A Planner's Guide to 10 Nights in the Western Mediterranean w/kids ages 5 & 8 | COMPLETED July 2019

gstdog

DIS Lurker
Joined
Jun 24, 2018
Hello everyone! Our family just got back from the Disney Magic that sailed 10-nights from Barcelona on June 29, 2019. It was an amazing trip, and I'm happy to share our experience with everyone.

QUICK LINKS:

OUR FAMILY: We sailed with our family of four, including myself, my wife (DW), my 8-year-old son (DS), and my 5-year old daughter (DD). We enjoyed cruises in the past, but we were a little worried about doing a longer cruise. My wife and I have sailed three times on the Disney Wonder over the past 20 years, all 3-nights in the Caribbean sailing out of Port Canaveral, but that was just the two of us before kids. We also did a 5-night cruise on Royal Caribbean sailing out of Tampa once, and vowed to never stray from Disney again (...it was *fine* but we missed the level of service and magic that you get from a Disney experience).

Once our DD turned 5 years old, we knew we wanted to start traveling international with them, and the Disney Cruise offered the perfect opportunity to expose them to new cultures and experience while offering a home base they would enjoy. Plus, my DW has an admittedly irrational fear of water, and was finally comfortable that at 5 years old, our DD could be trusted to follow directions and stay out of trouble on the ship. DS and DD are both well-behaved and good travelers. They can be in the car on long drives without complaining, and are okay to do long walks. Earlier in the year, we hiked up a mountain on a 6-mile trail, so we felt they could survive the ports in Europe.

OUR CRUISE: We sailed on the Disney Magic that started in Barcelona for 10-nights from Barcelona on June 29. You can see the itinerary below:

DayDatePortAshoreOnboard
Saturday29-Jun-19BARCELONA1:00 PM
Sunday30-Jun-19AT SEA
Monday1-Jul-19NAPLES7:30 AM6:00 PM
Tuesday2-Jul-19CIVITAVECCHIA7:00 AM6:45 PM
Wednesday3-Jul-19AJACCIO8:30 AM4:45 PM
Thursday4-Jul-19LIVORNO7:00 AM6:45 PM
Friday5-Jul-19GENOA7:00 AM7:00 PM
Saturday6-Jul-19AT SEA
Sunday7-Jul-19VILLEFRANCHE7:30 AM5:45 PM
Monday8-Jul-19MARSEILLES8:30 AM4:45 PM
Tuesday9-Jul-19BARCELONA7:00 AM

THIS GUIDE: This review is really for those who want to venture out and explore the ports on their own. In the eight ports that we visited, we only booked one Disney excursion (and my DW forced me to do that...more on that later). I'll provide as much information as I can on the logistics and timing of using taxis, buses, and trains at each port to reach your destination, and the independent companies we used for guides when we wanted to have a local help show us around. I found old trip reports on DisBoards to be invaluable, so I wanted to add to that collection for future travelers. I also cannot recommend enough the book Rick Steve's Mediterranean Cruise Ports as well as TomsPortGuides.com as two excellent resources for researching ports.

What this guide isn't really going to focus on is the experience on the Disney Magic itself. While I'll certainly share my thoughts on how amazing the ship is and our experience, I just didn't take as detailed notes. When I was in port, I was a man on a mission to make sure my family had an amazing time, stayed safe, and made it back to the ship in one piece...and on time! When I was on the ship, my brain checked out and just went with the flow...and it was wonderful!

MINI REVIEW: The experience was every better than I could have possible imagined. DW joined the Facebook group for our sailing and was shocked that so many people were already booking their next cruise. On the flight home from Barcelona, she demanded to know when our next one would be. I could give the experience a 10/10. The Disney Magic and crew were amazing and felt like home. After spending a long day in port, the moment we walked up the gangway and stepped back onto the ship, you could feel the stress disappear and just relax again, knowing that everything was taken care of.

The eight ports we visited were amazing. In Naples, we toured the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii with a private driver. In Civitavecchia, we took the train into Rome and met up with a private guide that walked us around the city. In Ajaccio, we took a bus to a local beach and had a great day swimming. In Livorno, we left the kids on the ship and must me and DW took the Disney bus to Florence where we met a private guide to tour the city. In Genoa, we took the train to Camogli and had an amazing beach day. In Villegrance, we took the train to Nice and explored the city on our own. In Marseilles, we took the bus to Aix-en-Provence and met a private guide to tour the city. Finally in Barcelona, we had a private driver give a tour of the city before dropping us at the airport to go home that day. Each port was amazing in its own way, so it's hard to rank them. That said, Rome was definitely the hardest given the heat and walking.

More to follow. I'll post detailed on each port and day at sea in the days to follow. Thanks!
 
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dvcgirl1

Disney dreaming
Joined
Aug 30, 2010
Love the way you've started this so far...look forward to reading all about your trip, as this is a cruise my DH and I are looking at for our 30th anniversary next year! (Have sailed on DCL 15 times, but never the Med, or for more than 7 days).
 

gstdog

DIS Lurker
Joined
Jun 24, 2018
AIRLINE PLANNING: Finding good flights from Orlando to Barcelona was probably the most challenging aspect of our vacation. I found the best prices were with Norwegian Airlines, but we had to get creative with the flights. Flying out of Orlando on the day I wanted was okay, but coming back had a heinous 12-hour layover that just didn't work for me. I was excited to find a roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale since they offered a direct flight to Barcelona. Unfortunately, I didn't listen to everyone's advice and booked our flight to arrive at 12:55 pm in Barcelona the day of our cruise, which only gave us 3 hours to make it to the port and little room for error. I talked myself into that being okay, since it only took 30 minutes to get from the airport to the cruise port, so it would be okay if the plane was delayed. Plus, how often are international direct flights delayed, right?

Well, after two weeks and hearing literally everyone tell me I was crazy, I started to do some more research. I found a website called airportia.com that has the history for each flight. Here is what I found:




The flight is delayed nearly half the time! I'm a bit of a gambler and was willing to bet we would still be okay even if it was delayed. However, I know that DW likes to play it safe. She would be in a near panic for the entire week leading up to the trip, and she wouldn't be able to enjoy the flight. So I relented and worked with Norwegian to book a flight a day earlier, which means we'd depart on June 27 and arrive in Barcelona on June 28 and have a full buffer day to adjust to jet lag AND create a back-up plan if our flight was canceled. The good news? I found a flight directly out of Orlando with only a four-hour layover in London. Given that it's a 3-hour drive to Fort Lauderdale, I was willing to make that swap easy! The bad news, is that despite the fact that the fares were not more expensive, I got hit with $500 in change fees from the airline. Moral of the story? Book a flight to get in at least a day early. Trust me...it's worth it!

BTW, you can see that my original flight would have arrived on June 29 at 1:31 pm, giving us 2.5 hours to make it to port. Still, that cancelation on June 21 is new. I didn't see that before I made my decision, and that would have made me a nervous wreck to know that that's even a possibility!! I'm glad we switched, not only for peace of mind, but because my family was definitely 'cranky' when we arrived. Having a buffer day really helped let everyone get some sleep and shower before the first day of our cruise.

One more note about flying international on Norwegian. Their published rates are all the LowFare rate, which only offers a carry-on bag and you cannot pick seats. You can book a LowFare+ rate which includes a carry-on bag, one checked bag, seat reservations (so you can sit together), and a pre-purchased meal. The rate difference was about $100 per person, but its worth it since adding seat reservations alone can cost you about $20-40, a meal is another $10-15, and a checked bag is $100+ for international flights. If you see any bad reviews of Norwegian, it's usually because people don't read the fine print:
  1. The MAX weight of your carry-on is 10kg, or 22 pounds. Your carry-on includes BOTH a purse/backpack that can fit under the seat in front of you AND a roller bag/duffel bag that goes in the overhead. However, the COMBINED weight of those two bags must be under 22 lbs. So when you check the weight at home, be sure to look at them combined. I saw people redistributing clothes and personal items among bags at the airport because they will be strict about this. Also, the dimensions they post for the overhead luggage is smaller than most airlines, so make sure you get out your measuring tape.
  2. The MAX weight of your checked-bag is 20kg, or 44 pounds. This one is easier, but again be prepared to weigh your bag before you go.
  3. If you don't pre-purchase a meal, they will NOT have one for you on the plane. They only bring on meals for people who bought them, so there were plenty of upset people on the plane that found out they'd have to by snacks for dinner since there were no extra hot meals for purchase.
PHONE PREP and GOOGLE MAPS: I'm a Sprint user, so there is no option for me to turn on mobile data while in Europe. There are a lot of options for international travel, so if you can get mobile data, you'll be fine. However, if you are like me, you need a solution that works without a cell signal or when you can't trust you can find free Wi-Fi. Google Maps offers the ability to download a map offline, and then you can access it while in airplane mode. The good news is that your GPS on your phone is completely independent from needed either a cell signal or a Wi-Fi signal.

