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Trip Report Our Amazing European Adventure! Including 2 cruises and 7 days in Italy!

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Since I have spent the past year obsessively reading everything I could in order to plan our trip of a lifetime, I wanted to try just a little bit to help other people in planning their trips. Reading other’s trip reports truly gave me a feeling of being in the places I’d be going and the information I got here helped me immensely! Sometimes I wonder how people can plan a trip without the help of the people here! I hope my family’s adventures can help some other people plan their amazing journeys too!

First a little background about our family and how a trip to Italy snowballed into a three week adventure that ended up being two cruises and five days on land in Europe! My parents decided about a year ago that they wanted to go to Italy. Mainly this was my mom’s dream. Both of her grandfather’s came to America in the early 1900’s and she has wanted to go to see where her family came from for years. Things began to fall into place so that her dream could come true this summer! And not only did she want to go to Italy, but she wanted to bring me and my husband, and our two kids! So it looks like we’d be heading to Italy! It would be Mimi and Grandpop, both in their late 60’s, myself – the obsessive trip planner (Shelley) and my husband – who thinks if I don’t mention his name he’ll remain anonymous! Go figure – we’ll just call him DH I suppose – we’re in our mid-40’s. And our two kids, Alex and Megan, who are 13 and 11. This is all of our first trip to Europe. We've traveled to the Caribbean and Central America (Costa Rica, Mexico, and Belize) quite a bit, but other than my daughter who went on an educational trip to England and France last summer, this would be our first trip overseas.

The thought of planning a trip like this was both overwhelming and exhilarating for me! This was a dream come true – but where to begin? We knew a cruise was the best way to see as much of Italy as we could in a short time, and also give the kids some time to be kids on the ship. A break from the cathedrals and ruins and history. Even if they loved every minute of every day, it would be a long trip and who doesn't love a waterslide, rock wall or ice rink after a good ruin? Both of my parents had their wish list items, not to mention the criteria of the kids being out of school and not interfering with work schedules. We couldn't find one cruise to check all of the boxes. So – instead of trying to make one longer cruise work for us, we figured out a way to sail on RCL’s Navigator of the Seas Eastern Mediterranean Itinerary first, after which we had a quick whirlwind through Venice and Florence…. Then zip back to Civitavecchia to pick up the Norwegian Epic for a Western Mediterranean cruise! Of course we couldn't leave Italy without a few days in Rome and then the all-important purpose of the entire trip finding my mom’s roots – trek to her grandfather’s hometown! Simple right? I know this whirlwind type of trip is so not how many of the travelers here tend to travel. It's too much of the one night in a city and not soaking up the feel of one place. Too much moving around. We knew that going in, and we knew it would be an exhausting trip! Just the ages of our group were against us! 60 year olds and kids! But we were treating this as our introduction to Europe - a taste of where we may want to come back to in the future.

So, for those who would like to join me on my personal adventure of a lifetime, hopefully loaded with pictures, summaries of the ports we stopped at during not one, but two cruises as well as our time in Venice and Florence between the cruises as well as time in Rome and finding our Roots in what felt like the middle of nowhere – I’d love to share this journey – hopefully some helpful tidbits can be taken from it.

So, here we go! We left for the airport on Friday, June 7th. My son, Alex didn’t even finish school until that afternoon! If we would have had one more snow day, he would have had to miss the last day or days of school! You know, vacations are a priority! :) He got home from school at 1:00 and we had a driver come to pick the six of us up at 2:45! Yes, the six of us, did I mention that my parents also live with us! So, we live together and now we’re vacationing together – that’s a lot of together isn't it?

It was raining HARD all day long. I just kept thinking, please don’t let our flight be delayed or cancelled! We had a direct flight out of PHL to FCO on US Air. Our driver arrived and one by one we were out the door into the rain, under the umbrella. I locked the door and I hear Alex – “mom – we forgot to feed the lizard” Really? Ok – back I ran, into the house up the steps and gave a quick shake of crickets into the cage. We have a zoo! Had to say goodbyes to 4 cats, a guinea pig and a Chinese Water Dragon! That’s a lot for a pet sitter to take care of for three weeks!

It was a slow ride to the airport because of the rain, but we got there right on time and check in went smoothly. And we waited….

We chose 3 rows of 2 seats on the right side towards the back of the plane and we settled in for our nearly 8 hour direct flight which is scheduled to arrive at 8:50 am Rome time! We all watched some movies on our personal seat entertainment systems. What a great thing! Dinner was served. I had the pasta, can’t really complain. Even came with a complimentary wine! Alex ate nothing and I don’t think he even slept. This is not a good thing. A hungry, tired teen is not going to be pleasant! Around 9 pm they dimmed the lights and Megan was out. We all tried to sleep – but at least she did. One potentially happy child! Whew! I slept off and on for a few hours. Mimi couldn't sleep at all. G-pop dozed. We woke around 6:00 am Rome time, that’s midnight our time! So strange! All of a sudden, it's morning and everyone is acting like we've been asleep all night. Ok...We were served a muffin top and I had coffee, Megan got tea as we flew over a breathtaking view of the French Alps. This was going to be a good day! :)

Saturday June 8th

We landed nearly on time at FCO and exited the rear of the plane. This was great for us! Right down the steps onto the tarmac. Then a bus took us to the terminal. Immigration was fast. Our luggage was right there and I’m not even sure there was customs! With 6 of us and luggage, we decided to hire a driver, and we chose Rome Cabs. I had watched the Rome Cabs video on where to go to meet him, so we easily found our guide right by the pole like in the video. I booked the VIP 2 hour tour to the hotel. We would be spending one night in Rome before our first cruise. We knew our rooms wouldn't be ready yet, so why not get a nice intro to Rome on the way! Our guide Andre walked us to his van and the weather was perfect. We couldn't wait to get started!

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    What a wonderful opportunity with your family. I definitely will be following along with interest.

    We took a Med. cruise in Sept. 2001(we actually were there during the twin towers attack on NY.) Yes, you only see a bit of each place, but it gives you a great overview. It definitely showed us that we could travel in Europe regardless of the language problems. Since then, we return every year on our own with the help of the Fodorites to do the planning.

    So, carry on. The more details and photos, the better. Websites also are a huge help. Is this the service you used?
    http://www.romecabs.com/

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    I couldn’t believe we had made it! Here we were, finally in Italy! I had been planning this trip for nearly a year - amazing! I mentioned that I’m the obsessive trip planning type of person, so my parents of course knew where we were going, but not so much the daily details. So before we left I printed everyone out a sort of daily trip planner. It listed where we’d be each day and what type of excursion was planned. It also included what time to be ready and where we’d have to meet. And of course if shoulders and knees would have to be covered! With a group varied in ages like ours, and that already spends so much time together, since we live together, we decided that we’d be doing tours each day. No chance of spending hours upon hours with one wanting do one thing while the other wants to do another and in the end no one doing anything! Everything was pretty much preplanned. Of course, we knew there was always room for things to go wrong! Be ready for the unexpected and relax! That was the motto – we’re on vacation! Although, how to exactly relax on this type of vacation – I’m not too sure. Mentally I suppose!

    Anyway – here we are, in Andre’s van. He’s driving us into Rome. Recently I had heard some not to favorable reviews of Rome from family and friends who had been there. It was dirty. It was crowded. People were rude. How could this be? I had to see for myself! I was elected by the family to sit up front, and on the way Andre told us about the 2000 year history of Rome, both Ancient and Vatican Rule. He was going to be a great guide!

    Our first brief stop was the remains of the city wall. Wow, just wow! Well….Wow!

    If you are into ancient times, history, or archaeology - it would be right there, at that moment that it hits you. The history that this city has. Coming from the US, you can't possibly fathom anything like this until you see it. And yes, I know, this is just a wall, there would be so much more to come! So, moving along, the contrasts of the modern and the ancient are amazing to me. Andre shows us how modern buildings are build right on top of ancient foundations!

    The cars seem to drive in every direction! Crazy!

    We turn the corner, and there it is. The Coliseum! I wasn’t expecting it at all. Nor was I expecting the angle! We’re up high, not down on street level, and over there – look – the Roman Forum! So, let us out – my new camera is just screaming!

    On queue he pulls over, we get some history, the actual name was called the Amphitheatrum Flavium but over time it became to be called the Coliseum because of a statue, the Colossus of Nero and eventually the statue disappeared and the building took the name the Colosseum! We took pictures and went into a little café nearby. Megan, G-pop and I got our first Cappuccino, Mimi got a pastry, DH didn’t get anything and Alex, well remember he didn’t sleep at all on the plane? So he was just a big grump! We quickly learned the system of cafés here. It’s not like in the US. You need to sort of figure out what you want, then go to the cashier and pay, get your receipt and then you go back to the counter where the food and espresso or cappuccino is and order. Seems a little backwards, but this way if you’re going to stand and drink or eat, you just get your food and drink and the person dealing with the food isn’t also dealing with the money. The cappuccino was creamy. It hit the spot for this jet lagged family! We took a few minutes just soaking in the moment, and then piled back into our van wondering what Andre had in store for us next!

    We rode around Rome, through twisting and turning streets, around the Colosseum, through streets that in just a few weeks we’d become so familiar with! But now, they seemed like a maze of zigs and zags and circles! Next we went up a hill that Andre had to show a permit to drive up. He said, this was Palatine Hill! Another breathtaking view – we got out and had a perfect overlook of the Forum. What this must have been like so many hundreds, oh no, make that thousands of years ago! Looking down on the people now wandering through, I know that in a few weeks we’ll be back for our tour. We have so much between now and then….

    We walked up a street and came out at a huge building. It was Rome’s City Hall! He told us this was designed by Michelangelo. It had a huge courtyard and while we were there weddings had just taken place and the brides and grooms were getting their pictures taken.

    We walked to where Andre had moved the van while we were looking at the Forum and we piled back in, we drove to the famous “Wedding Cake” or officially known as the Victor Emmanuel Monument. He was the first king of a unified Italy. Also here is the Venetian building, the Piazza Venezia.

    Our next stop is the Trevi Fountain! He parks the van a few streets away and Mimi, G-pop, Megan and I climb out and make the walk. Alex is sound asleep, finally! So DH stays with him. We get to the fountain, and it’s HUGE! And the crowd was unreal. It was hard to even get a view of the fountain itself! We’d have to make a trip back to toss our coins in.
    We made it back to the van for our ride to our hotel for one night….Albergo del Senato, right at the Pantheon. Our day wasn’t over yet though! We still had a full night planned!

    Our hotel is right by the Pantheon. You never really know what you’ll find when you book a hotel in a city that you’ve never been to, but this was more than perfect! Our biggest challenge with hotels was finding quad rooms that had two twin beds since my kids (boy and girl) are far beyond the age of sharing a bed! And we didn’t want the added expense of two rooms, as well as I wasn’t comfortable with them in a separate room in a hotel. This is one of the areas where the help here at Fodors came to be invaluable to me! Between reviews and suggestions, this is where we found our hotel for the one night before our cruise. I knew Albergo del Senato would be a splurge, but it was our first night and it was only one night after all, so let’s start the trip with a bang!

    The four of us had their “mini-apartment” which is ultra modern in their ancient building. My parents were given a free upgrade to one of their nicest rooms because their room took longer than expected to be ready. Their room had a ceiling that could rival some of the cathedrals we would later visit! Both were outstanding accommodations and the staff there was superb! The rate included a nice breakfast which was a bit more than a small European breakfast, but was typical pastries, meats, cheeses, cereals, fruit and if I remember there may have been eggs as well?

    Most of the group was exhausted when we arrived, but Megan and I were still going on adrenalin I suppose. We were anxious to get out and see the Pantheon! Everyone else went in for naps, but the two of us went out to keep taking in all there was to see!

    Our first visit into the Pantheon - we were just in awe. It's so much bigger than you can imagine, and the hole in the ceiling - you stare at it and wonder just how it was built! Megan looked at me when we were in there and just had the biggest smile on her face and just blurted out the most grateful Thank You ever for being able to be there! You just have to love when an 11 year old can appreciate something like this! It was a great moment just the two of us!

    After our visit to the Pantheon, we knew where to head next, one last stop before going in to nap before our big night out! Gelato of course! By chance there was a gelato place right next door to our hotel! Megan got banana and I had Nutella and banana. We went out to the fountain in the Piazza and just soaked up all there was about Rome. All the negative comments we heard before coming just vanished from my mind. I knew right then and there - I was in LOVE with Rome! I would be back here again for sure! This was a city I could connect to for sure!

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    Looking forward to your report. We completed an 11-day eastern Med cruise on the Celebrity Reflection about the time you arrived in Rome. We loved it. Interested to hear about yours.

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    I remember like it was yesterday rounding that corner and seeing the Coliseum. Double head whip!

    I was so excited that when we got back to the hotel one evening I told the desk clerk "I love Roma!" And right back at me: "And we love you, signora!"

    Following with interest

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    We knew going in that it would be ambitious, but you will come to see that this entire journey was going to be ambitious! What I'm talking about is planning a big night out our first night! But who could resist a Food Tour in Rome? It seemed to fit well on night one, so that's where it went! When all was said and done, the only one who didn’t like the pace of the trip was DH – the rest of us actually seemed to thrive on the excitement of seeing just what was coming up next! Of course, this was the real world and there would be the occasional melt down!

    So, we didn’t want to sleep away our first night in Rome and what better way to be introduced to this amazing city, but a Food Tour! Now, I had the most difficult time finding an evening food tour! The majority of them focused on going to a market early in the day and proceeding from there. That just wasn’t going to fit our schedule due to our flight arrival time. After scouring the internet I was lucky to stumble upon Food Tours of Rome with Bruno. We had a 6 pm meeting point at a fountain in the Piazza Mattei. Ok….we’ve been in Rome less than 10 hours, we’re jet lagged and we now have to set out on our own to find a fountain somewhere? There are an awful lot of fountains in Rome!

    Have no fear! The front desk at the Albergo del Senato drew me a map, on my map, gave me great directions and we were ready to go! We planned to take the rest of the group to the Pantheon for a quick stop, but they weren’t letting tourists in due to Saturday evening mass. Imagine, mass in the Pantheon!

    So, we just took our time strolling to our meeting spot since we had more time than planned. This worked out well since we walked right past Largo Argentina. We spent quite a bit of time here not only looking at the ruins, but of course, what else but checking out all of the cats! It would be a couple of weeks, and we weren’t exactly sure where, but we knew our final few days would be spent somewhere in this area. Boy, would be in for a pleasant surprise when we saw the apartment we’d be getting….but that comes much later in the story!

    After our stop to see the cats, I mean ruins…which we later found out were the site where Julius Caesar was killed! We made is successfully to the fountain! We all started to feel quite a confidence in navigating those winding, zig zaged streets now!

    Bruno arrived right on time. He was a charming as the reviews indicated he would be. There were about 15 people in our group. Maybe there were more? Bruno told us we'd be going to SIX, yes SIX locations and to enjoy everything, but pace yourselves! Believe it when I tell you the food and wine flowed freely!

    Our first stop was an osteria right in the Piazza where we met. Our group was seated at two long tables. There were probably about 20 or so people in our group. It never felt too big of a group for the tour though. We sat down and they began with white wine – even pouring to the kids! Ok – when in Rome! Well – to a point! A sip or two is fine, but 11 years old?? It’s going to be a long night! Even at 13 years old! Let’s move onto water!

    Some of the appetizer type food we enjoyed here included the absolute freshest prosciutto, sheep cheese, ricotta with honey – something I never thought to try, but was delicious! Also included was crostini with ricotta and artichoke and polenta with venison. There was plenty for all and it was far from just tasting size little bites!

    During the time we were there, as well as throughout the evening, Bruno kept the whole group entertained with food trivia games. After our delicious starters it was time to move to our second location! Everyone was chatting amongst the group and we all were thoroughly enjoying the food as well as the company!

    Next we walked to the Jewish Ghetto. All through the tour, not just was the food great – but we had walking history stops! It was great – loved it! We stopped at a little restaurant that I probably would have walked right by had it not been for this tour and we ate right outside. Here we had more wine of course – and when I say we had wine, they didn’t pour a glass and take the bottle, the put bottles of wine on the tables and kept the wine flowing! Then for the food we had Orchetti Pasta, Tagatelli Pasta with Alfredo Sauce, Fried Zucchini Flowers and Fried Fish. These were full size plates of each type of food!

    Next we stopped by some ruins and Bruno told us what they were and we spent some time there while she showed us on his iPad what that area would have looked like when they were in their original state.

    What goes after a great meal, but dessert! Moving along, we went to a Sicilian Bakery! Here we had some Cannoli, some Sicilian pastries as well. We had some granita and samples of some liqueurs.

    We walked through Campo de Fiori and you may think that because we had dessert, we’d be done with the main food portion of the night right? Think again! Next stop was a Pizza restaurant specializing in dishes from Napoli! You’re thinking this can’t be true right? I’m not kidding! Here we had Pizza Margherita, Bruschetta, Arancini – these are fried rice balls, Eggplant Parmesan, Fresh Mozzarella, some sort of puffed up fried bread thing, a fried potato that looked like a mozzarella stick – oh and more wine!

    After this meal after dessert, we walked through Piazza Navona. Here Bruno pointed out the statue that if we weren’t already familiar with it, maybe we became familiar with it from Angels and Demons!

    Our next stop was at a Café for Cappuccino and Hot Chocolate. The place was packed! It was a very traditional Italian place. Order and either stand at the counter or go outside and sip your drink. It was delicious!

    Next we walked by the Pantheon. What a site at night! Everyone had time for pictures, and as was the rest of the night, Bruno told us all about what we were seeing.

    And we still had one final stop. Can anyone guess what we had missed? It seems we had eaten our way through Rome already – but we missed one crucial thing – that’s right! Gelato! We went to a small family Gelateria. I had lemon and chocolate, DH had lime and basil, Megan had coconut and mint – and I have no idea what Alex, Mimi or G-pop had! I was in a definite food coma by this point! I do know I tasted it all though!

    We were totally stuffed as we walked back to our hotel. It was a short walk back. We knew we would sleep well. We would be leaving in the morning to board the Navigator for our Eastern Mediterranean Cruise! Was it really only yesterday that we were still in Pennsylvania?

    Our first day in Rome – there was only one word to describe it – PERFECT!

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    This should be a link to our day one Rome pictures - hopefully it works! I really haven't had time to take out the "bad" pictures - so this is us in the raw so to speak! And sorry about the fact that there may be so many of the same type of pictures - but first time there and all - many shots, different angles!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634431297751/

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    What a great report! And it sounds like you did a fabulous job of organizing. I'm so not a cruise person, but I can see why you chose to go that route. Looking forward to more.

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    Sunday, June 9th
    I woke up early, bright and early! I don’t know if it was still the effects of the time change, or if it was the anticipation of what the day will bring, but there’s really nothing like being awake to collect one’s thoughts and reflect on the past day while the rest of the family is still sleeping! Today we’d be going to Civitavecchia to board the Navigator of the Seas for our Eastern Mediterranean Cruise!

    Once we were all dressed, we went to the breakfast area of the hotel to see what was offered. We’d heard to not expect much from included European breakfasts. Well this must be the exception! There was so much to choose from! I had a bit of eggs, fruit and a tiny sliver of what seemed to be a little cake with Nutella, coconut and custard. What is all this pastry for breakfast? I also had the freshest orange juice and of course cappuccino! But there was also bacon, cheeses, meats, cereals and many, many cakes and pastries to choose from!

    We had about 45 minutes until our transfer to the port was scheduled to arrive so Keith and the kids and I went to a “deli” type place across the Piazza to get some wine to bring aboard the ship. RCL allows 2 bottles of wine in your carry on per stateroom.

    Then we made a quick stop back at the Pantheon for Mimi, Grandpop, Alex and DH since they didn’t get to see it yesterday. Of course they were impressed! We checked out of our hotel and all felt that we couldn’t have chosen a better place to spend our first night. No it wasn’t inexpensive, but it was the location was perfect and the staff was wonderful. It was a terrific way to be introduced to Rome! We couldn’t wait to come back in a few weeks!

    We decided to have a private driver take us to the port since we had six of us with luggage. My parents were not at all interested in the train once the found out they would have to walk from the train station to the port and then take a shuttle bus to the actual ship. So a driver it was! Our driver arrived right on time and we loaded up our luggage and away we went for this part of our adventure.

    The ride took about an hour and a half it seemed. It would drizzle off and on with occasional peaks of sunshine. The driver would share just enough history to make the ride interesting.

    We got to the port and I think the Navigator was the only ship in port! I wasn’t expecting such a large ship. After all, in a week or so, we’d be sailing on the Epic – now that would be a large ship – but we were all pretty surprised at just how impressive the Navigator looked! We had no wait at all to board. Paperwork was a breeze and we walked right on board. And just like that – we were cruising!

    It got to be about the time that our cabins would be ready, so we made our way to deck 8. We had three cabins all in a row. Smartest decision ever was to get connecting cabins with the kids and DH and I. In the past we’d shared a cabin, so this would be our first two cabin cruise. My parents were in the one next to the kids. We decided to keep the door between the cabins locked, but open the balcony divider. This gave us a huge balcony and access to their room. We found the rooms to be pretty spacious. Definitely room for 2 people!

    After our luggage arrived the kids and I went to explore the ship and played a round of mini-golf. After the muster drill, which was painless enough, we went back to our super balcony, opened our wine and had our own little Sail Away party. We were now cruising the Mediterranean Sea.

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    drchris - if you like to cruise, and go with the attitude that you're only going to get a taste of each port, I think you'll love it. I know we never could have seen so many diverse places in such a short time had we not done the cruises. And now I know where I want to go back to and spend more time in the future. For me, I treated the ships as my floating hotel, waking up at new cities (and countries!) most every day. For the kids it gave them a break from the touring and a chance to do their own thing - my son who is almost 14, hung out in the teen club every night, making new friends - coming back to the cabin around midnight!

    I'm looking forward to sharing the rest of our adventures, and photos!

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    This is a fabulous trip report. Your family seems like a lot of fun. I hope someday that my husband and I can take our DD, SIL and grandkids on a trip like this.

    My favorite picture is the one of your daughter tipping up the wine glass.

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    It is a great pleasure to be reading this report. Shell, you are definitely a good trip planner, you have done a great job in organizing your family trip! I am in awe! Fun photos too. Usually don't like to wade thru unedited pictures, but yours are actually giving us readers a view of your family dynamics, and everyone seems to be having such fun! Thanks.

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    Monday, June 10, Sicily
    I woke up early again! I love sitting out on the balcony. The sea is just beautiful! There are some islands in the haze. We must be getting close to Sicily! We don’t dock until 10 am though. I woke everyone up for breakfast at the Windjammer so we’d have time to eat before our tour. It was a bit of a crazy mad house there. I don’t know how many times I want to eat there for breakfast. Far too hectic for me! But have no fear. We all found something to eat and we found a table for six too!

    Once we passed through the Straights of Messina, we docked Sicily on one side an mainland Italy on the other! We’d later learn from our driver that the Straight is only 1.8 miles wide! Today we’re going on a tour with fellow Cruise Critic members Catherine and Ger from Ireland! We’re meeting them at the Champagne Bar at 10:15. We’d met yesterday at our informal gathering, but we’d arranged a few months ago this meeting spot so we could walk off the ship together to find our guide from Sicily Life.

    Today we’re going to Mt Etna!

    We found our driver with no problem. Antonio was his name and he was as friendly as could be! Catherine and I shared the front row seats with him. As we drove out of Messina and towards Mt Etna, Anthony shared much of the island’s history and many interesting facts with us. Unfortunately the others in the van couldn’t really hear a word of our often very lively conversation! Megan, Keith and Alex slept for much of the ride.

    We drive for maybe about two hours and shortly Mt Etna came into view. We could see the peaks and the wisps of smoke puffing out of the top. A reminder that this is indeed one of the most active volcanoes in the world! Antonio told us how these puffs indicate that by letting off steam that it’s a good thing. The pressure isn’t building up inside. They constantly are monitoring the activity and yes, we’re safe!

    On our way up to the Mt, we made a stop at a local honey farm. I admit we got a little laugh when we arrived because when I thought of farm, I actually expected a farm. Not a bee farm. Silly….it was a wonderful stop though! They produce mainly honey, but also various other products such as olive oil and wines. We got to sample many little tidbits. One of my favorites was a sweet garlic clove! Many flavors of olives, olive oils with all sorts of infusions of flavors, wines, different spreads that when you add water turns into delicious pasta sauces and of course many different varieties of honey. We made a few purchases here – never felt any pressure to buy. As a matter of fact, last night we had pasta (bought in Rome!) with the sauce made from the paste from the shop in Italy! Delicious!

    I’ll make a short mention here, that it’s when you learn that no matter where you are, and when you stop to always use the restrooms! This has been a questions I’ve often seen asked - about restrooms in Europe. While I didn’t find any particularly awful ones – sometimes they’re not always nearby. I had the most difficult time convincing my daughter to go when available, if you know what I mean! Usually in restaurants or places the guides took us, we found very clean WC’s! Don’t wait until you’re at the top of the Acropolis let’s say to have to go!

    Anyway…moving on. After our lovely stop we drove ahead towards Mt Etna. The views were spectacular. I kept thinking how it was such an amazing thing that something so devastating could produce a landscape that was so beautiful! Of course the volcanic soil was so rich. The terrain was so unique!

    The farther up we drove the more fascinating it was!
    Antonio pointed out old lava flows and various species of vegetation. He explained how the landscape changes dramatically around here during the hours of darkness and how he has witnessed foxes, rabbits, owls and even lynx cats up here after nightfall.

    We drove past hoards of tourists to our first stop, we visited the highest restaurant in Sicily, not to eat, but to view photos taken by the owner in 1983 as the Volcano erupted. The owner looked on helplessly as the molten lava flowed towards him. He decided that he would be better off killed in the inferno than live without his livelihood. The range of pictures telling the story of how the lava flowed towards him within the space of one hour was both intriguing and fearsome. Moments before the owner was to meet certain death, the army arrived in a helicopter and scooped him to safety. The restaurant has since been rebuilt and there are pictures on the wall of both this eruption as well as prior eruptions. The only remaining piece of the restaurant from the 1983 eruption is a jukebox. And the songs are still there, from the 1980s!

    After our bit of reality check – viewing the danger that this huge mountain can cause, which is such a contrast of the people casually climbing all over it. Not to mention that in the winter, it’s a ski resort! We went to the Silvestri Crater. I have never seen anything like this! We’ve been to volcano’s before. We’ve been to Costa Rica, seen the perfectly shaped conical Arenal volcano. Peered into the Poas volcano’s crater, but nothing can really prepare you for walking IN a volcano’s inactive crater! It was like walking on the moon!

    It was getting very busy by now and we I heard a guide tell her coach load of maybe 50 people that they were to be back in 15 minutes. Wow, 15 minutes? You couldn’t possibly explore this area in only 15 minutes! Thank goodness we were on our own private tour! We were on our own time. The black basalt under foot was uneven and quickly filled our shoes. However, Keith and Alex were eyeing that crater. Before you could blink they practically ran down the steep hill! There they were right at the bottom waving! Now, there was a ring around the top you could walk around, or a sloped path you could use to walk down, or like them, just go down the steep way! Boys! Megan and I walked down the sloped way, we were standing in the middle of the crater before long! Amazing! The walk up wasn’t bad and the views from all around the ring were outstanding! My parents just walked around the top of the crater. Something for everyone!

    I feel so lucky to have been able to be there! It was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities! To walk into a once active volcano crater!

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    Thank you everyone for the compliments! It's encouraging!

    Continuing on with the rest of or day in Sicily!

    After our Mt Etna experience, we piled back into the van and began our decent to Taormina. We were all hungry and we were all a bit sleepy! Antonio mentioned that this sleepy phenomenon happens all of the time and that it’s from being at the higher elevation with less oxygen. Sure, I’ll go with that! We enjoy our views as we ride along and in about an hour we arrive at the first of one the most charming little towns we’d have the pleasure of visiting this trip! Taormina.

    Antonio dropped us off at the top of what seemed to be the main street and told us when we should meet him again, in order to be sure to be back at the ship in plenty of time. He also gave us a perfect restaurant recommendation for lunch. Tucked away just a bit from the main road to not draw only tourists, but close enough to satisfy our growling stomachs!

    Amongst our group we had pizzas, pasta dishes, bruschetta, calzone, mozzarella, and of course wine. Everything was fantastic! Megan and I shared the bruschetta and a pizza Diavola which was spicy salami (this is our pepperoni), onions and hot pepper flakes. Yum! Grand pop had a pizza with gorgonzola, ham and walnuts! There were many different varieties to choose from.

    After lunch we walked the medieval streets of Taormina. It was charming as could be. This would be the first port where we visited and I would say “I LOVE this place” with absolute enthusiasm, but it certainly was not the last!

    It may have been over run with tourists and the standard tourist shops selling postcards and magnets, but going beyond that, the buildings and flowers and the charming art shops and gelaterias were enough to make you stop and take it all in and just soak in the charm of this ancient town! There were stairs leading up, steps leading down, all covered in the most beautiful flowers. Every terrace had its own flowers as well. We even saw a wedding party at one of the churches.

