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All the Adventures (Team Awesome in the Med 2016)

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I’m pretty sure I’ve never titled a blog more accurately. I must have all the adventures!

This time, we took the Med by storm with loads of our awesome friends, including 10 days on the new Carnival Vista. And here we go…

(and if you just want some random tips for travelers, head right to the bottom)

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Day 1 – A completely uneventful but incredibly long travel day…

It’s been a few years since our last visit to Europe and I’m always pleasantly reminded how much easier it is to fly from Canada to anywhere in the world but America (not that it’s hard, it’s more just that our main airports are kind chaotic with US customs on our own soil). We left on our midday flight to Toronto and didn’t have to touch any kind of security or customs again until we got to Athens. We had a couple of hours to kill in Toronto, so of course we had to start our holidays off right with a visit to Mill St. for some beer!

The flight from Toronto to Athens took 8 million years, while seated on a torture device made of rocks and surrounded by the teenage Russian mafia. Seriously, Air Canada Rouge, we hate you. If you are going to cheap out on everything, adjust your prices to match – because our flights weren’t cheap. The on-board entertainment sucks – unless you feel like catching up on movies you likely already saw about 10 to 20 years ago. First world problems, I know. Highlights include the terrible “cologne” worn by the member of the teenage Russian mafia beside me, listening to some cruise “experts” tell others sitting within earshot loads of things that were totally wrong, and the ridiculous girl sitting behind me who asked me to dim by tablet (because killing a 10 hour flight requires some kind of entertainment when you can’t sleep) because it was too bright and bothering her. Isn’t that what eyelids are for?  She was promptly dismissed, and then I slammed my seat back as far as it went to thank her for several hours of kicking it. I may be a bitchy flyer by hour 7.

Fast forward time zones 6 hours here…

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Day 2 – Get me off of this plane!

Touching down in Athens was the best thing ever – mainly just to get off the damn plane. We were running about 30 minutes late on our flight, but we were meeting people an hour later, so it all worked out in the end. Luggage arrived. Michelle and Dionne arrived. Driver arrived. Let’s jet.

Our hotel was the Athens Hotel Cypria – totally fine for one night stay. Great location. Room was nice. Rooms weren’t ready yet (oh the joys of flying overnight), so while all I really wanted was some food and a shower, we ended up with some food and walking around for a while instead. All self-imposed dietary restrictions were off while on holidays – well just the dairy part so I could eat all the cheese and all the gelato 🙂 Lunch near the hotel (mmm tomato salad covered in feta), wandering aimlessly, and then we all decided on going back to the hotel and if the rooms weren’t ready, we would just sit in the lobby until they were. Fortunately, they were ready.

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From there it was time to try and make plans with some of the others who were already in Athens – because going to sleep at 3 in the afternoon would seriously screw things up for a couple of days. Showering helped! Eventually we came up with meeting Kathy on the lovely rooftop bar at her hotel (Hotel Plaka) with an amazing view of the Acropolis, especially when they lit it up. Sat around, drinking beer (some Greek beer is not terrible – Fix and Alpha, and some is incredibly terrible – Mythos) and watching more and more of the gang appear. Eventually we all went out for supper (missing a few members who never managed to find us – Sorry Wes, Liz, Marjam, Uli), I ate more feta cheese… then gelato, and then finally like 35 hours after we left home, glorious, glorious sleeping.

Day 3 – Athens is amazing and hello Red Frog Pub

Tuesday morning, Greg and I were up kind of early… it’s what we do (well mostly Greg, but me too sometimes). Found some breakfast (more feta!) and wandered around Athens for a couple of hours. Bought a few goodies for some friends at home, and just sat at a cafe having some tea and coffee and just enjoyed some amazing views. I may have been so incredibly happy that morning that I nearly started to cry. I love getting to share so many amazing adventures with Greg. I also really love old rock stuff and Athens is chock full of them. We’ll be back (and I’ll see those damn Greek Islands next time!)

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Shuttle to the ship at 11 with the crew… piece of cake (thanks for arranging it Marjam!). Check in was all totally fine, except for the part where we had to flat out ignore and walk away from someone who wanted us to board with the common folk… but we’re elitist priority folks at this point and were having none of that! (cool your jets, that was a joke!). Maybe it took 15 minutes in total.

