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Mediterranean Cruise Excursions

Booked via Norwegian Cruise Lines, The Epic
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: Sunrise from the stern of the Norwegian Epic
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: Sunrise from the stern of the Norwegian Epic

When we took a Mediterranean cruise on the Norwegian Epic, we found a dearth of reviews, in part because Norwegian strangely prevents cruisers from posting them. In many ways, we booked blind. We knew certain things we wanted to see, such as Pompeii, but others we guessed at. The following provides descriptions and short reviews of the excursions we took, by port: Naples, Livorno, Cannes, Palma de Majorca, and Ajaccio.

Note: Norwegian cancelled a couple of our tours while we were on the ship. In the case of Barcelona, we took a shuttle into the city to explore on our own. For Rome, we had to take an airport transfer directly to the airport, where we sat for a full day awaiting our flight. Thank goodness we planned to return to Rome in the fall. Both of these ports have unreliable tour schedules because people embark and disembark there. You may get on in Rome, but others board in Barcelona.

Read more: Mediterranean Cruise Excursions

Naples, Italy

Pompeii Excavations

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: Pompeii as viewed from outside the ancient city
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: Pompeii as viewed from outside the ancient city

Although we knew we wanted to see Pompeii — we had tried four times during the pandemic but all those vacations had been cancelled — but we didn’t know which Pompeii excursion to book. At the time, the cruise line offered three options, including one to explore on our own. In recent years, we’ve discovered the benefits (and drawbacks) of a guided tour, so we chose Pompeii Excavations. We wanted a tour solely dedicated to the ruins.

Pompeii blew me away. Having visited ancient ruins all over the world, I never expected to experience the city as it stood in AD 79, when Mount Vesuvius buried it in ash. When you are on the ground, looking down streets and into buildings, you get an idea of the thriving city it once was. Unlike elsewhere, you won’t find replicas and non-original materials to help tourists get a feeling of what once was. Photographs do not do it justice.

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: Mount Vesuvius behind the huge Pompeii square
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: Mount Vesuvius behind the huge Pompeii square

Next, our tour guide made all the difference. She showed us areas and building that we never would have found on our own. In excellent English, she described the significance of each, pointing out details. For instance, I never would have known that certain buildings had been stores if I had explored on my own. She provided access to special houses and even showed where we could best photograph Mount Vesuvius in the background.

Without doubt, this tour was the best one we took while on our cruise.

Livorno, Italy (“Florence/Pisa”)

Pisa and a Taste of Tuscany

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa

Having already visited Florence several times, we knew it would be a long bus ride from Livorno to the interior city, with little time to explore it. Instead, we opted for a tour that took us to Pisa and a wine tasting. We love our Tuscan wines, and even though we knew we wouldn’t be treated to high-end ones, we thought it might be fun. As for Pisa, my husband had never been, and I figured it would be a great opportunity to see it. After all, the Field of Miracles is impressive.

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: the Baptistry and part of the Cathedral
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: the Baptistry and part of the Cathedral

Our tour guide led us from the bus parking lot to the Field of Miracles. She gave a brief description of the buildings, complete with historical background, and then advised us to stand in line to get free tickets to enter the Bapistry and Cathedral. Because tickets to the top of the Leaning Tower are mostly sold out in advance, she rightly told us not to try, especially with our limited time there.

Because of our guides advice, we were able to enter the Bapistry just before the security guard sang to demonstrate the acoustics. (He does it every half-four.) He sings only for a minute or so, making it essential to arrive beforehand. We then headed to the Cathedral. We had enough time for photos of all the buildings, including the Leaning Tower.

Next, we went to a family vineyard, Fattoria il Poggio. After a brief tour of the vineyard, we went inside their visitor center. There, we tried six of their wines, three white and three red. For lunch, they served us pasta — papparadelle with meat sauce — and bread. (They may have had vegetarian pasta upon request.) We sat at long tables in a brick-arched room, and at least one other tour bus joined us. Although no one guided us through the tasting, we did get cards that described each wine that you then poured for yourself.

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: Vineyard at Fattorio il Poggio
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: Vineyard at Fattorio il Poggio

I liked that this tour didn’t require hours of bus travel but that we were still able to see famous sites. The wine tasting, while delicious, was a little chaotic.