    The view of the sea from one of the main piazzas was so beautiful. The perfect place to stop and enjoy a gelato! This time I had orange and Nutella! I also got my magnet – I collect magnets from all of the towns or cities where I visit in the world and hang them on my “magnet” board in my office. It’s going to fill up nicely after this trip!

    We had enough time to stroll the street, but wished we had a bit more time. We didn’t have time to get to the Greek amphitheater. I guess we’ll have to put Sicily on our list for a definite must return to place! For sure we loved it here and for sure there is so much more we’d love to see.

    The beauty of a cruise – sometimes you get to a port and experience the island or town and feel as if you have seen what you came to see and coming back would be ok, but there’s not a great need to do so. Other times, you go to a place and fall in love with the country or city – the people, the landscape or just something clicks and you just know you will be back. Well, I felt this way here! We’ll be back to Sicily at some point!

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    Brava, ShellD! You are reminding me of my first time also and how "blown away" I was by how much of our daily life originated in Italy.

    Love your daughter's cap mustache. You really have done a beautiful job. Except my face would have been in a plate, asleep that first day. LOL.

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    Curious on how your parents enjoyed the 4 hour walking/eating tour. After reading your post, I'm thinking of booking. Like you, there are 6 of us including my parents, similar age to yours and 2 kids!
    Thanks

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    travelmamana - my parents loved the walking/eating tour. Even after everything else we did, they found it to be one of their favorite tours of the entire trip. It was the combination of the food and the history that they enjoyed so much. The kids really enjoyed it as well. It never felt too long or that there was too much walking. We all highly recommend it!

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    Enjoying your report. Rome was the first place I visited in Europe and it has a special place in my heart. Like you I had an oh my it's the colosseum! moment. Looking forward to reading more.

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    Tuesday, June 11th, Sea Day

    Hopefully readers here won't mind too much if I gloss over our sea day - I was going to skip it all together, but then I thought it wouldn't really do justice to our trip to skip it. The trip needs that downtime to let everyone regroup! So bear with me I suppose!

    We set our clocks ahead an hour last night since we are sailing towards Athens. I slept like a log! We planned to meet my parents at 9:00 for breakfast in the Main Dining Room, but I didn’t even wake up until 9:00! No problem there, today’s our first Sea Day! Once everyone was up, the kids, my parents, and I all went to a nice and relaxing breakfast. Keith went to find some chairs and to get some sun. Today was his kind of vacation! Lying in the sun, nothing to do – that is the type of vacation he lives for!

    So, breakfast in the MDR was so much nicer than in the Windjammer buffet! So calm! A nice selection on the menu, as well as a little buffet of their own! We were seated with two other couples. We very much enjoyed breakfast here and would come back on mornings that we didn’t have early port times.

    Next up we found Keith, found some chairs and I started my day of relaxation! Reading in the sun. Lovely! The weather was fantastic, just a bit of a breeze. Alex went off for the teen photo scavenger hunt and after a bit Megan went to her age group’s activity. This was the first time ever I think I’ve had both kids in their respective clubs at the same time. I just napped in the sun. Heaven!

    Tonight was formal night, so at about 5:00 we went back to the cabin to get ready for dinner. The kids were back, and Alex wanted a pre-dinner snack. He decided that since he didn’t usually find anything on the menu he liked for an appetizer, why not! Teen boys, the never ending pit of a stomach! So- while we got ready, he got room service. Pizza for him, and we got the cheese platter and opened our other bottle of wine we brought on board. We really liked the RCI room service selections. We thoroughly enjoyed sitting on our balcony with our wine and cheese just watching the sea go by.

    Dinner was good. Our servers have realized that Alex likes his steak. A lot. And he doesn’t like any of the sides. They now automatically just bring him two steaks, no sides. Do you want to see a happy face on my son? Bring him two pieces of steak! Without him asking!

    After dinner, Alex left us for the teen club – I think he wandered back to their cabin sometime by 1:00 am. The teen curfew is 1:00 am. This is tough on a parent. You want to be sure your kid is back, but are exhausted and want to sleep! You want them to have a great time, but again, want to sleep! He’s in the adjoining cabin…. I told him to make sure he comes in to let me know he’s back when he gets in. That seemed to work for us. Again, we left our balcony’s open, but not the connecting inside doors. When he’d get in, we’d lock our doors out to the balcony.

    My parents, Megan and I went to the show that night. It was the Broadway, Then and Now. I thought it was just ok. I didn’t recognize most of the songs. The performance was good, but I had no idea what shows the songs were from. My daughter is heavily into Broadway. She performs with a local theater group and she enjoyed the show.

    Today was a totally relaxing day sailing on the ship us each doing our own thing, yet meeting up when we wanted some together time and for our dinner.

    Pictures from our day at sea:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634501540786/

    Off to bed – tomorrow is Athens! And again, I know this is an Italy forum, our next couple of ports are not in Italy, so feel free to skip ahead if you aren't interested! But we had a fantastic time in the Eastern Med!

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    <Oh my gosh. I just accidentally saw your awesome Day 5 photos on Flickr. Enjoyed them immensely!>

    KL467 - You're too funny! Thank you so much for the compliment! I'll be posting about our day in Athens next. Glad you enjoyed the pictures! :)

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    =D>
    I can't believe how organized you are. We all thank you for posting as you go. It is all fresh in your mind and we feel like we are traveling along with you.

    Onward..........tomorrow is another adventure!

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    Wednesday, June 12th, Athens

    Today was a very early morning! I was up before 5 am! Again, I think it’s the anticipation of the upcoming day, but we also had to meet our guide at 7:30 am to see Athens! I do like a little quiet time before getting our little group of four going in the morning. Sometimes it’s quite a challenge to get Megan out of bed. She’s never been what I’d call a morning person!

    This morning we thought we’d give room service a try. I liked that you could order a hot breakfast and this worked out well for us. Although there’s not a lot of room for trays or plates, we managed to juggle everything and quite enjoyed eating on our balcony as we waited to go to our meeting spot.

    Today we’d be joining our new friends from Ireland again, as well as another family from England who we’d also met on Cruise Critic. Again we arranged to meet at the Champagne Bar about 15 minutes to our scheduled tour so we could walk off the ship together to find our guide all as one group. We did so and easily found our guide Georgia and our driver, Paul, from PK Travel, (Athens by Taxi).

    The port was a crazy mess out there, but they very quickly whisked us into a nice large van and off we went! As we drove through Plantaris Georgia started to tell us about what we were seeing and the history of the area. We paid a bit extra for a guide for the day, in addition to just a driver and it was very well worth it!

    Our first stop was the Acropolis. Yes, we had heard that private tours often arrive before the crowds, and it seemed to be true! When we arrived the parking lot was almost empty! Georgia gave us an overview of what we’d be seeing and first we stopped at the Acropolis Theater. This was a little bit of a surprise at first for me. I almost had forgotten that this ancient theater was still in use for current performances!

    Then we made our way up to the Temple of Athena Nike. Every step was even more impressive. We walked through the Propylaea and saw the Parthenon! Georgia gave us so much information and made the whole Acropolis come alive for us. Telling us stories of what it would have been like back in its heyday! I can not imagine being there without a guide. We had a good amount of time with her where she explained what each of the major temples were and told us more and more about each one. And then she gave us about 25 minutes to explore on our own.

    I think the sheer size alone is striking! The fact that so much still stands today is also amazing. The restoration is going on right in front of you and that’s quite interesting. Much of what you see other than the main Temples are replicas, for example, the maidens on the porch on the temple, or some of the carvings on the temples– some of the original pieces are in the New Acropolis Museum, which we would visit later this day, other pieces are in the Elgin Museum in England!

    The views from the Acropolis are stunning. Below we could see the Temple of Zeus. This would be our next stop.

    Funny thing was when we were up at the Acropolis Georgia kept referring to this huge structure we could see and it kept sounding like she was saying the Temple of Juice. I knew that wasn’t right of course. It never occurred to me that she meant Zeus until I had this blank look on my face and my son caught it and looked at me and says “ZEUS mom, Zeus…not Juice!” He’s pretty into mythology and was following right along with everything, even though the look on his face in most of the pictures is pretty grim. It was if he was playing a game as to how grumpy he could look in a picture. Just wait until you see some of his expressions in Ephesus! Agh! But even though I was taking him away from his friends and computer for about a third of the summer, I’m pretty sure he was nearly as fascinated with all of the ancient history as I was! Anyway…after he read my mind and clarified that there is no god of Juice…we moved along to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

    In its day, back in 131 AD it was one of the largest in the ancient world and the fact that it stood in an open space made it even more impressive. There were a total of 104 columns, of which only 16 are preserved today. One fell in 1852 during a storm and still lies on the ground. Can you imagine the sound it must have made?

    From here you can also see Hadrian’s Arch, on one side was notated the City of Athens, the other side, the City of Hadrian.

    After leaving the Temple of Zeus, we drove to the Panatheniac Stadium – this is the original stadium built for the first modern Olympic games. It was built in 1863 for the games in 1896. We had a quick picture stop here.

    Next we wanted to be sure to catch the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We arrived with a few minutes to spare, so Georgia suggested we check out the artifacts in the metro station at Stygmata Square. Sure – why not! What a gorgeous Metro Station! And yes, it was filled with artifacts on display. We spent about 10 minutes walking through, it was like a mini museum!

    We came up, and got to the Parliament building just in time to see the Changing of the Guard ritual. Quite unusual. They do this either every 30 minutes or every hour – I can’t remember which. It’s a very serious position. They can’t smile, or flinch or talk. Georgia told us stories of when there were the riots in Stygmata Square a few years ago and one soldier was photographed with tears on his face from the tear gas being shot into the crowd – but he couldn’t leave his post or move until he was released from his duty by his superior. And even more amazing, another soldier who’s kilt was caught on fire by a pipe bomb who refused to leave his post until he was given the ok by his superior. He stood stoic at his post unflinching until given the ok to move, fire and all.

    Luckily when we were there it was a calm day, all we saw were the thousands of pigeons and the people who seemed to think it was fun to buy pigeon food to have the birds sit all over them! Odd…there was one lone protester on the corner across the street.

    Next we drove to the Hill of Lycabettous and had a beautiful view. This is the highest point in Athens and is in mythology credited to being created by Athena.

    On the way to the Plaka, which is the oldest section in Athens, we passed this super cool statue! It’s the Running Man! You can see that in my pictures.

    What’s in the Plaka? Food! And many shops. It’s mainly closed to traffic. Here we left Georgia for maybe an hour or more? We were given time to eat and shop for a bit and then we’d meet here later. She gave us some suggestions on what to have for lunch and then we were on our own. Each of our own families split up and went our separate ways for this time.

    I would imagine pretty much all of the restaurants in this area served basically the same things. Gyros! Of course other Greek specialties as well. We chose to sit down and eat as opposed to counter service. We all ordered gyros – they were served flat on the pita style bread instead of wrapped, which made them a bit challenging to eat. But we managed! Other than G-pop, we all enjoyed them. I’m not sure what he expected, but we soon started a running joke that he was looking for maybe a ham and cheese sandwich in Athens? Or wherever we were! The rest of us loved the authenticity of the food. The seasoning was phenomenal as well as the freshness! The meats were hanging in the restaurants and you would see them shave the meat for each serving.

    Our server noticed that G-pop didn’t really enjoy his meal and brought him something else. They didn’t speak much English at all, so trying to explain that he didn’t really want anything else didn’t go over well. I can’t remember what they brought my dad, but it was another full plate of something that he really only picked at. Turns out he really isn’t a fan of Authentic Greek Food! They also brought us a huge plate of lamb k-bobs, which we were told was “on the house” which was nice, but none of us are big lamb eaters.

    So, when it came time to pay, as best as we could tell, he wasn’t charged for the second meal and we weren’t charged for the lamb either. Then this older Greek man who spoke NO English came over and starts talking fast and waving his hands and has a 2nd bill. What we eventually figured out was that since my didn’t like his food, which he never complained about, just didn’t eat - now mind you, there was a TON of food, so none of us cleaned our plates, but anyway – the man brought us a second bill that was LESS – he deducted my dad’s meal because they couldn’t make him happy! This was totally unnecessary and unexpected! Definitely was a pleasant experience!

    After lunch we had some time to shop, I got my magnet, the boys, their postcards and Megan got a nice leather backpack that she would later see in Italy for several Euros MORE! It was a good experience all around in the Plaka!

    Then we walked to the ancient Agora. First we went to the museum which is in the best preserved building in Athens, the Stoa of Attalos, dating back to 2 BC! The museum has many of the artifacts that have been found at the site. Here the open square was transversed by the Panathenaic Way, a covered walkway, surrounded by public buildings. The Agora was a center for social and religious activities, commerce, theater and athletic performances were held here as well. We walked to the Temple of Hephaistos, which is also very well preserved, I believe it was at one time a church, which helps to keep the ruins preserved. And then we left the Agora and went to the New Acropolis Museum.

    My dad was getting tired of walking. He has a bad knee and with the 55,000 stairs, or what felt like that many anyway! He decided to skip the museum and he and my mom went to a little café for some beer and snacks! The rest of us went to the museum.

    The museum opened in 2009 and houses the artifacts of the Acropolis. As you walk in you are walking over excavations of ruins that were discovered while building the museum.

    We went through the museum with Georgia and she explained many of the pieces there, beginning with the pottery and what the different markings meant as far as the dating and history. And then we moved to the various statues of offerings to Athena. Then we moved to the statues of the Porch of the Maidens. The originals are here – the ones in Greece anyway! They are currently being restored and you can see how they are doing that process.

    Then we moved to the top floor where Georgia told us what the panels on the top of the Parthenon meant – what the mythology told us and showed us how the gods were represented.

    If you like mythology, archaeology, ancient history – this was a totally fascinating day! For me, it was absolutely fascinating!

    After the museum, we made our way back to the ship and had dinner in the Main Dining Room. The kids and I went to see the Ice Show. It was really good. Who would think they could pull off an ice show of that caliber on a moving ship? It’s a very small rink, and they still manage to do some pretty impressive moves! Alex of course left to go to the teen club, the rest of us went to bed.

    Pictures from Day 5, Athens
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634526952657/

    Tomorrow is Ephesus!

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    Great report and the trip sounds fun. Thank you for sharing. My sister collects magnets too, and I always get one for her when I travel. You're the only other person I know who has talked about collecting magnets.

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    "other pieces are in the Elgin Museum in England!"

    Err, no. They (pieces of the Parthenon frieze) are called the Elgin marbles (after Lord Elgin who took them to England), but they are in the British Museum.

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    thursdaysd - "other pieces are in the Elgin Museum in England!"

    Err, no. They (pieces of the Parthenon frieze) are called the Elgin marbles (after Lord Elgin who took them to England), but they are in the British Museum.

    Thanks for the clarification - there's a lot of details from this trip - I got the names but not the specifics! :) Funny thing is, last summer my daughter went on an educational trip to England and France and visited the British Museum and saw the Elgin Marbles. She had no idea that this summer she'd be visiting the Parthenon where they came from!

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    rhkkmk - Sure - I'd be happy to include some prices. As for the hotels, so far we've stayed just at Albergo del Senato for one night in Rome. I'd say to contact the hotel or look on their website for details since it will vary depending on the room and time of year. But this was definitely a splurge for us. The room my parents paid for was a standard double at 290 Euro, but they were upgraded at no cost to their Deluxe double. I don't know the rate for that room. The four of us stayed in the mini apartment - which I felt was huge! It had two twin beds and a king bed in a loft. Big bathroom and a sitting area. It was 445 Euros. Both included a very nice breakfast.

    Food tour in Rome: 85 Euros for adults and 65 for kids. All food and wine included. Also a lot of history involved.

    Sicily Tour - 450 Euro - split by 8 people - price was based on the number of people. Included the driver who was more like a guide. Only additional cost was our food for the day. The driver was with us our full day in port from 10:30 until approx 6:00 pm.

    Athens Tour: 600 Euro - split by 12 people. The price would have been the same for this tour regardless of how many people in our group. Initially we had just the 6 of us, so it would have been more expensive. But we ended up with the other two families and were able to reduce the costs this way. We chose to have the guide in addition to the driver, so our cost was more than just a day with a driver only. Extra costs included admission to the archaeological sites and museum. Approx 12 Euro for the sites/person and 5 Euro for the museum. Kids under 18 were free at both. We were in port with our guide from 7:30 until approx 5:30 pm.

    Of course there was the price of the cruise - but that would totally vary!

    I'll try to remember to include the rest of our costs as I go along!

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    Shell: still loving this report. You are a great planner!

    We stayed at Albergo del Senato a few years ago, and luckily didn't pay as much as you did, and we even had a balcony room on the front. It is a magical location, I could see weeds on the top of the Pantheon from our balcony!

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    About the tours, as I'm sure you know, you paid well below the cost of the ship's tours and yours sound much better quality.

    The agora is my favorite place in Athens. I went early one morning, light drizzly rain, maybe three other people there. Loved it.

    Great trip report!

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    Cathinjoetown - "About the tours, as I'm sure you know, you paid well below the cost of the ship's tours and yours sound much better quality."

    We definitely decided against the ship tours both for the cost and the quality. I know many people prefer the security of ship tours, but with research, there are so many quality private tours out there! Our groups were so small that we had such personal service - it was wonderful. And with kids, you really need to keep them engaged! Not be in a herd of maybe 40 or 50 people!

    We loved the Agora too - I don't think too many people get there. It wasn't too crowded and it was really quite beautiful!

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    I'm loving your trip report. Italy is my favorite country to visit, but I really enjoyed Greece too.

    Reading about the cruise details is interesting to me too. I have taken one small-ship cruise (200 passengers) down the coast of Croatia and Montenegro, but since it was also part of a tour (several days in Venice), all the shore excursions were included. I am considering taking another cruise in the future with my boyfriend, probably on Seabourne, and am trying to decide if it's best to take one of their excursions or arrange your own. How did you decide?

    Just for future reference, it's Syntagma Square in Athens.

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    Delaine - I'm not too familiar with what Seabourne offers as far as excursions. For us, we wanted small groups and flexibility. I wanted our whole group to feel like the guide was talking just to us - not to a group of 50. That is not an option with most of the major cruise lines. Also many of the cruise line excursions can be quite pricey for what is included and they often include a shopping stop somewhere that may (or maybe not) be affiliated with the cruise line. Also, in some of the places, the larger buses can't really get you where you want to go. They will take you to a place and just drop you off a distance from a site, there is much more walking and my dad has knee problems, so the use of a van eliminated some of the walking I think.

    An example of the difference in the cruise tour vs private would be our Mt Etna tour. We had a group of 8, a small passenger van and while the tour was pre-set, we sort of designed the timing of our day. Our driver knew how much time we wanted to spend at Mt Etna vs. Taormina and went with our flow. Whereas the ship tour was on a coach bus with about 50 people. They had about 15 minutes to walk around the crater and then back on the bus. We also had the benefit of personal stories and getting a feel for what life is like where we went.

    Many people feel uncomfortable with private tours and like the security of ship tours because you are guaranteed that the ship will wait for you if you aren't back in time for "last boarding time". While I'm sure that is always a concern, the reputable guides make a living doing tours and they are very aware of getting you back in time. I know there could always be an emergency - an accident causing traffic, a flat tire - but we've been very successful with the private tours on our four cruises and likely will continue to do so.

    Thanks for the correction on Syntagma Square. There are so many details, and many more coming up! I'm sure I'll have many more inconsistencies that will need to be corrected!

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    Just rejoined your trip after a weekend of company. Still enjoying it and your photos. You write so well!

    It is hotter than heck here (has been for some time) so the description of lying in the sun and the deck pictures made me sweat even more. However, I imagine that being on the water kept things comfortable!

    Thanks for sharing (as I look forward to more!)

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    ShellD,

    Thank you for your insights. You brought up some things I hadn't thought about. I will do some research (which I love!) and find out how much a private driver/tour would be compared with the ship's excursions.

    I did a private driver one day in Greece and really enjoyed it. He picked me up at my hotel in Athens and drove me all over the Peloponnese. I had already told him where I wanted to go, and I could take as long as I wished.

    Looking forward to your further adventures.

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    ShellD,

    Thank you for your insights. You brought up some things I hadn't thought about. I will do some research (which I love!) and find out how much a private driver/tour would be compared with the ship's excursions.

    I did a private driver one day in Greece and really enjoyed it. He picked me up at my hotel in Athens and drove me all over the Peloponnese. I had already told him where I wanted to go, and I could take as long as I wished.

    Looking forward to your further adventures.

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    Im amazed that you planned such a ambitious trip. I too am trying to plan a trip with my teen daughter husband and parents. My parents' families came from Bari and Sciacca(Sicily).They would love to visit both as well as tour Rome. We also wanted to include the Amalfi coast. I would appreciate any tips or suggestions.

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    Southerly - Thank you! It definitely was ambitious. I love trip planning though, so for me it was something that was a lot of fun. The only part that was a bit overwhelming was that I wanted to be sure to not let my parents down in any way since this was in reality, "their" trip. I would have felt a lot less pressure if it was just my husband, kids and I!

    At first I felt totally overwhelmed and unprepared as far as the European aspect of the trip. We knew we wanted to go on a cruise, but also a land trip. I'd planned several trips before, but all to Central America- those seemed easy to me! Even though there was a first time for those trips too. I did all those on my own, but through research on Fodor's mainly. But this felt different. I contacted a friend of my dad's who is a travel agent, thinking she may be able to point me in the right direction. I won't call it a mistake - but as time went by, I realized I could do all of the research on my own. The only thing she ended up doing for us was getting our trip insurance and actually booking the cruises and taking care of the final payments on them.

    So - I guess what I'm saying is, if you're organized and like to research, the information is all out there. I used mainly fodors and cruise critic.

    For us, we had our reasons for combing the land with the cruises, as I mentioned in the beginning of the trip report, but mainly to see many places, to get a feel for these places - not necessarily need to spend days in each, and importantly for us - give the kids some down time - kid time, after each day of touring - which is why we chose the cruises as our moving hotel. Then we chose the cities we missed on the cruise and fit them in between and after the cruise.

    As far as traveling with parents, and your daughter....for us - this is why I chose to do tours in each location. I knew for our family it would work best. If left on our own, we'd never get out the door! We'd end up in Europe arguing about what we'd want to do each day! We have a hard enough time choosing where to go for dinner, so if I didn't have a game plan for each day, those days would be lost. But again, on the cruise ship, we had our apart time too.

    Private tours or small group tours also allowed for adjusting the pace of the tour for our varied age group. It never felt like we were waiting for my parents, or rushing to keep up with my speedy son and husband!

    I also tried to find something that everyone would enjoy at some point.

    I'm not sure if any of that helps, but those are things that I took into consideration when planning. If you have any specific questions let me know! For me planning is "almost" half the fun! I'd be happy to let you know what worked and didn't!

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    Thursday, June 13th, Ephesus

    Today is not only our day in Ephesus, but it’s my 21st Anniversary! What better way to spend our Anniversary, than in an exotic land? Well, I think Keith could think of better ways to spend it – lying on a beach, drink with an umbrella in it, but he was being quite patient – indulging in my never ending quest for ancient history!

    It was another early morning! The bright side is that I’m sleeping really well though. I seem to be waking at the crack of dawn, every day! No complaints here though. So, once up, breakfast arrived right on time and it was another enjoyable meal out on the balcony.

    Today we’d be meeting Yelda from KSG Tours, otherwise known as Kagan Kosagan’s tours. I found his name also on Cruise Critic. There are several other, larger tour companies mentioned and mixed in there I found a review that mentioned his name. Then maybe another and then someone else mentioned Yelda as a fantastic guide. I did a search on Trip Advisor and he got great reviews, mainly in Istanbul, but a few popped up for Ephesus. But Yelda’s name kept popping up. Especially for tours with families. I contacted Kagan back in September, specifically requested Yelda and we were all set. Throughout the year, I’d get friendly emails From Kagan wishing us Happy Holiday’s or mentioning that they were looking forward to our visit. Also for those interested, there was never a mention of a carpet tour – we never indicated we wanted to visit one and they never asked if we wanted to. I let Kagan know what sites we wanted to see and that’s where we went.

    So – we met Yelda right on time at 8:00 am. We had a short walk to our van and once in, the driver was off and Yelda started telling us all about Kudasai and Turkey. We could tell this would be a very interactive day! First was the question – are we in Europe or Asia? Why, Asia of course! About half of our group of six got this one right! On our way to Ephesus, Yelda told us about this part of Turkey today, a brief history and about where were on a map and where we were going.

    I can’t really say enough good things about Yelda. She was fantastic! She had so much knowledge about seemingly everything! The history, the architecture, the religions – which play such a role in this part of the world and really all over. She kept us all engaged. Well, Alex was in quite a mood today – as you can see in the pictures from the morning. It was around today that it sort of clicked that we needed to feed him on a pretty regular schedule or he got very moody! Also, I think the pretty constant playing of the conflict that was currently going on in Istanbul at the time was weighing on his mind. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that he’s only 13, and as smart as he is, it may be hard to separate the fact that Istanbul and that conflict is nowhere near where we were going – which also happened to be in Turkey. The cruise ship had an International CNN channel that seemed to have a constant loop of the police “handling” the protest in Istanbul. At this point I can’t quite remember – was it tear gas they used? But in Alex’s mind Turkey is Turkey and where were we taking him? So, until he felt a comfort level with the day, and had a good, serious meal he was an absolute terror to be around.

    The forecast was for rain, we even felt a few drops as we came off the ship, but we were lucky! The rain held off and for most of the day, the sun was shining. We had perfect weather!

    Now, Ephesus. I can’t even begin to describe it, but to say it’s impressive! What made it different to me from visiting Athens was that this was an entire city of ruins in one place. You could envision the whole civilization that must have lived out their daily life here. The technology of the time was just amazing.

    We absolutely went into the Terrace houses, except my dad, who was concerned that maybe there would be too many steps – I think he would have been fine. But the Terrace Houses are houses built into the hills that are currently being excavated. There is an extra admission fee to visit, but it’s very worth that small extra fee. They call them the houses of the rich – there are six residences here. You can see the mosaics and the frescos – the colors are amazing! You can see the pipes that were used for plumbing!

    These Terrace Houses for me were most definitely the highlight of Ephesus. The detail of what has been recovered is amazing. The ruins are massive.

    Then of course there really is so much more. There are stones with carvings indicating where the Dr would have been. There are the public bathrooms! Which apparently were quite the social gathering area! There is then the carvings that were in front of the merchants indicating that they were Christians – and this is how the first symbols of Christianity came about and eventually developed into the Jesus Fish that we have come to know today!

    Moving on we approached the facade of the Library of Celcus. This itself is one huge, amazing structure! It is said to have held 15,000 scrolls! It’s here I’ll mention the cats. In Athens it was the city of the stray dogs. Everywhere! Ephesus was the ruins of the cats! Here at the Library of Celcus was a mamma cat nursing her three baby kittens. I’ll say the crowd to take pictures of this site was as busy as any part of the ruins here! Animals sure draw a crowd! Especially when baby animals are involved!

    As we walked towards the exit of this part of the town on Ephesus, we had a chance to visit the larger of the amphitheaters. Keith, Alex and I went in and climbed up the rows of seats to get a view from above.

    It was a great morning! But we still had much more to see. But so far, Turkey was absolutely nothing like I had expected. It was so green and lush. Rolling hills and vast open spaces! I don’t know if I expected deserts or it to be flat. But it was very peaceful, it was beautiful. We all were really enjoying our time here!

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    Thanks for a great report. We loved Ephesus many years ago. It may be time for a return visit. Although we have been to Europe many times, we have never explored from a cruise ship. Will now consider that for the future.

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    Our next stop was the House of the Virgin Mary. There has been some debate as to what part of Mary’s life was spent here. Was she really here? Was it her final resting place? Yelda said that after all of the back and forth, the current evidence does point to her coming here and living here. The foundation of the house and the stones of the keyhole shaped pool carbon date to the right time. As well as the painting that you can see inside of the house, which is thought to be of Mary – also carbon dates back to the time that Mary would have been living at this home. I'm sure there are more facts and evidence - but that's what I remember at this point!

    The foundation was all that would have remained of Mary’s house. The rest of the small building has been reconstructed to be a small chapel. The smaller room is thought to be where Mary would have slept. It is set in a very beautiful, lush mountainside. You can just imagine Mary living out her final days here in peace.

    After walking through the home we went to the area outside known as the “Wall of Wishes”. This is a large wall, similar to so many in the world, where pilgrims, or visitors like us, can write our wishes on a piece of paper or fabric and leave them in the wall. Megan, Mimi and I all chose to leave a wish, or personal intention here.

    There is also a water fountain here at the wall that some pilgrims believe to have special healing powers or powers of fertility.

    I myself am not a particularly religious person, I was however raised Catholic. My parents both grew up in a very strong Catholic church and are both now Methodist. My mom is a very spiritual person and is very involved in her churc. Many people have asked me if being at such a religious place would have significance for someone who is not Catholic, or not religious. I can answer for myself – for me it was a very peaceful place. I don’t believe one has to be Catholic to understand the journey that these people from history took and the effect they had on the modern world we now live in. Much of Turkey is now Muslim and they honor the Catholic beginnings that came from their lands.

    As we left this mountain, Mt. Koressos, we knew it was time for lunch! Yelda would be taking us to a local restaurant. Here we wouldn’t even have menus! We’d choose our food by looking at it and pointing to what we wanted! Yum!