And from there, we immediately proceeded to the pub. Because that’s what we do. And at the pub, we discovered very pleasant surprises. Number one, our man Dinesh was on board (our very favourite-ist Carnival employee ever). Number two, the beer that they are brewing on board the Vista is pretty damn tasty… especially the IPA. Because I am a super fussy beer drinker, especially for a Canadian, and they rarely have anything I will drink.

We pretty much sat in the pub chatting with the awesome staff (we knew some of the others as well), our friends, and each other. Please note: During these conversations, Greg promised to buy me a tattoo. Consider yourself an additional witness to this fact now that you’ve read this.

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Muster was painless (I may have been slightly intoxicated). Watched a little bit of sailaway with a lovely sunset, unpacked our junk, supper (let the over-eating begin!), and hanging out with our pals wrapped up this day.

Marjam and Uli – thanks so much for the thoughtful presents!

Day 4 – Long live team awesome

Day 1 on the ship, the day formally known as the day we were supposed to stop in Turkey, was a sea day. So we did sea day stuff. Up for a run before the sun (Carnival, your running tracks suck), food, trivia with friends (Little Mermaid for the win), more food, insert some beer, maybe a scavenger hunt (team Awesome for the win), went to some Clue thing (a ploy to sell Bingo cards), random hanging out, more food. Hyped up Pub Trivia to all our friends we could all try and win some beer, only to have it not actually happen because someone screwed up the Fun Times. Eat. Sleep.

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Day 5 – At least Rhodes is a Greek island

Off the ship bright and early to walk around the old town of Rhodes before all the crowd caught up with us. It’s AMAZING! Highlights include the Street of the Knights, the Palace of the Grand Masters, walking the walls above the moat, and the amazing gates into the old town itself. We walked around with some cool kids for a couple of hours, found a beer, and then split off by ourselves for a while. I love my friends, but it’s not too often I’m going to choose beach day over more time exploring an old town, especially on our first port day. So Greg and I spent another few hours exploring, went outside the walls and found a huge produce market and awesome outdoor “gym” – concrete blocks on rebar, simple but effective. Had a lovely lunch with way more food than I could possibly eat, and then back to the ship late afternoon.

Team Awesome made another attempt at Pub Trivia today and came out with a win… despite the fact that the entertainment staff on this ship apparently didn’t like pub trivia to consist of only of trivia. So even though we were winning at the end of the trivia round, I had to sing in public (using only the word do, to a bunch of pop culture stuff I don’t know… good things for nursery rhymes). But we won, and there was beer. I am so a team player!

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Day 6 – We were robbed

So this was the only sea day we were supposed to have, so we had to make good use of it. More running in the morning, random trivia while sitting around with whoever was around while enjoying a coffee, sea day brunch with most of the gang, and then most of us went up to try the SkyRide. It was fun (for those who weren’t there, it’s like a bike type of thing that you pedal to move along a track you’re suspended from on the very top deck of the ship). Great views, but quite a long wait to give it a try that day.

Team Awesome met back up again later for Pub Trivia… and we rocked it!  Every question right, which is pretty awesome since a) we were not cheating in any way, and b) it was weirdo kind of riddles. We also had bonus points for bringing a poem from the day before (I mean, I spent at least 30 seconds writing that poem!). And so the person running trivia that day then magically made up a new activity worth enough points so that any number of teams could catch us, and then more singing was involved, and it was not well explained, and we were robbed. There may be some sour grapes. Thankfully that person never returned to do Pub Trivia again. We take our attempts to win beer seriously (especially with an unexpected 24% VAT tax being added to all our on-board purchases following the cancellation of our non-EU port of Turkey).

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Day 7 – Malta is hot as balls

Hooray!  New country!  It was ridiculously humid in Malta and thankfully it was a bit cloudy. It was a very sweaty day. We had planned to take the bus to Mdina first thing, and then explore Valletta for the rest of the day. But it was obvious pretty early that not everyone was feeling a long day in the humidity… so we wished Marjam, Uli, and Emilia bon voyage and spent a few hours walking around old town. It’s pretty much stunning. So well preserved, albeit very beige.

