Hi all! Since CruiseCritic was so helpful to me in planning this trip, I wanted to share our experience as well for those planning. Day 1 and day 2 we were in Rome on our own and scheduled our own tours. I highly recommend this as it was so educational and efficient. We were harassed so badly at the Colosseum by tour and skip the line peddlers since we did NOT have a tour, that we left. The people were RELENTLESS. Even after saying no multiple times, they followed us around until my husband finally had to get loud with them to leave us alone.
I had a lot of questions about spending money before we left so I wanted to share our spending. We barely spent anything on the ship except for laundry and Starbucks and in port usually spent €50-€150 per day EXCLUDING tours because I had already prepaid all of that. We have 4 people, 2 adults and 2 daughters, ages 11 and 13. We ate at sit-down restaurants so you could spend less if you wanted to eat differently. We spent about $2000 USD in 14 days (in Rome pre-cruise, on ship and in port, and last final day in Rome post-cruise. This includes what I withdrew in euros.
I didn’t think pickpocketing was nearly as much of an issue as you read online, or finding bathrooms (except in Greece, the metro had no readily available bathrooms which I found surprising). I didn’t have to pay for any restrooms except in Naples and Florence area. It was €.50-€1 to use the restrooms (Pompei and Leaning Tower of Pisa area both charged so you will need cash for this).
Also, most DID expect tips in Greece. Santorini #1 industry is tourism and I have no problem tipping. I ended up tipping 10% at most restaurants and tours in Greece. In Rome at restaurants, we just rounded up.
Restaurants asked me if I wanted to add tip to my credit card charge as there is no line for it be added after transaction is complete. In Italy, tipping was less expected, except in Florence. Florence restaurant had line for tip and gelato stands as well had tip jars. As I state below, Florence city center seems like a tourist trap and I did not feel this way in other areas we visited.
I find it interesting that people see tipping as unnecessary in Italy due to people being paid living wages, yet our guides told us people in this region make on average €17,000 per year and tourism is a lot of these places #1-#2 industry. Maybe someone on these boards from Italy knows why? I’m genuinely just curious.
Rome cabs took us to hotel from airport (we tipped €5 due to baggage handling) and we tipped our Rome cabs drivers hotel to cruise port €10. It is a personal preference of course, just wanted to share my personal experience.
The language barrier was not an issue in most places we visited, probably because we were on tours. Most people we interacted with at tours and our pasta making class told us they liked doing things in English so their English gets stronger. We learned a few key phrases to be respectful although it was not necessary, most immediately started speaking to us in English. Most people we have interacted with have been so wonderful and friendly! Naples and Florence I would say less people spoke English than the Greek islands, Malta, Rome and Sicily.
I am so glad we did a cruise to see this beautiful region because the minimal use of air conditioning in Europe with 90-97 degree days was rough for us used to daily AC use in the summer :)
The Norwegian Jade was a great ship with the exception of limited activities. I felt there was much more to do on our Disney cruises. The actual ship, service and food was great. My family are all great cooks (not me; but the others I was traveling with) and they had NO complaints which is extremely rare. The service in main dining rooms (Alizar, Grand Pacific and O’Sheehan’s pub) was pretty slow so we only ate at Alizar twice and O’Sheehan’s twice. Garden cafe buffet was great and always had high quality food. The coffee isn’t great so if you’re used to strong coffee, you may have to frequent starbucks! Java Cafe brews Starbucks so I frequented there (extra charge plus gratuity. Prices were completely fair and same as Starbucks at home.
Mandara Spa facilities were mediocre (massage room had fluorescent lighting on the whole massage and a hand towel to cover where your face goes which was pretty rough in texture). The massage itself was great though.
The kids clubs aren’t great and my kids didn’t really want to go. This is a port intensive cruise so it wasn’t a big deal, but if you had a lot of sea days it would be tough. On the days we were back on the ship early (2p-8p) there was not much to do activity-wise.
Laundry days were days 4 and 8 on the ship and back by the next day or the day after (one of my loads came back next day and one came back 2 days later) and it was $19.95 for an entire bag. The bags are paper so they rip easily. Also, I would not put any delicates in even with a mesh laundry bag (I did the mesh bag I brought from home and my stuff came back fuzzy).
-checked into The K Boutique hotel. AC did not work in our room at all for our 2 night stay.
-Went to colosseum (not inside, skip the line tickets too expensive and too hot)
-Dinner in Rome
-City Wonders Extended Vatican tour with Bramante Staircase
-Pasta making class with Walks of Italy (our chefs were Luca and Francesco) where we made homemade ravioli and fettuccini with two different sauces, and homemade gelato was made by them while we ate the delicious food they taught us to make. HIGHLY recommend! They taught us a lot about Italian food and authentic vs American version
Day 3-Took Rome cabs to Civitavecchia and boarded Norwegian Jade
Day 4-Sea day
Day 5-Santorini, Greece-NCL excursion to Perivolos Beach. Black lava rock “sand”. I would definitely recommend water shoes to wear at this beach as the sand is very hot. Mera Beach bar serves food and drinks
Day 6-Athens, Greece-We had a tour planned with Athens Walks for 9a-11a of the Acropolis. We had planned to take metro to the meeting point of “Acropolis metro station”. Unfortunately; unbeknownst to us, the metro was a good 20 min walk from where Norwegian Jade docked and I had originally read on someone else’s review that metro was “right near metro and just a few steps away” from port. Well, it was not in our situation so we ended up missing the tour. The metro required getting off one line and onto another and took us one hour to get from where we docked, to the Acropolis metro station. Our tour had left by that point although a man from Athens Walks stayed behind to sell us our “skip the line” entrance tickets to Acropolis for €20. We hiked up the top on our own and never did catch up with our tour which was fine because it was incredibly hot and crowded. I would recommend doing a skip the line Acropolis and then not doing a formal tour. It’s easy enough to do on your own. Then, we walked around to a place to eat, walked to Temple of Zeus and town of Plaka; we took a cab back to the port around 1:30p due to extreme heat, we were all tired.
