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AttilaTheFun

Epic May 6-13 Western Mediterranean sailing with pictures

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I’m way behind on posting this, but wanted to share my experience on the Epic for the May 6-13 Western Mediterranean sailing.

 

Background:

We did this cruise as a family to celebrate my little sister’s graduation from college. They have never been to Europe before and I had only been to Copenhagen, but my sister has wanted to visit Barcelona and I wanted to visit France, so this itinerary seemed like a good fit. My parents normally cruise Celebrity (we heard endless comparisons – both good and bad – to Celebrity the whoooooole cruise), so NCL was a big change of pace for them and the Epic was maybe too different for them. I think everyone enjoyed themselves, although we were exhausted by the end of it.

 

After reading so much about Epic and previously sailing on the Gem and loving it, I really wanted to try the Epic. It’s definitely different from any other cruise ship out there with a fair share of minuses, but overall I liked it and would strongly consider sailing it again, but on a Caribbean itinerary when there’s more time to enjoy the ship and its offerings.

 

Room:

We originally booked 2 inside rooms, but after final payment, the prices for all categories dropped dramatically and our travel agent was able to get us complimentary upgrades to balcony rooms on Deck 8, which was great for being able to easily walk downstairs to the main dining rooms, Bliss lounge, and Epic Theater. Our cabins were covered, although there are some balconies on Deck 8 that are not.

 

The room was a bit surprising how small it felt when we first walked in and I can’t imagine more than 2 people sharing it, especially with such little clearance around the bed. However, as everyone else has noted, the rooms are designed with a ton of storage space. Our room was the “less desirable” design where the bed is closer to the door, but we found one big advantage was that we had a much deeper closet and drawers across from the couch than our parents’ room, which was the “more desirable” bed-by-balcony design. Their second closet and drawers were about 8 inches deep while we had much more space in that area. I really liked the storage area behind the couch for bigger items.

 

The bathrooms weren’t too much of an issue, other than the fact that when someone had the curtain closed, the other person couldn’t really enter/exit the room without disturbing privacy. I really liked how spacious the shower was, although we had draining issues and stood in about an inch of water every shower. The fact that the shower had DOORS though is something very nice that NCL cruisers make take for granted, but after sailing the Crown Princess, shower doors feel like a very nice amenity! I also would prefer a bar of soap to be provided rather than shower gel, but brought my own. The cabinet over the sink had a good amount of storage space as well, which was fantastic.

 

My sister and I could sleep through a rock concert, so the tiny blue lights on the reading lamps didn’t bother us in the slightest. If you’re really that sensitive to light you a) may be a vampire and b) might think about bringing an eye mask. I really liked the keycard slot to keep the lights on as well – hopefully it saves a lot of energy from people who leave their lights on – plus, you always knew where your key was in the room!

 

The TV in the room is a bit bizarre – we couldn’t get the volume to be very loud and our parents had the same issue, which the room steward took care of. On the interactive menu, we tried viewing the dining room menus and the whole system froze and then re-started itself. After that, the volume could go much louder – so strange! I really liked being able to book restaurants/shows and view your folio on the TV though.

 

Up next, the Epic herself…

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Thanks for taking the time to write. I look forward to reading about your port experiences.

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(Apologies in advance… I tend to write very detailed reviews, mainly because I find those the most helpful when researching and want to return the favor. The promised pictures will also be forthcoming as my sister hasn't uploaded them yet...)

 

Ship:

I think other than the staterooms, which are a bit too small, the rest of the ship is fairly well-designed, although it’s a good amount of walking with only 2 sets of elevators (forward and aft), rather than 3. The ship is still in very good condition, other than some buckling of the carpet in the elevators and an awful trash smell in Bliss lounge.

 

I liked how big the Garden Café was, but found it annoying that sometimes there were different dishes served in the areas closet to the outside (further from the “main” entrance area)– it felt like you’d have to wander the entire buffet to survey all the options, at which point your food would be cold. However, we took advantage of the overflow seating in La Cucina, one deck down, for breakfast and lunch. It’s a fantastic view over the front of the ship and most mornings, we were the only people down there! They had the beverage machines set up down there too, so you didn’t have to walk back up to get your drinks – very nice!

 

I loved Spice H20 and even on the sea day, didn’t find an over-abundance of chair hogs, although most were taken by 11am. On port days, it was very easy to find a lounger back there. The pool in Spice is very small, but there were never that many people in it, so I don’t think many people minded.

 

The water slides were fantastic and a major selling point for me! On embarkation day, we went right to the water slides and actually saw Kevin Sheehan, CEO of NCL, up there surveying the ship! I recognized him from Undercover Boss, but couldn’t think of anything to say to him in my swim trunks, inner tube in hand. Very surreal! A staff member said he was only onboard that day, not for the full cruise. The Epic Pluge (“toilet bowl” slide) was awesome and even my parents tried it a few times! The lines for the slides was never that bad, although definitely longer when in port in Marseille (felt like many people didn’t leave the ship for that port).

 

We didn’t have any problems with the casino being too smoky and trust me – we would have heard from my mother if that wasn’t the case. If you are sensitive to the smoke though, it’s always possible to cross on deck 5 or 7 to get from aft to front of the ship or vice-versa. I just really didn’t find the casino to be as big of an issue as it’s made out to be. There is also a staircase mid-ship between decks 6 and 7 and escalators in the same area between 5 and 6, which is convenient.