Stopped for some beers at the Pub (some actor who was in Gladiator drank himself to death there or something – kind of a grim claim to fame, but you could buy the t-shirt)… Malta beer is pretty terrible (Cisk), but I was able to get a proper pint of Guinness. And there was AC (and WiFi). Been there, signed the wall.

We ran into more of the gang while on the hunt for a church, and then ended up splitting off from all of them after a bit more walking around. We still had all afternoon left, so I didn’t want to go back to the ship yet (cause old towns rock!). Greg and I grabbed some lunch, I found a place selling green juice (nutrients for the win!), and kept exploring until it started to rain.

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We may have attempted Pub Trivia again, but honestly, I don’t remember. If we did, we didn’t win. I vaguely remember us being frustrated with their somewhat obvious attempt to make sure a different team won every time (and the made-up round at the end had the team in first competing with the team in last to win, and leaving us, the team in second, without a chance). I’m only sort of complaining. Don’t worry, we were still drinking beer. It’s just funner when you don’t have to pay for it!

You’ll note I’m not commenting much about the dinner situation. So I’ll do it once here and consider this the description for the entire cruise. We had late dinner. We were in the Reflections dining room (the first time we’ve ever been in that middle dining room), tucked away in the back corner. Our tables were not how we requested them, but we managed to rearrange them all ourselves the first and second nights. The food was mediocre, and left much to be desired if you don’t eat meat, the same as usual. I’m pretty sure we all ruined our friends Marjam and Uli’s daughter Emilia for dining rooms as we essentially taught her to throw napkins around and make as much noise as possible. Our waitstaff were fine. The bar waiter may have had a crush on Ingrid (sorry, Herb). Greg and I are not the least bit demanding and we haven’t had servers in the dining room that were more than just OK in a very long time. Moving on…

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Day 8 – Our scenic drive and guide to the real Mafia

Today found us docked in Messina, Sicily. This is the third time I’ve been there on a cruise ship, and I wanted to see something different than a winery near Etna or Taormina. So I booked a tour of Catania and Cyclops Bay with Going Sicily and Diego met us at the port – easy peasy. Every time we go to Sicily for some reason it is on a Sunday, and pretty much everything in Messina is closed on Sunday. So I guess it’s good we never stick around there. We spent a couple of hours walking around Catania (Italian night life hot spot, even in the morning), admiring pretty buildings, eating some gelato, being begged for money, and having my effin camera break on holidays for the second time in a year. After that, we did some scenic touring of the Sicilian coast, including a visit to Aci Castello, which is a castle made of lava rocks that’s kind of shaped like a ship. Next stop, Pizzeria Luna Rossa for lunch – best damn mushroom pasta I have every hand in my life (but I’m sure Greg could make it too!). And Greg and Diego shared a pretty incredible seafood feast. A full belly, sleepy kind of drive back to the port after that. And then I made Greg come with me to see the infamous clock tower in Messina before going back to the ship, just so I could actually see something in Messina. The tower itself is lovely, but we weren’t there when it was doing it’s thing (and I’m OK with that) – there’s some mechanical movement or something.

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We may have attempted Pub Trivia again – I don’t remember at this point. The days tend to blur together a bit and I write the blog when I get home. If we did, we did not win.

Day 9 – The Amalfi Coast is not for the weak

Good morning Naples. I know nothing about you because I immediately leave the port every time we visit. Sorry about that. I had booked us a tour of Pompeii (Michelle and I had been before, but none of the others had, and it’s kind of a must see) and the Amalfi Coast. Our guide Francesco (highly recommend, our second time using him – see here for details) met us at the port and off we went. We were at Pompeii just before opening, so we got to see a lot of the site without too many people lingering around. It’s been 7 years since I last visited and there’s been some changes, and it’s such a big site, it was nice to see some more of it. We spent a couple of hours of exploring, and the price of a cup of coffee got us a guide to finding some poorly marked areas we wanted to see. It had rained the night before, so there was lots of water lingering, which made for excellent reflections. We got out of dodge as the place was starting to fill up.

