited. They included several ship-related channels, 4 news stations, 3 sports stations (MLB is not shown), Travel, HGTV, and Food Channel. You can also order room service and check your current account balance on the TV as well. I. Canyon Ranch SpaClub This full-service spa is located on Deck 12. "The Persian Garden" (free for AquaClass passengers, fee for others) features steam rooms, infrared sauna, aromatic steam room with a mixture of warm steam and aromatherapy, sensory rainforest showers, and a dozen heated-tile loungers with awesome floor to ceiling exterior views accompanied by the calming music. J. Outdoor Pools and Hot Tubs There are six hot tubs and two outdoor pools along with an indoor pool (Solarium) on Deck 14. We did not use the pools. I found the hot tubs needed to be at least 10-degrees hotter. K. The Lawn Club Located on open-air Deck 15 aft, The Lawn Club features real grass to enjoy under foot along with lawn games like Bocce (lawn bowling), putting, and croquet. Part V - Parties A. Cruise Critic Rollcall Gathering Our rollcall group met for sailaway drinks shortly after muster drill at the Sunset Bar, Deck 15 aft. This is a great bar for frozen drinks. The mango daiquiri is excellent. B. Cruise Critic Connections Party We signed up for the Cruise Critic party on the Celebrity web site. We received an invitation to the party taking place just after sailaway in the Conference Center on Deck 4. It was packed! We had a great time meeting and greeting other addicted cruise critics. The Cruise Director was in attendance along with several of the ships key officers and the Captain's Club representative. C. Theme Parties Due to being late at night, we missed all of the theme parties: Totally 80's Party, Silent Disco, Full Moon Party, Masque Interactive Theme Party, Mirage Party, ABBAmania, Groove Interactive Theme Party, Silent Disco Part II, Disco Never Dies, and a British Invasion Night. D. Captain's Club Parties Members of Captain's Club had access to parties depending upon your level. Elite members were invited to a Captain's Club Celebration and a Senior Officer's Party. Part VI - The Ports Here's a link to the complete port reviews, with pictures. http://www.lavasurfer.com/info/mediterranean-secrets.html Part VI - Health Concerns A. Smoking Celebrity does this right! There was no smoking in the restaurants, casino, lounges, Reflections Theater, cabins or verandas. Smoking was permitted outside on the port side and rear of the ship. We are very sensitive to smoke and applaud Celebrity on it's smoking policy. The ship's environment was very enjoyable. We did not observe anyone abusing the smoking privilege. B. Pools and Hot Tubs We did not witness any babies in the pools or tubs. C. General Cleanliness of the Ship You could not take a stroll without witnessing some type of cleaning going on at all hours. The ship was constantly being cleaned or painted: floors, walls, fixtures, everything! The ship appears to be in really good shape. D. Viruses To the best of our knowledge, there was no outbreak on our ship. Kudos to our fellow passengers and Celebrity personnel for their personal diligence. E. Seasickness Overall, we had beautiful weather and fairly calm seas. Almost like glass a couple of days. Until a couple voyages ago, I always alternated half of a patch behind my ears for the duration of the voyage. This trip I again tried going unmedicated. It generally went well as I never got seasick. I did get low-grade headaches on our two roughest days at sea, despite waves being no worse than 2-5 feet. F. Drinking Water All Celebrity ships have their own desalination and purification process. The drinking water on Reflection was excellent. Part VII - Ship Notes A. Ship and Crew The ship was under the command of Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis. We were very impressed with the ship, captain, and his crew. Very friendly and competent. The ship and furnishings were in very good shape. She was very clean. B. Our Cabin Steward Our room steward (Dewa) did a great job with our cabin (no complaints). He kept the room clean and bed made. C. The Shops We're not shoppers. You'll find jewelry, watches, clothes, sundries, and souvenirs. Merchandise did not rotate very much. There was something on sale each day. D. Internet Service There are about 16 computers available in the Celebrity iLounge located midship on Deck 6, and while busy at times there always seemed to be an available computer to use. All had internet service and free printing capability. It was nice to be able to use our Elite benefit good for 90 free minutes. The internet was slow, but better than what we experienced on Equinox three years ago. Wi-fi was also available for use on your phone, and there is a keyboard to access the internet in your cabin too (though we didn't test it). How to Access the Ship's Wi-Fi: Turn on your phone's Wi-Fi. Open Chrome or another browser and go to site: Logon.com Create account Select a plan (including the 90-minute free Elite benefit option) Enjoy the internet. It works best in public areas. Not so good in most cabins. Important: when you finish using the internet, your time will continue to tick unless you specifically logout. Open Chrome or another browser and go to site: Logoff.com You'll see a screen showing your remaining time left that you can use. At that point you're officially logged out. E. Kids We saw a few kids and a couple of babies on board. All were well behaved. F. Dress Code Formal nights have been replaced with "Evening Chic". We had 2 evening chic nights and 9 smart casual nights. Most men were well dressed (with jackets and ties) on evening chic nights, and most of the women dressed up. Evening Chic is dressier than Smart Casual but intended to be less dressy than Formal attire. "Get glamorous and be sophisticated in your own way". Women should feel comfortable wearing: A cocktail dress or a skirt, pants or designer jeans with an elegant top. Men should feel comfortable wearing: pants or designer jeans with a dress shirt, button-down long-sleeve shirt or sweater. A sport coat or blazer is optional but was also the norm. With "Smart Casual" women should feel comfortable wearing skirt, pants or jeans with a casual top, and men should feel comfortable wearing pants or jeans with a sport shirt. Note that T-shirts, swimsuits, robes, bare feet, tank tops, baseball caps and pool wear are not allowed in the main dining room or specialty restaurant at any time. Shorts and flip-flops are not allowed in the evening hours. The dress code will be enforced at all restaurants. Guests are asked to follow the dress code in the Reflections Theater for all evening performances. G. Time Changes The ship stayed on "local/port time". All of the ports from Italy to Gibraltar are all on the same time zone. H. Tendering The ship docked at all but one port, which made getting off the ship really easy. The gangplank was typically on Deck 2, but was sometimes on Deck 5 --- depending upon the tide and facilities at the port. We tendered in only one port: Villefrance (Nice). Tendering involves taking a small boat of 100 to 300 passengers from ship to shore, and back again. Tender priority is first given to passengers on Celebrity's tours (which is as good a reason as any to book a ship's tour in a tender port, especially if it's an ocean-related tour), then to Suites, Elite, Elite Plus and Zenith. On prior cruises we received tender tickets. Essentially the lower your number, the earlier you can get off the ship. On this cruise we were simply invited to report to a specific lounge between 8:30 am and 11:00 am (the expected busy tender time) to be escorted to the tenders, but we didn't take