They say you can’t see Rome in a day, but if a day is all you have you see what you can. Carnival Vista made a port stop in Civitavecchia, which is as close as a ship gets to Rome – about 47 miles or 75 kilometers away. People who try to see Rome on their own risk getting left behind because lines into pretty much any tourist attraction are sometimes extremely long and traffic between the port and Rome can get very heavy. Trains are an option, but European trains can be unreliable at times. A crew musician on our tour said he went with ship tours after almost getting left behind once when he ventured out on his own to Rome on a previous cruise and the trains suddenly stopped running leaving him scrambling for another way back. Booking a tour whether through the ship or a reliable outside source is the way to go when visiting Rome by cruise ship. Tours have reliable transportation and advance tickets to bypass the lines. Booking through the ship comes with the guarantee that it will wait should your excursion return late, an advantage you don’t get with outside tours.
We took a ship’s tour that went to the colosseum, Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. We chose that one because out of the tours the ship offered it went inside the most things. Bus numbers were assigned by order of arrival to the meeting lounge so who got the best or worst guides was pretty much luck of the draw. We started out with a female guide in charge of the group who rode from the port and back with us, then stopped at a train station in Rome to pick up a male guide who did the actual talking at the attractions. He was dropped off back at the train station before we returned to the port.
Since the ship had this itinerary open for booking long in advance of the actual cruise one would think they would have the excursion tickets arranged in advance for times that work with the ship’s schedule, but we were given a time to arrive at the colosseum that was earlier than the bus could make it through the traffic, and a time too close to that one for the Vatican for us to make it there on time either. At least that was what our guides said. There is normally a lunch break between the two, but we were told they were unable to get afternoon tickets for us so we had to fit both in early and then have lunch and free time afterword – though they may have just said that because the guide didn’t want us to eat at the Vatican Museum’s café.
Once we got to the colosseum we got just inside the entrance and beyond the crowd of people coming in, but not close enough to see much of anything when the male guide stopped the group while he yakked and yakked. The female guide had gone off with a couple who should never have signed up for a tour listed as mainly walking since they could barely get on and off the bus. One guide or the other had to take them to an accessible area at every stop, leaving the rest of the group with just one guide most of the time. They would have been better off on an accessible tour, which the ship did offer.
Other guides led their groups around showing them things while they talked, but when our guide finished his lengthy spiel he just said look around for half an hour and then meet at that spot. Once we finally got inside we could see a large platform with the best close-up view down into the lower area in the whole colosseum. Only groups with guides could go down there so it would have been nice if he’d done his spiel there so we could have seen that as well as having a view of the inside of the colosseum throughout his long talk. We did not have good luck with guides in Europe. First the one in Herculaneum, then this pair. It’s not that there weren’t any good guides in all of Europe. People on different busses on the same excursion from our ship had great guides. We just always ended up with the bad ones.
Although it is crowded, as all attractions in Rome are, the Colosseum is impressive and interesting to see. The things ancient people constructed without modern technology are pretty amazing. Arches around the outside on the lowest level were all gates that let 50,000 people enter in 15 minutes time. Far faster than people can enter in modern times through one gate and security scanners.
Once there was a floor over all the things down at ground level, and underneath that was a staging area for animals, gladiators, or whatever was on show. They had elevators to bring them up to the arena when it was their turn to perform.
Contrary to popular belief, gladiators rarely fought to the death. Their masters had too much time and money invested in their training and upkeep to lose them that often. According to our guide only one Christian was executed there, the rest being killed in other venues. The Colosseum did see its share of bloodshed though with thousands of people (often executions of petty criminals) and animals dying there for the entertainment of others.