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We did some driving and stopping along the Amalfi coast (so beautiful), and then stopped for lunch with an amazing view near Ravello… buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes may have been consumed again. A few more quick stops along the coast and we called it a day. There was loads of security at the Naples port (it’s pretty damn snazzy) so it took a little while to get back on board. Lots of shopping there, if you’re into that.

I skipped dinner to have a movie date with Melissa to see Suicide Squad (sucks when some of your favourite humans live hours and hours away) – IMAX at sea is pretty cool.

This night was also Quest. Let’s just say I saw way more naked male and female body parts than I expected to at this event.

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Day 10 – Roaming around Rome

Short of figuring out where the train station was in Civitavecchia, I essentially planned nothing for Rome. I even briefly considered making this a sea day. But I don’t really love sea days that much. So off to the train station we went. To get out of the port from the ship is quite a walk, so there’s a free shuttle. Then from there it’s about a 20 minute walk to the train station (because the shuttle now takes you to further away than it used to, unfortunately for all the businesses near the old exit). For a train ticket pass to Rome and back (which can also be used on public transportation in Rome) it was 12€. Train ride took about an hour. We tried to visit some catacombs, but the bus wasn’t running like we expected and we didn’t feel like a 5K each way walk not in the direction of anything else, so we took the subway to Villa Borghese and walked around the gardens for a while.

Then off we went through Pizza del Popolo to find some lunch (mmmm delicious grilled veggie sandwich), and then we walked past Trevi fountain and stopped for a couple of minutes, and then we found gelato… and then Herb thought Michelle and I deserved death by eau de armpit and made us get on the bus to Termini. Meany! And then we took the train back to Civitavecchia. And then we walked back to the shuttle. And then we went back to the ship.

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And for those of you wondering why we didn’t visit all the amazing sites in Rome… we’ve all been to Rome a few times at least, it was a beautiful sunny day and everything was PACKED, so we preferred to stay a bit more off the beaten path.

Pub trivia on the ship resulted in a win… but not just because we are good at trivia (please note, different variations of team awesome appeared for most trivia outings), but because I think Greg was mildly irritated with all the foolishness they kept adding on to the trivia and decided to win the stupid throw a ball into a cup game they added at the end. Yay, beer tube.

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Day 11 – No, the other parking lot

Today was spent in Tuscany… and it was both amazing and an exercise in extreme frustration. Sarah booked a tour for a big group of us with Fun in Tuscany – the Chianti win tour (thanks Sarah!). The driver was supposed to meet us at the port at 8am. To save 5€, he parked the bus not where ALL the rest of the private guide/drivers park and where he should have been, and so 15 of us and Grandma’s scooter had to take a bus to another parking lot to find him, instead of him coming to us. So from there, 2 thumbs down. They flat out lied to Chris or Sarah on the phone about where they were and we’ve already lost an hour at this point. Also, our driver didn’t speak English – also very helpful.

So after some driving, we arrived at San Gimignano, where we got to stand around for at least another 30 minutes waiting for the English speaking guide – Sam – to finally show up. He was very nice and tried very hard, but we were mostly not impressed. So San Gimignano  –  it’s pretty amazing, and we spent more time standing in the bus parking lot than actually getting to see it. There was delicious gelato and 10 minutes of free time, but I was really frustrated at that point – but more because I wanted my camera and much less so about the chaos.

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Back to the bus, more waiting around to get the bus to appear, and then off to Monteriggioni for some delicious lunch in the courtyard of a castle. There was cheese, and meats, and chicken liver or truffle pate on bread, followed with pasta filled with pear and cheese in pistachio sauce. I loved the pasta and didn’t eat much of the rest, but I don’t think it was a hit across the board. There was wine with lunch. I don’t drink wine.

After the lunch – insert clustereff here and call it a wine tasting. So I don’t remember the name of the company, which is fortunate for them I guess, because I’m giving them all the thumbs all the way down. As per the last paragraph, I don’t drink wine. I have tried tons of them and it’s just not for me. So they already didn’t have my attention. And we were super tight on time because of all the “being late” happenings of this tour company. The woman doing the wine tasting was not only a fashion disaster (and when I notice your lack of fashion sense, you are really in trouble!) but a complete and utter rude bitch. I have my doubts this company sells much wine anytime she is around. She steamrolled over the other person doing the tasting with her every time she tried to talk. She put Dionne in a time out. She yelled at Chris and Michelle. She barked at me when I refused to eat some cheese (I bark back). And I don’t even know what else because I left. But I can assure you, the way to sell wine to a bunch of people who actually drink is not being a goddamn bitch to them.

