July 25th Venice Cruise Report with Reviews of Disneyland Paris & Private Excursions

Discussion in 'Disney Cruise Line Trip Reports' started by newfamilyman, Aug 25, 2013.

  1. newfamilyman

    newfamilyman DIS Veteran DVC Gold

    Jan 7, 2005
    Our family had a magical and memorable vacation last month, enjoying the Disney, 12-night Venice cruise and spending a couple of days at the beginning at Paris Disneyland and a couple days at the end in Barcelona.

    We did not do any Disney excursions, and the main purpose of this trip review is to help others who are considering different private excursions for Med and European cruises and trips that you are planning for your families. We were mostly glad with the choices that we made, and I want to help others make good choices as well.

    Like so many of you, our family loves Disney and includes Disney in many of our vacations. This was our fifth Disney cruise, with our favorites until that point being the August ’08 Panama Canal on the Magic in ’08 and last year’s Alaska on the Wonder. We had Disneyland premium APs for many years, until Disney almost doubled their price, at which point, it no longer made financial sense to renew, though we still enjoy visiting several days a year.

    DW Karen and I, Carl, live in Los Angeles with DD Kailey, 12, and DS Christopher, 8.

    Air France 380
    We decided that a cruise departing in Europe required a stay in Paris and visit to Disneyland Paris. Going to Paris made it easy to decide to try out Air France’s 380. I read varying reports about sitting upstairs or downstairs, and we ended up flying upstairs on the outbound and downstairs for the return.

    Based on travelers’ comments that I had read online, I was expecting the upper deck to be markedly superior to the lower deck, but this didn’t end up being the case. If you sit in economy on the 380 on the upper deck, as one poster noted, you have to do the walk of shame as you pass business class and then premium economy before you get to your seats. Boarding downstairs and turning right (see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), you won’t have to encounter any of your more fortunate, fellow travelers.

    Another disadvantage to being upstairs is that you have no choice but to be in front of the restrooms, with are shared with premium economy. Where we were sitting downstairs, in row 40, we were in front of the galley, which put us near the drinks and snacks but a cabin away from the lavatories.

    I was surprised that Air France managed to make each compartment feel private by the use of curtains, so you didn’t feel as if you were sitting with 500 other people, which was my only concern.

    You have the option with Air France of paying for an exit row, which I did on the outbound flight, and it turned out to be a mistake. While there was more legroom, the seat was tighter, as a result of a wider armrest to accommodate the tray and video screen, so I was overall more uncomfortable.

    I was very pleased with the Air France flight overall, however. There were many films from which to choose, and I enjoyed a rare double feature of Iron Man 3 followed by a recent French comedy. The stewards were exceptionally helpful and friendly, so no complaints there. Both the seat width and pitch were considerably roomier than economy seats on other aicrcraft. It was a wonderful luxury to fly the A380 on Air France, even in coach.

    Next Installment: Disneyland Paris from the perspective of a Disney-loving, American family.
  2. Scraptographer

    Scraptographer Mouseketeer

    Jun 26, 2013
    Looking forward to reading more. We did the cruise before yours and did all Disney excursions and felt we made mostly good choices too, but I really enjoy seeing all of the different options out there and planning for 'next time' when ever that will be! If we get lucky it may be next summer or the year after, so I am really interested in your thoughts about Venice.
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  4. newfamilyman

    newfamilyman DIS Veteran DVC Gold

    Jan 7, 2005
    Because we were only going to be at Disneyland Paris for two days and one night, I decided to book a private transfer to pick us up at the airport, then bring us to Paris the next day, and then finally bring us to the airport on Thursday morning. I chose RS Transports from the list provided on the Disneyland Paris board and would not recommend them to others. Unlike other drivers, who were picking up their customers directly as they left customs, RS Transports requires its customers to go out a particular numbered door and find them. This proved to be a little tricky, but we did finally locate our driver. The pick-up the next day from Disneyland Hotel went perfectly. Thursday morning, however, outside our Paris hotel, our driver was nowhere to be found. Luckily, I kept getting calls from the company, saying the driver was on his way, and we did end up making it to the airport with time to spare. However, the driver admitted that his alarm clock did not go off, so this was not the most professional or reliable company out there, especially if you have a 7:20 AM flight.

