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PhilNDebbieAtSea

Port Intensive and Picture Intensive Trip Report for Jewel's E Mediterranean cruise

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Well, when real life is getting you down a little, you should write a review of your last cruise… Actually, I have been requested to do so and will do so as my friends would like a reminder of all the things that we did. I know I did a lot of research prior to our cruise and it was a lot of work figuring it all out. But it was definitely enjoyable work! So hopefully someone, somewhere will find something in this to help them in their own research. We are Phil and Debbie and we travel with my childhood friend, Maria, and her husband, Frank. We have been taking a cruise together, usually once a year for over 10 years now. This trip report is quite delayed as we took the cruise last October. Better late than never!

 

This was our port intensive trip for Frank’s 60th birthday! Another “trip of a lifetime”. First, we were going to Rome for 4 days – 4 full days! We were staying at the Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalier. Then, we boarded the Jewel of the Seas for a 12 day Eastern Mediterranean cruise, which included the following ports: Nice, France; Marseilles, France; overnight in Barcelona, Spain; Valencia,Spain; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Valetta, Malta; Messina, Sicily, Italy; and Naples, Italy. We were so excited and had been planning for so long! We booked this cruise in March 2016 as soon as it opened. We got a really good price booking that early. Both couples had grand suites (1050 and 1550), one on each side of the ship so we had tremendous views at all times. :):)

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Funny, on our cruise on the Harmony of the Seas the year before this one, we were sitting in the suite lounge one night and a representative from Next Cruse was there with a laptop “helping” people set up their next cruises. We had already booked our next 2 cruises so we did not need any help (we only cruise once a year). She was very nice and was talking to us. She asked us where we were going next and we told her to the Mediterranean. Immediately, her face brightened and she said, “Oh, you will love it! It is beautiful!!” Then, she asked.“What ship are you taking? I hope you are on the Brilliance of the Seas.” We said no, we were on the Jewel. She crinkled her nose and shook her head a little and said, “You would love the Brilliance so much more.” I explained that we had booked the Jewel solely because it went to Sicily and the Brilliance did not. We wanted the Sicily port because my sister and her husband live there,and we were hoping to see them somehow. She still did not approve of our choice. However, I certainly did not see anything wrong with the Jewel. She is well maintained, and we did not see any clear differences between her and our 2 cruises on the Radiance, a newer ship in the same class.

 

I know I have too many pictures in here, but who knows what someone else might want to see. Here is our itinerary!

 

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Friday,10/20/17, Day 1 – New Jersey

 

I worked for 4 hours this day and left work at 10:30 am. Somehow all of my work was done – I had worked like a dog prior to get it all done and even on weekends. In the 5 months prior to the cruise, Phil had had a second lung cancer surgery in a year and then almost died a few times (some right in front of me!) from a mid-esophageal bleed, which seemed to be a complication from the surgery. It was a tough time and my firm let me work part of the time from home. In fact, one of those days my working from home saved his life because, if I hadn’t been there, he would have likely bled to death internally as he passed out completely. We were nervous that he would not be able to make the trip, but he healed up and got strong! So proud of him!

 

I went home and finished packing. Phil and I drove up to NJ to Maria & Frank’s house to fly out of Philadelphia for the only non-stop flight there was in either of our areas. We got a really good price when the fee dropped to $726 pp. I checked the fees daily until I saw the price drop around 7 months out.

 

M&F got a beautiful and huge limo van to drive us. Dave, their friend, was the driver. It was so huge and roomy! It easily fit all of our luggage – and there was a lot! We were going to be gone a long time…

 

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We hit some traffic due to an accident, but we got to the airport in plenty of time. We got a porter at the curb with a cart. He took all of our bags, brought them into the terminal, and told us to have a seat. He took the bags to the counter and got us checked in, brought us new boarding passes, and the luggage tags. We thought we would be charged a second bag luggage fee; however, we were never charged either way.

 

The gate was the furthest one in the airport, of course. P went to get us burgers.They messed them up, but I was so hungry that it did not matter. Our plane missed its taxi so we had to wait a while. We took off at 6:46 pm – just awhile after the 6:20 pm planned take off time. No one was dragged off our plane screaming – fancy that!

 

We did not get Business class. So sad because the beds looked so comfy! The price was just too high to justify the cost for us and it only went up as time went on and I kept careful watch. M&F were able to book priority boarding at check- in, but it was not available for P&I.