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More fiasco with our driver figuring out how to pay for parking (cause that must be pretty uncommon as a driver) and then off we went to Siena. Some more fiasco in Siena when Sam switched us all to 4 cabs (insert inability to do math here) to get to a square in the middle faster. This is made extra awesome by the fact that we were in the last cab and it took about 30 minutes to show up before taking us to said square.

Siena is beautiful and we started out in the square (Il Campo) where twice a year there’s a chaotic horse race around the outside of the square. It does have a cool fountain though and that light that time of day was amazing… you know, just as my phone which was playing the role of camera died. We had another whopping 10 minutes of free time to walk up to a church, we got to see said church, a painting inside a building across from the church, and then it was time to head back. So from Siena, our guide told us we should be back at the ship by around 6:00. We had to be back on the ship at 6:30, so should be all good right? Yea, not so much. The track record of being late for everything also applies to back to the ship. Normally drivers haul ass to get rid of you at the end of a tour, but not good old Guiseppe. There was traffic… because tourism hotspots and all… but he was definitely just out for a Sunday drive. And when people started to get a little panicky, I’m pretty sure he started driving slower. And I’m not entirely convinced he doesn’t speak English.

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Anywho, we made it back to the ship at 6:45 (with backup plans to have some people still on the ship to try and convince them to not leave). Fortunately, there was a couple of Carnival tours running late behind us, and unlike us, the ship won’t leave without them… so it all worked out in the end. And while all these places were amazing, I definitely don’t recommend this tour company, and honestly, I don’t recommend trying to pack all of this into one day from Livorno either. We’ll head back to Tuscany for sure, but we’ll do it by land next time. From the tour description, we also did not get to visit vineyards and olive groves (pointing to those in the distance or out a window is not “visiting”), nor did we have an olive oil tasting.

Sarah, you are still awesome!

Guiseppe caused us to miss both Pub Trivia and our free drinks party. No tip for you! (Carnival, don’t be a punk and schedule free drinks party during port time!)

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Day 12 – Vive la France

Hooray!  We finally made it to France! New country! We had planned to go hiking in the Calanques, but after a long and stressful day in Tuscany, plans were changed. So a small group of us headed out to explore Marseille. We took a taxi from the port (because the port of Marseille is not near ANYTHING a tourist wants to see) to Notre Dame de la Garde (6€ pp for 6 of us), explored the church and admired the views, and then hoofed our way down from the church stopping at the Abbey of Saint Victor, and then down to the waterfront. We took a boat over to If to visit the castle. It was frigging awesome… because castle, and barely anyone was there. Heading back, large amounts of people were about to descend on the castle, so we definitely timed that right. From there, lunch… because hangry. And then a church (Cathédrale la Major), and then because we were getting a bit tight on time for being back to the ship (yes, we learned nothing from the day before), finding a cab. Good ole Serge to the rescue… got us back in to time and gave us a bit of a tour en route. Good times.

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We were late to pub trivia, but other members of team awesome were representing… and the questions were stuff I didn’t know shit about. Another team won, but Kathy sweet talked them into sharing their beer tube. Go Kathy!

During dinner they announced there was something wrong with the ship and that we would be getting in late to Barcelona the next day, but our flight was late enough that it didn’t matter. There was hanging around after dinner and some quick packing.

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Day 13 – The travel gods were on our side…

Breakfast at 7:30, off the ship at 7:45, to the airport for 8:15 (much better than the hour plus and many Euros it took last time we were in Barcelona… cause on long travel days, we just don’t do public transportation if we don’t have to), an hour to get through the Air Canada clustereff at that airport, some coffee and food, and then onto the plane.

