I had been looking forward to this cruise for so long, and our varied itinerary saw us call at Rome, Livorno (both Italy), Cannes (France), Palma (Majorca), Barcelona (Spain) and Naples (Italy) before returning to Rome. With seven nights on board the NCL cruise ship Norwegian Epic, we also opted to stay one night in Rome before boarding so we would have time to see the sights of that ‘must visit' city too. Otherwise you tend not to see much of your embarkation port.
Although cruises have very generous baggage allowances, we did have to fly to Italy from the UK and also transfer ourselves to the port which is in Civitavecchia – about an hour from Rome city centre. As we chose to do this by train (it's cheap, just 5 Euros each) we didn't want to hinder ourselves with too much luggage.
Flying with Alitalia, I was disappointed to find they have quite a low carry-on allowance. The maximum bag dimensions are much smaller than other airlines – surprising as they are Italy's national carrier – and the weight limit is just 8kg. You can also carry a ‘personal item' such as a small bag or laptop; this is a bit vague on the Alitalia website, but basically something that will fit under the seat in front of you.
For speed and convenience we do prefer to travel with carry-on only, but in this case we didn't have suitable luggage to fit so we would have to check a bag. Fortunately this was included in the fare (or so we thought… read on!)
Between two of us we checked one smallish suitcase (a bit larger than a carry-on), took a soft carry-on bag which served as an ‘overnight bag' for our Rome stay, and I had my handbag/purse which held our tickets/passports/money etc. Have to say on our trip no-one checked either the dimensions or weight of our bags, but maybe they just looked ok.
I packed the items we would need for the first night/next day (change of top, underwear, PJs) in the carry-on so we wouldn't need to unpack the suitcase at all, with the exception of toiletries which were easier to check rather than strictly adhere to the liquid allowance. These were placed inside the case lid so they were easy to access. Unfortunately hubby couldn't find his socks in the morning so started rifling through my neatly packed case… sigh 😉
Our trip departed in late October, returning in November. From the weather forecasts, we expected reasonably warm weather throughout of around 68 degrees (20 degrees C) and generally dry. The Mediterranean weather can, of course, be changeable though, and rain is always possible. It can also be much cooler out at sea than on land, but a few layers will suffice and we didn't take any ‘cold weather' gear. The coldest time would be leaving home for the airport at 3am.
To travel in I wore:
- Denim skirt
- Long-sleeved t-shirt
- Zip-up, hooded fleece
- Padded gilet
- Bead necklace
- Comfy, stylish flat shoes
- And carried my handbag
- 1 pair of cropped trousers
- 1 pair of jeggings
- 1 smart dress
- 2 casual short-sleeved t-shirts
- 2 smarter short-sleeved t-shirts
- 1 evening top
- 1 smart cardigan
- 1 tunic/kaftan
- 1 sarong/scarf
- 1 pair of casual pumps
- 1 pair of smart heels
- 1 set of costume jewelry
- Sun hat
- Waterproof fold-away jacket
- A clutch bag
I ensured my choices all co-ordinated and everything went with everything else.
- Convertible walking trousers with a belt
- Long-sleeved rugby shirt
- Smart cotton sweater
- Light jacket
- 1 pair of smart jeans
- 1 pair of tailored shorts
- 4 casual short-sleeved t-shirts
- 3 smart long-sleeved shirts
- 1 pair of smart shoes
- Waterproof fold-away jacket
- Foldable backpack for day trips
I should say that on this cruise – and indeed all NCL cruises – there is no ‘formal night' as such. Their motto is ‘freestyle cruising' and you're free to ‘dress as you please'. They had one ‘Dress up, if you want' night when I wore my smart dress (I wore it another night too) but there was no requirement for men to wear suits of any kind. We did see a few people in black tie, if that's your preference, but plenty more in just jeans. The women probably dressed up a little more (on all nights). The only dress restriction is no shorts or sportswear in a couple of the restaurants, but everywhere else pretty much anything goes which makes the packing a little easier, especially for men.
The only things we didn't wear were the swimwear and my kaftan – to be honest we rarely do, but better to take them just in case. We've cruised before but not at this time of year, and one thing I hadn't thought about was the darker evenings – sunset was usually by about 5pm, so by the time we were back on board from a day's sightseeing there wasn't really time for lounging by the pool.
Weather-wise we were very lucky. Most days a short-sleeved shirt was sufficient, without ever being uncomfortably hot. It's a great time to visit the med for sightseeing; in the heat of summer I don't think we'd have had the stamina to see as much as we did (and there's plenty to see). We were caught in a couple of rain showers, and one thing I didn't pack was an umbrella; I generally prefer a hat and coat at home, but in hindsight one would have been useful (although you can easily buy one – souvenir touts seemed to spring up with them just when needed!). I noticed that the Italians particularly all carried large, stylish umbrellas with proper handles (not compact ones) so if you use one it won't be out of place. There was one torrential downpour in the morning in Livorno; thankfully we hadn't got up too early and were still having breakfast so didn't get wet, but the upper decks of the ship were swimming in puddles!
When embarking the ship there was a luggage drop-off point just as you went inside the terminal, and they will deliver your cases to your stateroom for you. Ours arrived within an hour or so, but there can sometimes be a wait so if there are items you need urgently (swimwear perhaps) it's best to take these in your carry-on.
The disembarkation process was very smooth too, and with NCL you can just walk off with your own luggage at any time if you wish, which I like (so long as you're off by 9am). Otherwise you can leave your cases outside your room the night before (by 10pm) and they will be taken off for you. You are then given a timeslot to disembark, and the luggage is all waiting in the terminal for you to pick up. We preferred to walk off by ourselves, as on previous cruises we've had a really early timeslot (like 6am, although it was hard to see that the slots were enforced – they will hardly prevent you disembarking if you're late!). It did mean taking our cases to breakfast with us, so another good reason to minimise your luggage.
We'd booked a taxi to take us back to Rome's Fiumicino airport, as there is no direct train from Civitavecchia (you have to change at Trastevere). Although, having used the Italian trains quite a bit by then I think it would have been pretty easy.
There was a lot of building work going on at Fiumicino, and whilst the Alitalia check-in desk is in Terminal 1, you actually fly from Terminal 3 – this means a lot of walking and an extra shuttle bus ride, so do allow plenty of time.
Oh, and that baggage fare? When we checked in to come home, our tickets came up as being a ‘Light' fare, which didn't include baggage. I thought this was a mistake – we'd checked a bag on the outbound flight after all – but we ended up having to pay 30 Euros. Thankfully we only had the one case, but I was so embarrassed! I had booked the flights on Expedia, and on reviewing the booking later couldn't see anything that indicated a Light fare, or that the two legs of the journey were different. I did complain, and was pleasantly surprised to get a refund of the baggage fee some weeks later! So, something to be wary of if flying Alitalia, and/or when booking on Expedia – I hope they've made things clearer now.
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