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Old 07-22-2011, 09:04 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by lornak View Post
Wow! An Alaskan cruise and the MV of the Fantasy?! You are starting off big!! That is awesome!! How did you enjoy the Alaska cruise? I would love to try that one! I understand about being hooked on DCL! I can't seem to pick any other kind of vacation!!

Thanks for reading!
Alaska was beautiful! I'd do it again in a heartbeat. The views were awesome and something that can't be described, even with pictures and video! You MUST go!
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Old 07-22-2011, 03:03 PM   #32
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Ok I'm back again tonite, following thus FABULOUS trip of yours!! Before I forget it, can you please post a picture of Cyprian tomorrow, I haven't seen him since 06' and that would be fun!
Ok, here's a picture of us with Cyprian...



We enjoy him so much! He is a wonderful server and very attentive to us!!

I am also going to post a picture of Adrian, our assistant server as in the next few posts I will be picking on him a little bit!! He was quirkly and said some of the funniest things to us....but he grew on us and we really enjoyed him as well!!

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Old 07-22-2011, 06:12 PM   #33
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Wonderful report!
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Old 07-22-2011, 07:53 PM   #34
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I WANT YOUR CAMERA. I am serious. I cannot get over how clear and beautiful these shots are!!! Did you get this camera just for this trip, are you new at this, been using for years, what. What kind is it?

Can't wait for more!!
It's funny you should ask about my camera as I stressed about it for months before the trip! I had always been a SLR shooter...waited until my local photo place wouldn't even print flim before I made the switch to digital!! Not an early adapter here!! When I did get a digital camera I got a nice Nikon point and shoot. I thought I would appreciate having a smaller camera and not lugging around my big camera case all the time. So I bought a Coolpix and was never happy with it. I just never felt the picture quality was what it should be. But I used that for three years....then this trip! I knew it was going to be a once in a lifetime trip and I wanted the pictures to prove it! So I decided to save up to go back to SLR, well, digital SLR.

A big piece of this story is that my sister (yes, the one on the trip with me!) is a professional photographer. She has been helping me along for years and giving me tips, etc. Many of the pictures in this report are hers! She shoots a Nikon D80 or D300?? I'll have to call her and see what itis. But it is a lot more expensive model than mine!!

But lots of these photos are mine and I ended up with a Nikon D3100. I bought it about 2 months before the cruise and started playing with it. I took a class and watched some online videos. But the most important thing I did (in my opinion) is that I rented a GREAT lens for the trip. I got an 18-200 and I feel like it completely changed my pictures. Even Becky was envious of the lens. Now I am saving up for that lens---it is $800 so it may be a while. But I will have it!!!

So there you go....really long answer to your short question!

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Old 07-22-2011, 10:54 PM   #35
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June 21, 2011---Palermo

The alarm went off at 7:30 AM and I could barely get out of bed! Don’t know why I am so tired? Maybe I’m just catching up on general sleep from my life! The ship was cleared at 8:15 AM or so—Kerm ran upstairs to grab coffee and some breakfast. I wasn’t hungry. I think late dinner is throwing me off! We normally eat dinner at home at 5:00 PM. So eating until 10:00 PM at night is keeping me full until lunch time!! We went to deck 1 aft about 8:40 AM and found it closed. Just a few seconds later we heard an announcement that the aft gangway was closed and everyone had to disembark from the forward gangway. So down the hall we went… I was so excited about my first view of Italy! We got off the ship and I saw….


Some big giant industrial silo!!

It was pretty anticlimactic. Actually, all of Palermo was kinda of anticlimactic. But that’s ok! I had directions from Trip Advisor on how to get to the Ballaro market so we set off. We were able to follow a tour group for a while which was really helpful---especially when crossing the streets. It is totally crazy! You basically have to step out into the middle of the street and just hold your hand up to stop traffic! Very nerve wracking! After the tour groups all got on buses we continued on our own. That is when we started being “harassed” by all the tour operators and carriage drivers. These guys were much more aggressive than in Malta. One guy even followed up for several blocks trying to convince us to take a tour. We kept saying “no” and he actually got mad at us. I hated it. From what I have heard I think I would have really hated Tunis! From reports I have read the sales people there are also really pushy. I just don’t like that kind of thing…don’t like haggling for prices or having to turn people down. But I did it and on we walked….