At the entrance to Vatican City we walked quickly past a long line of people likely facing a 3-hour wait to get in and went straight to the door, an advantage of booking an excursion with advance tickets. Once inside we went to an area with pictures of the paintings in the Sistine Chapel, which the guide talked about for awhile as there is not supposed to be any talking once inside the chapel itself. There are also no photos allowed in there, though some people think the rules don’t apply to them and take photos or even videos anyway. There were a lot of phones and tablets held above the crowd snapping away without a care that no photos should be taken there – and the crowd was not quiet either. Photos were allowed in the Vatican museum and in St.Peter’s Bacsilica, though no flash was allowed in the museum.
Walking through the Vatican Museum feels something like being part of a human river that flows through from one end to the other. The museum itself is rather like a long hallway, though there is a bit of a dividing doorway between each chamber. It has ornate ceilings and walls. A lot of the exhibits are from ancient Rome. Most photos are taken upward, over the heads of the living river. The first area has statues lined up along the walls, most of which are nude. Once through the statue area there are chambers of tapestries and maps. The row of chambers goes on for quite a long way.
The Sistine Chapel is fairly small, especially when compared with the Vatican Museum and Saint Peter’s Basilica. The lower walls were painted first, the ceiling later, and last of all the end wall representing judgment day. Each is a bit different style of art representing early, middle, and late renaissance styles.
Pictures in the Sistine Chapel show scenes from stories throughout the bible from creation to the final judgement day wall. One wall scene that shows the parting of the red sea has a column in the middle representing the finger of god. When Michel Angelo painted the ceiling he put a picture of the creation of Adam where the finger of god in that painting lines up with the column in the other. He also put the face of a cardinal who judged his work unfavorably onto Minos from Hades, who judges people deciding who ends up in hell.
Saint Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world. It’s so big it could hold two football fields inside. It is very ornate with statues and paintings and an enormous wood carving above the high alter which is believed to be directly above St. Peter’s tomb. Every painting, statue, or carving has a story to tell if only they could talk. The current basilica was built between 1506 and 1626, replacing Old Saint Peter’s Basilica which had been built in the 4th century AD. Saint Peter was one of Christ’s apostles and died sometime around AD 64-68, so long before the original basilica was built. Large as the basilica is, and with quite a few different alcoves, an area high on the side of one alcove was pointed out as where women were allowed to sit. Apparently women were not very highly thought of in old Rome.
The basilica is very ornate with statues and carvings everywhere. If you enter through the door of forgiveness during a jubilee year the catholics say that all your sins are forgiven – but while we were there they said only if you believe that to be true.
After we left the Vatican our guide said she knew of a place where we could get lunch cheap and that all the other places around were very expensive. She also said food inside the Vatican cost a lot and that we would wait for lunch until we came out, not even giving anyone the option to see what was there or what it cost. It turned out that the place she led everyone to was actually the highest priced café around. Food there cost considerably more than other nearby places and it served pre-made food that was mediocre at best. It did not have any prices posted so nobody knew until they went to pay how high the prices were. Other nearby eateries posted much lower prices, but of course she made sure nobody saw that until it was too late.
Someone we talked to back on the ship said their group had lunch inside the Vatican before they did the tour and that the food inside didn’t cost much at all. She also said they had just half an hour’s free time left over when they finished their tour, while our group had another two hours left after our late lunch. So much of our tour time was wasted because the guide cared more about taking people to an overpriced café than about the tour she was being paid to lead.
It had started raining before we left the Vatican. Not many people wanted to wander around and shop. Much of our group spent most of the time waiting near the meeting area for the guide to come back so they could get on the bus back to the ship, all the while wishing there had been more time to see the attractions we came to tour instead of all that free time at the end with nothing to see but souvenir shops. It just goes to show that the guide makes all the difference in the success of a tour. Rumor had it she got a free lunch for leading people to that particular café. Perhaps a portion of the profit as well since she was very careful to make sure the owner knew exactly which people and how many she brought in. She also first brought us to a gift shop with only two toilets for a bathroom break where everyone had to wait in a very long line when the café had much bigger restrooms, so all in all our group definitely did not get the best pair of guides. The couple who could barely walk were not the fault of the guides, but the rest of the issues were.