Rome: Day 2 and Cruise Embarkation Day
We woke up early on Day 2, as we had 9:30 tickets to tour the Vatican Museum. Although November is the low season in Rome, we wanted to ensure that we wouldn’t need to wait in line once we got to Vatican City. (BVB Tip: I HIGHLY recommended pre-purchasing Vatican Tickets here, especially if you plan to visit during the high season – June to August. From what I’ve been told, the line can wrap around the block if you don’t have tickets in hand). Our hotel offered a free breakfast, which was prerequisite when I was looking for a place to stay.
After downing our pastries and coffee, we checked out of the hotel and walked the 10 short minutes to Termini Train Station. Instead of lugging our bags to the Vatican, which would’ve been a BAD BAD BAD idea, or leaving them at the hotel (which was FREE, but we were concerned about time), we took them down to “Deposito de Bagagli” at Termini…a/k/a Bag Hold. For 5 Euros per bag, you can “check” your baggage in for up to 5 hours in a semi-secured area. This is a great option if you have a few free hours in Rome or whatnot. We checked three of our bags and made our way to the Metro Station to catch the Red Line to Vatican City.
Once arriving to the Metro, we used the row of automated machines to purchase a 1 day Metro Card for 6 Euros each. Although we didn’t have time to ride trains all day, this saved the hassle of buying another Metro token for our return trip, and pretty much cost the same. These machines take either cash (in Euros) or a credit card. We took the Metro to the Ottaviano stop (you can also use the following stop, Cipro, for Vatican Musuem, which is a shorter walk but will involve some stair-climbing).
There wasn’t much of a line at the Vatican, so we really would’ve been okay purchasing tickets on-site (better safe than sorry, though). We located the line for individual ticket holders, as we weren’t part of a guided tour, had our online voucher scanned, and made our way upstairs to the main museum. (BVB Tip: if you like the idea of a tour but not a tour GUIDE, there are audio guide kits you can rent for 7 Euros each. We didn’t do this, as I had a guidebook. Keep in mind, if you rent the audio guide, you won’t be able to sneak out of the Sistine Chapel’s shortcut to St. Peter’s like we did. More on this later).
The Vatican. What can you say? There is SO much to see, SO much history…but everyone is there for the Sistine Chapel. And for this reason, you have to navigate the entire labyrinth of museum to get TO the Sistine Chapel. (I told Mr. B that it reminded me of an IKEA, then shamed myself for comparing the Vatican to IKEA). About midway through the museum, you’ll see an option to take a shortcut to the Sistine Chapel. If you do this, you’ll miss the frescos of Raphael which are VERY impressive. I only recommend taking THIS shortcut if you’re pressed for time.
Once you get to the Sistine Chapel, there are no photos or video allowed. I had a moment of rebellion and decided that I was going to take pictures anyway, but the reason for the rule was respectable; it’s considered a holy site. Okay then. No pictures. Some people in there did not get the memo and took photos anyway, and were immediately chastised by one of the many guards stationed inside the chapel. There are benches lined along the walls of the chapel, where you can sit and gaze at the various frescos that Michelangelo spent four years creating. Standing in there is one of the most surreal moments of my life.
After awhile, our necks began to hurt from the craning and we decided to leave. In my research, I had learned about the secret side door marked “Groups Only” that will allow you to skip the remainder of the Vatican tour (you’ll mainly miss the Pinacoteca). As I said before, this option is not available to you if you have rented an audio guide, as you need to turn in the headset at the official museum exit. Anyway. Mr. B and I sat on a bench next to the secret side door for about 10 minutes, waiting for a group to exit so we could blend in. There were no groups leaving; everyone was still staring at the ceiling! I got tired of waiting, so I stood up and walked through the door like a BOSS. And no one said a WORD. Maybe it was just a good day; maybe the guards were more concerned about the people taking photos – I don’t know. But we did it!