 

Once design aspect that I think is an issue is the entertainment spaces though. Epic Theater is taken up each night with Blue Man Group or Legends in Concert and the other entertainment venues aren’t very well-designed in my opinion with columns blocking views and uncomfortable bar seating. My sister and I didn’t mind much as we’re not typical “nightly show” fans, but my parents are and were disappointed by the venue layouts and entertainment options, which I’ll get into later…

 

Food:

This was my major concern with having my parents try NCL for the first time from Celebrity, but they said they were very impressed by the food. I thought it was better than I remembered from the Gem and the nightly regional specialties were a nice touch and the ones I tried were delicious! My favorite surprise was that if there is a dish that includes shrimp on the menu, you can ask your server for shrimp on the side (if they’re accommodating), which happened at least 3 times. The shrimp were very well-cooked too! I actually enjoyed the lobster entrée on embarkation night (:eek:), eating the full double portion I ordered, and the Thousand Island dressing for the garden salad was so good! Desserts were usually pretty “meh” but the Chocolate Decadence is fantastic – don’t miss it!

 

I preferred Taste to the Manhattan Room because it seemed quieter and had a lighter feel to it. However, my parents preferred the Manhattan Room, so that’s where we dined on most nights. Be warned that if the Motown Revue event is going on during your dinner in the Manhattan Room, turn straight around and go to Taste! The volume was so loud that you literally could not hear your server or anyone at the table without shouting. The live entertainment on the other nights wasn’t nearly as loud, so I don’t know what the heck was going on with that.

 

We never had a wait for the main dining rooms as a part of 4, but frequently got seated at tables for 5-6. It looks like they may have too many large tables, so each group gets to sit with a few empty chairs. Around 7-8pm I did notice that some couples were waiting, so tables for 2 might be in high demand around that time. My parents missed the traditional seating of Celebrity, where they’ve met new people, but my sister and I would definitely prefer to not talk to strangers at dinner, so Freestyle cruising is for us!

 

The Garden Café food was usually always very good (other than hockey puck biscuits), but it would be great to have more items change for breakfast. Other than the type of eggs benedict (which was normally salmon), the other items each morning were identical – not that we went hungry by any means though! The chocolate croissants are my favorite.

 

O’Sheehan’s is another great food option – the chicken pot pie is fantastic as is the strawberry pound cake dessert! They had some take-away items packaged in plastic containers like salads and sandwich wraps (also available on Deck 5 at the Atrium Café), but I wasn’t sure if those were for anyone to take or what. Most of the servers at O’Sheehan’s seemed very detached though, like they were being punished in that role, and sometimes it was hard to get a server’s attention to order, depending on where you sat.

 

Another gripe I had was the wait for free appetizers at Spice H20, which are promoted as being available after 6pm. There were 5 appetizer options – spicy popcorn chicken, pork noodles (very spicy), chicken satay, sweet potato fries, and beef empanadas. My sister and I asked to order one of each and the server kind of sighed and rolled her eyes, I guess disappointed that we weren’t buying a drink. It took 25 minutes to get the food, most of which should only need to be deep-fried! I liked everything but the popcorn chicken (too greasy) and pork noodles (too spicy and one-note), but didn’t appreciate the attitude and wait. The second time we ordered appetizers there as a family, we waited 20 minutes for all of them except the popcorn chicken, which took 30 minutes! Whenever we asked what the holdup was, they always said, “Oh, it takes a long time, they have to make the food individually.” I’ve never heard of popcorn chicken taking 30 minutes to prepare anywhere! The food is good though if you have time to kill (and order a drink).

 

…the Spice H20 servers were the only staff we had any issue with though. All the other NCL staff were great, including our room steward, I Gede, and our server in the Manhattan Room, Jose Diaz. We filled out STYLE cards for them (one is provided in your room, you can request extras at Guest Services), but found it annoying that there’s no drop box for them. You have to wait for someone in Guest Services to take the completed STYLE cards from you, which apparently get mixed up with blank ones because we got a stack of blank ones with one filled out one from another passenger!

 

Entertainment:

As I mentioned before, my sister and I aren’t big fans of typical cheesy cruise ship nightly shows, so Blue Man Group was a good option. We booked the 10pm show on the one sea day and it was enjoyable. Silly and light, but definitely something to be experienced at least once!

 

I also booked Legends in Concert for my family and I may be alone on this, but found it to not be that great. The impersonators do a good job of looking and singing like the rock star, but the choreography was laughable (most dance moves consisted of snapping) and the visuals were just sad. It really made it seem like a nice high school production. Our “legends” were Rod Stewart, who only had once dance move of swinging his microphone stand into the air, Madonna, who is apparently a trashy prostitute, and Elvis, who must be fat/Vegas Elvis who doesn’t move/dance and only sings the later ballads. Back to Madonna… my parents were deeply offended by her on-stage antics, which even I found to be a bit extreme in a sexual way, including giving a lap dance to an audience member on stage and pushing his head into her breasts. If that’s family-friendly entertainment, that’s a pretty liberal family! I love Madonna, but she never acted that trashy! After the show, she took some provocative pictures with audience members, which I’ll have to post later.

 

My parents were also offended by Los Locos Ole, one of the Europe-specific entertainment options on this sailing, but I didn’t attend, so can’t really comment. They mentioned jokes about the male anatomy and a sweaty performer wearing a wig, putting that wig on an audience member, and then sticking the wig down his pants. I guess it’s something Celebrity wouldn’t have on their ships. ;)

 

My parents stopped in for Brenda Cochrane (singer), but said it was too loud and my sister and I watched part of Howl at the Moon, but didn’t find it that appealing. I know both shows had their own fans though.

