We arrive several days early in Venice for our 12 day cruise aboard the Carnival Sunshine and try to see as much of Venice as we can in 4 short days. I have reported separately on the Europe forum on those 4 days in Venice so this report will be about the cruise itself.
Check in at the Venice port went very smoothly (and quickly) and we were in our cabin by 1:30pm. Although the ship wasn’t leaving till the next day, we opted to stay on board, get to know the ship, and do some laundry. The Carnival Sunshine is a recently refurbished 3000 passenger Destiny class ship that is similar to other Carnival ships that we have sailed on, with some nice new touches. Sailing out of Venice gives you an incredible view of the south side of Venice that you could only get from a low flying plane. Get a good spot high up on the port side as sailing begins and you’ll see Venice from a whole new perspective.
The first night we decide on the optional steakhouse (Fahrenheit 555) for dinner as they are offering a free bottle of wine. There is a $35pp surcharge but it is one of the best deals on the ship. The appetizers, main courses, and desserts were all excellent.
Our first stop is Dubrovnik, Croatia, and we opted to do the old town on our own. Taxi fare from the port to the old town is €10 and once there we decide to walk the wall first before our legs give out. Admission to the wall is 90 Kuna (about $16 US) and they only take local currency (Kuna) or credit cards. It took us 90 minutes to navigate the entire wall as we stopped often for pictures. I can’t remember a city as beautiful as Dubrovnik, especially as seen from the wall. When you buy your ticket, hang on to it as there are a couple of places along the way where you will be asked to show it again. Afterwards, we wandered about the old town, touring churches, shopping (everyone accepted dollars or euros) and eventually settling on a restaurant (Konoba Koloseum) that had the best fish dinner I can recall. It was a 2 foot long platter for two that included fish, calamari, shrimp, langoustines, mussels, and lobster, over a bed of fries, spinach, and rice. An incredible amount of excellent seafood for 399 Kuna (about $70 US). We were eating outside and tourists passing by were taking photos of our platter. Email me and I’ll send a picture if you want to see this incredible meal.
We spend the rest of the day wandering the streets of the old town, stopping for some excellent gelato, and returning to the ship in late afternoon.
For Athens, our plan was to taxi from the port over to the Acropolis and walk to the sites around there and taxi to other sites as time permitted. Well, our taxi driver made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, €100 total for a four hour tour. We hit the mother lode with this guy. He took us to all the historical sites as well as lessor known ones and saved us immeasurable time dropping us off at the entrance to each site and often guiding us to expedited entry. He took pictures of us at every site and included some interesting places that weren’t even on our list. I didn’t even know there was a changing of the guard ceremony at the president’s palace, but I now have some great pictures. When we came down from visiting the Acropolis (€12 combination ticket cash only), he had fashioned two wreaths out of olive branches for us to wear for photos. I asked him to stop at an ATM machine and it rejected my card. The driver took me inside the bank and helped me navigate getting the cash I needed. (It took nearly 30 minutes and a half dozen signatures and approvals) Also, I needed a charger for my phone and he took me to a phone store and explained what I needed. Twice during the day, he stopped (double parked) and ran into a quick mart to buy us water which we hadn’t requested. He even took us to a shopping area and let us take our time shopping while he waited. By the time we got back to the ship, nearly 5 hours had elapsed. He received a well-deserved tip for one of the best tours ever.
Our next stop was Izmir, Turkey, and we really wanted to see Ephesus but didn’t want to do it on our own since it was an hour from the port. We chose one of the ship’s excursions “Best of Ephesus” ($119 each) and it was all it promised to be. First stop was the reconstructed home where Mary reportedly spent her final years. Next was Ephesus. I hadn’t envisioned Ephesus being as massive as it was and it took us two hours to navigate from one end to the other. The 24,000 seat coliseum is not to be missed. This 2000 year old structure was still being used until just a few years ago. Our guide gave excellent commentary and even included a visit to the terrace homes that are being excavated. (requires additional ticket) We had lunch at a nice hotel and then visited the Basilica of St. John. We were then dropped off at a bazar for an hour of shopping. I am now the proud owner of a Turkish carpet that I didn’t even know we needed. Nine hours had elapsed by the time we got back to the port.