This exit was ideal, honestly. As soon as we got outside, we saw the short line for the cupola climb at St. Peter’s Basilica. This was not on my agenda, as it was Wednesday and I was under the belief that St. Peter’s would be closed for a papal mass. Sometimes it’s great to be wrong! Anyway, we decided to go for the climb. They charge 5 Euros to do the climb by foot (551 stairs) and 7 Euros to take the elevator up and then climb 320 stairs. Either way it goes, you’ll be climbing. And it’s not easy. I was completely dead by the time we reached the top, and that was after taking multiple breaks for oxygen. In spite of this, however, I feel that the climb was 100% worth it. The views of Rome are breathtaking from the cupola, and that’s after walking through the interior of the dome, where you can take photos of the church below. I have no idea how high up we were…we were just high. The climb down is nowhere near as bad. 🙂
We finished up in Vatican City around 1200 and, after stopping for gelato, headed back to the Metro station. We didn’t feel that we had time for lunch and decided to eat once we arrived to the ship. Upon our arrival back to Termini, we collected our bags and purchased tickets for the 1:20 Civitivecchia train. There are automated machines that Trenitalia uses to sell tickets, but they do not accept cash. And if you use a CC, you have to know the card’s pin number. Good thing we had our ATM cards as well; those worked just fine. There are also ticket booths where you can purchase tickets in person, but we honestly couldn’t find them. The train ticket to Civitivecchia was 5 Euros per person. You need to validate the ticket in the yellow machines before you board….which we didn’t do. I’m very glad they weren’t checking tickets that day, or we would’ve been a lot poorer. The train left from platform 25, which was WAY in the back of Termini. Prepare to walk a bit.
Heading to the Ship…
The train ride took about 1 hr and 30 minutes. We were antsy about arriving to the train THIS late (ship left at 5, we arrived to Civitivecchia around 3), so instead of walking to port as we previously planned, we hopped in a cab with another couple. The cab ride was 5 Euros per person…the port is literally 1 mile from the train station.
The good thing about arriving to the ship so late was that there was NO line. After handing our bag to the porter, going through the metal detectors, and filling out the mandatory health survey, we walked directly to the counter and checked in. Within 10 minutes of arriving to the port, we were on the ship and headed to our inside aft cabin: 9659. We put out things down, surveyed the cabin, collected our invite to the Latitudes Cocktail Party (we are both past guests) and headed off to eat. I was a little taken aback that our cabin steward didn’t leave a Freestyle Daily in our cabin — we had no idea what was going on aboard the ship, which restaurants were open, etc. (BVB Info: If you’ve never cruised before, you’ll need to understand that the daily itinerary – called Freestyle Daily on NCL – will become your lifeline. It gives you a list of all of the daily activities, dining hours, sales, etc).
After finding a snack, we returned to our cabin to find our luggage waiting for us outside of the room. We unpacked and called to change our dinner reservation at Cagney’s Steakhouse from 7:30 to 5:30 – we were hungry!!! Our dinner included a free bottle of wine, which was awful generous of Norwegian. 🙂
A quick note about NCL: they are different from other cruise lines in that they abide by a “freestyle” philosophy. You see this primarily in their dining options. Instead of being assigned a dinner time and table as most other cruise lines, you have the option of eating wherever you want, whenever you want. Free dining options include 2 main dining rooms, the buffet and Blue Lagoon (24 hour snack bar). For a cover charge, you also have the option of having steak, French, Italian, sushi, hibachi, or Brazilian. Reservations are recommended and can be made onboard, but you can also show up to the restaurant and request to be seated. There are helpful screens throughout the ship that list all of the restaurants and their respective wait times.
After dinner (I had filet mignon and lobster tail, which was decent), we officially crashed. Slept through all of the evening activities, awaking at 11:3o to pop our head into the disco and finally tour the ship. All in all, an exhausting day but once of my favorite of the vacation!
BVB Tip: If I had to do it all over again, we would’ve arrived to the Vatican earlier (8:30) to avoid the anxiety we experienced aboard the train to Civitivecchia. Norwegian gave us no grief about arrived at 3 pm, but had our train been delayed or if the transit workers had been on strike, we would’ve been in trouble. Otherwise, everything went perfectly! Definitely consider purchasing Vatican tickets in advance and give yourself enough time to enjoy Vatican City!
Next up: Thanksgiving at sea and Greece!