    We were wondering what type of food is typical here in this part of Turkey – or really in any part of Turkey for that matter! We arrived at the restaurant. It wasn’t fancy, there were several tables outside, and Yelda brought us inside. There were tables inside, but more important, there was a display counter with fresh meats and the appetizer courses on display. Yelda, and perhaps the owner maybe took us through our choices, explaining the different foods. Everything was pretty much what we would think of as Greek foods. She said that their proximity to Greece plays a big role on their diet. Other areas of Turkey are more influenced by a Middle Eastern culture and have a different diet.

    We ended up choosing several different appetizers and main courses. The appetizers, or sort of tapas, were served family style and then our main dishes came out. We chose hummus, a Tzatziki that was very traditional and one that was mint flavored, feta with tomatoes, an eggplant mixture, mushrooms with cheese, a cheese rolled with feta and of course fresh pita to eat with it all. I have never had such fresh tasting Greek, or shall we say Turkish food – ever! We invited Yelda to eat with us and really enjoyed one another’s company.

    After our appetizers, out came the main dishes. Some of us got meats, to be made into gyros. The pita bread was a bit different from what we had with the appetizers. It was thinner. Others had a meatball type dish. Alex had some beef skewers. Everything had wonderful seasonings. All of the plates had a fresh salad that was served with olive oil and a pomegranate vinaigrette. It was all delicious – and of course, far too much food!

    To top it off, Yelda asked if we wanted to try the infamous Turkish Coffee. My dad and I took her up on the offer and maybe when she chose to get tea we should have taken that as a hint! It was pretty darn nasty! Once you got past the initial, well I suppose the word would be shock! Then you could manage to sip it. I’m used to cream and sugar in my coffee, so regardless it would have seemed really strong to me. But also, you can’t drink the full tiny cup because all of the coffee grounds are still in the cup and it’s really sludgy. That would be the best way to describe it! But we were glad to have tried it and it perked us up for our next stop! Tummies full and fully caffeinated, off we went to our next destination!

    Our next stop was St John’s Basilica. This is set high on a hill with a fortress in the background. The Apostle, St John is buried beneath the Basilica. From this hill, you can see the pillars of the Temple of Artemis. Yelda told us that when the Basilica was built, parts of the Temple were used. The Temple was a Pagan building so there was no consideration that they were using pieces of such a magnificent structure. Same thing happened when a nearby Mosque was built. More of the Temple of Artemis was torn down and used.

    After our time at the Basilica we made a quick stop at what is left of the Temple of Artemis. This was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World! You can tell by the size of the remaining column just how huge it must have been! The temple was built for the first time in 800 BC! Can you imagine? It was destroyed and rebuilt 3 times after that and before it’s final destruction in 401 AD. In comparison to the Parthenon in Athens, this temple was 425 long and 225 wide with 127 columns that were 60 feet high. The Parthenon is 230 feet long, 100 feet wide and had 58 columns. Now, having just been to the Parthenon and been incredibly impressed, it was hard to imagine just how BIG this temple must have been and how incredible it was!

    We left here and made our way back to port. Once we parted ways with Yelda and thanked her for a fantastic day, we decided that we wanted to check out the Bazaar area. First mission was to try some Turkish Ice Cream! Now, this definitely was not gelato! The consistency was sort of sticky, but the flavor was good! And of course when they serve it to you they like to play around with switching the cones and flipping the ice cream around. Megan definitely got a kick out of that!

    I shopped for my magnet. We were told by Yelda that Turkey is known for bargaining when shopping – now I’m sure that’s not true for a 3 Euro magnet! But for higher priced items maybe. She said that the vendors are expecting to bargain with you for everything. The shopkeepers were fairly aggressive here, but they were also very friendly. I wanted to get one of the evil eye bracelets or key chains, but couldn’t really find one I liked. At one store I picked up a key chain that you could have your name written on - I liked it, but wasn’t going to buy it. I picked something else out instead. While I was talking to the shopkeeper’s assistant – making small talk, he asked me Megan’s name. Apparently the owner had taken the keychain I had originally looked at and asked for Megan’s name and made it for her while I was talking. He gave it to me at no extra charge. He was very proud of the work he made at the store. There was a lot of hand crafted art work there and he told me that he took the store over from his father and was happy to give me the 2nd key chain. What a nice thing to do!

    Alex and I hung back while everyone else went back to the ship. We bought some gifts for a friend of his and enjoyed some time together. His mood had greatly improved and would remain this way the remainder of our trip.

    Overall Turkey was nothing like I had expected. I think we all felt this way! I had seen some pictures of Ephesus, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful everywhere we went today was. It’s a very clean area and there is so much open space. It’s a huge contrast to our day in Athens yesterday! I’m not saying that Athens is dirty- but it’s a huge city. Much different from today.

    Once back on the ship, it was pretty much the same as in the past. Unfortunately even though tonight was our anniversary, we didn’t get to do much to celebrate. But tomorrow Keith and I are going to Portofino’s. This is the Italian specialty restaurant. Date night! We weren’t able to go tonight because it’s the Murder Mystery Dinner and there were no private reservations available. We did enjoy dinner in the MDR again though, no complaints! The Navigator feels like home to us by now, we’ve settled in nicely.

    For those interested, our private tour in Ephesus was 400 Euro plus admission into the ruins and lunch.

    Pictures from Ephesus:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634561372351/

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    Still enjoying your TR, great that you're having such a good time! But not really fair to compare Athens to Kusadasi and Ephesus! It's a capital city, and the comparison should be to Istanbul or Ankara. And there are many parts of Greece with beautiful rural scenery, but you need to visit the Peloponnese or the north to see them. I'm not going to get into whether food is Greek or Turkish, lol, really both!

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    Oh, I wouldn't say I'm really comparing the two ports - just that after being in Athens and not having any real expectations of Turkey - we were all just so impressed by Turkey in general! I think we all had seen so many pictures of Athens and the ruins so we had a feel of what to expect. We knew it would be busy and a city. We loved Athens. But Turkey was nothing like we had our preconceived notions of. Did we expect desert? Did we expect to be in a city? We had honestly no idea? But we loved it.

    I do know that Greece has many rural parts and I would love to go back - I think my statement was more of a feeling we had after being in Athens one day, the feeling of Turkey was very different. It was unexpected.

    Both were highlights for us for sure!

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    Actually, the west coast of Turkey that you saw was part of Greece (Ionia) way back when, and had Greek inhabitants up until the fighting and the forced population swaps after WWI. A lot of people don't like Athens, but I really enjoyed it. But I saw it in the spring before it got hot and crowded.

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    You said the cruise would give you a taste of Europe and then you would know where you'd want to return for more time on land. I'm looking forward to what locations those will be as you seem so positive about everywhere you've been. A happy trip report!

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    HappyTrvlr - I'll have to remember to summarize this at the end of the report. I'm not sure that we went anywhere that I didn't have a positive experience or feeling about. But there are some places that I definitely felt that I'd like to spend much more time visiting as compared to others where I felt like a taste was good, and while a return would be great, there is more to see elsewhere!

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    Wonderful shots and TR.

    Hub and I visited Ephesus in the early 1980s and it looks like much more has been excavated since (although library was there). Those mosaics with red are lovely. We too were "taken" by the beautiful countryside. Expect there are more resorts now.

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    I love the Ephesus photos! The cruise we want to take is to some areas of Greece where I haven't been and also to Turkey. Ephesus and Istanbul are the primary reasons I want to take this particular cruise so I was thrilled to read your descriptions.

    I had the same feelings about Greece that you described about Turkey when I visited the Peloponnese and mainland (Thessaloniki, Veria, Vergina, Meteora, Arachova, Delphi). It was so beautiful and not what I was expecting.

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    Friday, June 14th, Chania, Crete
    Today we docked in Chania, Crete. After many months of trying to figure out what to do here, it wasn’t until right before the trip, that I found out that the name of the town was actually pronounced as “Hania”! The ship actually docks in Souda. Our time in port is a very odd time – 6:30 am – 3:00 pm. I’m not sure why this is since the next day is a Sea Day. You would think they could stretch our time in town a bit later so we could really enjoy this town instead of having to rush to get a bus back to the ship by maybe 1:30 to be back on board by a 2:30 on last on board time. Not to mention that docking at 6:30, there wasn’t much to really “do” in town that early!

    So, that’s my only real complaint at this point about the itinerary at all. But that being said. Chania is relatively new in the cruise ship world. Finding independent excursions here was much more difficult than in other ports. Also, by this point in the trip I was looking for that “something fun” for the kids that maybe was a bit different from the ruins and history that we had done for the past few days with such intensity. This was also a bit of a challenge with the timing that we were in port.

    However, I was lucky to stumble upon a small company called Sea Star who runs private small boat tours around Thodorou Island, just off the coast of Platanias Beach. They got great reviews on Trip Advisor and their website showed a few different options that would fit into our short time in port. Since their boat only holds 8 passengers plus their crew of 2, we knew we’d be able to customize our day. Elise emailed us promptly once I found them and we set up a 2 hour boat tour with a stop for snorkeling. This sounded like a perfectly relaxing way to spend the day! Although when I told Keith about our plans for the day and how we’d be doing something different – he just laughed – and said “um, Shelley – how different is going out on a boat? You do realize we’re on a cruise?” Well, I meant a small boat, where you can feel the sea, swim in the Mediterranean! Snorkel! A different type of day from the walking and inundation of facts that we’d had! And as you’ve probably figured out I LOVE that type of day! But by now we all needed a bit of a break from it I think.

    So – the time came and we met Elise at the port.

    Unfortunately it was quite a cloudy morning. As we drove to Platanias Beach she told us how she, a woman from France, came to be here in Crete, and we enjoyed getting to know one another. This is another thing we really enjoy about private tours. Getting to know the people who live where we visit and getting to know about the cultures of the towns. We also told Elise what time we had to be back to the ship and that we’d like to have lunch in Chania. She suggested that instead of a 2 hour boat tour, we make it 1 hour – we’d still have plenty of time on the boat, plenty of time to snorkel and she’d arrange for a taxi to take us to the Old Town. She was concerned with the 2 hours we'd be too rushed in town and wouldn't have time for lunch. It was settled! This would be our plan!

    We got on our boat, and off we went! Thodorou Island is a National Park Sanctuary and no one is allowed on the island, other than the care taker. He shows up each morning and cares for the wildlife and island then goes home. Also, once a year there is a pilgrimage allowed to the ruins of a small church that is on the island.

    The main “inhabitants” of the island are the Kri-Kri goats! They were brought here to protect them. They are fed and cared for and now they number in the 80s. We saw several of them on the mountain side. We also saw a few falcons while boating around the island. Elise told us all about the history, geology and biology as we toured. There’s even a Venetian fort that remains at the top of the island from the 1500s!

    We stopped for about 20 minutes or so to snorkel. It was the perfect amount of time. My mom doesn’t snorkel, or swim actually. She stayed on the boat and chatted with the captain. While we were in the water, Elise would dive down and bring up marine specimens to show us – starfish, shells, urchins, sponges – all kinds of things. Then she’d bring them over to the boat so the captain could show them to my mom.
    We all thoroughly enjoyed this few hours. It was great to be in the water and out on the water on the boat. I enjoyed talking to Elise – she was a fascinating person and had a lot to share.

    When we got back to their dock, she had their assistant call a taxi. This is where things got a bit confusing, on our end – not so much from them. Since we were a group of six, they sent two taxis. The person at Sea Star told the drivers where to take us. I assume they told us to Chania, Old Town. Now – remember, no one else in my family really had a clue about this trip – as far as planning or where we would be going or what we were doing! I was the lead! So how do we split up the six of us with drivers who don’t speak much English at all? Well, for some reason I put Keith and the two kids in one taxi with a 20 Euro bill and off they went. I don’t even know if Keith had his wallet! They left so quickly! I had our bag with everything in it, which yes - included his wallet. We asked in advance how much the taxi would cost, so I knew he was covered for the taxi fare though.

    The other taxi eventually arrived and my parents and I piled in. We never thought about the fact that we’d have to find Keith and the kids! Don’t all cruise passengers go to the same place? DUH? Well luckily our driver drove through an area and Keith and the kids happened to be sitting on a wall and they flagged us down. Keith told us after they left he got to thinking how he had no ID, didn’t have his Sea Pass card and had pretty much no money! Only Megan had her Sea Pass card! He had no idea where to go, nothing! But luckily we all met up and all was well.

    Sort of – we definitely were not in the “Old Town” tourist area – we were in a very busy area. But I knew we were close! Since we didn’t come here with the cruise people earlier we had no maps, we had no idea where to get the bus back to the ship…

    No problem – we’ll figure it out! How hard can it be?

    Well we did it! We found a security guard, asked him where the Harbor was and he pointed and said something that sort of sounded like directions. After wandering around a bit, we found the Old Town!

    And as luck would have it, as we were walking down to the Harbor and looking for a place for lunch, we bumped into Catherine and Ger! Our new friends from Ireland – imagine that! Of the thousands of people in this town, we find people we know! And thankfully they did have a map and they showed us where to go to find the bus when we would be ready to go back to the ship. Feeling a bit more comfortable now, we went and had lunch.

    Now here, we had probably the worst of our in port lunches. Probably our fault. We just stopped somewhere instead of looking around for something that really looked good. We were hungry and knew we didn’t have a lot of time. It did have a nice view of the water though! But probably the biggest clue that it would be bad was that the menu choices were American food. So, when Megan ordered a cheeseburger and it came out as clearly not beef, we wondered just what it was? Once the waiter translated to another waiter and so on, they finally told us “Pork” of course as if we should be shocked!

    We had a bit of time to walk along the shops and take in the view before walking back up the busy street to catch what seemed to be a city bus designated as one to go directly to the port. We had to figure out where buy tickets – got that! And off we went.

    While we had a great day on the boat, the time in Chania was definitely rushed and crowded. Again, I wish the time in port could have been extended.

    Since it was so early when we got back to the ship, we had some time to take advantage of a partial Sea Day, I’ll call it! Keith took the kids to the rock wall and then in line skating.

    And I took advantage of the Spa Special of the day! They had availability left and I booked a 5:30 appointment for the Happy Hour Special! I’m calling it my Anniversary present! It was a neck, shoulders, feet, ankle, and head massage and a mini facial. It was 50 minutes of pure relaxation! And best of all, there was no sales pitch! Sometimes on cruise ships they try to sell you all kinds of products and that just puts a damper on the relaxation you just had!

    After the spa, I got ready for dinner. Tonight was our Anniversary dinner at Portofino’s. It was really good. Definitely worth the cover charge! I really don’t have many pictures – I was enjoying our meal too much to deal with the camera. But I had the Shrimp Risotto appetizer and the Pesto Pasta for an entrée. Keith had the antipasti and the Tuna for appetizer and the Mushroom Pasta. I’m not sure what we had for dessert. The service was wonderful, and we had a great view of the sea. It was a perfect, quiet meal – just the two of us!

    My parents took the kids to Johnny Rocket’s for dinner and then to play mini-golf. They all enjoyed their meals as well.

    We all agreed that we enjoyed our day, the weather turned around for us again!

    Tomorrow is our last day on the Navigator. Even though we’re moving on to more adventures, I’ll be sad to be leaving this ship. It has FAR exceeded my expectations!

    The cost of the boat tour - well I'm not exactly sure right now! The 2 hour tour was supposed to be 190 Euros, including our transfer from the ship to the dock where their boat was. Since we did the 1 hour tour, I know it was less. I want to say maybe it was 150 Euro? That was for the 6 of us including snorkel gear.

    Our pictures from Crete and the ship that afternoon:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634593052429/

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    So sorry about your bad restaurant in Chania! I have had some of my all time favorite meals there, so for next time walk past the tourist harbor, to the east along the water, and there are wonderful places to dine.
    Or go back one street off the harbor to Taman(assuming Chania is on your return list.) We spent two weeks there and will return.

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    HappyTrvlr - I just wish we would have had more time there! I'm sure there were plenty of great places to eat. Like you mention, we often found just going a street or a block past the main tourist streets was the perfect solution. We just didn't have the time. Our own fault! We did this one other time in Rome and while the food wasn't bad, we paid far too much for what we got! When you're hungry or in a rush - that's when you end up at the worst places! Although I will say, my meal here wasn't bad - I had a salad with fresh tomatoes and avocados that was pretty good - the rest - well, live and learn! :)

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    Sunday, June 15th, Sea Day #2 on the Navigator of the Seas

    Today was a mixture of relaxation and yet somehow busy, if that somehow makes sense! We slept in just a bit. Maybe until 8:00 or so! Alex didn’t get in until super late again, so I didn’t sleep well until he was safe and sound in his cabin.

    Anyway, Keith and I went to the buffet today, just the two of us and had a nice breakfast together. Somehow when it’s just us it’s not nearly as hectic as when all 6 of us or even 4 of us are there! When we got back we woke the kids up and tried to convince them to not waste the last day sleeping and watching tv.

    I decided I wanted to do the Walk for Wishes, which is a charity walk for the Make a Wish foundation that Royal Caribbean sponsors. You donate $10 and get a t-shirt that you wear while you walk. Then you meet at 10:30, I believe it was, and the whole group walks around the track until you walk 1 mile. The money is donated to the Make a Wish foundation so that terminally ill children can have their wishes granted. Some kid’s with wishes to be on that ship were there on this cruise. It’s a very heartwarming thing to do. The ship officers and captain participate in the walk. Mimi and I did the walk, five times around the track. When we were done they took a group picture, which I have no idea where that went – I would have thought you’d get one since they have your Sea Pass from when you bought the t-shirt – but it wasn’t with our pictures. Oh well! But we were told that just in that walk that morning they raised over $2000!

    It was an incredibly windy morning out on the deck. I planned to go sit out with Keith and read in the sun, but it was too much like being in a wind tunnel. He stuck it out though. He was determined to make use of this day of relaxation!

    Meanwhile I took Alex to the teen speed rock walk climb. He didn’t have high hopes. He figured there were much faster teens. The older guys had to be faster than he was. They got everyone signed in and each teen was timed individually with stop watches. There were boys and girls. Turns out – Alex came in FIRST place for the boys! He was shocked. So were some of the older teens who thoroughly expected to win! There were about 10 boys in all. However, overall the fastest speed was by a girl. I had to smile. It was a lot of fun to watch and Alex got a gold medal.

    Meanwhile Megan finally had the chance to ice skate. We had time and it was finally free skating! My parents took her down to get the skates and Alex and I met them down there. She was doing great! Ice skating can be challenging enough, but on a moving ship? People were going down fast. Helmets are mandatory here. One woman fell and hit her head hard – she had to be carried off the ice. I had some fears, as a mom, watching Megan skate, but she seemed to be skating pretty cautiously and she was doing well. I can see though how someone could take a nasty fall. I’d hate for her to get hurt, let alone with 2 weeks of vacation still to go! I have to say I was relieved when she had her fill of skating for the day! My dad tried to skate and it turns out skating is not like riding a bike after all…he used to skate a lot as a kid and even as a younger adult. But he just couldn’t do it at all now. And as I said about Megan, we were ALL relieved when he came off the ice. We certainly didn’t need him getting hurt at this point in the trip! I think a fall for a 68 year old man would be much worse than an 11 year old girl! Whew~!

    After lunch the wind calmed down a bit and I was able to sit out and read a bit. When it got to be too much, Keith and I went to the Solarium and enjoyed the hot tub. This was definitely a perfect day. Time with the kids, time in the sun. Time with Keith. Being on the open sea and watching the scenery just go by. We went through the Straight of Messina. Passed Mt Etna again. And this time saw the beautiful Stromboli Volcano.

    However, this cruise was coming to an end, so I knew I had to go back to our cabin and pack. We were doing self debark or is it disembarkation? I’m never sure. So I didn’t have to get our luggage out that night. But I wanted to be done before dinner. Off I went to tackle that mess.

    We enjoyed our last night in the Main Dining Room, and as I mentioned before, even with My Time Dining, we had the same waitstaff every night and the same table. They were fantastic and got to know us and our likes well. Every night I had an iced tea brought to me without asking. Alex had his 2 steaks brought to him. They knew our names. The service was fabulous.

    After dinner, we went to the arcade a bit as a family. That was fun! And then we had our usual routines – Alex to the teen club for their final night together. Keith back to the cabin to watch the same old thing on the tv, and my parents, Megan and I went to see the final show. It was pretty good. A physical comedy type show and then the staff cheers.

    After the show Megan and I went to the Circus Parade. It was definitely a silly type thing that you couldn’t help but smile while watching. It was a fun atmosphere. Somehow in the crowd we met up with Alex and walked back to the cabins together.

    It was our last night and tomorrow we’d be the beginning of a whole different adventure…our land journey. We’re taking a train to Venice!

    Here is a link to our 2nd Sea Day on the Navigator of the Seas pictures

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634608703979/

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    Sunday, June 16th, Traveling to Venice

    Today is Father’s Day! We got up and gave out the cards to Grandpop and Keith at breakfast. I told Keith that our plan for a Father’s Day gift was to get him the week Spa Pass on the Epic so he would have a place to go to relax every day. He seemed to like that idea, but then again also felt like in a week with only one sea day, he wouldn’t be able to make full use of it. We’d think about it and decide when the time came. Maybe just a massage instead.

    We went to the Windjammer one last time and then carried our own luggage off, as we had a driver coming at 8:30 to take up to Termini train station for our train to Venice. We decided not to take the train from Civitavecchia to Termini since my parents would have to walk their luggage from the Port to the Civitavecchia station, and the once at Termini possibly have to take their luggage up steps to transfer trains. Convenience of the driver won out here and it was well worth it.

    We walked off the ship very quickly and found our driver from Walks Of Italy, who we would be using for several tours while we would be in Rome later. When you book multiple tours you receive a discount, so our transfers were with them as well.

    We arrived at Termini with plenty of time to spare. We had prepurchased our tickets to Venice on the Trenitalia website and rather than cutting it close on the earlier train, we had booked the 10:50 train. Better have time to wait, than rush we figured! Of course we now had more than an hour at the train station. However, we were very pleasantly surprised at how clean the train station was! We found a café with a table for 6 and room for our luggage next to the table. We sat down, had some brioches, croissants and cappuccinos and relaxed for that time. We really couldn’t get over the quality of the food in a train station! It was all so fresh! We each also got a Panini for the ride, well, except Megan who couldn’t resist getting McDonalds!

    Our track was posted and we had no problem finding our train. Now, when I booked the train, I couldn’t seem to get 6 seats in one transaction, so my parents ended up in one car and the 4 of us in the next car. Not a problem. I was able to pick seats right at the end of each car near where the luggage was so we could keep an eye on our bags during the ride.

    However when walking to our train I said out loud to Megan and my mom, “now you’re car 6 and we’re in car 5” and that’s when apparently we got “gypsied!” as the kids say! A woman totally latched on to us and even though she never really helped us, she kept telling us which car to go to. We firmly told her we knew and didn’t need help. Keith and Alex were ahead of us and knew where to go. She waited at the entrance to the train and pointed to where to put the luggage – we told her firmly “we know” and when we caught up to them, Alex told her to go away – we know. She then rearranged the luggage “for us” and followed us to our seats holding our her hand. I told her that she didn’t help us. She just stood there. So I gave her four 1 Euro coins and she said she wanted FIVE Euros from EACH of us! I told her NO WAY! That she didn’t help us at all! Finally she left and moved on to help others. I was pretty annoyed that she tried to take advantage of us, but at least I was able to get away with only giving her 4 Euros, I suppose!

    Anyway, we felt pretty proud of ourselves that we managed to successfully navigate our first Italian train trip. We got through the station, luggage and all and onto the correct train and into our seats! We settled in for our approx. 3 ½ hour ride to Venice. We played some Uno, tried to nap and just enjoyed the scenery. It was a great way to travel. Although I will say, facing one another the leg room was a bit cramped!

    We arrived at the Venezia St Lucia train station, got our luggage and met my parents off the train. We were anxious to see what Venice would be like!

    We had prebooked a water taxi to take us to our hotel. The Al Ponte Mocenigo. We are staying here for two nights, which gives us this afternoon and one full day to take in this city. Not a lot of time, but we’ve gotten used to making the most of what time we do have. This is the first we’re really on our own though in a city we haven’t been to. How would we handle it?

    We walked outside the train station and even though I’d seen pictures, for me, nothing could really prepare me for “Venice” until I set foot on the island. For me, immediately I had that magical feeling! In case you didn’t notice, traveling is in my blood! The water, the sounds of the water taxis and the gondoliers. The tourists. It was all just what it was supposed to be. And we were only there for 5 minutes!

    So, now we had to find “our” water taxi. This was a little confusing, and maybe we had instructions, but I had no idea where to go. I asked at the first taxi stand and they pointed me in the right direction. After a few docks, we found someone who knew where to go. They made a call and before we knew it, our water taxi arrived. As soon as we saw the crowded Vaparettos we knew we made the right decision. At this time of day, I can’t imagine we could have fit the six of us with our luggage on a vaparetto – and if we could have, it would not have been quite the introduction to Venice that we had.

    The water taxi ride was short, but it was comfortable and we didn’t have to manage our own luggage. We pulled right up to our hotel, which had a water entrance. Our luggage was put right into the lobby for us and we confirmed our early morning pick up for two days later. We were taken to our rooms, which were up a pretty large flight of steps, but we knew that would be the case. Our group had a quad room that was very RED! Very traditional and large enough for the four of us. Two sleeper chairs I’d call them for the kids, but they were fine. They pulled out to twin like beds and both slept like logs. Anything would be fine as long as they didn’t have to share a bed! We had a queen bed I believe. And a very nice, modern bathroom. My parents had a classic double room.

    We got our stuff settled in and went out to explore Venice. We had a gondola ride set up for 6:30 and had plenty of time to get to our meeting point. We asked at the front desk for some recommendations for dinner on our way back for later and off we went, map in hand. We had a very leisurely walk to San Marco square, which is near where our Gondola ride would be. We stopped for a snack of pizza for Alex and my dad. We stopped and looked at many of the masks that are handcrafted there in Venice. We just took it all in. This was truly a unique place!

    Our hotel was a bit of a distance from the main tourist area of San Marco square which was nice. It gave us a chance to walk through some of the streets and wander around a bit.

    After our very touristy stroll, we found our gondola meeting point. We did feel that with six of us it really felt off balance most of the time. And we were mainly in the back canals and in the Grand Canal. We weren’t even in the open water. Maybe it was how our weight was distributed. I can’t say it was a very relaxing ride or even comfortable, it sort of felt like being in a tipsy canoe! But I enjoyed the sights and it was a nice introduction to Venice, especially at this time of the day. I think Mimi enjoyed it the least, yet she probably wanted to do it the most. She was too afraid we’d tip over, yet you don’t often see gondolas tipping left and right. She’s quite a worrier and this came out on this ride.

    After our ride, we started our walk back to the hotel, through St Mark's Square - which I promised myself to come back to at night tomorrow! But we made a detour and walked up to the water and then decided to just take a vaparatto. Again, we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves for figuring out the transportation system! We got on the right vaparetto, going the correct direction and even got off on the right stop! It was a successful day!

    We then found the recommended restaurant with no problem – we had a pretty good map! It was a bit off the main walk back and it was mainly pizza and pasta, which we’d asked for. The service was painfully slow and haphazzard. Slower than the typical Italian service we’d later come to be used to. However the food was very good. I had my first Prosecco here and that was quite good! Some of the group had pizza, I had gnocci, some had Carbonara…everything was delicious.

    After our meal, we went back to the hotel and crashed. Tomorrow we’d be seeing Venice! We had a full day highlights tour scheduled!

    Here is the link to our traveling to Venice and 1st day in Venice pictures:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634624909926/

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    I am really enjoying your report too! We stayed at the same hotel in Venice... our room was small but well-appointed; Loved its location and easy access to the vaporetto. Looking forward to tagging along on the rest of your trip!

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    So great to read about your trip, how nice to be able to take a multi generational holiday. You sound like you've done an amazing job of planning your excursions from the boat. I couldn't believe how much you crammed into the first day, not to mention what came afterwards! Your trip shows there are lots of different ways to see Europe and that different things work for different people, glad to hear about it all, thanks for posting.

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    FWIW, we were in a train going from Siracusa to Naples and crossed the Straits of Messina. After waiting what seemed a looong time, to be moved to the ferry, we got out and found to our amazement that the train cars were already IN the ferry!

    Loved the shots. The circus parade looked like fun and your Venice shots were wonderful. Sighing for Italy, TDudette

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    Monday, June 17th, Venice all day!

    Today is our full day in Venice! On our own! We got up and ate breakfast at the hotel. It was served in the courtyard. I had some pastries and coffee. I really enjoy this European version of breakfast!

    We were to meet at the front of the Doge’s Palace at 8:45. We had a full day tour with Dark Rome Tours for both the Secret Itineraries as well as the “Best of Venice”. We’d have a two hour break between the two for lunch. We decided to take advantage of the morning and walk to our meeting spot rather than take the Vaparetto. Megan was however not happy about this. Why would we walk nearly a mile, in the heat at what she considered to be such an early time of day! Unfortunately it made for a long and cranky walk – the whining! Keith and Alex however had become familiar with the winding walkways and bridges and took off on their own and never heard a peep from her. They enjoyed their what seemed to be a sprint, to the Palace!

