May 23

Norwegian Epic Debarkation

In one of my last posts about last years cruise on the Norwegian Epic in the Mediterranean I wanted to touch on debarkation.  I have one more post on Palma, but I thought this was a more timely topic since the ship is not stopping at Palma this year.

For those who have never cruise before, this is how a typical debarkation goes.  The night before your last morning you need to pack your bags up and leave them outside your cabin door, typically by midnight.  Then the staff comes around and picks them up, takes them to the cargo areas until the ship is in port.  When you leave the ship in the morning you will find your bag in the terminal waiting for you.

You do have the option of walking off with all your luggage the last morning too, but if you pack like me, that’s not much of an option.  For the rest of us, you’ll need to have a second, smaller bag for your last minute stuff – PJ’s, toiletries and anything you wouldn’t want in your main luggage (valuables, glass, etc).

On the 5th day of the cruise Norwegian made luggage tags available for debarkation, this was announced with an information packet on debarkation that is left in your room.  The tags are color coded depending on when you anticipate leaving the ship.  By the time I actually went to get my tags all the late times were gone.  Since I was staying in Barcelona 2 more nights I didn’t need to be off the ship at 7am, I believe we were allowed to stay until 9am.

I tagged my bags with the 7am tags, but decided to sleep in and leave the ship around 8:30.  Having cruised before I know the chaos on the ship on debarkation morning.  Everyone trying to get breakfast and say goodbye to new friends, with their small luggage.  Forget the buffet unless you enjoy crowds!

Not interested in the chaos I opted to get up, dress, and finish my packing.  I then went to the studio lounge and had a continental breakfast.  I would have preferred a full breakfast, but this was much more civilized.  I met a few cruisers and chatted about the cruise, I made arrangements to meet a girl who was staying at the same hotel as me so we could share a taxi.  The only issue I ran into with this was that I had no idea it was cold and rainy that morning until I was outside the ship freezing my arms off.

After breakfast I grabbed my small suitcase and got off the ship.  Although it was well after the time my luggage expected me, it was there waiting for me under a sign that said 7am.  I had not been the only person to leave their luggage waiting.

My new friend and I met in the luggage area and then waited on a long, but quick moving taxi line.

Overall the debarkation seemed very civilized for a ship of this size.  I didn’t have to deal with the crowds in the buffet, but did see that the elevators were crowded and you would have to wait a bit for one.  This is one time when being on a lower deck can be a pain, by the time the elevator gets back down to you, it’s usually full.  But the luggage area was big and roomy so you could navigate with your luggage.

Mar 21

Exclusive Italian Riviera & Pompeii Part 2

This is Part 2 of 2 on my Norwegian Epic tour:  Exclusive Italian Riviera & Pompeii.

Just a couple facts about this tour – it was a “small” group tour – 18 people max in a mini bus.  It was an expensive tour, over $400 a person.  The tour visits Positano, Sorrento and Pompeii – it was the only tour offered by the cruise line that went to Positano (only mini buses can get there).  The tour consists of a visit to Positano and Sorrento, lunch in Sorrento and a guided tour of Pompeii.  In this post I’ll talk about Pompeii.

During our drives around the Amalfi Coast we had been given information about the Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius.  We were told about the advance warning system (based on the volcano’s activities giving 20 days to 2 weeks notice) and the different evacuation zones.  The Red Zone includes 18 towns and 600,000 people.  The Yellow Zone includes Naples.  Mt. Vesuvius erupting would be bad….

Before the eruption that covered Pompeii in the year 79, Mt. Vesuvius had one peak, since then you’ll notice that there are two peaks to Mt. Vesuvius. 

Our visit to Pompeii started with a stop at a cameo shop, we had a quick demonstration (about 5 minutes) and then a few minutes to shop and use the bathroom.  There was no hard sell by our tour guide or by the people doing the demo.  However, in the shop they were polite, but definitely trying to sell.

Amphitheater

Once inside we had a guided tour of Pompeii.  Our guide was very knowledgeable and showed us a lot of the elements of daily life in Pompeii.  How to tell which homes were owned by the wealthy, how they crossed the street before sewers, what the inside of a brothel looked like (a very popular spot) and even how to tell what type of front a store or house might have had. 

Line for the Brothel

We also got to see some of the casts from the excavation.  When people or animals were covered in ash a mold was made of them, eventually the bodies disintegrated, but the casts remained in tact.  From those casts they can re-create molds of the people and animals who died in the aftermath.  It was very moving and disturbing to see the faces and bodies.  The worst was the dog, and it made me wonder about the molds they do not display.

