Exploring the Venetian Lagoon – Murano and Burano

Exploring the Venetian Lagoon – Murano and Burano

BuranoVenice, a city in northwestern Italy’s Veneto region.  It’s situated across 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges.  It’s a city of mystery, romance, culture, art, and so much more.  Not all of its islands are linked to the Venetian “mainland” by bridges, there are many islands including Murano and Burano that due to their distance are linked only by watercraft.

buranoVenice is one of our favorite cities.  We try to get there at least once a year.  So of course we’ve done the touristy things like hanging out at Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge.  We’ve done the Basilica and Doge’s Palace tours, checked out Harry’s Bar and of course ridden the gondola.  These are all worthwhile endeavors, don’t get me wrong, they are definitely the first timer’s must see and do things.  But if you find yourself in Venice for the third or fourth time (believe me this is not a hardship!) or if you have an extra day or two in the city, it might be time to explore the Venetian Lagoon; particularly the islands of Murano and Burano!

First let me say if it is your first time in Venice and you only have a day or so then stick to the beaten path and enjoy the main attractions of the city.

buranoHang out at Florian’s or Quadri’s at Piazza San Marco.  It’s pricey I know, but it’s part of my Venice routine.  We splurge  about €100 on drinks and snacks at one of these cafes and people watch.  I can do it for hours!

Then check out the Basilica and Doge’s Palace, the Secret Itinerary tour is fascinating!  Explore the markets by the Rialto bridge and yes go on that gondola ride!  And don’t forget to hop on vaporetto #1 for the best ride on the Grand Canal!  For more things to do on Venice click here!

Now that you’ve got that out of the way let’s explore further afield.  There’s more to Venice then Piazza San Marco, the Rialto, and gondolas.  Venice has islands!  Lots of them in the lagoon and along the southern coast.  In fact if you want to go further a field we can explore the Veneto!

But for now let’s just go to Murano and Burano.  They’re pretty easy to get to via public transportation and are both picturesque little villages with local specialties to offer even the most avid shoppers.

buranoMurano is a series of bridge linked islands in the Venetian lagoon.  There are 7 islands linked by bridges over 8 channels.   In 1291 Venetian glassmakers were forced to move to these islands due to the risks of fires.  It quickly became known for the exquisite glass chandeliers, sculptures, and beads produced by the talented glassblowers.

To this day Murano is  well known for its glass and crystals.  Many of the companies that own historic glass factories on the island are some of the most important glass companies of the world.


buranoEven if you’re not a glass enthusiast you won’t be able to resist the items you’ll find on the island.

Over the years I’ve brought home many Murano glass pieces including jewelry, vases, and even a huge tree with colorful birds perched on the branches.  Oh, and I’ve also go a set of Murano glass pendant lamps.  I’m working on acquiring a glass chandelier, I’ve just go to find a place for it in my house![spacer height=”-20px”]





buranoburanoAlthough shopping is a big part of Murano there are also churches and museums one can explore.

Murano is home to the Museo del Vetro or Murano Glass Museum in the Palazzo Giustinian.

We stumbled upon this giant glass abacus on display in one of the alleys leading to a restaurant.  The kids thought it was pretty cool.

We passed  this blue glass display in one of the piazzas on the way to the glass museum.  Lot’s of surprises along the walkways of Murano!



And don’t forget the restaurants and gelatarias along the way.  I’m sure you could use a cool drink or a creamy gelato during your wanderings!

Unless you’re a real big Murano glass fan and want to shop for some serious pieces a visit to Murano should take about 2-3 hours at best.  Honestly we were there for under 2 hours before we made our way to the Faro station and hopped the vaporetto to Burano.  A much more picturesque town in my opinion.

buranoFurther north in the Venetian lagoon closer to the island of Torcello is the small island of Burano.  It’s about a 30 minute vaporetto ride away from Murano and is linked by bridge to the island of Mazzorbo.

Burano was likely settled by Romans in the 6th. Century.  It became an important island in the 16th. Century when women on the island started making fine lace with needles.  The lace was exported across Europe and in 1872 a lacemaking school was opened.

Today Burano is known mostly for it’s richly painted  houses and of course lace.  There are many shops offering lace but most of the lace is no longer handmade as it is a very time consuming method and  very expensive.


buranoburanoIt’s also known for it’s seafood restaurants that serve fresh seafood brought in everyday by the local fishermen.  It is after all a fishing village as well.

Try the seafood linguine or the frito misto.  You can’t go wrong![spacer height=”-20px”]




buranoThere’s not a whole lot to do on Burano other than eating, shopping, and wandering.

Wandering’s the best part!  Just cruise around the islands crossing over bridges and enjoy the colorful homes in the different neighborhoods.  I promise you won’t be disappointed!

buranoDid you know that “The colours of the houses follow a specific system, originating from the golden age of its development. If someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colours permitted for that lot.”

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buranoIf your more energetic and a stroll thru the village is too mundane you can explore a few other attractions  including the Church of San Martino, with a leaning campanile and a painting by Giambattista Tiepolo (Crufixion, 1727), the Oratorio di Santa Barbara, and the Museum and School of Lacemaking

buranoFor me strolling thru the town with a yummy cone of gelato is more my speed.


Getting there:


It’s easy to get to Murano and Burano on the public Vaporetto water bus or ACTV.  You can do both islands easily in a day.  Some day trippers add Torcello to their day but I find it just too tiring specially with kids.  (Torcello is an island in the northern lagoon.  It was first settled in 452 and is often referred to as the island from whence Venice began.  Today it’s a sparsely populated island with some old churches and homes.)

buranoThe easiest way to get to Murano is from the Vaporetto stop by the railway station Venezia Santa Lucia.

As you walk out of the main station go to the vaporetto stop on your right.  You can purchase a ticket good for 70 Minutes heading in one direction, cost is €7.50 per person, kids under 6 are free.  Or I find it cheaper to buy a day pass for €20 for adults and €15 for children over 6.  It’s good for 24 hours from the first validation.  You must validate it every time you board a vaporetto.

If Murano is your first stop take the #3 vaporetto, it’s known as the “Diretto Murano” and connects the 5 stops on the island to the railway station and Piazelle Roma.   It runs about every 30 minutes.  You can get off at any of the 5 stops on the island, the first one being Colonna.

buranoIf you miss the #3 water bus you can take the 4.1 or the 4.2 which are both circular routes that run from the railroad station to Murano stopping at Fondamente Nove, San Zaccaria (close to Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s buranopalace), San Michele the Cemetery island, and a dozen other stops.


If you’re adventurous you could hop off at the Cimitero stop and explore the cemetery for a bit.

I’ve heard you can find some interesting old graves and vaults on the island as well as the church of San Michele.


If you’re on the 4.1 or 4.2  the Murano stops are Colonna and Faro.  I like to get off at Colonna and stroll my way to the center parts of the island eventually making my way on foot to the Faro stop.

If you find your self far from the railroad station then make your way to the San Zaccaria stop to take the 4.1 or 4.2.  Or you can make your way to the Fondamente Nove stop and catch the #3. 4.1., 4.2, or 12.


If you’re around the train station then take the 4.1 or 4.2  to Fondamente Nove and transfer to the #12 to Burano, if you want to go to Torcello stay on the vaporetto after the Burano stop and get off on Torcello.

If you’re on Murano then make your way to the Faro stop and hop aboard the #12.  It will take you to Burano, the ride is about 30 minutes.

For a great view of Burano get off at the Mazzorbo stop and walk over the bridge to Burano.  It’s a nice walk and a great introduction to the picturesque island of Burano.