We found the Teatro Politiama and turned left…so far so good.



We were shocked at all the graffiti and trash. Overall the city was dirty and smelly. We did come across a few nice alleyways with some adorable flower and coffee shops. We figured we would come back for a treat after we visited the market.



We walked for almost an hour and still hadn’t seen the train station. Now I am suspicious that we missed it…but we really looked hard! We had seen a smaller open air produce market so we went to check that out. It was all locals and they appeared to be purchasing goods for the day. There were several fruits and vegetables that I had never seen before including these giant things that looked like beans. They also had giant Swordfish (Marlins?) that they were chopping up into round steaks. It was pretty cool to watch it all.






We left the market and kept walking, trying to find the train station. At one point I pulled out a different map and right on it is said the Ballero market was only open on weekends!! I don’t know if that is true as we never found it! But that was pretty much the last straw for us. We were now in a very seedy neighborhood and I was pretty uncomfortable. I told Kerm I thought we should turn around and he agreed. We weren’t looking forward to the 90 minute walk back---through the same streets!! We did follow our map and stop at a few of the main sights on the way back (the theater, the four corners, fountain, etc…). It was strange how there would be a string of dollar stores and junky jewelry places and then right next door would be some gorgeous statue or fountain!!





We stopped after about 30 minutes as I saw a bottle of pretty Moscato in a café window. I had downloaded an iPhone translator app and wanted to give it a try. I typed in a question about purchasing the wine and showed it to the clerk. He read it and smiled and kept saying “si, si”. That was kind of a fun way to “speak” Italian without really know more than a word or two! As he was wrapping up the wine I saw what I thought was arancini (something I had in my notes to try). He said it was so I ordered on and Kermit ordered a coffee. We sat down for a while and enjoyed the break. I liked the arancini---it was a fried ball of rice, filled meat and vegetables. It was interesting and apparently a local dish. Total bill here (including the wine) was E10.



We walked another half an hour then stopped for a gelato. This time we had a local cheese and fruit flavor (Capatta) as well as chocolate in case the Capatta was too strange! But both were very good.



More walking… finally got back to the theater. There were SO MANY tourists now! It was like a different place! When we first walked by it this morning there was no one there---no tourists and no locals.

Before...


Now it was filled with carriages, tour buses and little stands. I think we must have been ahead of the crowds this morning! There was a cute granita stand set up with two guys calling out to customers. I went and got a lemon granita (E2). They were shaving the ice right there and making them from scratch. I asked them if I could take a picture of them and they insisted I get in the photo with them! It was a lot of fun.




Another 30 minutes of walking and we were FINALLY back on the ship. HOORAY!!! We just put on our suits and headed to the pool. We had lunch at Topsiders and basically just chilled. It was great! We met back up with Becky and Brant and heard about their day. They had done the Mondello Beach excursion with Disney and had really enjoyed it. Even though our day wasn’t what we expected I’m still not sure I would have chosen the beach day. First of all, Kermit doesn’t like the beach very much. And secondly, I kind of liked our adventure. I don’t need to repeat it! But it was fun in its own way! We braved the town and ventured out on our own and I know we made all kinds of funny memories just the two of us!

We were all hot and tired and the thought of waiting until 8:30 for dinner was just too much. We ran down to let Cyprian know we wouldn’t be coming to dinner. Becky and Brant worked out while Kermit and I went to the Villains show. I really don’t like that show. It just doesn’t have a plot that holds together. The other shows are so much better in my opinion! But Kermit hadn’t seen it and I wanted to get his opinion…he didn’t care for it either. We headed to Topsiders for dinner. It was nice not to have to wait for a certain time. Service was certainly faster—we were out of there in a hour. But otherwise it was really unremarkable. There isn’t much ambiance up there! Even so, we were in our room by 9:00 which was awesome. Going to bed now so we are well rested in the morning! Can’t believe tomorrow we will be in ROME!!!
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Old 07-23-2011, 12:41 AM   #36
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Fantastic update, and thanks for the picture of Cyprian!! Seriously, he hasn't changed one bit in 6 years. And thanks for the photography info, wow these pictures are outstanding. On to Rome!! Cannot wait.
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Old 07-23-2011, 06:27 AM   #37
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Great updates and lovely photos! Congratulations on your Anniversary.
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Old 07-23-2011, 03:24 PM   #38
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June 22, 2011---ROME!!!