For each city we were going to visit, I marked Google maps with all the places we wanted to go (e.g., hotel, cruise port, bus and train stations, cathedrals, restaurants with good reviews, etc.). You just click on the place in Google Maps, and then click on the "Save" icon. It will provide the option to make it as a Favorite, Want to Do, or Starred Place. Then, on your phone, under the setting you click on "Offline Maps" and make the download. You can adjust the boundaries of the map you want to download, and then you are all set.



The good news is that when you are offline, the "blue dot" with your location will update real-time. That means instead of having to walk around with a map and look like tourist, you can just use your phone to make sure you are going in the right direction. Also, your offline map is searchable. So if you get a recommendation for a place to see from a local, you can search for it and mark it as another Starred Place on your map even while your are offline. I highly recommend playing around with this feature in your hometown first so you get a sense of how it works. This made traveling SO much easier for us.

JET LAG TRAINING: I'm proud of this one! I was worried how the kids would respond to a 6-hour change in time zones, especially since they can't seem to handle daylight savings time adjustments. When I was younger, 'Fall Back' was the best because you got an extra hour of sleep, right? With kids, NOPE! They wake up an hour earlier and come barging into my bedroom at 5:30 am. o_O

So I made it a game with them and starting the week of our trip, I told them we had to start training. Their normal time to get up was at 6:30 am, so I woke them up at 6:00 am on Tuesday, 5:30 am on Wednesday, and 4:30 am on Thursday -- the day of our flight. Their prize for getting up early? Pancake party and watching movies. It also meant moving their bedtime earlier and putting up black-out curtains in their room. The result? They actually did great adjusting to the new time zones! (...and so did me and DW). Definitely worth doing this for your own sake, but especially younger children.

DAY 0 - FLYING TO BARCELONA: A quick note on packing. Since there were four of us, we decided to check four bags--one big roller, two standard rollers, and one larger duffel bag. For carry-ons, the kids each had a small kid-sized roller and a drawstring backpack as a personal item, DW had a smaller duffel bag and a purse, and I had a backpack and a smaller slingback. That may feel a little excessive, but we wanted to make sure we had room for souvenirs on the way home. Plus, we wanted to make sure we maximized what we brought on the plane in case any checked luggage was lost or delayed. We also brought two booster seats for the kids since we had some private cars planned. Be sure you check the car seat laws in the countries you are visiting. Taxis are exempt, but private tours and limos are not!

Our flight left Orlando at 5:10 pm and the family was excited. Our flight was delayed by about an hour, but we had a 4-hour layover in London, so I wasn't too worried. That said, the kids were losing their mind trying to understand why weren't getting on the plane yet. "Dad, you said we'd get on the plane at 4:30" "Yes DD, I know that's what I said, but it's delayed". So imagine that...but repeated every five minutes. :headache:

We were finally on the plane and in the air. Each seat had its own TV and USB port, which was helpful for charging phones and keeping the kids entertained. Dinner was....decent. It's airline food and nothing spectacular, but our whole family enjoyed the food, which ended up being pasta with meat sauce for the kids and a beef stroganoff meal for the adults. Both were served with a salad and muffin. Around 8 pm, I convinced the kids to try to sleep. Fortunately for DW and DD, they can sleep anywhere and promptly curled up and slept a solid 6 hours. Unfortunately for DS, he takes after his dad and cannot sleep on an airplane. We both struggled and probably got about 1.5 hours of sleep with 4 hours of frustrated tossing and turning, but not much we can do about that.

We arrived in London and had a 3-hour layover. One note--they WILL throw away your food and water from the plane since you have to clear security a second time. Those four bottles of water we bought and thought we'd use for both flights? Yeah...not so much.



London Gatwick airport was a nice for the layover, but they don't publish your gate until a few minutes before boarding time. That means you'll hang in a common area until it's time to head to your gate. There is plenty of food, seating, and free Wi-Fi, so I'd be okay to have a longer layover here.

When it was time to board, they actually had us walk on the tarmac and board the plane from outside, which the kids found really exciting.



We arrived in Barcelona airport around 2:30 pm, and clearing customs was a breeze. I think the whole process took about 20 minutes, but maybe we arrived during a less busy time of day? I can only wish the US customs in Fort Lauderdale was that efficient, as that took us almost 90 minutes when we got home...more on that later. Prayers were answered and all four checked bags and the two booster seats were easy to find.

The next item was finding cash. If you read up on currency exchange, you'll now that the best rates you'll find on euros is making an ATM withdraw from a bank once you are in Europe. The currency exchange desks have higher fees, so make sure you know the current exchange rate. When we were traveling, it was 1 USD per 0.88 euros. So basically 500 USD would be 440 euros. The currency desk in Orlando would make the exchange at a rate of 0.82 euros, which means I'd have to exchange 536 USD to get 440 euros....so basically a $36 fee. When you use a bank ATM, you just withdraw euros at the current exchange rate and your bank will charge you a smaller fee. For me, it was about $10, which means I saved about $25.

The Barcelona airport has free Wi-Fi, so I was able to do a search to find ATM locations. Two more tip on ATMs. First, avoid Eurobank. That's the equivalent of a gas station ATM in United States and will charge much higher fees. Make sure you find an ATM that's affiliated with a bank. We had to walk out of the terminal and walk to the next one before we found a good ATM. Am I willing to waste 10 minutes of my family's time to save $25? Yes, I am. :) Second, if given the option, do NOT accept dynamic currency conversion from the ATM. Just take the euros and let your bank back home charge you a fee.

Last thing was finding a taxi. I downloaded the Free Now app before I left home, which was formally called MyTaxi). It's basically Uber for taxis in Europe. The nice part is you can request how many seats you want, which is helpful if you have a large family with a lot of luggage and don't want a standard 4-door sedan. We ordered a taxi and it said it would arrive in just 5 minutes. Having the car seat boosters was nice even in a taxi. Yes, they are a pain to carry around the airport, but it's nice to know the kids are safer...and happier too since they can see out the windows. The drive to our hotel in the city center only took 30 minutes. You can pay your driver through the app...but only if you have a data connection. The Barcelona airport Wi-Fi was great, but I once we arrived at the hotel, I didn't have a data connection so I had to pay using cash. Not a big deal, but something to remember.

I'll share more tomorrow about our hotel and first day in Barcelona!
 
  • gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    DAY 0 - TOURING BARCELONA: We stayed at the Hotel Constanza. The hotel was only 3 blocks away from the Plaça de Catalunya and the start of Las Ramblas, which is the the heart of the tourist area. We really liked the location since it was just an 8-minute walk to Las Ramblas, but also on a quiet enough street that almost felt residential. If you've ever been to New York City, it had an 'Upper West Side' vibe. The picture below is the front of the hotel and DD on the balcony of our hotel room.


    We booked a Family room, which was perfect for us. It included a queen size bed, plus a pull-out queen sofa bed for the kids that was separated by a half wall. I don't have a lot of experience in Barcelona to compare to other hotels (...by which I mean I've ever only stayed in this one), but I'd happily recommend it to others. The staff was very nice and spoke English, the rooms were clean and roomy, and the location was great.

    Everyone showered up after the long flight, and by 3:00 pm were ready to go tour the city. We walked over to Plaça de Catalunya and got some ice cream for the kids from Farggi, a little cafe on the northern corner of the square. We let the kids enjoy the ice cream while playing and doing some people watching in the square. DD was fascinated by all the pigeons...there seemed like thousands of them. People were holding out food and letting them fly all over them. My parents taught me that pigeons are just rats with wings, so true or not, I told my kids to keep their distance. :)



    We walked down Las Ramblas and enjoyed looking at all the street vendors and architecture. We made a point to visit Mercat de la Boqueria, which is a food market. It's like a massive farmer's market that sells seafood, fruit, tapas, etc. Lunch in Barcelona for the locals apparently is from 1-4 pm, and we got there just after 4 pm. Some of the stalls were closed, and the ones that were open had 'happy hour' specials to get rid of their food. That should have been a clue NOT to buy the seafood, but I made the mistake of buying a calamari appetizer and fried white fish appetizer at one of the stalls. Both were cold and chewy...likely because they'd been sitting out for three hours. If you go and want to sample food, I'd recommend going right at the start of lunch or dinner to get fresh food.