 

My parents were very turned off NCL based on the entertainment, which I tried to explain was very different than the other NCL ships, but they might be best off sticking to what they know/like on Celebrity.

 

In terms of the other entertainment options, I was disappointed that there was no trivia, except during the time when the ship was in port (and thus most people couldn’t attend). The nightly entertainment consisted mainly of live music, upsell/sales events (Flatten your belly! Zen your way to weight loss! $24.99 watch sale!!), and usually one theme party/performance in Spice or Bliss. I understand that most people collapsed after getting back on the ship in each port, but something as easy as holding trivia in the evening would have been appreciated. The theme party/events usually weren’t very well-attended, which could have been due to the venue (Spice H20 on some windy/chilly nights) and the exhaustion of the day. The White Hot Party took place on Friday after the Cannes port and was very well-attended, although most people left by midnight.

 

Last crazy rant about the cruise director… Cannes is NOT pronounced “CANS” – that would be like pronouncing Illinois as “Ill-in-noise”. Marseille is NOT pronounced “Mar-sell” either. It’s like they purposely refuse to pronounce any ports the right way. Okay, rant over, sorry!

 

Next up, the PORTS!

Edited by AttilaTheFun

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Good review so far. Thanks for posting but one thing you said kind of made me go..."huh?"

 

"I love Madonna, but she never acted that trashy!"

 

You're joking, right? :)

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Good review so far. Thanks for posting but one thing you said kind of made me go..."huh?"

 

"I love Madonna, but she never acted that trashy!"

 

You're joking, right? :)

 

Haha, fair enough, but that was early Madonna and not the phase I'd choose to emphasize for a show billed as "family friendly." I forgot to mention that she did all of her singing in lingerie or just a little more than lingerie. Family fun time indeed!

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Looking forward to hearing more and seeing your photos. I have a Western Med cruise on the Epic booked for next year--my first time on NCL, so reading everything I can.

 

Sorry your parents didn't seem to have a good time though.

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Thanks so much for writing this incredible review... we sail on the EPIC in a few weeks and your review has us running around in circles with excitement... can't wait to read more and see pictures :D

Thanks again!

JJ

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I'm missing the pictures....?

 

"The promised pictures will also be forthcoming as my sister hasn't uploaded them yet..."

 

My parents are actually still in London and flying back today - my mom has the most pictures of the ship itself and my sister has a few of the ports. BUT, to satiate your need for pictures, here's one I took on my iPhone of the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

 

Leaning+Tower.JPG

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"The promised pictures will also be forthcoming as my sister hasn't uploaded them yet..."

 

My parents are actually still in London and flying back today - my mom has the most pictures of the ship itself and my sister has a few of the ports. BUT, to satiate your need for pictures, here's one I took on my iPhone of the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

 

Leaning+Tower.JPG

 

 

Nice pic for a cell phone! :D I'm looking forward to your review of the ports and hearing about what you did in them. I've never been to the Med and I'm sure I'll have trouble deciding once I start planning tours. :D

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Ports Research/Strategy:

The big thing that struck me from reading Mediterranean cruise reviews is that everyone emphasizes how exhausting they are. Well, everyone was right! Going in, I knew that my parents are not very used to walking (being from the Midwest where you can drive everywhere), so my strategy was to pick a couple ports where we didn’t try to go the whole day so that they could rest up. I think that’s a good idea for most people – even living in NYC where I walk a ton, this cruise still left me tired each day!

 

The original plan was:

- Barcelona: We arrived 2 days before the cruise, so DIY the major sites

- Sea day: enjoy the ship and the slides

- Naples: DIY Pompeii only in the morning via train

- Civitavecchia (Rome): DIY for the full day via train and public transit

- Livorno (Florence/Pisa): Use Rome in Limo for a driver/tour

- Cannes: DIY for the full day to Nice via train

- Marseille: Wild Card – based on how we felt after all the other ports!

 

Things worked out mostly as planned, although Cannes turned into more of a half day after a late start and Marseille we didn’t even get off the ship for (more on that later).

 

I did a lot of research before the cruise as I wanted to minimize cost and do nearly all the ports on our own. The 3 most helpful resources I found were:

- Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports: A book the size and weight of a brick, but very comprehensive and written with DIY in mind. Although almost all the information could be found for free online, this book did an excellent job of compiling it all in one great resource along with maps and general advice. Because of the weight of the book, I copied out the helpful info I wanted to remember into a Word document and printed that for each port, but saw some passengers who had torn out the pages. There’s also a Kindle version available which would be nice if you have one of those. Highly recommended!

- Cruise Critic Europe boards (http://boards.cruisecritic.com/forumdisplay.php?f=19): There are so many experienced cruisers and experts who gladly provide advice and answer questions on this board. However, be sure to search for the topic first as it’s probably come up before already (trains, where do I get Euros, etc.)

- Tom’s Port Guides: This is a site that someone on the roll call shared and it has some PDF port guides with maps, pictures, instructions, etc. geared towards DIY as well. Not every port was covered, but it was still helpful and you can’t beat the price – free!

 

Barcelona:

As I mentioned, we arrived in Barcelona 2 mornings before our cruise and managed to see the major sites. On the day we landed, we walked around Sagrada Familia, opting not to go inside, but still amazed by what’s completed so far. There were many gift shops around the church with models of the completed work and Gaudi-inspired souvenirs. We ate lunch nearby at Els Pollos de Llull, which is only 3 blocks from Sagrada Familia. They are known for their juicy rotisserie chicken and had a lunch fixed menu that included soup (broth), entrée and side dish for around 10 euros and was a very good deal.