advantage of this service. Instead, we simply went straight to the tenders on Deck 2 at 7:00 am when we were cleared and caught the first tender off the ship. I. Upon Returning to the Ship When you return to the queue to re-board the ship after a day in port, you are greeted with ice cold hand towels and fruit-infused water. This is a really nice Celebrity touch. J. Solstice Deck At the very top of the ship (forward) is a nice, quiet deck with lots of chairs and loungers available. While it can be breezy with little shade here, the deck is also uncrowded and pretty quiet. There is no elevator access. Part VIII - Tipping The service personnel on Celebrity receive meager wages and rely on your tips for income. While Celebrity says it is customary to offer gratuities to the ship's personnel who service you on the voyage, it is now entirely expected and you should figure the cost into your cruise budget. The ship's personnel work long hours to service you and the other passengers, and the bulk of their pay has increasing been borne directly by the passengers rather than the cruiseline. Celebrity Cruises automatically adds gratuities to your onboard Seapass account. The "suggested" gratuities can either be prepaid or added to your account on a daily basis. The cost is $13.50 per day, per passenger for most cabins. It's $14/day/pp for Concierge Class and AquaClass, and $17/day/pp for suites. The gratuities are shared by your stateroom service, waiter, assistant waiter, dining room management, other service personnel (and concierge or butler, if applicable). If you wish to adjust the amount you pay (up or down), this can be done onboard the ship at Guest Relations on Deck 4. Gratuities for 10 days for two passengers in an Concierge Class Cabin totalled $308. An 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to all bar bills, unless you have a beverage package --- in which case it's already built in. You should also tip for room service, extra to your favorite bartenders, the Sommelier, and any other personnel you wish to reward. Part IX - Captain's Club If you have taken a previous voyage and are not a member of the Captain's Club, sign up. It's free. Benefits include a Captain's Club express line at Embarkation, priority Disembarkation, some small cabin welcome gifts (my wife likes the Celebrity travel tote), casino and spa discounts, and a one cabin upgrade when booking. Some exclusions apply. Elite members also receive 90 free minutes of internet, and some valuable laundry services. Elite members were invited to a free wine-tasting seminar, a Backstage Tour, and an Elegant Tea; as well as breakfast in the Tuscan Grill and a Private Departure Lounge. Elite members also have access to the Sky Lounge for free drinks and canapes between the hours of 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm. If both husband and spouse are members, then you each get all of the benefits. Here's a review of the Elite Benefits A. Priority embarkation while boarding the ship On the first half of this cruise, we arrived at the pier about 12:45 pm, gave our luggage and a tip to a baggage handler and immediately entered the terminal. Security took 5 minutes and we headed to Celebrity Check-in. Priority lines were set up for Suites, Aqua Class, Concierge, Elites and Select members, and a line for all others. In any case, the lines were minimal. Once in line, we waited until being directed to one of about two dozen Celebrity check-in agents. The agent checked our passports, credit card, and embarkation form. Within 10 minutes we had our Seapass (which is used as your ship ID, ship credit card, and door key). Boarding had begun before we arrived, so we headed straight for the ship. A couple more security checks later, we were on the Reflection. An attendant greeted us with champagne. Cabins were already ready, so we headed straight for our cabin. B. Access to the Captain's Club Lounge for daily coffee house style breakfast This lounge is located in the beautiful Tuscan Grille, located on Deck 5 aft. It's open daily from 8:00 am to 10:00 am. This was formerly a continental-style buffet. Now it's a full-service venue with a limited menu. Food quality is high and service is attentive. Despite this, my wife preferred the former arrangement. C. Captain's Club Elite Cocktail Hour (excludes embarkation day) This lounge is located in the Sky Lounge on Deck 14 forward and is open from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Menu-specific drinks included wine, well drinks, soda, juices, Heineken, Bud light, and O'Douls. They also served appetizers. Due to the number of Elite members on this voyage, the Seapass was loaded with 3 free drink coupons each night good at any bar in lieu of Sky Lounge-only service, though the venue was still reserved for Elite members during this time and canapes were served. D. Complimentary 90-minute Internet package The Celebrity iLounge is located amidship on Deck 6. They have about 16 computers and 2 free printers. It's open 24 hours with limited staffing during daylight hours. It was nice to be able to use our Elite benefit good for 90 free minutes. The internet was slow, but better than what we experienced on Equinox three years ago. Wi-fi was also available for use on your phone, and there is a keyboard to access the internet in your cabin too (though we didn't test it). E. Complimentary access to Persian Garden (on one port day of your choice while ship is in port) "The Persian Garden", located in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Deck 12, features steam rooms, infrared sauna, aromatic steam room with a mixture of warm steam and aromatherapy, sensory rainforest showers, and a dozen heated-tile loungers with awesome floor to ceiling exterior views accompanied by the calming music. F. One complimentary bag of laundry (wash, dry, fold) This is one of the most appreciated benefits as it allowed us to pack lighter. They will wash and fold up to 30 pieces. On day 2 we gave them a bag a laundry and again on day 8. You also can get 2 items pressed and 1 item dry cleaned. G. A private shipboard departure lounge, serving continental breakfast We had the option to sit in the Elite departure lounge located in Tuscan Grille. H. Priority Tender Service in Tender Ports of Call We tendered in only one port: Villefrance (Nice). Tender priority is first given to passengers on Celebrity's tours (which is as good a reason as any to book a ship's tour in a tender port, especially if it's an ocean-related tour), then to Suites, Elite, Elite Plus and Zenith. On prior cruises we received tender tickets. On this cruise we were simply invited to report to a specific lounge between 8:30 am and 11:00 am (the expected busy tender time) to be escorted to the tenders. I. Priority wait list in Main Dining Room We requested the 6:00 pm "Early" seating in the Main Dining Room and we got it. J. Elegant Tea invitation We received an invitation for tea for the final sea day. It was held in Blu Restaurant. Due to competing events, we did not attend the tea. K. Backstage Tour invitation We received an invitation for a Backstage Tour on Day 8 in the Reflections Theater. Due to competing events, we did not attend the tour. L. Other coupons and benefits that may also be applicable to Classic and Select club members Complimentary Wine Tasting: We received an invitation for wine tasting in the OPUS Restaurant at 2:00 pm on the day we left Gibraltar early. Senior Officers Party: We received an invitation for this cocktail party on day 9. It was held in Sky Lounge. Gift: My wife received a rose and a nice note on day 2. Other useful coupons: Double payout on any $5 1-to-1 Roulette or Blackjack wager, discounts on wine