    Disneyland Paris
    Disneyland Paris feels a bit as if you took a Magic Kingdom park and put it in the Animal Kingdom park. It has a completely lush landscape; you are surrounded by greenery, but you have the classic Disneyland attractions. What surprised and delighted me most was that none of them were identical to their American counterparts. Even Astro Blasters had its own, unique show scenes. With the exceptions of Pirates, which was shorter than Anaheim Disneyland’s and with smaller dips, possibly Space Mountain, which was not a smooth ride, all of the rides here were better than their U.S. counterparts.

    For us, the best ride in Disneyland was Big Thunder. Because it is on an island, there is an initial thrill as you are thrust into pitch black tunnel while you go under the water to get to the island, and the ride never lets up from there. Other Big Thunders will be a letdown after this version.

    Disneyland Paris has the old Star Tours, and our experience on this ride was a reminder of how much I dreaded the old version, which always left me feeling beaten up. I was glad I did it, though, to witness the most hilarious and shocking CM interaction that I have ever experienced at a Disney park. Before the ride, the CM instructed everyone to pull up on their yellow straps to make sure the seat belts were fastened. I guess one rider didn’t impress the CM very much, who yelled to him, “Come on, pull it like a man! Don’t be such a *****!” Only in Paris…

    I should add here that we had read before visiting how all of the rides were so much more intense than the ones that we knew and loved. It became a running joke for kids to say things like, “I’ll bet the Small World there has dips.” It didn’t. My research also prepared me to expect line cutting and smoking even in lines, neither of which proved true, although people were completely ignoring the no-smoking signs when outdoors. Watching young teenagers smoke at a Disney park was another, Only in Paris experience (we’ve never been to the Asian parks; maybe they do it there as well).

    We went into Walt Disney Studios Park with low expectations, but I was blown away by how much fun Crush Coaster was. There is a good reason why a long line starts forming as soon as the park opens. By the way, don’t believe the opening times. We got there at 9:45, 15 minutes before the park’s posted 10 am opening time, but there was already a half-hour line for Crush Coaster. There were no early magic hours for this park, so they must have opened it a half hour early.

    Crush Coaster is like a mini-Space Mountain, with a brief dark ride while you ascend the track before the fun starts in earnest. Instead of stars, you feel like you’re cruising along the EAC. The ride is slow-loading, but the pay-off is that you have an intimate ride experience, with only four people, two on each side, per turtle shell. It was a blast, and I wish the lines weren’t so long that we couldn’t have done it twice.

    Another ride unique to Disney Studios that we enjoyed was Armageddon. A little bit like the old Backdraft attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, the Cast Member made it a lot of fun in the pre-show with her enthusiasm. The second part, where you experience the effects, was enjoyable once, but it would be a bit tedious after repeated viewings. The same thing could be said of another of their unique attractions, Cinemagique.

    Disney Studios gets a lot of bashing and regularly appears on the lists of least-attended and least-appreciated Disney parks, for good reason. However, Crush Coaster alone makes visiting the park a must. I only wished that Ratatouille had been open for our visit.

    Next Installment: Disneyland Paris Food and Castle Club at the Disneyland Hotel
  5. newfamilyman

    newfamilyman DIS Veteran DVC Gold

    Jan 7, 2005
    I had read some negative things about Disneyland Paris food, especially at the sit-down restaurants (yes, I’m thinking of you, Tom Bricker!). Luckily for us, that would not prove to be true of our meal at Walt’s. I decided to purchase the half-board plan originally because we were going to book the Disney Dreams reserved seating package, but they didn’t end up offering it this year (which is just as well, since we were long asleep by the time the show started). When I tried to cancel after learning this news, I was informed that there would be a steep cancellation fee, so we kept the plan and booked a table for Walt’s during the parade, something that was recommended in many posts.