After a day at sea, Messina was our next stop. Unfortunately, we were there on Sunday so most shops and businesses were closed. We decided to take a taxi to Taormina, a nearby beautiful coastal resort town that towers above the sea with some spectacular views. All shops and businesses were open and there is a funicular that will take you from the town center down to the beach. On return to Messina, we had our taxi driver drop us at the regional art museum (€3) which is a small art museum a couple of miles north of the port that is worthy of a visit only if you have seen everything else. A short tram ride (€1.20) brings us back to the port directly across from the cathedral, a beautiful church begun over 800 years ago and rebuilt several times due to fire and war. If you happen to be there at noon, don’t miss the performance of the mechanically animated statues in the belfry.
Having previously seen Pompeii, we decided on the hop on hop off bus (€22) in our next port, Naples. One of the bus stops is located at the port entrance so you can walk right out of the port terminal and onto the bus. There are three different routes, each taking about an hour. The blue route takes you north along the coast line for some beautiful scenery. The red line navigates through the middle of town up to the Capodimonte museum and back. The green route takes a circular path in the western part of the city. After our last “hop off” we wandered about and found A Canzuncella, a small restaurant that advertised a €7 lunch special. Following starters and a delicious first course of pasta, we were given a choice for our second course. The waitress spoke very little English and the only thing I understood was “fish” so we chose the fish. She kept trying to explain that it was “black fish” and was that OK. We said “sure” and to our surprise “black fish” turned out to be mussels which were very good. Dessert was baba rum which you must try if in Italy. After lunch we toured the Santa Chiara which includes a museum and a very unusual cloister. (€4.50)
Civitavecchia is the port for Rome, but having seen Rome many times, we opted to explore Civitavecchia on our own. A free shuttle bus from the ship dropped us off in easy walking distance of everything. I had previously downloaded walking tours of the city from the city’s web site and these tours take you to most all the places of interest. The market is massive and not to be missed. Everything from flowers, fruits, and vegetables to meat, cheese, and clothing. At the Piazza Leandra we try some local wine at a small tasting room. We decide on a bottle of local wine (€10) and are served some tasty snacks including ham, cheese, and honey. We continue our walk taking in the beautiful waterfront with the 26 foot statue depicting the famous New York Times Square kiss (sailor & nurse) that celebrated the end of WWII. Lunch was at the Sora Maria restaurant in the ghetto. My wife says her margarita pizza was the best ever. My fried seafood platter was also very good. Dessert was an excellent panna cotta.
Having previously visited Pisa & Florence, we decided to explore Livorno on our own. The shuttle bus from the ship (€5 roundtrip) drops us off at the tourist information office. We purchase the Livorno Card (€3) which includes unlimited local bus service and admission to several museums. The art museum is a delight but check the hours as they have some early closings (1pm) some days. The natural history museum is not that impressive and seems geared more for school groups with lecture rooms and hands on classrooms. The canal boat tour (€10) was really a delight. You purchase the tickets at the information office and the tour guide meets you there for a short walk to the tour boat. The boat looks like it could hold 50+ but there are only four on our tour. The tour guide gives a continuous detailed narration in English as we meander about the canals and the harbor. The tour lasts about an hour.
Marseille is our final stop before we disembark in Barcelona. The shuttle from the ship to town is €14 RT and drops us off at the point where the trams and hop on hop off busses originate. We opt for the hop on hop off (€16) and it takes us on a scenic trip up to Notre Dame de la Garde and return by way of the cathedral. It should be noted that the hop on buses in smaller cities like Marseille & Naples run about once an hour so waits can be lengthy. If you hopped off at just half of the 16 stops, it would take you all day to get around. After getting off the bus, we wander the streets for a couple of hours and pick a restaurant, Brasserie Le Protis, which has a plat de jour for €13 and ends up being a good choice. No English is spoken by staff or anyone eating there. There is a salad to start, followed by a pasta dish with stuffed beef, and finally a delicious cake with vanilla sauce. Also included was ¼ carafe of house wine and coffee. By the time we left, it was packed with locals.
Disembarkation in Barcelona was an absolute breeze as there was no customs or immigration to pass through. The times for getting off tended to be quite early beginning at 5:30 and ending at 9am putting us on the streets in Barcelona while it was still dark. (our appointed time was 6am) I have posted a separate report on the European Forum the details of our 4 days in Barcelona.
Things I Learned on a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Carnival Sunshine
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