and various spa services. Part X - Concierge Class Benefits A. Cabin Upgrades Concierge Class cabins on Deck 9 all have a veranda (balcony) and feature a few upgrades over regular Veranda Staterooms: a Concierge (Estelle) who can "arrange anything from specialty dining reservations to shore excursions" as well as reconfirm air reservations and seat assignments at the end of the cruise; a bottle of sparkling wine; selection of fresh fruits and canapes delivered each afternoon; nice thick bathrobes (the regular ones are rather small and thin); use of a golf umbrella and binoculars; a rather nice Celebrity tote bag (gift); Celebrity embossed key holder (gift); enhanced room service breakfast menu; complementary shoeshine service; a fancier showerhead (yes, it was good); footstools on the veranda; a pillow menu; and 5 Captain Club points per person per night (a bonus of 2 over a standard Veranda Stateroom, and 3 more points per day per person than our Oceanview Stateroom). This last benefit is rather important for folks working their way up in the loyalty tiers. B. Special Event Concierge Class passengers were invited to a Sail In To Barcelona Experience with some Senior Officers on the Helipad for about an hour as we were coming into port. Yes, this was a very cool experience and the officers were friendly and provided a lot of good port information to anyone asking questions. C. Pillow Menu We were invited to use special pillows. Simply ask your cabin attendant and he will bring them. Body Pillow (fellow and down) Hypo Allergenic Pillow Swedish Isotonic Pillow (I used this one and enjoyed it). Part XII - Disembarkation, Customs, and the Airports A. Disembarkation (Departing the Ship) Two days before the end of the cruise everyone was given numbered luggage tags. Bags had to be packed, tagged, and set outside your cabin by 10:00 pm the night before Disembarkation. The number corresponded to a specific meeting time in an assigned lounge, and the system was based upon your travel arrangements. The folks that had the earliest flights or other arrangements were assigned earlier exit times. Disembarkation went smoothly once we were cleared. Meeting times began at 6:45 am. We were docked in Civitavecchia by 4:00 am and the ship received clearance to allow passengers to depart around 7:00 am. Guests were escorted by group number to the terminal to claim their baggage. An exception to the above called the "Self-Assist Program", allows passengers to skip this entire process, hang on to their bags, and walk off the ship at their leisure anytime after clearance .Passengers were expected to be off the ship no later than 9:30 am. Breakfast and coffee was available in Cafe al Bacio from 5:30 am - 8:30 am, Oceanview Cafe from 6:00 am to 8:30 am, Opus Main Dining Room from 6:00 am to 8:00 am, Blu from 6:30 am to 8:00 am, and Luminae from 6:30 am to 8:00 am. Room Service closed at 1:00 am. We chose "Self-Assist Program" and kept our bags in our cabin until we were ready to leave the ship. We had breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe, grabbed our bags, and headed to the 2nd deck. Whoa! The exit was a bit overcrowded as the ship was not cleared quite as early as anticipated but it was no big deal. We waited about 15 minutes before checking out at security with our Seapasses for the last time. It was a short walk past the terminal to the transportation area. Our driver was waiting on us. We had prearranged a pickup with RomeCabs from Civitavecchia Port to Rome Fiumicino Airport (FCO) for a party of 6 at a price of €170. A bargain at just €28 pp plus tip. (I highly recommend prebooking transportation so you are not waiting in a long line for taxis or overpaying for bus transfers). The other 2 couples who joined us in the van were off just behind us. We found them on our Cruise Critic Rollcall thread and saw them throughout the cruise. I'm guessing we were off the ship between 7:15 am - 7:30 am and we were at the airport no later than 8:00 am. B. Customs Allowance Each US citizen returning from Europe is permitted $800 worth of Duty Free goods, and adults 21 and older may include 1 liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes, and 100 cigars. All you needed to do was to declare the total value. Anything greater had to be itemized (declared) and a duty paid. C. Arrival into Rome: Customs and Passport Control at the Rome Airport Most international flights arrive into Terminal 3. There are no Customs to be concerned with upon arrival in Rome if you have nothing to declare. You do need to get into a potentially long line to have your passport stamped prior to proceeding to baggage claim. You’ll walk a couple of blocks from your arrival gate to the Passport control, wait in line to get your passport stamped, then walk another couple of blocks to Baggage Claim. No matter how long the Passport Control line is, you're likely to have to wait on your baggage. Once you retrieve your bags, it’s a short distance to the Customs and the exit. (For all of this, just follow fellow passengers and the signage.) You’ll exit through the “Nothing to Declare” door, and then you will be in the main arrivals hall where lots of drivers will be waiting with placards to pick up passengers. D. Departure from Rome: Customs and Passport Control at the Rome Airport Most international flights leave from Terminal 3. Once again there are no Customs to be concerned with when departing Rome if you are flying directly to the United States. We arrived early to the airport, yet we still encountered a 45 minute wait just to check-in at the airline counter and drop off our bags. You’ll then follow the herd through security. If you have TSA Precheck, get in the line for "Fast Track". Everyone else will be herded into the regular security screening. Fast Track took us 15 minutes. Upon exiting security, follow the signage to walk a to the Passport Control for USA-issued passports, and wait in line to get your passport stamped again. This took just 5 to 10 minutes. Then just follow signs to your gate. E. Arrival into the United States: Customs and Passport Control back in the USA Assuming you are flying directly back to the USA, without a change of planes in other country, you will need to go through Customs upon arrival. Upon exiting the plane, follow the signs to Customs. If you have "Global Entry" (which also includes TSA Precheck eligibility) you can shave your customs time from an hour or more to just 10 minutes. Get into the Global Entry lane. Walk to an open GLobal Entry kiosk, scan your passport and fingerprints and smile for a picture, and answer up to 8 yes or no questions. A receipt will be printed. This all takes 5 minutes. Flash your receipt to a Customs Agent and continue to baggage claim. If you have items to declare that are in excess of the allowance they may have questions for you. Claim your bags and take all of your baggage to yet another agent who will want to see your passport yet again and collect your receipt. Only then are you done being processed and are free to exit the airport. F. Back to Back Passengers (B2B) Last time the ship arrived in Civitavecchia, we were among the fortunate passengers who had booked a back-to-back cruise. Some of the benefits included: $50 cruise discount on the second cruise, lunch in the Opus Dining Room on the changeover day, special passes that allow you to skip the general boarding process if you decide to leave the ship, the ability to stay on the ship, full access to your cabin if you keep the same cabin, and a genuinely easy immigration and changeover process. We changed cabins and it also couldn't have been easier. We simply packed our suitcases, except for everything that was hanging