The answer to the street being the sewage system

At the end of the tour we went by what appeared to have been a cliff like area (The water was closer back in 97 AD), it was a beautiful setting for the edge of Pompeii, even now with the water further away.

Entrance to a home of the wealthy

After our tour of Pompeii we were given 20-30 minutes to walk around outside, there was a little market selling souvenirs and a “coffee” shop.  We were one of the lucky tours to end before it started to rain, and we left a few minutes ahead of schedule, taking the 30 minute ride back to the ship.  I know a few other people got caught mid-tour in the rain and there wasn’t much for cover in the site. 

Mt. Vesuvius

We were back at the ship an hour or two before sailing, giving a little time to relax before dinner and the nighttime entertainment.

Overall this was a great tour.  I’m not sure it was independently worth the $400+ it costs, until you compared it to the prices of the other ship tours. 

As with most tours offered in Europe through the cruise lines, you can find better deals through local vendors, much better deals.  You do lose the security that comes with taking a ship tour (the cruise line is responsible for getting you back to the ship if it leaves without you).  For some the security it worth the cost (I was traveling by myself), for others they prefer to save money or to tour independently.  Neither choice is wrong, but a personal preference.

You can follow me on Twitter @Travelingiraffe

Mar 14

Exclusive Italian Riviera & Pompeii Part 1

Positano

This is Part 1 of 2 about the tour I did from the Port of Naples – Exclusive Italian Riviera & Pompeii offered by Norwegian Cruise line on the Norwegian Epic.

Just a couple facts about this tour – it was a “small” group tour – 18 people max in a mini bus.  It was an expensive tour, over $400 a person.  The tour visits Positano, Sorrento and Pompeii – it was the only tour offered by the cruise line that went to Positano (only mini buses can get there).  The tour consists of a visit to Positano and Sorrento, lunch in Sorrento and a guided tour of Pompeii.  In this post I’ll talk about Positano and Sorrento. 

Positano

The ride to Positano is about 45 minutes to an hour along the coast, it’s beautiful – I suggest getting a seat on the right side of the bus for the views.  The drop off is at the top of Positano at a gas station/garage and we were given 45 minutes to explore.  This was enough time to walk the winding alley to the beach front of Positano and either do some shopping or have a cup of coffee.  The beach does have boat launches to Capris if you’re visiting independently.  I can tell you that it’s beautiful here, but that would be an understatement – let the pictures be your guide.  Positano isn’t the most exciting place, but it is a beautiful setting and a quaint little town.  The shopping in Positano is pricey though, although there is quite a bit of touristy stuff, it’s of a more independent style.

 

Positano
Positano Beach

After Positano we had a 30 to 45 minute drive to Sorrento and then an hour to walk around.  Sorrento was not a sleepy as Positano, there are lots of shops and restaurants.  The town was bustling the day I was there, it was FULL of tourists, probably due to the 7,000ish cruise passengers in Naples that day.  The shopping here is very touristy – pashminas, scarves, purses, and toys.  If you’re just looking for touristy types of gifts this is a good spot.

Sorrento

Local to the area is lemon stuff – lemonchello and lemon drops.

Sorrento

I could see Positano and Sorrento both as lovely romantic vacation spots.  Positano is the more exclusive, quieter and more romantic.  Sorrento being more reasonably priced and having more energy to it.  Sorrento is also closer to Pompeii if you’re interested in a visit there. 

After our free time we had a lunch stop at a hotel in Sorrento with fabulous views of the water.  The lunch was excellent, fresh tender homemade pasta with a cheesy filling – what I would expect from this tour and hotel.  Aside from the great view the restaurant had a balcony so you could overlook the sea and get some fresh air.  The restaurant was also quiet with just two tour groups.

View From Lunch

So far I had enjoyed the first part of the tour.  During our long rides along the coast we were given information about Naples and the region, but since that is primary about mount Vesuvius I’ll leave that for the post about Pompeii in the next few weeks.

View From Lunch

You can find me on Twitter at: @Travelingiraffe

Feb 08

The Ports Of Livorno and Civitavecchia

Port Side in Livorno

The port of Livorno, Italy is the closest port to Florence, a popular stop for ships in the Western Mediterranean.  The port of Civitavecchia is the port that is closest to Rome.  I just want to take a moment to set your expectations accordingly for the immediate port areas. 

The good view at Livorno

Livorno is a VERY industrial port.  You will not be able to walk off the ship at this port and do anything.  Actually, I’m not sure that even a few miles from the port there is much to do.  I’m sure their is a town nearby, but I distinctly remember driving for a decent bit before seeing anything that remotely resembled the Tuscany in my dreams.  I haven’t heard of anyone getting off the port for a little while to just enjoy the area.  I highly suggest planning a tour either through the cruise line or privatly if you want to get off the ship.

