Archives Travel

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!

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.

Archives Travel

Inaugural Alaskan Cruise for the Norwegian Joy

Alaska Cruise on the Norwegian Joy, the ship
The Norwegian Joy, the night before her maiden Alaska cruise.

In early May, I took an Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Joy. My husband and I weren’t always cruise people. But when we decided several years ago to give it a try, we chose Norwegian Cruise Lines most because of its “freestyle dining.” We’ve been hooked ever since.

Most Memorable: whale watching; cruising Glacier Bay

Best Food: Le Bistro on the Joy

Most Surprising: We expected Juneau to be more of a city than it was.

Most Disappointing: The foggy/rainy weather often obscured the views.

We decided on an Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Joy because the price seemed reasonable and the incentives were right. Unbeknowst to us, we had booked not only the first week of the season, but also the inaugural sailing of the Joy after a massive renovation. Many passengers chose the cruise specifically to experience the ship as a (sort of) brand new addition to NCL’s fleet.

We tend to cruise for the excursions. Other people cruise to cruise. Norwegian makes it easy for both types of travelers.

The Ports-of-Call

The Joy’s itinerary doesn’t always include Glacier Bay, and that was a must for me. The ship cruised round-trip from Seattle, stopping in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and an evening in Victoria, BC to satisfy foreign port regulations.

Although technically not a port-of-call, the day spent cruising through Glacier Bay is an all-day affair, with national park rangers providing lectures and commentary in public areas and on the TV.

The Ship: Joy, Indeed

We absolutely loved the Joy. The Observation Lounge, two-stories of glass viewing at the bow with small seating niches extending to the forward stairs, surprised us since we had not experienced anything similar on other ships.

Forward Observation Lounge
Forward Observation Lounge

You have to fight to get seats in this area, particular when the ship enters Glacier Bay. Most of the best seats were taken by 5 am that day, although I found a window seat in one of the niches by arriving a few minutes before 6 am. Good thing I was still on East Coast time!

The Observation Lounge has its own bar, plus three continental breakfast/snack areas. One of the ship’s Starbucks is located adjacent to the bar, although you can get regular coffee at one of the two longer food areas. On Glacier Bay and at-sea days, the crew sets up Irish coffee carts.

But the Observation Lounge isn’t the only attractive area in the ship. Our mini-suite with balcony was comfortable and even roomy, although storage was reduced from some of the other Norwegian ships we had experienced.

We loved the District Brew House, with its draft and bottled beer as well as cocktails, not so much for the drinks but for the bright and modern atmosphere. With its rugged, wood-and-glass décor, we felt as though we had left the ship for another space.


Having cruised before only in the Caribbean, the arrival and departure schedules of this cruise took getting used to. We docked in Juneau at about 2:00 pm. Our first excursion departed at 3 pm and was expected to last until 8:30 pm. Like everything else on this cruise, we arrived back at the ship late, after the all-aboard time. Fortunately, if you book excursions through the cruise line, they guarantee that they won’t leave port without you.

We chose the Mendenhall Glacier and whale-watching combination excursion, hoping to get as much out of the port as we could. On the coach ride to the glacier, we saw a few bald eagles and a black bear, just out of hibernation.

The tour allowed an hour at the Mendenhall Glacier site, although we could have used more time, especially since the line in the women’s restroom was 15 minutes long. We were able to walk down to the edge of the lake, photograph the glacier, walk up to another viewing point — but couldn’t explore the visitor’s center in addition to that.

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier

Also in the Juneau area . . . .

From the glacier, our coach bus took us to our whale watching tour on a relatively large, heated boat with an open top deck for viewing. As with many of our stops in Alaska, it was in the 40s and drizzling, but that didn’t stop us from climbing upstairs to witness from above the pod of orcas right next to the boat. We also saw several humpbacks, including a mother and her male calf.


Skagway looks like a typical gold rush town with its boxy wooden buildings, albeit it now occupied with jewelry stores and souvenir shops.

Skagway, Alaska: Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Joy
Skagway, Alaska

We chose to ride the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway one way to the top and then to take a coach to a suspension bridge, then through the Yukon Territory back to the ship.

Thanks to the entertaining commentary, the train ride helped us understand the history and the geography of the area. While the weather obscured more than we would have liked, the ride offered some memorable views, including the sight of the train’s engine passing through tunnel ahead. If you do this and plan to go only one way, choose the left side for better views.

And into Canada . . . .

Crossing into Canada at the top end of the ride, the skies turned miraculously blue, with white-capped mountains in the distance.

I expected more of the suspension bridge — I had thought we would take a short hike to it when it was more or less a roadside attraction — but the stop was worthwhile regardless, with gorgeous views of the river below and the white-capped mountains beyond. The ride through the Yukon Territory was socked in by fog, thus obscuring what we had expected to see. We did see another black bear walking alongside the road.