The easiest and least crowded way to get back from Burano to the train station or even the Piazza San Marco area would be to take the #12 from the Burano stop heading towards Murano.  Get off at the Faro stop in Murano and transfer to the #3.  This gets you to the train station or Piazelle Roma.  If you take the 4.1 or 4.2 it will take you to San Zaccaria, from there it’s a short walk to the Basilica or the Doge’s Palace.

Ready to plan your Venetian adventure?  Let us at Savvy Nana Travel help you with all your travel needs.  From budget to luxury travel and everything in between, at Savvy Nana Travel we are passionate about travel!  808-372-7734



MSC Lirica Review – Would I Sail Her Again?

MSC Lirica Review – Would I Sail Her Again?

mscMy husband recently declared that the test of a good cruise line is if you’d sail them again.  He said this as soon as we boarded the MSC Lirica for our very first MSC cruise.

We are avid cruises and have been for many years.  We’ve sailed with pretty much all the major cruise lines that cater to the US market including Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and NCL.  But this was our first cruise aboard an MSC ship which caters mostly to the European market.

Before I answer the all important question as to whether or not I would sail an MSC ship again, let me begin by telling you how this cruise came about.  It was mid-March, we had no intention of traveling anywhere, much less cruising the Med.  Our travel plans for the year weren’t  set to begin until July when we are to go on a reunion cruise aboard RCCL’s Adventure of the Seas.  But all this changed when my daughter Jaime decided to book an MSC cruise embarking from Venice.

You see Jaime and her family are currently living in an Italian town about 45 minutes away from Venice.  She decided that she’d take advantage of the great fares MSC was offering on their 7 day Med cruises; the added bonus was that she didn’t have to pay for airfare to get to Venice, the cruise terminal is a short €6.50 train ride away.  Of course as with everything in our family booking her cruise wasn’t as easy as it should have been, Jaime’s in the second trimester of  her second pregnancy.  We learned that she had to complete her cruise before she started the 24th. week of pregnancy, meaning the last cruise she could possibly take before she gives birth would be April 13.

She managed to book the last stateroom on the MSC Lirica’s April 13th. sailing.  She was quite happy and set about preparing for her cruise that would take her to Bari, Heraklion, Mykono, Corfu, and Dubrovnik.

Then my husband decided it would be a great idea if we booked a stateroom on that same sailing so that we could surprise Jaime and family by popping up aboard her ship.  Not only would my husband and I pop up on the cruise, but we’d take our grandson Devon  too.  Seemed like a tall order considering Jaime had booked the last stateroom the day before.  But some how the gods must have been smiling on us because on the last day of March a stateroom for 3 people became available.  Of course being a travel agent gave  me access to updated inventory so when it popped up I grabbed it!

As I mentioned I’m a travel agent; I’ve been wanting to try  MSC cruises.  I love their prices and their new ships look awesome.  So I figured this was a perfect opportunity to check things out.  I really wanted to recommend MSC to my clients, in fact as soon I as booked the cruise I let several clients know I’d be checking it out for them.  We were all very excited.

Now believe me when I say I boarded the MSC Lirica with high hopes.  I really wanted it to be perfect.  I sincerely wanted to recommend it to my clients.  I tried very, very hard to find positive things to say about the experience.  Sadly it was not to be, MSC fell short, very short of even my lowest expectations.  But of course there were some good things so let me begin with a list of the cruise line’s pros.

mscLoyalty Status match

MSC will match the highest status you have on ANY loyalty program including cruise lines, hotels, airlines, and resort.  Just send proof of your highest status on any of those programs and they will match it on your first cruise.  In our case they matched my Elite status on Princess and Celebrity so we were able to get the perks for MSC black status, their highest status level.

Before the cruise we received a 5% discount off the current cruise fare.  The difference was refunded to me after they verified my loyalty status.  I was pretty impressed with the discount and all the other perks they listed.

But did we get all the perks?  Well that’s another story!

Check in went smoothly and quickly – but only because you didn’t have to take a photo, register a credit card, or get your room key.  More on this later.[spacer height=”-20px”]


mscThe day we boarded was my grandson Devon’s 10th. birthday.  I purchased a birthday cake for him  on line before we left home and the staff served it after dinner in the main dining room.  They even sang him “Happy Birthday” .  He was pretty stoked!

Speaking of dining the reservation staff were pretty helpful.

They were kind enough to seat us all together on a nice window  table.  They promised we could have the same table at the same time every night we chose to dine at the dining room.  On this cruise we ended up dining there just 2 nights.  Again that’s a story for later as to how this came about.

We also tried the dining room for breakfast as we were told the dining room would be better able to accommodate my grandson Jett’s allergies, (better than the buffet), or so they said.  Again that’s a story for later as it did not turn out quite that way.

mscThey had a nice splash zone for the kids.

Unfortunately the weather during our cruise was pretty bad. The kids were only able to enjoy this splash area while the ship was at port.

Whenever the ship sailed it got very windy and cold.  The splash zone remained closed for most of our cruise.  I’m sure it will be better later in the summer when the weather is milder.  The splash area will probably remain open all the time and the kids should have a great time.

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mscThey have the Do Re Mi club and mascot which hosts some fun activities for the kids.

For this activity the children made Gnocchi with the chef and Do Re Mi the MSC mascot.

There were also lego activities as it seems that MSC partnered with Lego in some way.  Basically this meant that MSC was selling Lego kits in the gift shop.

I’m sure there were other activities, the kids just weren’t very interested.

We also attended a couple of dinner shows.  The Magic show and the Pirate show.  The Magic show was mediocre at best, but the Pirate show was pretty entertaining even though it made no sense.

Some of the staff seemed to be genuinely helpful and friendly.  I saw several crew members who went out of their way to help older folks carry plates to their tables after going thru the buffet line.

Most of the staff we interacted with at the children’s play area were very pleasant.  And many of the customer service people tried to be helpful.  But these folks seemed to be the exception and not the norm.

MSCSailings into and out of Venice were spectacular.

I’m not sure if it’s because MSC is an Italian cruise line, but this was the closest to the Grand Canal I’ve ever gotten on a cruise ship.  Perhaps it’s one of the perks of being locally owned.  Other Venice sail aways I’ve experienced were done much farther away, building along the Grand Canal were much further and a telephoto lens was needed to get a good shop of Piazza San Marco.

I took this photo of Piazza San Marco from the deck of the MSC Lirica without the aid of a telephoto.  Amazing!

mscOne of the perks of being a Black Card holder are these chocolate sculptures of the MSC Lirica.

They were delivered to our room sometime during the cruise.  We also got a draw string backpack and a bottle of prosecco to keep and thick terry robes and slippers to use while on the ship. [spacer height=”-20px”]




mscDuring the cruise we were invited to some member events including the Black party for Black Card holders only.  That didn’t go so well when other black card members found out it was my first MSC cruise and my loyalty status was matched by the line.

They made it very clear they thought this was unfair and spent the party glaring at me.  Not the most comfortable event for me!

Other perks including a dinner at their one and only specialty restaurant and chocolate covered strawberries never materialized.  Oh well!

Okay!  It’s sad, I know.  I can only name 8 positives about my MSC Lirica cruise. Believe me I’m digging deep!

Now for the list of cons, I’ll try to be brief and list only the most glaring things. But oh there are so many!  Where do I begin?


Guess I’ll start at the beginning, embarkation.  Remember I said check-in went fairly smoothly and quickly?  Well that’s because there wasn’t much to it.

