Mediterranean on the Brilliance of the Seas - 6/17/03 to 6/29/03
Ports of Call: Barcelona, Spain; Villefranche, France; Livorno, Italy (Tuscany); Rome, Italy; Mykonos, Greece; Santorini, Greece; Athens, Greece; Valletta, Malta; Naples, Italy (Pompeii and Amalfi Coast)
The following is the review of our June 17, 2003 Mediterranean cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s “Brilliance of the Seas”. We booked a two night pre-cruise stay in Barcelona, Spain through RCI and stayed at the AC Diplomatic Hotel. Any review of these beautiful ports is incomplete without pictures to show the indescribable beauty. We have included a few, but to really appreciate what we experienced, be sure to view Carol's album at Ofoto. The link is at the end of this review.
An absolutely wonderful and exhausting cruise. We were very fortunate to have been able to meet up with 14 of the Cruise Critic.com folks in Barcelona at a pre-cruise get together that we set up at the Diplomatic. We then got to meet more online friends at the official CC Party on board the Brilliance of the Seas. It made the cruise so much more enjoyable to constantly run into CC acquaintances that we had been communicating with before the cruise. It was like having a ship full of friends. A great time!
Since we were on an RCI pre-cruise, they determined when we left for the ship. We were taken to port around Noon and were able to board this beautiful ship relatively fast. Since we had filled out all of our forms online before we left the U.S., the only delay in boarding was having to fill out the SARS form; but that only took a couple of minutes.
The Brilliance of the Seas is quite beautiful and just the right size. Since there are so many excellent descriptions online of the various rooms on the ship, I will not spend time repeating this info. European and longer cruises are normally frequented by older groups, so we were surprised that our cruise was comprised of a much younger than expected age group. We even had a couple hundred kids on board, and they were well behaved for the most part. Service was generally very good.
Our only complaint about the ship is that the Solarium Pool and whirlpool were way overloaded with chlorine. We had really looked forward to using this exotically decorated area of the ship. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay in the whirlpool for more than a few minutes due to the extremely strong fumes. Some people were using the facilities; but we couldn’t tolerate it. We live in South Florida and use a pool regularly, and have never before had a problem with chlorine.
Clo was a very good cruise director. She was very personable and went out of the way to be friendly when you saw her around the ship. We also lucked out in that Clo’s mother (looks just like her) and her aunt were also on board. Both ladies were very pleasant, and I can see where Clo gets her wonderful personality.
Clo and Carol Clo's Mom
The Cruise Critic party was scheduled at 5:00 PM, an hour before the 6:00 PM muster drill. Clo and her Assistant CD attended the party and welcomed us aboard. It was very nice; but due to the timing of the muster drill, when she finished talking, we had to rush off to get our life jackets and head for the drill. There was just not enough time to meet some of the folks that came in after Clo started talking. In fairness to RCI, because of the hectic schedule of our cruise, I don’t know when they could have squeezed the party in at a better time.
8596 on the bump was perfect. Not only did it offer an outstanding central location; but it also had a larger than standard balcony (64 inches deep). The view straight down to the water was not obstructed from our balcony as it was from some decks 7 and 8 cabins not on the bump. (See pic below) The curved edges on the bed were nice for moving around in the room; but meant that my feet had to hang over the end. The room was nicely appointed and had plenty of outlets and lights. The bathroom was functional; but the shower was tight. The cabin location, right across the centrum from the elevators was so convenient. There was no noise from the elevators. If you preferred walking, you could walk up 3 flights to get to the Windjammer Buffet or down 3 flights to get to the shops and theater or 4 flights to get to the Minstrel Dining Room. The room was very quiet except for some neighbors that liked to go out onto their balcony around 2:30 AM every morning when they came in from their evening’s entertainment. Their laughing and moving chairs around woke us up each time – very inconsiderate. Our only complaint about the cabin was that the bed was quite low. This was surprising, since it is normally a prime suitcase storage area. All of our bags except for one fit under the bed (barely). We were able to get our cabin steward, Jose from India, to store the biggest one for us until the last day. The low bed also proved aggravating to Carol’s “bad back”.