    I had intended to do more walking and see all the sites on Las Ramblas, but the family was starting to get cranky. I took them to go eat at the restaurant Els Quatre Gats, which had great reviews and was a popular meeting place for famous artists like Picasso. However, when we got there and saw the menu, it was a little 'fancier' than two kids with jet lag could handle. We decided to just eat somewhere that looked 'safe' and settled on Restaurante La Poma. This is not a place that I would recommend. We ended up spending 42€ on a few tapas and two pizzas, but all of them were mediocre. I had a sense I was making a mistake when we walked in, but the family was falling apart and didn't have patience for me to try to find a better restaurant. The location is great and has good windows for watching Las Ramblas, but it's essentially a tourist trap. Again, it was okay, but I'm sure you can find better options if you are off the beaten path.

    Another note on Europe in general--there never seems to be enough water to drink or bathrooms. Every restaurant we visited charges 2-3€ for a large bottle of water to share at the table, which means a refill is going to cost you. Be prepared to pay, or make sure you pack water bottles that you can fill on the Disney cruise ship and bring with you during the day. If you find a water fountain, always use that opportunity to fill up your bottles! The same is true for bathrooms. Many stores and cafes don't have bathrooms, and there are not many public restrooms. You have to pay 1€ to use bathrooms even at major tourist sites, so whenever you find a free bathroom--use it!

    With that, we went back to the hotel and went to sleep around 8 pm. I was disappointed that we didn't see many of the sites I wanted, but I realize I way overestimated the family's ability to do just about anything other than eat and sleep after a long flight. I'd recommend making little to no plans on your first day.

    Next update will be our morning in Barcelona and getting on the Disney Magic!
     

    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    DAY 1 - EMBARKATION DAY: We woke up well rested in our hotel and found a wonderful restaurant around the corner. I had heard that breakfast places were hard to find that were open early, but we didn't seem to have any trouble at 9 am. Just a block from our hotel we found the Alsur Café, which was perfect. We got waffles and hot chocolate for the kids, carrot cake pancakes and vanilla marshmallow latte for DW (pictured below), and a wonderful egg and ham dish for me (pictured below). All together, the meal was about 40€. If you go, avoid the hot chocolates -- they were so thick it was almost pudding, and both kids didn't like it. The carrot cake pancakes were also way too rich...DW wishes she just got a regular waffle.

    After breakfast we packed up and I attempted to call a taxi with the FreeNow app. Unfortunately, no taxis were coming. I can't say for sure if was due to the time of day (Saturday at 11 am), the location, or the app. I was debating asking the front desk to call me a cab, when I lucked into seeing one drive by that was big enough for our luggage. We hopped in and made for the cruise port.

    We arrived around 12 pm, and the check-in process was very smooth. We had already tagged all our luggage, and the Cast Members outside took them for us. I was hoping to tag the car seat boosters, but they said we had to take them with us along with our carry on bags. Once inside, I was surprised to see what looked like almost 1,000 people already in the waiting area! I has assumed I'd be early, but I think most were excited to get on the ship as soon as possible. After a little waiting, we were called aboard with our group. We quickly went aboard and attacked the big priorities -- self-serve ice cream cones and the pool.


    We grabbed lunch on the 9th deck, which was great. DD chose a hamburger and literally 'shoo'ed' me away because she wanted to order it without any adults around. DS got pizza, and me & DW ordered shawarma. The shawarma and ingredients were great, although the tortilla/bread they wrapped it in wasn't very good.

    After swimming, we explored the ship, including the kid's club on the 5th deck. Our room was ready around 3pm that afternoon, and our suitcases were there by about 5 pm. We had an interior room on the 2nd deck, stateroom 2567. It was perfect for our family. It never felt crowded when all four of us where there. We were a little pinched for space for clothes (...probably because DW brought 15-20 outfits since she didn't want to have to decide what she wanted to wear before we left), so I volunteered to give a up my drawers and just stack my clothes in the bottom of the closet.

    Dinner the first night was at Lumiere's, which was wonderful. I wish I could remember what we ate...but my memory fails me. I just remember it was great. I'm a sucker for warm bread and butter, and I loved the selections they had each night. Our servers Omar and Imade were amazing, which made it that much more enjoyable coming to dinner every night.

    Tomorrow, I'll share a few updates from Day 2, our first Day at Sea.
     
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    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    DAY 2 - DAY at SEA: I am only going to provide a quick recap of the day, since there are others who will do a better job recapping all the wonderful experiences on the Disney Magic. We spent a lot of time at the pool, watched the new Aladdin movie, and then saw one of the Disney Shows in the theater (I believe it was Twice Charmed).

    There were two highlights for us during the Day at Sea. The first was when the Disney Magic passed through the islands of Corsica and Sardinia while we were swimming in the pool. I tried to take a few pictures from the top deck, but honestly, they don't do it justice. Both islands are beautiful, and it was fun to see them both as you passed through (see screenshot of Google Maps below). The other highlight was formal night. The kids loved dressing up for dinner, and we got so many great pictures from that night!

    Next up, I'll share our day in the port of Naples.
     

    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    DAY 3 - NAPLES & AMALFI COAST: DW really wanted to see the Amalfi coast, perhaps more than any other excursion on the whole cruise. I looked at all the options, and it seemed like getting a private driver was the best choice to try to see everything we wanted. We used Tours of Amalfi Coast to book a private driver for an 8-hour tour. I picked them because they had great reviews and were less expensive than some of the standard 'limo tours' offered in the port of Naples...and I'm so glad I did! THey were perfect. Our driver, John Lucca was great, and the front office was easy to communicate with via email.

    The all ashore in Naples was 7:30 am, so I booked our driver to pick us up at 8:00 am. I mentioned that I wanted to tour the Amalfi Coast and try to see Pompeii as well, and they tour office recommended that we do Amalfi first, and then Pompeii on the way back to the ship. They offered to provide car seats for 20€ each, but we opted to bring our booster seats instead.

    That morning, since we weren't meeting the driver until 8 am, I decided we could have a leisurely breakfast and walk off the ship right before 8 am to meet our driver. What I didn't plan on was that Disney closed the gangway from 7:45 to 8:15 to fix the gangway and relocate buses and taxis. :headache: Apparently there was a big sporting event, the Napoli 2019 Summer Universiade, which meant that the Disney Magic had to dock in a more industrial area. Whether it was Disney or the Port Authority, I don't know, but someone made the decision that the port wasn't safe to walk around, so they made all the private drivers and taxis leave, and the only option was to take the shuttle to the terminal area of the port.

    Good news for me is that I had downloaded WhatsApp and was able to send a message to our driver that we were delayed in getting off the ship. We finally made it off at 8:15 am and met our driver after the shuttle ride at 8:25 am. John Lucca was standing there with a sign for our family and led us to his car. It was a very nice Mercedes sedan, although it meant that DW had a somewhat tight fit in-between the two car seats in the back seat. So, we were off...just almost 30 minutes late.

    We drove through Naples and up into the mountains that lead to the Amalfi coast. We asked John Lucca for recommendations, and he was happy to adjust our tour based on preferences and take us to see farms, vineyards, towns, etc. We really wanted to see the coast, so he said it was best to start at the far end of the Amalfi coast and work our way back. Along the way, we stopped at the top of the mountain to get a gorgeous view of Mt. Vesuvius and modern Pompeii. Here you can see our driver, John Lucca with DD and DS.



    We reached the town of Ravello at 9:45am. For those counting, the drive took about 1 hour and 20 minutes, which included the five-minute stop for pictures along the way. Our driver recommended spending 45 minutes in the town before we left to go explore the next town. Ravello was amazing...and nearly empty! By starting at the far side of the coast, we beat all the tourists there. We had a wonderful breakfast at the the cafe in the town square (see below), and the only other customers at the time were locals.



    Ravello is a mountain village situated above the Amalfi coast, so it had great views. We spent some time in the cathedral in the town square, and then it was time to go meet our driver. Honestly, I wish we had spent an hour and half there rather than just 45 minutes. There was a garden there, Villa Rufolo, that I would have loved to have toured, plus spending times looking through all the shops. This is going to be a common complaint on this day--not enough time! We really wanted to see the full coast AND Pompeii in one day, which meant everything was going to be rushed. If we had to do it over again, I think I would have saved Pompeii for the future and spend more time enjoying the towns along the coast.