 

I had the chicken for dinner. It was not inedible. 😊 High praise from me for airline food. I could not sleep at all. I put my contact solution in the other carry on case by accident so I could not get to it without disturbing people. I probably would not have slept anyway. Phil slept on and off and on the entire time. He thought he was awake a lot – but he was not.

 

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Saturday,10/21/17, Day 2 – Rome, Italy

The flight was uneventful. I read. Breakfast was yogurt and a muffin top – uggghh. Sunrise was very pretty from the plane window!

 

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After we got off, we had to take a train or “people mover” to airport arrivals.

 

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The passport line was very long, but it moved fast. Our border agent was talking on his cell and barely looked at us, much less asked us any of the questions that had been posted on site that they would ask. We found our luggage and walked towards the exit.

 

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A driver with our name on his sign met us. We had to walk quite a ways outside to get to his van. There was a lot of traffic there and the pedestrians have nerves of steel. Traffic was awful but Valentino, our driver, said it was actually good. It was a weekend and so there were only tourists, not workday traffic… Valentino was from All Around Italy. M had passed on to me a recommendation about this company from a friend. I did a lot of research on a lot of different companies. I was also interested in using Rome In Limo, which is highly recommended on cruise critic and trip advisor. I did a comparison of tours and prices and All Around Italy came out better as a whole. That fact, along with a highly favorable personal recommendation, made AAI the common sense choice. Without the recommendation, I would have probably gone with Rome in Limo since you could book directly online, while with AAI you had to send an eMail. However, we did not regret this decision to go with AAI at all, and, as adorable as Valentino was, his brother Fabrizio was amazing. Also, later, I will have a story about our one tour reservation with Rome in Limo in Sicily, where AAI did not provide services.

 

At first, Valentino thought that he was just picking us up from the airport. In my initial communications with Mary at All Around Italy, we had not been sure if we would want to do a tour this day. Would we be too tired to tour then and would rather rest at the hotel and go out that evening? Would the hotel not be ready for us and then we would have to go out on our own? There was no way to know never having done it before. Around 2 weeks before the trip, we decided just to say that we would do the tour for sure just in case the driver was not available and the hotel was not ready for us to check in, so we would not be tired and trying to figure out where to go and how. Lucky, we did! Valentino apparently had not been informed of the change in plans, but he called the office and found out he was to take us on a tour and he was very nice about it. He took us around to some general sights in Rome and we took some pictures and got an overall feel for the city, which was terrific for the first day.

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We saw some amazing sights. Sounds unbelievable to think that all of this history is in a big modern city! We saw the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Key Hole on Aventine Hill, the Orange Garden (Giardino degli Aranci) on Aventine Hill, and lots of other things. We couldn’t wait to explore further.

 

Gas stations are very convenient!

 

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Coliseum

 

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There was a bridge across from the Coliseum that made a perfect picture opportunity.The bridge had locks on it, something about, when young people are in love, they put the lock there to show their hearts are locked together or something like that…

 

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Trevi Fountain – beautiful! We did not get close enough to throw coins in the fountain to ensure we would return – it was just too crowded for us.

 

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The Aventine Keyhole – There was a line here and we wondered what could be worth looking through a little hole in a door?? The door leads to the Priory of the Knights of Malta. There is also a small church known as Santa Maria del Priorato. The keyhole vista lines up perfectly with the garden, centered on the Vatican in the distance.

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Orange Garden (Giardino degli Aranci) on Aventine Hill – This was a beautiful park with a stupendous view of the city.

 

At the entrance:

 

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There were also some “Romans”in ancient uniforms trying to pose with us. I was afraid to take a picture in case it cost money. We saw the first of several weddings throughout our trip.

 

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Valentino took us to lunch at a restaurant where he said they had the best food. It was obvious to us that it was a place where drivers bring people. (We found out later it was their cousin’s restaurant.) I think it was called L’Angoletto’s Ristorante and Pizzeria. At first, we were very put off. They gave us menus, but they were in Italian (duh) and we were trying to figure out what to get.The owner / manager seemed more like a waiter and was not very cordial. The waitress would not even look at us or the waiter. It may have been early for them (from what we later learned about eating habits in Europe). There was a lot of talking in Italian back and forth between him and Valentino. The waiter asked if we wanted antipasto and we said no and asked about the pizza. He just walked away. He must have gone to speak with Valentino because V came in and explained. It was a set course meal and not antipasto (as we understood antipasto) but antipasti as a sampling of a bunch of appetizers and other stuff. Okay, that sounds good… Decisions out of our hands are always good and we were starving!!