Cannes, France

Cannes Walk, Saint-Honorat, & Wine

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: View from partway up the walk to the Cannes church
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: View from partway up the walk to the Cannes church

I had already seen Monaco and hadn’t found anything particularly interesting about it. And I had spent a few days in Nice several years ago, so I had seen parts of the other tours as well. We settled on Cannes Walk, Saint-Honorat Island, and wine.

Our guide took us up a steep walk through the old section of Cannes until we reached a church perched on top of the hill. From there, we could see fantastic views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea beyond. We then walked back down through the narrow streets lined with shops. Our guide gave us time to explore the Cannes market, with time to buy food. (Lunch is not included.)

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: The market in Cannes
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: The market in Cannes

After exploring the market, we boarded a boat to Saint-Honorat Island. There, we had time to explore the island. Afterward, we visited the monastery and enjoyed an outdoor wine tasting in the vineyard. One of the winemakers guided us through the tasting, explaining each wine. Afterward, we had time to explore the island on our own before boarding the boat back to Cannes.

While this tour was low-key, I enjoyed it. Despite the heat, I thought the tasting in the vineyard added a memorable touch.

Majorca, Spain

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: View of Palma and beyond
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: View of Palma and beyond

Magical Majorca and Train to Soller

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: A street in Soller
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: A street in Soller

Again, I had visited Majorca (also known as Mallorca) before, but my husband had not. While I guided him somewhat when we chose our tour, I let him make the final decision. He chose Magical Majorca and the train to Soller in part because he loves trains. Of course, the description of the tour clinched it for him.

After a brief stop outside Palma’s Cathedral and information from our guide about the city, we boarded a bus to Soller, a small town located high in the mountains. Once in Soller, we had free time to wander the old streets, eat ice cream, and shop. We then boarded the train to head back to the port. Although some of the views from the train are impressive, they pale in comparison to the ones you can see if you explore the northern coast. (I don’t know if any of the tours take you there.)

This tour was a pleasant way to spend the day, although it also lacked anything truly memorable. I probably would have preferred one of the several food tours, Panaromic Coastal Views, or Palma in Depth. Still, Soller is a charming town.

Corsica, France

Highlights of Ajaccio

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: A coastal stop on Corsica
Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: A coastal stop on Corsica

Norwegian Cruise Lines doesn’t always stop at Corsica on its Mediterranean cruises. We knew we’d would be unlikely to return to the island, so we booked an overview tour.

This tour took us to a stop along the coast as well as a walking tour of Ajaccio, including a walk-by of a house where Napoleon had lived as a child. We visited a church — and that’s about it. Our guide left us in town to find our way back to the cruise ship, which fortunately was large enough to be seen occasionally between buildings.

Mediterranean Cruise Excursions: the town of Agaccia

I felt that our guide was sub-par, particularly during our walking tour of Ajaccio. Unlike many guides, her heart didn’t seem to be in it. Part of that fault may lie with Corsica itself since, other than its beaches and its part in Napoleon’s childhood, not much remains to be seen. The large town of Ajaccio has it charms, however.

The Verdict

Out of all our stops in the Mediterranean, I wish we had had two days in Naples, both to see Pompeii and to see the city itself. Or to see Sorrento. The next best port was Livorno/”Florence” since seeing Pisa’s Field of Miracles is one of those iconic tourist moments. You don’t need to do it again and again, but you should see it at least once.

While our tour of Agaccio, Corsica was the weakest, we still got to see part of the island and its capitol city. What else would we have done?

Later in the year, we will repeat many of these ports during an upcoming cruise, and afterward I’ll review the different excursions we take in a separate blog. Stay tuned!

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Archives Travel

What to Do in Rome

What to Do in Rome:  View from the top of Castel Sant'Angelo
What to Do in Rome: View from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo

When in Rome . . . do all that you can. The question of what to do in Rome will depend on how much time you have and whether it’s your first visit. For instance, with only a day or two, you will want to visit the usual suspects. But what if you have more time, or if you have already been to Rome more than once? You may want to explore beyond the most famous sites. World Oyster will guide you through both.

When in Rome . . . do all that you can. The question of what to do in Rome will depend on how much time you have and whether it’s your first visit. For instance, with only a day or two, you will want to visit the usual suspects. But what if you have more time, or if you have already been to Rome more than once? You may want to explore beyond the most famous sites. World Oyster will guide you through both.