We just showed our passport and boarding paper which was stamped at the check-in counter.  We proceeded thru security then on to the ship.  In the ship we were funneled thru a hallway and our photos taken.   Then we were told to proceed to customer service which was down the hall and one floor down.

We proceeded down the hall and were greeted by various crew members touting dinner and drink packages, spa treatments, and shore excursions.  Somewhere along this hall way we passed the kids’ club staff. They placed a plastic bracelet on Devon’s wrist and gave us a schedule of children’s activities which we could register for on deck 12 I think.

Anyway to say they were unorganized is an understatement.  When I asked anyone how and where I would get my cruise card I was told to proceed to customer service, presumably all would be made clear at customer service.

I finally made it to customer service via the central stairway.  I  had entered the ship on deck 6 and customer service along with shore excursions and shops were on deck 5.  At the bottom of the central stairway there was a crowded mess.

Cruisers were crowded between stachions that formed a zig zagging line from the bottom of the steps to the customer service counter.  When I reached the bottom of the stairway a crew member asked me what I need from customer service!

Ummm, I was there because I was told to go there.  When she pressed me for the reason I needed customer service it took a while to explain that I was  there because everyone told me to go there.

All I really wanted were our cruise cards and I had no idea where and how to get them.  You know that magical card that opens your  stateroom door and allows one to make on board purchases.   I was led to believe that the genies behind the counter would issue me my cruise cards.  But alas I was wrong.

I learned that I did not need to go to customer service unless I was going to put a cash deposit down on my cruise card!  I was told that our cruise cards were left on the bed in our stateroom; the stateroom door remained open until I retrieved my cards and locked the door.  Very interesting!

I was further told that if I did not put a cash deposit on my cruise card (which is bound to my on board account) I would not be able to purchase anything on board until I registered a credit card and linked it to the cruise cards.  To do this I must go to one on of credit card registration machines located on deck 5 not far from customer service.  Ok, so this was new and different.  But never mind I’d go get my cruise cards then look for my daughter, after all we were there to surprise them.

In my stateroom with the unlocked door I found our cruise cards.  I guess it didn’t matter if anyone else got a hold of the cards as I hadn’t put a cash deposit down nor had I registered a credit card yet.  In theory no one could buy anything using our cards.

After retrieving our cruise cards we went in search of my daughter and family.  Thru text messaging I determined she was at the lego play area.  We asked 3 different crew member where the lego area was, we got 3 different answers.  They ranged  from the location being on deck 6 to decks 11 and 12.  In spite of the faulty directions we somehow managed to run into my daughter and family.  So that turned out well, they were pleasantly surprised!

The disorganization continued.  The next day I went to register my credit card on the machine.  It didn’t work!

I proceeded to customer service (thankfully no long lines) and was told to keep trying on the machine.  Of course it didn’t work, so back to customer service I went.  This time a different lady told me I couldn’t register on the machine because they were also disembarking cruisers that day while we were docked in Bari, hence cruisers embarking from Venice the previous daycould not register on the machine.  It had to be done at customer service!  Ugh!

That night at dinner they mistakenly discarded our wine!  Talk about a comedy of errors!

We had purchased a bottle of Lambrusco  the previous night.  What we didn’t finish they stored for us.  At dinner the next day we were greeted by our waiter with the news that they had mistakenly tossed out our wine, but not to worry because they replaced it with a very  nice (cheap) bottle of  prosecco, you know the type I buy at Costco for $7!  (The Lambrusco was over €20 a bottle)

mscThe next day was a day at sea, unfortunately it was too cold to use the pools and the splash area, but the kids enjoyed making gnocchi with the chef and the MSC mascot.

It was also a formal night.  We  enjoy getting dressed up for dinner and Jaime, my daughter was very excited.  She wanted to take some formal photos.  Which she did and they came out pretty well.

mscThe formal dinner did not.  In fact that was a disaster!

On the MSC Lirica they offer an upgraded meal of either lobster or t-bone steak nightly.  This means that in addition to the regular menu whose offerings are included in your cruise fare you can order a lobster or t-bone steak dinner for an up charge of €18 to €22.  The €22 was for the lobster up charge.  Both meals came with a glass of prosecco. (Again with the prosecco!  They loved giving that stuff away!)

So during the formal dinner we decided to order 3 lobster meals, one each for Jaime, Devon, and myself.  That’s a total of €66 plus a 15% service fee.  Whatever, we wanted lobster.  The lobster dinner was served with asparagus and fried onions I think, it’s pictured above.

Anyway when my daughter sliced into it she immediately asked me if it was still raw because the meat was sort of grayish with a very strong ammonia odor.  In short it was very, very rotten.

We called the waiter over; he had no idea how to handle the situation, he just shook his head and smiled sweetly.  The head waiter was called in and asked me what the issue was, I couldn’t tell him, instead I had him smell the lobster which I  had skewered onto a fork.  You should have seen the look on his face!  It was apparent he knew something was very wrong.

He offered to make 3 new meals; no way that was going to happen, at least not at our table.  In the end he made up some excuse about the kitchen thawing the lobster very fast to serve it to us.  They had to do this because they don’t prep the lobster because not too many people order it.  Really?  Nah!  That lobster was mishandled.

They agreed to void our bill and not charge us for the 3 lobster meals.  Now don’t do us any favors!  Of course you will not charge for the lobsters we could not eat.  (The meals were not credited to us until 3 days later and then only after complaining to customer service!)

I told him and any other crew members who addressed this issue with me during the rest of the cruise that the lobster was mishandled and should never have been allowed to leave the kitchen!  Imagine serving rotten lobster to a pregnant woman and a 10 year old child! Unbelievable!

Needless to say we never returned to the dining room again.  We ate the rest of our meals at on shore restaurants  or at the buffet.

mscThe buffet, burger & hot dog bar, and pizza & pasta bar.  All were in adequate with haphazard service and appalling food options.

I’d have to say the pizzas were the best thing there.  This was proven by the fact that there was a constant wait for pizzas to come out of the oven.  Of course they only set out 2 large pizzas and 1 foccacia  at a time.  This would be grabbed by the first 2-3 people in line.


The bufffet venue itself was tiny with a narrow walkway.  So narrow that you could barely fit 2 people standing  side by side.

There were 2 drink stations on either side of the ship in the very back.  You could serve yourself hot coffee or tea.  In the morning there were juices and hot chocolate available.  At any other time of day  if you want juice or ice tea it must be purchased from the small bar located at the back of the buffet.

If you want drink service at the buffet I can only say good luck at finding a waiter to help you.  Waiters were hard to come by, they much preferred congregating in the corners chatting with each other.  They seemed to treat the guests more as a bother and interruption.  Heaven help anyone who asks for service.


Seating was very limited in the buffet and tables and chairs were practically stacked on each other.  And did I mention the dirt?

Yes the tables were always filthy.  I had to ask a waiter to wipe a table for me.  Oh he wiped it all right.  He wiped the crumbs right onto the floor and the chairs!  I have never seen such lack of enthusiasm in a crew ever!

Oh and before I forget, on the MSC Lirica never touch the handrails on the stairways.  They are forever sticky and filthy.  I am as serious as a heart attack.  Not once during the 7 day cruise did I see clean and shiney handrails!  I was not the only one remarking on this, I saw many people look and touch them with disgust.

The public bathrooms were marginally cleaner, it depended on when and where you went.  The busier ones by the buffet were almost always out of order or out of supplies.  Don’t recall anyone cleaning public bathrooms either.  Perhaps they were all busy consulting with each other on how to keep handrails spic and span?