    We finally arrived and met up with Keith and Alex, got some water since it was already hot, and we found our guide!

    I’ll mention here that at some point over the past couple of days, Alex has become more and more European! He now much prefers Acqua with gas! The boy is now a fizzy water drinker. When did this happen? Even now at home, he’s got to have his fizzy water!

    Anyway, that aside…we were on what I’d call a semi-private tour and our morning tour was the Doge’s Palace Secret Itinerary. This tour we’d have the headphones so we could hear our guide. As I mentioned, the tour was officially with Dark Rome, but once we went into the Palace, we were transferred to a guide who works at the Palace itself. There were about 15 people in our group. Our guide was very, very good. It was a very hot day and the rooms in the secret part of the palace are not air conditioned. So the fact that she held the attention of most of the group in that heat is a testament to her story telling abilities!

    We started in the main courtyard, which you can only see from the inside of the Palace and she told us the history of the Palace and gave us many details of who the Doge’s were and how they lived. Then we went into the Palace itself. We went into the secret rooms and learned about what they were used for. This was all very interesting. We learned all about Casanova and his time in the prison and his escape. This was probably the most interesting part of the tour.

    After this area we went to the main parts of the palace and spent a good amount of time looking at HUGE pieces of art. I have to say though by this time much of what our guide said was lost on me, and definitely lost on the kids. I think it was the heat and the length of time standing. I really wanted to enjoy learning about the paintings, but I was fading fast! Now, I wanted to enjoy this part, I was definitely interested in what we were seeing but Keith, Alex and Megan were absolutely miserable by this point though! They were hot and they were bored and most of all they were tired. We were ten days into touring and other than the prisons and torture area, they didn’t care about this tour! Ok – make a note of this mom! We needed Gelato fast! We needed air, we needed outside!

    Now, the tour was beginning to wrap up, and I will say that the Palace was huge, it was beautiful and I’m sure it had some fascinating art work! There were secret passages and there was so much gold! But now we got to walk across the Bridge of Sighs and see more prison cells. This was more like it! Everyone perked right up! We thanked our guide and were off to have lunch.

    We walked away from St Mark’s Square to find a place off the main path for lunch. Something just a few blocks – not sure if that’s the right term here in Venice – but that’s the idea – away from all of the hub bub- so maybe we could pay a little less and get a little more. We found yet another pizza and pasta place we could sit at. Do you see a theme here with us? That’s what we like and we stuck with it! It was really good – pizza, pasta, prosecco, acqua with gas for Alex and wine and water for the rest of us!

    After lunch we split up for awhile. We had some time before we had to meet for our afternoon portion of the tour. Alex and Keith went to find a candy store they had seen earlier in the day. Alex loves sugary candy and he wanted to get some! Off they went! Mimi and Grandpop left to get some space from the kids and their crankiness! And Megan and I went to get some Gelato. It’s true what they say, it really becomes a fuel to get you through the hot touring days in Italy! Don’t skip it! My new favorite is Limone and Chocolate! The break was just what we needed and we were all ready for Part Two of our tour – the Best Of Venice – again with Dark Rome Tours.

    The first hour of our afternoon tour was a private water taxi tour. It was the six of us and another couple. This was great! It seemed like we went everywhere! Through every canal! Our guide told us about so many buildings and the different districts. So much history – you name it, we heard about it! We definitely went into the non-touristy areas and then we went down the Grand Canal. This was my favorite part of the day. It was so relaxing and such a great way to see so much of Venice!

    After the water taxi tour, we met up with another guide for the walking part of the tour. Again we were given the headsets and we started walking. This guide immediately started walking fast! She didn’t say where we were going, but started practically sprinting. It was difficult for my parents to keep up at this point. What could be so urgent to get to? We walked and walked, dodging crowds of people and then we arrived…where you ask? A public WC! Yes, a bathroom, that was apparently our first stop! She now started talking. She said it was hot and she wanted to get out of the sun. This would also be the last time to use a bathroom for some time, so it would be important to go now! I really thought this was a very strange way to start at tour!

    Ok, so after those who needed to used the facilities, we started walking again – off we went to our first real stop. St Mark’s Basilica. First we went up to the terrace. We spent some time taking in the view of the Piazza and the harbor. Then we went into the Basilica. The size was just massive. There was a lot of gold leaf and mosaics. No pictures were allowed. Though there were many people taking them!

    Then we walked around Venice with the guide. She pointed out various important squares (Campos) and sites. We made a stop for gelato during the tour. That would make two gelatos so far today!

    All in all, I think during the morning the Secret Itinerary was good and in the afternoon the water taxi was great, but the rest of the tour felt rushed. However it was a great way to get an introduction to Venice given that we only had one full day here. I feel like we definitely got a great feel for this amazing place with this tour!

    Afterwards we were all pretty wiped out and hot and sweaty. We went back to the hotel to rest up a bit before dinner. Keith, me, mimi and grandpop took our last bottle of wine we had from Rome (yes, we still had one left!) and went out to the courtyard of our hotel and had a little happy hour! It was a great way to relax and enjoy the calmness there after such a busy day.

    We then walked to another recommended restaurant from our hotel. It was just a short walk and again – you guessed it, pizza and pasta! It was very good.

    I really wanted to go to Piazza San Marco at night to get some pictures and Alex wanted some souvenirs, so the two of us made the trek again, while everyone else went back to the hotel. We had a nice walk, although with him, it’s never what I’d call a stroll! It was a fast pace! When it’s just the two of us, he sure does talk! I always enjoy that time together!
    He got his souvenirs and I got my pictures. The Piazza was very pretty at night. Very festive with the musicians playing. We were both glad to have made the walk.

    By the time we got back to the hotel, my fit bit logged close to 9 miles for the day! Hopefully that will counteract some of the gelatos I’ve been eating!

    It was time to pack up, our short visit to Venice had come to an end! We knew we’d only have a day and a half here. Was it enough? For this trip, I think it was. Of course we could spend more time here! I would love to go back, if for no other reason than to take more pictures! But the time we did have here definitely gave us the introduction we needed to really get a feel for Venice. We all truly enjoyed being here. It was a very special place that I honestly don’t think can be explained with words! It had a magical feel for me. It was so worth the whirlwind between cruises to get to Venice for this short time!

    But tomorrow we’d be taking the train early for a day in Florence…again – just a day! It’s all part of the plan…

    The cost for the full day Doge's Palace, Secret Itinerary Tour, and Best of Venice including the Water Tax Tour was $994 USD for all 6 of us. Sounds steep - but remember this was USD. And I do think it was a bit pricey for this particular tour. I had a hard time finding a tour that covered everywhere I wanted to go in one day though, which is why I ended up choosing this tour. In the end, we were happy with it overall, and the 2 hour lunch break was definitely needed!

    Link to my full day Venice pictures:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634656530018/

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    Venice was one of the first places I visited on my first trip to Europe. I thought that I had died and gone to heaven! :) Love your photos. Everyone looks like they are having a good time.

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    =D>
    Again, I have to say how much fun it is traveling along with you.

    In years to come, you are going to be so happy that you documented your day to day travels as you went and didn't try and rely on memory when you returned. You have packed so much into your journey. It truly is the "trip of a lifetime" that many refer to.

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    Thank you everyone for still hanging in there for the ride through Europe! And for the compliments!

    Before I go onto our next day, Florence...I want to go into a bit of what I call..."The Plan"! It's at this point in the trip where some of you, and myself at times may be wondering just why the heck we took a train from Civitavecchia all the way to Venice for just under two days, and now are apparently taking a train to Florence for just under 24 hours before apparently heading BACK to Civitavecchia for yet another cruise??? Why didn't we spend another night in Venice? Why go to Venice at all? Why not just stay closer to Civitavecchia or plan different cruises - say one that began or ended in Venice?

    Well, in the beginning we really had no intentions of going to Venice. We were going to do one long Mediterranean cruise, but as I mentioned we couldn't fine one that really fit everyone's needs. Then the more we discussed the ports my parents wanted to see, Greece (Athens in particular) kept popping up as a must see. That's how the semi-back to back cruise came about. Somehow Venice was thrown into the mixture and when we found out we had three days between cruises we became quite adventurous! Sure - we can fit that in, why not? This is a trip of a lifetime, let's go for it...all!

    Our original plan was to rent a car after the first cruise and DRIVE from Civitavecchia to Venice, stopping along the way in Fallo, which is in the Abruzzo region - to find my mother's family's homeland! Sure - this was a great idea! :) Drive through the mountains, in some of the most non-English speaking areas, and just wander into a town and say "hi!" But that was our plan. I had mapped out the route, planned some stops on the way for breaks. And we'd spend the night on the Adriatic coast. Then get up early, head to Venice and have our two days there. I knew the drive to Venice would be long, so I even included a stop in Verona to break up the drive.

    We were going to do a one way van rental and take the train back to the port on the day our cruise left. But in the planning, someone here, or maybe another site, cautioned that maybe we should reverse the planning and train to Venice first and drive back, making our distance from the ship closest - we should not be in Venice the morning the ship left in case of a rail strike or train issues on our end. Who knows what could happen! I agreed.

    But then, I stumbled upon a guide who would actually TAKE us to Fallo! This was huge! We wouldn't have to just drive into a town you likely couldn't even drive into anyway! A translator as well! We booked them, and everything changed! How would that guide work out? Well, that's day 20 of the trip! :)

    But, now we had 2 days booked in Venice and a "free" day for on the way back to Civitavecchia. As I mentioned, we wanted to be a bit closer to the port than Venice, so where to spend it? Well, it seemed the obvious choice would be Florence! Even though we'd have a port day of Livorno on the next cruise - we decided to spend one day and one night, basically 24 hours in Florence. This was more than we'd get in the port day, especially once you take out travel time from the ship! And then our port day? Well, of course a wine tour in the Chianti Region! This was our way of having our cake and eating it too, so to speak! The only thing I felt like we would be missing was Pisa....would we get there?

    Well, we did have to travel to the ship....could we do it?

    So, next up is Florence!

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    It's very easy for others (and you) to second guess. What's the phrase? 20/20 hindsight? It all goes in the pile marked "experience" -- hopefully, we build on it rather than repeat!

    More soon, please.

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    Tuesday, June 18th, Florence, part 1

    We were up early to meet our water taxi at the water entrance of our hotel. Our pick up time was 7:00 am! We had done our official paperwork to check out of the hotel last night. Apparently there is no one there to handle the money transactions this early in the morning. The taxi showed up right on time.

    We were at the train station by 7:15 for our 7:55 am train to Florence. This time we were taking the new Italo train. Since we didn’t have breakfast before leaving the hotel, we were able to find something at the train station, and again they had a really nice café. For those of us who are into the whole European pastry for breakfast thing, this worked out well! I had a chocolate filled brioche, which was super fresh tasting and served nice and warm and cappuccino. I just can not get over the quality of train station food here! Megan ordered a latte, not listening to my warning that she wouldn’t like it and was quite disappointed to get a cup of just hot milk and not a “Starbucks” type latte! Live and learn!

    Our train was easy to find and quite nice! The ride was very smooth and this time all six of us were on the same car and seated near one another. I took the time on board to catch up on my journal writing! I was a couple days behind! And I also took a much needed nap. I knew our day in Florence was going to be a busy one.

    We arrived at the Firenze S.M. station right on time. I feel like we’re becoming seasoned travelers now! First order of business was to find breakfast for Alex. I wasn’t sure when we’d have a chance to eat again and he’s not one who’s into the pastry type breakfast! He found McDonalds and was good to go.

    We left the train station and found the taxi area. We’d have to get two taxi’s to fit all 6 of us and our luggage. We told the driver’s the name of our hotel, the Hotel Monna Lisa, and off we went – the kids and I in one, and Keith and my parents in another.

    When I’ve told people we’re going to Florence, unlike when I’ve told people we’re going to Rome or Venice, I always get comments like “oh, you’ll LOVE Florence” or “Florence was my favorite city” “I can’t wait to go back to Florence” As I mentioned before, with Rome, I got a lot of “Rome was dirty, Rome was crowded, Rome was too much like a big city” and with Venice I heard a lot of “Venice was ok, but it smelled, or Venice was overpriced, it was ok but I wouldn’t want to go back”. So I was intrigued about Florence. What was it about Florence that made so many people love it? And I absolutely loved Venice. And even though at this point I had only spent one afternoon and night in Rome, I thought it was a pretty amazing place! So – let’s check out this place called Florence!

    My first impression just from the taxi ride, on a Tuesday morning was good grief it’s crowded here! It wasn’t at all what I expected. I expected a small town as compared to Rome. But so far, it felt big and like a busy city! But we’ll see!

    We got to our hotel, which was off what felt like a smaller side street, behind one of those GIANT doors that opened up into a haven! I think it’s amazing how you’re in a city and you open up a giant door and suddenly you are in a garden! We checked into our hotel, and our guide, Christina was right there waiting for us! This was our plan. Since our rooms wouldn’t be ready and we only had this one day – we’d leave our luggage locked up and head out for a tour of Florence with Christina, from Tours by Locals! It was about 10:15 am and we were ready to go!

    So, how did I book this tour? Most of the research I’d done was for “port” excursions. But we weren’t coming from a ship for the day. I was having a hard time finding a tour of Florence once I was already in the city. The ones I did find didn’t really fit our time frame. We weren’t there at 8:00 am or even 9:00 am. We had plans at 6:30 already scheduled so we had a cut off time to be aware of. We wanted to see David at the Accademia, but also see the highlights of Florence. I knew I needed a private tour. I stumbled upon the company Tours by Locals while researching our port day in Palma de Mallorca which would be coming up later on the Epic, and found Christina who would soon be booked for our day in Florence. It was a perfect fit! She knew we had just traveled from Venice and was totally flexible with what we could do and wanted to do! She was an absolute joy to spend the day with! Within five minutes I felt like we were old friends.

    I wish I could remember the details of where we went, the names of the squares (campos) and all of the buildings, but of course I wasn’t taking notes I was just taking it all in. She was a great story teller and I know we saw what we wanted to see.

    Of course we went to the Accademia. She had reserved tickets for us, and we went and picked them up, walked right past everyone waiting in line and went right in. I can not understand why people do not pre-reserve tickets! Why would you wait in line if you don’t have to? Anyway, there is security like at the airport where you scan your bags and then you’re in. Christina came in with us and gave us an amazing history of Michelangelo. We started with the Prisoners statues. She really taught us how to see those pieces. It was amazing. Then of course we saw David. She had us stand at different angles. She really gave us an art lesson as we studied the piece. It was breathtaking. By this point in the trip we had seen several other statues, and now we could compare this piece to many others and you could understand why this one stands out as a masterpiece. The detail, the size, the smoothness of the marble. You can not help stand in awe as you take it all in. Christina explained how the position of his arms and legs cause you to see motion. How your eye moves through the piece. There would have been no better way to see David than to have her narrate it for us. It was amazing.

    Once outside we moved to the Duomo. Such a building! It’s big, it’s colorful, it’s bright! But before going inside we took a lunch break. Christina left us for a bit and our group split up. Keith and Alex went for pizza and my parents, Megan and I went to a little café. It was nothing special, but it was convenient, and air conditioned! Today was by far the hottest day so far of the trip.

    After lunch we did go inside the Duomo. We didn’t climb it – we decided we didn’t really have time and no one really had the energy. But going inside was quite impressive.

    Then we walked through Florence. Christine pointed out some highlights. We eventually got to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Of course we took pictures. We passed the Uffizi gallery. Had we had another day here, we’d go for sure. We stopped at the Piazza della Signoria and looked at all of the many, many statues. We then made our way to the Santa Croce church. The area in front was set up for a huge soccer match. It made it difficult to take a picture. The group was pretty tired and no one wanted to go inside – well, except me and I was voted out. Bummer! It costs to go inside and I guess no one else wanted to spend the money or take the time. People, when will you get the opportunity again? That's what I was thinking anyway. There are many famous people buried here, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.

    By now it was about 4:00 and we decided to walk back to our hotel to rest up a bit. We had a big night planned! We were doing a pizza and gelato making class! We wanted to relax a bit before heading back out. On our way back to the hotel we did see a temperature reading – guess how hot it was, in the shade? 39 degrees Celsius! That’s 102.2 Fahrenheit! At 4:00 pm! It's no wonder everyone was fading fast! That's one hot day to be walking the city!

    We got back to the hotel, which has some lovely courtyards and common areas. Megan and I hung out in the indoor common areas. The gardens were way too hot. I took advantage of the free wifi and caught up a bit with home. Keith and Alex stayed in our air conditioned room. Oh, we had a loft quad room and my parents had a double room.

    Next up, pizza making! As Megan said - something FUN!

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    We left off after our Highlights of Florence tour and were taking a bit of a break in the hotel before heading out for the evening!

    We had our little bit of down time and we were ready to go.

    So when I said Megan was ready for “fun”, it was time for our Pizza and Gelato making class! Before our trip, we had looked for something hands on for the kids. In the past our vacations have always been more of the “fun” type – you know, beach type, active type. Sure this is active, but in a walking, listening, educational, history type of vacation. They were looking for something to actually DO with their hands. So to speak. That’s what was so nice about the cruise – there was always something to come back to on the ship – the rock wall, pools or ice skating. Some may knock seeing Europe this way feeling that you don't get to see enough of one place, but for a family, at least our family, I really think it has it’s benefits! You tour during the day and everyone gets to do their own thing during the evenings. Anyway….back to Pizza!

    We found a cooking class in Florence where we’d get to make our own pizza’s and there would be some homemade Gelato as well! This sounded great! Hands on and dinner too!

    We had about a 20 minute walk to our meeting place so we set out, map in hand and hoped we could find our way back to where Christina had pointed out the general area earlier in the day. Feeling pretty confident, I led the way and what do you know, we turned the corner and whoo hoo – there was the offices of Florencetown Tours! We made it! Right on time too! We waited for the whole class to show up and then found out we had another 15 minute walk to “the school”! Oh boy – what a day of walking! I’m not sure why we couldn’t have just met at the cooking location, but I guess we got to see a bit more of Florence this way!

    When we arrived at the cooking school location, we each got an apron and picked a spot at the huge table. The class was pretty big, maybe 20 people? There were couples, families, adults and kids. It was definitely a mixed group and you could tell right away it was going to be FUN! Perfect! There were two Chef’s. They did a great job with instructions, that were both educational and humorous at the same time.

    We learned the correct way to make dough for the pizza – first by a demonstration and then we each had our own pile of ingredients and we got to make our individual dough balls. It was a lot of fun. When Keith had his done with no additional instructions, they were a bit surprised - they asked him if he had pizza experience, he told them he was a Chef - "ahh - that explains it!" they said! Laughing!! Although it's not as if he makes homemade pizza every day! But it was helpful at our end of the table for him to help us out a bit! :)

    While the dough was rising, the chef made the gelato with help from some of the people in the class. He explained the process as he went along. The whole thing seemed really simple! By the time the gelato was in the maker, it was time to roll out our dough.

    We were shown how to roll out a perfect circle, making it the right thickness and we topped them. We had all kinds of fresh toppings. Mozzarella, pepperoni (which they call spicy salami), fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, crushed red peppers, olive oil. We had to make our pizza unique somehow so we could identify it once it came out of the oven! We had wine and water to drink as we ate our delicious, fresh and hot pizzas! They were really great! And definitely enough for a meal!

    After pizza, we got to eat the gelato that was made. There was vanilla and chocolate. And they handed out certificates and recipe books to everyone. The chefs had great personalities. It was a really great evening and such a great way to relax after our super intense day of travel and touring! We all really loved it!

    We walked back to the hotel after our pizza tour. And as we were walking back, knowing that we’d be leaving Florence I was thinking about how so many people had told me how much they loved Florence. I didn’t really get that feeling here. Maybe it was because we weren’t here for long? We were here longer than had we just come for a stop on a cruise day, but maybe not long enough to really appreciate what Florence has to offer. Maybe the heat had something to do with it. I definitely appreciate the amazing art that Florence has to offer! Florence definitely has been put on my list of cities to return to though. I feel that we’ve only touched the surface here and there is much more to see. I feel like we got a great overview and we had a wonderful day with a terrific guide. But now it was time to begin the next part of our adventures!

    We went back to our hotel and packed up. Tomorrow we travel again!

    For those interested, the cost of the Walking Tour with Tours by Locals (6 hr tour) was $485 plus admission to Accademia

    The Florencetown Pizza and Gelato Cooking Class was 243 Euro for the 6 of us

    Here's the link to our pictures from Florence:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634695016926/

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    Great photos! I admire your and your family's stamina, I would have faded FAST in that heat.

    Everyone has different city experiences and favorites. While I like Rome, I don't love it and after three visits won't rush back. I am a lover of Florence and hope to get back there again.

    You didn't have time to see the two main art museums and some of the smaller churches or do any shopping or maybe get up to Fiesole, but even if you had, it still might not have topped your Venice or Rome visits.

    If everyone's experiences were the same, life would be really boring!

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    KL467 - Thank you! I use a Nikon D7000. I got it just before this trip and it was the best decision ever! If I wasn't walking around saying how much "I love this place" I was saying "I love my new camera" :)

    Cathinjoetown - Thank you! We definitely had some stamina on that Florence day! I think it actually helped to have had the train ride in the morning. Everyone had some time to nap and just relax to start the day!

    I think I'd love to go back to Florence, maybe without the kids, or maybe even with just my daughter - she's very into art - and take some time to really see what it has to offer. My son wanted to go to the Galileo museum, and we didn't have time for that either. So I know we barely scratched the surface. I think there's something there for me for sure! Mainly it wasn't what I was expecting. That probably had something to do with it. I'm not sure what I expected because I've seen pictures, but I think it was much more crowded and bigger than I thought.

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    I've learned to check the populations of places we will visit. Sometimes a guide book will call a place a village when it na t a population of 10,000. The first time we visited Florence it was very crowded and that was in October. Last year in late June our family were almost the only ones walking on the Ponte Vecchio. The city was a total delight. Visit again with enough time to absorb the whole experience.
    We never stay anywhere less than four nights.

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    Wednesday, June 19th

    One of the many travel planning decisions we had to make was just how to get from Florence to Civitavecchia to board the Norwegian Epic. Of course the most economical way would be to take the train. The “on the go traveler” in me wanted to make a detour in Pisa though. We had the time – of course we did right? Sure, we could have spent a bit more time in Florence, but I knew the consensus of the group would be to start moving towards the ship. We didn’t have to be on board until 3:30, if I’m remembering correctly now.

    We could take a train from Florence, stop in Pisa, store our luggage, and then either walk or take a taxi or bus to the tower, and then go back to the train station, pick up our luggage and then train to Civitavecchia, then walk the ½ mile or so to the ship, take the shuttle bus to the pier and board the Epic…..seemed simple right?? The train times worked in our favor if all worked out in Pisa, as far as getting the luggage back, I’d read there could be lines, and getting the taxi or bus in time to make it back. I honestly didn't think anyone would be up for a morning like that.

    Or we could find a private transfer company to make the trip for us. Surely someone would be able to make this drive, with a stop in Pisa! But at what cost?

    Or we could just skip Pisa all together, stay in Florence that morning and see some more sites – it’s just the tower right?

    So, starting to feel like this was too big of a decision for me to make – after all this one was a bit more financial, my parents were paying for the transportation and the transfer would cost more than the train! I decided to ask my dad his opinion. He voted to take the private transfer, the Tower was on the itinerary and we had a plan set!

    The day before we left for our trip, I started to get a little worried about the transfer and the timing of getting to the ship in time. What if we missed the ship? We were scheduled to be picked up in Florence at 8:30 with an hour stop in Pisa. I emailed our transfer company and asked them to adjust our pick up to 7:30. At that point, I’d rather get up an hour earlier and play it safe than have to rush at any point in the day. You never know with traffic or what if there would be van trouble! Although, as an after thought I should have inquired about just boarding the Epic in Livorno on Thursday morning instead of Civitavecchia on Wednesday, since we were basically coming from there to turn around and end up there the next day! But again, what we did worked fine, and we enjoyed this day in the end. So it didn't matter...

    So, here we are in Florence bright and early! Our driver was right one time and somehow he was able to squeeze his van down the narrow street that our hotel was on. One thing that seemed to keep occurring in Florence was random street closings! This happened with our taxi on arrival – he was sure he could go up one street, which when he arrived happened to be closed. Then our hotel had some sort of road work being done in front of it, which I gathered was quite unusual. Everyone from the taxi driver to our tour guide to the van driver the next morning made comments about the strangeness of this truck blocking the road to do work! Then when he finally could get up the street, he found it was blocked at the other end! He was sure he could get through it earlier! Turns out he had to back down the street and turn around. It was quite a start to the ride. We were all laughing at how they can possibly figure out how to get around!

    After an hour or so? Maybe more, I have no idea anymore…we arrived in Pisa. We were all really glad to have made the decision to have stopped. We got there early so the crowds hadn’t really shown up yet. It wasn’t too hot out yet either. We tried to take the obligatory pictures holding up the tower, but you can see they didn’t work out so well. They’re not as easy as one would think!

    Alex and Keith decided to climb the tower. They had no problem buying their ticket and climbing it right then and there.

    Megan and I walked around the Field of Miracles and looked at the buildings. We hadn’t had breakfast so since we were getting hungry, we found something to eat. Megan and I had pizza. We found a little shop we could sit down and eat in. My parents wandered around a bit on their own. We met up with Keith and Alex after they came down from the tower and once they came down they realized that somehow they missed going to the very top. I don’t quite know how that happens! But they took some good pictures and enjoyed their climb!

    We had about an hour in Pisa and then met up with my parents at the van and drove the rest of the way to the ship. We arrived at about 1:30. Plenty of time! I think our decision to hire the driver was excellent.

    We were able to board the Epic right away, no lines at all. For those of you not familiar with the Norwegian Epic, it's a bit unusual in that they have multiple embarkation ports. It seems most passengers embark on Sunday in Barcelona. You can also embark, as we did on Wednesday, on the "Rome" port day in Civitavecchia. It seemed that most people boarded in Barcelona so they were off the ship for their day in Rome. They wouldn’t be back on board until last call at 6:30. It made the ship feel almost empty!

    When we got on board our cabins were ready. How nice! This time the four of us are in one cabin. A Family Mini-Suite. It’s not a real suite, just a bigger balcony cabin, so no need to get excited! We’re on deck 12, cabin 12040. Mimi and Grandpop are in a standard balcony, but on deck 13. Cabin 13214. I think we’ll see a lot less of them on this ship since they aren’t right next door to us. We opened the door to the cabin, and of course we’d seen the videos, seen the pictures and sure it looked like we expected! It’s going to be one cramped week! But we’ll survive! On first glance I don’t think the odd bathroom layout will be an issue. We have this huge shower since we have the family mini-suite. I like that. And as I later compared to my parents standard balcony, our room was a few feet longer and had more storage. We had the Pullman bed, which Alex slept on. They put it up during the day and dropped it down in the evening. He had no issues sleeping up there. He sleeps on a top loft bunk bed at home, so he probably felt quite at home. And he’s not a small child, as you’ve seen!

    Once we did a quick drop off of our carry on bags, we went to have lunch. We went to the Garden Cafe Buffet. I enjoyed this very much. I loved eating outside, and I had a big fresh salad.

    Since the ship was so empty, I told the kids to go get their bathing suits on and take advantage of the slides! They did, and Keith went and lounged somewhere near the slides while I went to unpack. There was plenty of storage for all four of us, but it was very strange space. No drawers but instead many small cabinets. And they were not very deep. So, for example if I folded a pile of men’s shorts, they didn’t fit in the cabinet without pressing on the door and bunching up. I had clothes everywhere, which made it hard to keep track of who’s clothes were where during the week. Don’t get me wrong, there was A LOT of room, but was it efficient? I don’t know. We used that drawer under the sink that I think is supposed to be for wet towels, for dirty laundry. That worked for us.
    Next up was our muster drill. It was in the Theater. Now, I honestly may have slept though the safety part? So, please tell me if I’m wrong – I have no memory of them going over the part of putting on the lifejackets or any real safety techniques that are common. We just went through a muster drill 10 days ago, so it was pretty fresh in my mind. I remember them showing us what decks our actual muster stations were on, but that’s about it.

    Then it turned into a commercial for the Epic. Which was nice. I liked knowing where everything was and what there was to do onboard. But this was not a muster drill, it seemed to be a way to get everyone into the theater for their Welcome Aboard Intro Presentation!

    Afterwards Megan, my parents and I went to tour the spa. I mentioned previously that I wanted to get Keith the week spa pass so he’d have a little haven to go to during the week to relax. I was surprised when they told me it was only $146 for the week! The spa was gorgeous. Absolutely amazing! If I wasn’t with the kids, I would have gotten the spa pass for myself. But I like hanging out with them and know I wouldn’t have used it. In the end I didn’t buy it for him. He felt with only 1 sea day he wouldn’t get enough use out of it. He knows he wouldn’t use it at night. He’s an early to bed kind of person.

    We decided to go to Moderno for dinner. The Brazilian Steakhouse. We’ve been to similar restaurants here at home and this was by far just as good. It was absolutely delicious. As much as we’ve all enjoyed our pasta and pizzas the past several days in Italy, I was craving some BEEF! This fit the bill!