    We met our driver at 10:30am, and then started the drive along the Amalfi coast. Our goal was to do lunch in Positano, and the drive from Ravello to Positano would take about an hour and 15 minutes. We decided to just drive through the town of Amalfi to make sure we had enough time to spend in Positano. The drive itself was amazing--great views of the coast, but it is a narrow road with a lot of winding turns. If you ever get motion sickness from a car ride, this ride could do it to you.


    We reached Positano at 11:45 am, and our driver dropped us off at the town of the town. We originally said that we'd meet him back at the drop-off point at 1 pm, but we ended up messaging him through Wi-Fi from our restaurant later to delay until 1:45pm. This is definitely a 'postcard' town that you'll never really tire of taking pictures. We took a few of the town before we started our walk down into the town. There is no way to get down to the beach except a 20-minute walk down some very steep steps. Remember that when you are planning your trip back--it takes time to walk back up.

    Positano from Above
    The walk through narrow streets down to the beach

    We decided to have lunch at The Covo Restaurant, which was attached to a hotel and had a wonderful view of the beach from the terrace. The kids got some Napoli pizza (which they loved), DW got the sea bass (which she loved), and I got the seafood risotto (which I loved).



    Now, this is where DW and I differed on opinion. Lunch was took a leisurely 1-hour and 15 minutes, and I loved every minute of it. We had an amazing view, great food, (good Wi-Fi to upload some pictures and check email) and the opportunity to just relax. DW on the other hand had wanted to just grab a quick bite for 30-45 minutes and then explore the town more. Honestly, we were both right! If we weren't trying to force a visit to Pompeii that afternoon, we would have been able to enjoy a long lunch and explore the town. Unfortunately, we really only had about 15 minutes to spend taking pictures on the beach, and then walking back up to meet our driver. My recommendation is to spend at least 2.5 to 3 hours in Positano to not feel rushed.

    We left Positano around 1:45 pm and made it to Pompeii at 3:00 pm. Again, for those counting, it took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive from Naples to Ravello, another 1 hour and 15 minutes from Ravello to Positano, and another 1 hour and 15 minutes from Positano to Pompeii. Make sure you factor in all the driving time to get around Amalfi and Naples.

    Tickets were 15€ each for adults, and kids were free. We grabbed a frozen lemon drink for 5€ and hit the public restrooms for 1€ before we went inside. We asked our driver to meet us back at 4:15 pm which would give us a little over an hour to tour the ruins. Honestly, for our family, that was enough time to 'check the box' for Pompeii. We were able to explore, see some ruins and then head back to the car before everyone was completely exhausted. It would probably take 2-3 hours to see everything. I am really good with directions, and I constantly felt lost inside Pompeii. We watched some documentaries with the kids before we visited, so we were okay going on our own, but you probably should book a guide if you really want to know the history.

    We made it back to the ship around 4:45 pm, which gave us time to take showers and get dressed before dinner. Amazing day for sure, but we definitely tried to do too much.

    Tomorrow will be our day in Rome!
     
  • PiperGirlInWondrland

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 13, 2007
    Joining in! Love all the detail in your report and I’m super excited to read all about this itinerary. Kids look great on formal night! The Amalfi coast is on my bucket list. Looks incredible
     

    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    DAY 4 PART 1 - CIVITAVECCHIA & ROME: Of all the days in port, this was the one I was most nervous about. You really cannot do Rome in just a single day, especially when you are coming from a port that is almost 50 miles away...but I was going to try! :D

    We started by making a list of everything we wanted to see, and then paring it down to something realistic for a single day. The main attraction we decided to skip was the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. While both DW and I would love it, we figured the the kids would probably get bored looking at fresco paintings on ceilings for two hours. The other attraction that we decided to mark as tentative would be the Colosseum. While we definitely wanted to see the Colosseum from the outside, we agreed that we could skip seeing the inside if necessary.

    Once we settled on that, I spent a lot of time working on a travel plan that made sense to tour the city. I broke our tour into four different parts. Part 1 - St. Peter's Basilica, Part 2 - getting across town, Part 3 - a walking tour of the city center, and Part 4 - a walking tour of the Roman Forum and Colosseum. I set our day to end at the Colosseum so we could skip going inside if we ran out of time. All together, that worked out to be about 5-6 hours in Rome, especially if you include time for lunch.

    Here are the Google Maps I made (and printed) to I could keep track of our day while in Rome. All together there would be about 3 miles of walking, but I felt like the kids could handle that given our experience on other hiking trips.


    I felt comfortable touring some of the city on my own, but I really wanted to book a local guide to help make the history of Rome come alive for our family, plus keep the kids engaged. I looked at a lot of options, but ultimately settled on the site WithLocals, which is basically an Uber for local tour guides. There are different types of tours to choose from, and for each one, you can pick the tour guide you want. You can see from the site that prices tend to run at 20-35€ per person per hour, plus kids are free! I loved this service and used it twice--both in Rome and in Florence. For Rome, we picked Yanira, since it looked liked she would do great with the kids. I shared with Yanira the sites I wanted to see, so she created a custom 2.5 hour tour that started at the Spanish Steps and ended at the Cat Sanctuary (more on that later--her recommendation). The total cost for our tour was only 168€.

    The only downside of booking the tour is that Yanira's only availability was at 11:00 am. That means I had to get to Rome, tour St. Peter's Basilica, and then get to the Spanish Steps in time to meet Yanira...which means I needed to get to St. Peter's Basilica by 9:15 am at the latest. My biggest challenge in all this was going to be travel time. All my research suggested that driving to Rome from Civitavecchia would take 90 minutes or more, regardless if you booked a private driver or through the cruise line. That means we'd have to leave by 7:30am, and the only options that left that early were very expensive limo services.

    The solution? TIme to brave the trains! Trains from Civitavecchia to Roma San Pietro (the station closest to St. Peter's Basilica) take only 40-50 minutes. 80 minutes round trip relaxing on a train vs. 180 minutes round trip in a car sitting in traffic? Sign me up! Spoiler--the trains were great. I found it easy, but I've traveled on trains and subways in other cities, so I had a certain level of familiarity with them. Whatever you do, don't trust any guide books or outdated information that say trains leave every 30 minutes. Look up the actual train times. You can do it at the Trenitalia Website. Just enter in Civitavecchia in the From field, Roma S. Pietro in the To field, and select your dates at times. Here were the options for me the morning we were in port:

    • 7:44am train - arrive in Rome at 8:25am - plenty of time
    • 7:58am train - arrive in Rome at 8:54am - plenty of time
    • 8:42am train - arrive in Rome at 9:24am - PANIC! :oops:

    I cannot stress enough--write these down! It was helpful to know exactly when the next train left or what train you were looking for at the station. Given that our ashore time was 7:00 am, I was worried because you had to take a shuttle from the ship to the port terminal, and then either find a taxi or do a 15-minute walk to the train station. I *really* wanted to make the 7:44 am departure, so I got the family up super early and was in line to debark the ship at 6:50 am. There were about 10-15 people ahead of us in line at that time, including the family ahead of us trying to make the exact same 7:44am train.

    We got off the ship exactly at 7 am, and what did I find? Four taxis waiting right off the gangway. This is something that Disney could never promise (and sometimes insisted wouldn't be there), but I often found was there. If you ask a Cast Member, they will tell you that taxis are not allowed next to the ship, but usually there were a handful there. I don't blame the Cast, since there is no way they can guarantee it, but it was a pleasant surprise. The taxi drivers are generally looking to take people all the way to Rome (very expensive), but were were able to find a taxi that would take us directly to the Civitavecchia train station for 5€ per person. We ended up sharing a big taxi with the family in front of us and made it to the train station at 7:15am. Note--there were only four taxis, so not sure if there would be any left after those four were gone.

    I went inside to buy tickets at the train station counter. I ended up buying two BIRG tickets for me and DW for 12€ each. These allow unlimited use of the trains between Civitavecchia and Rome for a single day, plus all of the buses and metro stations within Rome. Children are free to use the buses and metro in Rome with a paying adult, but still have to buy tickets for the roundtrip between Civitavecchia and Rome. The train tickets for the kids were 2.30€ each, for a total of 9.20€. All in, the total cost of the tickets was 33.20€. See below are the pictures of the tickets--the two BIRG tickets, and the four train tickets for the kids (2 from Civitavecchia to Rome, and 2 for the return trip).



