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Day 8 – A Sea Day on the Norwegian Epic

Day 8 – Sea Day

Our 6th day on the ship was a sea day as we traveled from Barcelona to Naples. We had plans to wake up early and sunbathe on the top deck, but ended up sleeping in. We were so tired from all the ports we were visiting! We had a late breakfast at one of the sit-down, table service restaurants and explored the ship. There was also a lot of lounging on our balcony, just enjoying the sea.

I’m going to take this opportunity to do a review of the ship!

The Food:

The Norwegian Epic has several free dining options – that is, options that are included with your cruise fare at no additional cost. They have two main dining rooms, one buffet, one 24hour bar & grill, and one Chinese noodle bar. There are also a bunch of specialty restaurants that cost extra, which we didn’t partake in.

We had breakfast in Taste, one of the main dining rooms, a few times –

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We also had dinner in both Taste and the Manhattan Room, the other main dining room, alternatively every night –

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The Shows:

The Norwegian Epic has a ton of nightly shows but their two main theatre shows were Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Burn the Floor. 

Both were absolutely amazing! Priscilla is the Norwegian take on the Broadway show while Burn the Floor is a dance spectacular. They both play twice during the duration of the cruise, so if you can’t make the first showing, there’s always another one!

The Room:

We stayed in a balcony stateroom, which was a bit cramped for the three of us, but manageable. They clean your room twice a day – once in the morning and once again in the evening for turn-down. We always came back to a towel animal!

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And I leave you with the sunset on our first day on the cruise – at Civitavecchia Port.

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And the sunrise on our last day on the cruise – also at Civitavecchia Port.

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Day 7 – Barcelona, Spain

Day 7 – Barcelona

Our fourth port of call was Barcelona, Spain. We actually docked at about 5am since more than half of the ship’s passengers were disembarking early that morning.

Look at the beautiful sunrise colors over the harbor!

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The first stop of the day was the famous Sagrada Familia, designed by the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Although incomplete, Sagrada Familia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the highlights of Barcelona. Construction began in 1882, but Gaudi took over the project in 1883, transforming it with his style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. At the time of his death in 1929, less than a quarter of the basilica was finished. It’s estimated that construction will finish in 2026 – exactly 100 years since the death of Gaudi.

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The inside of the church is just as impressive, if not more so, than the outside.

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After Sagrada Familia, our next stop was a nice stroll through Las Ramblas, the main tourist stretch leading down from Placa de Catalunya to the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. There is so much to see and buy along Las Ramblas – it’s also a beautiful walk without car traffic.

We then walked along the harbor to our lunch spot, Can Sole. Can Sole, established in 1903, has been serving paella and seafood for over 113 years. We, of course, had to have the paella! Throw in some jamón ibérico (ham from Black Iberian pig) and pan con tomate (tomato paste bread) and it was one of the best meals of our trip!

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The paella was so big it didn’t even fit into a single shot! It was jam-packed with squid, octopus, mussels, clams, and shrimp. Between the three of us, we finished more than 3/4ths of it, which I think is an accomplishment.

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Dessert was at Eyescream and Friends, which serves up shaved gelato. It’s a very easy process – you pick your gelato flavor out of six options and then grab two toppings of your choice. They’re so cute I didn’t want to eat it! Shaved gelato is smoothier and creamier than shaved ice, so I definitely am a huge fan.

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If I had more time in Barcelona, I would’ve definitely had more sangria and more ham. The sangria is so cheap! 2.50€ for a large glass!  

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Day 6: Marseille, France

Day 6 – Marseille, France

The third port of call on our Western Mediterranean Cruise was Marseille, France. Marseille is one of France’s main ship ports with its huge cruise terminal. From Marseille, one can take a day trip out to Cassis, Aix-en-Provence, or Avignon. If you’re in Marseille in the month of July, be sure to make the trip out to see the lavender fields.

Since we only had a few hours in Marseille, we decided to stay local and DIY the day. Our day started off with a taxi from the cruise terminal straight to Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica. The Basilica was built on the foundations of an ancient fort that stands at the highest point in Marseille.  it’s definitely a good idea to take a car up. The walk is no joke!

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If you climb all the way to the upper church (there’s an elevator as well), it offers a gorgeous view of Marseille and the Mediterranean.

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We walked our way down from the Basilica to the Vieux Port, or the former port before the new port was built. The walk was very pleasant and we got to see the winding pathways and side streets of Marseille.

