The Adriatic: Croatia, Greece, Italy and Turkey
Fly in/out: Rome Airport (FCO) and Venice Airport (VCE).
Recommended ages: Sturdy 8 year olds and up
Ball Park Price: $3,000/person (airfare not included)
Time Zone: CST +7
The Royal Caribbean cruise was booked through Cruise One who helped select the right cruise, find and book the ideal cabin locations and secure a great cruise deal.
DAY ONE & TWO: Depart Chicago with a connecting through to Leonardo da Vinci Airport of Rome. (FCO) Transportation arranged through Airbnb apartment rental. Check in at charming 3 bedroom apartment booked through airbnb.com. Drop off luggage and explore Rome via the Metra and on foot using Rick Steves Rome Pocket Guidebook. Visit two of the the local neighborhoods and backstreets in and around famed squares and markets; Piazza Navona and the Campo de Fiori (flower market). Enjoy dinner in Campo de Fiori. Next explore Spanish Steps and high end stores around the steps.
DAY THREE: Meet tour guide from Eyes of Rome at Roman Colosseum Metra Station. Spend 2.5 hours exploring the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. End tour at the Pantheon. Take the Metra back to the flat for a rest and head back to the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Square for a special evening opening in summer offered by the Vatican. Tickets available on the Vatican website.
DAY FOUR: Take the Metra to Roman Termini and jump aboard the Trenitalia train booked through Rail Europe and enjoy a relaxing, four hour ride to Venice. Arrive in Venice and drop off luggage with the Royal Caribbean valet service at the train station. Take the 10 minute train shuttle to all cruise ship ports. Board the Royal Caribbean Splendour of the Seas and depart Venice for an eight day, 7 night cruise.
DAY FIVE: Arrive in Dubrovnik, Croatia and take the 4 hour Croatian Riviera tour. Explore Old Town Dubrovnik for approximately 1.5 hours, then board the bus for a drive to the port city of Cavtat and and lunch at Konavoski Dvori.
DAY SIX: Spend the day at sea aboard the Royal Caribbean Splendor of the Sea for a fun and relaxing day on the ship.
DAY SEVEN: Arrive in Kusadasi, Turkey and take a 30 minute drive to Ephesus, Turkey and explore the ruins. Be sure to include the terrace houses in the Ephesus tour. Spend the afternoon shopping and enjoying a late lunch in Kusadasi.
DAY EIGHT: Take the Volcano hot springs tour in Santorini for a boat ride and walk through the volcano caldera to hear the geological history of Santorini. Take a quick swim jumping off the boat to enjoy the hot spring/mud bath. Spend the afternoon enjoying the Santorini’s capital City, Fira. Take the cable car to the top of Fira for shopping and spectacular views. If cable car is congested returning to ship, walk with the donkeys down some 600 steps.
DAY NINE: Arrive in Katakolon, Greece and take a 30 minute ride to Kouroutas Beach. Spend a day on the golden beach playing in the warm water and enjoying a snack on the boardwalk cafes.
DAY TEN: Day at Sea. Smooth on the Adriatic Sea even at faster speeds.
DAY ELEVEN: Arrive in Venice early and disembark Royal Caribbean ship. Walk (very difficult with luggage and bridges with stairs) or take public water taxi called “vaporetto” or private water taxi to hotel, Boscolo Venezia, Autograph Collection, Marriott. Drop off luggage. Arrange for a nice dinner through concierge. Explore St. Mark’s square which includes St. Mark’s church, Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), Bell Tower and Museo Correr. (Purchase tickets at Museo Correr for both this museum and the Doge’s palace to avoid lines).
DAY TWELVE & THIRTEEN: Enjoy a gondola ride on the smaller canals. Walk to Rialto bridge and explore area. Take water taxi to Venice Airport, Venice Marco Polo (VCE) with a connecting through Frankfurt overnight. Stay at wonderful Steigenberger Airport Hotel with free shuttle. Request Executive tower suite.
- We describe this trip as a wonderful and efficient way to see a great deal of Europe in a short period of time. As far as cruises go, this one had one of the best itineraries for seeing fabulous sites within Italy, Croatia, Turkey, and Greece.