in the closet and vacated our room around 8:30 am. Our bags and closet items were all relocated by ship personnel. Around 1:00 pm we moved into our new cabin. We did not wish to leave the ship for an excursion. Instead we took it easy, stayed onboard, and basically had the run of the ship. All B2B passengers that stayed onboard met around 9:00 am outside Cellar Masters. We settled our bills, turned in our old Seapass cards (which they gave us back later as souvenirs), completed a new express pass and health form, got our new Seapass cards and had a new security picture taken. It took no more than 5 minutes per couple to complete. It was a ridiculously easy process which was greatly appreciated. If you were on a B2B and decided to get off the ship, you did not have to wait for the 9:00 am meeting. You could get off anytime and get processed when you came back. B2B passengers were provided a special Transit Pass which would expedite getting back on the ship. Part XIII - Praises, Gripes and Your Questions A. Praises Reflection's personnel are very attentive, friendly and helpful. Officers made themselves very accessible. Food was very good to outstanding, and the drinking water was excellent. The ship is clean, beautiful, in very good shape, and built with a lot attention to detail with a layout that makes sense. It's nice to see Celebrity still believes in live music for the production shows as the Celebrity Orchestra was outstanding. The perks for repeat cruisers are worthy. And we really appreciated Celebrity's smoking policy. B. Gripes We certainly didn't have much to gripe about. The internet is a bit slow. American sports rarely air on the ship. We would like to see a better selection of songs performed in the Reflection Theater. (Celebrity tends to perform a lot of obscure songs and broadway selections). There were no enrichment speakers (other than the Captain) on this cruise. Port talks should include more than just Celebrity excursions and shopping partners. Port maps could be significantly improved. Feel free to ask any questions.
  4. Cartagena, Spain The port is in town, next to the marina, and doesn't require any transportation from the ship. This was a good port to sleep in since nothing opens until 10:00 am. Still, we were in the mostly vacant city by 8:30 am since it's nice to explore unimpeded by crowds. Siesta is generally from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm during the heat of the day. Shops then re-open until 10:00 or 11:00 pm. We exited the ship, walked though the port security gate and found ourselves on a wide walkway splitting a marina in two. We wondered around town, taking exterior pictures of interesting buildings, Parque Arqueológico Cerro del Molinete, and a few other parks while we waited for the Castillo de la Concepción to open at 10:00 am. From the port walkway, walk to the first street and turn right (don't go up the stairs). Turn left at the next street you come to and walk until you come across the Ascensor Panorámico (Panoramic Lift, €2 or €4,25 with admission to Castillo de la Concepción; climbing the lift is free). Walking to the narrow observation point as you exit the elevator to the right is a bit scary as the walkway moves a little with the wind. Upon exiting the walkway to the left, you'll find yourselves in Parque Torres which offers walking trails, wild peacocks, and good views of your ship in port, as well as Torres Park Auditorium, and Roman Amphitheatre beyond that; especially from the expansive Plaza Puerta del la Villa lookout. The best views of the surrounding area are reserved for visitors to the rooftop of Castillo de la Concepción, aka Castillo de los Patos. Offering 360-degree views with picture boards that pinpoint the most interesting buildings and places, the rooftop can be reached via an interior ramp or turret stairwell. The castle has some interesting displays inside as well. Exiting Plaza Puerta del la Villa via a stairway to the north, will take you to the Puerta del la Villa ("The Door of the Villa"). Walk through this short archway tunnel and down the ramp and you'll find yourself overlooking the Roman Amphitheatre, a must-see site in Cartagena, and ruins of the Old Cathedral of Cartagena "Catedral de Santa María La Mayor" beyond. You can get good pictures from several vantage points as you walk along the top of the amphitheater. If you wish to walk inside the amphitheater, tickets are available for €6 at the Museum (MVSEO) directly across the street from the distinctive Palace Hall of Cartagena on Plaza Ayuntamiento (about three blocks to your west). Since the ship was so close and easily accessible, we headed back to the ship to drop off the light jackets we didn't need, stayed for lunch, and then ventured out again. We set out to see a pair of museums, the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology and the Maritime Museum. National Museum of Underwater Archaeology (€3) is located on the marina, just 5 minutes from the ship. The Museum has a permanent exhibition in which the methodology of underwater archeology is discussed as a scientific discipline. Models, and actual recovered artifacts, help tell the story of over 2,500 years of navigational history. One highlight is a large display of coins from the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a galleon that was sunk by the British navy in 1804. 594,000 gold and silver coins were among the items salvaged. We walked along the marina to The Maritime Museum only to discover that it was closed that day. Now tired and enjoying stellar warm weather with nice cool breezes, we took a siesta under the shade of a Palm Tree in the Plaza de los Héroes park next to the Palace Hall clocktower. Rested and comfortable, we checked out the art statuary in the immediate area, then walked along the marina until we found an empty bench. We sat looking at the marina and decided to watch people go by until it was time to return to the ship. A huge futuristic silver sailing vessel caught our attention. We were looking at the world's largest sailing ship, an 8-deck superyacht, 468-feet in length with ship masts nearing 300-feet high, owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko. (Note how it dwarfs the shipping cranes). Named the "A", with a crew of 54, it was berthed in the harbor. The hull is made of steel and carbon fibre. Security is enhanced with bombproof glass and 40 CCTV cameras. In addition to the expected helipad and pool, it also features a 193-square foot glass underwater observation pod in the keel which is 1-foot thick. Complete detailed review of Celebrity Reflection and 8 Western Mediterranean Ports http://www.lavasurfer.com/info/western-mediterranean.html Secrets of the Mediterranean: details, hints, and tips for over 20 Mediterranean Cities http://www.lavasurfer.com/info/mediterranean-secrets.html