    Eating at Walt’s, for us, was likely as close as we were going to get to eating at Club 33; based on the pictures I’ve seen, there are similarities in the design. We loved the ambiance, but the food itself was also surprisingly good. We asked for a seat by the window, which proved a popular request, and the window we got was not facing the Main Street, so we missed most of the parade. The excellence of the food, though, was vastly superior to that of Blue Bayou or the Carthay Circle restaurants at Disneyland Park in Anaheim.

    Because we weren’t sure when or if we would be returning to Disneyland Paris, I decided to splurge by booking a castle club room at the Disneyland Hotel. This property was absolutely magnificent, and again with apologies to Mr. Bricker, I think you would need a magnifying glass to find any flaws with its beauty and upkeep. It took us some time to find our way up to the castle club check-in area, but once we got there, we learned that our room was already ready, though it was only around 2.

    We were given an extremely spacious room facing Disney Village, which was well-appointed in what you might call a Disney luxury style. The greatest benefits of castle club, though, don’t necessarily have much to do with the room. Being able to take an elevator a short walk from your room or the lounge and be three feet away from the turnstiles into the park was pretty thrilling. Getting a VIP Fastpass card that works at all the Fastpass-enabled attractions, admitting you to that line immediately with no return time, was pure indulgence and a fantastic time-saver. A final luxury was being able to leave our bags in the room when we left for the parks the next day when we checked out, and we picked them up at the lobby. The whole process was seamless and required no lugging of bags on our part.

    The food at the lounge was vastly superior to what is offered in the concierge club of the Grand Californian at Anaheim, the best hotel of the three there by far. The lounge bar has an espresso machine, and they can make some great coffee. It was a nice change to get glass bottles of water, not plastic (and for that matter, it was definitely strange to be able to bring glass into the park, or for that matter, to not have anyone check your bags before you enter a Disney park).

    One of the pleasures of visiting a Disney park is snacking. It’s always fun to try out a foreign country’s different and unique potato chip flavor, and one of the popular ones here was Lay’s Rotisserie Chicken flavor. It was pretty incredible to eat a potato chip that tasted like rotisserie chicken, but if you go to Paris, you can try it out yourself. I don’t exactly miss them, but it was fun to try once.

    Next Installment: Paris in a Day
  6. ukintheus

    ukintheus DIS Veteran

    Aug 3, 2009
    Thanks for posting. We are going to try to get to DLP next year & so I'm trying to soak up all the tips I can get. :thumbsup2
  7. newfamilyman

    newfamilyman DIS Veteran DVC Gold

    Jan 7, 2005
    Since we had only one day in Paris, it made sense to book a tour. I always start with Viator because I have found them to be very reliable and have only had good experiences with their tour operators. Other reasons I book with them include: (1) they often have sales which can be combined with various promotional codes (HERTZ10 is the one I use the most often to get 10% off); (2) you can cancel without penalty; (3) when an international tour operator requires that you call to confirm with them directly, a potentially costly requirement, Viator will do it for you; (4) they give frequent flyer miles; and (5) you can get 2% of the price back through Mr. Rebates.

    The only negative that I have experienced with Viator is that sometimes the hold times can be very long. They used to tell you how many callers were ahead of you on the recording, but now you just have to suffer through some pretty long hold times. On the other hand, if you don’t need to cancel or confirm with an international tour operator, you may never need to call them. I usually only turn to other booking agencies or tour operators directly when Viator doesn’t have what I’m looking for.

    Having experienced so many private and small group tours on this trip, I now have a better sense of what I am looking for in a tour guide. Here’s my list, if it helps you better select a tour or operator:
    1. Speaks English fluently.
    2. Gives you a good flavor of the culture you are visiting.
    3. Punctual.
    4. Gets you where you need to be without incident.
    5. Delivers the tour that was promised.
    6. Doesn’t ignore the kids. (This was the hardest, since it was hard to find tours which were designed for kids or were at least intentionally family-friendly.)