The highlight of the Old Port is their Ferris wheel! At 7€ per person, it’s a bit pricey, but the view is quite nice.

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Our late lunch was at Les Halles de la Major, a covered gastronomic food market located in the vaults of Marseille’s La Major Cathedral, which has been remodeled to a retail area. There are a bunch of food options inside the market and the best part? Your food gets brought to your table after you order! My sister opted for a juicy, rotisserie chicken. I had a gorgeous burger while my mom went tapas style and had a bunch of pickled and cured veggies.

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Be sure to stop by L’Esperantine de Marsille, a boutique chocolatier nearby Les Halles that is famous for their olive oil green chocolate. Look at this gorgeous chocolate!  

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Day 5: Cannes, France

Day 5: Cannes, France

The second port of our Western Mediterranean cruise stopped at Cannes, France. Because the dock in Cannes is too small to accommodate large cruise ships, we had to tender to the port. Basically this means that the cruise ship will stop within a 5-10 minute boat ride away from the dock and use its life boats to ferry passengers to shore.

Since we weren’t really interested in a day trip to Nice or Monaco, we opted to stay in Cannes and explore the town on our own. A 3 hour walking tour with the cruise ship would’ve $55 per person, so we decided to DIY it!

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Cannes was one a small fishing village, but is now a glamorous and expensive seaside town that’s considered one of the social hubs of Europe. It’s the host to the International Film Festival as well as a popular vacationing spot for celebrities.

Our first stop on shore was the Marche Forville market, a covered food market that’s open daily from 7:30am to 1:00pm. It’s a great spot to shop for fresh produce as well as food souvenirs. We had some delicious baby bananas and mini strawberries and picked up some homemade olive paste to take home.

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After snacking at the market, we headed through the Le Suquet (Old Town) area and up to Notre Dame d’Esperance, which is located at the top of Suquet Hill. The walk up is filled with stairs, so definitely pace yourself!

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Right next to the church is the Musée de la Castre, or Castre Museum. The museum is located in the ruins of an old medieval castle that belong to the monks of Lérins. It now hosts collections belong to the city of Cannes with primitive arts from the Himalayas, Tibet, the Artic, pre-Columbian America, Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean. The museum has a medieval tower that offers a 360 degree view – if you want to climb 109 steps! In my humble opinion, it really is worth it, even for those of us who don’t like heights!

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The Old Town offers excellent souvenir shopping opportunities as well as restaurant options. We walked around for a few hours before stopping for a very late lunch at Café Bohéme, located close to the water. They’re one of the restaurants that continue serving throughout the day, as some restaurants in Cannes stop lunch service around 2pm. Their lunch special is to die for! An appetizer + entrée is about 18€, which is a steal when you see how big the portion sizes are. None of us finished our meals! I had a very delicious smoked salmon appetizer, followed by the fish of the day with a plate full of steamed sides.

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Dessert was at Amorino, because we just had to see if there was a difference between Europe and NYC. The end result? They are definitely more precise about the flower-crafting, which resulted in a prettier flower. Maybe it’s just me – or maybe it’s just because I’m in Europe, but it definitely tasted better too!

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Stay tuned for our next day!

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Day 4 – Florence, Italy

Day 4: Florence

Our first port of our Western Mediterranean cruise took us to the Italian city of Florence, or rather to the port of Livorno. There is plenty to do in Livorno, but we had our hearts set on Florence. So I booked a Joe Banana Limo round trip transfer (Pro-Tip: Share your excursion on CruiseCritics Roll Call in order to fill up your tour!) and took the 1.5 hour ride to Florence for the day.

Our driver suggested a pit stop at the Piazzale Michelangelo, a hill on the south bank of the Arno River, just east of the center of Florence. It offers a stunning panoramic view of the city – and has a replica of the David. I am so glad that our driver made the stop because it was beautiful. Early morning overlooking the city of Florence was absolutely stunning!

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After getting off the van, the first stop we made was for coffee! Gilli, opened by the Gilli family in 1733, is one of the oldest coffee bars in Florence. Located in the Piazza della Repubblica, it is a great café to stop in for a quick drink or for a sit-down meal. Be sure to pay the cashier and then bring your receipt to the coffee counter to order. We started and began our day at Gilli – coffee to go in the morning and a sit-down coffee at the end of the day.