E2 Balcony on the bump Obstruction from lifeboat cover
from non-bump deck 7 cabin
Cabin # 8596
We used one of the tips we garnered from Cruise Critic and hung a shoe bag over the outside of the closet door. It’s amazing how much stuff you can cram into the little pockets. This really saved valuable space and cut down on counter top clutter as we used it for belts, socks, brushes and combs, spray cans, etc.
Better than expected after all the bad comments I had read on the message board. The main complaint we heard from multiple people was that there was no variety for breakfast – same menu, same food every day in both the Minstrel and Windjammer.
Beef (other than Ranch Steak), lamb dishes and deserts were very good. The Surf and Turf was terrible – a tiny lobster tail with Ranch Steak. The vegetables didn’t change much, and they served mashed potatoes entirely too many times. The cold soups and several appetizers were quite good. Breads were boring. The Seaview Café was great. Chops had very good food; but our service and that of a few others we talked to was not as good as our normal dining room service in the Minstrel. In fairness though, we also spoke to two couples that said that their service at Chops was exceptional. Maybe it just depended upon which waiter happened to be serving your table; but if RCI is going to charge extra, the service should be more consistent.
The dinner seatings were 6:30 PM and 9:00 PM every night except a couple when the early seating was 6:15 PM. This was done when there was only one show at 8:15. Unfortunately for the 2nd seating folks, they were normally late to their 9:00 PM dinners on those nights.
Our waiter, Nur from Indonesia, was a pleasure. He had a great outgoing personality and made the evenings most enjoyable. His assistant, Francisco from Chile, was also very accommodating. On most of our cruises the Head Waiter, or as RCI calls it, the assistant Maitre d has not hung around the tables very much. We usually don’t see him until the end of the cruise. Our RCI asst. Maitre d, Jacquishan (pronounced Jackie Chan) from India, was very good and a real pleasure to have as a part of the team. Each night he greeted us and called us by name, something that has never happened on our previous eight cruises!
Jacquishan Nur Francisco
One thing that Carol found aggravating was the inconsistency of the dress codes. The Compass very plainly stated, “Shorts and sleeveless shirts are not permitted in the dining room”, yet one constantly saw tank tops and less, even on dressy nights.
They had two or three “Smart Casual” nights, which seemed confusing to most guests. The clothes we took for those nights were much dressier than people were wearing. I saw only a sprinkling of sports coats. Most men wore a button shirt, but not even a tie. The ladies mostly wore everyday slacks and shirt. There was little, if any, difference between smart casual and casual nights.
They had two formal nights, which produced your usual variety from floor length gowns and tuxes to Sunday dresses and suits.
They also had two “theme” nights, Western and Rock n’ Roll. Those can be fun, but it would have been nice to know in advance so you can take something appropriate to wear.
The production shows were excellent. This was a very talented group of 12 singers and dancers. As for the other entertainers, there were a couple of weak individual shows, especially the first two nights; but overall better than expected, and each night got better. The singer / impressionist Martin Dube was a pleasant surprise. He had the audience up and participating, and actually dancing in our seats. His range of impressions was amazing, especially when he did Jesse Norman and Luciano Pavarotti.
The musicians in the Centrum were always a pleasure to listen to. Due to the long port activities and very few sea days, there weren’t a lot of people in the other venues. Maybe things heated up after the 11:15 PM 2nd seating shows got out (after midnight); but we were never awake that late. As was to be expected, the Newlywed Game hosted by Clo was quite funny. The Quest game was a lot of fun. There just weren’t a lot of folks participating or watching during any of the onboard activities. I don’t think this was due to anything RCI did, it was just a result of an extremely exhausting itinerary.
We always think of the art auctions as entertainment because we do enjoy them so much. Unfortunately, we enjoyed them too much and got more pictures than we have available wall space. I guess we’ll have to start rotating our treasures! As if we didn’t buy enough, we actually won two of the raffles and received two more pictures! I couldn’t believe we were so lucky. We had a very knowledgeable auctioneer, Andre, but he went on and on telling stories about certain artists. This was educational, but made the auctions really drag on entirely too long. It did help the Centrum Bar’s business though.