Speaking of bathrooms, public bathrooms were few and far between on the public decks.  I believe there were one set in the forward part of the ship by the theater and another set in the aft part by the photo gallery.  There were never any bathrooms midship, at least none that I could find.  And the public bathrooms were small, most of them only consisting of 2 stalls, one of which was almost always out of order.

Now back to the food, that’s an important part of cruising.  On our first day we went to the buffet for breakfast.  My daughter requested soy milk as her son Jett has milk and egg allergies.  We were told that from then on we should go to the sit down dining room for breakfast as they were better equipped to handle food allergies.  Although to be fair the buffet staff did manage to produce a cup of soy milk that morning after about a 20 minute wait.

So the next day we went to the dining room for breakfast.  We were given menus but were encouraged to get our own food at the mini buffet they set up.  We said we’d check out the buffet but wanted to order waffles as well as the cocoa puffs they had on the menu.  Well that went well, they said they had no idea what cocoa puffs were and they came up with waffles that were cold hard and had a thin drizzle of syrup.  When we asked for syrup they pretended they had no idea what that was.

My husband took himself to the buffet area for some cold scrambled eggs.  He asked  a waiter standing at the buffet for  ketchup.  The waiter snapped at him and said there was no ketchup period, sort of like the Soup Nazi on Seinfield – No Ketchup for You!

Fortunately for us a nice waiter had observed our problems; he went to the kitchen or where ever and came up with a bowl of cocoa puffs, a bowl of syrup, and a bottle of ketchup!  Guess it was a magic moment, he found the condiment pantry!  That was the one any only time we went to the dining room for breakfast.

mscFor pretty much the rest of the cruise we ate hash browns for breakfast, they were pretty good and available most mornings at the hot dog grill, and warm croissants which were served at the pizza bar.

We bought a coffee card and had coffee and pastries at the coffee shop on deck 6, then we ate pizza for dinner.  We tried to eat the burger and dogs, but they were just too disgusting to even bother with.

The buffet offerings were sparse and mainly unappetizing and after the lobster incident we refused to return to the main dining room.  Over all the food and service on the MSC Lirica are disgraceful.

Another part important part of cruising are on board activities, specially on days at sea.  On all the cruises I’ve ever been on the cruise director and his staff work very hard to find a variety of activities for guests to do.

On every other cruise I’ve been on I’ve always looked forward to the daily newsletter that my cabin attendant delivers to my stateroom every night.  This newsletter gives me all the information I need to plan my day.  It usually gives me the weather, date and port, opening times of ship board services and dining venues, and most importantly it lists the times and locations of all the activities on the ship.  This usually includes lectures, movies, bands, dance lessons, exercise classes, demonstrations, sporting activities and challenges,  trivia games, and much more.  There’s always something for everyone!  And of course the schedule of activities takes up about 2 pages of the newsletter.

mscWell it’s not quite the same on the MSC Lirica.  Sure the staff have some activities planned.  The schedule was a whole half page long!

It’s great if you love dance lessons.  On our day at sea they offered 5 different dance lessons and 3 fitness activities with the dance instructors.

Most activities were scheduled to take place by the pool weather permitting.  During our sailing the weather was not very cooperative so the activities ended up taking place in the Cabaret lounge on deck 6 I think.  It was very crowded.

Their biggest activity was called meeting point.  This was basically a portable booth they set up by the pool or where ever.  It was stocked with a few board games and cards that guests could check out and use on board for the day.

The staff, at least those who weren’t giving dance lesson, would dress up in funny looking costumes and juggle, sing, dance, and generally act silly.  I suppose the guests found this entertaining, we did not.  I think part of the problem was the language barrier.  English was not the main language, as expected Italian is the language of choice.  Don’t get me wrong I speak and understand basic Italian, and most of the crew spoke English; but at times it was hard to understand even their English.

If gambling is more you thing you could try your luck at the tiny casino on deck 6.  It had maybe 3 table games only one of which was ever open from what I saw.  There were also maybe 20-30 types of machines.  Not the most entertaining casino I’ve ever been to.  It was sorely lacking in fun and energy!

Now back to the original question “Would I sail them again?”  Surprisingly I would have to say YES!  Ok I’m not a masochist or a glutton for punishment, but hear me out.

Knowing what now I know after having experienced an MSC cruise I have much lower expectations.  I would sail them again more as a form of transportation and lodgings.  The cost of sailing can be as little as $500 per person for a 7 day Med cruise.  That’s cheaper than buying train or plane tickets to the ports of call!

I would use the ship to transport me from port to port, an easy way of getting around without the hassle of dragging luggage and going thru airport security.  I would also have a somewhat decent place to stay and someplace to eat, even if it’s only pizza and hash browns every day.  I would most definitely eat most meals off the ship it’s a great way to sample different types of cuisine at the ports of call.  Besides it’s a Med cruise, eating souvlaki, tzatziki, and baklava daily is not a hardship!

I’d also choose a sailing during warmer weather.  That way I could at least hang out at the pool during sea days.

I think the better question to ask me would be “Would you recommend MSC to your clients?”  I would definitely not! Unless my client wants to use the cruise as a ferry to hop around the Greek isles or where ever the ship sails to.

It would definitely not be anyone’s idea of a dream vacation.  I would never recommend it to  clients planning a honeymoon, anniversary, or luxury cruise.  It would fall very short!  However it’s a great choice for college kids on Spring Break and for anyone with a limited budget and is willing to settle for mediocre or less.

This was my experience on the MSC Lirica.  MSC has many other ships including the new MSC Seaside.  I can’t say for sure what type of experience you would have on other ships.  I can say that I’ve met several other cruisers who don’t give the MSC Poesia a better review.  One guy was kind and said they were understaffed, that was his way of saying the service was terrible.

On the record I was not paid for this review.  I purchased my own cruise ticket at the current rate less the black card member discount.  I am in no way affiliated with MSC or any other cruise line.

Let me help you plan your next vacation.  From budget to luxury travel we can help!  Call Savvy Nana Travel for all your travel needs!  808-372-7734




Family Cruising:  What’s Included and What’s Not

Family Cruising: What’s Included and What’s Not

CruisingFamily cruising has become popular and affordable. It can be a great value for your vacation dollars.  Cruise fares will take a big bite out of your vacation budget, air fare too if embarking far from home.  But that’s really all you have to spend.  You can budget around the “extras” by cherry picking activities and luxuries that are important to you and your family.

Our first cruise aboard the Star Princess was very costly.  We had no idea what to expect and purchased all sorts of tours and packages from the cruise line.  We’ve since learned to plan our own tours when possible and take advantage of free onboard activities.   We’ve learned that the chocolate covered strawberries that are part of the “celebration” package can be found for free at the buffet.  We’ve learned how to save money on the luxuries offered.  We’ve become very savvy cruisers, specially when we travel with our kids and grandkids!

It’s hard to budget vacation dollars when you don’t know what’s included and what’s not in the cruise fare.  Here is a list to help you budget for your cruise.

What’s included:

  •   All meals and snacks in “regular” dining venues.

Standard dining venues on most cruise lines are:

Family CruisingMain Dining Room – Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Buffet – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks & Beverages (coffee, tea & some juices are included)

Pool side grills for burgers & hot dogs, and on some ships an outdoor ice cream shop.