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Our first stop was the famous San Lorenzo Markets, which hosts both indoor and outdoor markets selling local art, leather goods, clothing, and other souvenirs. There are a lot of unique gift items to be brought at the San Lorenzo Market – and even if you’re just shopping for yourself. I picked up some handmade notebooks with Florence paper and some leather bracelets for myself.

Lunch was at the Mercato Centrale – the indoor food market section of the San Lorenzo Markets. The Central Market has two parts. The first floor sells fresh fruits and vegetables as well as meats, cheeses, fish, and condiments. A lot of locals do their grocery shopping on the first floor and you can too! A lot of the vendors will vacuum-seal cured meats and cheeses for you if you tell them you’re traveling internationally. The second floor hosts a food court with lots of different vendors. I had a prosciutto and buratta plate while my mom had Florence’s famous beef tripe sandwich. My sister had a pasta dish and we rounded it all up with some pastries – all from different vendors!

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After lunch and a very successful shopping trip, we made our way back to the center of town and visited Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower. The Basilica houses the Duomo di Firenze, a magnificent Renaissance dome that’s a symbol of Florence.

We also made a quick stop at the Piazza Della Signoria to take a look at another David replica. While they are replicas, they are no less impressive in their size and stature!

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Then we began the journey down to see the famous Ponte Vecchio, the oldest and most famous bridge over Arno. It is the only Florentine bridge to survive World War II.

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And last but not least, what’s a day in an Italian city without some gelato! We had ours at Venchi, one of Florence’s oldest chocolatiers, established in 1878. The gelato in Italy is just so cheap and delicious!

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Stay tuned for our next stop – Cannes, France!

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Day 1-3: Rome, Italy

I’d like to think of myself as a seasoned cruiser – my very first cruise was at the ripe age of 4. That’s right, I was 4! Granted, I don’t remember much of it. I vaguely remember joining the kids club and the huge swimming pools. In the past 10 years, my family and I have been on 6 other cruises on a variety of cruise lines – Canada with Carnival, the Caribbean with Princess, and the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Hawaii with Norwegian. After exploring most of the options available to us with a US sailing departure point, we wanted to branch out for our next cruise.

After much research, we decided on the Norwegian Epic’s 7 day Western Mediterranean cruise. The Epic is unique because it picks up/drops off passengers in three ports – Barcelona, Spain; Civitavecchia, Rome; and Marseille, France. This means, if you’re embarking in Rome (like we did), other passengers that are already on the ship will have a port day – and vice versa for those embarking in Barcelona and Marseille.

In total, the Norwegian Epic stopped in 6 cities and 3 countries:

  • Civitavecchia, Rome in Italy
  • Livorno, Italy (within driving distance to Pisa and Florence)
  • Naples, Italy
  • Marseille, France
  • Cannes, France
  • Barcelona, Spain

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Since only my mom had been to Italy before, we definitely wanted some time to explore Rome. Since our embarkation day was a Wednesday, we flew in Monday morning for some solo-Rome time. What did we do? Keep reading to find out!

Day 1: Monday

On our very first day in Rome, we arrived in the early afternoon (via Munich, Germany) and checked into our hotel, the Rome Times Hotel. We picked this hotel because it was very centrally located – walking distance from the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Campo di Fiori area. We stayed in a mini-suite and the room was definitely large enough for three people. It was always clean and front-desk service was on point. I would definitely stay with the Rome Times again!

Our first stop after dropping off our luggage at the hotel was the Trevi Fountain. Everything you’ve read about it is true – there are a lot of tourists and it is difficult taking a picture. But, I would say it’s definitely worth it to stop by and admire the beauty of the fountain. Of course, remember to throw a coin in to ensure that you return to Rome someday!

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After some shopping along Via del Corso, we made our way back to the fountain area and had a late lunch at L’Antico Forno di Fontana Trevi. You can order at the bar and have your coffee standing or to-go, or you can sit down and have a nice coffee break and people watch. We opted for the latter and had a delightful iced caffe latte, which I’ve been told is not authentic at all! But thanks to L’Antico for catering to our tourist coffee tastes!

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Day 2: Tuesday

Our day started off bright and early at the Vatican for a guided tour. I highly suggest booking a tour for the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. It really helped to have a guide explain the significance of the artwork or as we made our way through the museums and the chapel.