    With that said, for our day in Paris, we chose the Paris in One Day Sightseeing Tour, which included visits to the Louvre, Eiffel Tour, and Notre Dame Cathedral, with transportation by a Seine river cruise and lunch at the Eiffel Tour included.

    We had not eaten before arriving, since I had read a Viator review post which, incorrectly as it turned out, said that the given address was misleading. As a result, we had one of the most expensive meals of the trip: eight croissants, two cups of café crème, one bottle of water, and one individually-sized, plastic container of jam (which alone cost an astonishing €1.50), for €55. I marveled throughout the rest of the trip at how many of our meals would also end up equaling this price but would be considerably more substantive! So my main tip for this tour is to eat before going, since everything near the Tuileries is incredibly expensive and overpriced, and the tour office is easy to find.

    As for the tour itself, it was easy to find the tour operator, directly across form the Tuileries metro stop. We had a fairly small group mostly made up of couples but also one other family. It was a short walk to the Louvre, where it felt so good to pass what looked like thousands of people trying to get inside. Once we got in the museum, Paulina did rant quite a bit about the rudeness of Asian tourists, whom she described as unapologetically banging into you with great frequency. I guess if it was your job to be a tour guide, it might bother you more than it did us.

    We rushed through the museum, seeing the three ladies, as she labeled them, and then took the first segment of the Seine river cruise to the Eiffel tower. Again, we bypassed lines to get almost immediately on an elevator that took us to the first level, where we ate at Le 58 Tour Eiffel. This tour did not include the elevator to the second level, but we enjoyed the walk up after the excellent meal. Each couple or family got their own table, so lunch was not a community event, as I had feared might be the case.

    We had enough time after the meal to visit a little shopping village set up near the tower. My son jumped on a trampoline, which resulted in one of my favorite pictures of the trip, his jumping extremely high after being bounced by one of the workers, with the Eiffel tower in the background. The only problem is that the worker was, in the fashion of a plumber, showing a little bit too much of his butt in all the pictures. I guess that made it more French?

    The tour concluded at the Notre Dame Cathedral. Paulina gave us a little information about the cathedral and sent us on our way. We wanted to return to Tuileries, where much to our surprise and delight, there was a County fair of sorts installed for the summer, which we would have never known about if not for the location of the tour operator. Unfortunately, the tour did not include taking the Seine river cruise back to our starting place, so we had to take the metro.

    Paulina and the tour met almost all of my criteria, as she failed only in initiating any contact with the kids. Otherwise, she gave us a wonderful flavor of the French culture. My favorite of her stories was when she described being told by an American tourist one, “You can’t be French.” When she asked why not, he replied, “Because you are smiling.” And she was, of course, laughing as she was telling the story. She told him that some French people do smile. She also joked that going on strike was the main French pastime.

    Ending the day at the Tuileries fair was a lot of fun. The highlight was the log flume ride, which gave a wonderful view of the Eiffel tour before the final drop. Given that I was really missing some sort of water ride at Disneyland Paris, this really hit the spot and was the perfect way to end the day and our brief stay in Paris.

    Let me finally and briefly review the hotel where we stayed, Le Meridien Etoile. I had about 40,000 Starpoints that I could use toward a hotel, and since we needed two nights, and European hotels don’t have big enough rooms to accommodate four of us in one room, and since we didn’t want to stay at the airport, I selected Le Meridien by process of elimination. This was definitely a business hotel, located across the street from the convention center. The rooms were as small as reviewed elsewhere; unlike what I read in a blog, though, I had no problems communicating by e-mail with the hotel staff, who were able to confirm two, connecting rooms. The bathrooms had a sliding screen instead of a door, and one of the rooms had a tub, while the other had just a shower. All in all, it was a good value for Starpoints redemption, since the “nicer” Starwood Paris hotels charged double the number of points.