    After dinner both kids went to their respective clubs and I did some laundry in the tiny, tiny sink in the room. I brought the tide packets for hand washing. Being gone for three weeks I had planned to wash some smaller items mid-vacation. I forgot to mention that while we were on the Navigator we took advantage of their $25 fill the bag special and fit A LOT in that bag! I inquired when we boarded the Epic about their special and it wouldn’t be until Sunday, getting the laundry back on Tuesday. That’s too long to wait at this point. So I hand washed a lot of underwear and some of the light cotton shirts Keith and Alex had. They all dry fast. I washed them, rolled them in the towels and there was a long clothes line in our shower. I had clothes hanging everywhere! Bu the next afternoon it was all dry. It worked very well. Meanwhile, my parents spent the money to send out some laundry. Individually priced my mom told me it would have cost them over $147! They scaled it back to around $75 I think….I like my way better! :)

    After the laundry, I read in bed waiting for the kids to get back. Tomorrow we dock in Livorno! Hey, weren’t we just pretty much there?

    Here's the link to the pictures from Pisa and our first afternoon on the Epic:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634707365173/

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    HappyTrvlr - I hadn't thought about posting on the Fodor's Cruise Forum - good idea! It's usually pretty quiet over there, so it really didn't cross my mind to tag this as Cruise when I started! Most of my planning advice on the Italy parts came from this board!

    I'm also posting over on cruise critic - it's a much more active forum than the cruise board here. And was also where a ton of my cruise planning came from!

    But I'll give it a shot!

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    I am an independent land traveler and admire your family's stamina. You made the trip go smoothly by doing your research and hiring good guides. I would not choose a cruise myself but realize some enjoy them.
    Next stop?

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    <I am an independent land traveler and admire your family's stamina. You made the trip go smoothly by doing your research and hiring good guides. I would not choose a cruise myself but realize some enjoy them.
    Next stop?>

    HappyTrvl - it's funny because up until a couple of years ago I was dead set against a cruise. I've always done all land based travel. I've planned and done 2 week trips through Costa Rica and Belize with multiple locations in each. We've been all through the Caribbean and Mexico, but never had done a cruise. But then a couple of years ago cruises came down in price so I thought I'd give it a try. I fell in love with it. Now I like to do both types of travel. For me though, it's all about the destinations. The ship is my moving hotel. Now my husband, he says he HATES to cruise. Every time he says he'll never go on another cruise. He hates the tiny pools and the crowds by the pool and the deadline of having to be on the ship at a certain time each day. He'd rather be in one spot and not move. I can see his point - but I do think there's value in each type of vacation. My kids and parents are hooked on cruises though. For them it's the flexibility of doing their own thing.

    Me - I just love to travel, any way, any where, any how!

    I'm working on our next stop now....hoping to post it shortly!

    Just have to get the pictures uploaded.

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    Thursday, June 20th

    Today we are docking back in Livorno where many people go to Florence and Pisa. Since we did our whirlwind in Florence on Tuesday and stopped in Pisa yesterday, we decided to do a tour of the Chianti Region today!

    We met our driver from Joe Banana Limo’s at 8 am, and off we went! Our tour is to include a winery, but we did make sure to let them know in advance that we didn’t want the day to focus on wine tasting since we have two kids with us. Our driver, Stephan, didn’t follow the tour’s exact description on the website to the letter, but the day we had was absolutely perfect. We couldn’t have asked for a better day in Tuscany!

    Stephan was fairly quiet as far as drivers we had went. But when he had something to say, it was interesting and when we had any questions, he shared what he knew. We drove for about an hour and Stephan told us a little about the area and what we’d be seeing during the day.

    Our first stop was at some sort of castle type place with a small church. We got out for a picture stop. I don’t have the name written down. The tour description indicated we could stop at the Castle of Verrazzano, but I'm not really sure that's where we were. My pictures don't really seem to look like the ones I can find of that castle. But maybe we didn't see the whole thing. In any event. It was a short stop and we had some nice views here.

    Next we drove to the Medieval town of Montefioralle. This is one of the best preserved Medieval villages. It was once a walled castle that evolved over time as houses were built around the wall. There is a ring of homes built on narrow cobblestone streets. It was one of the most picturesque places one can imagine! Amerigo Vespucci lived here in the late 1400s!

    Next we went to the town of Greve. There were many shops here including Falorni, which is the most famous shop, a butcher shop which has been in the square for more than 500 years! Keith was most impressed here and got some prosciutto and cheese! It was quite interesting to see all of the meat hanging from the ceiling – some still had tails and hooves on them!

    There is also a monument here to the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano.

    We wandered around for quite some time, shopping and just relaxing a bit.

    Our next stop would be a fantastic winery, Fattoria di Monttechio! This was by far one of the highlights of our entire trip. Actually this whole day was a highlight…

    But we pulled up to a gorgeous, well I suppose the word might be estate? We first had a tour of the grounds of the winery. The views were just amazing. If I could spend the rest of my life somewhere, it would be right there.

    The guide who was taking us through the grounds and then the winery had some issues with translating her tour to English, but we all got the idea of what she was trying to tell us.
    After touring the grounds, where we not only saw the acres and acres of the grape vines, but also that they have olive trees and some bee hives for their honey production and olive oil production as well….we went inside to see the process used in making the wine. It was quite a facility! We saw the old oak barrels, the fermentation tanks, the bottling machines. You name it!

    Then it was time for what we were told would be a light lunch. At this time we were the only people there. A group was leaving when we arrived, and when we were leaving another group was arriving.

    The table was set for us and we started with one of their Chianti wines. I believe the Classic. We had bruschetta, bread with olive oil, and white beans. Next we had two different Peccorino cheeses with honey served with the Chianti Reserve. After that we had Salami and Mortadela with a special blend sort of like Merlot. The salami was amazing. Why is it that everything is so much fresher in Italy?

    Next us we had Keith’s favorite, prosciutto and more cheese, with a Cabernet blend. I will tell you that by the time we were done, this was not a light lunch! There was no main course, but the food kept coming – meats, cheeses, breads. Oh, then we had biscotti dipped in some type of strong liquor…it was amazing!

    The wine seemed to flow freely along with the food. If we finished a plate or a bottle, they just opened another or brought more food! Now, when I think of a wine tasting here in the US, I think of a few sips of each type of wine. This was bottles of wine! Of each type of wine!

    Sure they were going to pour FULL glasses for the kids too – WOAAA hold that! I let them have sips, but we have a long ride back and we don’t need anyone getting sick in the van! So, essentially for four of us drinking the wine, I believe we were given 6 bottles of wine in our tasting? Plus a glass or two each of the dessert wine? Good grief – let me tell you, the ride to our next stop was a sleepy one.

    I found a new appreciation for Chianti though! It was nothing like any Chianti wine I’d ever had here in the US – hence the shipping 6 bottles home! The person who was running the tasting was so personable. We spent some time chatting with her. She lives there at the winery and was just a lovely person.

    Ok…so, we’re in the van heading to our next destination and yes, some of the group may have had too much to drink. I can’t imagine how that could have happened! I could have done with maybe a glass or two less. But I knew once I got out of the van I’d be ok. But Keith, he really had too much and lucky for him, he is one who doesn’t have the experience of hangovers! But we had to watch him pretty carefully at our next stop. But overall the winery was a great time with lots of laughs and great conversation!

    Next we stopped in San Gimignano. This wasn’t on the proposed itinerary on the website, so this was a super pleasant surprise! We loved it here! Well, those of us that didn’t sleep through their visit!

    We were told by Stephan, our driver, that they have the “Best Gelato in Italy” and to be sure to get some! We walked around for some time. Browsed, took pictures. This was another great Medieval town! And found the sign on the shop- “the Best Gelato in Italy”! So, we got some, and yes, it was pretty darn good! I had mango and chocolate.

    After our time here, we met back at the van and headed back to the ship. I was so glad to have planned the trip this way. I felt like we really got to see the best of it all. By stopping in Florence on the way back from Venice, we got to take that in and we were able to stop at Pisa on the way to the ship. And we all absolutely loved our day in Chianti. It was a super relaxing tour day where we got to see the Italian countryside. We really got to enjoy one another’s company today.

    We got back to the ship and went to see my parents cabin. As I mentioned it was a standard balcony. The main difference between theirs and ours was it was a bit shorter and they had a smaller shower. So their “bathroom” layout was smaller in general. They felt it was a very small cabin. Almost two small for the two of them. As if they couldn’t even walk past one another without shuffling by. They also didn’t like that they couldn’t see their tv unless they were sitting on their bed. They had a sofa, but couldn’t see the tv from it. It was positioned in front of the bed and couldn’t be turned. Maybe little things, but they had just come from a different ship and these things stood out right away as uncomfortable to them. Me on the other hand, I was just incredibly glad to have snagged a super upgrade from the room next door to them to the one we had because I couldn’t even imagine the four of us in the room their size! Around Thanksgiving, there was a Black Friday Sale and I was able to upgrade from a standard balcony to the Family Mini Suite with Kids Sail ½ price for less money than our original cabin. What a deal!

    We went back to our cabin and got ready for dinner. We ate in the Manhattan Room. If I remember, Keith stayed back in the cabin and slept off the wine tasting day! Our dinner was good. I have no memory of what I got though. Our service was good. As you know from earlier, Alex is a steak eater and he was not happy with his steak here though. He said it didn’t have a good flavor.

    After dinner Alex went to the teen club and my parents, Megan and I went to see Legends. My parents had prebooked it yesterday. Megan and I went on standby. We were able to get in during the 10 minutes before the show started. If you don’t have reservations, they let people without reservations in if there is room. I actually was pleasantly surprised by the show. I wasn’t really looking forward to it because Tom Jones, Tina Turner and Adele are not my high on my list of must see performers! However, I thought their energy was pretty good and it was a fun show. Anything is better than just sitting in the cabin though isn’t it?

    Today was a perfect day….tomorrow, Provence, France!

    The cost for the Chianti Region Tour was 500 Euros for the 6 of us, plus lunch. I don't remember how much lunch was, but I remember thinking it was VERY reasonable considering it included so much food and wine!

    The link to the pictures from Chianti is here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634717447535/

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    Adele and Tina Turner rock,, if it was in person I would have lined up the night before, but I assume it was impersonators.. lol

    Your trip does sound amazing, you have done and seen so much,, but I can't help but notice that this is one very very expensive trip.. ( 500 euros PLUS lunch and you call that reasonable!) I can't conceive of spending 1000 dollars a day!

    You are writing a great trip report, I enjoy all the details and love the photos.. your parents and daughter are always smiling!!

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    They were impersonators!! Sorry for the confusion!! :)

    Yes, the trip was expensive, however, remember the 500 euro for that day is divided by 6, my parents paid their share and we paid ours. Our breakfast and dinner were already paid for on the ship. As we're any other snack on board. We had some days with much less expensive tours, like the Chania day which was around 150 euros for the 6 of us, and some days the 500. I don't think we ever spent 1000 USD on one day. I'd have to double check, but I think my spreadsheet for the total tours for our family of four for the 21 days was around 7000 USD which included around 20 different tours for four people. Some of which included meals, like the food tour, pizza making, and our days in Naples and Palma which are yet to come.

    So on average we spent less than $90/person per day on private tours.

    Of course we also had hotel expenses in Venice, Florence and Rome. Some of that $7000 includes transfers - I just checked my spreadsheet.

    All in all, I' think we did pretty well, for the trip we chose to have.

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    Gorgeous pictures. Now I must restrain myself from immediately booking a trip to Chianti. I, too, have been following along every day, and look forward to each new installment. Keep up the good work!

    PS- Love Dad's hat. Go Phillies!

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    Wonderful experience including three generations. We've traveled but usually not with family members. Everyone got along OK I hope. Looking back what was a big highlight and were there any real problems? And what did the teens like best?
    And also the seniors? Thanks for your effort to share...I always think the planning and the sharing are about as important as the trip itself. Each in its own way.
    Bill in Boston

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    Reading54 - I'm still here! The weekend was super busy. And then work the past two days has unfortunately gotten in the way of posting about our next days! I'm working on the next pictures and hope to have them posted tomorrow! Thanks for hanging in there!

    Msteacher - thanks for the compliment on pictures! We really loved out day in Chianti!

    Bill- it was a great experience to travel with both the kids and my parents. We've done it before, but never for this long! For the most part we all got along really well. The kids actually got along better on the trip then they do at home! That was a relief!

    I'll have to ask everyone what their highlights were. I tried asking when we first got home, but it was too soon I think! No one could pick just one or two special highlights! Believe it or not, everything really went so smoothly that the entire trip was nearly perfect! There were definitely places and things that were better than others, but I'm going to have to think about the highlights! :)

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    Ok - finally back to the report! I'm sorry for the delay - life just got in the way! Last week was my daughter, Megan's 12th Birthday, so this weekend we had some Birthday events going on. And then as I mentioned, work just got in the way the past few days! But hopefully things have slowed down a bit. On we go....


    Friday, June 21st

    Today we started the day with breakfast in Taste, which is one of the two Main Dining Rooms on the Epic. It was good. I had an omelet.

    We would be docking in Provence, Marseille, France at 10:00 today and be in port until 7:00 pm, final on board at 6:30. It was nice to have a relaxing morning, but still a long day in port!

    We have a day planned with Provence-Connection Tours, and we found our driver, Marcel, right away. He was very personable. You could tell right away how much he loved his job, he loved his country and he especially loved talking about the places he would be taking us. My dad sat in the front of the van and spent the day talking to Marcel about everything from the country, to the sites, to nuclear power to the school system in France! It was fascinating to listen to them. I think my dad found a kindred spirit! While Marcel was a good driver/guide, there were a few times where he got off track talking and took a wrong turn or two and I started to actually wonder if we’d get back to the ship in time once or twice!

    Our first stop was Arles. It was amazing to me how you step out of the van and you truly feel like you’re in France! We had a short stop at the old Theater and then the Arena, or Colisseum. These are all Roman Ruins.

    Then we had some time to walk around the little town. This is again another circular town set around the Colisseum. So quaint and charming with little shops and homes set in a circular formation. I again just “loved it here” as I mentioned several times to my kids who were walking with me! “Ok mom, we got it!”

    Next we drove to Pont du Gard. This is a huge Aqueduct bridge from the Roman Empire. It was built in 1 AD and is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and is the best preserved. It was quite a sight! Unfortunately Megan wasn’t feeling too well. I think she was a bit car sick. So Mimi and her stopped at the little café and had a snack. The rest of us walked up to the main viewing area for some pictures.

    There was a nice park area there with what seemed like some school or camp kids on a trip visiting, and there were even some cabanas set up by the water.

    Our next stop was Avignon. This was another town that had such a “French” feel about it! We first walked up to the Pope’s Palace. This really looked like quite a castle! Alex and I walked up to the gardens and had a great view of the Rhone River and the Avignon Bridge. Mimi and Grandpop followed behind. Keith stayed with Megan and sat in the square by the Palace.

    We had about an hour to wander around here. This was where we would be eating lunch. Marcel recommended we find a quick “grab and go” type lunch so we would have some time in the area. I found a Panini that I liked – it was tomato and chevre cheese. No one else really found anything that appealed to them. Really? Finally of all things, Megan and Keith found cheeseburgers and Fries – are they French Fries? :) Alex found a four cheese Panini – like a grilled cheese. He was getting really grumpy at this point. He needed his food fill! He couldn’t find pizza and felt nothing would satisfy him! Thank goodness we found the Panini! He’s not the most adventurous eater! I’m not sure what my parents ate- by this time we had split up and met later at the van.

    I really enjoyed Avignon and would have loved to spend more time browsing all of the shops and art stands!

    Our last stop of the day was Les Baux. I think this was my favorite part of the day, and I just have to come back here! Actually to this entire region of France. Again – it would be uttered from me more than once “I LOVE this place!” Oh my goodness – the views! The shops, the fact that we were walking in a little village built into the side of a mountainside! We didn’t make it to the castle, and only made it into a few shops. But I’ll say it again – I loved it there! Charming! It seemed at the time I was taking many pictures, but apparently I didn’t. I think I was too amazed with the actual sights. I was just browsing and oohing at all of the little stores, sure they’re all geared towards tourists, but all of the soaps and perfumes and lavender! Just more reason to return - more pictures!

    Megan went off with my parents and I was with Keith and Alex. Alex found a candy store and his day was complete! I won’t even tell you how many Euros we spent there! But that candy must have weighed a lot!

    Every single day so far has been beyond perfect! This was no exception!

    We made our way back to the Epic, with a few more wrong turns from Marcel. Crazy! We laughed about it, and I did feel assured since when we were in Les Baux we bumped into some people from our ship on a ship tour and we were leaving 30 minutes before they were. I felt we had a good cushion!

    I’d heard some people on the ship and also read some reviews as well that some people were planning to just stay on board on the Marseille port because there wasn’t much to do. We ventured out into the countryside and it was one of the most beautiful days we had! The Provence region of France was gorgeous! We saw so much in this day! Our tour was spaced out perfectly – while sure it would have been great to spend more time in each place, seeing as much as we did gave us a fantastic overview of this region! I’m so glad we did what we did here!

    Once we got back on board, none of our group of four had any interest in either Taste or Manhattan’s for dinner. My parents went to Manhattan. They liked it more there. We just found the menu to be rather limited. I almost felt like the choices were limited in the two Main Dining Rooms in a push to gear you towards the specialty restaurants. Which when we did go were very good for the most part. However, for a family of four, the prices did add up quickly. I will mention that since Megan was under 12 her meals were half price. Sometimes we had to remind the server again after the bill came and they had to take it back to adjust it, even though they had previously asked her age prior to her dining. But that did save some money.

    The four of us had reservations tonight for Blue Man Group. We’ve all seen it before, so we know the show and we know we like it. Alex is a percussionist and he really enjoys that aspect of the show. Last minute, Megan decided to skip out and go to the kid club. Not a big deal since the show is not an extra cost. Alex and Megan had dinner in O’Sheehans before the show. We found the food there to be good. Nothing special and the serving sizes rather small. Once you know this, you can order more appropriately.

    After O’Sheehans we split up - Megan to the kid club and Keith, Alex and I went to the show. We enjoyed the Blue Man Group, as expected. It was packed. It was nice to sit back, relax and just laugh. And then Alex went off to the teen club.

    We went to the early show and then Keith and I went to Wasabi for dinner. It was really good and even though it’s a pay a la carte restaurant, we felt it was priced very reasonably and we left feeling very satisfied.

    When we got back to the cabin, both kids were already back. Alex seems to like the Royal Caribbean teen club a bit more.

    Tomorrow we visit Palma de Mallorca!

    For this still interested in the tour costs - for the 6 of us the full day tour was 498 Euro.

    The link to the pictures from Provence, France is here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634768153528/

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    Absolutely loving sharing your family trip.

    My large and extended family and I will be planning a stay in an agriturismo in Tuscany for a week next year - and then various family will team up for more Italy on their own. Can't wait. In spite of all that could (and some things that will) go wrong, family trips are wonderful!

    The food tour in Rome will definitely be on my list for our second week.

    I'm looking forward to the rest of your trip.

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    Another wonderful day and great photos! Glad you included the candy store. It was quite something! All I could think of when I saw the soft chewy stuff was the huge filling that fell out yesterday. (Dentist tomorrow--fun, fun!) These days I have to leave that good chewy stuff alone!

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    msteacher - I too found Pont du Gard to be a lovely area! I couldn't quite understand the draw of taking the time to drive to this aqueduct bridge. But once there I realized how they made it into this lovely park and this bridge is just huge! Such a engineering masterpiece! Keith and Alex took some time to walk down to the river and throw some stoned, got their feet wet. It's time like this that is often needed on trips like this! Just a reconnection with nature!

    LCBoniti - We've enjoyed family trips for years. This one was the longest we've ever done and overall it worked out really well! I think a great advantage was that even though we spent our days together, the time spent on the cruise ships allowed us to split up. We did have some meals together - but the kids went their separate ways and we split from my parents. So time apart was key, with so much time together!

    irishface - That candy store was amazing! It was a jackpot for Alex! He doesn't like chocolate, but give him the sugary or tart candy and he's in candy heaven! It was so colorful and there was so much variety! Somehow what he got even lasted a few days! :)

    KL467 - THANK YOU! :)

    HappyTrvlr - He LOVED the weapons! If he could have found a way to get them home - I think he would have bought every one he saw! I kept telling him - you can't take that on a SHIP! Or how will we take that on an airplane! ?? You can't even take a pocket knife on a plane! And it won't fit in your suitcase!

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    Saturday, June 22nd

    Today we will be visiting Palma de Mallorca! I had never even heard of this island until I saw the itinerary for the Epic.

    We don’t dock until 1:00 pm and we are in port until 8:00 pm. Sure we’re in port for a long time, but I found the times to be pretty unusual. I didn’t want to do a ship tour and trying to find something “unique” here was difficult with this strange time frame. For example, finding a day out on a boat like the day we had in Crete, was a challenge, since we really wouldn’t be out and about until at least 2:00 – by the time we could get to a dock somewhere. It seemed sort of late in the day for a beach day too. I knew the family didn’t want to see cathedrals – so what would we do here in this Palma de Mallorca? We're not a good group to just wander. As you probably guessed by now! My mom especially needs a plan. She gets a bit nervous in a place she's never been without a definite plan. So I searched high and low and eventually found something quite unique for us! Our day in Palma de Mallorca began!

    Well, here it is, I’m up at 8:00 am! I actually slept in a bit! Everyone else is still asleep. I checked the Daily to see what was going in this morning – it’s pretty much a half a sea day! I went to get breakfast in the Garden Café and enjoyed eating outside. Then went back to the cabin to get everyone up. Don’t waste this beautiful morning!

    Keith and I went and got some chairs by the pool and I read. The kids went ad did their own thing. For a bit they played the big chess game out on deck. Then Alex went to the teen club. I believe they were doing some version of Pictionary. I think Megan went back to the cabin to get changed for our day out.

    So, back to our day in Palma! We docked right on time and were off the ship by 1:15. Disembarking on the Epic was simple as could be, most days! The only confusion was at some ports it wasn’t always clear which deck they were using to walk off. This was a huge ship! Some days stairways were closed off that were open on previous days. I’m sure they made announcements, but we never heard them in the cabin. If there was a way to hear them, we never figured it out.

    We ended up booking another tour with Tours by Locals. We had used this company in Florence as well. I had actually booked this tour first, and then booked the tour in Florence. In my tireless quest to find something just a bit different – I found Kym who was willing to customize our day to fit whatever we wanted to do. Which to be honest – I had no idea what that would be! I told her about our group, our likes and what we had already done this trip. She came up with a pretty darn nice day! We had corresponded several times leading up to the tour to confirm our plans and we met right on time. Her husband, George was our driver. As soon as we arrived she pulled out 6 hats for us and insisted that while they might feel a bit silly – it was our gift from her and let’s all wear them for the day. Ok – this was going to be a bit different, but fun for sure! She also gave each of us girls a fan to keep and to keep us cool. It was another hot day!

    So what did Kym and I come up with for our day in Palma? Well – we didn’t plan on going to the tourist caves! First, we’ve been to caves before…and second, our day was going to be a bit more unique. And involve some Mallorcan food and wine! Tapas here we come! Somewhere along the emails I had mentioned to Kym that Keith was a chef, so she also had a part of the day planned for him as well.

    Off we went! Kym was originally from California and had been living in Palma for years now. Her husband from Canada. They met in Palma and while George does the tours as a side business, I believe Kym focuses on them full time.

    We drove out of the city and for about 30 minutes to an estate which was a beautiful winery. Yup, we’re doing another winery tour today! The daughter of the current owner, Isabella, gave us a fantastic tour of the property and of the winery itself. This was so interesting to compare to the winery in Chianti. This one was a small, family run winery as compared to the one in Chianti. This one produces about 46,000 bottles a year and only has their immediate family working there where the one in Chianti produces over 250,000 bottles a year and has a larger hired staff. However this one here was far more modern in its appearance. It was a newer production facility and I assume they will grow in their volume quickly! Wine is a big product in Palma and it’s very inexpensive.

    After the tour we went to their beautiful gardens and had Mallorcan tapas and wine on the patio. This setting was so peaceful! Kym and George sat with us and we talked about the island and they told us stories about their lives. It was like dining with old friends!

    I didn’t write down what we had to eat, but again there were cheeses, meats, and several other tapas items. If I remember correctly there were probably seven or eight different items to try. This time all of the food was brought out together. The wines were served in wine "courses". We tried four different wines I believe.

    We left there feeling quiet satisfied! But our next stop was what Kym had planned for Keith. She and George are members of a food club and they often go to one of the more exclusive hotels on the island. She had arranged for the chef there to meet with Keith to show him the kitchen and just chat with him about “chef” things in general! I thought this was such a kind gesture. Keith always likes chef talk and it was such a nice break from the daily sightseeing! So we went to the Hotel Gran Son Net. We toured the lobby and common areas and then my parents and I sat on their lovely terrace overlooking the hills and towns while the kids swam in their beautiful pool.

    Keith and their chef spent some time talking and just relaxing. He showed Keith their fresh herb garden, talked about where they get their wines, went over their menu… It almost looked to me like a job interview without the pressure!

    When we left here we had a very short time to go into Palma for some brief souvenir shopping. The quest for the magnet, postcards and oh – the 3rd pair of Alex’s sunglasses was now cracked. The lens had popped out! Pair one, broke at home before even leaving. Pair two was left on the van we used to transfer from Rome to the Navigator, pair 3 – well, that has lasted us what – 2 weeks now! But now we’re looking for sunglasses in Palma. Found a pair for about 15 Euro. Ok – let’s let them last the rest of the trip please!

    We all really enjoyed our day and I think Kym did a great job planning a unique day for us in Palma de Mallorca! It was much appreciated! It was a super relaxing day and we got to see a side of the island that I think a lot of cruise passengers probably don't get to experience.

    We got back to the ship at around 7:00 and this perfect trip suddenly seemed to go awry. I only share this because one can’t possibly think that a family of six can possibly go away for 3 weeks with no stress right? Kids can’t get along for that amount of time can they? Parents, grandparents and kids together? Even a family of four sharing a tiny cabin on a cruise? Sure we've had our ups and downs even up until this part, but somehow we've all gotten along better on the trip than at home. Did I mention before that my parents live with us at home?? So there's a lot of together time. But I was really concerned before we left how my two kids, only 2 years apart - brother and sister - would handle these close quarters for so long. They have impressed me on this trip in an amazing way! They pulled out the sibling tolerance for eachother like they never do at home! Anyway...

    Well – this is where it all went crazy… for just a bit! We got back on board and I didn’t want to spend the money on a specialty restaurant. Especially with the late lunch we had with the tapas. I didn’t really think about the fact that neither kid probably really ate that much at the winery. They are both fairly picky eathers. And they certainly didn’t drink the wine! I suggested we try Taste, which is one of the Main Dining Room - no cost restaurants. Megan wanted to go to Cagneys, which is the Steakhouse and is an upcharge restaurant. and I didn’t even know if we could have gotten a reservation. By now it was already close to 8:00 and I didn’t want to pay $30/person seeing I wasn’t even hungry. Well that’s when she had her meltdown. She may look like a pretty calm child, and she had been fantastic on this trip! But she is after all only 11 and this was a long trip with a lot of together time. At least Alex was going to the teen club and getting some space.

    Well she hit that proverbial wall, it all came crashing down. I honestly was surprised that it took this long into the trip. But suddenly she started sobbing – she missed home, her bed, her house, her pets, she’s tired, she’s tired of Europe, she’s just tired of being on tours. She wanted to go HOME NOW! And there we had it!

    So, being in this tiny cabin with Keith and Alex waiting on us and Megan crying, I sent Keith and Alex to Taste to check out the menu and told him we’d meet them in 20 minutes. I tried to calm down Megan. Meanwhile Alex comes back and says Keith doesn’t like the menu there, he’s going to the buffet. Ok…The last thing I wanted to do was go fight crowds for a table and have to find food I wanted in the buffet.

    Finally, after what felt like forever the sobbing stopped and Megan agreed to try Taste. Alex, her and I went to the entrance, as soon as we got there, she started crying again and went back to the room. Oh boy. She just needed her time to get it all out I suppose.

    Alex and I went to O’Sheehans. This is the "pub" type restaurant on the Epic. It's included in the cost of the cruise. It was fine. I got the Wedge salad, but without the salmon and it was really small. I ordered the chicken fingers, cut them up and put them in the salad. That made it more of a meal. After we ate, Alex went to the teen club – I think they may have been doing bowling tonight. I went back to the room where Megan had calmed down, Keith was watching tv and we convinced her to just get room service.

    Not the end of the day it should have been, but this is a long trip and it’s bound to have some bumps along the road.

    Everyone calmed down and by the time Megan went to bed, she was feeling much better. Now that the crying was out of her system I think she was good to go!

    We could move on to our next adventure! Tomorrow we go to Barcelona!

    The link to our pictures from our day in Palma de Mallorca is here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634803642382/

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    As much as I love Europe, I, too, sometimes get homesick. Loving your trip report. After it is finished, I am going to study it in detail. You have been to so many beautiful paces that I have never heard of! Thanks for posting photos to Flickr. I know how time consuming that can be.

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    I learned about the island of Majorca (or Mallorca) because that was where Frederic Chopin and George Sand spent a cold and miserable winter, and his health just further deteriorated. Since then I have been wondering what the island was like.
    Enjoyed following along on your trip.