 

After that, we took a taxi to Parc Guell, which I had been warned is a steep uphill climb. The park is free to walk around and we had a great time exploring every level and admiring Gaudi’s work. We walked downhill a few blocks and found a small café where we bought some sandwiches to take back to the hotel for dinner. It was the perfect amount of sight-seeing so that we could better adjust to the time difference without exhausting ourselves.

 

The second day, I had purchased tickets in advance online (67 euros for 4) for Casa Mila/La Pedrera – another one of Gaudi’s famous works. The chimneys on the room are very famous and the background of our “My NCL” site was of them! There was a line for tickets (but not too bad) that we got to skip and we started at the roof and worked our way down. The roof has all the chimneys, but be warned that it’s also filled with a lot of stairs that would be easy for children, the elderly, or people with limited mobility to fall. The views of the city are fantastic though! The next level down from the roof is the attic and filled with information on Gaudi and his most important works. The next level down are the period apartments to give you an idea of how people lived around the time Casa Mila was built. My mom really enjoyed this part and it was interesting. After that, we walked towards Plaza Catalunya and passed Casa Batllo, another famous Gaudi house that looks like a dragon or melting ice cream. I chose not to buy tickets to go inside as I figured one house tour was enough and most people said there was more to see inside Casa Mila. It was also a cost-saving measure as Casa Batllo entrance fee is 18.15 euros per person!

 

We kept walking and stopped at La Txapela, a tapas restaurant, for lunch. Their style of tapas is all served on top of small slices of bread. The food was good and the prices very reasonable, but the staff went out of their way to ignore us. For example, we weren’t sure of how to order and couldn’t get anyone’s attention, even with my sister speaking Spanish to them. At first I just thought they were busy, but I think they made a conscious effort to snub the tourists. Be warned that there is also no free tap water, so you pay for a tiny bottle of water. I have very mixed feelings about this place and probably wouldn’t return as there are so many tapas options in Barcelona.

 

We walked to Plaza Catalunya and admired the square before walking down Las Ramblas – the main tourist destination of Barcelona. We stopped at the Boqueria market and spent a lot of time wandering around and looking at all the delicious food. It was very crowded though, so be aware of your surroundings as I can see it being a pickpocket paradise! After all that, my parents were pretty tired out, so they headed back to the hotel, while my sister and I walked down to the Columbus Monument at the end of Las Ramblas, which was gigantic and provided a great view of the ocean. On the way back, we took a small side street to see Palau Guell, yet another Gaudi house, but didn’t pay to go inside. It was also very hard to take a picture of the exterior, as the street was pretty narrow. For dinner, we found a kebab place nearby that had giant, delicious kebab wraps for around 4 euros – a very cheap and hearty meal!

 

The other nice thing on Las Ramblas is the Carre-four supermarket where you can find reasonably priced water and soda, which we purchased to carry onto the Epic. After one more night, we boarded the Epic and had no problems at embarkation, although we showed up around 2pm, so there was almost no one checking in at that time.

 

Safety note – I was very concerned about visiting Barcelona and read many horror stories of pickpockets. To prepare for this, I purchased a money pouch that hangs around your neck, under your clothes, and it worked very well. I also purchased a money belt to wear around your stomach, under your clothes, and it was fine. We used the hanging money pouch in all the ports as Rome is also notorious for pickpockets and made sure we didn’t keep anything important in our pockets other than some change. We didn’t have any issues, but I think a money pouch or wallet is a wise investment.

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Naples:

From most everything I had read, Naples is a gritty, dirty industrial port and it was definitely true. The only nice thing was that you dock at a cruise ship terminal that also serves as a mall (including an ATM) and can walk out of the port area on your own. Other than that, I wouldn’t spend any time in Naples.

 

As you’ll recall, Naples was our planned half-day of DIY to Pompeii in the morning. I did all the research and knew that we needed to take a taxi from the port to the train station and then ride it to Pompeii Scavi station. We got off the ship around 7:30am, but the taxi driver we used ended up convincing me/us that he could drive us there for 90 euros round-trip and in his broken English, agreed that Pompeii ticket prices were included in this price. I confirmed with him again and figured the price was great, considering that Pompeii tickets are 11 euros per person! Of course, things that are too good to be true usually are and this was no exception! When we arrived at Pompeii (about a 20 minute drive), he announced he would pick us up in 2 hours at that same location. When asked about the tickets, he feigned ignorance and said they weren’t included. After some arguing, we ended up paying him 45 euros for the ride over and learned our lesson to look at things more critically. Another tip – don’t use the taxis that drive into the port – they are looking for fares to drive you outside of the city and will do their best to convince you in broken English. Instead, find a taxi on the main road that will be more likely to take you to the train station.

 

We arrived about 15 minutes before Pompeii was open (8:30am) and strolled the souvenir stands under tents all around the area. When the gates opened, we purchased our 11 euros per person tickets and found they were all out of maps. This was a very Italian touch – pay 11 euros for entrance and they can’t even provide a map, nice. This made navigating Pompeii much more difficult, but we managed. I downloaded a free Rick Steves podcast on Pompeii that gave info on the major sites. However, we also entered Pompeii through the “back” entrance, which meant we had to listen to the audio tour in opposite order and find our way to the main entrance. Rick Steves also offers a PDF map of Pompeii that you can download and view on your iPhone in iBooks, but of course, I forgot I had this until we were back at the main entrance.