    On the BIRG tickets, you need to write your name and birthdate on the card, plus have some type of photo ID with you. This is designed so you can't use the BIRG and then sell it to someone else later. It's yours for the day. You'll also see the yellow arrows that I added. That faint printed string of letters and numbers is the validation. After you buy your ticket, you MUST put your tickets in the green little machine mounted on the wall. You insert the ticket, and then you'll here a small typewriter noise. Pull the ticket out, and now it's should have that text written on it. If you don't validate your ticket, then you will pay a hefty fine if a conductor checks your ticket while on the train. Just remember to put the kids' return tickets away for safe keeping and don't forget to validate them later (...but not the BIRG--just one time in the morning is enough).

    Honestly, I don't recommend buying tickets ahead of time because there are a lot of details around the type of tickets you want. There is no way I would have known to buy the kids tickets separately from the website. That said, now that you know what I did, maybe you can figure it out online. Note--there is an EXPRESS train from Civitavecchia to Rome that doesn't stop at the local stations and makes the trip in 35 minutes. However, it is more expensive and the BIRG tickets are not valid for it. The express train didn't leave until after 10 am, so it wasn't an option for us. Plus, I planned on using the Metro in Rome to get around, so I really wanted to get the BIRG tickets.

    You'll want to look at the monitors, and they will let you know what platform your train will be on. As a reminder, platforms are abbreviated as BIN in Italian. The 7:44 train arrived on time, and there were some seats available, but not a lot. We were able to sit together, but we didn't have a ton of choices. Note--some people will take this train all the way to Roma Termini station for the center of Rome and the airport, so there will be some people with luggage. You'll also have locals on the train as well making their commute into the city.

    We arrived at Roma S. Pietro station exactly at 8:25 am after a pleasant train ride. It was an easy walk to St. Peter's Square, plus there were signs pointing the way. It took us about 10-15 minutes to walk there, and it was a nice, safe neighborhood to walk through. We arrived at St. Peter's Square at 8:40 am, and it was empty...like really empty. Check out the picture below:



    Getting there before 9 am meant very little crowds from tourists. It took us only five minutes to make it through the security check line to get into St. Peter's Basilica. As a reminder, you do NOT have to pay any money to get into St. Peter's Basilica, so ignore all the vendors telling you that you need a ticket. If you are in the square facing the church, the line is along the right side of the square. Also, gentlemen cannot wear shorts and ladies need to cover their shoulders and knees. DW brought a long shaw to wrap around her shoulders while inside.

    Pictures cannot do St. Peter's justice. We spent about an hour inside and loved it. It was not crowded at all early in the morning, so it was easy to get around. We brought Rick Steve's book with us, as he wrote a great 6-page mini-guide of the church. It outlines a walking tour within the church and provides history and background on the different alters, sculptures, and paintings, which lets you appreciate it all the more. We'd walk to a spot, and then I'd read that section for the family in a whispered voice (...it is a church, so most people are very quiet inside).


    We left St. Peter's at 9:40 am and walked north to the Ottaviano Metro station. We bought a Powerade for the kids for 3.5€ from one of the street vendors, which felt expensive. There was a McDonalds on the 10-minute walk to the Metro station, and my guess is that would have been cheaper.

    Once at the Ottaviano Metro station, for those that have been on a subway before, it should feel very familiar. You scan your BIRG ticket in the turnstile machine, and it will open the gate to let you pass through. Note--each paying adult can bring ONE child with them for free. Have them stand right in front of you, scan the ticket, gates open, push them through and you follow behind. The gate is open long enough to push them through with me, but there's a chance they could get left behind if you are not quick about it. I should note that if you are 2 adults and 3+ kids, that means you'll have to buy a metro ticket for one of the kids too, otherwise you cannot get them all in with you.

    Once inside the Metro station, were were planning to ride two stops over to the Spagna metro station. There won't be any signs for Spagna. The metro line connects Anagnina on one end and Batitstini on the other. From the Ottaviano station, you are heading towards Anagnina, so follow the signs to that platform. We arrived at the Spagna at 10:25 am, and made it to the Spanish Steps at 10:30 am -- a full 30 minutes ahead of schedule! We got to hang out and relax on the steps until we met our guide at 11 am.



    Next update, I'll share the second half of Rome and the train ride back to Civitavecchia.
     
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    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    DAY 4 PART 2 - ROME: The second half of Rome was probably my least favorite portion of our entire trip. Everyone kept warning me about how hot Rome would be in the middle of July, but I have lived in Central Florida for 20 years. I'm used to the heat and the humidity, so how bad could it really be? The answer...bad! (DW just walked by while I was writing this and agreed the heat was terrible). Even in Florida, if you walk around outside in the direct sunlight from 10:30 am until 3:00 pm, you're going to be a hot mess by the end of the day. It also doesn't help that there is very little shade in Rome, and few places that you go have air conditioning. My kids (and honestly me and DW, too) started to 'give up' around 2 pm after we had been in the sun for over 3 hours. "Oh look, it's that famous place we wanted to see...and no one cares." :(

    Again, if you read my post on Part 1 in Rome, the morning was perfect--not too hot and not too much walking. If I came back to Rome, I think I'd spend more money on a different type of tour in the middle of the day that made it easier on the family...like maybe one of those tours where you get to drive around in a golf cart? I'd love to know if anyone else has tried one of those.

    So enough of me complaining...back to the trip! Our guide, Yanira, met us at on time at 11:00 am near the Spanish Steps. A few nice things about having a guide. First, she was able to give an incredible amount of history for every sculpture and building that we walked past, not just the famous sites. A great example was the Column of the Immaculate Conception, which we wouldn't have found on our own. Second, it was nice to 'turn off' my brain and just follow her. You use a lot of mental energy navigating and making sure you're in the right place, and it was relaxing to just follow someone and enjoy the sites. Finally, she did a great job of keeping the kids engaged with a scavenger hunt of things to look for on our walk.

    One of the first places she took us was Trevi Fountain. We got there around 11:20 am, and it was ridiculously crowded. If you want to have that famous moment of throwing a coin in the fountain, be prepared to push through a big crowd and wait your turn to sit on the edge of the fountain. Also, bring small coins! I only had a few cents, and so I had to let DD throw a 2€ coin over her shoulder. That was painful for me! o_O


    From there, we made our way past a few other sites to the Pantheon. We got there around noon, and it wasn't too crowded. It's free to go inside. The security line to get in only took about five minutes. Ladies, remember that this is another church where you have to cover your shoulders and knees. Quick note from DW: We saw a few ladies get turned away, so they are serious about it. That said, both me and DD had dresses that ended just above our knees and we were able to go in both St. Peter's and the Pantheon without any trouble.


    Unfortunately for me, DD was *really* starting to drag outside of the Pantheon, so I offered to carry her. While she may be a wonderful, cute five-year-old, she is anything but little. She's in the 99-percentile in height and weight for her age, and so having to carry around an extra 60 lbs wasn't fun. Once we got inside the Pantheon, she fell asleep. This meant I ended up carrying her for the next hour...so very few pictures were taken. Next, we walked to Piazza Navona and saw the Fountain of the Four Rivers.

    We had originally planned to just grab some take-away food from a street vendor to walk and eat, but since DD was asleep and I was the one holding her, I voted for a sit-down restaurant. Our guide was able to take us to a little restaurant off the beaten path, Da Simo Pane e Vino, where she knew the owner. It was a great place for lunch. It had air conditioning (Rome A/C, which means it's a 10 degrees cooler than outside, not Florida A/C, which means you walk into a meat locker), and the prices were very reasonable. Pizzas and pasta dishes were 8-9€ each and wonderfully cold plastic bottles of water were 2€ each. DS got a margherita pizza (crossing his fingers that DD wouldn't wake up and have to share...but she did and it was plenty for the two of them to split), DW got a mushroom pizza, and I got our guide's recommendation for pasta, a plate of cacio e pepe, which is made with pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper, along with starchy pasta water, which creates a creamy sauce (very good). All together, lunch was only 45€, and that included me buying lunch for our guide as well (not obligated, but I invited her to join us and so it felt like the right thing to do). Note--they do charge a table service fee of 2€ per person, but that is normal in Rome for a sit-down restaurant, especially since you don't tip.