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    i am enjoying this trip, too! planning rome/venice with my teen sons soon. would love restaurant names, gelato shop names, if there are some favorites!! planning on doing that food tour in rome you mentioned! we are staying in the pantheon area too, so your trip is really helping!! enjoying your photos too!! thanks for doing this!

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    Hi Shell,

    I have really been enjoying your report. It's so interesting to me because your family travel experience is completely different from my own family travels. As a kid, our family had a trailer and would camp all over the western US visiting all the Natl Parks and other sites.

    Anyway, thanks for the detailed descriptions of your cruise. I've never thought I was "a cruise person" and reading the details you provide have confirmed that many times over!

    It sounds like you and your family had a wonderful trip and lots of great experiences. It's always interesting to see how much we all like different things. I think someone above mentioned how boring the world would be if we all liked the same things! Isn't that the truth!

    Do continue and thanks for taking the time for the report!

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    Still with you and enjoying as much as ever. What a wonderful trip!


    You seem to have handled the meltdown compassionately. I have seen parents with no sympathy who have just made things worse. It must have been a hard hour or two.

    Loved the pictures. It looked like a wonderful day!

    Thanks for persevering.

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    mmmooommm - I will look back and try to find the names of some of the restaurants we went to and post them. I know I have the dinner places in both Rome and Venice. I may have some gelato places, but we pretty much just stopped when we wanted gelato and never had ones we didn't like! Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was just being in Italy! But all gelato was GOOD! :)

    Dayle - funny you mention family camping...that's how I vacationed growing up too. But tent camping! All up and down the East coast of the US and parts of Canada. Two weeks at a time sometimes in a tent! I have some great memories of those vacations and we take our family camping every year or so as well. Usually only for a weekend though at a time. My husband hates to cruise...and would prefer pretty much any other type of vacation over a cruise! For me, I love to travel! Be it by ship that brings me to new destinations each day, or traveling independently land based- which is how we travel 75% of the time....just show me the world! This trip in particular made sense for us as a cruise. Next trip to Europe, maybe not. But variety IS for sure the spice of life!

    Irishface- thank you! It took a lot of patience to BE patient with the meltdown! But I try to remember that if feed it, it only makes it worse!!

    TDudette - my mother's grandfather and several other family members that are more distant, are from Fallo, in the Abruzzo region. That comes on our last full day of the adventure!

    More to come hopefully tomorrow! Today I took Megan's girl scout troop to see Matilda in NYC! It was fantastic! We're on the train home now.

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    Sunday, June 23rd

    Today we are spending the day in Barcelona! I can’t even believe the places we’ve been. Many of the passengers on the Epic are disembarking here for the end of their cruise. They began in Barcelona a week ago. But lucky us, we still have a few days left since we began in Rome.

    Today we were sharing our tour with a mom and her daughter who we met on cruise critic. We used Barcelona Day Tours for their Barcelona and Montserrat full day private tour. The ship docked at 5 am since it was a disembarking port for passengers leaving the ship as their port of call, but our tour wasn’t until 9 am.

    We met our group and left the ship, finding our guide Marta very easily among the incredibly busy and super crowded port! Marta whisked us away and onto a large van, actually more like a small bus and off we went. Our first stop would be Montserrat. We drove for about an hour. Marta talked the whole time – mostly to my dad who must have asked her a million questions! He's become quite the conversationalist with the guides!

    As we got closer to Montserrat the views became just amazing. We started to climb the mountain and the higher we went the more beautiful. It seems that each day we go to somewhere even more breathtaking!

    We traveled up the winding road – up and up and up! There were people hiking it, riding bicycles up, and even some cable cars…we were happy to be on our little bus! We finally made our way to the monastery at Montesrrat. Marta took us all around. She showed us all of the different buildings and told us the historical significance of each. We stopped in the Basilica and it was just beautiful. Mass was just starting – we peeked in and it was packed – wall to wall!

    We decided to not stay to listen to the famous Children’s Choir sing, it would have been about a 45 minute wait until they started and we didn’t know how far back we’d be since it was so crowded. We all would rather spend this gorgeous day outside anyway. But we did decide to split up.

    Alex was itching to climb. He saw trails and paths and mountains to climb! He and Keith went off to find something with some adventure!

    The other family with us and I wanted to take the funicular up higher on the mountain. Marta told us there were some easy trails up there, but maybe a bit more than my dad should be doing - he does have a bad knee.

    My parents and Megan – they weren’t sure what to do. They went off with Marta, but whatever they planned, it didn’t work out and they ended up on the funicular with us! They were going to check out the view from up high! Megan was a bit scared of the funicular though.

    We went up even higher and the view was even better! My new traveling companions and I took a path around the huge rock face and looked out below. When we were actually down there looking up we had commented about how amazing it must be to be up there – and now here we were! As we were standing there, a couple of guys came by in their rock climbing gear – they were going to scale the big rock. Ok – there’s adventure. We’re just walking on the path!

    We think Marta intended us to go further – she mentioned some other big boulder, but we knew if we were going to make the next funicular down we had to turn back.

    We met up with my parents, Megan and Marta who were at a overlook viewing spot and enjoying their views up there.

    We went back down and found Keith and Alex who had gone on a hike up past a chapel way up on the mountain side. Marta was pretty surprised that they had made it there and back in the amount of time that they did! She said it was a pretty intense hike! She doesn’t know Alex and Keith! They had a blast and Alex didn't stop talking about it the rest of our time there!

    We had a quick lunch at Montesrrat before leaving and then we headed towards Barcelona. So far it’s been a pretty amazing day!

    On our way to Barcelona Marta told us all about Gaudi. We’d be seeing some of his major works. Or first stop was Park Guel. This was fascinating! I might even say it was a bit crazy! We enjoyed walking around here for about thirty minutes or so. It was quite crowded and the time we spent here was enough time to get an appreciation for the vision that Gaudi had when he designed it, and also to see the Park that it has become today.

    Next we went to La Sagrada Familia. Now we had all prepurchased tickets for our designated entry time and we were there right on time. I’m going to fill you in on a super great money saver that I found online for anyone who has plans to visit in the future!…if you are a family – you can go to the Sagrada Familia website and become a Friend of the Sagrada Familia member for approximately 36 Euro for a family of 4. This gives you entry to the Sagrada at ANY time and gives you TWO guest passes! Currently you also have free access to climb the towers as well. You will get preprinted membership cards with your names on them and your membership is good for an entire year! So the six of us were able to enter for only 36 Euro! This is a pretty big money saver! As well as a time saver! We didn’t need a specific time reservation and had we had more time or had there been a time slot available when we were there, we could have climbed the tower. There is also a discount in the gift shop!

    Marta couldn’t get over the fact that I had the Friend’s membership. She was amazed that I pulled out my 4 red cards and had the guest passes for my parents! She told me I needed to be a travel agent – and couldn’t believe anyone from the US could be so prepared for a trip! I told her – online research - sites like this and cruise critic – that’s how we do it! :)

    The whole time we were at Sagrada she kept laughing at me and calling me a Friend of the Familia!

    Anyway – back to the Sagrada – some people may find it a bit odd, or tacky – or maybe gaudy :) But I found it just “WOW” – it was just amazing! Even Alex who had yet to be impressed by a church found this one pretty impressive! He loved the way this one was designed.

    Marta gave us some time to take it all in, as if that’s even possible! And then she took us around the inside first and explained all that we were seeing. Showed us how things that looked three dimensional were actually not! She also took us outside and explained the facades to us. It was great to have here there explaining everything to us.

    After the Sagrada we drove past two more Gaudi buildings and then drove up to the Olympic Park. Just a drive by here.

    On the way back to the ship we stopped briefly at Montjuic. There was a nice overlook here where we could see the port and our ship and also a great overview of Barcelona itself.

    We didn’t actually have any time on our own in Barcelona – that will be another trip! Since we chose to go to Montserrat that shortened the time we would have had in Barcelona. However, we could see that it being a Sunday, many things appeared to be closed. So maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.
    We got back to the ship right at 5:00. Another great day!

    Tonight we had dinner reservations at Cagney’s – the steakhouse. They weren’t until later, so we did have time to relax. Keith didn’t eat anything at lunch so he went up to the buffet and got a bit to eat and I took Megan up to the spa to schedule the kid’s manicure for tomorrow – our one and only Sea Day!

    We hung out on the balcony for a bit and then went to dinner. Cagney’s…well – of all the specialty restaurants we ate at on the Epic, this was the most underwhelming and the most expensive. Not a bad meal - but just ok. During dinner we noticed a bit of movement on the ship…odd…it’s been such a smooth trip!

    So, after dinner it seemed to go as our normal routine. Alex to the teen club, Megan and Keith to the room. Well tonight I was tired of sitting around. I was going out! I went to Howl at the Moon. I’m not much of a solo type of person, but darn if I was going to sit in that tiny cabin watching the same 3 shows on tv again one more night waiting for my teen to get home at 1:00 am! I was going out and having some fun!

    So, Howl at the Moon – I thought it was fantastic! It's a bit difficult to describe, but it's called dueling pianos, but it's really much more than that! There are two pianos and a drum set and anywhere from 2 to 3 singers rotating between the pianos and the drums. There’s two men and a woman. They take requests from the audience and have a great sense of humor as they do an amazing job singing pretty much anything that is thrown at them! There is great audience participation. It’s not the type of show where you have to get there at the beginning and stay until the end – you can come and go at any time. I think it started around 9:00 or 10:00 and they’re on until maybe 1:00. I stayed until about 12:30. The ship was rocking the entire time – rocking a lot!

    When I got back to the cabin, Alex was just getting back too – I had to put the things around our sink in the cabinets due to the rocking they were rolling back and forth. I went to bed, but was up most of the night. At one point Megan woke up and said “mom, is the ship sinking – we’re moving way too much!” – surprisingly I just told her no – go back to bed. No meltdown!

    This was the first movement we had felt so far on either ship and boy - it was moving!

    Oh, today's tour in Barcelona was 99 Euro/person

    The link to the Barcelona pictures is:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634839941996/

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    Monday, June 24th – Sea Day

    Next up we have our only sea day on the Epic!

    The ship rocked and rolled all night long! Now I’m not what I’d call a seasoned cruiser, but I have never felt motion like that before! It was huge movement! None of us ever felt sea sick – but it was hard to even walk! I got up pretty early which was easy since I really didn’t sleep well anyway.

    Everyone else – you guessed it – still sleeping! Don’t they know they can sleep when they get home? Speaking of home – it’s starting to set in that we go home on Saturday. This really is sad to me. I know we’ve traveled longer than most people ever get the opportunity to. I know that my kids are anxious to get home to their friends and routines – even though they admit that they’re really enjoying each and every day! But I am loving every single moment and could do this for ever. Now – how does one fund traveling full time? Sigh…

    My parents, they have told me how much they have appreciated all of the planning that I’ve put into it and they have kicked butt! They are doing great on this trip, even with so much walking!

    Anyway – today is a Sea Day – a bit of time to relax a bit and gear up for the last few days we have on our trip.

    I went out on the balcony and it was pretty obvious that today would not be a day to sit out at the pool or out on deck reading and relaxing! It was windy and overcast. I decided to go up to the spa and see if I could get Keith a spa pass for just the day. I think I may have mentioned that he isn’t particularly crazy about cruises to begin with. If he can’t spend his one day at Sea lying in the sun relaxing, he would be pretty miserable. He feels pretty trapped on a ship.

    I was thrilled to get him the Spa Pass! It was only $39 for the entire day. I thought this was a great deal and if you could see the Spa on the Epic you would too. Do I have one single picture of it? NO! If it’s not the largest spa at sea, it’s one of the largest. There are thermal chairs, hot pools, cold pools, sauna’s, steam rooms. This is exactly what Keith loves. If I didn't have the kids with me, I would have been there with him.

    So, I went back to the room and woke him up and the two of us went to breakfast at the Garden Café Buffet. we got a window seat – outside was far too windy still. We sat and watched the huge waves crashing outside.

    After breakfast we went up to the spa so Keith could have a quick tour before he went back later. He was pretty impressed. I knew I made a good decision in getting him the day pass! We went back to the room to get the kids up. It was about 10:00 am and Keith went back to the spa. He liked it so much that I didn’t see him again until I dropped Megan off at the spa at 2:15 for her manicure! He was still there!

    The pools weren’t even open on this windy day. The kids and I spent the day just sort of wandering around. We spent some time in the library. They played a few games – chess, checkers etc.

    I’m glad Megan had her Manicure scheduled – that gave her something to do! Alex went to the teen club for part of the day. Finally late afternoon the rocking started to subside and the sun came out a bit. The pools did finally open I think. I went out on deck and read for a bit. Keith finally came out of the spa around 3:00 and we went to Shaker’s Martini Bar for the Martini Tasting!

    This was a lot of fun! Maybe a bit too much fun! It was $15 I think, maybe $20/person for four martini’s. We learned the history or the martini and how each was made. We started with the original martini, which I’m NOT a fan of, but for the sake of the class, I suffered through it. :) Then we had a Cosmopolitan. That was quite good! Then a Chocolate Martini - which was fantastic. It was different from other Chocolate Martini’s I’ve had in the past. There seemed to be more ingredients in this one. And then their Signature Martini – which at this point I couldn’t begin to tell you what was in it! I won a travel mug for answering some question correctly – again – can’t tell you what that was. Four martini’s and I am a bit fuzzy on the end of the “class”! I do know that about half way into it Megan and my mom came to show me her manicure and Megan told me that I’d already had quite enough “Martini’s Mom!”

    After our class, Keith and I sat at the bar and had just one more drink each. I believe that was not the smartest decision…but live and learn. We made our way back to the ship which seemed to be a bit more wobbly again! :) And I took a little nap, after the kids made a bit of fun of their mom – the downside of sharing a cabin with your teen and preteen – after a martini tasting!

    Tonight we have reservations with my parents for the Cirque Dreams Dinner! This is a Cirque du Soleil type show put on in a circular center stage dinner show theater. This is the only show we prebooked prior to boarding the Epic.

    We all enjoyed the show quite a lot. We found it to be entertaining and well done. All of the shows so far on the Epic have really been very good.

    We also all enjoyed our food. No complaints from any of us during any part of the meal!
    So – Keith left the dinner right after the Main Course – and back to the Spa he went. He wanted to get the most of his day pass. While he still thinks he wouldn’t have gotten the full use of a week long pass with the intensive port days, he really got a full use of the day pass!

    After dinner – you guessed – same old routine! Except tonight – I started organizing our things to pack. Tomorrow is our last day on the Epic. It’s also perhaps the day I had been most looking forward to! We dock in Naples – we’re going to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast!

    Here is a link to our Sea Day Pictures - I really didn't take too many that day! Very unlike me!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634856753287/

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    Wow, it was a lot of fun catching up with you in this trip report (although I really do need to get back to work now)! What a fabulous job planning your trip -- and the report itself and photos are fabulous as well!

    I can relate to Meghan's meltdown. During our family trip to Italy, during one of the best dinners we had -- the food was great, we were all having the best time talking and laughing together -- my youngest suddenly started sobbing saying she was homesick and wanted to go home! Even if they're excited and having a great time, traveling can still be unsettling and a bit stressful I suppose!

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    Very enjoyable trip report - love the sound of your day in Mallorca.

    I'm interested in hearing about your time in Pompeii. I found it a very moving place, but I was there in February so didn't battle crowds.

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    Again, life gets in the way of the more enjoyable things - my trip report! I've been working on getting my pictures from Pompeii and the Amalfi coast uploaded and writing the day's events...I'm going to split this day in half. I have the Pompeii part here and then I'll post our afternoon in a separate post.

    Tuesday, June 25th – Napoli

    This is a day I had been so looking forward to! From the very beginning of the planning this port was one of the highlights for me. Not so much because of Naples, or shall we say, Napoli. But because by docking in Napoli we’d be able to not only be able to go to Pompeii but also the Amalfi coast! What could be better? All of this in one day? Well, of course spending more time some would obviously say - but to be able to visit both in one trip for us, this was perfect!

    We would be using Joe Banana Limo’s again and our port day was thankfully a long day. 7 am – 7 pm. We chose an “all inclusive” day with Joe Banana – the tour included our lunch as well as a guide in Pompeii.

    Alex however was not too excited about our plans for the day. Sure he was interested in Pompeii, but he felt there was something huge missing. He could not believe we had a day planned in the place where pizza was essentially discovered, which is Naples – and yet we wouldn’t actually be setting foot in the city of Naples itself! How could we not be getting authentic pizza from Napoli? “Mom – you of all people? To not get the original pizza?” He was horrified! Well, it really didn’t seem quite right did it?

    Anyway…we got off the ship and met our driver, Paolo, right on time at 8 am. Right away, we could tell this was going to be a great day. Paolo was one Italian who loved his job! Mimi mentioned to Paolo that maybe during our day if at all possible, could Alex get some authentic Napoli pizza here in this Pizza Capital of the World? Well – Paolo very enthusiastically accepted this mission!

    We all got into his van and he explained his plan for the day as we set off for our first stop…Pompeii! He gave us some history on the way, which included some video clips he had on his dashboard iPad! He showed us some videos of the lava flow, eruptions, and pictures of Mt Vesuvius.

    This man loved the history of this doomed city!

    I think I may have mentioned that prior to the trip, the kids and I had several “International Movie Nights” to prepare for some of the places we’d be visiting. Many movies were watched by just Megan and I. Alex thought they were a bit too “girly”. But we all watched a documentary on Pompeii. I think it may have been a PBS or National Geographic special. Alex had actually watched it in school before, but Megan had never seen it. It really was great that they both had such an in depth knowledge of what had happened there and what life would have been like leading up to the eruption.

    Mt Vesuvius was looming at every turn during our drive. The crater had a few clouds around it, but the volcano was just huge! I can not imagine living there with such an active volcano just waiting to erupt!

    We arrived at Pompeii, and like our other private tours of the ruins we’d been to, we got there before the big buses filled with huge masses of other tourist arrived! Nice!

    Our guide, Enzo, was there waiting and he had our tickets already so we could walk right in. Paolo made our introductions, we had a quick stop at the rest rooms and off we went!

    Enzo was an interesting older gentleman. A bit goofy at times even! But he seemed to know Pompeii in and out! I know we only scratched the surface but we sure saw enough to get a feel of the daily life there. As we walked through the city, one could imagine the eruption and what came after!

    We saw the government areas, the shops - the “fast food” stands you always hear about! The bakers areas with the brick ovens that even could have been used for pizzas! Or maybe just breads… We saw the bath houses. We saw the residences - I felt like we saw it all - but I know we didn't!

    There is so much detail here. So much history and really such tragedy. What amazing places these were! We of course saw the bodies frozen in time. This was so touching. Their breath literally taken from them as they were covered in ashes.

    It was so easy to imagine such a busy port city that this was before it was destroyed!

    This was the one place we bought one of those little books that shows the overlays of what the ruins look like and what the original city may have looked like. It was just fascinating to me. The size is just immense! The last page of the book shows a map of Pompeii in 79 A.D. and it could be of any modern day city. It’s just amazing to me. Then you turn the page and see what has been excavated. Such a small amount! There is so much more still under the earth! It’s hard to believe so much is still uncovered. Walking there it felt big – imagine how much more is there, underground today.

    It was early when we arrived, so it was never too hot and it was never too crowded. Enzo seemd to always move us just as other people showed up where we were standing. I had no idea that Pompeii had already experienced pretty severe destruction from an earthquake prior to the eruption and it was in the process of rebuilding.

    We had seen now ruins in Athens, Ephesus, smaller ruins in France and now Pompeii. Each was so different. So unique. So fascinating!

    Just as the crowds started to really arrive it was time for us to move on. We said good bye to Enzo and met back up with Paolo.

    We were ready for a totally different part of the day. We were ready to begin our journey up the Amalfi Coast!

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    Continuing along....when we left off we were getting back into our van with Paolo after a most wonderful and touching visit to Pompeii. We were ready to head off to the Amalfi Coast for the rest of our day!

    We began our drive through the Amalfi coast towards Positano where we’d be having lunch. As we started our drive Mt Vesuvius was a constant reminder of our visit to Pompeii. Such a beautiful landscape, but such massive destruction!

    As we drove higher the views became more spectacular. The camera was clicking away!

    We drove through Paolo’s home town. I can't remember the name, but he told us he visits home often! His family still lives there. He pulled over on the side of the road, left the van running and told us not go anywhere! Said he’d be right back…we watched him run into a shop, but he came out looking disappointed. Unfortunately it was still too early for his favorite pizza shop to have their pizza ready. He was taking his mission to get Alex the best authentic pizza in the region quite seriously! He promised he would not let him down!

    Paolo slowed down every so often to let us take pictures and once and awhile he’d stop at one of the pull offs for us to get out and view the beautiful scenery.

    At this point, I was sitting up front and while he and I were chatting about making homemade pasta and life in Italy in general, it became pretty clear that he was a photo enthusiast himself. He started asking about my camera and somewhere along the line he asked if he could take some pictures from his side of the van to get the scenery. By the end of the day I just left the camera in the middle of the seat between us and he’d take the pictures he liked, I’d take the ones from my side! We made a good photographing pair!

    He loved my camera! I gave him the info on where I got it – he was shocked at the US prices and thought maybe he could get a cousin he had in NJ to get it for him – even with shipping to him back here it had to be less than it would cost to buy it in Italy!

    So anyway, the drive was more than interesting! Not for the faint of heart! So many roads were so narrow and winding! One car or truck would actually have to back up or down, to let the other pass! The big buses actually even go on those roads! Crazy! At one point, as we squeaked pass a big bus, Megan said she could actually see the whites of the eyes of the passengers on the bus as the passed us! We had complete faith in Paolo though.

    At one point I think we took a “detour” that Paolo doesn’t usually take – there was some traffic he wanted to avoid – and we got to go up through Montepertuso. Here we got to see the hole in the rock that legend has it Mary made with the touch of her finger in a challenge with the devil. The devil could barely scratch the surface.

    We arrived at the restaurant we’d be having lunch. I didn’t write down the name though. It seemed to be full of many tour groups, at least at lunch. Tourist restaurant or not, it was fantastic! All homemade food, served family style. The views were beautiful.

    We started with bruschetta, meats, cheeses, veggies, potato salad, beans and it seemed to go on and on and on! Huge bowls of food! Wine of course was also served! Then we had four types of homemade pasta! Gnocchi, cannelloni, ravioli, and a fusilli type pasta. And if that wasn’t enough we had five or six different types of desserts brought out. Again they said they were all homemade. They were fantastic. And of course, dessert wouldn’t be complete without a shot of Limoncello! We are now in the Amalfi Coast right? Salute!

    Tummy’s very satisfied…we piled back in the van for another twisty, curvy drive into Positano. The jewel of the Amalfi Coast. Approaching this town, I see where this nickname comes from. And as we parked the van and started to walk into this town, I totally understand the name. It is indeed a jewel!

    I’m sure it’s an expensive one at that though! We had about an hour to explore. Surly not enough time. Just a total tease! Paolo told us we could either walk down to the beach, or up into the streets. We all decided to walk down to the beach.

    This was for sure one of those places where you guessed it…”I LOVED THIS PLACE!”…I would want to come back to here for sure. I would love to take some serious time here just strolling through all of the streets and shops! And then go to the other towns. There were so many flowers and it was so alive and bright! Not to mention that the sea was right here! Heavenly!

    So, we got to the water and Alex and Megan got their feet wet. This of course ended up to be a major trauma for Megan. Now she had black, rocky pebbles in her shoes. Agh! The beach itself is not a nice sandy beach like someone from the East Coast of the US might be used to and those rocky pebbles were making her go crazy! They wouldn’t come off and she couldn’t find anywhere to wash her feet. Finally we found a public restroom and she was able to rinse them a bit and she finally calmed down and realized that, no buying NEW shoes here in Positano would not solve the problem – her feet still were covered in the rocky sand – the new shoes would get dirty anyway! All was calm again!

    We resumed our day and strolled back up the steep hill to our van and met Paolo to continue our day.

    Next up, Sorrento! We really only had about 45 minutes here. Sorrento seemed to be all things Lemon! It is a much flatter town than Positano. We split up here. Megan went with my parents to find Gelato and Alex came with Keith and I.

    We stopped in one of the Lemoncello shops and were immediately hit with several samples. In this particular shop they make their own products. They were practically forcing the samplies on us, including Alex...Who was pretty happy about this! The samples were perfect and served at just that perfect cold temperature! It wasn't too difficult, we were sold on a little bottle that was a twisted combination of Lemoncello on one side and the Lemoncello Cream on the other. I really like the creams…apparently Alex did too and seemed to think I should be buying him his own bottle??? This whole teens drinking in Europe is a bit strange to me! A sample, fine, but a bottle? I don’t think so! Just as we were walking out the entire store filled up with wall to wall people! We got there at the perfect time!

    We found Mimi, G-Pop and Megan and met up with Paolo. We got into his van and there was this amazing smell…turns out while we were exploring Sorrento he went and found the most authentic Napoli pizza he could get and got Alex an entire pizza and had it waiting for him right there in the van! The smile on that kids face – again – do I have a picture? Of course not~! I’ve really got to work on the pictures of the people and not just the pictures of the places!

    Anyway, he passed back that box of pizza and Alex enjoyed that super thin crust pizza in record time. I think he may have passed around one piece for the rest of the van to share – I know it never made it’s way up to the front seat to me though! I think the fact that Alex was so happy truly made Paolo’s day as well!

    On the way back to the ship Paolo and I talked and talked all about his life there in Italy. He was just shocked that we eat Mozzarella cheese that is already shredded and out of a bag! He said he gets suspicious when he visits he mom and she offers to send some home with him. He wonders if maybe it’s more than two days old? They eat their mozzarella often the same day they get them milk from the cow! And that is why everything tastes just so darn good there!

    This was by far the most perfect day, our last port day.

    Tomorrow we leave our time cruising and move on to an apartment in Rome for three days. Our time on the Epic could not have ended any other way than today. It was amazing.

    Tonight we actually had plans to dine separately from my parents. But the date was a significant date. It’s June 25th. Our day was so fantastic that no one dwelled on the fact that it was the 6th anniversary of my brother’s death. This trip was actually to put that in the past and to get over that for my parents and to start a new beginning for them, and I suppose all of us. Isn’t it something that on the anniversary of his death we had probably one of the most peaceful days of our vacation! Those are the times that if you believe in things like this, you think that maybe he had something to do with it. He was there somewhere knowing it was time to spend that day doing something peaceful and wonderful! I called my mom and asked her if they wanted to have dinner with us “it’s June 25th mom” “wow, she said”.

    So we all went to Teppanayki. We already had reservations there, and while Japanese is not a favorite of my parents – they joined us and we toasted Johnny. He would have loved this trip.

    Teppanayki was really quite good. Our chef was really great! And my dad, who really is not a fan of Japanese food, said it was the best Japanese restaurant he’s ever been to!

    I had big plans for tonight – I wanted to go back to Howl at the Moon, maybe go to FABBA - the ABBA tribute party - you know, take advantage of all the Epic had to offer,…but after our busy day and the fact that we had to leave tomorrow, I ended up just going back to the cabin and packing and then going to bed.

    Tomorrow the last leg of our journey! Back to Rome!

    The pictures from our day in Pompeii and the Amalfi coast are here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634896621857/

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    TDudette - That really is part of what makes Pompeii so amazing - that they didn't even know it was a volcano! And NO way would I have rebuilt that town and I don't even think I would live anywhere near there now! Paolo was telling us how they have emergency evacuation drills now and he's pretty sure there's no way the entire population could ever evacuate even with enough advance notice of a major eruption! Not to mention all of the people who wouldn't leave because they wouldn't believe it was for real!

    HappyTrvlr - our "Back to our Roots" day is coming up - 2 more days in Rome first! It's a bit bittersweet though because it's the last day of our trip! I've so enjoyed putting this trip report together and sharing it, that ending it means the vacation is "officially" over!

    I'm working on the photos from our first day back in Rome and hope to have them uploaded by tomorrow!

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    I must say again how much I am enjoying your report with all the details. Also the beautiful photos.

    Nikon D7000 camera, correct?
    I looked it up and the price was from $1,000 to $1,500 depending on the model. Did you really spend that much on a camera? Or maybe you got a better deal somewhere---if so, I'd like to know where. I agree the photos are wonderful and you said you love the camera, but that's a hefty price to pay unless you are a professional using it for magazine work.

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    TPAYT - Thanks for the compliment on the report and the photos!

    Yes it's a D7000 - if one is going to jump into the DSLR range that's about what you would expect to pay. I'm more than the casual vacation photographer though. Just as some people spend money on cars or maybe collecting items in their home, my hobby (other than travel) is photography. I am not into portrait photography - it's really not my thing, but if I can sell some work here than there, great - but no, it's not my career - as much as I'd love to find a way to do so!

    As for the price, I upgraded from my last DSLR and was able to trade up the body and lenses I had. Sort of like when you trade in a car for a new one. The condition of my old equipment was excellent and my out of pocket cost was less than $600, including an additional lens and full insurance on the body and lenses.

    For what it's worth, a professional, shooting for a magazine would likely be spending FAR more than $1500 for a body and lenses on their DSLR. Look into the price of the Canon EOS 1D body only! That retails for over $6700 without the lens.

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    Lesson learned!