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Archives Restaurants Travel

Review of Owamni, Minneapolis

Review of Owamni in Minneapolis with its clever subtitle
Review of Owamni in Minneapolis with its clever subtitle

I had the pleasure of dining at Owamni in Minneapolis earlier this year, before it received the James Beard Award for best new restaurant but after it had already received accolades. The unique concept ensures a menu that you’ve likely not encountered before: all ingredients must have been used by indigenous people prior to the colonization of the Americas. No dairy, no beef, no chicken, no egg. Non-vegetarians can order fish, bison, turkey, or elk. For the bulk of the menu, Owamni uses ingredients such as berries, corn, wild rice, beans, and maple syrup, making it largely vegan-friendly. Wines come from Mexico and Central America because of the regions’ use of non-European grapes.

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Archives Travel

Street Art in Montreal

Street Art in Montréal: Mural by Vexx
Street Art in Montreal: Mural by Vexx

If you’re looking for something free to do in Montreal, consider seeking out the street art scattered throughout the city. With over 3,500 murals dotting the cityscape, you can find art on the sides of buildings everywhere. Add in sculptures and temporary installations, and you have an open-air museum to explore.

Urban art defines this city. The city’s beautification project, MU, has contributed hugely to the effort. In particular, the MURAL Festival, much like the one I detailed in La Jolla, celebrates the transformation of otherwise drab places in June of each year. Afterward, the murals remain until –– or if –– they are painted over. A parking lot becomes an art gallery, and a narrow alley beckons you to explore.

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Archives Restaurants Travel

Best Places to Eat in Anchorage

Best Places to Eat in Anchorage: Blinis with caviar at Marx Brothers Café
Best Places to Eat in Anchorage: Blinis with caviar at Marx Brothers Café

The best places to eat in Anchorage range from food trucks to fine dining restaurants. On our trip, I tried to sample it all. Of course, salmon is to Alaska the way lobster is to Maine, so if you arrive during salmon season, as most visitors do, do as the grizzlies and feast on it. Keep in mind that different kinds of salmon run at different times, with king salmon starting off the season and silver salmon finishing it off.

In addition to salmon, look for crab, oysters, steelhead trout, and halibut. Due to its price, king crab can be found mostly in more expensive restaurants. The listing of reindeer on a menu can give out-of-state visitors the willies, but perhaps not as much if you think of it as venison.

Due to the city’s outpost town vibe, even upscale dining does not require the dressiness that you might find in a major lower-48 city. When in doubt for dinner, adopt business casual.

I’ve divided the best places to eat into categories, so scroll down to find what you’re looking for. The sidebar contains only some of the restaurants I review below.

Best Upscale Restaurant: The Marx Brothers Café

Great For Pacific Rim Cuisine: Ginger

Excellent Full Breakfast: Snow City Café

Best Happy Hour Food: Sullivan’s Steakhouse

Cozy Small Plate Restaurant: Crush Bistro

Best View: The Crow’s Nest

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Archives Restaurants Travel

Top Restaurants on the Maine Coast

Top Restaurants on the Maine Coast: Lobster tasting menu at Natalie's
Top Restaurants on the Maine Coast: Lobster tasting menu at Natalie’s

As you plan for an upcoming visit to Maine, you’ll need to make your dinner reservations early if you want to eat at some of the top restaurants on the Maine coast. You will be well-rewarded if you do. Note that many coastal restaurants do not open for the season until mid-April or May and then shutter for the winter.

Although I’ve already detailed the best lobster rolls on the coast, I wanted to share here some of the best restaurants for dinner. As in many New England towns, the top restaurants are often associated with inns. On our trip, we stayed at B&B and inns that didn’t have their own kitchens, so we had to venture out and explore.

Best fine dining experience: Natalie’s at Camden Harbour Inn

Best lobster: The Reading Room

Most intimate space: Salt and Steel

Best view (tie): Ocean and The Reading Room

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Archives Travel

The Haven on the Norwegian Joy: Review

The Haven on the Norwegian Joy: The pool and atrium in The Courtyard
The Haven on the Norwegian Joy: The pool and atrium in The Courtyard

For a recent cruise of the western Caribbean, I booked Norwegian Cruise Lines’ The Haven on the Norwegian Joy as a last minute substitute for a cancelled European trip.  NCL’s upscale “ship within a ship” concept in The Haven aims for a more exclusive cruise experience, with pricing to match.  Although I had previously cruised in many NCL ships, including The Joy, I had never before tried The Haven because of the cost.  But with fewer people traveling and The Joy being one of NCL’s mid-sized ships, the stateroom price was the lowest I’d seen for The Haven.  I jumped on it. 