Glacier Bay

We secured seats by 6 am on the port side of the Observation Lounge. Starboard would have been better; however, we had our window seats. With Irish coffee in hand, we delighted in sailing past frolicking sea lions and mountain goats on the way to the glaciers at the head of the bay.

Yes, the day was cold, foggy, and drizzling. Everyone feared that we wouldn’t be able to see the glaciers. True to the park ranger’s word, we shouldn’t have worried. Still, we missed a lot of the supposedly spectacular scenery, making me want to return in future later in the season.

Lamplugh Glacier
The blue of the Lamplugh Glacier

I consider cruising Glacier Bay one of the highlights of our trip, equaled only by seeing the pod of orca whales. Even if it’s raining, you have to go outside to get a feel for the bay and to hear the thunder of calving glaciers.


All the literature and cruise excursion materials warned us that we would experience rain in Ketchikan no matter when we visited, since the town measures its annual rain in feet, not inches. Remarkably, the day dawned with brilliantly sunny skies and temperatures that climbed to the low 60s.

Marina at Ketchikan
Marina at Ketchikan

We chose the “Rainforest Adventure” excursion that took us by Kodiak boat to an uninhabited island with towering trees and a moss-covered forest floor. Our guide gave us a knowledgeable 1-mile tour of the flora around us. We saw starfish on the island’s rocky shore and a few bald eagles perched on other islands.

Ketchikan was the only town we wished we had had time to explore beyond our excursion. When we had booked, we were supposed to return to town at 12:30 pm. Knowing that we weren’t scheduled to sail until 2:30 pm and that all-aboard times are generally 1 hour before sailing, we figured we’d have an hour. Nope. We were told upon arrival that all-aboard time was 12:45 pm, exactly when we arrived back (late) at the dock. The crew was so disorganized at this port that we had to stand in line for at least 30 minutes to board.

And, Last, the Food Aboard the Joy

Service was shaky throughout the cruise, even in some of the specialty dining restaurants, which we had always loved. In Cagney’s, when we asked for a wines by the glass list, our server said that she didn’t have one. Say what? Other servers, especially in the complimentary dining rooms, seemed perpetually in the weeds. Either that, or the kitchen wasn’t yet up to the task of serving 3000+ people.

Complimentary Dining

We visit the Garden Buffet only if we have to due to time constraints because, well, we aren’t buffet people. Others eat there exclusively because of the variety of selections. If nothing else, the buffet is worth visiting for the macarons, cookies, and ice cream.

Short ribs and pappardelle
Short ribs and pappardelle, at Savor.

We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at the complimentary Savor or Taste. Although I prefer the chairs in Savor, the two dining rooms are virtually indistinguishable since they serve the same menus. The two dinners that we ate there were good, even if the service was spotty.

Premium Dining Options

Dover sole
Dover sole in Le Bistro

Le Bisto, NCL’s French restaurant, was the best dining experience we had, with excellent service, appetizers, entrées, and desserts. The Dover sole was deliciously delicate and pan-fried to a perfect brown without being overcooked. My husband’s filet of beef was better than what he got in Cagney’s. Profiteroles for dessert were out of this world.

Profiteroles at Le Bistro
Profiteroles, in Le Bistro

Ocean Blue, one of the à la carte restaurant that carries an upcharge even for dining packages, likewise had excellent service, although our surf-and-turf entrées weren’t as good as we had hoped. Our other courses were outstanding. The hamachi ceviche perfectly balanced the bite of lime with the heat of jalapeño. The appetizer may have been the culinary highlight of my trip, even if the meal as a whole didn’t measure up to that at Le Bistro.

Hamachi ceviche at Ocean Blue
Hamachi ceviche, at Ocean Blue

My major disappointment was Cagney’s, the cruise line’s signature steak house. We ate there twice. The first time, my rib-eye steak was decent, not great. The second time I ordered a New York strip for a better experience. My husband had no issues with his filets. Really, though, the best part of the meal was the tuna tartare appetizer. Maybe it’s just that we’ve experienced much better steakhouses.

Tuna Tartare at Cagney's
Tuna tartare, at Cagney’s

The Verdict is In

I would return for an Alaskan cruise on the Norwegian Joy in a heartbeat. The NCL Bliss is supposedly almost identical, so I’d book that in place of the Joy. The ship is amazing, and the food is good. Excursions tend to be more expensive than in the Caribbean. Based on how late we arrived back at the ship every day, I wouldn’t book a private tour company for less. Norwegian holds the sailing for its own excursions, not for others.

— Debbie Lee Wesselmann