Booked via Norwegian Cruise Lines, The 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 Walk, Saint-Honorat, & Wine
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.)
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.
Magical Majorca and Train to 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.
Highlights of Ajaccio
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.
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.
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!