Sweet: It’s no secret that my husband Stephen and I love to travel. However, he prefers lounging poolside, and ordering room service, while I prefer to go out and experience the sights. We usually travel by ourselves, occasionally meeting up with friends.
Sour: My nephew graduated from college, and his family was planning a graduation trip. Suddenly, cousins and grandparents (and of course my wife) seemed interested in joining. This is how we crashed the trip.
Sweet: Since I had the time, I felt felt capable and confident in planning the trip. I took the lead and presented several itineraries to pick from. During dinner gatherings, 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 be during sweltering weather conditions, attractions would be near capacity, and we would pay higher costs during peak season. 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 congested LAX and depart for Rome.
Sour: We arrived at our hotel near the Pantheon, Arch Rome Suites, by a transportation with only 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, as it’s 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 jet lag 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. Lunch was followed by a nearby gelato at Fatamorgana (a favorite) on our way back to the hotel.
Sweet: After a good night’s rest, we started our mornings at the hotel breakfast buffet before hitting the streets running (by running I mean walking or taking a taxi).Roaming Around Rome Sweet: Post guided tours, evenings of leisurely walks were enjoyed as we passed 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. These fountains supply an abundance of fresh drinking water, so be sure to remember your water bottle. Larger fountains are patrolled by officers, mostly 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 inside 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 can make for a miserably hot summer visit. We barely managed to make it out together 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…at least the adults were very happy. 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 an eventful four nights in Rome, we were ready to depart for Rome’s closest port, Civitavecchia. We boarded 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. Many guests enjoyed plate after plate, getting value for what they paid. Finally, as the sun began to 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 the intense day of heat, we decided that our next day in Cannes should just be a beach day! We rented chairs on the beach, and swam in the sea. We visited the prestigious Hotel Carlton, where I shelled out $24 (yikes!) for a milkshake; afterwards, we strolled through town before tendering to the ship.
Sweet: Palma provided us with a delicious taste of Spain. At Calixto, the owner serves one food item, Paella. Our giant seafood paella was quickly 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, and many of the playful buildings of the Spanish architect.
Sour: The following day was spent at sea. It was a welcome change to have the chance to rest, eat to our stomach’s content, gamble (a must-do for the grandparents), play arcade games, have a (much too expensive) family photo session, and get laundry serviced. The main outdoor deck was crowded with sunbathers, making it was hard to find sun lounge chairs together. All in all, we enjoyed the chance to take a pause.
Sweet: Our next stops were crowd-pleasers. In Sorrento, the Bay of Naples 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 and departed the next morning for another adventure. We took a bus, two trains, and a water taxi to end up at our final destination, Venice.
Sweet: Stephen and I celebrated our third anniversary by strolling across bridges, through alleyways, and over canals. The pavement glistened from the recent rain, and the empty paths made us feel as if Venice had been abandoned for us to enjoy alone. A midnight gondola ride through the empty canals gave a different, and quiet view.
Sweet: One of the most fun ways to explore Venice is by boat. By doing so, we saw neighborhoods, bridges, and facades of buildings that otherwise would be missed.
Sweet: Venice is full 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. We indulged knowing that although we had been on vacation for almost two weeks, our trip would soon come to an end.