The southern Italian city of Naples was the last port stop of the Mediterranean cruise I had with Celebrtity Cruises. Naples is Italy’s third largest city and one of it’s oldest too.
Naples is famous for it’s pizza (this is where pizza originated), the scenic Amalfi Coast, and most of all, the buried city of Pompeii.
Given that we only had one day to explore Naples, I went with a no-nonsense group tour excursion that would allow me to visit and see as much sights as I can in one day.
I went with Cruising Excursions, and it seemed to be a popular choice as the entire group (about 15-16 of us) consisted of the Celebrity Constellation passengers.
While joining an independent tour company (outside of the cruise company) means that you are on your own and you have to ensure you get back to the port in time otherwise the ship will not wait for you, I somehow felt assured because the entire group were also from the same cruise ship. I’d rather be in a group if the boat would ever leave me behind!
The booking website of Cruising Excursions gives a guarantee though, that they will take you back to the port on time.
Our guide was Federizzio, a straightforward Napoletano who I can tell has run many an excusion tours similar to this. He immediately explained what our itinerary for the day is and the time he approximates we will be back in the port by. He also advised us the driving and transport times in between sites , which was good as it’s always great to be informed. It was a long day of driving and you always want to know if the last stop would be the best toilet break! (of which he did a good job pointing out.)
So our first stop was Pompeii.
Pompeii is famous for the ancient city which was buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD.
According to Reuters, 2.5 million tourists visit and walk the grounds of Pompeii each year. I visited Pompeii in early May, and it was pretty crowded. But it’s not at all surprising because it was a Sunday, and not just any Sunday, but the 1st Sunday of the month, where the entrance to Pompeii is free.
Walking around Pompeii felt really surreal. The city has been preserved (thanks to the ash that buried it) quite well, and the details that remain are quite stark that it’s so easy to imagine what it must have been like during its heyday.
Take for example the painting on the wall above, seen inside a bathouse (or what would be a modern-day spa / massage with happy endings). Above are illustrations of what one can request for in a brothel-like bathouse.
The illustrations do not lack in detail and are quite amusing. They are also numbered (see the Roman Numerals at the base of the painting?) so I imagine it’s like walking up to Mc Donalds and requesting for Meal number 3, 5 and 8, and perhaps a combo? World’s oldest profession indeed!
Walking further inside the bath house, we see this area, and our guide explained that back in the day there’s a stream of water trickling down the mini stairs straight into a tub.
This is still part of the bathouse, a decorated bathing room which includes a warm indoor pool and a cold pool. This bath is higly prized due to its scenic position. It still amazes me to think how advanced the technology was back in those times. Heated baths, cooled baths – all this for leisurely pursuits!
Pompeii is a city so as you can imagine, it is sprawling and huge. It’s remarkable to imagine how these walls and earth were busy with human activity, especially public areas like The Forum (above and below)
Although the entrance to Pomepii comes with a very comprehensive guide book to Pompeii, one can easily get lost in the ruins as there’s just so much to see. A self-exploration is possible, but for one day in Naples, I know that getting a guide would really be the wiser choice.
But hands down, the most interesting part of Pompeii were the human / animal remains (as plastered mummies)
It does appear grotesque but at the same time so interesting to see how the bodies were literally trapped in time. The volcano ash apparently descended very quickly upon Pompeii.
The dog above, still had a collar in his neck which makes it seem that he had a leash / chain that was tied somewhere, and because he couldn’t get out, was frozen with its body appearing to be writhing in pain.
And in the same shelf as pots and urns is a human body (why this is not enclosed in a glass case, I have no idea!)
If you are a history or archeological buff, you’d really have a ball in Pompeii. Out of all ancient temples/ cities / ruins I’ve been to, I believe Pompeii is the most preserved one, still retaining colours and smaller, finer details despite it being from 79 AD.
And I suspect that Pompeii was a pretty rich city back in the day and a scenic one too. Well look at this dramatic backdrop with Mount Vesuvius in the background. It’s just a piteous irony that the beautiful background would also be the cause of the city’s disappearance.
OH! Before we move away from Pompeii, look what I found:
Ze dogs of Pompeii!!! Aren’t they cute?! They’re just lazily sleeping, taking cover from the heat. I wonder if they can see the ghost of the mummified dog.