Oh my…where to start!!! This has been the most amazing day!! I didn’t sleep well—kept waking up to make sure I hadn’t overslept! Once again, just too excited!! I got up at 6:30 AM to shower and dress. We went to Topsiders at 7:15 and it was as busy as I have ever seen it! Cyprian told us later that less than 100 people normally stay on the ship in this port. The smallest number of any port on any cruise!! I believe it as I think everyone but those 100 were at Topsiders for breakfast! We docked by 8:00 AM and even though the lines in the stairwells were really long, we got off quickly. By 8:05 AM we were off the ship and almost immediately we saw a driver with our name on a sign (among a LONG line of drivers). Today was one of our big splurges…we had booked a private driver for the entire day. We went over to the driver and said hello. We were surprised to find he didn’t speak English? Another one of the drivers told us that our driver would be taking us out of the port area where we would be picking up our guide. I was surprised by all of this as I thought our driver was our guide? But we hopped in the nice van and off we went. The port area was huge and there were at least 11 ships in port that we could see! Just the walk to get out of the port area would have been very, very long…..we were already glad to have a private driver!! Just outside of security the driver pulled over and picked up a young women who was standing by the side of the road. She got in the van and introduced herself as Lea, our tour guide. Again, I was surprised to have a driver AND a guide, but ok… Franco was the name of our driver and since he didn’t speak any English, Lea translated for him. Lea gave us a quick overview of the day…it sounded AMAZING! She then told us a little about Civitivecchia as well as herself. We made some small talk as we went along and learned she had an archeology degree and had lived in Rome all her life. She is currently in grad school….sounded like all of those things would make her a good guide! Franco got a phone call and then asked us through Lea if we would like him to make us lunch reservations. We said we wanted something authentic but quick! We didn’t want to spend too much time eating when there was so much to see! Franco said this restaurant would be perfect—good food and “reasonable” prices. Plus, Lea told us that with Rome being so busy today (the Pope gives audience on Wednesdays) we should have a reservation. We weren’t sure what “reasonable” prices would be but we said yes, make a reservation!!! Franco made a phone call and set it up for us. Franco was driving very fast and he had Lea ask us if we were comfortable with the “velocity”. He was very concerned about us but we told him we were fine…we were in a hurry to get to Rome, too!! We saw a sign for 4 Kilo to Roma and couldn’t believe we had gotten there in under an hour----but then we hit traffic and it took us another 40 minutes to go those 4 Kilometers!! Our first stop was the Capitoline Hill (very near the Colosseum). Franco dropped us off and Lea gave us a little overview of this area. It was fascinating to think that this is where Caesar Augustus (among others) had their palace! We didn’t tour this area but rather walked into a small ticketing area. Lea marched right up to the front of the line where there was a window for tour guides. She showed her guide badge and we all bought tickets (E12 each to enter the Colosseum). We got more than a few glares from the 200 or so people in line. But we just followed Lea and left the area. We walked across the street and were in front of the Colosseum. Just amazing…I had my real first “pinch myself” moment.





Lea really kicked it into high gear and we got an amazing history lesson. She told us the Colosseum is really just a nickname. The original name for it is Amphitheater. She also told us about how the building came about. The property had originally been a part of Nero’s massive palace complex. But when the next emperor came into power he tore it all down and built the Colosseum for the people. Nero had been such an awful oppressor and he lived in luxery while his people suffered. The next emperor wanted to do something to win back the hearts of the people. There had been a huge statue of Nero (as tall as the Colosseum!!! And it was called “the Colosseus”) but the new emperor tore it down and melted it down. But that is where the Colosseum got it’s nickname—after the statue that had been there! She also told us about the stones and each level--and reminded us that the Colosseum was built by Jewish slaves and financed with Jewish money (things stolen from Solomon’s temple when Titus captured Jerusalem in 70 AD).





