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Nicole721

13 Days, 8 Ports and One New Ship: Nicole721's FULL PICTORIAL Horizon Review

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HI all!

 

Lovely pictures, you're making me hungry for lunch!

 

Just saw the Mardi Gras itineraries have been released. Any interest there?

Sorry to interrupt but I am curious. BTW I see Chicago is getting horribly cold weather & we're getting snow so the pictures are so appreciated!

 

~ Jo ~ 😊

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1 hour ago, retiring soon said:

HI all!

 

Lovely pictures, you're making me hungry for lunch!

 

Just saw the Mardi Gras itineraries have been released. Any interest there?

Sorry to interrupt but I am curious. BTW I see Chicago is getting horribly cold weather & we're getting snow so the pictures are so appreciated!

 

~ Jo ~ 😊

 

Ha! I just posted on my Facebook page that I was contemplating putting down a deposit on the inaugural today! Between the new ship and the fact that it's sailing out of Copenhagen (which is my favorite departure port EVER!), I'm seriously, seriously contemplating it.

 

((And it is beyond frigid in Chicago today! I live right on the lake front and I think with the wind chill, it's nearing -50 degrees! Boy, I wish I was on a cruise ship right now!!))

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Day 13: Messina (Sicily), Italy

 

Leave the gun, take the cannoli.

 

Before our Carnival Horizon arrived in Messina, my knowledge of Sicily was limited to the following references:

 

1.         The above quote from the Godfather, via You’ve Got Mail

2.         Picture it. Sicily, 1922 (via the Golden Girls)

 

That’s it. I knew nothing about Sicily. Our previous travels to Italy took us to the historic capitals of the country (Florence and Rome) and to the aspirational beach spots (the Amalfi Coast), but one of the biggest plusses for this itinerary to us was the opportunity to explore two new Italian ports in Messina (Sicily) and Cagliari (Sardinia).

 

There were a bunch of shore excursions we mulled over for our day in Sicily. I really wanted to go to Mount Etna because how often can you tell people that you stood on an active volcano? I wanted the bragging rights, I wanted the pictures, I wanted to see magma. Stephanie wanted to go to Taormina, a coastal town overlooking the volcano. She refused to entertain anything else. She told me I’d never get anywhere close to the top of the volcano, that I’d never see magma and that all my pictures would be a gray mass. I told her to sell me on Taormina. And then she showed me a picture of the granitas at Bam Bar and, well, she won. More on that later.

 

Thankfully, our days of early wake ups to meet our shore excursions were over and our tour didn’t meet until 9:15 AM, leaving us to have a later wake up and a leisurely breakfast on Ocean Plaza, which, though limited in offerings, offered the peace and quiet I need to bring myself up to functioning levels while my body waited for the caffeine to kick in.

 

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Just as we were finishing breakfast, the ship began to dock in the Port of Messina, so we went outside to the Lanai to check out the city around us. The port is located in the city center, with plenty of sites and cafés to visit if you’re looking for a low-key kind of day. Messina is a modern city, not entirely unlike Rome (you know, just without the ancient ruins, religious epicenters and, like, infinitely smaller), and from our views from the ship (and our drive through the city later on), it seemed pretty walkable.

 

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Our tour met in the Liquid Lounge, apparently at the same time as just about every other tour. We grabbed some seats right near the doors, which gave us a primo people watching spot. We’d reached the part of the cruise where everyone was vying to be the first person off the ship, which meant they were crowding at the doors. The staff wouldn’t have it, though, and insisted everyone have a seat. So they crowded in the stairwell to the upper level of the theater. And when numbers were called? It was like what I imagine it’s like at the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona – just a bunch of people running and pushing and, you guys, it’s just a tour! Like, here’s the thing: I’m just as guilty as anyone else of wanting to get to the bus quickly so I can get off the ship and into these cities pronto, but the things I won’t do to not get stuck with a seat on the last row of the bus include (but are not limited to) cutting, pushing or getting into fights in line. All things we observed daily when we were taking tours.

