Sweet: My husband and I love to travel. He prefers lounging poolside and ordering room service, while I prefer to go out and experience.
Sour: My nephew graduated from college, and his family wanted a trip to Europe that my wife planned.
Sweet: Since I had time, felt capable and confident…I planned the trip, presenting several itineraries to pick from. During dinner, locations were finalized, and the details were left to me. Essentially, our trip would have three parts: Rome, a Mediterranean cruise, and Venice.
Sour: Due to busy schedules, our time of travel would occur in hot weather, attractions would be near capacity, and we would pay higher peak season costs. Fortunately, my wife had several months to plan, making these aspects easier to accept.
Part 1. Rome, Italy
Sweet: Our group of 12 consisted of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews from the ages of 10 to 82. Flights were booked on the budget carrier, Norwegian Air, and the cruise was booked through Costco Travel (Costco cash card bonus!) on the family-friendly, Norwegian Cruise Line. Fast-forward several months, and it was time to meet at LAX and depart for Rome.
Sour: We arrived to our hotel near the Pantheon, Arch Rome Suites, with a minor hiccup. I left a suitcase behind on the luggage carousel, but was able to sprint back and retrieve it.
Sweet: The Pantheon neighborhood is a central location to explore from, a short walk to many of Rome’s top sights. Built during Hadrian’s reign, the Pantheon itself is a well preserved 2,000 year old temple. Once used by pagans and as a court, it was later converted by the Popes for Christian worship.
Sweet: Most of the restaurants we visited were within a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Reservations were made in advance with reviews and ratings verified. Our first lunch at Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina was quintessentially Roman. We ate fresh buffalo mozzarella with vine ripened tomatoes, jamon iberico, and cacio e pepe – a delicious Roman cheese and pepper pasta, followed by gelato at Fatamorgana (a favorite) on our way back to the hotel.
Sweet: After a good night’s rest, we started our morning at the hotel’s breakfast buffet.Roaming Around Rome Sweet: Post guided tours, we passed by beautiful fountains and ruins, followed by dinner, and a final gelato. We lingered in the beloved Piazza Campo de’ Fiori – known for its daily farmers market, the Baroque Piazza Novana – one of the most popular squares in Rome with three spectacular fountains sculpted by Bernini, Giacomo della Porta, Antonio Della Bitta, and Gregorio Zappalà, Trevi Fountain, and the crowded but picturesque Spanish Steps.
Sour: Thousands of water fountains were built by popes for beauty and functionality, supplying an abundance of fresh drinking water. Be sure to remember your water bottle. Larger fountains are patrolled by officers to offer protection from badly behaved tourists who are scolded or ticketed for sitting on the ledge, bathing their feet, or reenacting La Dulce Vita.
Sweet: Despite long lines, with a reservation we were able to walk directly into the Vatican Museums where we experienced endless al frescoes, statues, and painted galleries.
Sour: The Vatican doesn’t have A/C, and the museum fills to capacity…this makes for a miserably hot summer visit. We barely managed to make it out in walkable condition (before & after photos above).
Angels & Demons Tour
Sour: Despite expectations, a 4-hour long Angels & Demons tour by City Wonders was a highlight! Air conditioned buses took us around Rome, from churches to castles – with our favorites stops being Castel St. Angelo, and the basilica, Santa Maria della Vittoria to view the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.
Sweet: We finished the tour with a lunch at Armando el Pantheon, a long standing Roman family restaurant deservingly listed in the Michelin Guide. Most restaurants served pizza, and if not, there was a place to grab a slice nearby, making even the pickiest of eaters happy.
Sour: When in Rome…enjoy a coffee at an espresso bar, use bread to dip into your pasta sauce (not asking for olive oil/balsamic), order Roman specialties, and linger a while as waiters ensure you don’t feel rushed.
Cruise, Day 1. All Aboard!
Sour: After spending four nights in Rome, we were ready to depart on the Norwegian Epic, our ship away from home for the next seven nights. Once on-board, we headed to the buffet, piling our plates with prime rib, seafood, and an array of desserts. As the sun set, the ship pulled away and we settled into our cabins.
Sweet: At the first port of call, vans took us to Florence, stopping in Pisa, and the Tuscan countryside. Florence, known by locals as Firenze, is historical Renaissance city filled with art, giant slabs of steak, and culture. If the weather had been cooler, we would have enjoyed it even more.
Sour: After an intense day of heat, we decided that our next day in Cannes should be a beach day! We rented beach chairs, and swam in the sea. We visited the prestigious Hotel Carlton, where I shelled out $24 for a milkshake. Afterwards we strolled through town before tendering to the ship.
Sweet: Palma provided a delicious taste of Spain. At Calixto, the owner serves one dish, Paella. Our giant seafood paella was devoured alongside pitchers of sangria. We should have ordered more!
Sour: Gothic and Arab architecture made for a unique backdrop while meandering the streets. We shopped, and of course, enjoyed more gelato. Be sure not to shop at Supreme, it was later found that the great priced gifts were fake.
Sour: One of my favorite port of calls was Barcelona, where our tour guide acquainted us with Catalan modernist Antoni Gaudí. I marveled the enormity of the nearly complete Basílica de la Sagrada Família.
Sour: The following day was spent at sea. We enjoyed a chance to rest, eat to our stomach’s content, gamble (a must-do for the grandparents), play arcade games, have a (too expensive) family photo session, and get laundry done. The main pool deck was crowded, making it was hard to find lounge chairs together. All in all, we enjoyed the chance to take a pause.
Sweet: Our next stops were favorites. Sorrento is dotted with swimming docks, where holiday goers lounge under bright umbrellas. We enjoyed the view from atop the cliffs before shopping for leather goods, ceramics, and scarves. It’s marked on the list to return someday, with more time to spend under an umbrella.
Sweet: On the last night of the cruise, we packed for another adventure. Transportation modes included a bus, two trains, and a water taxi to end up at our final destination, Venice.
Sweet: After dinner, it felt as if Venice had been abandoned for us to enjoy alone. A midnight gondola ride to celebrate our anniversary through the empty canals had a romantic feel.
Sweet: One of the most fun ways to explore is by boat. We saw local neighborhoods, bridges, and facades of buildings that otherwise would be missed.
Sweet: Venice has an abundance of fresh seafood, local markets, and delicious desserts. At our two favorite restaurants Al Gazzettino, & La Colombina, we let the chefs choose our menus. We were delighted, and full after both of these multi-course meals.