We then went inside. The line to buy tickets here was sooooooooooooooo long. We bypassed thousands of people! We had a little wait at the actual turnstiles. Kermit thought this was funny as Lea had just finished telling us that the Romans used to be able to get 100,000 people into the Colosseum and seated in under 10 minutes. He wasn’t impressed with the modern technology and wait times!! The inside was massive and Lea told us who sat on each level, where the animals were kept, what was on the arena floor (wood floor covered with sand to soak up all the blood!) and how there had been public fountains and toilets for everyone. It was all very, very fascinating!!!










Too quickly Lea said it was time to go. We probably spent about 45 minutes there but I could have stayed for hours. We left the area and Lea pointed out a few arches, palace hill and Circus Maximus. Franco met us on the nearby street and off we went to the Forum. Franco dropped us off at the top of the hill and we had a wonderful view of the Forum. Lea was spewing information at the speed of light—all of it so interesting! We were trying to soak it in and keep track of everything! She had this great little book on Rome. Some of the pages were overlays so you could see the ancient ruins and then place the overlays on top of those and see what the buildings originally looked like. We liked it so much both Becky and I ended up buying one before the day was over. It will be fun to show the kids!! We stood at the top of the hill overlooking for Forum for a while. We could see the Colosseum in the distance and it was a really neat view.









We then walked up the street behind us to the Piazza del Campidoglio. A square designed by Michelangelo. (On the way we passed several state police. Lea told us their uniforms were designed by Georgio Armani!!). The square had a beautiful fountain and sculptures.







In the middle of the square was a large bronze statue of Constantine on a horse. Constantine was the first Christian emperor and so the statue was not melted down by the church as the other pagen statues were. But it wasn’t Constantine! Lea told us that about 20 years ago during a restoration it was discovered that this was really a statue of Marcus Aurelius! She said Michelangelo must have known this but didn’t tell the builders when he chose to put it in the square! He didn’t want a masterpiece melted down so he just let everyone think it was Constantine!!



Next we walked down the long, beautiful staircase known as the Cordonata. It is adorned with granite statues of Egyptian lions at the foot and two large classical statues of Castor and Pollux at the top. Off to our right we could see Victor Emmanuel Monument, which is also known as Il Vittoriano. Lea said the locals call this “the wedding cake” due to it’s appearance! But we thought it was lovely!! Lea said this building was “only” 100 years old!! From the same staircase she also showed us Sophia Loren’s apartment!!



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Old 07-23-2011, 03:28 PM   #39
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Rome, continued....

Franco was right at the bottom of the staircase waiting for us! We felt like celebrities with our car pulling up to get us!! Talk about a huge time saver!!! Lea pointed out several other sites to us as we drove to the Trevi Fountain. Traffic got really bad so we just hopped out and walked!! The fountain is a little “surprise” as you walk down a narrow street and then all of a sudden it opens up and there is this square with the LARGE Trevi Fountain! It was lovely but so, so crowded!! We just couldn’t get over how many people were there! Lea got us right up to the front (somehow) where she found a spot for us to all throw in a coin (using our right hand to throw it over our left shoulder!!). Lea said between E3000 – E5000 are collected out of the fountain EVERY DAY!!!










And we’re off again! We drove to the Spanish steps and just took pictures from the car.






We next drove to the Piazza Novona…or almost. The traffic got bad again so we walked the last few blocks. Yet another gorgeous square with statues and fountains galore! Novona is lined with adorable cafes and filled with street vendors. This was another spot where we could have spent hours! But we were committed to seeing as much as we could in an overview fashion and Lea kept us on track!









Our next stop was the Pantheon. We were blown away by the gorgeous structure as well as how well preserved it is! We went inside and saw marvelous sculptures—including the tomb of the artist Raphael. Again, my sister was eating this up! But I was loving it too! There is a large circle opening in the ceiling and it casts the neatest light into the structure. Becky and I tried to capture it with photos---we’ll see how those turn out!










Lea had to drag us out as we were getting close to our lunch reservation time of 12:30. And our Vatican tickets were for 2:00 PM so we really didn’t want to throw off our schedule. We caught up with Franco just outside and drove to the restaurant. Once again, Lea filled our drive by pointing out all kinds of interesting sites and monuments.