  5. La Spezia is a coastal port city in northwestern Italy. Most folks take excursions rather than explore the port city itself. Among your choices here: Explore the city of La Spezia: Highlights include walking around the picturesque waterfront parks, The Italian Naval Technical Museum, Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, Chiesa di Nostra Signora della Neve church, and San Giorgio Castle. Visit Cinque Terre: Located Northwest of La Spezia, Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is comprised of 5 very picturesque coastal villages and the first village is just 10 minutes away by train. Visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa: about a 75-minute train ride to an iconic site. Visit Florence: 2 hours each way. Visit other quaint towns: Camogli, Chiavari, Genoa, Rapallo, and Santa Margherita Ligure are also accessible by train. Other nearby options: Visit Isola Palmaria, Parco Naturale Regionale di Porto Venere, and Lerici. Since you cannot walk on the pier, Celebrity provides free shuttles from the ship to the Largo Fiorello Port Entrance. It takes just 5 minutes. Walk through the small terminal and you'll see taxis lined up across from the port traffic circle. The earlier you get off the ship the more time you will have to explore. We considered visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa since it's very easy to get to Pisa by train from La Spezia. You can take the regional train that leaves La Spezia Centrale at 9:12 AM on weekdays and Saturdays, arriving at Pisa San Rossore at 10:20 am. The fare is €5,20 in second class and €7,80 in first. "San Rossore" is the station where you get off since it's only a 5 minute walk to the tower at Piazza dei Miracoli. (Don't wait for "Pisa Centrale"). If you're traveling all the way there, you'll likely want to climb the tower, in which case you should reserve your tickets in advance. We decided instead on visiting Cinque Terre, a series of five very picturesque fishing villages on the coast, just northwest of the port. Cinque Terre means "The Five Lands". They are also known for their terraces of olives and grapes (and you guessed it, locally produced wines). Although we considered taking a ferry to Cinque Terre, we instead took the train as it got us there quicker and much earlier. The train was also less expensive and made it easy to move from village to village. I understand you can walk from the port to the train station. We are really glad we didn't. Six of us got off the ship about 7:00 am and shared a €20 cab ride to La Spezia Centrale train station. (Yes, it's further away than La Spezia Migliarina terminal but their trains to Cinque Terre don't start running until 10:46 AM; and yes, cabs to and from the port are expensive although I understand a cab for 4 is €15). All six of us had purchased our 1-day Cinque Terre Train (Treno) Card online before we left the states. The cost when visiting from April 1 to November 1 is €16 pp. The Treno gives you unlimited train travel for the day between La Spezia and the 5 Cinque Terre villages, along with admission to the walking paths of Cinque Terre, free wi-fi at the train stations, and use of the Cinque Terre shuttle bus between Corniglia station and the village of Corniglia in the hill above --- allowing you to avoid the stairs. Additional helpful information can be found here One of the charms of the villages are the walking trails included with the Treno pass. Most of the trails are best left for folks spending more than one day in port, or who have chosen not to visit all of the villages. We actually wanted to walk one easy coastal trail, the Manarola to Riomaggiore segment known as "Via dell'Amore", but I learned that it won’t reopen until at least 2021. If you don't buy tickets in advance you can queue up and buy them at the train station. I've read warnings were you must stamp the Cinque Terre Card into one of the validating machines at the train station before taking your first train. Failure could subject you to fines if you are randomly checked by a conductor. The printed online passes will not fit in a validation machine (I tried) and apparently are not a problem (as we were indeed randomly checked by a conductor, while riding the wrong train). From La Spezia, the 5 villages in order of distance are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso el Mare. By train, it's only 10 minutes to the nearest village in Riomaggiore and 25 to the furthest in Monterosso. Trains run at least every 30 minutes but not all trains stop at all stations. Our plan was to take a train to the further town first (Monterosso) and then work our way back towards the port. Once at La Spezia Centrale, with preprinted tickets in hand, we simply looked for the platform that had the first train heading for Cinque Terre. The final train destination was Levorno. We got off in Monterosso about 25 minutes later. There is a little Cinque Terre office in the station with really helpful folks. Show your pre-printed passes and they will give you a map, a train timetable, and your personal wi-fi password. Monterosso is the most northern and western, and second largest, of the villages. We exited the station and found ourselves overlooking a very pretty and impossibly empty beach on a clear blue sea. This is by far the largest beach in Cinque Terre, and we figured it was a good time to tip our toes in the Mediterranean. It was cold. In the summer, Monterosso would make for a nice beach day. Walking 4 blocks North (to your right as you face the water) you'll come across IL GIGANTE (The Giant), a pretty cool statue that you can't currently see because it's being rebuilt. So we walked South instead, around the point and into the old town. There was almost no one on the beach or in town while we were there. It was a great start to our day. Next up was Vernazza, about 10 minutes away, but I led our party onto the express train to La Spezia by accident. This is where we were randomly checked for tickets. 40 minutes, and two trains later, we were finally in Vernazza. Vernazza is a beautiful small fishing village surrounded by steeply-terraced olive groves and colorful houses. It usually ranks as one of everyone's favorite villages. Follow the crescent-shaped road downhill from the train station, past shops, a farmers market (with huge sweet peppers over twice the size of your fist) and cafes, to the rocky waterfront with a beautiful piazza right on a little beach. A rock wall protects a small natural harbour. We shared a Margherita slice (€3) from the Focacceria to hold us until lunch. Our next stop was Corniglia, an ancient Roman town with grape vine terraces and no port. We got off the train and headed straight for the shuttle bus behind the station to take us up the hill to Corniglia. For whatever reason, the shuttle bus was not running on May 8 and rather that walk up the 377 - 382 stairs (depending upon the source) we jumped back on the train. Although beachless, we found Manarola's coastal view to be the most picturesque. She's the second smallest of the villages. Colorful village pictures can be yours by following the pedestrian pathway to the right from the crystal clear waterfront. This is where we had hoped to walk the beautiful shoreline trail that ends at the Riomaggiore train station, but since it is closed we simply took the train. Riomaggiore is the largest, easternmost, and southernmost of the five coastal villages. It has two halves linked by a long tunnel from the train station. After visiting the waterfront half, we found lunch at Il Grottino on the mountain side. They specialize in fresh fish and pasta, with a local house red wine that accompanies both really well. We took a train back to La Spezia Centrale train station and 10 minutes later caught a taxi back to the port. Had the La Spezia Migliarina train come first we might have taken that one and walked back to the port. I understand it's a pleasant 1.25-mile (20 to 30 minute) walk from that station. Once you get used to finding the right platform and learn to read the monitors, the trains are a fun, quick, inexpensive and easy way around Cinque Terre from La Spezia. We completed our tour of the Cinque Terre including lunch in Riomaggiore in 6 hours, so we had time to spare in returning to the ship. Complete detailed review of Celebrity Reflection and 8 Western Mediterranean Ports http://www.lavasurfer.com/info/western-mediterranean.html Secrets of the Mediterranean: details, hints, and tips for over 20 Mediterranean Cities http://www.lavasurfer.com/info/mediterranean-secrets.html