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Even in the rush, we were quickly on our bus and it wasn’t long before we were on our way to Taormina. Emanuela was guiding us to Taormina and I hesitate to call her our guide because, well, she accompanied us on the bus ride and facilitated our ride back, and she gave us some interesting tidbits and recommendations on the way, but this was very much a self-guided tour. We’d have four and a half hours to do whatever we wanted in Taormina – we could shop, we could eat (everyone from Emanuela to Cruise Director Mike to every blog post we read before we left said we had to have cannoli and granita), we could visit the ancient amphitheater (built by the Greeks in the third century B.C.) – the options were only limited by the time we had to spend there.

 

Much like, well, just about every bus ride we went on this trip, at some point, the motion of the bus put me to sleep and when I woke up, we were driving up the winding hills to Taormina. The drive wasn’t as treacherous as the drive up to Amalfi, but a big bus and a thin, winding road is never a good combination and we definitely had a few hold-on-to-your-seat moments on the way up.

 

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Our bus driver, Mario, left us on the bottom floor of a parking garage, where the bus would be waiting for us at 2:30 PM for the drive back. Emanuela sent us up in the garage’s elevators and to the meeting spot for our return, where we had a primo view of Mount Etna, the volcano I would not be hiking.

 

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We set out on the Corso Umberto, the main street running through Taormina. Our bus arrived early enough that we could observe the town in relative peace and really take in it’s beauty, with tall, colorful buildings punctuated by steep staircases decorated in ceramic pieces and fresh flowers. This was a blessing -- by the time we were leaving, it was a sea of people wall-to-wall.

 

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With the streets relatively clear of tourists, we could have taken our time and snapped some more pictures (hindsight is 20/20, after all), but we were girls on a mission and that mission was an authentic Sicilian breakfast. And we knew what we wanted and where we wanted it: granitas at Bam Bar.

 

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Granitas are flavored ices, usually fruit, but coffee and nut flavors are also popular. Think of it as a cross between ice cream, frozen ice and sorbet. In Sicily, they’re topped with fresh whipped cream and served with a dense brioche roll (which you use to scoop up some of the cream and the granita – it’s beyond words good). They’re everywhere in Taormina – from cafés to street carts. But Bam Bar, a café Stephanie found on Instagram, serves some of the best. And, pro, it’s hidden away on a side street off the Corso Umberto, so it wasn’t crazy busy. I ordered off of our server’s recommendation to combine at least two flavors, ordering coffee and almond, topped with cream and obviously, a brioche to go along with it. It was so sweet it really could have been a dessert, but we were in Italy and life in Italy is all about la dolce vita – the sweet life. Life doesn’t get much sweeter when your days start like this.

 

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After our Sicilian breakfast, we power shopped our way up and down the Corso Umberto. Ceramics are a specialty in Taormina, and there are dozens of shops with handmade items. There are tons of generic souvenir shops, too, as well as many clothing boutiques and jewelry stores. And the food stores. Don’t get me started on the food stores! We brought back biscotti from a local bakery, locally produced chocolate bars, sauce mixes, oils, even flavored salts. I wouldn’t have an excuse to not cook at home with all of the gourmet goods I was bringing home with me!

 

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We all agreed we needed a caffeine pick-me-up and stopped at a nearby sidewalk café for a round of cappuccinos. And when you’re in Sicily, you don’t just have a cappuccino – you have to order some cannoli, too. I’m pretty sure it’s, like, travel law or something. Cannoli are another much-loved treat we can thank Sicily for, and there were no less than a dozen bakeries selling them on the Corso Umberto. The sun was starting to finally peek out from the clouds and we sat out on sidewalk patio, with our cappuccinos and cannoli, an arm full of shopping bags on the chair next to me, and I just thought to myself that this was the sweetest day I could have asked for, and a pretty sweet life to get to experience other cultures like this. I’m a pretty lucky girl to work at a company that allows me the flexibility to explore life outside of my bubble and travel and experience these different countries and cultures.

 

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I had so many shopping bags that we had to make stop into Antica Sartoria, a boutique we’ve found in just about every Italian city we’ve visited, that sells brightly colored clothing and accessories. They also sell really cheap tote bags that can hold a ton of stuff, and we started buying a new one every time we had too many bags to hold.