The ports were all wonderful. This was the first time that we used private tours. I highly recommend them and in the future will always try to use them for any full day excursions. From the Cruise Critic board, we found others to share three of our four private tours. Cost wise, this made our tours equal to or less expensive than the ones offered by the ship; and riding around in a Mercedes was a lot more pleasant than climbing off and on a bus.
Every evening when we talked with everyone about their excursions, it almost sounded like they were at a different port. The ship tours wasted a lot of time going to perfume or cameo factories and waiting for late people to get back to meeting places. They also didn’t get to see nearly the number of sights we did; and they had to walk a lot farther, since our drivers could take us right up to the sights where the buses couldn’t go.
Carol was also thrilled because the private tour guides knew where to find the clean bathrooms with real commodes with seats. Those of you who have been to Europe will know the importance of this. With such a port intensive itinerary, the easier the guides make it for you, the happier you will be and the more physically fit you will feel for the next port. I apologize in advance for using the same words to describe these ports. There just aren’t enough adjectives available to be able to adequately describe the beauty.
Barcelona, Spain- What a beautiful city! I highly recommend taking at least a 2-day pre-cruise here. There is so much to see and do. We were in the AC Diplomatic Hotel. It was an outstanding location. It was an easy walk to Passieg de Gracia, Las Ramblas, Placa Catalunya and the Gothic Quarter. The hotel was very nice. I didn’t think I was going to be too big on the modern styling; but it was very enjoyable. After feasting our eyes on so much of the elaborately decorated older buildings in the city, the sleek lines of the Diplomatic proved relaxing. The major problem that all of the CC folks had in most of the hotels was the less than adequate air conditioning. It was a pretty common problem in a lot of the buildings and other hotels, as well as in most of Europe. Electricity is so expensive, that people there just don’t keep their AC thermostat as low as Americans. Fortunately, it was cool enough after the sun set to allow us to have a good night’s sleep.
No matter where you stay, it is absolutely critical to make sure you get two key cards upon checking in. Most of the hotels have an electric turn-on slot in the room. You have to insert your room key into the slot and leave it there to make the electricity in the room work. If you take out the card, it turns off all electricity in the room, including the AC and refrigerator. By getting two cards, when you go out touring, you can leave one of your keys in the slot so that the AC will continue to operate.
The breakfast buffet at the Diplomatic was excellent. One additional plus for this hotel is that all of the drinks in the refrigerator are free. It had cokes, water and beer! It even had alcohol free beer.
I didn’t really care about the Gaudi architecture prior to seeing it in person. I am now a big fan. If you want to tour La Pedera (Casa Mila), it is easy to get into in the afternoon. The lines in the morning were most intimidating; but they are non-existent later in the day. Casa Batllo is really nice and worth the price to tour the inside.
If you go to Parc Guell, which I highly recommend; be prepared for a long walk up a steep hill from the bus stop to the entrance of the park. Walking around the park was a piece of cake. It is a really nice place and so unique. I am still amazed at how much I liked it after I had no desire originally to even see it.
We bought tickets for the Bus Turistic, which appeared to be similar to a service we had used when we visited Copenhagen. It was similar in that you could get on and off at the various stops; but unlike Copenhagen, the narration in Barcelona was pretty weak. They didn’t tell you much about the various sights you were passing. Be sure to wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen because you will want to sit on top of the bus. If you sit inside, the windows do not open and you suffocate. Another thing to bear in mind is that the museums close early on Sundays and are closed all day on Mondays.
Don’t miss seeing the Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter. It is quite impressive and oh so beautiful. We wanted to go to the Palau de la Musica, which from the pictures appeared to be gorgeous inside. Unfortunately, due to our being in town on Monday, it wasn’t open. I walked down on Tuesday morning prior to boarding the Brilliance to at least see the outside. Wow, what a building! The outside is ornately decorated with statues, frescos, gilded decorations and very unusual architectural designs. Even though it was not yet open, I could look into the lobby through the windows and get a hint of the beauty that this gorgeous building held within. I will have to return to Barcelona someday to experience it
Most shops and restaurants close each day around 2:00 and reopen later in the day. We found two great places to eat within walking distance of the Diplomatic. I think that the street that goes along the side of the hotel is called Consell de Cent. Anyway, take it to Passeig de Gracia (one block), and on the corner you will find Tappa, Tappa. It is very good for lunch. Across the street, you will find Tenorio Braseria. We had dinner there. It is in the same block as the Casa Batllo. We chose it based on the menu and wonderful air conditioning.