    I would think you will be able to sell some of your fantastic photos of Europe. At art fairs we always buy note cards that the photographers sell. Just an idea.

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    TPAYT - That's a great idea! I've been considering opening an Etsy store. I just have to research how to do so and the pricing. I think between the shots from this trip and ones I have from various trips to Central America I have a pretty good variety to at least give it a good start!

    Also, I don't think most people realize you can actually trade up old camera gear. I spent about a year trying to figure out how I could afford a new camera. Mine was over 6 years old and it just was SLLLLOOOOWWWW!!! I couldn't get shots I wanted in low lighting. This made me crazy when I tried to get Alex during karate events (he's a black belt). He's wearing all white, which is hard enough to shoot - and then moving super fast! I'd get pictures of him and it would look like he had no leg because it would blur right out when he was doing a kick! Or the color was so bad due to the fluorescent lighting and his white uniform! Anyway...I took a photo class this spring and a couple students in the class had cameras similar to what I got and talk about serious camera envy! :) AGH! So I started doing some real online shopping and found out I could actually sell back my old equipment! Previously I had thought about selling it on ebay, but who would want a 6 year old camera when they could get a decent point and shoot? But then when I priced out what I could sell it to an actual camera store I realized I hit gold! I took it all in and the real payback was in the lenses! Cha ching! It was a little hard to see it go because my old camera served me well, but I knew this new one was going to be so much faster and have such better detail!

    If you look you can tell there are a few pictures mixed in taken with my parents camera. Some of the ones that I'm in for example. They're not nearly as crisp. It shows up especially when you look at them on a larger screen and I know if I have them printed anything larger than 5x7 they won't be nearly as bright and the quality won't be as good.

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    I am just starting to plan a trip that will include Rome and possibly a cruise. I am so enjoying your day-to-day dialogue! You planned tours, etc., prior to your cruses, were these the ones the cruise lines offered, or did you book other tours privately outside of the cruise offerings? So much fun to be had!

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    Adelheid- I think you'll love Bruno's food tour! I know we did!

    Jarmnm - thanks! All of our tours were private tours. None were booked through the cruise line. I found some of the tours through cruisecritic.com on the ports of call boards for the various places we'd be visiting, some I found here and others I found just by obsessively researching online! If you are looking for anything specific somewhere, I'd be happy to share information on the guides/companies I used.

    Bokhara2 - thanks! Thankfully for the most part everyone really did have the most wonderful attitude about enjoying where we were and enjoying that day. Even the kids. Made all the difference in the world!

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    Shell, what a wonderful trip and great report! What a classy reply to the poster who questioned the expense of your camera!

    Travel and photography are also my two passions (well after family and friends) and I'd sure like to fund my hobbies with photography. (Isn't going to happen as that would spoil the fun of photo. for me.) However, I have had some success with photo cards at craft fairs. I rent space with a friend which halves the cost, gives us someone to talk to at dull moments and lets us go off to the loo or get something to eat during the day. I also have given travel talks to clubs and organizations. Some I do for free, others have been paid $25 to $100.

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    irishface - thank you!

    I like the idea of the photo cards. And definitely sharing the space with a friend makes a lot of sense. It's something to think about as we enter the Holiday season and craft fairs will start to really become more frequent.

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    Ok....let's get back to the story!

    Wednesday, June 26th

    Today we are leaving the Epic and heading to Rome! I’m so looking forward to returning to Rome! We had just a short visit when we began this journey and now to end there will be perfect. This time were renting an apartment. So far every part of this trip has been just as planned, hopefully it will continue! Fingers crossed!

    I met Mimi and G-pop at Taste, one of the Main Dining Rooms, for our last breakfast on the ship while the kids and Keith slept in for just a little bit longer. Breakfast was pretty good. Nicer than the buffet and we talked about how we enjoyed all of the ports we'd visited so far and how wonderful the cruise portion of this vacation had been.

    We again decided to do the self disembark, like we did off the Navigator. Since my parents were on a different deck, we told them we’d meet them off the ship right by the walk way. We had no problems walking off and found them with ease. As I mentioned before, most people seemed to board in Barcelona so in Rome it seemed to be mainly people going into Rome for the day.

    We had arranged for a private transfer with Walks of Italy and our driver picked us up promptly at 8:30. He called the owner of our apartment for us to let her know we were on our way and she met us right at the curb to welcome us. Prior to our trip she and I had spoken on the phone and she let me know that since we were arriving a bit early the cleaning crew would still be there. We could come in and drop off our luggage and go out for a few hours, then come back and get the tour and apartment instructions. I told her that would be perfect, as long as we could make it to our 12:30 scheduled tour of the Colosseum we’d be set!

    So we arrived just as planned, she took us up to the apartment which was right at Largo Argentina and she showed us where to put our bags and where we could lock up any valuables that maybe we didn’t want to carry around the city (money, passports, etc). We got a whirlwind quick tour – to be done more in depth when we came back. She told us to come back in 2 hours. Allesandra, the owner was very kind, and very thorough. She asked us if we would like a map, or directions to a café before we set out on our way?

    By the way, the apartment was absolutely stunning! We’ll get back to that when we have our full tour and instructions, but we rented through Sleep in Italy and the pictures on the website were accurate and we were thoroughly impressed. This would be the perfect home for us for the next three days!

    So we headed out, towards really the only way we felt comfortable walking to, the Pantheon. This is where our hotel was on our first night in Rome. We knew it was a short walk and we could stop and get a quick snack and just sit for a bit. Although it may be totally overpriced and touristy – it was fine for our two hours we had. We sat at one of the restaurants in the Piazza della Rotunda and had a light early lunch/snack and just felt so happy to be back in Rome! We enjoyed the time here sipping cappuccino, people watching and finishing it off with a Nutella crepe for Megan and I and a churro for Alex! Who knew you could get a churro in Rome?

    We strolled back to the apartment, of course taking some time to check out the cats at Largo Argentina, which we would do every chance we got. We’re big cat people, having four of our own at home! Our apartment is on the 5th floor, but there is a “lift” so we were happy about that! Of course Allesandra told us to only put 3 of us at a time in it – is she trying to tell us something? Nah…it’s old and creaky! We got back and the apartment was sparkling clean. I was apparently elected as the one to take in the incredible amount of instructions. I followed her around from room to room as she went through everything from how to open the windows, turn on the lights using the remotes, the a/c, the wifi, the trash and recycling (aghhhh!), the laundry, the double key system on the locks on the doors, she showed me the terraces – yes – we had TWO terraces! It was a speed class in how everything in this apartment worked! She knew we had a deadline and didn’t want to make us late for our Colosseum tour, so she went fast!

    Thankfully she had placed signs everywhere with her instructions written up so I didn’t have to memorize it all!

    The apartment was gorgeous. We had 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, and the 2 terraces I mentioned. I had been a little unsure about renting it, but when I posted here about the location and posted the link, I got the go ahead from the fodorites and I owe a HUGE thank you to anyone who encouraged me on our first ever apartment rental! This was the absolute perfect place for us to spread out and relax (ha ha! – did I say relax?) on our last days of our vacation!

    Now that we had the lay of the land so to speak, on where we were staying, we knew we didn’t have enough time to walk to the Colosseum for our 12:30 tour with Walks of Italy. So, lucky enough our apartment is right at a taxi stand area. We jumped in a taxi big enough for six and off we went! We found our meeting spot and our guide right on time! Again – I love when a plan comes together! We chose their VIP All Access Tour which includes the Underground Access of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

    Our guide’s name was Juvita and she was originally from Poland. She moved to Italy 13 years ago. She was fantastic! We started the tour with a brief overview of the outside of the Colosseum. Then we walked to the Roman Forum. We walked into the Forum and she told us about many of the buildings and what life would have been like during the time.

    After the Forum we went to Palatine Hill. Juvita explained the history and told some stories, showing us the major sites. As we were at Palatine Hill a huge black cloud started coming over head. This was actually the first sign of bad weather on our entire trip. But is was dark and it was looming. We started seeing some lightening strikes in the distance. The group voted to start heading towards the Colosseum where we’d be out of the rain and unfortunately our time here was cut a bit short.

    We did stop at the Arch of Titus where Juvita gave us a lot of details, all the while the wind was picking up quite a bit. As we walked towards the Colosseum, we stopped at the Arch of Constantine. Here there was so much dust blowing around! It was a serious dust storm!

    We made it inside the Colosseum just in time! The rain started just as we got undercover! Once again we were thankful to be there with a guide tour where we had previously arranged tickets. The line looked long and it was now raining! We walked right in!

    We started our tour at the arena level. Juvita told us about the Colosseum and its history. Walking out onto that platform was just phenomenal! And amazingly the rain slowed to just a light drizzle! You can just imagine the crowds and the battles! We had time for pictures and to just take it all in.

    Next we went down below the arena. To the underground area. Here you had to have an employee of the Colosseum take you down, there is a locked gate that has to be open by her. This is where the animals were kept and the gladiators were sent to wait for battle. We saw the shafts that the elevators would have been that were used to bring the animals and gladiators up to the arena to fight. This was fascinating!

    Next we got to go all the way up to the top tier of the Colosseum. My dad didn’t climb all the way up. They said there was an elevator for those who couldn’t walk up the steps, but it was broken. He didn’t want to climb up with his knee. We had a great view of the Colosseum as well as of the surrounding area of Rome.

    This tour by Walks of Italy was fantastic! All in all it was about 3 ½ hours long.

    After the tour we walked back to our apartment. I would say it was maybe a 20 minute walk. We walked past quite a few street vendors and people posing for pictures. It really was a fun way to get a feel for the city.

    For dinner we went back to Pizza Re, this was one of the places on the Food Tour we did on our first night of our trip. Once again, it did not disappoint!

    Another fantastic day!

    Here is the link to our pictures from our first day back in Rome!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157634960750432/

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    Thursday, June 27th - (Part 1, morning)

    It’s Thursday morning and it’s starting to hit me hard that we only have today and tomorrow left of this vacation. I have loved every minute of this trip and am so sad that it’s coming to an end. I’ve traveled a lot, not as much as some, but more than most of my friends and I’ve never felt so comfortable in a place as I’ve felt here in Italy. I’ve loved Europe, but Italy itself has pulled me in. Is it some part of my heritage? Or is it something else? I just don’t know. There are places I’ve been to that I keep returning to, Mexico has been one, Costa Rica another. But that’s different – I go back to those places for a vacation and for the tranquility. But here, well I feel like I belong here – like it’s natural to be here! And while the rest of my family has enjoyed this trip immensely, they are at that point in their vacation where they are ready to go home. Me, I’m feeling rather down. After three weeks, I’m not ready to go home at all. So, today and tomorrow I know are going to be very hard days for me. Very bittersweet! I know I will enjoy them, but I feel like the minutes are ticking away until I have to get on that plane home. I feel like I have to sort of absorb every possible moment as if it's the last one here. I may never get the opportunity to come back! Dramatic right?

    On the other hand, my better half, Keith has had enough! I mentioned before that this would not have been the vacation of his choice. While he has enjoyed many things about this vacation for sure, he’s had his fill of ruins, and history and standing all day long. He stands all day at work (he’s a chef) and he needs a break. He didn’t come out and say it, but I could see it in his face yesterday. He hasn’t complained about the tour after tour or the endless history lessons. But I know that for him to have to deal with today’s plan, which was the Vatican, would just possibly push him over the edge.

    Last night after dinner I suggested to him that he enjoy the morning alone at our apartment while the rest of us went on our Vatican tour with Walks of Italy. Or that he go out and find some specialty food shops - find those great meats and cheeses that he has been wanting! We had the Pristine Sistine tour booked and we were to be at our meeting spot at 7:30 am! I knew there was no way I wanted to be around him in the crowds at the Vatican if he didn’t want to be there. So he seemed shocked that I suggested he stay back and we agreed he would meet us for our afternoon tour. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I made all trip!

    Since we had such an early meeting time, we decided to just use Walks of Italy for transportation to our meeting spot by the Vatican as well. We didn’t want to have to deal with taxis or public transportation at 7:00 am, so we had arranged to be picked up at 7:00 am. Our driver turned out to be the same driver we had from the port the day before! A little familiarity is always nice!

    Our designated meeting spot was at a café near the Vatican, which gave us some time to pick up a quick breakfast (pastries, cappuccinos, and water) before our tour was to start. I wonder if they plan this meeting spot with the café? Several different tour groups were meeting here. We were very happy that our guide for today was Juvita again! Our group had about 12 people in it. I forgot to mention yesterday that we decided for all of our tours with Walks of Italy to go with their semi-private tours instead of paying extra for their private tours. They limit their tour sizes to 12 I believe. We figured that since we were six people already that if the start time worked for us, a group of 12 would be a good size. It wouldn’t be worth paying extra for a private tour to just limit the size to only the six of us. This turned out to be a good decision. All of our tours with Walks of Italy were phenomenal. I would highly recommend them. Also, when you book multiple tours, I believe 6, you receive a 10% discount. This includes transfers.

    Ok - now that that’s out of the way!

    We got our headsets from Juvita and began! We walked a couple of blocks from the café to the Vatican. The Pristine Sistine tour allows your group to enter before the general public is allowed to enter the Vatican. So the only people in the Museum are those with special tour groups. We only had to wait for these groups to be allowed to enter. While we were waiting, maybe 15 minutes or so, Juvita handed us all pictures of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and had some time to go over in detail all of the panels so that when we got into the Chapel we would know what we’d be looking at.

    Our first stop of course would be the Sistine Chapel. We walked up and down steps, through winding walks and Juvita told us not to worry – we’d be back through this area we zipped through later. Our mission now was to get to the Chapel!

    We arrived and there were maybe 30 or 40 people there? It was amazing. I know, everyone says that. We had our handouts to look at as we looked up at the ceiling. We had maybe 20 minutes to a half hour, virtually alone, or so it seemed, to take it all in.

    It was stunning. Now, we’ve seen a lot of ceilings and frescos since this journey started nearly 3 weeks ago! I couldn’t imagine how this could compare! What would make it so special! And then I stood there. Just gazing up and back and forth. Looking over the alter and back to the ceiling. The more I stared the more I could appreciate the work. The size itself for one. The detail. The story and the emotion. The way the more you look at each panel the more the figures seem to be reaching out to you. It was moving. That’s what I felt at the Accademia as well, when I looked at David – that it was moving. I suppose that’s what made Michelangelo so gifted. His work produced a feeling, an emotion. The room was so empty as a matter of fact, there was barely one “SHHHH” from the guards!

    After the time in the Chapel, we went through the various parts of the Vatican Museums. Juvita picked out several pieces to go into details about. The longer we stayed the more crowded it became. The vast amount of objects there is stunning! Now, we were there on a Thursday morning in June. Not yet the peak of tourist season, but approaching it. We arrived at 8:00 am, as early as one could be in the museums.

    By the time we walked through the Hall of Maps and the tapestries I had almost had enough of the wall to wall people. The crowds were unbearable. It was so crowded you could not take a step on your own – it was the feeling sort of when you are maybe at the most crowded concert and trying to exit with everyone at the same time out of one exit! We walked for nearly an hour this way. And as you can probably tell by now, I’m a very tolerant, patient – go with the flow type of person, but at this point, you couldn’t see anything – so it was just shuffling through to get from point A to point B hoping to not get separated from your group.

    Here I just kept thinking, Thank God Keith didn’t come….he could not have tolerated this crowd! Whew!

    Anyway – what did we see? Several sculptures, tapestries, paintings, and lots of people’s backs!

    I do think, other than the Sistine Chapel, my favorite was the Raphael Rooms. These paintings were so different from the others. We had some space here and Juvita could take some time to really explain the details of some of the paintings and what and who was represented here. I loved the “School of Athens” painting. I found that fascinating!

    From here we went back through the Sistine Chapel to get out to St Peter’s Basilica – and I was so thankful that we did the early tour. It was now wall to wall people. It was loud and it was stuffy. It was nothing like when we were there a few hours earlier. We had such a peaceful time there. We tried to make our way through the crowd without pushing anyone, and we went out the door on the side to exit.

    Next we went to St Peter’s Basilica. Again, it was very crowded. But we did make it through! The crowds made it difficult for me to “feel” the peace here though. It wasn’t like when we went to the Duomo in Florence when it felt solemn. Or even in St Mark’s in Venice or the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. In my mind it’s supposed to be the church of all churches, but it’s treated the least church like really. Here it was loud and like a spectacle. But it was beautiful and it was large!

    The real star though was the Pieta. Again, Michelangelo shines! There is no question of the gift he had. Of course, if you could even get close, it’s now behind glass. But you can’t help but being drawn to this work.

    Juvita took us through parts of the Basilica. However in many places our headsets weren’t working well and it was hard to hear her.

    After the Basilica, our tour was basically done. She said we could stay here if we wanted and climb, or take the elevator up the dome. Neither my parents nor the kids wanted to, which really disappointed me. I wanted to – but we exited the area before they realized I wanted to.

    We went out to St Peter’s Square and walked around a bit, took some pictures and tried to decide what to do next.

    I will say that I was extremely glad to have visited the Vatican. I was however very disappointed in the crowd management. We visited so many places this trip and this was the only place that we experienced crowds at this level. Why let so many people in at one time if the crowds get to the point where the visit becomes less enjoyable? Sell timed tickets maybe? I don’t know what the answer is, but we were all glad to be out of the Vatican, and yet at the same time, we knew there was so much more there that we didn’t even scratch the surface!

    We were hungry and we had another tour this afternoon! Crypts, Bones and Catacombs! But we had some time before that was to start. We weren’t exactly sure how we’d get from the Vatican to our meeting spot for that tour. But my initial plan was to take the metro. If that didn’t work, a taxi would be plan B.

    We wandered a bit right around the Vatican and initially we wanted to stop at Pizzarium, as recommended on Katie Parla’s food app, but we never made it there. My parents were hungry and didn’t feel like trying to find it. Instead we made the mistake of walking into one of the first places we walked by, right near the Vatican. While the food was fine, and the service was also nice, the prices were extremely high! It was basically a self serve cafeteria type place with waiters walking around to see if you “needed anything else”. But for the 5 of us Panini type sandwiches and water or Coke Light’s were close to 90 Euro! Oh, we may have gotten some fruit on the side and fries I think too! But we did get to sit and relax for a bit – there’s the bright side.

    So from here, we had some more free time, so we decided to walk to Castel Sant’Angelo. I’m pretty sure we took the most round about walk because as we arrived, we turned around and voila, there was the most perfect view of St Peter’s again! How could that be? Didn’t we just come from there? Although I think we came from a different side…but in any event, we had a nice stroll to get there. Megan and my mom sat on the wall overlooking the Tiber River. Again, here there were so many street vendors selling their goods. It sort of reminded me of a street festival atmosphere, but I would assume this is how it is here daily. My dad, Alex and I walked along the river for a bit.

    And here, Alex would get yet another pair of sunglasses to replace the pair that broke yesterday! This would be the final pair! And now that we're home, he’s still wearing these Ray Ban knock offs! I'd call that final pair our best sunglass investment yet!

    We took some pictures, and Alex wanted to walk down to the river and walk along the path down below back to Mimi and Megan. Sure…I’ll go with it. My dad walked back up above and Alex and I went down below. Other than some bike riders and joggers, it was pretty quiet down there. I can always count on Alex for doing something just a little bit different when we travel!

    Of course by now, we were cutting it a bit close on time, so we had to catch a taxi and quickly get across town to our meeting point for our next tour! And hopefully Keith was able to find our meeting spot as well! He would probably be walking – map in hand. Let’s see how well he was able to navigate the streets of Rome!

    I’m pretty sure our taxi driver went the longest way possible! We had to get from the Castel Sant’Angelo to Piazza Barberini. On the map it looked pretty straightforward, but the ride seemed pretty roundabout! But then again, I don’t know which roads are the best to take! We barely arrived on time, but we made it! And Keith was there too! Whew – we did it!

    Next up....our afternoon!

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    You are a brilliant woman for giving your husband a morning to himself. Good for you for recognizing and accommodating those unspoken signs of travel fatigue. And lucky for him that he is married to someone like you!

    And I must admit that I am a little sad your trip is coming to an end. I've really enjoyed following along each day, and feel like I've kind of gotten to know Alex, Megan, and the rest of the family. Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

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    Love this trip report! Question for you, did you spend any time in Naples proper? if you had more time would you have spent it in the city of Naples? I am trying to decide on Naples proper or an extra day on the Amalfi coast. Any thoughts are welcome!
    thanks again for the excellent read.

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    Have so enjoyed reading your trip report! We will be in Italy in 3 weeks time (yay!) and have booked the same Walks of Italy tours to the Colosseum and Vatican. Glad to hear they were worthwhile.
    Like msteacher, I feel I've come to know your family and I'm looking forward to going back over your whole report again!

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    BryantCourtney - we didn't spend any time in Naples itself. If we did have more time I would have liked to visit the Archaeological Museum. After having been to Pompeii, it would be great to see! I don't know that I have much interest in spending much more time there other than that. I haven't done much other research on the city itself other than that though.

    newgail - I have only positive comments on Walks of Italy! I loved the fact that their group sizes were small, even though the tours weren't specifically private tours. And the guides were not only so knowledgeable, but also so personable! We have one more tour with them coming up! Hopefully I'll get to posting about that one tomorrow! Have a great trip!

    msteacher - Thank you! I'm also sad that this trip report is coming to an end! It's been so nice to be able to share and relive our journey here! Hopefully I've been able to give back in helping some others with some tips because I know I got so much useful information here!! This trip wouldn't have been what it was without this board! And it's also so nice to share our experiences with fellow travel enthusiasts! One can only relive our journeys with "real life" friends so often before their eyes glaze over! They just don't have that same passion as so many of us here do in living vicariously through other's travel experiences! :)

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    Thursday, June 27th continued!

    So we left off at our meeting spot for our afternoon tour...

    We met up with Keith who was very proud that he had managed to navigate the streets of Rome alone and made it from our apartment to Piazza Barberini on his own! Apparently the map I left him wasn't the most detailed and the people he asked for directions kept pointing him towards the Trevi Fountain when he told them he had to meet at the fountain at Piazza Barberini! But we made it and we were all together and on time!

    Once again, our tour was with Walks of Italy and it was their Crypts, Bones and Catacombs Tour! Italy Underground! We were all really looking forward to this one. Something really a bit different! Our guide was Mike and he was awesome!

    Unfortunately no pictures were allowed at any of the sites we went to. But if you google each of the places you can pull up images. They are fascinating! Each and every place was unique and incredible!

    First we took a van to the Catacombs of Santa Priscilla. This is where the first Christians buried their dead. This was absolutely fascinating! I do have some postcards from here that I could probably scan and post if anyone is interested.

    We saw the tombs of the wealthy – which included the “woman in the Robe”, the middle class, and the regular class people.

    There were tombs that would have been for children, including infants. It was absolutely incredible!

    We also saw an image of what was believed to be the first painting of the Virgin Mary.

    Our guide, Mike, was so enthusiastic; he made the place come alive for us. Which I suppose is a bit ironic since it's a burial site! :)

    After the Catacombs, we got back into the van and went to the Capuchin Crypts. This is where the Capuchin Monks decorated the walls of the crypts with the bones of their dead. They had nowhere to bury them. So in order to honor their brothers they positioned their bones in this way. Each crypt has a different symbolic meaning in its arrangement. Again, it was totally fascinating. There is a small museum that you walk through before entering the crypt area.

    Our next stop was the Cathedral of San Clemente. This is a Cathedral built in the 12th century, which is built on top of a Cathedral built in the 4th century, which is built on top of a 2nd century structure below! They even believe there may be another structure below that one!

    We got to go all the way down to that 2nd century structure! Can you imagine discovering this? It was discovered because the person in the 12th century church kept hearing running water. They dug for it and found the 4th century Cathedral. They still heard running water below that and kept digging and found the 2nd century structure where you can actually still see the running water! There is a natural spring that runs through there!

    Mike just kept bringing us deeper and deeper into the ground and telling us the history of this building and what was below each level. He told us the symbolism of the pieces that were found in the 2nd century area. I was hanging on his each and every word!

    After visiting the underground areas, we went into the current day Cathedral of San Clemente which is quite pretty. The floor seems to be a bit off level and you wonder as you stand there why it’s not collapsing into the ground that we just walked below!

    This was another fantastic tour! Alex talked Mike’s ear off during this tour. It was his kind of afternoon! Bones, underground, and crypts! Mike was a terrific guide!

    My parents and Megan decided to take a taxi back to our apartment. This Cathedral was fairly close to the Colosseum so Mike pointed us in the right direction and Keith, Alex and I decided to walk back to the apartment.

    We sat out on our balcony with some wine and relaxed a bit before heading to dinner. We ate at a place fairly close to our hotel. It was good. I think it may have been one of the only meals we had where we ate inside though! On the walk back, we stopped for some gelato and called it a day.

    Tomorrow is our last day in Italy…we head to Fallo! The purpose of the trip after all! Mimi gets to go to the town where her family came from!

    Here are the pictures from today. Of all the pictures, I'd say the ones from today are probably my least favorite. First because the Vatican was so crowded I felt so rushed taking them! And second because I couldn't take pictures of the places I enjoyed the most...The Sistine Chapel or any of the afternoon tour. Not that I don't like the ones I have, but I feel like there's a big gap in today's photos!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157635020599716/

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    ShellD, I thoroughly enjoyed your trip report and photos. I've been to Italy twice and it brings back wonderful memories. I agree there is only so much you can share with friends regarding your vacation without boring them to death. LOL. You are so fortunate to be able to share this trip with your children and parents. This is something they will always remember.

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    Having mild claustrophobia, I could barely read about your afternoon adventure but it sounded interesting with major appeal for a teenager. In Rome, in addition to what is all around, you often wonder what you're standing on.

    I'm glad I've been twice to the Vatican and St Peter's, once so long ago that the Pietà wasn't behind glass! Two years ago I met a friend in Rome for a week with the understanding that I would go anywhere above ground apart from the Vatican. We arrived the day John Paul II was beatified (second stage or something) so it turned out parts of the Vatican were closed for several days. I just can't handle the crowds.

    Have enjoyed your entire report.

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    Friday, June 28th

    Today is our last day in Italy. Such a bittersweet day, I'm not ready to go home! It’s the day we’re going to Fallo! This is the town where my great grandfather was born. And it’s actually the town that several other relatives came over to the US from as well.

    Originally we thought about driving to Fallo on our own. It’s a good thing we didn’t! Not because of the drive, but as we’d later find out – we would have been absolutely lost once we arrived!

    As luck would have it, during my research I found out that Rome in Limo, one of the most commonly used tour companies for cruise passengers, happens to do a tour called “Back to Your Roots”! I stumbled across this when I was looking for our port tours. Interestingly for some reason we didn’t book any of our ports with them, but I did find this tour! I contacted them, and they were very easy to work with. Jany always replied by email very quickly – it seemed day or night! Did she every sleep? Was there more than one Jany?

    Back when we started planning our trip, last summer, I started doing some pretty heavy family research. Sure – we knew the basics, but if we were going to try to find the “homeland” we had to know the details! So I went onto ancestery.com and did the whole family tree and I have to say it was absolutely fascinating! I found the immigration records for my great grandfather. I saw the ship records for each and every time he came back and forth from the US to not only Italy but other places in Europe! I saw the paperwork where he became a US citizen, with his signature! So, on these papers, his hometown would be listed, with his birth date as well as his parents’ names. Which of course my grandmother knew, but to have it documented was fascinating!

    I did hit a wall at my great-great grandfather. Once the records get to Italy it stops. I ended up researching both my mom’s mother’s family and her father’s family. Her father’s family will have to be our return trip to Italy! :) His side is quite interesting! That one may make for a whole novel, not just a trip report!

    Anyway, as our trip got closer, I emailed Jany some of the details so our driver/guide would know where we would be going and what we’d be looking for.

    We knew our drive would be about three hours or so. Keith decided to stay back at the apartment again today. He didn’t want to spend more than six hours in the van. Today he planned to check out some of the craft breweries in Rome. Not only is he a chef, but he is a pretty talented home brewer as well.

    So, while he slept in, we met our driver, Vincenzo, right at 8 am! We had a nice large van and Vincenzo told us that we’d take the highway out towards the Adriatic Sea and then back track towards Fallo, which is in the Abruzzo region of Italy. He said this would be a smoother ride, less mountainous… even though we’d be backtracking a bit. Coincidentally he was from a town about 25 minutes from Fallo, although he’s never been there himself.

    For those interested, Fallo is a tiny town with only less than 150 residents, maybe less. At the time when my great grandfather left Fallo, in the early 1900’s there were over 1000 residents!

    We rode along while Vincenzo drove. You would have honestly thought he was going to visit his home town too! He was so enthusiastic about this trip with us! The drive was so scenic, and apparently this wasn’t even the scenic route! We stopped at an Autogrill for a bit of a break, filled up the van with gas and got some snacks. I got an éclair type pastry. And once again – I was quite impressed with the freshness and quality of the food! So far train stations and roadside food has not disappointed us!

    When we got close to our destination, Vincenzo told us to get our cameras out! He was funny – he wanted to be sure we’d get pictures of the road signs for Fallo! And the “Benvenuti Fallo” signs! He was great. I feel so lucky that we’ve had such great drivers and guides! Here we are on our last day and every guide and/or driver has been wonderful!

