This was a 12 day largely Adriatic cruise beginning in Venice and ending in Rome.
We flew into Venice via JKF and arrived early Wednesday afternoon. It took about 40 minutes to clear customs and collect luggage. We hopped on the ATVO bus and had a 20 minute ride to Piazzale Roma (8 Euro each). We had to carry our luggage across one bridge to the Olimpia Hotel, a nicely remodeled old building with either canal or wonderful garden views. We bought Vaporetto (water bus) two day passes and got 120 Euro worth of rides for 60. We were supposed to meet a walking tour that kept changing locations and the last location we were given didn't pan out. At least, we hadn't paid in advance. Instead, we rode the Vaporetto down the Grand Canal (a must do) to St. Mark's Square. The crowds were always big on both the boats and at St. Marks. We took the Vaporetto back to our hotel and went to Campo Santa Margherita (a big un-touristy plaza). We had a nice dinner and some wine at Osteria Do Torri. Thursday featured rain showers. We left the hotel and checked onto the ship. Check-in was virtually a walk through. After lunch aboard, we returned to St. Mark's Square where we had skip-the-line entry tickets (2 Euro - online). While waiting our turn, we visited the Correr Museum where we bought a joint ticket also good for the Doges Palace (skip-the-line again). We then did our tour of St. Marks. It's a cattle call. You get run through the whole church in about 10 minutes with no pictures allowed. I've seen better church interiors a dozen times. In my view, it would not be worth a 45 minute wait in line. The next morning we came back and did the Doges Palace (a must see). We then went to the famous Rialto Bridge. There is no canal view when you are on the bridge - it's blocked by shops and the crowds near the bridge are terrible. The sail-away in Venice was spectacular. It takes about an hour and there is much to see from 90 feet in the air. We were in Aqua Class and ate almost all of our meals in Blu. David, the maître d', is fantastic. He is one of the most service oriented people I've ever met. Plus, he leads from the front. He even bussed tables if the staff needed the help. Jelzko, the sommelier, was terrific. He could recommend a good wine for almost any dish. The rest of the Blu staff were first rate. I have zero complaints about any of the service we got in Blu. My only complaint about Blu would be some of the menus. Some days there were three or four great entrees on the menu. Other days there would be one or zero. I suggested to David that better balance could be achieved. Blu could also add a few more menus to create an element of surprise at dinner. When you done a few cruises in Aqua Class, you can almost predict the next evenings menu. Our cabin stewards, Romeo and Paul were excellent. Our only problems were with the TV not responding to the remote control and the problem was promptly fixed.
Ports: My wife and I like history. You will see that bias in this review. We don't hang out on the beach or do much shopping. If those are you interests, you should skip the rest of this review. Koper: They aren't cruise ship ready yet in Koper. There is little to do there so we had arranged a guided tour of Piran. It's a very well preserved city with heavy Venetian influence about 40 minutes down the coast. I would rate it as worth the money and time. Ravenna: This is pay dirt. We had a wonderful guide from Shore.Excursions who picked us up at the pier. Our group was only 16. We saw several of the old churches and Dante's tomb. The mosaics were fantastic. They were so brilliant that they looked like they were glued up yesterday. Our guide was able to explain them in serious detail as to their religious and political importance. She has the same skill that my ancient history professor had: She made these people seem like they had been her next door neighbors. Zadar: We had hired a young man for just us. He was a good driver but didn't know much history. Zadar has a few Roman ruins and a few churches, We had a nice lunch on shore. It was pizza because of the Venetian influence. Realistically, Zadar is doable in about a two hour stop and should be considered a minor port. Split: We had a good tour of Diocletian's Palace. He had it built near his birthplace after he abdicated as Roman Emperor. The guide was from Viator and knew her stuff. Unfortunately, for us, it rained almost the whole time we were on shore or we would have done more following our guided tour. Kotor: My wife had to do this alone. She was in a group of five with a local guide and enjoyed a two hour tour. Before we left home, I had developed an infection. During the cruise, I developed an uncommon but quite nasty side effect of the medication I had been taking. The ship's surgeon was able to help me but I had several unpleasant days. Dubrovnik: Except for the terrible crowds, it was excellent. We did the mountain cable cars, Old Town and the city walls, Because of the crowds it took 5 1/2 hours and was exhausting. We had