  6. Naples, Italy Naples, a city in southern Italy, is another port with too much to offer. Among your tour choices here: Explore the city of Naples: Highlights include Duomo di San Gennaro, the city's cathedral, which is filled with frescoes; the Royal Palace; Castel Nuovo, a 13th-century castle; the spectacular Piazza del Plebiscito; Maschio Angioino castle, surrounded by deep moats; Galleria Umberto I with its marble floors and world's largest glass-roofed arcade; and several museums including The National Archaeological Museum of Naples, displaying the most valuable heritage of works of art and archaeological artifacts in Italy (including some of the best finds from Pompeii). Visit the Island of Capri: One of the most picturesque and visited locations in the region. Also features the Blue Grotto, a dark cavern where the sea glows electric blue due sunlight passing through an underwater cave. Visit the Amalfi Coast: Explore the picturesque coastal towns of Sorrento and Positano. Peek inside Mt. Vesuvius: Journey to the top of this still-active volcano that destroyed nearby Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Explore Pompeii and/or Herculaneum: Explore the ancient ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii which are now vast archaeological sites. The one place my wife specifically requested to visit on this entire trip was Pompeii, so we set our sights on seeing Pompeii and the lessor-known city of Herculaneum. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can find tours and taxis to both ruined cities, or you can get there easily and inexpensively on your own. Pompeii is just a 30-to-40-minute train ride away, and Herculaneum is just 15 minutes away. Thankfully they can both be accessed from the same trains, but you still need to get to the train station from the port. Both sites are free on the first Sunday of each month. Sure, we saved €13 pp at Pompeii and €11 pp at Herculaneum, but we had to deal with much heavier crowds than we otherwise would have. Since we only had one day in port we got off the ship as soon as we docked at 7:00 am and headed into town to catch a metro to the train station in hopes of reaching Pompeii when they opened at 8:30 am. The Naples cruise port is located in the historic center, facing the medieval Castel Nuovo. You can walk from the ship, through the Maritime Station, across the parking lot, and past a snack bar and smack into a 7 lane road Via Ammiraglio Ferdinando Action. There will be a very obvious cross walk in front of you. Cross the street and walk up a ramp alongside the castle which will take you to its entrance. If that's your destination, turn left and go in. Another 1.5 blocks up the road (Via San Carlo) is Galleria Umberto I, across from the San Carlo Theater (18th-century Opera House). Just one block past that is Piazza del Plebiscito with equestrian statues fronting Basilica Reale Pontificia San Francesco da Paola which features Greek-style columns lining the facade of this Pantheon-style church filled with sculpture and paintings. The Royal Palace is across the street (as you head back towards the port). If you're heading for the metro, turn right instead and walk two blocks down Via Vittorio Emanuele III to Piazza Municipio, a small one block plaza. The metro station, designated by a big "M" can easily be seen. Buy your metro pass (€1,10) in the little shop on the right before heading downstairs to the station. Use your metro ticket to enter the turnstiles and go down several floors following signage for Garibaldi. Once at the correct station, take the first subway arriving from your right and traveling to your left, regardless of the "next train" time shown on the overhead monitor. You'll arrive in 5 to 10 minutes. Follow the crowds or signage to the exit upstairs. You'll find yourself in a mall. Turn left and stay to the right. Ignore the first escalator you pass on your left and instead take the first escalator on your right. At the top turn right and follow the signs to Circumvesuviana (train). You will see ticket booths. Buy your one-way (€3,30) train ticket to "Pompeii Scavi". Go through the turnstiles, go down stairs and wait on the middle platform #3. You are going to take the train toward "Sorrento". The trains run about every 30 minutes. The monitor will tell you when the next Sorrento train is scheduled to arrive. "Pompeii Scavi" is one of the stops. You'll arrive in about 30 minutes. Follow the crowds to the right, past a few shops and cafes, and a half-block later you'll be pleased to see that you've arrived at the entrance to Pompeii! We arrived around 9:00 am. Since admission was free today due to being the first Sunday of the month, we bypassed the ticket booth and headed straight for the turnstiles. Wrong! We still needed a ticket. So we went back to the ticket window and secured our free tickets. We also picked up a free sitemap in the little room to the right of the ticket windows. This was the only place we saw maps all day. With tickets and maps in hand we went through the turnstiles and headed in. Once a thriving Roman city, Pompeii was buried under tons of ash and pumice courtesy of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The preserved site features excavated ruins of houses, buildings, and streets and you can freely roam. The nicer houses (with tile mosaics, infrequent statuary, courtyards, and columns) open and close on a rotating schedule. The site is massive and a lot of fun to explore. Photo opportunities abound. We easily could have spent the whole day there, but we also wanted to see Herculaneum and get back to our ship before it left. On our way out, we noticed the entrance had closed to new visitors. The policy is to close by 12:30 pm, with expectations to reopen again after 2:30 pm, to regulate the flow of crowds on the free Sundays. (If they reach 15,000 people before 12:30 they will close earlier.) We were sure glad we arrived early. Pompeii did seem to get crowded by 10:00 am. However, the further you get from the Forum (central square about 3 blocks in from the entrance), the less crowded it feels. Heading back to the train station, we bought our tickets (€2 each) to "Ercolano Scavi" (the stop for Herculaneum) and waited on platform #2, which requires that you take the stairs which directly across from the ticket office down and go under the tracks to the other side. Take the first train that comes as they'll all stop at Ercolano Scavi on the way to Naples / Napoli. Carefully watch for your stop as signage isn't great and the stops are short. The train to Ercolano Scavi takes about 15-20 minutes depending upon the number of stops your particular train makes. We accidentally got off one stop too soon and had to use the GPS and offline maps on my phone to journey, mostly downhill, to Herculaneum's rear entrance. Assuming YOU get off at the right stop, walk directly downhill about 6 blocks on Via IV Novembre and you'll be at the rear entrance to Herculaneum. You can't miss it. If you're hungry, stop in at Bar Sandwich / Herculaneum Cafe across the street for an inexpensive meal. We shared a caprese sandwich with a wonderfully tasty fresh roll. We secured our free tickets and map and walked into the site. Although Herculaneum is a significantly smaller city (about 1/4 the size, and only a fraction of that has been excavated), it's a much better preserved site than Pompeii. It's therefore easier to feel transported back in time. Herculaneum was smothered by the same volcanic event that destroyed Pompeii, albeit a later phase. While Pompeii is all on "street level", Herculaneum is in a huge open pit. Pompeii was buried under just 12 feet of mostly volcanic