Walking around town is so enjoyable. As far as the buildings go, I hope that the people of Barcelona take the time to stop and admire what they have. The ironwork is outstanding. Almost every building has beautiful scrolled wrought iron balconies at each window, especially the old apartment buildings. The frescos are elaborate, and range from the modern off beat designs of Gaudi to the classic Greek statues.
Walking down the streets, especially in the Old Town, you have to remember to watch where you are going because you’re too busy looking up! The rooflines of many of the buildings are also interesting. Some are like castles with turrets, some have domes and many have gargoyles. We even saw one building on Las Ramblas that was decorated with umbrellas and an art deco dragon. It used to be an umbrella shop.
Touring during the summer months can be brutal. Carol bought one of the old fashioned fold up fans for $2 and used it throughout the cruise. It proved to be the best investment she ever made!
Tour Guides and Tour Drivers
For those of you who might be booking private tours for the first time, a little clarification might help avoid any later confusion. A tour driver and a tour guide are not the same. It is to your advantage when booking a private tour to be sure that you understand the difference and know in advance what you are paying for. A tour guide has a license, usually issued by the state / country. He or she has attended school to learn all about the sites you will see. A guide is permitted to go into the historical sites with you and tell you about the history. Naturally, the guide’s services will cost more. In some cases, but not all, the guide does not do the driving, so you also pay for a driver.
A tour driver is not licensed, has not attended "guide" school, and is not permitted inside the site to tell you about the history. Naturally, their services will be more economical. Many drivers are just as well versed in the area history as the guides. The difference of course is that they have to tell you the facts before you go inside. Mike and I have used both. We have had some excellent results using drivers, as well as guides. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using a driver instead of an official guide. Just know what you are paying for in advance so you won’t expect something different.
Although we give you contact information in this review, we urge you to visit the websites of each guide / driver and read exactly what they do and do not offer before you book. Do your homework.
Villefranche, France- It is a lovely port and you will have a wonderful view of the town from the ship. This was the first of two tender ports. We arrived in port about a half hour early at 9:30 AM. We went down and got our tender tickets on deck 4 early, since we didn’t want to be delayed from our private tour with Sylvie di Cristo at http://www.frenchrivieraguides.net/about-us-sylvie-di-cristo.html. Sylvie learned English at the age of 11, and speaks beautifully. She is a wonderful guide and a lovely person. She is such a pleasure to be with. I can’t give her a high enough recommendation. She really makes you feel as if you are the most important client she has ever had.
Sylvie di Cristo Villefranche Harbor
There were six of us, and she met us at our pre-arranged 11:00 AM time. She verified where we had told her we wanted to go. She then made some additional recommendations, as well as the order in which we should proceed. We went through the elegant Cape Ferrat area on the way to Monaco and Monte Carlo, arriving just before the changing of the guards at the palace. There was quite a crowd there. We walked around part of the town looking at several beautiful vistas and went into the church where Princess Grace is buried. After a drive around the town and a photo stop at the casino (we didn’t care about going inside), we were off to the lovely medieval village of Eze. Based on there being a lot of uphill climbing in Eze and everyone being hungry, we all decided to just continue on to St. Paul de Vence, so we could spend more time there and have lunch. Like Eze, St. Paul de Vence is also a lovely medieval village. It was prettier and the walking was less strenuous.
The Cathedral The Raceway The Casino
Sylvie recommended a lovely open-air restaurant with very nice salads. Bare in mind that most of the restaurants stop serving regular menus at around 1:00 PM, so judge your lunch break accordingly. We trekked all over this beautiful town and thoroughly wore ourselves out looking at all of the beautiful building and views. It is a must see town in our opinion. Carol had fun browsing in all of the shops, and found a beautiful lace scarf for our granddaughter’s dresser. They also had lovely tablecloths and napkins. Most of the items were handmade by the nuns, and were priced accordingly.
