October 15, 2005
We just got back from our cruise on Splendor of the Seas. I am a 41-year-old woman who traveled with my two daughters, ages 8 and 10. Before we left, the girls learned about Pompeii, and saw “Roman Holiday” and the “Lizzy McGuire Movie”. So they were all pumped to see the sights of Europe -- just old enough to appreciate what they were seeing, and just young enough to think it was cool to take it all in with Mom!
Barcelona was a treat. The girls loved exploring the Sagrada Familia church and the nightlife of Las Ramblas. We stayed two nights in Barcelona prior to the cruise to ward off jet lag, and this worked really well. On Saturday we checked in for the cruise. We had completed the pre-check-in online, and when we arrived at the pier around 11 a.m., we were through the line and aboard the ship within minutes. It was wonderfully efficient! The girls and I have been on eight cruises together. This ship was lovely and very easy to get around. We got an inside cabin this time. I was afraid it might be too small, but we were pleasantly surprised with the amount of space.
Where Is Toulon?
The next day our itinerary listed Marseille as the port of call. However, there was a last minute change, and we were told we’d be stopping in Toulon. This was great news to me as I studied in Toulon about 20 years ago. When we got off the ship, I didn’t recognize much. We walked quite a ways and could not find a taxi anywhere. We kept walking, and soon I saw a directional road sign pointing the direction for Toulon. Strange, I thought. Anyway, fast forward an hour and a half and several blisters later: It turns out we were NOT in Toulon, but in La Seyne Sur Mer, a neighboring suburb. We were running out of time, and turned back to the ship. We never did see Toulon; this was VERY disappointing -- especially when I re-read the ship's prepared information on the port, which clearly stated that we were only “steps away” from downtown Toulon. ARG!
The following day we docked in Villefranche -- a beautiful harbor, lovely homes overlooking the bay. We walked up the hill to catch the bus to Nice. The trains were closed that day due to some small accident. Anyway, it was very easy and cheap – I believe it was around 6 euros roundtrip for all of us. We had a quick visit of Nice (the bus stop is within walking distance of the beach), and then had a bite to eat along the beach. The outdoor restaurants are expensive, but with beautiful views! We got back in time to explore lovely Villefranche and had plenty of time to catch the tender back to the ship in time for dinner. FYI: As you leave the tender, you must exit through a building. You pass right by an information desk, which will provide maps and directions to either the train station or bus station.
Cashless in Pisa
The next day we arrived in Livorno. Getting off the ship was very quick, very efficient. FYI, we just brought our ship cards and copies of our passports for ID. This was all that was ever required to get on and off the ship. The girls opted out of Florence (too dull for the young crowd) so we just took a quick train ride to Pisa. When you leave the train station in Pisa, head straight out, walk through town, and take a left when you get to the old city gates (5 minute walk). You’ll see the Leaning Tower as you turn. We needed to exchange some money and the online connection the banks all used was down. We finally found an exchange place/souvenir shop near the tower that would exchange money for us. This was one really annoying thing about the ship: They only open the exchange desk at specific and VERY limited times throughout the day. So plan ahead if you intend to exchange money onboard.
We returned to the ship by 4 p.m. It became a habit for us to pass through the buffet at the Windjammer Cafe for a late “snack” before getting ready for dinner. There were always good appetizers like tacos and desserts, and the girls knew the locations of all the ice cream machines on deck! The dinners were all great, and the service was wonderful. The staff seemed to dote on us. It’s such a treat to have my daughters happily munching on mozzarella sticks while I’m dining on gourmet items, and the wine steward helps me to pair my meals with just the right wine. Heaven!
Raining in Rome
The next day was Civitavecchia/Rome -- the big day! We set our alarms and got up very early. We zipped thru the Windjammer for a quick buffet breakfast, and were off the ship in no time. We took the free shuttle to get off the pier, then walked the 100 meters to the train station. It takes about an hour to get from Civitavecchia to Rome, so be prepared. Once you arrive in Roma Termini, the metro is right there, and the signs will direct you. We zipped thru the city and saw Trevi Fountain, The Colosseum, the Forum, and the Vatican. Rome is huge, so it’s good to have a reasonable plan and time frame. We were really racing to get all of the above in. But we were glad to do it. Getting back we again took the train. It was a bit more confusing on the return. The train station itself has at least 30 tracks. It’s as large as some airports! We eventually found an information place with a timetable, and we got back to the ship just in time. We were cold and wet (it rained all day) but we quickly changed, got ready for dinner, and saw the lovely lighted view of the city of Civitavecchia from our dinner table as we pulled out of port. We were tired that night, but we still made it to the show. The shows were, in all, pretty good. The one not to be missed is Ole, Ole. They sang Los Lobos songs and danced Flamenco beautifully. They were captivating! Usually after the shows, most of the ship headed off to bed. We were no exception. This itinerary is jammed packed with fascinating ports of call.
The last port of call was Naples, and we were on a mission to see Pompeii. Because we had cut things so close in Rome, I decided to let a taxi driver take us there. It was just a 20-minute ride to the ruins. I had no idea just how large the ruins were. The audio thing that they rent at the museum is a waste. The segments do not match up with the site numbered map that they give you. I did buy a book just outside from a vendor. It was a great thing for the girls -- It had overlays on all photos. So you lift the overlay to see the site as it exists today, then drop the overlay, and it shows you how it would have looked painted and decorated centuries ago. There was a great deal of lavishness about the city. I was really surprised. Try and make it all the way over to the stadium; if you do, you get a much better perspective of the entire city. Pompeii was definitely one of the great sites we visited on this trip. It was fascinating!
That night, with nothing to do the next day, we stayed up for the much anticipated midnight buffet. It was truly beautiful. We were awed to see such a display of edible artwork.
Our last day was finally a relaxing day at sea! With so much to see and do on land, we were really looking forward to sleeping in, and just enjoying the ship. We had a late breakfast, and then the girls decided they wanted to be involved with some of the activities at the kids club. I went off to do a little packing and to read my book on deck. When I picked them up for lunch, they gushed with stories about how much fun they had -- so much so that they wanted to return after lunch. By mid-afternoon, I picked them up, we got in some Bingo (no we didn’t win the $3,000 jackpot), then we were off to fit in some rock climbing and swimming. It was too cold to really enjoy the pool, but the hot tubs were nice. The indoor pool was unfortunately (for us) adults only. That evening -- even though we’d have to be up early the next morning to get off the ship by the mandated 8 a.m. time -- we decided to stay out late. After the show, they had a Karaoke contest – some of the contestants were bad, some were good, and the last guy was so good, he got a standing ovation! After that, they had a dance contest. My girls are not shy, and even though the disco is adults only, they got special permission from the staff to go. We watched the competition; it was pretty fun, the couple we were rooting for won! We all had so much fun, we didn’t want the night to end. We didn’t want the cruise to end. But it did end, and now we’re back home, and already we’re planning our next cruise!