    After lunch, our guide took us to a local gelato shop just around the corner, Gelateria CamBio Vita Roma. As our guide had promised, this was indeed very good gelato. All four of us got a few scoops, which was included in the price of our tour. Unfortunately, DS licked his too hard and his scoop of gelato fell right off the cone and into the street. His face was about as sad as you can imagine, but our guide was quick to buy him another one...this time in a cup.


    From there, we walked to Largo di Torre Argentina, where you'll find the ruins of an old Roman temple that lies 20 feet below modern street level. This spot is also the place on which Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed in 44 BC. We got there at 1:30 pm, and it was time to tell our guide, Yanira goodbye. I highly recommend her--she was great with the kids and made the day enjoyable despite the heat.



    I just so happens that Torre Argentina is also a Cat Sanctuary. There is an animal shelter inside the ruins that care for over 100 cats, many of which are disabled. There are a few cats wandering the ruins, but most of them are inside the shelter enjoying the air conditioning. If you are an animal lover (as my family is), I highly recommend heading down the steps and inside to see the cats. It was a nice break from walking, some air conditioning, and a break for the kids to play with cats. We probably spent about 20 minute inside.


    After leaving the Cat Sanctuary around 2 pm, we made the long, hot, final walk past the Roman Forum to the Colosseum by 2:30 pm. We had plenty of time to buy a ticket and tour the Forum and go inside the Colosseum...but we were done. We could have spent from 2:30 - 4:30 pm touring those sites and still had time to make it back to the port on time, but the kids were in a terrible mood, and DW and I quickly agreed that we'll have to save those for another trip.


    There is a subway station right next to the Colosseum, called Metro Colosseo. We went downstairs, used our BIRG tickets to get into the station, and then looked for maps to take us two stops south to Metro Piramide. You won't see signs for Piramide, but you are looking for metro train heading towards Laurentina. Piramide is a big station, which means you can walk underground through tunnels to the adjacent Ostiense station where you can catch the big train back to Civitavecchia. Just follow the signs for the Ostiense or look for the Trenitalia logo:



    Unfortunately for us, we arrived at Ostiense at 3:05 pm and realized we JUST missed a 3:00 pm train heading back to Civitavecchia. Doh! Pro Tip: write down the times of the departing trains! I would have gladly spent 10 minutes less taking pictures outside the Colosseum if I knew we could catch a train and be back on the DIsney Magic by 4 pm. Instead, we had to wait until 3:53 pm for the next train! Also, be very careful on the type of trains. There *was* another train leaving to Civitavecchia at 3:37 pm, but it was the Express train (marked with an RV on the big screen at the station). The tickets we bought were only good for the regular local trains (marked with an REG on the big screen). So we had to wait about 50 minutes on the platform at the train station. There are not a lot of drink or food options, and we were definitely running low on water. Another pro tip--fill up your water bottles every time you get a chance at the public fountains in Rome! Finally, be sure to validate your kids return train tickets, so dig those out of their safe spot and insert them into the machine to get the timestamp (...but don't validate your BIRG again).

    The train ride back was relaxing. Here's an example of the type of view you have from the train traveling through the countryside on the way back to Civitavecchia. Again, much better than sitting in rush-hour traffic in a car.



    Our train got us back to Civitavecchia at 5:05 pm, and then I gladly paid a taxi driver 20€ to take us back to the ship instead of having to do another 15-minute walk. We had grand visions of always showering before dinner, but we didn't really have time today. So we hit the pool after dinner. These are the faces of children made to walk 3 hour in the direct sun:



    Good news is that they slept great that night! Tomorrow would be our stop in Corsica, our low-key beach day, so we could sleep in. I definitely recommend doing a 'recovery' day with kids vs. trying to do two big walking tours in a row. I can't imagine asking them to do that again right away!
     
  • nancipants

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Nov 18, 2013
    This is a great trip report! I'll definitely have to visit the cat sanctuary when our family finally visits Rome! 😻
     

    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    DAY 5 - AJACCIO, CORSICA: This was the official 'day to relax' after the craziness of Rome. We slept in until 9 am, and then had a relaxing breakfast without fear of missing anything. We decided not to book any tours and just hit the beach today, and it was exactly what the family needed. There could be some tours worth doing...but we enjoyed the lack of a schedule in Corsica.



    Ajaccio (pronounced as ah-jacque-see-oh by the French) is a somewhat smaller town that is very walkable. There is a tourist information desk in the port terminal, and they staff there is very helpful. We asked them for recommendations for a beach, and they handed us a map and marked it up for us. There is a nice outdoor market (the circled brown square on the map). If you want to go, make sure you go in the morning, because it was closed later in the afternoon on our way back to the ship. Up just two blocks from the market is the bus station to head to the beach (the circled bus icon at the top of the map).



    The staff at the tourist office recommended the bus to get to the beach. It was easy 15-minute walk to find the bus stop, but the challenge was timing. The bus only departs every 30 minutes, so we ended up waiting about 25 minutes for the next bus to arrive. We got there right after 10:30 am and the next bus got there at 10:50am, but it didn't actually leave until 11 am. Make sure you only get on the #5 bus. Other buses will stop there, but I have no clue where they go. Only the #5 bus runs to the beaches. It only cost 3€ per person, and they accept cash only (but they did have change for me). I asked if kids had to pay, and the driver said yes. On the way back, the driver insisted that only adults should pay. So that was 12€ to the beach, and only 6€ on the way back. I asked some other tourists, and they paid about 30€ each way for a taxi, so I was happy with our choice (even with the waiting).

    By the way, I saw three options for beaches:
    • Saint-François Beach - this is within easy walking distance of the bus stop. Just head toward the beach and you'll see a staircase leading down to the beach. There are no chairs, and I didn't see any bathrooms. Not our speed, but if you just want to dip your toes in the beach, that could work.
    • Trottel Beach - this was literally a 2-minute ride on the bus. We waited 30 minutes for a bus, and the first stop was a really nice beach with chairs and umbrellas to rent. This was annoying, since it's only a 15-minute walk from the bus stop (...which we waited at for nearly 30 minutes). If you don't want to deal with buses and are happy walking, you can walk from the cruise port to there in probably 25 minutes. I could NOT justify getting off the bus after a 2-minute ride, so we opted to keep going.
    • San Marinella Beach - I read good reviews online, and the staff at the tourist office circled it as a good option as well. There are others on the map, but this one looked great so we got off the bus. The bus runs along the beach, so it's easy to decide when you are ready to get off.
    We got to San Marinella Beach at 11:20am after a 20-minute ride, and it was exactly what we wanted. There were three restaurants that rented chairs. The first one we tried said they had no capacity, so we picked the one on the far end of the beach. We rented two chairs and an umbrella right on the beach for 30€. The sand was clean, the water was crystal clear, and there was a bathroom we could use in the restaurant.


    Definitely bring swim goggles and maybe even a snorkel. There were plenty of fish to see and plenty of fun rocks to explore further out, but be careful of jellyfish. I saw two small ones swimming in the water, but the water was so clear I could see them from pretty far away when looking under the water with my goggles. Once DS saw the jellyfish, he was done with the water, but DD was braver and opted to keep swimming with me. You'll see some boats with slides in the water in the picture above--you can rent them for extra, but we opted not to.

    We decided to save our money and eat lunch back on the ship, but the restaurant looked good. We stayed for two hours and then caught the bus home. Note--there is a bus stop along side of the road, and the sign lists the times the bus comes (see below). Only two buses come per hour, so it's helpful to check so you don't end up missing a bus and waiting for over 30 minutes. We decided to leave at 1:35pm to catch the bus back to the ship.



    Back on the ship, we got DD ready for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. We figured that we'd get back to the ship early in Corsica, so we made her reservation for 5:15pm. That let us go straight to dinner at 6 pm. DD wanted to be Cinderella, and she loved the experience. They did a great job making her feel special.


    Unfortunately, she was only awake for 30 minutes after her makeover. She fell asleep at dinner before her food came, and needed to be carried back to bed. I love DD...but that love only goes so far. She was covered in glitter, so DW had to carry her back to the room. #notsorry



    The good news is that the next day was Florence, and the kids would be staying on the ship all day in the kids' club, so she's at least get some extra mileage on the hair and make-up. More on that tomorrow!
     
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    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    DAY 6 - LIVORNO & FLORENCE: I had recently listened to an audio book on the Renaissance period, the excellent biography, Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. This really made me excited to see Florence, home to famous artists like Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli, plus political intrigue with the Medici family and Machiavelli. Did you know that da Vinci and Machiavelli were friends and served as government officials together? Did you know that Michelangelo was jealous of da Vinci's handsome looks, sparking a bitter rivalry? Don't get me wrong--Florence is wonderful on its own, but I highly recommend reading up on some Florentine history before you go.