Sylvie then drove us over to Nice. We saw several sights with the most interesting being a gorgeous Russian Greek Orthodox Church. It reminded me of our visit to St. Petersburg a couple of years ago. Sylvie was going to take us into the old town of Nice; but we surrendered to our tired muscles and begged to go back to the Brilliance. We trudged back up the gangplank at around 7:00 PM after our farewells to our new friend Sylvie. We look forward to returning someday to spend some more time with her showing us other wonderful sites in this gorgeous part of the world.
Livorno, Italy- We had been to Florence on a previous trip, so we decided we wanted to see the beautiful countryside of Tuscany. We went to Siena and San Gimignano with a private driver. Siena is not even offered by RCI because the tour buses can only get within a fifteen-minute walk of the town. Our driver had a resident type pass and drove us right up to the steps of the Duomo in the heart of town. The Tuscan countryside and these beautiful cities are not to be missed if you have already been to Florence and Pisa.
San Gimignano is quite unique and dates back to the fourth century BC. Fourteen of its original 72 majestic towers still stand throughout this medieval city. The popular European tourist destination is really a treat with its beautiful old buildings and windy narrow streets. There are lots of little shops, which display everything from paintings to handmade lace items, making it a great town for browsing.
The temperature in the hills was milder for us than for those who took the Florence excursions. We had an added bonus of being able to stop and take pictures whenever and wherever we wished. I have a great picture of Carol standing in a glorious field of sunflowers. As far as the eye could see, there were huge yellow sunflowers. We were really lucky that this crop was in bloom while we were there, since our driver said that they only last three weeks. This unexpected surprise added to the beauty of our drive through the Tuscan hill country.
Carol fell in love with Siena. There were lots of tourists, but it's wasn’t as crowded as San G., since most tour buses don't go there. In Siena we ate lunch at Pizzeria Costa on the square. We had the most fantastic Calzones we had ever tasted. They were so big; they hung over the plates, so we had to take a picture of them. They were stuffed with loads of mushrooms, ham, and cheese. Yum!! The restaurant is right in the center of town, and it was so nice to sit there and people watch as we ate.
A little side note here for the females: don't go to the public WC in town. Instead, go inside the Duomo (free admission) to the gift shop to the restroom. There is a fee, 25 cents, I think; but it is clean and has a commode with seat.
Civitavecchia, Italy- We used Daniele Melaragno at http://www.driverinrome.com An outstanding tour by a true professional. I can’t imagine doing Rome any other way. He knew exactly when to go where, so that we never waited in any line. At the Coliseum, he showed us where to buy tickets “offsite”. Then we walked right past the Royal Caribbean tour and through the gate. Unfortunately, the bridge way that they have built over the middle of the Coliseum for better viewing was closed for repairs.
Forum Coliseum Coliseum Bridge
While we were walking back to the van to head for the next site, we ran into Trey (ttomeny from the CC Board) who was doing a tour with Remo, Daniele’s father. It was kind of obvious from where Daniele got his tour skills and wonderful personality. Daniele is a more suave and cool version of his father; who appears to be a very warm fun loving kind of guy. Daniele has got to be the best tour operator in Rome, as well as the best-dressed one.
Daniele also knew when the crowds would be gone from the Vatican Museum / Sistine Chapel. So instead of having to wait in the huge lines in the morning to get into a herd of people in the museum, we waited until 2:30 PM and were able to walk right in, buy our tickets and walk through the museum with ease.
Without being rushed at all, we saw St. Peter’s, the Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Coliseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, and two panoramic overlooks of the city. We even had lunch at a little out of the way place that Daniele recommended, where we enjoyed fabulous calzones.
The Pantheon Inside the Pantheon The Pantheon Dome
On your day at sea when you are heading to Mykonos from Civitavecchia, don’t miss seeing the volcano of Stromboli. You will pass it around 10:15 AM. Amazing that there are cities at the base, even with smoke billowing from the volcano. The Messina Straights between Italy and Sicily are quite impressive as you pass them around 12:30 PM.