After spending a full morning in Pompeii, we then went on a scenic drive along Amalfi Coast, stopping once for photographs.
It’s here that I really felt and understood why the Mediterranean weather is highly coveted and with many people from all over the world making it their holiday of choice.
Lunch time, we headed to Sorrento where Federizzio suggested a place for the best Napolitana Pizza – Ristorante Tasso.
Now I do not know if this was the best pizza in the whole of Naples or Sorrento but this is surely the best pizza I’ve had ever!
Napolitana Pizza’s crust is soooo thin, the middle part is very gooey. This is not pizza that you can hold while eating. I was so surprised that I was able to finish an entire pizza easily by myself. Apparently in Italy, pizzas are not commonly shared, and it isn’t usually cut into triangles too.
We still had abit of time so in an attempt to walk off the pizza, I strolled around Sorrento.
Sorrento is such a pleasant town to walk around. Even though it was busy as it was a Sunday, it still wasn’t as crowded as the bigger Italian cities. This is a smaller town yet it still had a lot of shops and gelateria.
The group then all met up at a certain time and then we started the drive back to the port, passing by Positano.
We unfortunately didn’t drive down to the town itself, so we only saw Positano from afar. But a very interesting history behind Positano, it used to be a prosperous port of the Amalfi Republic during the medieval times.
When the town fell into hard times during the mid 19th century, almost half of Positano’s population emigrated, most of them to America.
It only started to become alive again during the 1950’s when the author John Steinbeck wrote about Positano on an essay published in Harper’s Bazaar: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”
A meaninful phrase about Positano that can only come from experiencing the town by really being there, meeting its people and walking in its streets. I may not have experienced that on our tour, but this much I can say: Positano sure is pretty from above!
We then made our way back to the port, finishing the entire tour at around 4PM, well before the ship’s departure time.
A scenic place such as Naples cannot have pictures alone, here’s a video of our tour:
My thoughts about the tour:
What I loved:
I felt that we really made use of our time given the time constraint. We were able to see everything I wanted to see in Naples. While we really only did literally just drive around the Amalfi Coast and Positano, I know that we would not have had enough time to drive down to each town and head back to the main driveway. Again, one cannot really expect to see everything thoroughly in just one day. For the time we had, I felt that what we saw was enough.
I liked the straightforwardness of the guide, and how we were all kept informed of timings. He was also good at herding the group so we don’t spend time waiting for others.
Their price is also better than what cruise ships normally offer and this is why it’s a popular choice among cruise passengers.
Oh their booking site is also the best! The site is simple, no frills and no-nonsense, but offers an extremely user-friendly tool:
So the top left side allows you to choose your ship, date and duration of the cruise. Cruising Excursions will then retrieve your cruise.
It automatically lists down your cruise itinerary for you, making it easy for you to book (which is also great business for them!). When I was booking my other excursions, I had to toggle back and forth between the cruise ship page (or my cruise itinerary) and the tour excursion’s website so I can make sure I’m entering the correct details.
Cruising Excursion’s booking site really does all the ‘hard work’ and all you need is to pick and choose the excursions.
What could improve:
Well, while I liked our tour guide’s straightforwardness, I also felt that he was too forward about tipping.
Earlier in the day as we were heading to Pompeii and he reminded our group to ready EUR 11.00, a couple of people from the group reminded him that Pompeii has free entrance during first Sundays of the month. When he realised that, he immediately said something like “Oh so everyone has saved 11 Euros today, you can save that for the tip later! Ha ha!” This type of quip can work and can actually be funny if, number 1, he was naturally funny or 2, he’s already built rapport with the group. But that was early on in the morning, and also because he had a business-like approach and to suddenly joke about it made it seem unnatural.
He again brought this up at the end of the tour before passengers alighted the bus, “Remember folks, you are 11 Euros richer today…”
I don’t mind tipping at all and would have tipped regardless of any reminder (as all other passengers) but I just felt his ‘tip-quips’ were unnecessary.
However, having said that, those quips did not at all affect how effective he was as an excursion guide. We over all had a great time, the timing was perfect and his straightforward nature in herding people and making sure we all get to places on time were essential because timing is crucial for cruise excursions.
Being one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, It can be daunting and overwhelming to choose which tours to take in Italy. Here are a few tour ideas that you can choose from on your next trip to Italy.
Have you been to Naples? What’s your favourite pizza topping?