    Next Installment: White water rafting in Villefranche with a private guide
  8. newfamilyman

    newfamilyman DIS Veteran DVC Gold

    Jan 7, 2005
    We knew that we wanted to do white water rafting in Villefranche, but DS was too young for the Disney excursion. I was able to find a rafting company, Base Sport Nature, but they explained that they were in the middle of nowhere, and I would have to rent a car to get there. I didn’t want to go through all that trouble, so the next step was to find a private guide/driver to get us there, which proved to be surprisingly difficult. Eventually I happened upon the
    toursbylocals website and found a guide Jacques Cygler. He agreed to drive us to camp and then bring us back after the rafting trip. Base Sport Nature was able to confirm an 11:45 rafting time, so we were good to go. Thanks to the disboards, we found a family in Canada who was interested in joining us and thereby splitting Jacques’ fee.
    (As an aside, I asked Jacques why there were so few local guides. He explained that most guides are women, and they have families and like to be with their kids during the summers.)

    Jacques was the ideal tour guide in so many ways. He was the consummate Frenchman and storyteller. An Olympic silver medalist for fencing and long-time director of protocol for the Cannes film festival, being a passenger in his comfortable van was like attending a one-man show. His re-enactment of Grace Jones calling to ask his permission to walk down the red carpet with a tiger was almost worth the cost of the tour alone. Elton John and Michael Jackson were other names that he enjoyed dropping.

    Jacques was not perfect, however; in fact, he came close to ruining the day for us. He turned out to be wrong about where to bring us, partially because he could not know how to input coordinates into his GPS. As a result, we came pretty close to missing our rafting trip. It felt like one of those Amazing Race episodes where a bad taxi driver causes an unlucky team the race. We were stopping to ask for directions and trying to find signs. Luckily, we finally found where we needed to be with enough time to complete the trip.

    Jacques was also no fan of kids, as he repeated several times. When I asked, for example, why he never wanted to teach fencing, he said that he lacked the patience, though he didn’t say it as nicely as that (he mimicked shooting unfortunate students). He also couldn’t refrain from swearing, mostly in English, though I don’t think the kids were paying attention. The ride was also very windy, and I would recommend anyone prone to carsickness take medication before going on this drive.

    Base Sport Nature was an excellent tour operator for white water rafting. As soon as Jacques figured out the meeting place, the guide met us and quickly got us outfitted in our wet suits and gear. Rafting down the Verdun river with its majestic mountains providing awe-inspiring views, this was the highlight of the trip. It is fair to say that for both of our families, this was the must-do excursion for ports in the south of France. It was an extremely hot day, and the ice-cold water couldn’t have been more refreshing. We all wanted the tour to go on much longer than it did, but we had to get back to the port.

    The only problem with the rafting took place much later. A photographer with the shop Verdun Photo takes pictures of all rafters, and we went to visit their shop later to try to buy the photos. Because we could not wait the additional half hour that it would take for the photographer to return with our photos, we had to communicate by e-mail. The owner refused to accept payment by PayPal or credit card and required a bank transfer, which cost half as much as the pictures. He promised to begin using PayPal next year, so hopefully future rafters won’t have this problem. It was worth the trouble, though, to have pictures from that special day.

    I highly recommend using toursbylocals to book private a private guide, and for our group, it was the only way that we were able to go white water rafting. Another major plus is that you could charge the whole amount to your credit card, and it was a further bonus that they didn’t add any expensive surcharges. We didn’t want to bring thousands of Euros with us, and getting some companies (Rome in Limo, I’m talking to you) to accept payment by credit card required much cajoling.

    Next Installment: Pisa and Lucca with Rome in Limo
  9. newfamilyman

    newfamilyman DIS Veteran DVC Gold

    Jan 7, 2005
    I found reading trip reports to be the most helpful way to plan for a Med cruise. While the disboards have a great variety from which to choose, the cruisecritic boards are also a valuable resource. The ships may be different, but the itineraries are not, and one ingredient that virtually all Med cruise reports seem to have in common is Rome in Limo.