Mykonos, Greece- Since the Brilliance didn’t arrive in port until 1:00 PM, we ate lunch on the ship. We then did our own walking tour. Mykonos is quite pretty with narrow streets, blue domed white buildings and a lovely waterfront. Be sure to walk up to Little Venice and get the view from near the windmills. This would be a great place to eat at an outdoor restaurant and people watch; but that wouldn’t fit into the late arrival. We spent a lot of time shopping here. There are lots of neat shops and interesting things to buy. You really have to control yourself here as well as most of these wonderful ports, since there are so many unique things to buy; but you have to remember that you have limited luggage space and weight restrictions on your flight home.
Don’t bother to rely on the ship’s shopping map. The street signs are written in the Greek alphabet so you can’t compare them to the map. We were in one of the stores when Tod, the ship’s shopping guide came in. We were telling him about the map when he admitted that he had been lost himself for the last half hour!
Santorini, Greece - Santorini was originally a volcano. Around 1500 BC it erupted in the largest eruption in history. It created a tidal wave 800 ft. high and moving at 200 mph., which wiped out the Minoan society.
To see this fascinating island, we took the ship’s tour to Oia and Fira with a stop at the Santos Winery. Don’t miss Oia. Walk down the side streets and get great pics of the blue domed churches and houses on the mountainside. This is an incredibly beautiful island. I just couldn’t stop taking pictures. I didn’t want to miss capturing any of this beauty. I wanted to make sure that I would have these memories permanently stored in my cameras as well as my memory.
We hadn’t been too excited about stopping at the winery, since we aren’t big wine drinkers and Carol really doesn’t like it at all. They let you try samples of three of their wines. They were quite nice. To my amazement, Carol really liked their dessert wine and actually bought a bottle. If you go there, buy your wine at the winery rather than waiting until you get into town. Carol paid 14.50 Eu for her bottle. Every place we saw the same bottle in town, it was 21 or 28 Eu! The view from the winery was a pleasant surprise and is worth the stop.
The only bad thing about the tour was where they let you off after you returned to town. The bus had to stop at the bottom of a very steep hill, and you had to trudge up to the top over cobblestones. This was not a short walk, and it was very exhausting. We had lunch at the Café del Mar y Sol, where we had their signature salad. It was delicious!
The funicular in Fira was quite nice. It is an easy ride with a great view, and even Carol wasn’t scared. I know that a lot of people went up on the donkeys. I honestly don’t know how they could stand the smell, which was really bad at the bottom of the hill.
Akrotiri is closed on Mondays; as are the museums on the island, so bare this in mind when booking tours. Some passengers were not aware of this and were very disappointed in their tour when it did not go where they thought they were going.
Athens, Greece- Having been to Athens before, we went on the “Cape Sounion with Costal Drive” ship’s tour. It was much better than expected. It was a beautiful drive along the coast and the views from the southernmost point in Europe at the Temple of Poseidon were incredible. We were the first tour bus to arrive at the site, and I was able to get some pictures with no tourist in them.
There was a taxi strike in Athens, and those who took the trains complained about the crowding and lack of AC. It sounded like a horrible experience that I am glad we missed. Others complained that the ship’s tour, which included the Acropolis, had them climbing to the summit during the hottest part of the day rather than doing that first when it was a little cooler.
Valletta, Malta- An absolutely lovely island. Be sure to wake up early and have your cameras ready for the ride into the port. It is quite unique and a must see. We took the “Mdina and Historic Valletta” ship’s tour. This tour included two gorgeous medieval towns and their incredible cathedrals. St. Johns Co-Cathedral with its amazing memorial tablets covering the entire floor is worth the trip itself to Malta. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, and you could tell how proud she was of her island. There was quite a lot to proud of.
Fort at Valetta Harbor entrance
Those that did their own thing in Valletta, didn’t see nearly as much and weren’t as impressed with Malta. Several folks complained about some of the other excursions. We loved Malta, and wished that RCI had scheduled more time there.