 

We continued our path up the Corso Umberto, stopping at Chiesa di San Giuseppe, a church that overlooks the main square. Two musicians were leading passersby in a round of Volare and we stood at the steps of the church, looking out over the square, with Mount Etna looming in the background, and I just wanted to bottle this all up, take it home with me and pull it out the next time I had a bad day. I’ve said before that when I’m in Italy, I feel like a better version of myself. A calmer one, one who takes the time to absorb the world around me and the details that make it so beautiful. I wanted to sit there forever, to take it in until I could recite each detail from memory.

 

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Forever doesn’t exist when you’re traveling on a cruise ship, so we coursed onwards, stopping for fruity popsicles outside of the Duomo di Taormina, a thirteenth century church built in honor of Saint Nicholas of Bari. There were so many gelato stands around us, but those popsicles were calling my name.

 

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We wanted to have a formal, sit down lunch of pasta or pizza or…something Italian…but by the time we got close to the meeting point, we were down to 45 minutes of free time. And back home, that’s fine. You tell your server you’re in a hurry and you can finish a sit down meal in 45 minutes – I’ve certainly done it plenty of times. But that rush to finish something without properly enjoying it – that doesn’t really exist here. Meals are not meant to be finished in the shortest amount of time. They’re meant to be slow, drawn out, savored. So in absence of time to have a formal lunch (and, lets be real, we’d been grazing all day and I don’t know how we would have found the wherewithal to eat a full meal), we came across a cafeteria, Europe’s version of a counter service restaurant, that offered pizza, sandwiches and arancini to go. I’ve only had arancini on cruise ships, never in Italy, so I couldn’t resist. And they had a bunch – filled with mushrooms or salmon or beef. The one calling my name was filled with mozzarella and spinach and oh my God, oh my God you guys I don’t think I’ve ever tasted something so good. The fried outer shell gave way to soft rice, flavorful spinach and thick, melty strings of cheese. Paired with a fruity Italian soda, it was the perfect lunch. We sat on some steps across from the cafeteria with our arancini and our sodas and we just took it all in. Our time in Taormina was drawing to a close, and we could have easily stayed for days more.

 

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Our group had a meeting time of 2:30 PM near some carnival equipment on the top of the parking garage. We arrived early enough to get in some more face time with that volcano (because how cool was it to be so close to an active volcano?!). Emanuela was just about the only tour guide missing, so Stephanie and Mom went down to the bus to see if she was there. As our luck would have it, she arrived in time to tell us to go down to the bus just as Mom and Stephanie got to the bus, so I met them downstairs where we all hopped on and I stayed awake long enough to watch our bus driver, Mario, try to navigate this big honking tour bus down the thin, curving streets leading out towards Messina.

 

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I woke up to Mom tapping me on the shoulder – we were arriving at the port. I didn’t even remember falling asleep, so waking up back at the ship was a little disorienting. I tried to convince Mom and Stephanie to go to a wine shop across the street or to a café facing the ship, but they just wanted to get back onboard, so we hopped on a long line to go through security and rejoin the ship.

 

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The Horizon was scheduled to set sail around 5:00 PM, so we headed down to deck 5 forward, which isn’t so much of a secret deck, but rather a deck that many didn’t know about, and took in as much of Sicily as we could before we left it.

 

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We left port a little late – I could only assume a late tour returning, but that’s just speculation – and we stayed out on deck to watch the captain navigate us out of the Port of Messina, around the golden Madonna statue that guards the city and all who visit it and out towards the Strait of Messina.

 

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Because we wanted to watch the sailaway, we headed to dinner a little later than we normally do. The menu for the evening was a new one, featuring a few old favorites (like Stephanie’s favorite turkey dinner) with some brand new dishes.