The waiter brought us a plate of pizza, bruschetta, mozzarella and tomato, and other stuff that I did not recognize. The pizza was delicious! Then, we each got a plate of 2 pastas, one red and one white. The red was very yummy! We were very pleasantly surprised, mollified, and stuffed. 😊 On our last day in Naples, we were pros by this time of ordering and we saw another American couple having trouble ordering and we laughed saying that was us on day one. LOL!!! I did not get too many pictures of the food, because we were starving!!

 

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Phil picked up some Bud (they only kind of American beer the store had) and Frank got a bottle of wine at a nearby liquor store. Well, a grocery store that also sold liquor. We stopped here a couple of times over the days in Rome.

 

Valentino took us to the Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri. It was about 15 minutes out of the city overlooking Rome. The airport pickup was 65 euros and the 4 hour tour was 270 euros. The tour ran a little over so we gave him an extra 50 euros plus a 50 euro tip. He did not ask for extra, but he deserved it.

 

Speaking of euros, that was an area that caused a bit of worry. I did a lot of research on and stressed greatly over this issue as I was not sure how many euros to bring or if we should get them once here. We were going to need a LOT of euros due to the private excursions. My research said that a majority of people get their euros here because the rate can be better and ATMs are plentiful and you can use your credit card. However, there was a subset of people, like me, who liked to have everything all set out ahead of time and got the euros in the U.S. M&F have gone to Ireland many times, and M said they usually get their euros at the airport or at a bank where they even have an account in Ireland. The vast majority of the tours (especially AAI) did not take prepayment or only took a deposit with the rest in euros to the driver. We usually like to have as much paid in advance, and, with the euro situation, this was a bit of a disadvantage for us. I ended up ordering our euros from our bank and AAA. They were delivered to my home, and I put the euros in envelopes I had made for each tour to cut down on trying to figure out who got paid what when we were there. M went to the bank get her euros a couple of weeks out, and the woman at her bank scared her by saying how dangerous it was to carry that much currency, especially to a hotel in Italy. At that point, I went back to several of the tour companies, who had said they would only take deposits, to see if they would take full payment now as we were closer or to verify if the driver would take credit cards. A few of them did accommodate and we took advantage of that to lower the euros we needed to take, but it was still mainly euros to the drivers. I told M that, as nerve-wracking as it was to carry all those euros, I could not see the Waldorf allowing their hotel guests to be robbed regularly… Then, all I could picture was Cary Grant as a cat burglar ruining our vacation at the outset… LOL!

To be honest, the euros seemed like play money to me and I never had any worries with them. I stopped at a couple of ATMs to refresh my euro count, as I did start to run out, and I never felt any fear at the ATMs I chose, although they were in good and private areas. My bank did charge a fee, but I did not notice anything that seemed out of line.

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Speaking of safety, we did hear stories about pickpockets in Europe, and we were careful with our belongings. We bought money / credit card holders with RFID protection from Travelon as we read that was a problem. We did not run into any problems and it did not seem any more dangerous than anywhere else we have been. Our guide in Marseilles did say that even she had been recently pickpocketed and she is always careful. She was still upset over it.

 

This hotel was stunning! Unfortunately, our rooms were not ready. We got there at 1:45 pm. The hotel bell hop took our luggage to hold. We went to sit outside and had a drink. Waiter could not understand that I wanted amaretto and sprite. Another waiter came out to see what it was we were asking for. They finally got it right. We were like didn’t you guys invent amaretto??? LOL!

 

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...However, I certainly did not see anything wrong with the Jewel. She is well maintained, and we did not see any clear differences between her and our 2 cruises on the Radiance, a newer ship in the same class.

 

The Radiance was the first in this class and is older than the Jewel.

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The view there was amazing! People were swimming in the pool. It was so beautiful even outside.