  •   Selected beverages – coffee, tea (hot & iced), lemonade, some juices – selections of free beverages vary by cruise line.
  • Standard room service menu is generally free.  Most cruise lines now offer upgraded menus that include balcony dining, champagne brunch, and more – those are not free.  Some cruise lines have started to add a service charge per delivery.  Check before you order.
  • All onboard entertainment including theater productions, lounge shows, movies, in room TV (some lines have pay per view premium channels)
  •  All onboard activities – trivia games, karaoke, dance lessons, port talks, pool games, themed parties, and more.

 Family Cruising

  • Pools, fitness center and some classes, walking/jogging track, library
  • Youth and Teen Programs and activities – Most ships have youth centers staffed by trained counselors for different age groups. Kids must be registered to participate. Activities include parties, games, arts, and crafts. Most activities are free.



What’s not included: 

  • Tips and gratuities – for guests’ convenience gratuities are added to shipboard accounts it’s charged per guest/day.  Services charges are also added to beverage, spa, and salon purchases.  Some cruise lines allow you to pre-pay gratuities before you sail, check with your cruise line for details.
  • Tipping is not mandatory, you may remove these charges from your account at the purser’s desk any time before the cruise ends and instead opt to tip specific service people like your cabin attendant and diningroom waiters.
  •   Specialty Dining – A cover charge is added to your shipboard account if you choose to dine at a specialty restaurant.  Venues vary by ship and cruise line, but can include French Cuisine, Trattoria, Creperie, Steakhouse, and popular franchises such as Johnny Rockets, Seattle’s Best, and others that are now onboard some ships.
  • Gelato, specialty coffees and teas, smoothies, and other specialty treats.  In some cases the specialty coffees and teas, and gelato are charged, but the snack foods(cookies, salads, sandwiches, and pastries)  are free.  This is true on Celebrity’s Cafe al Bacio and Princess’s cafe in their Piazza.
  •  Bottled Water, Soda, Beer, Wine, and other alcoholic Beverages
  • Personal Trainers, Special Fitness Classes (Pilates, Cycling, Yoga, etc.)
  • Spa & Salon Services
  • Thermal Suites and other special services and equipment found in the spa
  • Computer & Photography Classes
  • Language Classes
  • Cooking Classes
  • Arts & Crafts Classes (some are free check before you sign up)
  • Wi-Fi, Laundry & Dry Cleaning
  • Photos
  • Casino Gaming
  • On Board Shops
  • Wine Tasting
  • Art Auctions
  • Shore Excursions
  • Flowers from the Florist
  • Celebration Packages
  • Group Babysitting, In Stateroom Babysitting

The items listed here are by no means everything cruise ships offer.  These are just some of the services, activities, and “extras” common to most ships. Different cruise lines and ships offer varying “extras” for a fee.   It’s best to check with the cruise line and ship you will be sailing for their complete list.

Whether your idea of the perfect family vacation is relaxing at the pool, dining with your child’s favorite cartoon character, or a luxurious day at the spa, you’re sure to find it on a cruise ship.

Bon Voyage!

Money Saving Tips for Your Cruise

Money Saving Tips for Your Cruise

cruiseYay!  You’re going on a cruise!  How exciting!

Cruise  vacations have become very popular and for good reason.  Cruises are actually a pretty good value specially if you live close to a cruise port and don’t have to travel far to board the ship.

The biggest expense is of course the cruise fare, but once that’s paid there isn’t much more left to pay.  Now that doesn’t mean you will not spend any more money once you board the ship, far from it!  Cruise lines have come up with many ways to part you from your money.  Many folks are shocked and surprised how large their on board account is at the end of the cruise.

The time to argue and dispute charges on your account is long past if you wait until the last day of your cruise.  I suppose there are times when there are mistakes made on your account, but in my many years of cruising I’ve yet to see a mistake on my on board account.  So the best way to avoid unpleasant surprises on the last day of your cruise is to check your account daily.  That way you can adjust your on board spending.

Cruise lines make things very convenient with “cashless cruising”.  This means that your key card is also your “credit card”.  Everything you purchase on the ship is charged to that key card which is attached to your registered credit card.

Before you ever make an on board purchase you can count on the daily gratuity that is automatically added to your account; depending on the cruise line that can be $12 or more per person per day.  So on a 7 day cruise for two $168 or more is charged to your account; unless you pre-paid gratuities before you cruised.  Of course you have the option of removing these automatic charges from your account.  Just go to customer service and ask for those charges to be removed; you can tip who you want to (bartender, barista, waiter, etc.) at the end of the cruise.  (I’ve spoken to many cruisers about removing the automatic gratuity, some love it and some hate it.  Some like not having to worry about tipping while others prefer to tip their favorite crew members on their own.)



cruiseAside from the automatic gratuities what else can you find charged to your account?  Let’s see, that frozen drink with the cute little umbrella you bought at the pool, that massage you had and the lovely products your therapist talked you into, those must have photos taken at every port and formal nights, the $20 you put in the cashless slot machine at the casino, that sushi or burger and bottle of wine at the specialty restaurant, the latte from the cafe, the shore excursion you took at your last port of call, the watch you bought at the one day sale, and the list goes on.

Yes there are so many things you can charge to your account and you’ll be surprised just how fast they add up!

So how do you avoid a shockingly large bill and the buyer’s remorse on the last day of your cruise?  Read on for some money saving tips I wish someone had given me on my first cruise!

If you gotta have your morning latte from the specialty coffee shop then buy a coffee card.

These are usually punch cards you can buy for about $30 depending on the cruise line.  They’re good for about 10 – 12 specialty coffees which cost about $5+ each without the card.  So that’s almost a 50% savings!

Consider buying a beverage package if you think you’ll be drinking enough to justify the cost.

Compare prices of beverage packages to the price of each drink and how many drinks you can realistically drink in a day.  If you plan on drinking more than the daily cost of the package is then it’s worth buying, if not it may be better to pay as you go.

Ask before you take!

You know those pretty drinks in take home glasses they walk around with on sail aways?  Yes some of those glasses are pretty cool, they might even light up or glow in the dark.  But they are not free!  Ask how much the drinks are in the cool glass and if you don’t want to pay the price you can order the same drink in a regular glass for a lower price!  BTW drinks in those cool glasses are not covered by any drink package.

Do you occasionally like to have wine with your meal?  Then BYOB!

Most cruise lines allow each guest to bring 1 bottle of wine on board.  Now when I say wine I mean wine, not beer, not gin, not any other type of liquor.  Any alcoholic beverage other than that 1 bottle of wine per person will be confiscated and returned to you when you disembark.

If you prefer not to bring your own wine then buy wine by the bottle, not the glass.  Unfinished bottles of wine will be stored for you and served to you whenever and where ever you want it.

Gotta have that Diet Coke or Sprite?

Consider buying a soda card, but again compare the price of the card with the individual price of sodas and how many you can drink in a day.  Also most cruise lines will allow you to bring soda and bottled water on board.  You can buy them from port and keep them in the mini fridge in your room.  This is much cheaper than buying sodas and bottled water on board.

The mini bar in your stateroom is not free.

Check the price list before you open any bottles or cans in your mini bar.  And remember whatever you drink out of the mini bar is also charged 15% gratuity.

15% gratuity is added to all beverage orders.

An automatic 15% gratuity is added to every drink you buy from the bar, this includes sodas and specialty coffees.  It is also added to coffee cards, mini bar items,  and drink packages.  You might consider this before you add on that extra tip for your server.

Look out for photo specials before buying your photos.