 

Bread Basket

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Antipasti

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Fried Green Tomato

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Cucumber Salad

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Roast Turkey

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Chicken Fried Steak

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Fresh Tropical Fruit Plate

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Orange and Almond Baked Cake

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Chocolate and Cheese Brownie

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Every night after dinner, we’d go out for an hour or two and then end up at the room, intending to go out and then falling asleep. We decided that, since we didn’t need to have an early wake up for Malta, we’d go out. The Piano Bar, maybe – we hadn’t been there yet. Or maybe back to the Pig & Anchor, where they had such great live acoustic sets. Mom was asleep by 9:00 PM, and Stephanie was dozing in and out while I filtered through my work emails. Mom was out for the count, but Stephanie and I rallied and made it out to the 80s Rock and Glow Party, long enough to enjoy multiple renditions of Thriller and all of the neon goodness.

 

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We visited the late night buffet to check out the new options. I wasn’t much of a fan – the options seemed a little – odd. Very particular flavors and seemingly odd choices. We grabbed a couple of cookies and headed back to the room to watch more Vacation Creation, a Carnival-produced series where they send families on cruises. We looked up things to do and places to visit in Malta and fell asleep to some shifty seas.

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Good Grief, how stunning was Taormina!?!  Everything was so vivid and colorful!  I was half way through your photos, when I knew I had to zoom in  on them and look at every detail.  In the shops and outside of the shops, every little inch of space is packed with the shop owners goodies.  And they all looked amazing!!

Right before you mentioned the need to buy shopping bags, I was thinking I would have to bring a wheeled carry-on suitcase to be able to handle all the things that I would want to bring back with me!   The ceramics were incredible.  And I can only imagine the food items that I would have to buy!  What an incredible day you all had!  

I think when you travel, you add another layer to your heart and soul, kind of like the life rings of a tree.  It changes you in a way that others may not see, but you know it and it becomes a part of you.  

Thank you so much Nicole!  I can feel myself slipping off of that fence that I've been sitting on, trying to decide where my next cruise will take me.  I'm pretty sure the Mediterranean will have to be and I will have to work towards that becoming a reality.  I'm not young in body anymore and will have to work around some physical limitations, but I'm sure it will be more than worth it!!

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On 1/31/2019 at 12:11 PM, E@syPe@zy said:

Good Grief, how stunning was Taormina!?!  Everything was so vivid and colorful!  I was half way through your photos, when I knew I had to zoom in  on them and look at every detail.  In the shops and outside of the shops, every little inch of space is packed with the shop owners goodies.  And they all looked amazing!!

Right before you mentioned the need to buy shopping bags, I was thinking I would have to bring a wheeled carry-on suitcase to be able to handle all the things that I would want to bring back with me!   The ceramics were incredible.  And I can only imagine the food items that I would have to buy!  What an incredible day you all had!  

I think when you travel, you add another layer to your heart and soul, kind of like the life rings of a tree.  It changes you in a way that others may not see, but you know it and it becomes a part of you.  

Thank you so much Nicole!  I can feel myself slipping off of that fence that I've been sitting on, trying to decide where my next cruise will take me.  I'm pretty sure the Mediterranean will have to be and I will have to work towards that becoming a reality.  I'm not young in body anymore and will have to work around some physical limitations, but I'm sure it will be more than worth it!!

 

One of the most stunning places I've ever been, that's for sure! And definitely more than worth it -- each port we visited tours available for guests with all levels mobility -- I think you would very much enjoy them!

 

6 hours ago, Sunseeker20 said:

Really enjoying the review. So amazing that you won this Cruise! How exciting!

 

Craziest thing that's happened to me as an adult, that's for sure!

 

6 hours ago, Jerseygirl1416 said:

I’m loving your review and your pictures are beautiful! Thank you for taking the time to post.

 

Thank you so much!!

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Hi Nicole,

We have booked the Carnival Radiance for May 2020...Yay! I've never been to Europe & I feel overwhelm already. What did you use for research of the cities & transportation. At home, I use CC or Trip Advisor.

Tia, Betty

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On 2/2/2019 at 6:23 AM, bettyboop16 said:

Hi Nicole,

We have booked the Carnival Radiance for May 2020...Yay! I've never been to Europe & I feel overwhelm already. What did you use for research of the cities & transportation. At home, I use CC or Trip Advisor.

Tia, Betty

 

I use Trip Advisor a lot (especially for hotels -- I won't stay anywhere that's below a 4-star TA user rating). I use YouTube and Instagram a lot to look for things to do and places to eat. I'll Google blogs that have posts about the places we're visiting. Sometimes, I'll use the Ports of Call boards here, but only if I'm looking for specific port info.