 

Overall, it was interesting, but sometimes very hard to imagine what the buildings really looked like in the olden days. The walking was strenuous as the streets are very uneven and there are some uphill climbs. Make sure to use the restrooms when you enter as there is only 1 bathroom inside the ruins. If you can get to Pompeii first thing in the morning, it will also help avoid crowds, although several NCL tours were there as well by the time we arrived. We took about 3 hours to tour the site and didn’t even see everything.

 

We made it to the Pompeii Scavi train station, which is right outside the main entrance and paid our 2.80 euros per person for the train ride back to Naples (Napoli Garibaldi / Stazione Centrale). The trains run every 30 minutes and take 35 minutes or less to get back. The train was very dirty and covered in grafitti and not air-conditioned though. We found a taxi back from the train station, although it cost us 15 euros (were we ripped off again?). We spent the rest of the afternoon soaking up sun and riding the slides again.

 

When we stop in Naples in June, I’d like to see Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. I’ve read you can do both Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast or Capri in the same day, but didn’t want to tire everyone out, especially as Rome was the next day.

 

Up next, Rome!

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Looking forward to your review on why you stayed in the ship. This is the one port we have nothing planned for as there was nothing appealing to us.

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Very impressive review so far. I wish I had your writing skills!

Sounds like you still had fun visiting Pompeii even though things didn't go exactly as planned. Your adventure has made me feel a little bit better about paying big bucks for a guided tour!:p

Look forward to your Rome excursion.

Epic expert Sdmike should tag your review and put it in his signature line!:D:D

Keep up the good work!

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Really enjoying your review. Looking forward to reading more and seeing your photos. Thanks for posting.:)

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This is a GREAT read. :) I am planning a trip with/for my parents for next summer. I'm a little worried because Mom has knee issues and everything I read talks about the difficult terrain. :eek: However it's my parents dream to see the Vatican, so I've gotta try! :D

I'm looking forward to your day in Rome! Oh, I'm also curious why Marseille is such a 'bust'. I'm thinking of starting there because I like having two port days before the 'sea day'. I thought that might help my parents to have a 'rest period' after a few days of walking/touring.

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Glad the info has been helpful!

 

Spoiler on Marseille: We didn't go into town because the ship docks 3 miles from the city center and NCL offers a $20 shuttle (unlimited use all day) to get into town, which I thought was a bit steep. I didn't research other transportation options and hadn't read any glowing reviews of Marseille, so figured it would be a good port to skip.

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I'm really enjoying your review! We did a similar itinerary on the Gem in Fall 2009. They were really talking up the Epic and we wondered if we should have waited for it! The Gem was lovely, though.

 

Love all the details and looking forward to the pictures!

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Love your review--hope to go back next year on the Epic. thanks for Marseiile shuttle info. Maybe we just suck it up and take the ship's $59 tour of Aix, as it sounds like it would cost us $20 just to get to town to then take the train. Or, maybe I will get a CC charter bus going.

FWIW-I went last summer (not Epic) and got a great tip from CC. For those not wanting to take a taxi in Naples to the train station, you can walk to the outside of the port (very short) and get a tickets from the tobacco stand for the trolley/bus that stops right there every 10 minutes or so and it goes to the circumvensia train station--A ticket that is good for all day and goes to Pompeii is 9 euros. Someone said the tobacco stand might not be open on Sunday?? You can also get off at Erculano Scavi on the return trip and see those ruins as well--you can wait until you head back to decide how tired you are--but it is really excellent.

Make sure you get off on the return at the circumvensia station and not the trenitalia station, which is 1 stop farther. It was very easy--except we went to far on the return (to trenitalia). Several on the train were very helpful in telling us (in Italian) which bus to take back to the port--we decided to just cross to the opposite side and took the circumvensia 10 minutes later 1 stop back to catch the trolley/bus that we knew.

As OP said, no A/C on train--but we were there in Aug and it was fine. Known for pickpockets, but we found many friendly Italians who told us when to get off for Erculano---at "Scavi"--duh--as in excavation, and which bus to take to get back to the port. We will DIY this way next year with our kids.

Edited by elaine5

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I'm loving this review!! (thanks for the Pisa photo!!);)

 

Someday I will do the cruise/Europe thing. Cannot wait for photos of Barcelona.

 

Thank you!

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Civitavecchia/Rome:

This was our biggest DIY port and I think we handled it fairly well. We were tired and had sore feet by the end of it, but saw a really good amount without breaking the bank! I recommend mapping out the sites you want to see and being realistic about what you can really see in about 8 hours. Some of the sites are clumped in the same area and make walking between them easier. The Rome Metro isn’t laid out in a very helpful fashion (like a big X over the city), but we found the buses very plentiful and usually someone could help you find the right one if you asked.

 

In the Civitavecchia port, you must take a shuttle bus from the ship to the port exit. We got off the ship right at 7:30am and hopped on a shuttle that left soon after. From there, you take a right on the main street and pass by a McDonald’s. Keep walking for about 5-10 minutes and you’ll be at the train station, which is up a small set of steps from the sidewalk. There will usually be a mass of other passengers all doing the same thing, so it’s easy to tell you’re going the right way. I purchased a 9 euros per person BIRG ticket, which includes unlimited regional trains and Metro/buses in Rome for 24 hours, which is a fantastic value. Compare that to paying $99 to NCL just to bus you into Rome – that doesn’t even include the public transit once you’re there! BE SURE TO VALIDATE EACH TICKET IN THE ORANGE OR YELLOW BOX BEFORE YOU GET ON THE TRAIN or you could face still fines if checked. The validation just marks the current date/time on your ticket. The regional trains are very well-maintained and most cars have A/C and the schedule was about every half hour with the ride into Rome being slightly under an hour. We planned on visiting the Vatican Museums first, so we got off at the San Pietro station, which is before Roma Termini, the main train station in Rome.