During the cruise they  may run specials on port photos, embarkation photos, formal photos, and more.  Or consider buying the disc or thumb drive and print your own photos.  Better yet take your own photos!

cruisePort Days are Spa Days!

The spa will offer specials or discounts on services while the ship is in port.  It might be worth having that massage before you leave for some sightseeing or return to the ship early enough to squeeze in a spa service before the ship sets sail again.  And don’t let the therapist pressure you into buying their over priced products, if you must have them buy them online when you get home, it will be much cheaper!  The spa will be less busy on port days too!


Do your homework on your ports of call.

Before you buy any shore excursions for any port read up on the port to find out the best way to see the sights you’re interested in.  Sometimes you can just get of the ship and do your own thing instead of buying an expensive tour.  If you want or need a tour guide consider booking tours from local tour operators, they are usually much cheaper than the tours offered on the ship.

Check before you watch TV in your stateroom.

Most cruise ships offer pay per view, so make sure you know what you and/or your kids are watching on TV.

Check room service times and charges.

Yes food ordered from room service is included in your cruise fare, but sometimes there is a delivery charge.  Depending on the cruise line room service charges can be $1 to $4 or more each time you order room service.  Others only charge during the wee hours of the night.  So check before you order.

Be aware of service charges when you take cash from your cruise card at the casino.

It’s so easy to play some cards at the casino, just give them your cruise card and tell them how much you want to cash.  Be aware that there is a service charge for taking cash from your on board account.

Use the ATM wisely.

If you need cash from the ATM try not to take it in small increments, you are charged a service charge for each withdrawal; that’s on top of whatever your bank might charge you.  So instead of taking out $20 at a time and paying a $3-4 service charge each time you withdraw take out $100 or what you think you will need, usually the service charge is the same regardless of the amount you withdraw. (This doesn’t appear on your on board account, but it will on your credit or debit card!)

Take advantage of freebies!

There are many things you can get for free, including a drink or two.  You just have to know when and where to go.  Here are some freebies you can take advantage of:

Captain’s Welcome usually held the first day after sailing serves free cocktails and wine – only the ones the waiters are passing out are free, if you order something else you will be charged.

The Captain’s Farewell held the night before the cruise ends also serves free cocktails and wine.

Liquor tastings at the shops – not to be confused with wine tastings which have a fee.  The duty free liquor shop on board usually samples different liquors nightly.

Art Auctions usually serve free champagne to everyone who attends, you don’t have to buy anything.

Loyalty club events – depending on your loyalty tier you will be invited to events that serve liquor like cocktail parties, nightly happy hour, and so on.

Trivia and other games – Participate in trivia and other games on board, winners always get prizes.  Usually logo items such as luggage tags, tote bags, t-shirts, or hats.

Arts & Crafts classes – some ships offer watercolor classes, origami classes, etc.  usually supplies are free, sometimes there is a small fee, but you get to take home your creation.

Have a money saving tip?  Share it with us please!

cruise                     Let Savvy Nana Travel help you plan your next adventure!




Tips for Train Travel in Italy

Tips for Train Travel in Italy


Traveling Italy by trains is inexpensive and convenient.  Italy’s train system has been said to be unreliable with trains that are constantly late and random rail strikes.  I’m not sure if this reputation is justly earned.  We’ve been traveling around Italy by train for over 10 years and have only experienced 2 train delays and 2 strikes.  The delays were never more than 10 minutes.  The strikes were inconvenient, but didn’t really put a big dent in our travel plans.

In my experience rail strikes in Italy are announced a day or so in advance, last no more than a day, and don’t mean that all train service is halted.  The strikes I’ve experienced have been on a Sunday and begin at 5:00 am ending sometime in the early evening.  Strikes seem to last just long enough to inconvenience local commuters who use the trains to visit families during the weekend.  During a strike there are always a limited number of trains running to and from major cities.

Trains are a great way to see Italy you just have to figure out how to use them.  For the first time visitor not familiar with trains and train stations it can be a bit daunting and confusing, but once you learn how to navigate train schedules, understand the system, and know how to buy tickets it’s quite simple. Here are a few things you should know about Italy’s train system and some tips for your Italy train adventure.

Italy’s Trains

Currently there are 2 main rail companies for intercity travel.  Trenitalia is the national train system operated by the state.  It runs regional and high speed trains connecting major cities to smaller towns throughout the country.  Its competitor NTV is a private company that started service recentlyy. It runs 3 high speed routes (Venice-Florence-Rome, Turin-Milan-Florence-Rome-Naples-Salerno, Ancona-Rimini-Bologna-Milan).

There is also Trenord which is regional train company that was created in 2011.  It is responsible for operating the regional trains in the Lombardy area of northern Italy.  This company has both a regional line that connects the whole Lombardy district and a suburban line that connects Milan to its suburbs.  It also runs the Malpensa Express connecting the airport to Milan’s train stations.

Other train companies in Italy include the Circumvisuviana Railway which connects Naples to outlaying towns including Pompei and Sorrento,.  These trains are operated by EAV Campania the company who runs transportation in the Campania region of southern Italy.  The company runs 5 lines, one that runs around Vesuvious, one along the coast to Sorrento, and 3 others (including a cable car) that run from Naples to its suburbs.

In the Puglia and Basilicata Provinces in  Southern Italy also has a couple of trains specifically for travel in the area.  There’s the state run Ferrovie del Sud-Est (FSE).  It’s part of the national train system that connects Bari to small towns in the Puglia province.  It runs very slow trains from Bari to Lecce and points in between.  The other train system in the Puglia area is the Ferrovie Appulo Lucane (FAL).  It connects Bari which is in the Puglia region to Matera in the Basilicata region.  Like the FSE, FAL trains are very slow.  For more information on these trains and how to get to towns in the region click here!

ATAC is the company that runs most of the public transportation in Rome.  Along with operating Rome’s Metro system (the subway and buses)  ATAC  is also responsible for 3 railways including the Lido line which connects the city of Rome to its suburbs.  The Lido line is popular with tourists who wish to explore the ancient harbor in Ostia Antica.

Types of trains

High-Speed Trains – Both Trenitalia and NTV run high-speed trains that reach speeds of up to 300km/hr. and make few, if any, stops along their routes.  All high-speed trains require advance purchase and have a reservation/supplemental charge even if you have a railpass.  (see below for buying tickets and passes).  All seats on these trains are assigned at booking.


Courtesy of Seat61

trainTrenitalia calls their  high speed trains  Frecciarossa (red arrow), and Frecciargento (silver arrow).  There
are very little differences between them, the name merely connotes the lines they travel.


Courtesy of NTV

NTV calls all of its trains Italo.  These trains use the same train stations as the trains operated by Trenitalia.



trainRegional Trains –Regionale Trains (R) are much slower, make more stops,  and are less plush than high-speed trains.  They connect Italy’s provincial towns to major cities.  A faster alternative is the Regionale Veloce (RV) that are the same trains but make fewer stops.

Neither train require advance purchase, have no reservation or supplement fees, nor do they have assigned seats. The Leonardo Express that connects Rome’s Fiumicnio Airport to the city and the Malpensa Express that connects Malpensa Airport to Milan are this type of train.  These regional trains are operated by Trenitalia with the exception of the Malpensa Express which is run by Trenord.  You can use a first class railpass on the Leonardo Express, it is run by Trenitalia, but you must purchase a ticket for the Malpensa Express, it cost 12 Euro one-way or 18 Euro for a return.