 

Planning a cruise to Europe can be super overwhelming (our first time in Europe was also for a cruise back in 2015!). I have a bunch of other Europe cruise reviews up on my blog -- the link is in my signature if they'd be helpful 🙂

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Day 14: Valletta, Malta

 

In the two weeks we’d been on this trip, we’d visited eight countries. At this point, nothing should have surprised me and I should have been ready for everything. And I like to think I was.

 

Everything except Malta.

 

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We were already docked in the capital city of Valletta when I woke up. Since we decided against going on an excursion or guided tour, I gave myself a little extra time for sleeping. After all, we were in Malta for a full day and as our trip was winding down, so were my energy levels.

 

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Each day we were in port without an excursion, we tried to make it to the dining room for port day breakfast, and each day, we found ourselves out of time. We had one more try in Sardinia, but for now, it was another date with the Blue Iguana Cantina for breakfast.

 

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We took our time getting ready and enjoying our breakfast. Even though the forecast had called for sunny skies, there was a thunderstorm brewing as we woke up, and we didn’t want to get off the ship until after the storms dissipated. Instead, we busied ourselves looking out the windows and trying to get a lay of the land. There was so much in front of us and around us, we were already overwhelmed and we weren’t even off the ship yet!

 

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There were a ton of tour options, but we forewent all of them, deciding instead to spend the day on the Hop On Hop Off bus. This was our first mistake – Malta is huge and we should have done a tour to help ensure we were hitting the highlights. We had two lines to choose from: CitySightseeing, which we’d used a number of times in other cities, and Malta Sightseeing. With three ships in port, the lines to get on the Hop On Hop Off bus were crazy long, and we decided to go with the regional Malta Sightseeing instead of the chain CitySightseeing because they were closer at the pier and because generally CitySightseeing, as a multi-national company, is more well known, which makes their busses more crowded. This was our second mistake, as the lines to get on the Malta Sightseeing busses were just as long and the upper deck of the bus was pretty filthy and covered in mud from the rain earlier (have I mentioned that the rain was, like, mud rain? It was SO crazy!). Most egregiously, though, most of the headphone jacks on the bus didn’t work and those that did were soft, hushed and came in and went out. I didn’t hear much, which meant I know next to nothing of what we saw and I think that was the most frustrating part for me. Part of what I love so much about the Hop On Hop Off busses in all of the places we travel to is that I learn *so* much from the talk tracks. Okay, and I kind of love the cheesy music, too. Let’s keep that between us, though.

 

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So I (of course) bought a guide book to learn about all of the places we saw. Some fun facts about Malta that I didn’t know before we arrived:

 

·             Valletta is not only one of the most southern European capitals, but also one of the smallest, with a population of just under half a million people

·             Speaking of location, Malta is one of Europe’s southernmost land masses – the island lays 186 miles away from the North African coast

·             The official language is Maltese. I didn’t even know that was a thing and I still couldn’t tell you a single word because everyone we encountered in Malta spoke English

·             Malta is not a single island, but rather one in a series of archipelago’s known as the Maltese Islands. Malta is the largest island in the archipelago (Gozo and Comino make up the other two). Thousands and thousands of years ago, these islands were mountains on a single landmass that was attached to Italy.

·             UNESCO has named Valletta one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. There is so much culture and history centered there that the city, not just the sites within it but the entire city, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

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Needless to say, we had a ton to see. The Hop On Hop Off bus offered a few different lines stretching out to every conceivable corner of the island. We thought we’d have time to ride them all (or at least, you know, maybe two of them) so we hopped on the first one that we could get on, but we are absolutely terrible judges of time and it turned out that we only had time to ride one full loop because the island is deceptively large and traffic is kind of insane. Thankfully, the line we hopped on hit the most of the big sites and we were able to see Marsaxlokk (a fishing village with an absolutely stunning harbor), Hagar Qim (a temple that dates back to 3600 BC) and the Blue Grotto (a series of caverns on the southern end of the island, where there is unsurprisingly vivid blue water).

 

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