 

Based on the map I had printed, it looked like the best way to get to the Vatican Museums entrance was to walk clockwise around the Vatican walls from the San Pietro station. Suffice it to say, I could not have been more wrong. Either take a taxi from the train station or walk CLOCKWISE around Vatican City, which might take 20-30 minutes. Luckily, a hotel concierge helped us find a bus that dropped us off a few blocks from the museum entrance.

 

I purchased advanced tickets online for the Vatican Museums for 19 euros per person, which allows you to skip the normal lines. Because the Pope was holding an audience that morning, the normal ticket line was non-existent, but most people say that is rarely the case. We made a quick pit-stop at the gift shop to your right after you ride the giant escalator up and also bought some special Vatican post office stamps as gifts.

 

If you want to minimize your time in the Vatican Museums and get straight to the Sistine Chapel, follow the directions/signs posted for the SHORT tour, which will help cut out some rooms. However, it seemed like a shame to be there and not try to view some of the artwork, so we wandered around for a long time before finally getting to the Sistine Chapel. The tapestries and Raphael Rooms are stunning though if you have time to enjoy them. We didn’t have an audioguide or pay for a tour guide as we didn’t want to spend the time, but I think it’s definitely a good idea if you want to understand what you’re looking at and have more time as there are very few descriptions posted in the museums.

 

The Sistine Chapel was awe-inspiring and packed with other tourists. It would have been an awesome experience had it not been for the guards who shout, “NO PICTURES, NO VIDEO!!! SHHHHHHHHHHH!” every 30 seconds. It really made you feel like a kindergartener and people weren’t even loud to begin with! Very frustrating. There is great info on the Sistine Chapel in the Rick Steves book or on his free podcast. Unfortunately, due to the papal audience going on in St Peter’s Basilica, the “secret door” that leads from the Sistine Chapel to the basilica was not available, even to tour groups. That meant a loooong trek all the way back to the museum entrance. After spending almost 3 hours at the Vatican and facing another semi-long walk to St Peter’s Square to see the basilica, we decided to move on and see the rest of Rome. My mom was disappointed, but hopefully they will visit again one day.

 

We walked to the Cipro station of the Metro and stopped for some food at Pizzarium nearby. This place came recommended from a co-worker and Anthony Bourdain as they have gourmet pizza with price tags to match! We tried 2 kinds of pizza and a risotto ball, which came to 17 euros! It was pretty tasty, but I don’t know if the price was justified. The BIRG tickets were valid on the Metro, so we took it from Cipro to the Spagna station. When riding the Metro, know what the LAST stop on the line in the direction you want to go is - that’s how they mark the 2 directions for each line, similar to how the D.C. metro runs. In our case, we took it in the direction of Anagnina.

 

The Spagna Metro stop is right at the Spanish Steps (Spagna = Spain) and it was a great site and place to take pictures. From there, it was a short walk to the Trevi Fountain, which was fantastic and not too crowded. We stopped for gelato nearby, but it wasn’t that great. At this point, we debated between skipping the Pantheon or not, but ultimately decided to go for it. It was only about a 10-minute walk from the Trevi Fountain along some very cute small streets. The Pantheon is free to enter and you can buy an audio tour for a few euros. There are tombs around the edge and the dome in the middle is very famous – said to have inspired domes across Europe and even the US Capitol building.

 

I asked an employee at the Pantheon where to find Tazza D’oro, which also came recommended from a co-worker. He took me to the exit and pointed across to the same street we had walked down – you could see the sign from there. The famous beverage/snack there is a coffee granita with fresh whipped (though not sweetened) cream. It was very refreshing, although we’re not used to unsweeted whipped cream, so skimmed some off the top. If you mix the granita in with the rest of the whipped cream, it makes the perfect level of sweetness. It cost around 3 euros and is definitely worth trying!

 

Unfortunately, our feet couldn’t handle any more Rome and we had to catch the train anyway. We missed the Colosseum & Roman Forum area completely, so that’s on the agenda for the June cruise.

 

We walked back to Via del Corso, which was a large street with several buses running on it and asked someone how to take it to the Roma Termini train station. The buses are included with the BIRG ticket and normally people are very willing to help you find which bus you need to take. After a 10-15 minute drive, we arrived at Roma Termini and found the track to get back to Civitavecchia. Then came perhaps the longest walk we did all day – from the main entrance to the back tracks of the station, where the Civitavecchia trains all stop. We must have walked for 15-20 minutes down a corridor that seemed never-ending. Be sure to leave yourself PLENTY of time to get from the entrance to those tracks if you take the train!

 

The trains seem to run more frequently in the afternoon but the ride is a bit longer than an hour. We caught the 4:42pm train that put us back in Civitavecchia at 6pm and then walked back to the port and took the shuttle bus to the ship. We boarded the ship right at 6:30pm, so I don’t recommend trying to cut it any closer!

 

Important map tip: Forgot to mention this with the port planning/strategy section, but I found the site BatchGeo extremely helpful for each port. Basically, you copy and paste some information on Excel on what sites/addresses you want to mark and it puts them on a Google Map for you to print and take with you. This way, the map area is much more detailed to the sites you’re visiting. I made 3 maps for Rome – Vatican City, Trevi Fountain/Pantheon area, and Forum/Colosseum area. It’s a very helpful site if you spend the time to mark out where you want to visit!