Starboard Side in Livorno

Civitavecchia is a little better.  You cannot walk out of the the port area, you must take a free shuttle bus out of the port to Cicitavecchia, but here there is an actual little town.  It’s nothing fancy, but there are some shops, restaurants and a beachy area.  This isn’t the type of place you’ll spend a day, but it would be perfectly suitable if you just wanted to escape the ship for an hour or two without the cost and energy required to visit Rome or take another excursion of the area. 

I was quite shocked when I visited Livorno, I expected the port area to be somewhat industrial, given that it’s the place where shipping happens.  But, from what I could tell their was nothing there to entice those who stayed onboard for the day to take a quick trip off the ship for anything.  Civitavecchia was much closer to my expectations, but probably because of the research I had done prior to the cruise.

Happy Sailing

Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter: Travelingiraffe

Nov 30

Epic Dining

While sailing the Norwegian Epic I had the opportunity to dine in several of the dining venues, with mixed results.

Taste is the more casual of the two main dining rooms.  I had lunch and dinner here with mixed experiences.  I found the staff to be friendly here, but they were hit and miss on the service.  Some servers were very good and on top of things, others would forget to bring things you had asked for.  I did eat with someone who had special dietary requirements and found that the head waitress (or whatever their title is) did try to meet that request.  But I didn’t find they were as aggressive about it as they could have been.

Manhattan Room

Manhattan Room is the formal main dining room.  I ate one dinner here.  The staff was very good and quite attentive.

I believe both main dining rooms had the same menu everyday with base items on it.  Then everyday they would have a few special items offered that were local to the region we were in.

Cagney’s Steak House has a $25 up charge and from what I can tell offers better choices and cuts of meat as well as also offering Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail.  The food and the service here were better then the main dining rooms, but it was also pretty quite in the restaurant.  I think this is a good choice for the steak lovers out there.  There was also a Moderno Churrascaria a Brazilian meatfest! One of those places where they bring around different types of meat.  I did not eat here, but I heard good things from those who did.

Shanghai’s Chinese Restaurant was a disappointment at $15.  I would compare this to a better Chinese restaurant you can find in many places throughout the US.  Except that it had the worst fried rice I’ve ever had, it was sticky and flavorless.

Teppanyaki at $25 this was similar to going to any other Hibachi place in the US and for a similar price.  But, like every other Hibachi place it was fun experience with good food.  And they had really good green martini’s.  I wish I remember the name of it, but I had too many!

O’Sheehans Neighborhood Bar and Grill offers breakfast and then regular food for the rest of the day.  This is a nice spot for a quicker breakfast (without going through a buffet).  They offered a quick breakfast or you could get breakfast to order.  In the afternoon and evening they had a Irish Pub menu – burgers, fish and chips, meatloaf, chicken pot pie…  This was a nice casual place to eat, but after 2 or 3 meals the menu got boring.

The Garden Cafe on the pool deck was, in my experience, above average compared to other shipboard buffets for lunch and dinner.  I rarely encountered a line here, and found a wide variety of food options.  But they had the BEST pretzel breadsticks, I miss those!

I covered the Spiegel Tent Cirque Dreams in a previous post.  I believe they had just changed the menu there and I thought the food was good, but you really go to see Cirque Dreams and not for the food.

Sorry, but I did not get to eat at the French restaurant, the Italian restaurant, noodle place or the sushi place.

Nov 23

Photos on the Norwegian Epic

The Norwegian Epic is the first ship I sailed on that uses facial recognition for photographs and; Wow, what a difference it makes!

When you board the ship they take your photo, like they do for most ships these days.  After that whenever you take a photo the photo software uses facial recognition to identify you in photos.  And it does a great job at it!

The photo area of the ship has triangular pillars with a binder for each cabin, photos are placed in your binder.  No more searching through walls of people in the same photo setting as you.

Ok, there was a wall of photos where they weren’t able to identify someone, but it was a small wall and I know that every photo I took ended up in my binder.

They do also scan room cards when going to the professional photographers, which I’m sure does help the process, but the mobile photographers did not do this.  That is what made this so amazing.

In addition to the binders they also have computer screens where you can view and order your photos.  If there is a bad photo, you can say that it’s not you and it magically goes away.  You just have to be careful that you don’t do that to a good photo, I’m not sure if there is a way to get it back. You can also order prints through the computers.

From what I hear the Disney Dream may have similar technology, I hope it does.  It’s really fantastic and makes the photo buying experience soooo much better on cruise ships!