a very good tour guide from Viator. Our skipper told us that our day in Dubrovnik was probably the most crowded day of the year. Seven cruise ships and a national holiday did it. Malta: Mdina is the a well preserved medieval city. Few cars are allowed in it. It has a lot of gothic and baroque buildings. We had a one hour walk-around which was worth the time. The gem is in Valletta. St. John's co-cathedral is really different. It has about 50% of the walls and ceiling covered in 18 carat gold. The interior just glows in spite of its rather small windows. Plus, it has Caravaggio's "Beheading of St. John the Baptist". It's a huge painting and it is Caravaggio's only signed work. The Grandmaster's palace is so-so with only a handful of rooms not undergoing restoration. The Barrakka Gardens give you a terrific view of the harbor. Both Mdina and Valletta were fairly crowded. A winter visit would be recommended. Catania, Sicily: This was the low point of the trip. It has several good churches and part of a Roman amphitheater. The city is built of mostly dark volcanic stone and hasn't been cleaned for 300 years. The only reasonably clean place we saw was the gelato joint we went into. There is obviously no "Pride of place." Salerno: A pretty town set at the foot of a mountain range on the Amalfi coast. I could immediately see why the western allies had such a difficult time landing here in September of '43. We took a tour bus to Pompeii. There are lots of good things to see in Pompeii, but the crowds were wretched. Our tour guide told us if we didn't want the crowds we should come between November and March. We had a late lunch on the beach in a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant. We had good pizza, but it wasn't as good as in New York. Surprisingly, no pizza on the trip was as good as New York pizza which is the best in the USA. Rome: We took a bus into Rome. It is a madhouse. We stayed at a B&B in a quiet residential neighborhood. It was reasonably priced, the room was modern, and large by Rome standards. It was also only 500 feet from a subway stop. The Rome subway is nearly as crowded as Tokyo. This was the first time in my life that we had to wait for a second train in order to board. Plus, the cars are inundated with graffiti (even the windows) as were many buildings. On day one we did Vatican City. One could spend days in the Vatican Museum. We were overdosed on antiquities and walked through in about 1 1/2 hours. While the Sistine chapel was jammed with people, it was a wonderful experience. In my view it's better than St. Peter's Basilica which is so big that it feels beyond human scale. The lines to get into the Vatican Museum (we had timed entry for the museum - four Euro extra) and St. Peter's weren't awful. We followed Rick Steves' advice of coming later in the day for St. Peters. On day two, we did the Forum and the Coliseum. The Forum surprised me with its huge extent. We spent more time in the Forum than we did in the Coliseum. Both are well worth the time. On day three, we had lunch cooked by a local in her friend's apartment. It's the first time we had Bucatini. We spent several enjoyable hours learning how to cook the dish, drinking Sardinian wine, and exchanging cultural and political views. My wife wasn't feeling well and had very sore feet, so we took it easy for the rest of the third day hanging around the local neighborhood. Our last day we headed for the airport early given it's terrible reputation for delays and hassles. We got to our boarding gate in 45 minutes. That put us two hours ahead of flight time. Go figure. They are concerned about security. We had to show our passports five times. Finally, I'll mention the unsettling part of the cruise. I'm a former hospital administrator, so I've been schooled in the importance of insuring the privacy of patient information. After my recovery from my medication side effects, I went to sick bay and requested my medical records for my insurance plan and regular doctor. It took several follow up trips to customer service to actually get them in hand. I did a cursory check and packed them for the trip home. When I got home and went to submit the records to my health plan, I found another patient had their record mixed in with mine. I immediately called Celebrity and informed them what had happened. I asked to be contacted by someone in authority who could tell me how Celebrity would improve its medical record processing to reduce the probability that events like this would happen in the future. I told Celebrity that if I got a good explanation of process improvement, I would feel no need to mention this event in the review. This is day seven with no response from Celebrity, so into the review the event goes. In accordance with patient information protection policies, I shredded the other patient's record as soon as I completed the call to Celebrity. Other than the patient medical record issue, the overall cruise was excellent.
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