debris, whereas Herculaneum was buried in 60 to 70 feet of mud and volcanic ash. Keeping in mind that Herculaneum used to be an oceanfront city, you instantly get a better idea of the magnitude of what they were buried under. Nearly 80% of Herculaneum is still unexplored, mostly due to being hidden underneath present day buildings. The solemn visual representation of the death of each city's respective inhabitants is starkly different. Pompeii enthralls visitors with the bodies of victims that have been recreated through casting of plaster of Paris into soft cavities in the ash. These cavities were actually the outlines of the bodies that retained their shape despite decomposition --- though they still held the bones of the cadavers. The bones became incased when the plaster filled the soft ash. By contrast, visitors to Herculaneum can view boat houses with hundreds of skeletons waiting in the shade for a rescue that never arrived. So far, about 300 skeletons have been unearthed in 12 arched chambers. Exiting Herculaneum, we headed for the Ercolano Scavi station, bought out ticket (€2,60 pp) and caught the first train back to Napoli, which turned out to be a train to Porta Nolana. (If you want to catch a train to the metro, essentially reversing the original route, be sure to catch a train to Garibaldi / Napoli Centrale instead). Upon exiting the station you can take a taxi or bus #151 back to the port; or turn left and walk. We walked three blocks, turned right, and walked 30 minutes (about 22 long blocks) along Via Nuova Marina back to the port. Walking wasn't hard but it wouldn't be my first choice next time. Complete, very detailed review of entire cruise and precruise preparation: http://www.lavasurfer.com/info/eastern-mediterranean.html
  7. Rome, Italy We stayed 3 nights at the Vittoriano Luxury Suites. It's on the 4th floor of a building in a great location just 3 blocks south of the Pantheon. The hotel is serviced by a small elevator and a very friendly and helpful staff. They only have 6 rooms of varying sizes. We booked the Matrimoniale Superior (Room 102). It is a very modern and comfortable room with free wi-fi, and includes a nice buffet breakfast each morning. Highly recommended. We walked to many of the major sites in Rome (for example: Pantheon - 5 minutes, Emanuele Monument - 10 minutes, Capitoline Museum - 10 minutes, Piazza Navona - 10 minutes, Trevia Fountain - 15 minutes, Colosseum - 20 minutes, Spanish Steps - 20 minutes) and caught a bus to The Vatican. Although The Vatican is also walkable in 35 minutes, a bus stop is just a half block away. ROME DAY 1: Pantheon, Emanuele Monument, Chiesa di Sant' Ig****o di Loyola church, Piazza Navona and More... We arrived from the airport too early to check in to our room but were invited to enjoy a free breakfast and leave our bags until the room was ready. After breakfast, we left to explore the area on foot. Hint: Rome is 6 hours earlier than Eastern Standard Time. To better acclimate to the new time zone, it's advised to keep active during daylight hours and not to nap. Out first stop was the Pantheon, just 5 minutes away. The Pantheon is a former Roman temple built circa 120 A. D. It's now a church and a tomb (including Renaissance artist Raphael, and a couple of Italian Kings) so reverence is to be observed. The most impressive feature of the Pantheon's architecture is its domed ceiling with an oculus in the top. This dome is still the world's largest unsupported dome at 142 feet. After about an hour, we wandered the streets for about 8 to 10 blocks in all directions just for fun and to get our bearings. (Hint: the free tourist newspaper-thin map of Rome is worthless. Bring a small decent street map with you). We explored several churches, Emanuele Monument, and came across several other monuments including Trajan's Column, Elephant and Obelisk, the ornately carved Column of Marcus Aurelius, Largo di Torre Argentina, Piazza Navona, and the Temple of Hadrian. Late in the afternoon we found ourselves at the Spanish Steps (pretty, but overrated). You will get thirsty walking around Rome. However, you'll never need to buy water. Just carry a water bottle. Rome has 2500 drinking water fountains --- some are more ornate than others. The water is pure spring water piped in from the mountains above the city via an aqueduct created centuries ago. Hint: If you don't have a water bottle just cover the spout with your finger and water will come out of a small hole in the top. We chose a couple of cafes with outdoor seating and free wi-fi for lunch and dinner. Both were good (but not spectacular) for food and people watching. More than anything else, they gave us a chance to rest. ROME DAY 2: The Colosseum, The Forum, Trevia Fountain, Chiesa de Gesu, Capitoline Museum, and More... Since we went to bed early last night, we were up early and arrived at the Trevia Fountain by 7:00 am, an easy 15 minute walk. There were very few visitors when we arrived and it was easy to take good pictures and enjoy the fountain. By 7:50 am, the tour groups and crowds began arriving in ernest so we headed for Chiesa de Gesu Catholic Church, a block from our hotel. While the exterior is nondescript, it hides one of the most impressive interiors we saw in all of Rome. In addition to the magnificent frescoes on the ceiling (including a "dome" which is actually an optical illusion) and the beautiful architecture, Chiesa de Gesu also has a pair of relics: a chapel with the tomb of Saint Ignatiusa; and a reliquary containing the right arm of Saint Francis Xavier. He was co-founder of the Jesuits. It was said this arm baptized 300,000 people. If you want to see the rest of his body, it's entombed in Goa, India. We headed over to the Capitoline Museum (Musei Capitolini) which is close to the Emanuele Monument. This is the first site we visited that required admission (€15) and it was well worth it. This immense museum is comprised of a pair of buildings on either side of a square designed by Michelangelo. We spent 2.5-hours exploring the museum and want to go back to see everything we missed. It's filled with paintings and sculptures, bronzes, and statues; including originals of the Capitoline Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus, Marcus Aurelius, Dying Gaul, and Discobolus (Discus Thrower). While exploring one of the lower floors, I came across a breathtaking passage with a panoramic views of the Forum and Palatine Hill. We grabbed a quick bite to eat from a cafe on our way to the Colosseum for our 1:30 pm tour "Colosseum Arena Floor with Roman Forum". We booked this 2.5 hour tour online in advance with The Roman Guy for €49 per person (using a 10% off "ricksteves" discount code). It was well worth it. Our meeting place was just outside the Metro station across from the Colosseum (one of two places on this trip that gave us goosebumps just being there. It truly is an impressive site). Our group was small, with only 9 folks including our knowledgeable English-speaking guide. She gave us some history and an overview before we went inside. We skipped the ticket line and our security line took less than 2 minutes since we were able to enter through the lesser used "Gate of Death" on the backside of the structure. We went up some stairs, through an arch, and found ourselves on the reconstructed arena floor for about 15-20 minutes. This was AWESOME! Only about 25% of the arena floor has been rebuilt, giving you a glimpse at what it once looked like as well as excellent views of the underground hypogeum and a rebuilt animal trap door. From here we explored a couple different levels of the Colosseum (but not the underground nor the recently opened upper lever Bob Uecker