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My excuse for no photos yet, in form of a verbatim conversation with my sister:

Me: Can you send me some of the photos you took? Just a few from each port is fine and some of the ship, if you have them.

Sister: Ughhhhhh, there are like, 500 of them! It's going to take me so long to go through!

 

However, I did take a few pictures on my iPhone that I can post for now.

 

A cat at Pompeii, just chilling. There are also many dogs that roam the grounds and don't seem to mind all the people.

 

pompeiicat2

 

 

Photo of the famous Vatican Museums spiral staircase, which also serves as the exit if you can't take the "secret door" from the Sistine Chapel

 

Vaticanstairs

 

A view out the window of St Peter's Basilica

 

vaticanstpeters

 

This sign made me laugh for some reason, maybe because it looks like the figure is skipping down the stairs instead of falling

 

vaticanwarning

 

The rest of the pictures I have are of Florence, so I'll post those after the Livorno review. Fingers crossed my sister sends me some of her pictures too!

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Livorno (Florence/Pisa):

This was the port that I thought was worth using a tour to see, since most people advise that you can’t really see Pisa and Florence in the same day by train. After doing research on here, I found many rave reviews of Rome in Limo and I’ve become another rabid fan. We found 4 others from the Roll Call boards to join us so that we were a group of 8 for 75 euros per person. As my parents said, only about an hour into the trip, “It’s worth every penny!”

 

Rome in Limo was extremely responsive by email before our trip and we decided to skip the Uffizi/Accademia museums and use the time to see more of Florence.

 

Our driver, Gianmaria (goes by Gian, pronounced John to us) met us right at the ship at 8am with a sign in hand. He escorted us to the giant Mercedes passenger van that had very high ceilings, a microphone/speaker system so that we could all hear what he was saying, and A/C. On the way to Pisa, Gian gave us background on Livorno and the surrounding area. His knowledge about all the places we visited is really astounding!

 

We started the day by driving to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower right away, before it became too crowded. We had 45 minutes to look around the area, which wasn’t that big. I didn’t realize the Leaning Tower is only one of 3 buildings – the other 2 being the Baptistery and Cathedral right next to it. We found it fascinating to see the Leaning Tower up-close and took the requisite “tourist holding up the tower” pictures. There were also many souvenir stands in the area with reasonably-priced items. Right across from the tower is also a very nice café, where I had my first Italian coffee – an espresso macchiato that was delicious! It’s also a good place to use the restroom if you need.

 

Leaning Tower close-up

 

 

leaningtower

 

 

Leaning Tower and Cathedral

 

 

leaningtowercathedral

 

 

Baptistery close-up

 

 

pisabaptistry

 

 

Just as we got ready to leave, the tour groups started coming in, so we felt very lucky to have avoided the large groups. From there, it was off to Florence, with a quick stop at an olive oil producer along the way. Gian walked us through the machinery to show how olive oil was made and it was very interesting. We sampled some wines and olive oils at the attached gift shop and made some souvenir purchases. It was a really fun stop. Gian continued to narrate the drive and our first stop in Florence – Piazza Michelangelo, which is situated above Florence and provides fantastic views. There is also a reproduction of the David statue in copper that has since developed a green patina and Gian called “Alien David.” There were, of course, more souvenir stands to browse there as well.

 

View of Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

 

 

florence1

 

 

Another view

 

 

florence2

 

“Alien David”

 

 

aliendavid

 

 

(Due to limit on number of pictures per post, I’ll continue the Florence review in another post)

Edited by AttilaTheFun

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Livorno (Florence/Pisa) continued:

After mentioning that we wanted to try an authentic Italian trattoria for lunch, Gian made reservations for us at a restaurant near Santa Croce church. We drove there and he gave us a quick overview of the area, but we chose not to enter the church, which had an admission fee. Instead, we used the time to enjoy a sit-down lunch. There was a 3-course lunch option for 15 euros that included bruschetta, pasta course, and meat course that was a good deal and enough food to split between 2 people. We again found out that there is no free tap water in Italy, so split a large bottle of water for 2 euros and were surprised when the bill included a 2 euro charge for a bread basket, something we think of as complimentary in the US. However, the food was very good and we couldn’t complain.

 

After lunch, my sister tried to buy a leather purse in the Santa Croce church area and got lost for a bit, but after we found her, Gian drove us to the Duomo, which was my favorite site on the trip. The Duomo cathedral is free to enter and don’t be deterred if if looks like a long line – it moves quickly and they let batches of people in at a time. We only waited about 5 minutes. The painted inside of the Duomo is fantastic and completely unexpected. You can also go downstairs where there is a small gift shop and additional tour options to be purchased.

 

Baptistery

duomobaptistery

 

 

Gold doors on the Baptistery

duomobaptisterygolddoors

 

Duomo cathedral

duomooutside

 

Inside of cathedral

duomoinside

 

 

Painted ceiling of Duomo

duomoceiling

 

 

Finally, Gian dropped us off near the Uffizi museum where there is another David reproduction in plaster and other outdoor statues. From there, it’s a quick walk to the Ponte Vecchio bridge and back to an outdoor market. The stalls mostly had similar items, but my sister and mom enjoyed looking through all the leather goods and purses.