Naples, Italy - We did a Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast tour with Marcello Maresca at http://www.seesorrento.com .
We were at Pompeii at 8:30 AM when they opened, and before it got crowded and extremely hot. By the time we left at 11:00 AM, the crowds and heat had arrived. We could have arranged for an English speaking guide through Marcello prior to our tour; but decided to wait till we got there. However, there weren’t any English-speaking guides available when we arrived, so we just used the provided maps. Since I had done research prior to the trip, I knew where I wanted to go so it worked out fine without a guide. The self-guided audio equipment was similar to what we used in Barcelona at La Pedera and I imagine that it is probably a great way to see Pompeii. If the weather had been cooler and we had plenty of time, we would have gotten them.
Mt. Vesuvius from ship Pompeii
After leaving Pompeii, we began what would turn out to be a magical day. We asked Marcello to show us “his Italy” rather than the touristy spots. He was more than happy to oblige. He even pointed out his home and told us that he could see the port from there. He saw the Brilliance come in that morning, so he knew when to come pick us up.
The Amalfi area is famous for its lemons. They are absolutely huge, reaching the size of a soccer ball.
Carol gets very nervous in heavy traffic, but she felt perfectly comfortable with Marcello at the wheel. Because of the narrow roadways and all of the twist and turns, it was good to know that we had an experienced driver.
The views along the coastal drive are so incredible that they leave one speechless. Each time we thought we had seen the best possible view, another even more glorious one would excite our senses. The sheer cliffs dropping off into the blue, blue water was so beautiful that I couldn’t snap the camera fast enough.
Sorrento Amalfi Drive
For lunch, Marcello took us to a home-style restaurant perched upon a mountain way above Positano, La Tagliata (www.latagliata.com/en/homepage). This was one of those family run places where you don’t place an order, you just eat whatever they happen to be cooking that day. Everything was freshly grown and homemade. I cannot do this meal justice without going into detail, so bare with me.
From above Positano View from restaurant
First they brought out both red and white wine, as well as cokes and water, and served the antipasto. We had ham and capocollo, fresh tomatoes with mozzarella, fried zucchini blossoms, and wonderful homemade bread. We also had a dish that consisted of marinated carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms. We thought, okay, that was a nice lunch. Wrong! Next came the vegetable course with freshly shelled peas, sweet peppers, and pickled pumpkin. This was followed by the pasta course. We had three different kinds of the best pasta I have ever put in my mouth. The dough was homemade and as light and fluffy as a cloud. We had cheese ravioli, pork manicotti, and a folded cheese pasta.
Afterwards came the salad and French fries. Then, on one end of the table they set a platter with a huge fish, big shrimp, and sardines. On the other end of the table was a platter containing veal shish kabobs, beefsteak, rabbit, sausage, and pieces of pork. By this time, we were all about to pop; but then came three different desserts and a large bowl of freshly picked cherries! Finally, we were served a couple of different after dinner liquors. It was an unbelievable meal, and it only cost $30 apiece including the wine and liquor! All of this while we enjoyed the incredible view from the top of the mountain. Awesome!
After we rolled ourselves back into the car, we headed for the towns of Amalfi and Ravello. We went back down the mountain through the shop and restaurant lined streets of beautiful Positano. We passed through lovely quaint villages perched on the mountainside. These towns hadn’t been changed and modernized by the thriving tourist industry that had made such a mark on Positano. There was very little traffic in these towns and you could just take in the natural beauty of the Amalfi Coast. The fishing village of Amalfi is the only town that had an adequate fishing port in the area, so there were lots of boats floating in the beautiful blue of the Mediterranean. As with everything else we had seen this day, it made for another breathtaking view. There is an incredible cathedral in Amalfi. We only got to see the top of this unique structure with its multicolored tile dome from the road above as we passed by. In looking at our souvenir picture book of the Amalfi Coast, this cathedral almost has the appearance that ancestors of Barcelona’s Gaudi might have lived in this area hundreds of years ago. The use of multi colored mosaic tiles on the outside and inside of this elegant cathedral is something that must be seen. So now we have discovered another place that we want to go back and explore.