seats, which require a different access pass). Leaving the Colosseum, we walked past the Arch of Constantine to the Arch of Titus at the entrance to the Roman Forum. Our escorted tour included Julius Caesar's Temple, The Eternal Flame, Vestal Virgins Atrium, Senate House, Basilica of Atoninous and Faustina, Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine. Following the tour, we briefly hiked up Palatine Hill for some light exploring before heading back towards our hotel. We located a small grocery store where we purchased fresh bread, smoked meats and cheese, and took them back to the hotel to make a sandwich for dinner. ROME DAY 3: The Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, Scavi Tour, Castel Sant'Angelo, and More... We got up early and took a 6:15 am bus to The Vatican (the smallest county in the world at 109 acres) for our "First Entry: Express Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums Entrance Tickets" tour, prebooked online with Dark Rome (City Wonders) for $58.75 per person (after discount). This tour granted us pre-ticketed special entrance access to the Sistine Chapel at 7:30 am. The selling point for this tour was access "30 minutes before any other group and 90 minutes before the general public, finding this incredible room empty" along with a group size of 20 people or less. We met our group across the street from the Entrance to the Vatican Museum at 7:00 am. Our tour guide led us into the museum, through the Gallery of the Candelabra, Gallery of Tapestries, and Gallery of Maps, to the Sistine Chapel where we had a lot of room to view and enjoy Michaelangelo's work. At 8:30 am, we had the option to exit the Sistine Chapel via a special skip-the-line exit to St. Peter's Basilica, or go back into the museum, unescorted, to explore. We chose to explore. Our tour guide was good, the museum spectacular, the 90 minute jump start on crowds and the special skip-the-line access to St. Peter's Basilica were priceless. With 20,000 visitors a day, the Vatican gets very crowded. While the tour was entirely worth it, City Wonders didn't meet their promises. Our group was over the size limit by 15% and we had around four dozen other visitors in the Sistine Chapel with us when it opened. However, contrast this with the enormous hard-to-move-around crowds we encountered after 9:00 am and we considered ourselves very fortunate to have selected an early-entry tour. Our second tour for the day was "The Scavi Tour". It was scheduled for 11:15 am, with an 11:00 am meeting time about a block from St. Peter's Basilica. This gave us only about 90 minutes to explore a few key exhibits in the Vatican Museum before exiting at 10:00 am via a special skip-the-line tour group exit for a quick visit to St. Peter's Basilica. This exit allows you to enter St. Peter's Basilica without going all the way back to the museum exit, walking 10-15 minutes to the Basilica, and then waiting in a two hour line! I'm told that this line, which we saw snaking all the way across St. Peter's Square in the sun, is a fairly constant 2.5-hour line all day long. While it's actually free to get into the Basilica, it's worth booking an official vatican partner tour just to skip this line. St. Peter's Basilica is the largest "church" in the world. The opulence is breathtaking, from the high ornate ceilings (the dome is 385 feet up) and statuary to the marble and gold that is employed throughout. If you have time, visit The Vatican Grottoes. They are in the level below the floor of St. Peter's where many popes are buried. You can access the Grottoes by taking the stairs near the papal altar. Below the Grottoes is the ancient Necropolis and excavations of St. Peter's tomb. These can only be seen on The Scavi Tour. The tour features everything from papal tombs to an ancient Roman street and St. Peter’s mausoleum. This incredible 90-minute escorted tour into the Excavations of the Necropolis (City of the Dead) underneath St. Peter's Basilica, is one of the most fascinating tours we took our entire trip. It's also one of the toughest tickets to come by in the Eternal City. Only around 250 visitors per day are permitted to enter, and groups are composed of approximately 12 people. Tickets (a bargain at just €13 per person) can only be purchased in advance (typically months in advance), via their official website. The Scavi office is accessed on the left (south) side of the colonnade (columns) as you're facing the Basilica, through the Sant' Uffico gate. They do not let you go through security until it is almost time for your tour. Go through security, show the Swiss Guards your reservation and say "Scavi". You then walk to the Scavi office which is a short walk up a driveway and to the right where you'll be checked in. If you are late, they will leave without you. Our tour guide was excellent and he was full of good historical information. This tour literally ends inside the main floor of St. Peter's Basilica. Had we not already explored it earlier, this would have been a good time to do so. After lunch we walked over to Castel Sant'Angelo, also known as Hadrian's Tomb. It's a 139 A.D. fortress located on the bank of the Tiber, close to the Vatican City. The castle (€14) offers some interesting rooms and panoramic views from the top. Unfortunately you need to pay extra for a tour that runs only twice a day in English that will take you into the interesting subterranean sections, like the prison. The castle once protected the Ponte Sant'Angelo (Bridge of Hadrian) which now features a series of angelic statues. Complete, very detailed review of entire cruise and precruise preparation: http://www.lavasurfer.com/info/eastern-mediterranean.html
  8. Mykonos, Greece There are basically 3 things to do in Mykonos: wander the town, go to a beach, or take a ferry over to Delos (the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis and a UNESCO archaeological site). Unfortunately, on May 1, the water is too cold to go to the beach and Delos is closed due to their Labor Day holiday. Delos Ferry provides half-day guided tours to Delos from April 25th through October 31st for €50 pp inclusive of the roundtrip transportation by ferry and an authorized tour guide. Mykonos is also a good beach island and Paradise Beach can easily be reached via local bus for €1.2. Since both of these options were out, we wandered the town. All of the buildings are painted white; with blue, red, or yellow trim, and the occasional blue domes. We got off the ship at 7:30 am and took the first free shuttle bus to town (about 8 minutes). Walking takes about 30 minutes, but I'd advise against it. There is no sidewalk or shade once you exit the port and the road doesn't look safe due to the turns, hills, and traffic. Another option is to take a Sea Bus Water Taxi for €2 from the port directly into the heart of town. Since we arrived early, we explored an empty town and got lots of good pictures before the rest of the 6,000 passengers from 3 cruise ships descended upon the pretty town and clogged the narrow streets. We walked beyond the windmills, coming back into town from behind them. We stopped in at Katrina's for a coffee and their homemade hibiscus lemonade. They also offered free wi-fi. We sipped our drinks on their open-air shaded balcony on the edge of the Aegean Sea with a great view of the town's iconic 16th-century windmills. We wandered through the thick crowds, past the now-open shops, to explore more of the town before returning to the ship for a late lunch. Complete, very detailed review of entire cruise and precruise preparation: http://www.lavasurfer.com/info/eastern-mediterranean.html
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