    As we approached the town, we were actually a bit surprised at just how modern it all seemed, with respect to where we were! First we saw an actual hotel! Shocking! When the town has 100 or so residents, you don’t expect a hotel! But it certainly was filled with old world charm. This was absolutely nothing like my mom expected. I’d seen some pictures online in my research. She was maybe expecting something more farm like for some reason. I knew it was a medieval hill town type place. It was lovely!

    Vincenzo slowed down and spoke Italian to two gentleman on the street, asking them where the City Hall was. With some enthusiastic hand motions we were on our way. Which was funny because there was only one road into the town! We parked our very large, and seemingly out of place van and piled out. I felt like we stuck out like a sore thumb!

    We walked into the City Hall building and the first thing we saw was a poster on a bulletin board from a recent election. It may have been in all Italian, but my mom could not believe that of all the names listed she recognized the surnames of more than half of them! If they weren’t family names they were neighbors she grew up with! They were families that also came over with her grand father!

    We walked up the steps of the very modern City Hall building and found someone in one of the offices. Not a soul spoke one word of English! Thank Goodness we didn’t make this trip on our own as our original plan was! Vincenzo explained why we were here and who we were looking for. It’s not unusual for Americans to come to parts of Italy looking for a piece of their heritage, but I’m also pretty sure that this little town doesn’t get too many people stopping by too often! They have approximately 30 families that live there!

    After some lively conversation, the gentleman went to find the County Clerk. She came back all smiles! My mom and her got along as if they were separated at birth. However, neither could understand a word the other said! Not one word! As I stood there it was as if I was watching a movie – we walked into the room with these big books and boxes of records….

    It was very exciting! We had our paper printout from ancestry.com, words were being spoken a mile a minute – in English and Italian and Vincenzo was translating all the while! There was laughing and hands were going as only the Italians do! My mom was waving her hands, the clerk waving hers...The town Sheriff came in and joined in the conversation, his hands started going too. My mom talking to them both as if they could understand eachother and they talking to her as if she could understand them! I stood there watching this exchange and my mom was just so at home here! I kept thinking how much she has loved Italy!

    Only there was a problem, they kept looking and they couldn’t find Patrizio DiVito! It’s not that we were in the wrong place, of course he was born here – we know that. But their records don’t go back far enough. When they built this City Hall, they didn’t put the oldest records here. Did we have time to go to the main hall of records? It’s in another town? That would give us more information. We could find HIS card? Vincenzo was pointing at his watch and telling them we’re only here for one day and we’d need an appointment if we went to the other town. Oh my!

    But wait – that’s ok because they can still show us the house that was the DiVito house! With a town this small, when a family owns property, they really only have one home and it’s passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately the “last” of the DiVitos passed away this past March, but we can see the house and see the town!

    It wasn’t surprising that there wouldn’t have been any other DiVitos because my great grandfather, his father, and his sister all came to America. As a matter of fact, it’s a mystery as to who that last DiVito is a decedent from! We’ve got to do some research on that - maybe even a trip back to ask?

    Hugs were exchanged between my mom and the County Clerk. She was so upset she couldn’t find my great grandfather’s information. She must have searched every box and book for it! However, she was very pleased that we could see the house that he likely grew up in! And to see the town itself! Honestly, being here was like visiting with old friends!

    So, we left the courthouse, with an escort from the Sheriff so that he could show us the house – the American family escorted down the street…the Italians started looking out their windows – who were these people in our town? He’d call up to them – in Italian – you could make out some words – “America” “DiVito” “familia” And then an “ahhhhh” He’d ask them if they knew Patrizio – well of course not – he left in 1910! They did know the DiVito who recently passed away though! They’d wave to us and smile!

    So we walked up to the house – it was charming! Lovely! It’s currently vacant if anyone is looking! We saw the town church – it’s beautiful inside! Then the sheriff left us to just wander around the town a bit. It didn’t take long! Like so many little medieval towns seem to be, it’s basically a one street circle or loop. We walked through, took some pictures and when we got back to where we entered the town, Vincenzo told us we could wait at the “bench” and he would go get the van for us.

    On our way out of town we stopped at the Fallo Hotel for lunch. We of course had Vincenzo join us. He was so much more than a driver that day! And again, thankfully he joined us for lunch! Not that we couldn’t have figured it out – but this particular restaurant was 100% all Italian! The menu – all Italian! And in his charming way, he asked us what we might like for lunch, even if it wasn’t necessarily on the menu, and what do you know – that’s what we got. I believe my dad got something from the menu, but Alex and I had gnocchi with traditional sauce and my mom and Megan had spaghetti carbonara. Neither of those items were on the menu and both were phenomenal! We had some starters, the five of us had entrees, I’m pretty sure there was wine involved and this meal was half the price of our over priced Panini lunch by the Vatican yesterday! Location is everything!

    We decided that our drive back should be through the mountains instead of taking the highway. We were feeling adventurous now! We went through several little hill towns and it was just beautiful! Of course our stomachs were full and before long we were all sleeping!

    All in all our day to Fallo was a huge success! It was something we’ll remember forever! On our next trip we’ll have to do the same for my mother’s father’s father!

    Next up…our last night in Rome! And the pictures from the day!

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    Thank you! I was so glad to have had this day as our last day. It really was the perfect ending to our journey. We had traveled so many different places and seen so many amazing things, but this honestly was the most meaningful. My parents both loved the entire trip, but of course my mom felt a huge connection to Italy. Her father's roots are in Rome. His father wasn't born in Rome, but another remote little town, but his family has property there today somewhere. A villa on the outskirts I hear! She kept telling me that various people in Rome would remind her of her uncles or even her father (who had passed away a few years ago). There are definitely still fairly close relatives to his family still in Rome and the area so she would like to go back and visit there in the future, and look them up. She has cousins that currently go over every year and visit family. She just needs to follow up with them.

    But with Fallo, this was so "old country" Italy! Her mother so often would talk about her father and how he must have grown up! How "all of the Italians" left and came to Philadelphia and what that was like for them.

    We got to show my grandmother and her sister the pictures from Fallo this past weekend and they were just giddy! They loved seeing where their father was from! They're in their late 80s now, so for them this was a dream come true to see these pictures! Just imagine them listening as we told them the story of this day!

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    Shell Just wanted you to know I did hope over to your post and am slllowly plowing through all the exquisite info
    Lots to catch up on but I am absorbing AND copying quite a bit as I will be going on the Epic as well and like you I am a staunch anti-offshore cruise tour person
    Unlike you though I'll be traveling by myself so I hope I can find some more adventurous souls I am booked as part of a larger group but the organizer is already encouraging them to book the ship tours Do you recall even one port where the other cruisers may have gotten good value?
    Also as has been stated time and time again this is an absolutely insightful wonderful delightful even, report and I give you a million thanks for taking the time and effort to share your family's experiences
    Which brings me to the photos which are definitely the highlight Your Son makes me laugh Seems he tries to NOT be like his Father but is very much so despite the trying And Baby Girl is just as sweet as pudding even with the melt down I think 3 weeks was a great run And like everyone else you may have missed your calling Methinks there's a photographer in your soul (-; Else I need to invest in the Nikon DL5000 ASAP!
    I'll probably have questions later after I go over my "notes" But sounds like you made sure you guys Trip of a Lifetime was One for the Ages so Brava to you and I'm glad you guys made it home safely
    Au Revoir! (for now)

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    Wow, this has been one of the best trip reports I have ever read. What an amazing adventure and opportunity for your family. The pictures have been incredible as well. Thank you for sharing.

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    R2da - have you checked out cruisecritic.com? If not, pop over there and go to the roll call boards. Find your sailing. Hopefully there's some activity. You can often find groups who are doing private tours and join in with them! We had a couple from Ireland with us on two tours and also a family from England with us on another tour. This was all arranged through cruise critic.

    If that doesn't work out - the only time I ever really spoke to passengers about their tours was on the Marseilles day. We bumped into a group from the ship in Les Baux. They seemed happy with their tour and it sounded like they got to go to quite a few locations. That was nice because as I mentioned, so many passengers seem to give that port a pass because they don't know what to do or they stay in Marseilles and are disappointed.

    Thank you so much for the compliments on the photos!

    And feel free to ask away, any questions you may have! We had a great trip!

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    TDudette and trvlgirlmq - thanks so much! I have our last night to finish up and I'll also post the pictures from our last day. If not this afternoon, I hope to get to it this weekend!

    Thanks for following along until the end! :)

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    I left off after our fantastic trip to Fallo...here we are, our last evening in Rome! Our trip is coming to an end, and fast!

    We returned to our apartment and had some time to relax for a bit. We looked through the various booklets that Alessandra had left us and tried to decide where to go for dinner. We had recommendations from our guide yesterday, Mike, and we also had our list from our first night – our tour with Bruno. So many options! It was our last night – we wanted it to be special. While we tossed ideas around I also did most of our packing. I didn’t want to have to come back tonight and deal with it.

    We knew one destination for sure tonight would be the Trevi Fountain. So off we went, walking towards that direction. We had the address of one of the restaurants that Mike recommended, a place called Macerone. This would have been perfect yesterday! But they only had pasta – makes sense given the name right? We all had pasta for lunch and while really I wouldn’t have had a problem with more pasta, who would really? Some in our group wanted pizza…um, think Alex! So we kept looking.

    Really, not a big deal, there must be more restaurants than anything else in Rome! We found a place a few blocks past the Piazza Rotunda on a nice street. I absolutely love eating outside, musicians strolling by – sure they want a tip, but it’s such an amazing atmosphere! We had a good meal. Not the best of the trip, but it was good and the service was very good. We always had the most fantastic waiters and waitresses. They always served us with a smile and loved to joke with us and the kids. They often asked us where we were from and how long we’d be in Italy. To be honest, this is one of the things I miss the most since being home. I hate the rushed feeling you get when eating out in the states. It really has come to bother me when the servers clear you plates while part of your group is still eating. It bothers me when they bring your check and place it at the table stating "no rush", sometimes before you're even finished eating - but you know they just want to get you out of there so they can get your table filled for the next group so they can get their next tip. I miss the slow paced meals in Europe. I miss the feeling that you're dining in a restaurant where you're treated like part of the family, where they honestly want you to enjoy every bite of food and not just bringing in dollars....

    After dinner the waitress offered us complimentary shots of Lemoncello and asked if the kids could have some. Again with the alcohol for kids! When I seemed a bit taken aback, they waitress laughed and said – they’re on vacation right? Alex seemed to indicate to her that he agreed and she brought both kids very watered down shots! We toasted our final night and fantastic trip!

    Keith decided to head back to the apartment instead of walking to the Trevi fountain. I don’t think he has the desire to toss a coin in or fight the crowds there!

    The rest of us made our way – it was our first time out really exploring Rome at night. Every other time we knew exactly how to get from point A to point B. This time we knew our destination but not so much how to get there. Off we went, map in hand! We made it without getting lost and we enjoyed the lively streets at night. Although I will say that G-pop was starting to look tired, his knee was starting to bother him. It took 21 days, but I think he’s fading! And Mimi, she just might be getting tired too! Sometimes I forget that they’re almost 70 years old! They have kept up so well with us that it’s hard to remember!

    But we did it, we made it to the fountain, which if you can manage to get past the craziness of the crowds and the people trying to force roses upon you…is really a stunning site all lit up at night!

    Alex, Megan and I made our way down to the actual edge and tossed in our coins. We will be back! This was our insurance! Whew – we made it, we took our pictures, we had our moment at the edge of the fountain and we enjoyed our time! Isn’t that what it’s all about?

    We spent a bit of time in the area getting a few more souvenirs. Somehow though, I never found that “one” perfect thing. Again – another reason to return! This is something I tend to do when I travel – I see things I like and never buy them – I seem to think I’ll find something I’ll like better – I need to realize if I like something enough, to just go with my gut and make that purchase! I’m not talking expensive things either! Maybe a scarf or a little piece of art? Anything...then I get home and feel like I missed out on those little pieces. Anyway – I do collect magnets – I have one for every city or town that I’ve been to and I hang them on a whiteboard in my office.

    We walked back to our apartment and on the way we stopped back at the gelato place right next to the Albergo del Senato. The one that Megan and I had our very first gelato on the first afternoon when we arrived in Rome almost three weeks ago! It seemed only fitting that we would have our last gelato here now tonight!

    We enjoyed our gelato and walked slowly back to the apartment. Stopping to say goodnight to our resident cats at Largo Argentina.

    It was late, time for bed…of course as I was backing up my pictures from the day, Alex brings me his cell phone – he dropped it in a sink of water while he was brushing his teeth. Really? It won’t turn on. Ok…we’ll let it dry out overnight. Obviously we have no rice here for the rice technique! What a kid, 3 pairs of sunglasses and now the cell phone! It's a good thing he makes me laugh almost every day! :)

    It was time for bed, tomorrow we have to say good by to Europe. Bummer.

    Here is the link to the pictures from Fallo and our last night in Rome!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnpics/sets/72157635069168367/

    I guess I'll have just a little bit of wrap up from our last morning and the flight home left!

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    I have enjoyed every morsel of your trip story and your pictures! I am glad that you can squeeze out another segment for the last day.

    Every time you stopped half way through a day, I was disappointed and couldn't wait for the next part. On the other hand I was glad that you stopped which made the trip tale longer!

    Thanks for sharing!

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    Shelly,
    Thank you for your detailed and enthusiastic trip report!
    I thought you'd be interested in reading this article from today's New York Times Travel section. It's written by another native of Pennsylvania in search of his Italian roots.
    http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/travel/digging-up-family-roots-in-sicily.html?ref=travel.
    I thought of you and your family as I was reading it.
    HT

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    Saturday, June 29th

    It’s time to go home. I got up early today so I could enjoy the last morning somewhat before the rush of leaving. I got up and dressed and then sat out on the beautiful terrace. Our apartment was perfect. Our entire trip was amazing. One that I will never forget. I hope the kids have memories that they won’t forget as well.

    People often say they get to go on trips of a lifetime. In this case, I think ours really was. There was nothing I would have changed. Looking back, every single day was perfect. We are lucky. Very lucky.

    Alessandra came by the apartment right on time, at 8:30. She did a quick run through and told us that we left everything just perfect. I could tell she was pleased. She returned our security deposit. I told her that if we ever returned, we would certainly stay here!

    We walked out the giant doors and our driver from Rome Cabs was waiting right there for us. Right on time, at 8:45. We left Rome, and arrived at the airport.

    As usual, my dad forgot to pack his little Swiss Army knife, he left it in his carry on, and had that confiscated. My mom mentioned that she always knows what she can get him for Christmas because he always gets one taken away from him!

    The airport was packed, there wasn't even room to sit, except for on the floor, and our flight was delayed for about an hour or so. But everything was smooth.

    We had a little lunch in the airport. I bought Megan some spicy salami and Pecorino cheese in one of the shops! I surprised her with it on the plane. It was in a little snack pack.

    Our flight home was direct. Not bad at all. I got to catch up on some movies. I never get to see movies anymore. Especially my picks! I personally enjoyed the flight. It was quite relaxing!

    We arrived home to four cats who seemed to miss us very much and a huge stack of mail.

    Here it is now nearly two months later and I can’t help feel like our trip was so much more than a vacation. A good friend of mine told me before I left that I would come back a different person. I didn’t really understand that at the time. He was right.

    I want to thank those of you who hung on and read my adventures! And those who enjoyed my photos...that means so much to me!

    I also really want to thank so many of you who helped out during the past year when I was planning my trip. I started this totally overwhelmed. I had traveled independently throughout various parts of Latin America and had no problems planning those trips. But this one, it seemed so overwhelming to me! Coordinating trains, drivers, tours, cruises... I had no idea where to start. Through reading other people's trip reports and getting the recommendations of various hotels, tour guides, and perhaps most importantly the help figuring out how to use the trains - it all fell into place! So many questions were answered, either directly or non directly here. I can not thank the participants enough.

    I know the type of trip we took is not a typical fodors European vacation - most here don't do cruises, and maybe not so many structured tours. But this worked for us on this trip. When we go back, our next trip to Italy, or wherever in Europe we land, will likely be much different. Now that we had our introduction - we're ready for more! At least I know I am!

    Now I suppose I have to go back to living vicariously through other's trip reports...which isn't a bad thing at all! :)

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    Thanks again for the time and energy you gave to this report. I really enjoyed getting to read a little more each day. I am sad it's over. If you want to drag it out a little further, perhaps an overview of your favorite places/moments of the trip? (And/or the favorites of the rest of the family? ). Thanks again for sharing such a wonderful trip!

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    I never thought I would like cruises, in fact was a bit sniffy about them. We've done two and are signed up for a third, transatlantic crossing this time. I do treat the ship as a floating hotel, we're not "everyone on deck for shuffleboard" people but do enjoy talking to other travellers, some of the lectures, reading, dining and most of the ports.

    My mis-conceptions were many, I expected to gain weight, lost 6 lbs. on one cruise and 5 on the other. I only saw one instance of people going nuts at a buffet--an elaborate bruch our last day at sea. We decided we'd just skip it next time. I also thought, and this is really dating me, that cruise directors would try to force us into games, etc. So wrong.

    I really admire the time you took to research shore excursions and take account for three generations of interests. I could take a few lessons from you!

    Thanks for sharing the trip with us--I have a feeling there will be more in your future.

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    What a shame this report is over - I enjoyed every episode.

    I have nothing but admiration for the way you organised such a special trip - and how you handled any little crises that developed! Your family will have memories to last a lifetime thanks to your hard work, patience and love.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed holiday journal - I know I'll be checking back on it for some tips before our next trip to Italy.

    Happy future travels!

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    Thanks for your great report. You certainly deserve an award for travel planning to accommodate so many ages and interests. Your joyful and relaxed approach to this long and complex trip was awe-inspiring. I'm sure your family will have precious memories for many years to come. Brava!

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    Thank you all so very much for the wonderful compliments! It really is so heartwarming to read them!

    msteacher - I will definitely think about what parts were my favorite moments, and I'll ask the rest of the family what were their highlights as well. I'll come back and post for sure!

    We're going out of town for the weekend, but either Sunday night or Monday I'll try to update some highlights!

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    Thank you so much Shell. This was such a fantastic trip report and I too hate it to end. My favorite part was your trip to Fallo. It brought tears to my eyes. Your mother looks so happy in the pictures.
    Your trip brought back so many memories. I think we ate at the same restaurant above Positano. Can't wait for your next trip!

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    I've finally gotten the chance to browse the photos! You're a wonderful, wonderful photographer!! And such a precious looking family :-). How is the shutter speed on the D7000? We have been using a nice point and shoot, but with two really young kids (6 months and 2.5 yrs), the time between hitting click and when the photo actually takes is too long - we end up missing the split second both were looking at the camera and smiling.

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    TexasAggie - Thank you! I find the D7000 to be really fast. As a matter of fact, my dad was using a point and shoot, a pretty good one, and there were several times where I'd be next to him and have taken not only one, but a few pictures in the time where he just snapped one shot. Partially due to him trying to set up a shot, but also just the slow shutter speed on his camera. You could really notice the lag time in his camera vs mine when standing right next to him.

    Thank you to every one else for your kind comments!

    I hope to get back tomorrow to add some more thoughts on favorite moments and places I'd like to return. If not tomorrow, after the weekend! It's been a busy week here with the kids starting back to school this week and I had a lot of work to catch up on due to taking a couple of days off last week!

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    What a trip report! I am wondering if you have had time to fix breakfast or clean the house. :-( Ah yes, Positano, Sorrento, ancient Rome and much more to cap it off. The bit about discovering family connections in Fallo is fascinating...to me as a family genealogist.

    I do think travel has three parts: planning, doing, remembering.
    Bill in Boston

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    Great trip report. Brought back sooooo many memories.

    We did a 6 week 'trip of a lifetime' last year, mainly in Italy (though a bit of France) and also did the same Navigator of the Seas cruise that you did.

    We too did private tours, and they were so much better than the cruise ones.

    We are planning to go back next year :) so it definitely wasnt the only trip we will do to Italy.

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    Hey there! msteacher had asked for some of my favorite moments or places from the trip, and HappyTrvlr had asked which are some places I'd want to return to. I haven't come back to reply to these because it's really hard to pinpoint these answers for me. Now that I've finished my trip report, and relived the memories, I realized it wasn't really one big dream - it really happened!

    But I'll do my best with what I've come up with so far.

    As far as favorite moments - I have a few stand out ones:

    First, when we arrived in Rome, and entered the city, as our driver Andre rounded the corner and was telling us the stories about ancient Rome, and right there - the Colosseum stood. I mentioned in my trip report that I wasn't expecting it to be there. That we were sort of above it. We weren't at ground level. And it by far was the most amazing moment for me! Jet lagged and everything, I couldn't wait for the rest of the trip to begin! This was everything Italy, Europe and amazing for me!

    Another thing that I loved about this trip was the fact that we did it as a combination of cruising and land. If I was to come here and post this itinerary, with the amount of cities and countries we were to visit I believe I'd be told we were crazy! Way too many in too short of time! However, by using the ship as our moving hotel we had the ability to get a taste, and in some cases I felt even more than a taste, for so many cultures and see so much in such a short time! We didn't have to worry about spending time catching trains and checking in and out of hotels for the cruise part. Plus...

    another huge thing about the cruise that I absolutely LOVED was seeing my kids, especially Alex, be able to experience the ability to go off and be with his peers in the teen club at night. He could spend day after day with his family and for the most part really enjoy that time with us. But at night he had a safe and fun place to go to hang out with friends. They went bowling, did scavenger hunts, did the rock walls, and played all kinds of games. It gave him that time to be a teen and do his own thing so he was ready for the next day of intense touring. Megan had her time too - but to a less extent. And in the same way - Keith and I got to split from my parents too at times. We often ate dinner together, but not always. After dinner they would see a show or do their own thing. It suited us very well to give us space that we needed in order to spend so much time together!

    Another favorite moment was standing up at the Acropolis. The weather was perfect. We were listening to our guide Georgia tell us the stories about Athena and the other Greek Gods and Godesses - the restoration of the Parthenon was going on. It was both peaceful and chaotic at the same time. The crowds really hadn't started to grow when we arrived. It's so ancient, overlooking modern Athens. Just fascinating! Then later going to the New Acropolis Museum and Georgia showed us so many of the artifacts and told us the details of them. Loved how the day all tied together from the beginning to the end.

    Snorkeling in the Mediterranean in Crete has to be one of my favorite moments. It was just us and our guides. The water was that purple blue color. It wasn't that there was so much to see, but it was such a nice change of pace form the hectic touring the past few days. Being out on the water - in a small boat. And then relaxing while swimming out there with the kids, Keith and my dad. Even my mom who didn't get in the water had a great time with our captain showing her all of the sea life that Elise brought up for her to see.

    Turkey was very unexpected for me. I'd seen pictures of Ephesus before, of the ruins. But I had no idea what to expect of the overall area. It was very pretty. I'm not sure if it was a favorite moment or place - but it was definitely much different from my expectations and it was very well liked. I think most Americans, at least most people that I know have no idea what that area of Turkey is like and probably perceive it as very different from what it looks like. I think I expected it to be much more desert like. It was more tropical and lush. Very clean. Very modern. - well except the ruins!

    I absolutely loved our day in Provence, France. Before we left, I kept reading how many people stayed on the ship at this port because there wasn't much to do. This was for sure one of my favorite places. I think Les Baux was a favorite moment - getting out of the van and just seeing the town cut into that mountain! I absolutely want to get back there!

    My favorite, absolute favorite place we went was the Amalfi coast. We only touched on it - but it was the most beautiful place I think I've been. From a photography perspective - what more could a person ask for?? :) The colors of the sea, the houses and buildings on the hills? And then once we stopped in Positano and Sorrento, It was just a place I want to go back. It doesn't matter to me that they were crammed with touristy shops and is probably overpriced and crowded! Those towns, and I'm sure the rest of the coast are just gems!

    Oh, and I can't forget Sicily! Walking on Mt Etna! That was a WOW moment! Walking into a dormant volcanic crater! It was such a unique experience and then contrasted by visiting the charming town of Taormina! Where we had such a great lunch with our new friends, who we met through our roll call on Cruise Critic. We had lunch at an out of the way place in town and it was wonderful....

    Venice - when we stepped out of the train station and I saw the gondolas and the canals for the very first time! That was another total "wow" moment for me! Venice really stole my heart. I think I loved everything about that city.

    Which brings me to the food! A favorite thing about the trip would have to be the entire concept of dining in Italy! Everything is fresh! Everything tastes better! And everything is savored! I love that you're not rushed out of the restaurant and meals are meant to be an event! I love that you have to ask for the check and no one cares if you sit and sip wine for an hour after your last bite! Or that it takes 2 hours to eat! I love that the waitstaff comes and talks to you and appreciates that you try to speak a little Italian! I loved ordering little pitchers of wine or prosecco, even if it was just so-so house wine, with every meal! I'm totally spoiled when it comes to food and dining out now! Now that I'm home, when a server brings me a check when they bring me my meal and says "no rush, it's just easier if I leave this now" it really rubs me the wrong way! I know they want me out to get their tip to get the next table in! Humph!

    But on the lines of food, a favorite would have to be our Food Tour with Bruno the first night!

    Anyway...seeing our apartment in Rome, the terrace and sitting out there, feeling for a minute like we lived there, eating some cheese, fruit and proscuitto, while sipping some wine or whatever! That was a total favorite for us! Even getting some takout pizza from the shop across the street, bringing it back and eating it on the terrace. Loved it! Rome felt like home to me. I don't think it was just because we had an apartment there because on our first night in Italy when we stayed in a hotel I felt the same way. I connected to Rome. It was a favorite.

    And of course, our day in Fallo - that is probably the most memorable moment of the entire trip. It brought it all home. My grandmother turns 90 this March and I was telling my mom that it would be amazing if we could bring her there for her 90th birthday! We don't think she'd be able to make the trip - but man, if she could! It would be incredible! For now, she'll have to settle for the pictures and our stories.

    So, I hope that's not too many favorite things and places! But as I mentioned, there wasn't much that I didn't love about the trip! I guess there were days that I didn't love as much as the others, but if I did it again, I don't think I would change much of anything - except maybe add to it! :)

    I'll do a separate post of where I'd like to go back to, and why. This one is longer than I thought!

    Oh, and for anyone who doesn't want to read through the entire thread if you're interested, I have a blog with my trip report, that has a sampling of the pictures included with the posts. The blog is still in progress. It's up to the Amalfi Coast day. Here is the link starting with the first day of the trip:

    http://tripspicsandtales.blogspot.com/2013/07/lets-jump-ahead-few-years-and-travel-to.html

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    Wonderful! Thank you so much for taking the time to add to your already terrific report. I had a similar experience with that that first glimpse of Venice out of the train station-- it took my breath away! And I totally agree that lingering over delicious meals (with a few glasses of wine thrown in) is one of the true highlights of Italy.

    Your perspective on cruising has also been really insightful. I can totally undstand how a cruise can be the perfect fit for families traveling with tween/teens or multiple generations. You definitely need "spaces in your togetherness" when traveling in a group like that. So glad that it worked so well for your family.

    Thanks again for sharing all your wonderful experiences and terrific pictures! I'll bet it won't be long before you are starting to plan your next trip! :)

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    Maybe a repeat but JR and I wanted to buy a place in Italy but couldn't settle on the area we loved the most! So, I do appreciate how many favorites you had.

    Thanks again for a wonderful TR!

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    Enjoyed the recap of all your favorite moments! I tend to agree that your itinerary would likely have been slammed here, but this trip report is a good reminder that there is not one "right way" to travel. How amazing to come away with so many highlights and WOW moments!

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    I agree with the poster above. I don't ever want to go on a cruise ship, but I love your enthusiasm and reports of your time on land. It worked for you and your family and I have a feeling that next trip you'll all be in Italy exploring the country of your ancestors in more depth.

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    Once again I have to tell you, Shell, what a marvelous trip report this has been. A great pleasure to read, and an even greater pleasure to get to know your family.

    Your enthusiasm is infectious, and your stamina is phenomenal!!

    Did you post a link for your Rome apartment higher up in this report? I don't remember seeing it, but would love to have that link.

    Many thanks, and best of luck to the whole family!

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    Not having found your trip report and pictures until today I had the good fortune to go through from start to finish in one sitting - OK, one very LONG sitting! I so enjoyed all you covered in your descriptions of what you ate, what you saw, and how you did it. I've written down a lot of things to look at for our trip next year. Many thanks for the time and effort it took to put it all down for us to enjoy!!

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    You are a wonderful observer and a writer.. Your post dated Sep 9 on your WOW moments and places you would like to go back was the icing on the cake.. I feel very connected to your reflecting back and feeling nostalgic.. it is strange that how we feel connected to some places even though we are first time visitors and with any acquaintances at those places. A marvellous read.. Thanks

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    Alok_Mohata Thank you! I really enjoyed writing about our trip and sharing our experiences. I'm so glad to know it was well received! I'm thinking about putting it all together somehow into a travel memoir for my parents for Christmas. I think they'd really like that as a keepsake.

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    Why not print out the report that you wrote for us here, add a few pictures and put into a scrapbook? It would be a wonderful memory trip. You could do one for each of the kids and one for your parents as well as one for yourself!

    It was a great trip enjoyed vicariously by so many of us here! Thanks again!

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