    Unlike most other customers, our experience with them was decidedly mixed, starting with the booking process. Jany (the person who will contact you when you inquire about booking) and I had been exchanging e-mails on a daily basis, working out the details before I put down a credit card deposit. I was pretty floored one morning to receive an e-mail from her, informing me that they no longer have the availability on my dates and please call on them again when my travel plans included Italy. I wrote back to complain that we were all but done in finalizing the details, and then Jany abruptly replied that OK, we can book with them after all. It’s hard to know whether they were genuinely booked or if it was just a ruse to get us to commit. There were certainly enough Rome in Limo drivers in every port to make me think it was more of the latter; there were almost as many of them as there were busses.

    We were met by Riccardo, who was friendly. He lives in Lucca and gave us the choice, after our reserved slot to climb Pisa, to either remain in the main town of Lucca for lunch and then to ride bikes and explore or to go to the countryside first, where he lives, for lunch at a restaurant favored by locals and then return to Lucca for the afternoon to bike and the obligatory gelato. He made the latter option seem more appealing, so we chose that one.

    The first stop was Pisa. Climbing the steps to the top was like no other experience I have ever had before. As you are alternatingly pulled from one side of the narrow wall to the other, it was quite a disorienting and unsettling experience, but in a fun way. I guess it has to be experienced to be understood. Don’t miss it, and don’t bring a bag with you; they’re not allowed inside the tower.

    The second most fun thing to do there is to watch how ridiculous everybody else looks taking their required, pushing the tower pictures. I could have spent some time just watching the never-ending, dominoes of a line of evenly-spaced people taking these pictures, but instead, we headed to Lucca, a short drive from Pisa.

    After a drive through the countryside, it was time for lunch, which turned out to be the worst meal of the trip. Why anyone would go there twice was beyond me; the food was that mediocre. When we got there, we needed to use the bathroom, and Riccardo told us that it was downstairs. We walked through a doorway, which turned out to be through the kitchen, and all of the staff, who were having their lunch, yelled at us as we descended the stairs to the bathroom. Nothing like a warm Italian welcome! It turned out that there was a sign over the doorway saying something to the effect of, don’t even think of going through this door, but not speaking the tongue, its message was lost on us.

    Earlier that day, Riccardo had suggested that we get the specialty of the region, which was steak, and to avoid the seafood. However, when I asked the waitress for her recommendation, she suggested—you guessed it—the seafood, which turned out to be a fried anchovy or sardine-type of fish. It came with a salad, which was basically just lettuce with a couple of tomatoes, and oil and vinegar dressing. The kids got pasta, which I tasted, and the sauce could have come from a jar—and maybe it did. It certainly didn’t taste like any other obviously homemade red sauce that we ordered in other restaurants in Italy.

    But the place wasn’t done with us yet. We bought a bottle of wine, and much later, after Riccardo picked us up after we had biked and explored Lucca, I realized that I must have left my credit card at the restaurant. So we had to go back. Afterwards, Riccardo informed us that the owner blamed me, saying I was more interested in the wine than in my credit card. Let’s just say that that’s not exactly how I remembered it.

    If you have kids, biking in Lucca is a really fun way to round out the day, and biking around the city couldn’t be any easier. We had wanted initially to rent a surrey, but I was amazed that there was only one company that rented them, and they only had a few, which were all rented. We just rented individual bikes instead, which proved to be one of the best bargains of the trips. It was initially odd to not wear a helmet, which is the law in our parts, but luckily, we didn’t experience any injuries.

    We were extremely hot afterwards and decided on getting the gelato in the free time we had before Riccardo picked us up. Afterwards, we returned to the restaurant to get my credit card and then back to the ship. It was definitely a memorable day—climbing Pisa and biking around a charming, old Italian town was another great day in the Mediterranean.

