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

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

Jul 3rd, 2013, 05:05 AM
  #1  
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Join Date: Jan 2007
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Our Amazing European Adventure! Including 2 cruises and 7 days in Italy!

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!
ShellD is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 06:01 AM
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Great start. I am along for the adventure!
msteacher is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 06:01 AM
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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/
TPAYT is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 06:01 AM
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Great start.....waiting, waiting
wunderbar2 is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 11:14 AM
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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!
ShellD is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 11:52 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2008
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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.
Cathinjoetown is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 11:57 AM
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I LOVE reading the enthusiasm of a first-time visitor to Rome... It takes me back...
Jean is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 01:03 PM
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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
rncheryl is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 01:33 PM
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Can't wait to hear what comes next!
amy_torres_sd is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 01:46 PM
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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!
ShellD is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 01:49 PM
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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/tripsnp...7634431297751/
ShellD is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 10:39 PM
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Great report! I'm exhausted already but I love your enthusiasm. So nice to see a family really having fun together and enjoying the world. Rome is exciting, isn't it?
Leely2 is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 03:02 AM
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Wow, I'm exhausted just reading this! What a full first day! Sounds like a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to more.
jmct714 is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 06:30 AM
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Thanks for sharing your pictures! I really enjoyed looking at them especially after reading your narrative. Keep the story and pictures coming, please!
irishface is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 06:45 AM
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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.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 12:09 PM
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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.
ShellD is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 12:10 PM
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Great report. I love your attention to detail. We have considered touring northern Italy, cruising out of Venice, the
drchris is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 12:13 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2010
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Sorry!

... To the eastern Med and back to Rome, then staying in Rome. I'll be interested to her how the cruise and land tour meshed. Thanks for sharing your photos.
drchris is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 12:28 PM
  #19  
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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!
ShellD is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 01:19 PM
  #20  
 
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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.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  

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