Tuesday 14 October 2014

Cruising 101

I hope you are enjoying my review so far! I am having so much fun reliving my vacation!

Before I dive into the cruise, I would like to share my cruise history with you so hopefully you know where my thoughts are coming from.

My first cruise was three years ago on the Carnival Valor. We chose to cruise with Carnival at the time because it was affordable and the dates aligned perfectly with our trip to Walt Disney World. It was an amazing experience, and it left quite an impression on me. In short, I was hooked. I was in awe of the many beautiful destinations you can see in trip, without ever having to unpack and commute there. We held an alligator in Miami, went horseback riding in Half Moon Key, sightseeing in St. Thomas, shopping in San Juan, and snorkeling in Grand Turk. The ship was like a floating resort. You can eat as much as you want whenever you want. I was so enamoured, I never knew such luxurious adventures could exist!

Our second cruise was a short eight months later on the Allure of the Seas. This is the ship that did us in. The Allure of the Seas was, and currently is, the largest cruise ship in the world (no big deal). This ship had everything. There was an ice rink, a casino, a carousel, a Starbucks, Central Park, Broadway shows, and diving shows. We were truly spoiled on this boat. We were never bored, and we were constantly being entertained. We almost felt like there wasn't enough time to do everything! The Allure of the Seas was our first true cruising experience. We never felt the need the leave the boat (although we did), and even though it was such a large ship with so many passengers, we never once felt crowded, and that my friends, is an amazing feeling (see: Disneyland).

About a year and a half after this cruise (one year ago), we did our first back-to-back cruise. The first ship was the Disney Fantasy. The Fantasy is the biggest of its small fleet, and it was a dream boat. The service is excellent and if you are a Disney fan like myself, it is magical and wonderful and just so many childhood feels involved! I almost want to say it's like being in the happiest place on earth (Disneyland) but it is just that, but better! Although the ports were repeats for us, we didn't mind. We were on this cruise to enjoy the ship. The Fantasy also has an amazing water slide called the Aqua Duck, which circles around the ship. And oh the fireworks! Disney Cruise Lines is the only ship with fireworks at sea! How magical is that! The second ship was the Carnival Breeze. This was a new boat, and it was the largest of the Carnival fleet (but not even close to the Allure! It is about the same size as the Fantasy though). The boat was fantastically new and clean, it was only a year old at the time! However, after cruising on the Allure and the Fantasy, we felt that we had grown out of Carnival. The service, the quality of food and the amenities just weren't the same. We still had an amazing time on the Breeze. It took us to some beautiful ports, such as Aruba and Curacao, and there are memories we will cherish forever. After this trip, we realized that doing back-to-back cruises was the best (financial) idea we've had.

So there you have it, our cruise history. We're all about new, big and busy boats. Next up, the actual cruise we went on.

 Do you love cruising too?
I'd love to hear about your favourite ship!
Please leave a comment for me!

Sunday 12 October 2014

Falling in Love with Venice

Ah, Venice...

Venice is the opposite of Rome. It has such a relaxing and mellow atmosphere... really, it made me wonder why I didn't stay an extra few days there instead. The major difference with Venice is that no cars are allowed in the city. People got around by walking or by boats. Tourists, well, they walk or they can take the vaporetto (water bus) or the water taxi (super expensive). On the day we arrived, it was warm and breezy. We took the water taxi to our hotel. The water taxi dropped us off right in front of the hotel but our driver pointed us to the opposite direction and we walked the wrong way for a long time before realizing we were going further and further away from our destination (thank God for Siri). We circled back to where we started, and there it was, Locanda Salieri. After checking in, we climbed three flights of stairs to our tiny room with our luggage. I can't tell you how much of a workout that was, but hey, that's Venice, we're told. We freshened up and decided to explore. Venice is a complete maze, we would have gotten so lost without our phone. We stopped by a local joint for a snack - calamari and fried prawns. I don't have a picture, but it was made fresh, and delicious. We finally made it to the Rialto Bridge as the sun was setting and decided to go on a gondola ride. You don't go all the way to Venice and not ride a gondola, but we had to pay a hefty €90 for the short twenty minutes ride. We walked back to our hotel and grabbed dinner nearby. After some pasta (delicious squid ink pasta, I might add!), fish, and wine, we had ice cream for dessert and called it a night. Although we were exhausted, walking was the best way to explore Venice. It's not really an adventure if you don't get lost a little.

We woke up to rain the next morning. The weather had completely flipped! It was so cold I had to wear my Columbia insulated waterproof jacket. After a quick lunch at a small cafe, we made our way to St. Mark's Basilica. St. Mark's Square had flooded that morning, and we arrived as the water was draining. My dream come true - not a pigeon in sight! We headed over to the Bridge of Sighs for some pictures afterwards. The bridge is located between Doge's Palace and the prisons. The name originates from the “sighs” of the prisoners who passed over it. We spent the rest of the day going in and out of the many gift shops looking at Venetian masks and trinkets. We made it to a metropolitan shopping area, and browsed into the sunset. Later that evening, we met up with the boyfriend's parents for dinner as it was his mom's birthday. We had a nice dinner by the hotel and of course, some wine, spritz and gelato to celebrate.

 Readers, I'm going to tell you a truth.