    Next Installment: The Coliseum and Gladiator School with Rome in Limo
  10. newfamilyman

    newfamilyman DIS Veteran DVC Gold

    Jan 7, 2005
    We were again greeted right on time by our Rome in Limo driver, who today was Big Nick. Big Nick turned out to be the gold standard for a tour guide. He picked us up in a very comfortable van (we were with our Canadian friends again today), with free Wi Fi. He got us everywhere on time. Even though we had made arrangements for Gladiator School on Viator, and not booked it directly with Rome in Limo, he made no snide remarks and made sure we were there right on time. He even presented an optical illusion for us on the way back to top off the day. In short, he knew how to do his job expertly.

    It was extremely hot today. I remember reading Sherry’s report on cruisecritic (if you haven’t read it, it is a must-read; here is the link: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1668619 ), when she talked about Africa hot having nothing on Pompeii hot. Well, I see your Pompeii hot and raise you to Rome hot. It was 110ºF with what felt like 100% humidity.

    The ride to town was extremely brief. On a day as hot as this one, only tourists were interested in spending time in the city, since all the traffic was heading toward the beaches and the port. It was nice to avoid crowded trains and get free Wi-Fi.

    After a brief tour of the city, our first stop was the Coliseum. Our Canadian friends were interested in a guided tour (we were originally going to do it on our own), and we agreed to split the cost of the guide arranged by Rome in Limo. In retrospect, it was a good decision because I would challenge anyone to navigate the chaos of all the different entrance lines. Mercifully, Federica, our guide, got us right inside.

    Federica made the Coliseum tour as pleasant as it could have been, given the crowds (you would have thought real gladiators were going to do battle, there were so many visitors) and the intense heat. We did learn some things, and Federica was an energetic and informative guide.

    Big Nick picked us up, took us to a great, quick restaurant and made sure that we left on time. I’m still trying to figure out how an Italian restaurant in Rome ran out of spaghetti with tomato sauce (three of the kids chose that for lunch, but they only had enough for two, so it was split three ways), but the food that they did have was delicious, especially the pizza, our first of the trip.

    The final stop of the day was Gladiator school - again, props to Big Nick for finding it without difficulty and not giving us any grief for having booked this tour independently. Our host at the museum greeted us by asking how crazy we were for booking this tour in the middle of the afternoon on such a hot day, and it was a reasonable question.

    The experience began in a museum of sorts depicting the history of gladiators and battle. In America, we have Civil War re-enactors; in Rome, they have Roman battle re-enactors, and our guide and teacher was one of the leaders of his regiment. I’ve never toured a Civil War battlefield, but I now have a sense of what that experience would be like if the tour guide was one of the re-enactors. Our guide was incredibly serious and humorless when it came to Roman war history and the replicas in the “museum.” Those who smiled while donning the various battle armor were scolded, whereas I was praised for the warrior expression I gave when it was my turn. After an hour, we were as much done in by the stifling heat in this small, airless room (I would have fainted if we had stayed any longer) as we were by the partisan, biased framework through which we were learning the history of Rome and its battles. It was along the lines of, “Rome was the greatest empire that ever existed, and let me tell you about all the places we conquered.”

    It was then finally time to learn about being a gladiator. My impression from the video (here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RYZClJgauE) was that the time spent in the “museum” would be brief, relative to the time spent in battle. It turned out to be that the opposite was true. We did go through the gauntlet, but the lesson on swordplay couldn’t have lasted five minutes. It was fun watching some of the battles, but again, we were done in by the heat, since there wasn’t much shade outside.

    Big Nick was there to pick us up and bring us back to the port in plenty of time. Again, he was the consummate professional.

    We had a chance to see what we wanted to see in Rome, but unfortunately, the weather just worked against us to create a more positive experience. We would have more success once we got back in the water, though that would be a few days away.
    Next Installment: Mt. Vesuvius, Sorrento, Herculaneum, and Arrivederci to Rome in Limo

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