Amalfi villa of Sophia Loren Amalfi Cathedral
From Amalfi we headed back up the mountain for the return to the Brilliance. Fortunately, we had one more stop, the lovely Ravello. It is attracting tourists, but not to the extent of Positano. Ravello is another gorgeous town with breathtaking vistas where you would like to book a room for the month. Our little group did a little shopping there, got some gelato and a few beers and savored the moment.
We have been to Europe five times now and I just can’t imagine an area more beautiful than the Amalfi Coast. The French Riviera and Santorini were remarkable and oh so beautiful; but perhaps because we got to get a peek at the real Italy through Marcello’s love of his country, this area will always be a little more special for us.
As we drove back to the Brilliance, we realized that the cruise was almost over and the excursions to the beautiful Mediterranean ports were coming to an end. Our abused legs and bodies appreciated this, but our eyes were sorry that they wouldn’t be able to take in any more amazing sites.
Carol did her normal masterful packing job of getting everything back into our suitcases. I honestly didn’t think it was possible. We had gotten an additional RCI carryon bag in anticipation of the overload; but didn’t need it. Our major concern was that our luggage would exceed the 70 pounds per piece limit that was established by Iberia Airlines. We called guest relations to see if there was a scale available to see if we needed to move stuff around; but they said there wasn’t. We decided that the bags were as equally distributed as we could get and cast our fate to the Iberia scales. We had an early disembarkation number, which allowed us to leave at 7:10 AM. We were the second group, with the first one being at 7:00 AM. We really needed to be in the first group with a 9:50 AM flight out of Barcelona. The Barcelona airport is a madhouse with very long lines to check in your luggage and few signs to direct you. We finally got to the counter and found that our flight was full, and they were moving us to a 9:20 AM flight. The good news was that our two heaviest suitcases were just under the 70-pound limit at 67 and 66 pounds. Unfortunately, the counter person apparently screwed up and cancelled our connecting flight from Madrid to Miami. She said that she couldn’t give us a seat assignment; but that we would be upgraded when we went to the counter in Madrid. She didn't mention that she had cancelled our seats on the last leg of our flight. She gave us the boarding passes and told us to run since we had 15 minutes till the plane left. Fortunately the flight left a little late and we made it with no problem, but lots of huffing, puffing and stress.
When we got to Madrid, we had more time between flights than originally planned, since we were on the earlier flight. We were disappointed that we had lost our previously reserved bulkhead seats for the long flight home; but were thrilled that we were being upgraded. We figured we could relax now, since the last leg was all that was left. We walked to the gate and were told that we were on standby since the flight was full. There was no discussion of upgrade or available seats in the attendant’s vocabulary. They kept saying just wait till we see how many seats we have. After they shut the doors on the plane, we figured that there were no seats and we had to find another flight. We kept being directed to a different counter in a different section of the airport with less than adequate directions on how to get there. The most disappointing part of this experience was that each person we talked to just wanted to get rid of the problem by moving us to someone else. We finally got to a redcoat who was very helpful and set us up for a flight that was six hours after our original one. We did get compensation of 600 Euros ($654 after being exchanged for dollars) for being bumped. At the time I wasn’t really interested in the money. But now that we are home, the delay is just a bad memory and the money is still in the bank. When we got to Miami, we were short two of our three suitcases and had to wait around until all luggage was unloaded to file a claim. We finally got home around 12:30 AM, rather than our originally planned 5:00 PM. Six hours later, I was heading for the office. The vacation was definitely over. Two days later we got our suitcases back. Even though they had been roughed up, our souvenirs, including ceramics were undamaged.
Cruising doesn’t get much better than this. Other than our trip home, it was perfect. All the ports were wonderful. The Brilliance is a beautiful ship with a friendly hard working crew that strives to make you a happy cruiser. The ship and ports exceeded our expectations.
For Rome, Florence, and Athens please read the reviews of our land tours to Italy and Greece, which can be found on the Home page.
To see more pictures with larger views, go to: Brilliance of the Seas Mediterranean pictures
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