 

Porcellino statue (boar) outside the market - rub his nose for good luck!

porcellino

 

 

Gian asked if we enjoyed gelato and took us to an excellent gelato shop called Carraia that gave very large portions for 1.50 euros. He also showed me a nearby café to grab an espresso as I was dragging a bit. Apparently, so was everyone else because the van was silent as everyone slept on the ride back to Livorno! Our total tour took 9 hours and 15 minutes.

 

The Rome in Limo tour was fantastic and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them and Gian to anyone! My mom spoke with an exhausted-looking passenger as we got back on the ship and she complained that the NCL tour she had taken required a ton of walking and not much time at each site for $199 per person! In contrast, we were driven right up to each site, so minimized our walking while taking a more leisurely pace as well. I know that people are worried about getting back to the ship in time and all that, but Rome in Limo is so professional and well-established, that it really shouldn’t be a concern. They’ve definitely earned their great reputation!

 

 

 

Next up, Cannes/Nice!

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great job!

Might I suggest you post your Florence portion over on the Italy Ports of Call board as well, so people can read about your tour. :)

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This is fantastic! Thanks so much for taking the time to write such a detailed review. I have a 12-day Baltic cruise (followed by a few weeks in Germany) to plan before my Western Med cruise and you have me wanting to plan this one! LOL. Nice problem to have, huh?

 

Loved the pictures. I had to laugh that your sister thinks 500 photos are a lot to go through--on my last cruise I took more than 2500 photos. Can't imagine how many I'll take on this one! :D

 

Thanks for the tip on Batchgeo--I'll definitely check that out. Do you know if Rome in Limo has group tours that solos can join? This will be my first solo cruise and I plan to DIY most ports, but it sounds like a tour is the way to go to see Pisa and Florence. So far our roll call is very quiet, but we're about 16 months away so I'm sure it will pick up and it may be possible to get a group together.

 

Again, thanks so much for writing such a detailed review--this is just the type of review I love and I'm sure I'll read yours again and again before I sail.

 

Thanks!

Edited by Quilting_Cruiser

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Do you know if Rome in Limo has group tours that solos can join? This will be my first solo cruise and I plan to DIY most ports, but it sounds like a tour is the way to go to see Pisa and Florence. So far our roll call is very quiet, but we're about 16 months away so I'm sure it will pick up and it may be possible to get a group together.

 

You can start a tour on Rome in Limo and have it posted to their tour-sharing site, but I don't know if people would actually sign up to share tours with strangers. Your best bet would be to wait for your roll call to pick up a bit and ask there. I posted our request for additional passengers on the Rome roll call too and that's where we actually found the 4 additional people. I think a group of 8 was the perfect size. Good luck!

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You can start a tour on Rome in Limo and have it posted to their tour-sharing site, but I don't know if people would actually sign up to share tours with strangers. Your best bet would be to wait for your roll call to pick up a bit and ask there. I posted our request for additional passengers on the Rome roll call too and that's where we actually found the 4 additional people. I think a group of 8 was the perfect size. Good luck!

 

thanks for the info! :D

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Thank you for the review and the pictures, looking forward to more of them. We're on the August 19th sailng.

 

I'm going to show your Rome review to my wife, and let her plan it. We're also intending to take the train on our own.

 

Florence is the one port we are splurging on.Our first cruise was in 2002 for our 25th wedding anniversaron the RCL Splendor of the Sea with a similar itinerary. I royally screwed up in Livorno by getting us on a train going towards Rome instead of Florence. We thought we'd never get back, but now we'll be on a similar cruise for our 35th anniversary .To be sure of getting there this time we booked the OVER PRICED NCL Florence on Your Own tour. Plus my wife, who is an elementary art teacher, has bought on line timed tickets for the Uffizis and Academe museum. It's a lot all together, but it's the only port we are splurging on.

 

What did you do in Cannes? In our similar trip 10 years ago, we ported in Villefrache (where the Epic was originally supposed to port), and went to Nice where we went to the Matisse and Chagall museums. (At our table that night, it was commented that that sounded much more interesting than what others had done on RCL tours).

Edited by ontheweb

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Florence is the one port we are splurging on.Our first cruise was in 2002 for our 25th wedding anniversaron the RCL Splendor of the Sea with a similar itinerary. I royally screwed up in Livorno by getting us on a train going towards Rome instead of Florence. We thought we'd never get back, but now we'll be on a similar cruise for our 35th anniversary .To be sure of getting there this time we booked the OVER PRICED NCL Florence on Your Own tour. Plus my wife, who is an elementary art teacher, has bought on line timed tickets for the Uffizis and Academe museum. It's a lot all together, but it's the only port we are splurging on.

 

Why not do Rome in Limo? I outlined all the advantages and there's really no comparison to an NCL tour, PLUS it's cheaper! You have plenty of time to find other people to join on your roll call if you want. It really baffles me as to why people still use the NCL tours other than lack of research ahead of time. Try Rome in Limo, it's a fantastic experience!

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Why not do Rome in Limo? I outlined all the advantages and there's really no comparison to an NCL tour, PLUS it's cheaper! You have plenty of time to find other people to join on your roll call if you want. It really baffles me as to why people still use the NCL tours other than lack of research ahead of time. Try Rome in Limo, it's a fantastic experience!

 

1. There is practically no one else on our roll call. (I realize the advantage of using your roll call for private tours. I did set up one that way for St. Petersburg 5 years ago that worked out well and saved money.)

 

2. My wife wants to spend HOURS in those museums. (She is after all the world's finest elementary are teacher.) No one else is going to want to do that . (Actually after our European cruises, it takes me a long time before I want to be in another museum)

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