Courtesy of Trenitalia

The Frecciabianca (white arrow) and Intercity (IC) trains provide service between the high-speed and regional trains. They are slower than the high-speed trains and make more stops but make less stops than the regional trains.  At times they mimic the high-speed train routes but make more stops to cities along the route, they also service towns and cities not on the high-speed routes. These trains require advance purchase, have reservation or supplement fees even if you have a rail pass, and have assigned seats.  They are more comfortable than regional trains which can get rather crowded but not as plush as the high-speed trains.


Courtesy of Seat61

Trenord trains service only the towns and cities in the Lombardy area.  They connect provincial towns to  Milan and also provide rail to and from Milan’s suburbs.  Tickets do not need to be purchased in advance and require no reservations or supplements.  There are no seat assignments however there are 1st. and 2nd. class tickets on some trains.

These trains are not included in Italy rail passes as they are operated by a different company.  They do run service to and from the same rail stations in Italy.   Tickets can be purchased on line from the Trenord E-store or app, and can be purchased from the train stations.

trainThe Circumvisuviana Railway run trains that will take tourists to Pompei and Herculaneum and also to Sorrento along the coast.  Most of their trains are not air conditioned but they are cheap to travel.  A ticket from Naples to Sorrento is about 4.50 Euro and 2.50 Euro/3.20 Euro for Herculaneum and Pompei respectively.

These trains do not run on the same lines as the other trains.  They come and go from a different station, not Napoli Centrale, Naple’s main train station.  You can easily reach the Circumvisuviana Train Station from Napoli Centrale via an underground walk way, just follow the signs.

These trains are not covered by an Italy Rail Pass, tickets can be purchased at the train station.  Once tickets are validated they are good for 120 – 180 minutes depending on the ticket purchased.

The Lido Line operated by Rome’s ATAC is the only train that will take you Ostia Antica.  It does not run on the same lines as the state trains do.  The easiest way to catch this train is from the Piramide Metro Station (serviced by Metro line B).  The metro and train station are combined here.  You can purchase train tickets from the station or tobacco shop.  It cost 1.50 Euro each way or it is covered by the Metro Day pass.

The choice of which class to travel is entirely up to you and your budget.  Second class tickets are comfortable enough for most people, after all you will reach your destination at the same time as first class passengers.  First class seats are generally wider and more plush than second class seats, some first class seats even recline and have footrests.  First class passengers are served complimentary beverages on high-speed trains.  Traveling first class is a nice upgrade if it fits your budget.


Coutesy of SEat61

Trains that require no reservations, charge no supplements, and have no assigned seating are all considered 2nd. class.  This includes all Trenitalia’s Regional and Regionale Veloce trains, ATAC’s Lido Line, and Circumvisuviana Railway.

These trains come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of different seating arrangements.  Rail pass holders can hop on any of these trains and just show their pass to the conductor.  You can purchase tickets for these trains at the station ticket counter or a self-serve kiosks anytime before the train departs.  For some routes like the Livorno Centrale to Pisa or Florence tickets can be purchased from the tobacco shop at the train station. These trains are very cheap.  A ticket from Livorno to Florence cost about 6 Euro and for the Lido Line to Ostia Antica 1.50 Euro.

Most, if not all, of these trains are not air conditioned nor do they have any type of beverage or food service.  If you’re going on a long train ride it’s best to bring your own food and drink aboard.

Trenord trains although they don’t have assigned seating have 1st. and 2nd. class tickets.  Carriages are marked with the service class which is also printed on your ticket.  You must ride in the carriage indicated on the class services of your ticket.  The difference is minor, first class has wider more comfortable seats and first class carriages are less crowded.  Malpensa Express tickets are all considered 1st. Class and are marked as such, but the cars do not indicate any particular type of service and the seats are all the same.

Italo High-Speed trains have 3 classes of service:

 descriptions courtesy of Seat61.com
  • Smart = 2nd class, the cheapest option, with leather reclining seats arranged 2+2 across the width of the car.  Free WiFi, power sockets, small table.  Vending machines for snacks & coffee.
  • Prima = 1st class, with leather reclining seats arranged 2+1 across the width of the car.  Complimentary drinks and snacks, free WiFi, power sockets, small table.  At extra cost, you can pre-book lunch or dinner or order it on board, served at your seat.
  • Club = Premium 1st class, leather reclining armchairs with 9″ touch-screen entertainment system in an exclusive area at the end of each train.  Hostess service, free WiFi, power sockets.  At extra cost, you can pre-book lunch or dinner or order it on board, served at your seat.

Trenitalia’s Frecciarossa trains have 4 classes of service, tickets must be purchased ahead of time, seating is assigned, and a supplemental reservation fee is charged.  If you purchase your tickets online or at the station the reservation fee is included in the price you pay, if you have a rail pass you will be charged the 10 Euro supplemental fee when you make reservations.  Rail pass holders can reserve the class of their rail pass (1st. class pass = business class, 2nd. class pass = standard class)

trainStandard  – 2nd. Class carriages are furnished with cloth covered seats that are arranged 2×2 along both sides of the train car with a table in between the seats.   Passengers can purchase meals or snacks at the bar/restaurant cars.

trainPremium has the same seat arrangement as the standard class but are in leather instead of cloth. Passengers are served a welcome drink of coffee, tea, juice, or wine and can purchase meals or snacks at the bar/restaurant cars.




TrainBusiness – 1st. Class has 2 leather seats on one side of the aisle and 1 on the other with tables in between. The seats are roomier with more elbow room but the legroom is the same as standard and premium classes.  Business class also has 2 fully enclosed private rooms that will seat 4.  Rooms can be booked for small groups who want to have a meeting on the move.  Business passengers are served a welcome drink of coffee, tea, juices, and wine and can purchase snacks and meals at the bar/restaurant cars.


trainExecutive – Premium 1st. Class cars  have 8 very comfortable reclining seats at one end of the car and a meeting room that sits 6 at the other end.  The seats are arranged in a row of 4 single seats on either side of the aisle.  Every seat has a folding tray table in the armrest and foot rests when the seat is reclined. The Executive class car has a dedicated steward who serves a complimentary cold meal or snack as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  Of course executive class passengers have access to the bar/restaurant car if they wish to purchase a hot meal.


All passengers can pretty much bring as much luggage as they can carry.  Luggage can be stowed on the over head racks, except in Executive class which has no racks.  They can also be stowed between the seats in standard, premium, and business class, and all classes can store luggage on the racks at the end of each car by the doors.

Some trains in this category have a restaurant car with waiter service.  Fixed 3 course meals that include a salad or pasta, main course (meat with a veggie), and dessert run around 30 Euro per person.  Small bottles of wine can also be ordered for about 10 Euro each.  These trains usually also have a cafe bar.

Other trains only have a cafe bar car where you can purchase alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, snacks, and hot and cold sandwiches. You can check to see what food services your train will have on the Trenitalia site.

Trenitalia’s Ferocciargento and Ferocciabianca have 2 classes of service, 1st. and 2nd., tickets must be purchased in advance, seating is assigned and a supplemental reservation fee is charged.  If you purchase tickets online or at the station reservation fee is included in the price, if you have a rail pass you will be charged the 10 Euro reservation fee when you make reservations, class of service will equal to the class of your pass.  

trainThese trains aren’t as plush as the Ferocciarossa trains.  All seats are cloth covered with first class arranged 2 on one side of the aisle and 1 seat on the other with a table in between seats.




train2nd. class seats are arranged 2 on either side of the aisle.  Luggage is stored much the same way as they are on the Ferocciarossa trains on overhead racks, between seats, and the luggage racks at the end of each car.[spacer height=”-20px”]

First class cars have 2 seats  across the aisle from a single seat.  First Class passengers are served a complimentary beverage and a packet of cookies or crackers.