We also got our first glimpse of St. Peter’s square on the way to lunch….it was really thrilling!!!



We arrived at the restaurant just after 12:30 and went right in and were seated. Another group from the tour company we used was sitting right next to us so we thought maybe this was a preferred stop for them? Becky and I used the restroom here and it was neat, clean and had toilet paper and soap! I had come prepared just in case though!!! I forgot to write down the name of the restaurant which I know I am going to regret later on! But it was very close to the Vatican. It was a cute, authentic, family run restaurant and the food was wonderful! The food was served family style and we started with pizza, bruchetta, spiced carrots, meatball, zucchini and prosciutto with melons. Everything was delicious but the bruchetta was the best I have ever had! The next course was the pasta course. They served us two kinds. The first was ravioli and the second was some kind of ziti dish. Becky is a vegetarian so they brought her vegetable soup as both pasta dishes had meat in them. Both dishes were great but the ravioli was unbelievably delicious! Brant, Kermit and I all practically licked our plates and agreed that it was the best we had ever had. Lunch also came with unlimited beer, wine and coffee. The price was E20 per person and we thought that was more than reasonable for what we had eaten! We had originally been hesitant to do a sit down lunch as we didn’t want to “waste” time. But in the end we were very happy to have a break from Lea’s blistering pace AND we just loved our lunch!!!!




Last edited by lornak; 07-23-2011 at 03:51 PM.
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Old 07-23-2011, 03:57 PM   #40
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Rome, continued...

We got to the Vatican around 2:30 PM and the line for tickets was even longer than at the Colosseum! It wrapped all the way around the wall! Later, we heard from some other cruisers that the wait for tickets was 2 hours long!!!! It really looked miserable! Lea went to a different line, talked to a guard and then we walked right in! She had to pick up our tickets from a ticket booth and then we proceeded to the entrance. There was another enormous crowd waiting to be let into the square and museums. Lea said to follow her so we did. We walked next to all of the crowds, through the bookstore and up some back steps. We ended up right at the entrance turnstiles. I figure Lea saved us at least 3 hours in those 10 minutes after we first arrived!!! Once we got in we walked through hall after hall of amazing paintings, frescos, tapestries and sculptures. It was literally wall to wall people and quite hot. I have been to Disney World in the summer and it was much more crowded here!













In the courtyard Lea showed us pictures of each of the ceiling panels in the Sistine Chapel. Tour guides aren’t allowed to speak in the chapel so she gave us a great overview before we went in. She also showed us a board with a replica of “The Last Judgment”. She pointed out many interesting things to look for. We thought the most interesting one was a portrait Michelangelo had done of someone he didn’t like---he had put him in hell! We felt like we had a decent handle on the Sistine Chapel before we headed in.









When we finally got in to the real thing it was PACKED. I mean the you can’t even move if you want to kind of packed! It also cracked me up because people were bumping into each other as everyone is looking up!! It really was a wonder though. The ceiling is truly magnificent and we enjoyed finding many of the details Lea had pointed out earlier. I was a little surprised at the size…the chapel itself was smaller than I was expecting. It was supposed to be silent in there but there were way too many people for that. Since there was so much noise Lea went ahead and told us about a few more details. I couldn’t help but think of Michelangelo laying on his back for YEARS painting the ceiling. Each panel is amazing and so beautiful. I know it is an understatement, but wow, was he talented!!!! There are also many, many other fabulous works of art around the entire perimeter of the chapel. Becky commented that if any ONE of those paintings was in a museum in the US it would be the centerpiece attraction. Here, people didn't even look at them!!! We didn’t stay too long—no time to linger!! As we were leaving we saw a very funny sign in front of the stairwell. I guess it meant please walk down the stairs—don’t fall?!?!



Next, we were in St. Peter’s Square. There were all kinds of chairs set up from an event earlier in the day. It was fun to see this space that I have seen in so many pictures and movies! We also saw a few of the Swiss Guard and Lea told us about their history with the Vatican.