    Because we planned to spend all day looking at paintings and architecture, I convinced DW to leave the kids on the Disney Magic for the day and let us explore Florence on our own. Her initial reaction was "so you want me, in a foreign country, to drive two hours away from my children?" She eventually agreed when I convinced her that 1.) other people do it (thank you trip reports), 2.) the kids will have more fun in the kids' club than with us, and 3.) we'll take the Disney transportation to Florence so if we are running late, the ship will wait for us. It honestly took about a month to warm up DW to the idea, but it was still in limbo leading up to the day before the port. We asked the kids at dinner the night before if they wanted to come with us or spend all day in the kids' club, and the answer was a resounding "KIDS' CLUB!" from both of them. Phew! 😌

    I researched four major museums in Florence, but we were only able to see two of them on our trip.
    • The Uffizi Gallery, which includes Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus, plus other Renaissance painting from Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
    • Galleria dell’Accademia, which has the marble statue of David done by Michelangelo, plus other works. There is a copy of David outside the Uffizi Gallery that you can see for free.
    • Opera de Duomo, which includes the original bronze doors for the Baptistry (the ones outside are copies), and sculptures from Donatello and Michelangelo.
    • Bargello National Museum, which includes Donatello's bronze David, as well as the competing bronze panels that Brunelleschi and Ghiberti designed to see who would win the right to do the bronze doors of the Baptistry.
    The Uffizi Gallery and Accademia Gallery are more famous, and the ones I wanted to see the most. Unfortunately, they have long lines to enter, so you really need a reservation. I waited until only a few weeks out, and they only had availability early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Our Disney bus would drop us off around 10:30 am and depart at 4:30pm, so that didn't really work for us. The other two, the Opera de Duomo and the Bargello National Museum, both had very short lines and could be experienced without a wait (...which you can guess are the two we ended up doing). I HIGHLY recommend booking tickets to the Uffizi and Accademia ahead of time if those are important to you.

    Just like in Rome, we used the site WithLocals to find a guide for the city. I was okay using the Disney 'Own Your Own' bus to get to Florence, but I still wanted the flexibility of having a private tour while we were there. We settled on Beatrice, who has studied both Archaeology and Art History and worked as an archaeologist for several years before returning to her home in Florence to operate as a local guide. We booked a three-hour tour, which included a tour of Florence, plus the Opera de Duomo (i.e., the Museum of the Cathedral). The total cost was 235€, which also included tickets to climb to the top of the Duomo Cathedral (i.e., the dome/cupola). She booked us tickets to climb the dome at 11 am, and then were were scheduled to do the tour with her from 1pm to 4pm. We loved Beatrice--it never felt like a history lesson, but fascinating stories about people. She was able to help you understand why certain sculptures or paintings were so important, which really made a big difference.

    The all-ashore time in Livorno was 7 am, but our Disney bus didn't depart until 8 am. Side note--the kids' clubs DO open early on port days with early departures, but you'll want to confirm with them when you are on the ship. In Livorno, the kids' club opened at 7 am, so that gave us plenty of time to have breakfast and get them checked in before DW and I headed off for our excursion. If you are doing a Disney excursion, they give you a meeting place inside the ship rather than heading off the gangway on your own. This morning, we were asked to meet in the Walt Disney Theater on the 4th deck to check-in for our Disney bus, arriving at least 5 minutes before our departure. Upon arrival, we were given a tour number (#21), and asked to each put a sticker on and sit in our section. Promptly at 8am, they called our group and we followed our guide down stairs and out the gangway. We loaded on a bus and were off to Florence.

    Google maps suggested that it would take 90 minutes to get there, but it actually took us over 2 hours. We probably left around 8:15 am, but didn't arrive in Florence until 10:30 am. Part of the reason is that you stop at a 'gas station / rest area' about halfway through the trip to allow people to use the restroom and grab a snack. For me, this was extremely frustrating. Our reservations to climb the Dome were at 11 am, and I was really hoping to enjoy more of the city ahead of time. Had I arranged my own transportation, we would have left around 7:30 am and arrived by 9 am, but this was the price I had to pay to make DW comfortable leaving the kids behind. A least the view of the Tuscan countryside was beautiful to watch on the way to Florence:



    The bus had a driver and a tour guide. The guide was nice, but not Disney. He offered some tips and history about Florence during our two-hour ride, but nothing more than you'd get in a simple guide book. We arrived in Florence at 10:20 am and followed our guide on a short 8-minute walk to the meeting place at Piazza di Santa Croce (apparently they don't want you waiting for the buses near the road, so they walk you into the city). At 10:30am, they released us into the city. We promptly removed our stickers and put the away for later since neither of us wanted to stick out as tourists.

    Beatrice recommended that we arrive at the Duomo at least 10 minutes before our reservation, so we decided to head directly to the Cathedral. There was a huge line to get into the Cathedral, so make sure you know which line is for you. If you are climbing to the top, the entry door is on the north side of the building (see photo below). The line didn't move at all until just after 11 am when they started to let in people with reservations, so don't panic if the line isn't moving.

    The cathedral from down below
    The door to enter for climbing the dome

    The climb to the top of the dome was no joke. It takes about 20 minutes to climb the steps, but it's worth it. Inside, you get to see the Cathedral from above, plus get a great close-up view of the fresco painting on the inside of the dome.

    Example of steps you have to climb
    Looking down on the cathedral
    Giorgio Vasari's Last Judgement Fresco

    The views from the top are amazing. That said, this was a hard climb, and I saw a few people that looked like they were struggling with it. There are also some tight spaces if you are claustrophobic. Here is a panoramic photo I took from the top that gives you a sense of the view.



    We were done and back outside by 11:50 am, so plan on taking a little less than an hour for the climbing experience. We had an hour before meeting our guide, and we decided to see another museum instead of doing a longer lunch, so we went to the Bargello National Museum to see Donatello's bronze David. We spent about an hour there, but could have easily done two hours. This was last minute, so I didn't have a guide book ready, and it would have been helpful to have a plan to better appreciate all the other pieces in that museum.

    From there, we headed over to the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, our meeting spot for our tour guide. In the piazza, we found a perfect little sandwich shop, Il Panino. We ordered a mozzarella and tomato sandwich for the two of us to split for just 3.5€, and it was exactly what we wanted. On the opposite end of the piazza we found a gelateria and split a lemon gelato. Then it was 1 pm and time to meet our guide.

    Our guide walked us around the city, pointing out palaces, churches, and other buildings while weaving together a great story of the city. Once she pointed out the Medici family crest, you started to see it placed everywhere in the city. We arrived at the Opera de Duomo around 2 pm, and spent about an hour inside.

    Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise"
    Donatello's "Penitent Magdalene"
    Michelangelo's "The Deposition"

    Leaving the museum around 3 pm, we walked to the Uffizi Gallery, which used to house all the administrative offices for the Medici family. We walked along the city underneath a 'hidden' passage way the Medici used to walk above the city and connect to their palace, which included the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge (pictured below), which used to house a meat market but was converted into gold & jewelry shops because the Medici didn't want to deal with the smell. It's still only jewelry shops today!



    We finished up with our guide and made it back to the meeting point at 4 pm, about 30 minutes early. We looked around some tourist shops and then waited for the rest of our group to arrive. Lucky for us, everyone was there promptly at 4:30 pm. There was another group that was supposed to leave at 4 pm, but someone was late and they held the entire group. After a 90 minute drive, we made it back to the ship right at 6:15 pm.

    DW was worried the kids would be upset and wasn't brave enough to pick them up in person. He was afraid they had a bad time and had been crying for the past few hours (...they had been there from 7:30 am to 6:15pm). I arrived, and upon seeing me, DS said "oh no...is it time already?" Yes, safe to say they had a great time. We got to dinner a little late, but all was well. Kids had a great time, and we did too!

    Tomorrow is Genoa, which ended up as probably our surprise favorite stop of the trip when we discovered the small village of Camogli!
     

    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    DAY 7 - GENOA & CAMOGLI: Most people use the port of Genoa to either go to Milan or Portofino. After doing the long bus ride to Florence the day before, DW and I wanted to do something special with the kids. Milan was a 2-hour bus ride each way, so that was out. We had a lot of people recommend doing the aquarium in Genoa, which is apparently the best one in Europe. However, online reviews from Americans suggested that it's just average compared to the great aquariums we have back in the States. Instead, we decided we wanted to do another beach day.