We are horrible travellers. Half the time, we have no idea what we are looking at, and where we are going. We are high maintenance, and we are terrible at decision-making. We don't make it to half our planned destinations and we simply cannot follow our own itinerary. We are at our best when we do things spontaneously. Like, hey, there's a gondola, wanna go? Sure! Funny enough, we didn't plan on a gondola ride prior to our arrival in Venice, we had forgotten gondolas exist in Venice (that's how bad we are at this, and that's probably how we ended up in one - by not planning! Because if I did plan it, we would have saved it for the next day, and ended up not going or having a bad experience because of the rain). So my point, as we were leaving Venice on the people mover, we moped over the fact that we had missed Doge's Palace. Apparently, it is one of the attraction you should see while in Venice. Little did we know...

We saw it at St. Mark's and during our sail away! Well, we are halfway through our trip. All aboard the Splendour of the Seas! Smooth sailing is on our horizon...

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Saturday 4 October 2014

When in Rome...

...do as Romans do!

Hello everyone!
Now that we've had some time to settle in, we can finally breathe and look back on our vacation... and relive it!

Let's start with Rome, our first destination.
Rome is a busy, busy city. We had lots to see and so little time! Right after we arrived, we were greeted by our private chauffeur. Unfortunately, him being early meant we were early to our apartment rental. We waited for almost an hour outside the apartment for our host to arrive. As soon as we settled in, we set out for some exploring around our apartment. We were only about seven minutes from the Vatican. Seeing that Castel Sant'Angelo was fairly close, we decided to go for it, and guess what! No entrance fee.

Castel Sant'Angelo was initially built for a Roman emperor as a mausoleum, a burial chamber. It was later used as a papal fortress and castle by the pope. You can see the Passetto di Borgo, the pope's elevated passage way or escape route, that connects to the Vatican on the far right in the picture on the bottom. It has now been converted into a museum. After touring Castel Sant'Angelo, we decided to crash early. After all, we'd had a long day of flying and we were exhausted. We grabbed take-out from a local pizza joint and ate at our apartment.

The next morning, we were up early for our Vatican walking tour. We visited the Vatican museums, Raphael's Rooms, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's. It was an amazing tour, with a lot of details and history on the walls. However, it was also a lot to take in. After a while, everything just looked the same (keep in mind we were also a little jet-lagged!). After our tour was over, we debated on whether we should climb the cupola. If you take the elevator for €7, there was 320 steps to climb. If you skip the elevator for 5, it was 551 steps. And then you had to walk back down... whew! So after a long deliberation, we decided to skip the walk to the top of the dome. Instead, we headed back to the apartment for a quick rest, before heading out to shop and find us some dinner. We eventually decided to head to a little place called Il Ristorante Piacere Molise. We both had pasta and shared a tiramisu for dessert. 

On the third day, we had booked the Ancient Rome Tour, this included sightseeing at the Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill. It was a very hot day, and there was a lot of walking. Although the ruins were breathtaking, the heat was uncomfortable for us. By the end of the day, we felt dirty and sweaty. We stopped by the apartment to freshen up before dinner at Il Sorpasso. We had the most amazing proscuitto wrapped scallop - sadly we devoured it before we realized we should have taken a picture.

We ended up scrapping our reservations for the Borghese Gallery on our final day, it was too far away so it just didn't fit right in our itinerary. Instead, we went to the Fountain of Four Rivers at Piazza Navona. I'm pretty sure I only know about this thanks to Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. From there, we walked to the Pantheon, one of Rome's best preserved domes with an oculus. We stopped to grab a mozzarella and prosciutto baguette for lunch, and walked to the Capitoline Museums. We had a little trouble finding it, but managed to locate it with the help of the Italian police. We spent almost three hours there before leaving for our next destination. After consulting the Italian police for directions, we walked to the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately, the Trevi Fountain was under construction and still is until late 2015. We had to line up to walk through the passage way to view the statues, and it was very rushed. It didn't seem like the real thing without the water flowing in the fountain, and we were told not to throw coins. Legend has it, if you throw a coin over your right shoulder, it will ensure a return to Rome. Lucky for me, the security guard allowed me to do so - he closed his eyes and pretended not to see. Funny guy! After a quick stop for some ice cream, we headed towards the Spanish Steps. It was packed with people, so we took a few quick tourist photos, and decided to window shop a little. Piazza di Spagna is where all the high end fashion stores are in Rome.

By dinner time, we were exhausted. We stopped at a small husband-and-wife owned restaurant, Sophie's, nearby instead of going back towards the Vatican. It started to rain very hard as we finished dinner so we decided to grabbed dessert to go from Pompi's. The girl who worked there warned us not to take the tiramisu to go (supposedly it melts quickly), but we did anyways. We stopped to take a few more pictures at the Spanish Steps since there was barely a soul in sight. You can see the dessert box I'm holding in the rain in the last picture below. We then hailed a cab back to our apartment for 7. When we got back to the apartment, I was so tired and wet, I tripped on the stairs, and dropped our tiramisu face down on the floor. Thank God it did not fall out of the container. It was a mess, but it was the most delicious tiramisu I've ever had.

The next morning, we were preparing to leave for Venice via the train, but there was one last thing I had forgotten to do. I needed to mail myself a postcard from the smallest country in the world, Vatican City. So we ran back to the Vatican to mail the postcard and back to our apartment to check out. We made it back just in time for our ride to the train station! I'm happy to report the postcard made its way to Vancouver about the same time I did. Very efficient, Vaticano!

So that was our first leg of our trip! Hope you enjoyed my mini review. Venice is up next...

Please leave a comment for me!