 

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They brought us a plate with chips, peanuts, and mix. It had a glass cover – we figure to keep the pigeons out. The pigeons were a bit freaky – staring and flying at us. There are a lot of pigeons in Europe…

 

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Our room was ready right at 3 pm. This hotel is just simply gorgeous. Museum quality artwork and statutes everywhere. (I will have pictures of the lobby area later.) The room was amazing, the balcony was amazing, the Rome view was amazing. There were statutes of lions outside our balcony. I have never stayed at a hotel as nice as this one. We had upgraded to the "Rome view" a couple of months prior. It was too expensive to book before that and we just chose the regular room because we figured that we would not be in the room too much. But then, I saw that the price (if you pre-paid) went down to less than the regular room so we jumped on it, knowing we would most likely be going at that point. It would have been worth the extra money. You could see the Basilica. The balcony was very private and there were lions outside our balcony.

 

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The bathroom was unbelievable! There was a heater for the towels in the bathtub /shower area and 3 shower heads. There was a bidet, like a little sink. Phil thought it was a sink for children. 😊 There was separate vanity area.

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I’m not sure why Phil thought he would need all of these ones… LOL! Everything was in euros here…

 

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I was so tired. I could not stay up! I was trying to stay up until evening to see the Rome lights but could not make it. LOL! I was in bed and asleep very early. I unpacked because I could not bear my clothes all folded up for the next 4 days, but I did keep some things in the suitcases, especially Phil’s stuff. We did not need dinner after the late lunch. The timing all worked perfectly for us!

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Woohoo about to start reading. Thank you for posting. Doing the Jewel Greek Isles in September

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Sunday,10/22/17, Day 3 – Rome, Italy

 

Our pickup was for 8:30 am by Fabrizio of All Around Italy. We were going to see outside of the city on this day – Castelli Roman tour (the Pope’s summer residence), Lake Albano, and Nemi. The cost was 380 euros.

 

I got up at 6 am to see if there was a sunrise, but there was none – it was very cloudy – so I laid back down and fell asleep until the alarm went off at 7:30! No breakfast. Phil did go to find some coffee. It is my daughter and grandson’s birthdays today. The 6-hour time difference is a killer to be able to talk to them.

 

We met the famous Fabrizio. He is very funny and nice. He knew everything there is to know or at least faked it to a terrific degree. 😊

 

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Our ride through the city:

 

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Fz took us to the Catacombs. We had actually decided prior not to include the Catacombs. However, once there, we left it in his very capable hands. I’m glad we did because it was so interesting to see. Amazing what they accomplished centuries ago. It was a bit harried getting in because he wanted us to get in on the tour that was leaving right then. The language barrier trying to buy the tickets when we were being rushed was a bit nerve-wracking and the ticket seller did not try to make it easier. People seemed annoyed with us, but, when you don’t know the language, you don’t really know what they were saying. Luckily, they seemed to listen to Fabrizio and he rescued us and got us in on the tour leaving right then. The cost was not expensive. I’m not sure if it was 15 euros each or for 2. No pictures were allowed inside the Catacombs because it is a sacred, solemn place. I did tear up when the guide spoke of St. Celia and the pope that was beheaded and buried there. The guide said they took all the bones out when they realized people were taking them as souvenirs. Apparently, until like 15 years ago, the bodies were still in the catacombs. It was bizarre to think of people taking bones as souvenirs, but then I thought it is kind of bizarre to be marching people through people’s graves as well… The other couple, whose group we joined, had a priest with them and they left us at a room that was prepared for a service their priest did.

 

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We went on to Castelli Gondolfo. We saw some quaint towns as well, such as Frascati and Nemi. At Frascati, we stopped at a church and took pictures. We went into the town’s square and got some absolutely delicious pastries (at Eden Caffe). Fz was not thrilled that we were eating them since we would be having lunch soon, but we were starving. We saved most of them, though, and enjoyed them in our rooms later for a couple of days. Very nice view here!

 

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Our next stop was Gandolfo. A very quaint and cute town! We had lunch at Lo Spuntino. The restaurant was very small. I think the owner wanted us to sit outside, but it looked like it would rain at any second so we chose to sit inside. It was a set menu again, but it was very good. We had appetizers and pasta (the red again was the best). I had some wine because I was told it was the thing to do and Fz seemed shocked that I did not want any… When in Rome… 😊 The “restroom”– and I use the term loosely - was very small and it was our first encounter with the no toilet seat that is throughout Europe. It is bizarre! We heard several explanations throughout our trip and none bear repeating…

 

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