Finally, we wrapped things up with St. Peter’s Basillica. Wow. Amazing. Huge. Gorgeous. Honestly, it made St. John’s look like a dump---which we know was not!!! I just have never seen anything like it!!!! I really have no words to describe it. And to think that St. Peter was buried there was really remarkable…the whole thing was remarkable!!













Too soon it was time to go. It was 4:30 PM and we met up with Franco just outside of the Vatican (but not before doing the obligatory one foot in one country and the other foot in another stop!!!). We also met the owner of the tour company who had stopped by to make sure we were ok! We made a mad dash into the Vatican giftshop and then we were on our way back to Civitavecchia. We had mentioned to Lea that we would like some gelato if there was time and also a local bottle of wine. We ended up stopping at a gas station which we all thought was very “local” and funny! Franco helped me choose a bottle of wine but alas, there was no gelato! We had really enjoyed Franco all day and worked hard to speak with him. At the gas station he picked up a “How to Speak English” course and proudly showed it to us. Lea told us that he had decided to learn English so he could interact with customers in the future (he had just left being a cab driver and had started working as a private tour driver). She said we had motivated him to learn!!! We thought it was darling!

We were back at the port just after 6:00 PM. We took pics together and then tipped Lea E60 and Franco E30. Hope that was enough!??! Had no idea what to do with that!!



A DCL rep met our van and asked us which dinner seating we had. When we told him we had late dinner he said that was great and they would be ready for us. I am assuming he was telling people with early dinner how/where they could eat. They seemed very prepared for late comers. Just outside of the ship we ran into Italian Mickey, Pluto and Goofy. It was fun to get a few character pictures.







Back on the ship we ordered a cheese plate and cracked open the Moscato from Palermo---YUCK! It was gross. I guess that is just one more thing about Palermo we didn’t like! We had another bottle from Malta so we drank that instead. It was much better and we enjoyed sitting around trying to debrief from the day. We saw so much and took in so much information! We all just loved it and can’t imagine having had a better day!!!!

Kerm and I went to dinner in PC. Becky and Brant had room service. We told Cyprian how tired we were and the service was really fast! We were totally done and back in our room by 9:30 PM! It was an amazing day. I think I have to say one of the best of my LIFE! I can’t believe what I saw and the history that it represented!!! The private tour was worth every penny and more! I can’t imagine having done this any other way!!!! Truly fabulous!!!!

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Old 07-23-2011, 05:08 PM   #41
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Great update - you got to see so much in Rome! We are really excited to visit in a few weeks (we are going on one of the 7 day DCL Med cruises!) Your photos are brilliant.
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Old 07-23-2011, 06:53 PM   #42
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What tour did you use? Sounds wonderful so far!!
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Old 07-23-2011, 08:14 PM   #43
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What tour did you use? Sounds wonderful so far!!
We used Romelimostours for both Rome and Naples. We were very happy with them!!

Interestingly, Lea told us that she just does "contract" tours for them. She is not normally one of their guides. I was right when I thought we had booked a driver/guide (one person). But she said that the company was so busy the day we were in town that they hired her, along with a separate driver. For the first 10 minutes I was disappointed as we had requested a specific driver and been told we would have him. However, we quickly realized that we got a WAY better set up with the driver and a guide. Lea got out with us at every stop and gave us personal tours everywhere. If we would have had the driver/guide that we actually booked he would have just dropped us off at places like the Colosseum, Forum, etc... In fact, in Naples, that is exactly the way it worked. It was still very nice but what we got with Lea with just over the top fabulous and so much more than we would have gotten with a driver who couldn't leave the vehicle!!!

Last edited by lornak; 07-23-2011 at 09:04 PM.
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Old 07-23-2011, 10:46 PM   #44
jedijill
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Great report! I'm reliving my 11 night cruise from last year. It was FABULOUS!!!! The extra sea day in the middle is a must!

Tunis was interesting. I'm glad I went there (now I can say I've been to Africa) and saw Carthage but the souk was awful. The area was dirty and people were just very pushy (just the culture but made me uncomfortable). I've never heard good things about Palermo.

Can't wait to read the rest.

Jill in CO
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Old 07-24-2011, 05:39 AM   #45
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Sounds like you had an incredible day - the tour definitely sounded worthwhile!
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