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After the Vatican, we made our way over to the Pantheon, which is an ancient Roman temple that is now a church. Despite the fact that it was built over two thousand years ago, the Pantheon houses the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.

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Lunch was at the famous Armando Pantheon, which was completely booked by the time we arrived at opening time. They didn’t have any room for walk-ins at all! Be sure to go online to their website to make a reservation if you want to eat here! We were able to have beautiful buffalo mozzarella, cured meats, and amazing pasta dishes. Prices were very fair and the food was so delicious!

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Post-lunch gelato was from Cremeria Monteforte, which was one of the best gelato’s that we had during our trip. Their vanilla cherry is to die for!

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After dropping off our spoils of the day, we headed over to the Colosseum for a late afternoon stroll. Crowds are definitely thinner in the late afternoon hours – we were on line (with pre-purchased tickets) and inside within 20 minutes! Be sure to stop by the Roman Forum on your way out, as it’s included in the price of the Colosseum ticket. It was a bit surreal to be standing in the Colosseum, knowing that thousands of years ago, gladiators fought for their lives in the stadium.

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After our stroll through the Roman Forum, we made our way over to dinner at Taverna di Quaranta, just a 15 minute walk away from the Colosseum. They offer delicious homemade pastas with very affordable house wines. The bruschetta is to die for! The oxtail pasta was very flavorful and tender, while the spicy ragu is quite delicious as well.

Day 3: Wednesday

Today was the day we would check-out and head over to Civitavecchia to board our cruise ship. Before we headed for the port, however, I wanted to check out the Campo de’ Fiori Market area, which is a great spot to purchase some pasta, spices, and olive oil to take home. It also has a lot of fresh produce for sale.

Located just off the market is Forno Campo de’ Fiori, open bright and early, and known for their delicious Roman style pizzas. Their pizza is very thin and eaten in a folded rectangle. They also have a lot of freshly baked cookies on sale as well. No eating room inside, so take your pizzas for the go! I highly recommend their focaccia sandwiches.

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And that concludes our time in Rome – we had very little time, but I think we saw and ate a lot during our visit. I really, really loved Rome and hope (plan) to be back soon. There is so much more that I wish that I could’ve seen – like Trastevere, for example. Until next time, Rome!

Be sure to stay tuned for more highlights from my European adventure – many ports and many destinations to go!

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Restaurant Week: Ai Fiori

Anyone familiar with my blog probably knows how much I love the Altamarea Group and their restaurants – whether it is the Michelin-starred Marea or the affordable Osteria Morini (I still miss The Butterfly and Costata!). I finally crossed Ristorante Morini off my To-Do List this Restaurant Week, but I always make room for a RW lunch at Ai Fiori, one of my all-time favorite restaurants.

This year, I went with my cousin and her boyfriend (Who I’ve turned into Ai Fiori lovers!) and my mom. Compared to the very first time I had a RW lunch at Ai Fiori, its popularity has grown immensely! We arrived on time, but had to wait a few minutes for our table. We all opted to do their Restaurant Week menu, which doesn’t really change – a fact I am forever grateful for because I love their RW menu so much! We all opted to go with the same exact choices – despite the fact that the menu has 3 appetizer, 3 entrée, and 2 dessert options. I suppose this makes it extremely easy for our waiters!

For our appetizers, we opted for the Zuppa di Zucca, or chilled zucchini soup with Calabrian chili, lemon, and basil seeds. I’m always a fan of their chilled zucchini soup – it’s perfect for a hot summer day since it’s so light and refreshing!

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For our entrees, we all chose the Pollo Arrosto, or pan-roasted chicken with summer beans, Vidalia onions, and guanciale. Ai Fiori’s roasted chicken is, by far, one of my favorites. It’s tender, moist, and perfectly seasoned. I wish the portion sizes are a little bit bigger because it’s so tasty that I want more!

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For our dessert, we went with the Torta di Olio, or olive oil cake with Chantilly and mixed berries. I am a huge fan of olive oil cakes – when done right – and Ai Fiori definitely does it right! The cake is super soft and has just the smallest hint of fragrance from the olive oil. I really liked the use of tart berries and raspberry sorbet to bring out the natural flavors of the cake.

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Service was attentive enough – I can understand that they’re not super busy during the RW lunch rush. I never felt neglected by any accounts. I cannot wait until next season to have this delicious meal again!