- Our first two days were packed trying to see all the sites in Rome. We discovered the easiest way to travel was by Metra or foot. Our highlights included walking around Rome on our own using some walking guides and tips offered by the Rick Steves Rome Pocketbook Guide. We loved the plazas and the squares. Every piece of architecture was gorgeous in Rome. Our second day we booked a tour through Eyes of Rome and had a two hour walk through the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill. It ended with an interior tour of the Pantheon. In the evening we really lucked out with special evening viewing hours of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Square that we explored on our own with skip the line tickets we purchased direct from the Vatican Museum website.
- We enjoyed a morning 3-4 hour train ride on Trenitalia to arrive in Venice. Although we were not clear on logistics on how to get from the train ride to the port, it was really close and simple. Royal Caribbean does a nice job of pre-booking guests so we also boarded within an hour. Departing the cruise ship port from Venice playing Italian Opera was like a dream. It was so beautiful looking at Venice from atop the cruise ship on the Grand Canal.
- Our tours on the ship consisted of Dubrovnik, Croatia, Ephesus, Turkey, Santorini, Greece and Katakolon, Greece. The highlights of Old Town Dubrovnik included viewing this walled city and seeing the beautiful architecture and panoramic views of a city that still holds 800 residents. The excursion included a stop at the port of Cavtat that hosts some of the most magnanimous yachts in Europe. The kids want to return to Croatia the most for it’s unspoiled and least touristy country-side.
- Our stop in Ephesus or Izmir (port was Kusadasi, Turkey) learning about the ruins was all the more poignant because it occurred so close to our trip to the Roman Colosseum tour. We learned a great deal about Roman and Greek history from this tour. The archeological preservation taking place in the Terrace Houses to restore and preserve the mosaic tiles on the floor and the frescoes or mural paintings showing how people lived in the 1 century B.C. was spectacular.
- We loved the Greek Isle of Santorini for it’s beauty and uniqueness. After many days of listening to a tour guide, we chose to hike Volcano Santorini, a caldera with black lava and a 30 minute trail with pretty views of Santorini. After the hot hike, jump in the water to swim in hot springs. It was hot, so bring a hat, plenty of sunscreen, water bottle and NOT your favorite bathing suit because it will stain in the hot springs which contains orange-like mud. After the volcano tour, take the cable car up to Fira, the capital city of Santorini. Enjoy an afternoon of shopping and exploring a beautiful hilltop city. If needed take the zig-zag type switchback path back down to the cruise ship but fight the donkeys for space.
- Our last excursion from the Royal Caribbean included a beautiful beach excursion in Kouroutas Beach swimming and frollicking mindlessly on the sand. After many tours, we decided to take a clean break. We opted not to tour Olympia, Greece, the site of the ancient Olympic Games celebrated every four years by the Greeks and the Olympia Museum. If a family member is an Olympian diehard, then this might be the better option. By this time, our family was done with guided tours and needed a beautiful beach.
- We ended the trip with only two days and one night in Venice (wish we had one more night). We literally read from the Rick Steves Venice pocket guide book while exploring St. Mark’s square and Doge’s palace (in St. Mark’s Square) The Doge’s palace also known as Palazzo Ducale, was the home to the Doges or former rulers of Venice. This pristine palace in unbelievable condition with gargantuan rooms also shows the original rooms for government meetings in early Venetian times. It also houses the former prison accessible through bridges called “Bridges of Sighs.” Kids loved it.
- The Old Town in Dubrovnik was a stunning place. Allow the kids to climb the steps and explore the walled city from above. Through small cobblestone steps and hidden staircases, an entire residential area housing 800 Croatians can be explored with fabulous restaurants, stores and churches.
- Short and memorable, a family won’t forget a daytime or evening gondola ride in Venice. They are available for hire anywhere. We chose a gondola ride not on the main, grand canal to avoid some of the congestion and we’re glad we did for the scenic views and serenity of the ride. (expect to pay approx $20/person for a 30 minute ride. Most rides non-negotiable.)
Places to stay
- A growing trend in many parts of Europe is to rent an apartment that suits a family’s needs which can turnout to be very economical. We enjoyed this spacious three bedroom charming apartment as our base in Rome. Having a kitchen for breakfast, snacks and a quick cocktail was also a cost saving. Although not at the heart of the tourist spots, we navigated the Metra (underground subway) easily to get to the sites each day.
- We thoroughly enjoyed our Splendour of the Seas Royal Caribbean cruise. The kids stayed in a windowless room (primarily to save $2000) with two twin beds and one twin bed which dropped from the wall. Although they initially fretted, it ended up being a perfect dungeon for sleeping. The parent’s room was an ocean balcony cabin which was key. We spent very little time in the cabins but it was great to wake up in a different country and port almost every morning with fabulous views from our balcony. Best facets of the ship included the pool, fitness center, rock climbing wall, mini-golf, dining, teen club and evening entertainment.