Our flight was pretty much packed, except for the seat beside me… and that is better than Christmas. But Air Canada Rouge still sucks. Their entertainment system doesn’t work properly on Greg’s tablet, so he could watch TV and not movies. Flying through the day is much easier than overnight. So four movies later (Dazed and Confused, 10 Things I Hate About You, Dolphin Tale, and Daddy’s Home – shit selection) and we were back in Toronto. Fastest customs ever in TO (handy, because our flight was late getting in), had time for a quick bite, second flight left on time (and had the bitchiest attendant EVER and being super tired, it took most everything I had left to not tell her to get bent because I didn’t want to get kicked off the plane… she was bitchy to everyone, not just me). Exactly 18 hours after we walked off the ship in Barcelona, we walked into the tour of our house with luggage.

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So the random stuff… as per usual. We participated in a few things here and there on the ship. I never find the comedians funny and once was enough. I didn’t go to any shows (Greg went to one). Food was blah, and not just for me. All of the staff was pretty friendly and chatty. We had a cabin in the Family Harbor and the lounge (our exclusive lounge as Greg likes to say) was super handy for grabbing quick breakfast before getting off the ship everyday. Our cabin (2424) had a lot of noise on the other side of the wall most nights – splashing water and banging, and also had the lovely scent of varnish piped into it which lingered for a couple of days. Thankfully we don’t spend much time in there and are sound sleepers… if you’re not, you’ll hate it. Live music was good – especially Ed in the pub. I love that they are brewing beer on board (except when they ran out of the only one I’ll drink for 2 days… I was thirsty!). We overheard much complaining about the VAT and Carnival did poorly at communicating in advance changes that would affect our cruise. The CD was very involved in what was going on. We don’t care about who the CD is and it doesn’t impact us in any way, but it was nice to see her out and about. She made too many long announcements though. There was pretty much flagrant disregard for Carnival’s alcohol policy on our sailing (and generally in Europe we find)… we brought stuff on with us in a few ports with no issues. People weren’t making an effort to hide what they brought on and were drinking it opening in public areas.

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The ship is nice. I like all the new outdoor spaces. The running track sucks. The new Havana area is nice if you have a cabin in there and access to the pool etc. at the back, but it screws up what used to be awesome in being able to walk all the way around deck 5. I wouldn’t hesitate to sail this ship again. We didn’t go to any pay restaurants, the spa, the gym, etc, and I have no input on any of them really.

We had an amazing holiday with great friends and most of my gripes and snarky commentary are for comedic affect only (anything that was truly a bother I would have dealt with it on board).

Team Awesome, we miss you loads.

Ange out.

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Random tips for travelers:

Want to see amazing sites in a city with reasonable prices? Go to Athens!  There’s so much history to see there and can you do it without breaking the bank. We each had 3 meals there and beer and gelato in a 24 hour period and maybe spent 50€ in total.

In Rhodes, there’s a tourist information center at the bottom of the Street of the Knights (Ippoton). Cab drivers can be super pushy there – don’t take their shit! For anyone relatively fit, it’s totally walkable to the old town or to Elli Beach.

In Malta, there’s a tourist information center right outside the port and if you can’t or don’t feel like walking up the hill, there’s an elevator (1€) to the top about 10 minute walk down a straight street from the port.

In Rome, if you sailed there before, they’ve changed where the free shuttle drops you – now it’s outside the port a lot further than it used to be. Just an FYI in case you reading directions on how to get somewhere that are a bit dated.

In Livorno, there was also a free shuttle to take you out of the port, but I don’t know where it ends since we got off at the first stop.

In Marseille, there was a desk with free maps in the cruise terminal. Our ship docked no where near the old port, so plan accordingly. Carnival was offering a shuttle (17 USD pp return, charged to your ship card). With a group, you’ll come ahead taking a cab instead probably, and there was a steady line of them waiting.

In Barcelona, there’s a set rate for cabs from the cruise port to the airport, so it shouldn’t cost you much more than 40€, all in. 

If you own a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, just a heads up that they won’t let you charge them or even power them on on flights – or at least, note any of ours.

Insert shameless self-promotion here. Think our trip looks awesome? Let me help you plan one of your very own. Visit Those Who Wander Travel Services and drop me a message.

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