Day 7-Mykonos, Greece-Kalaftis Beach transfer (NCL excursion 9a-12:30p)-€20 euros for one umbrella near back of beach (our umbrella had 3 chairs under it and the girl told us it would only be €20 even though bus who drove us here said it would be €30 for 2 chairs so always ask the actual people working the beach), and €50 euros for 2 chairs near water in front of restaurant/bar (quite expensive since Santorini chairs and umbrellas were free with purchases of drinks and food from Mera Beach bar). You are able to use Aphrodite Hotel bathroom which is directly behind beach, across the street. The area closer to the restaurant has showers, changing rooms and bathrooms. The sand here is much more forgiving. It’s still more pebbly than sandy, but less rough than Santorini. The water here is absolutely beautiful and clear. Mykonos was more developed than Santorini and very beautiful.
Since we were on an NCL excursion, the bus gave us option to be dropped off in town and then take NCL shuttle back to ship.
Day 8-Chania (Crete), Greece-this was an extremely short port day (7a-12p) and we didn’t feel like getting up early so I stayed on ship. My husband and family got off and it looks like a really beautiful area.
Day 9-Valletta, Malta-We did the hop on hop off Malta bus NCL excursion just so we could get around easily and see what we wanted. We docked at Laboratory Wharf Berth and boat shuttle was offered to cross over to Valletta cruise port although since we had our excursion we didn’t need to do that until the way back since the Hop On Hop off ends in Valletta. We got off the bus at San Anton Gardens and got back on until the stop for Mosta. The Mosta costs 2 euros to enter. (we skipped a couple stops that weren’t interesting to us). Next, we went to Mdina. We took a horse drawn tour for 35 euros and it was well worth it. The driver gave us the history and it was a nice breezy ride. Then, back on the bus to Valletta and back to the ship via water shuttle! Make sure to get off at bus stop for “port” instead of city center (our driver told us to get off at city center, and yes you can walk to the Port of Valletta but it is about 15-20 minutes and my grandmother has mobility issues which made it a challenge)
Day 10-Messina, Sicily-We did an NCL excursion “Italy Taormina & Sicilian Vineyard” which took us to the town of Taormina first to walk around and see the sights with our tour guide, Renata. It included the Greek theater and entrance fees were included in tour price. We then had one hour to walk around on our own until meeting back at the bus at 11:50am. Then, off to the Sicilian vineyard (Gambino vineyard) for lunch and wine tasting. The educational part was about 30 min with tour of wine cellar. Then, onto food! The appetizer was a plate of different cheeses, a few olives, 3 red peppers and a portobello mushroom. They also had hard boiled eggs and bread on the table. The second course was cured meats. Luckily, we ate some Sicilian pizza in Taormina!! I don’t drink, so luckily one of my family members took my samples that were given :) There were 4 different types of wine and the family says they were very good. It is an hour 20 minute ride back to the port from the vineyard. This excursion is well worth it IMO.
Day 10-Naples, Italy-Pompeii Excavations NCL excursion. It’s about a 48 minute ride from cruise port to Pompeii and it’s a 4 1/2 hour excursion including travel time. It includes a guided tour of the excavations. Our guide was Marcello and he was great (degree in archaeology). We stopped at a cameo factory on the way to Pompeii because apparently it is a requirement for certain tours (some said it’s required by government?). We were able to use the restrooms though so that was nice. There are also restrooms outside the entrance and inside the entrance (outside cost €.50-this was first time I had to pay for restroom entire trip). It was an absolutely amazing sight to see and well worth having a tour guide to know what everything is. It was brutally hot the day we went (98 Fahrenheit), but overall worth it to see this historical archaeological site.
Day 11-Livorno, Italy-Florence and Pisa-We did a private van tour for 8 hrs to take us to Leaning Tower of Pisa, Michelangelo Square in Florence as well as going to see Accademia Gallery to see statue of David. We went to Florence city center. Florence city center was a tourist trap IMO. There were no posted prices for gelato and we paid €18 for 2 gelato!!! This is the only place we’ve experienced some “tourist pricing”. We have bought gelato almost every day and it is €2-3. Lots of high end shops here such as Gucci, Prada, etc., as well as many people selling souvenir and leather goods.
We used “Nicola Scovenna Travel Experiences to Italy” (Diego and Maria were our guides). Highly recommend!
Day 12-tomorrow we disembark-Rome Cabs back to Rome for the day and fly home the next day, day 13 from FCO