- Our final stop ended on a luxurious note at the Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the Boscolo Venezia.(Which accepted Marriott points) We were upgraded to a two-story suite on the canal. Truly paradise. It featured a fabulous hidden garden, outdoor restaurant and a grand lobby. The tratorria’s, bridges and residential area around the hotel were beautiful. From a location standpoint, this hotel is not located in the historic center of Venice but was a 40 minute stunning walk over bridges to the St. Mark’s Basilica Square and Historic Center.
- There are so many trattorias/restaurants to choose from in Italy. Try to go down narrow streets to find the off-beaten outdoor, authentic italian restaurant. The staples of the best pizza and pastas in the world won’t disappoint! Sometimes the restaurants with a laminated menu right next to a key site can be expensive without the best quality food. Service is great and in most places reservations are not required. If you like to make reservations at one of the better restaurants in Rome or Venice try your concierge for best recommendations.
- Since a cruise ship is in essence an all-inclusive resort on water, ample food and dining options are available. Kids love the breakfast and lunch buffets and soft-serve ice cream and large snacks served throughout the day. We’re a family that loves seated and pre-scheduled dining on cruise ships for dinner and prefer a set dining time. We recommend to select that dining option when booking the cruise. It provides consistency in the wait staff, no need for daily reservations and no lines.
- A great way to plan a summer European trip is to know the inside scoop on how to skip lines and avoid the larger crowds without breaking the bank. If you choose not to use a prepaid guide through a tour company like the Eye of Rome, then know the following tips:
- For the Roman Colosseum, save time waiting in line by buying your ticket at the ticket office at the entrance to nearby Palatine Hill or without a guide you can pre-purchase tickets here for a reasonable price.
- For the Vatican Museum, prepay for online tickets and bring your printed ticket to the front of the prepaid line. Look for special summer evenings hours generally not well known.
- In Venice, purchase tickets for the Doge’s palace at the sister museum the Correr Museo where there are no lines.
- For the chapels, churches and some palaces, bring a light scarf to drape around your daughter’s shoulders or function as a skirt. Knees and shoulders need to be covered in churches in Italy. It’s hard to spend a 12 hour walking day with knee length skirts and shoulder covered shirts on a hot summer day. The light scarf was a convenient and creative option to pack in a backpack. Boys get away easier wearing almost knee length basketball shorts and t-shirt with no qualms getting in to the churches at all. Some landmarks like the St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice are selling scarves for 1 Euro to enter.
- Transportation by car is often a sedan so make sure you preface you have a family of five when booking any car transportation otherwise Mom’s will be squished in the back with the kids.
- Anytime you have as much moving around as this trip, especially moving around cobble stone streets in Rome and Venice, make sure you have very sturdy suitcases with strong rollers to help you get around. And very comfortable walking shoes.
- There are two train companies now travelling throughout Europe: Italia and Trenitalia. Both were efficient and clean and first class seemed like an unnecessary luxury for a small trip. We chose Trenitalia based on departure times but the purple Italia train was on the next track looking like a viable option but no real advantages. So choose your train company based on the best schedule.
- Summer’s in Europe can be hot and for some particular reason sear the top of your head more so than any other destination we’ve been. Baseball caps and summer hats are essential for the longer tours along with your sunblocks and glasses.
- Keep in mind, Venice is a small city and you can walk to nearly any monument within 30-45 minutes. For the longer transportation routes or when you’re too plain tired to walk, we found Venice initially difficult to navigate. Once you figure out the transportation system however, it’s not that hard. Here are the three basics: A water taxi is like a private car taxi on streets but rather this is on water. This is an expensive option with most routes around $100. Second, the water bus is called the “vaporetto” or think of it like figuring out a public bus. You have to understand the routes and directions. It’s operated by the ACTV company and you can purchase tickets at the stops around the Venice area when you are too tired to walk anymore. They charge per person at 7-10 Euro. The third option for transportation to the Marco Polo airport and back is on the Alilaguna. They are cheaper per person but mildly slow with the stops. We chose a water taxi back to the airport for our family of five, not much different than the states. Besides, how often do you get to take a boat to an airport? A link that outlines details to get around Venice, the Marittima (cruise ship port) and more is nicely outlined here.