    I had wanted to do the Disney excursion to Portofino via boat, but it was sold out. It would take almost 2 hours to get to Portofino on our own, so I decided to find something closer. There is a wonderful town we found called Camogli (pronounced by the locals as "kam-OH-yee"). It's truly a hidden gem--not busy at all, but still all the charm of the Italian Riviera. It's an easy 45-minute ride from Genoa to Camogli on a train that runs along the beach, stopping at towns along the way. Just like in Rome, I highly recommend you use the the Trenitalia Website to check the train schedule. Just put in Genova Piazza Principe in the From and Camogli-S. Fruttuoso in the To, and select the right dates and time. For the morning we were in Genoa, trains left Genoa Piazza Principe heading to Camogli at 8:37am, 9:14am, 10:11am, and 10:40am. As a reminder, write down the train schedule on paper, both leaving and coming back. You never know if you'll have Wi-Fi later!

    After a nice morning sleeping in and grabbing a leisurely breakfast, we left to head to the train station at 8:30am to try to catch the 9:14 am train. It's only a 10-minute walk from the cruise port to the Genoa Piazza Principe train station, although it can be tricky to find. There is apparently a shortcut up some back steps and into a side entrance, but I must have missed it. Instead we walked the long way around to the main entrance, but it only took 15 minutes. Once inside, it was easy to find the ticket office. Remember to take a number--don't just get in line. They will call the next number and then you go to the desk.

    The woman working the desk at the ticket counter was very helpful. We ended up buying 8 tickets: 2 adults and 2 kids from Genoa to Camogli, and 2 adults & 2 kids from Camogli back to Genoa. Adult tickets were 3.6€ and child tickets were 1.9€, so the total worked out to be 22€. You can see the tickets below. Just like in Rome, remember to validate the tickets in the kiosks hanging on the wall near your platform!



    We did have a bit of drama finding the right platform. We checked the schedule, and saw that the 9:14am train was the one heading towards Sestri Levante (see below). You can see that Camogli-S.Fruttuoso is the 7th stop, arriving at 9:58 am. The blue '18' tells us to head to platform 18. However, the lady at the desk sent us to platform 1S, which was going to Genova Brignole. After much confusion and a little running, we made it to platform 18 right at 9:14 am...only to find the train was delayed until 9:25 am. I did a little more research later, and found that if we had stayed on platform 1S, we would have rode the 9:20 am train to Genova Brignole and then transferred to another train to get the rest of the way. I'm glad I trusted my gut instead of her advice.



    Unfortunately, this train was crowded and hot...like no air-conditioning hot. We found four seats near each other, but not all in one place. I also had hoped to have beautiful views of the beach during our ride, but the window had graffiti on it so we couldn't see much. That said, it was only a 45-minute ride and the crowd thinned out after only 2-3 stops.

    We arrived at Camogli at 10:05 am, and started walking down to the beach. The town is very pleasant, and there are a lot of small shops and markets along the way. We found an ATM to get some more cash since we were running low.

    Train station in Camogli
    Street from train station to beach

    The beach itself is beautiful. As much as we loved San Marinella in Corsica, this was on another level. There were several restaurants to choose from that rented chairs, and we chose the one in the picture below with the green umbrellas, Osteria delle 7 Pance. Two chairs and umbrella cost 30€, but as you can see in the photo, they are not right on the water. We opted instead for two 'beds' for 35€, and it was much better. The beds had an awning you could position to block the sun on your face. As you can see from my other picture, there is no sand, only rocks. The good? No sand in your bathing suit! No sand on your feet or legs! The bad? Walking on those rocks hurt! We planned in advance and bought the kids water shoes, which was a MUST. If you want to swim...it might be worth buying a pair for you. I could walk up to the edge of the water in my flip flops, but those 2-3 yards of shallow water were rough until I could start swimming. The restaurant also had good restrooms and a separate locker room to change.

    The beach at Camogli
    The rocks on the beach--they're big!

    It may be hard to make out from the picture above, but there is a giant trampoline in the water. The kids had a lot of fun jumping off of it, but you need to be a good swimmer to get out there. I took the kids out and was okay to tread water while they played and then swam them back to shore. The water is crystal clear, and while there are some fish to see, there is not a lot of interesting things to see underwater.

    For lunch, we went into the restaurant and left our towels and swim stuff on the two beach chairs, just bringing our day bag with us. You are okay to wear bathing suits into the restaurant, and it offers a great view of the beach. I had some focaccia for 10€ that was excellent--it's a dish this area is famous for. DW and the kids both got pizzas for only 8.5€ each, and they were very good for the price. Water was 2€ for a liter, plus a 2€ per person service fee, so the total for lunch worked out to be 37€.



    One last note before we leave the beach--I never heard any English. This is a place that is popular with Italians, but not so much with international tourists. It made it harder to communicate with vendors, but I loved the slower speed and laid back atmosphere.

    Heading back to Genoa, there were two trains per hour--one at the top of the hour, and another 20 minutes past the hour. We decided to head back to the train station to try to catch the 3:00 pm train home. Unfortunately, it was delayed by 20 minutes, but we made it fine back to Genoa by 4 pm. For those keeping score, that was two trains today both delayed by over 10 minutes. Always a good reminder to never wait until the last train to make it back to the ship!

    Back on the ship, it was Pirate night. We were able to get a great spot on the top deck to watch the show. The kids loved it...and I have to admit I did, too. But man was it late! We didn't get to bed until after 11 pm!



    Tomorrow was our second Day at Sea, and we had Palo Brunch to look forward to!
     

    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    DAY 8 - DAY at SEA: The second day at sea was a welcome break for the family to enjoy a relaxing day on the ship. So relaxing in fact, that I took very few notes and pictures...doh! So the report today is going to be a little light.

    So far on the trip, we had eaten every breakfast from the buffet at Cabanas. The buffet had plenty of great options, plus the kids loved getting donuts and muffins for breakfast. Since we were not in a hurry, we decided to try out Lumiere's for breakfast today. It was great! DW and I both agreed that we wished we had dined there for breakfast more, since the quality seemed to be much better than Cabanas (...which shouldn't surprise anyone that made-to-order is better than bulk).

    DW and I had reservations for Palo brunch at noon that day, so we both *tried* to eat a light breakfast. We checked DS and DD into the kids' club and got ready for a nice date without the kids. We played a game of bingo, and the Disney staff makes it so much fun--they really are hilarious. The brunch at Palo was amazing. I won't go into great detail, as other blogs have done it better. I recommend this blog if you want to get the details.

    The buffet includes seafood, charcuterie, pastries, deserts, and others. We did two rounds on the buffet before we ordered an entree from the menu. DW got the ravioli, and I got the veal. Both were very good. We followed up with one more round of desserts after that. The food was so good that we wanted to eat more, but we literally stuffed!


    That afternoon on the ship, we saw Toy Story 4 in the big theater, and then went to dinner afterwards. The kids enjoyed playing shuffleboard that night. DS below is looking rather dapper for semi-formal night. 😄



    Tomorrow was our stop in Villefranche and our tour of Nice!
     

    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    Love the way you've started this so far...look forward to reading all about your trip, as this is a cruise my DH and I are looking at for our 30th anniversary next year! (Have sailed on DCL 15 times, but never the Med, or for more than 7 days).
    I highly recommend this cruise. It was the perfect length, and DW and I loved getting to experience Italy, France, and Spain...especially without having to pack and unpack very few nights! :D
     

    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    Joining in! Love all the detail in your report and I’m super excited to read all about this itinerary. Kids look great on formal night! The Amalfi coast is on my bucket list. Looks incredible
    Thank you! DW and I both wished we had more time in the Amalfi Coast. I could be convinced to stay in a hotel and explore the coast for a week! We didn't have time to go swimming or boating -- just look at that water!



    ...and DS loves dressing up, so we brought him a suit and another blazer. He ended up wearing one of those to at least 7 of the 10 dinners. He was in heaven!

     

    gstdog

    DIS Lurker
    Joined
    Jun 24, 2018
    This is a great trip report! I'll definitely have to visit the cat sanctuary when our family finally visits Rome! 😻
    We liked the cat sanctuary WAY more than we should have. 2,000-year-old temple with incredible history and engineering marvels...or a room with 100 cats all starving for attention? No contest! 😸
     

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