Luxury — and pricing — of The Haven depends highly on the individual ship.  The smallest and oldest ships in Norwegian’s fleet don’t offer all the perks while the largest and newest ones go all out.  Probably because the Joy fits somewhere in the middle, some aspects of my experience disappointed me while others met, or even exceeded, my expectations.

Because each ship has a different lay-out, décor, and staff, this review refers only to the Norwegian Joy.

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Archives Travel

Best Things to Do in Anchorage

Best Things to Do in Anchorage: Visitor’s Information in downtown

The list of best things to do in Anchorage, Alaska might be better described as the “best things to do from Anchorage,” since the city can be a jumping off point as well as a destination. As you plan your visit for the upcoming Alaska tourist season – generally described as May through August – keep in mind that you will want to leave the city to see the state’s natural wonders and wildlife. But not everything to see is outside the city.

Anchorage maintains its outpost town vibe while still offering modern conveniences. Despite being the most populous city in Alaska, you should not expect a lower-48 major city. Buildings are mostly low-lying and spread out. If you stay in the downtown area, as we did, you won’t be able to walk to a pharmacy, although you’ll find plenty of restaurants, art galleries, souvenir shops, and starting points for various activities.

The list of best things to do in Anchorage, Alaska might be better described as the “best things to do from Anchorage,” since the city can be a jumping off point as well as a destination. As you plan your visit for the upcoming Alaska tourist season – generally described as May through August – keep in mind that you will want to leave the city to see the state’s natural wonders and wildlife. But not everything to see is outside the city.

Anchorage maintains its outpost town vibe while still offering modern conveniences. Despite being the most populous city in Alaska, you should not expect a lower-48 major city. Buildings are mostly low-lying and spread out. If you stay in the downtown area, as we did, you won’t be able to walk to a pharmacy, although you’ll find plenty of restaurants, art galleries, souvenir shops, and starting points for various activities.

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Archives

Review of CanoeHouse on the Big Island

Review of CanoeHouse on the Big Island: Just after sunset
Review of CanoeHouse on the Big Island: Just after sunset

I had the good fortune to dine at CanoeHouse on the Big Island of Hawaii twice last year, seven months apart. Each time, my dining experience was spectacular, with a prix fixe menu that varied from visit to visit. Foodies will delight in presentation, atmosphere, and, of course, cuisine. The chef features local and seasonal ingredients elevated to haute cuisine.

Not surprisingly, given that CanoeHouse rates as the best restaurant I’ve encountered on the Big Island, dinner here costs more than most. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Reservations: Required

Dress: Smart casual, or dressier

Location: Auberge Resorts of Mauna Lani

Tips: Ask for a table facing the ocean (weather permitting, which it usually is.)

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Archives Hotels Travel

Two Luxury Hotels in Waikiki

The Royal Hawaiian
The Royal Hawaiian
The Halepuna Waikiki
The Halepuna Waikiki

I recently stayed at two luxury hotels in Waikiki a mere month apart: The Royal Hawaiian and the Halepuna Waikiki. The two hotels, though located mere blocks apart, couldn’t be more different. The Royal Hawaiian, one of the oldest hotels on Waikiki Beach, evokes the elegant past, while the Halepuna, one of the newest hotels in Waikiki, has a contemporary Zen-like vibe. Both provide respite from the bustling sidewalks of Waikiki even though they sit just steps away from the crowds.

I cannot choose between the two as my favorite (the Moana Surfrider also competes) because much depends on my mood. I love the Polynesian decadence of the Royal Hawaiian, but I also love the contemporary décor and serenity of the Halepuna Waikiki. And, of course, neither is perfect.

If You Want to Stay Where Famous People Have: The Royal Hawaiian

Best For Modern Appointments: Halepuna Waikiki

Most Comfortable Bed: The Royal Hawaiian

For a Couples Retreat: Halepuna Waikiki

Best for Families: The Royal Hawaiian

Easiest Beach Access: The Royal Hawaiian