Passengers can purchase beverages or snacks from the refreshment trolly or cafe car, there are no restaurant cars with waiter service on these trains and not all Ferocciabiaca trains have a cafe car.

Trenitalia’s Inter-City (IC) trains have 2 classes of service, 1st. & 2nd., tickets must be purchased in advance, and seating is assigned although rail pass holders can just hop on without reservations or they can purchase reservations for 3 Euro each way and have a seat assigned.  Tickets purchased online or at the station include the reservation free of charge.

trainDepending on the train seats can be arranged in compartments with 6 seats per compartment with the corridor on the side in both 1st. and 2nd. class.  First class seats are wider and more comfy. This picture from seat61.com is a of a 1st. class compartment.




trainOther trains have this center aisle arrangement much like the other trains Trenitalia operate.  Pictured is from seat61.com is the open plan 2nd. class car.

Some Inter-City trains have a refreshment trolley that comes down the aisles selling beverages and snacks.  There are no bar or restaurant cars on these trains.



Buying Tickets & Rail Passes

Rail Passes must be purchased in advance before you go to Europe.  You can buy them from travels agents or online from sites such as Italiarail.com or Eurail.com.  If you are NOT a resident of Europe, Russia, or Turkey, and a few other other countries you can buy a EURail Pass.  You can choose to buy a pass that will allow you train travel in 1 or more  countries i.e. All Italy pass, France & Italy, Global (28 countries ), etc. Passes can be purchased for 3, 4, 5, or 8 day travel within a month.  You can buy either 1st. or 2nd. class passes.  Youth (12-25) are discounted for 2nd. class passes, children up to the age of 11 travel free (1 child per  paying adult), and groups of 2-5 people traveling together can purchase a saver pass.  See Italiarail.com for more info and a list of countries that are eligible for EURail passes.

If you are a European resident or residents of countries listed on the site that are ineligible for EURail passes you may purchase an InterRail Pass.  See Italiarail.com for more info.

Train passes are good for travel on National Railway Systems in the countries they are for, i.e. All Italy passes are good on Trenitalia trains.  They are not accepted by private train companies including NTV, Trenord, ATAC, and Circumvisuviana Railway.  They are also not valid on night trains. However some passes are eligible for discounts on some of the private train companies.

Rail Pass holders must still pay a reservation supplemental fee to travel on trains that have assigned seating.  10 Euro per trip on all Trenitalia’s high-speed trains and 3 Euro for the Inter-City trains.  In short even if you have a rail pass you can not just hop on a high-speed train, except on Inter-City trains where reservations are optional for pass holders.  The class of service of  the pass determines the class of service you can reserve on these high-speed trains.  You can buy reserved seats on high-speed trains either at the train station (ticket booth or self-serve kiosks) or online from sites such as italiarail.com if you know your specific travel dates.

Pass holders can also get discounts on some ferries, buses,  hotels, museums, and other attractions.

Having said this are Rail Passes cheaper than buying point-to-point tickets?  The answer to that would depend on what your travel plans are.  Passes give you the flexibility to change plans, unless you plan to travel on trains requiring reservations, in which case you may have to pay another reservation fee should you miss your train or change your plans.  Passes are worth their price if you plan to do extensive traveling in one or more countries during the month your pass is valid, plan to travel long distances, and don’t mind taking the slower regional trains that don’t require a reservation.

Bear in mind that your pass is only good for the number of days you purchased, and realistically how many cities and towns can you travel to each day.  (Depending on the pass purchased they can be valid for one or two months from the day you first used it, not from when you purchased it. Travel days do not have to be consecutive, they just have to be within the purchased time frame. Day begins at 12:01 am and ends a midnight.  If you must change trains anytime after midnight the next train is counted as another day on your pass.)

If you are only going to be visit one or two cities and/or intend to use mostly high-speed trains or private train companies such as Trenord the passes aren’t worth it, just buy point-to-point tickets.

trainPoint-to-Point  tickets on high-speed trains are for travel on a specific date to a specific place, i.e. Rome-Venice.  If you know your travel dates and have no plans to change them, barring emergencies, you can purchase tickets in advance from your travel agent or online from sites such as italiarail.com.  These tickets can be purchased 120 days in advance.

If you are not sure about your dates then buy your tickets from the train station from the ticket booth or the self-serve kiosk.

Prices for these tickets include the reservation fee and will give you an assigned seat in a specific carriage.

You may have to pay a fee to change travel plans.

If you purchase tickets online you will be sent an E-ticket that will have your seat and carriage number on it.  Print this out or save it to your mobile device, you will need to show this to the train conductor.

trainIf tickets are purchased at the station you will receive a paper ticket that will have your class of service, carriage and seat number printed on it. Be sure to validate this ticket BEFORE you get on the train.  (see below about validating train tickets)

Point-to-Point tickets for regional trains or any train not requiring a reservation and do not have assigned seats can be purchased anytime before the train’s scheduled departure from the train station. These are open tickets (they don’t have specific dates or trains on them)  they become valid only once they are validated at one of the machines at the station and are valid for travel during the time stamped on the ticket.   In short if you purchase a ticket on Monday then decide not to travel until the next day your ticket is good as long as you have not validated it.  These tickets however will have your destination printed on in i.e.  from Roma Termini – Civitavecchia, once you validate it you may travel from your point of origin to your destination during the time that is stamped on the ticket, this means that technically you can hop off a train enroute and hop back on another train heading to your destination so long as you do this within the time frame stamped on your ticket.

trainDuring our trip to Italy last month we were able to purchase train tickets from Livorno to Florence from the tobacco shop at the train station.  Instead of the regular paper train ticket shown above we were given this open ticket that is good for travel in the Tuscany reagion of Italy.  This ticket is good for 6 hours once it is validated, meaning you can travel on whatever train in the region during this time span.  You can realistically use the same ticket say from Florence to Pisa (quick photo stop at the tower), then back to Lucca, and possibly return to Florence, all for 6.20 Euro!

We’ve traveled by train in Italy (and in France) and have used both rail passes and point-to-point tickets.  When we base ourselves in one city, say Rome, and take at least 3 day trips to far cities, i.e. Rome-Milan-Rome, Rome-Venice-Rome, etc.  the passes are worth it, we just pay reservation fees when we want to take high-speed trains.  (The daily cost of a 1st. class rail pass breaks down to about $66 add to that the 10 Euro reservation fee – about $12 – the total cost for high-speed train travel from Rome to Venice with return the same day is $90 vs. $115 for a one way ticket for the same class – that’s $230 for a round trip).

If we don’t plan to make day trips to far away cities or just need to get to a specific city to catch a cruise ship or plane then passes make no sense.  We just buy the tickets we need when we need them.

Best suggestion is to do your math before you buy a rail pass!

At the train station

Most stations have a ticket office (expect really small ones in small towns), a snack bar, a tobacco shop, restrooms (they cost 1 Euro to use), a police station, and a taxi cue in front. The main stations have a shopping mall with fast food joints, restaurants, department stores, and more.  Italy’s main train stations that are frequented by tourists are:

trainRoma Termini in Rome is connected to Rome’s Metro (subway) via underground walkways.  It serves as the transfer point for the Metro’s A & B lines.

trainNapoli Centrale in Naples is connected to the Circumvisuviana Railway via an underground walkway.



Firenze Santa Maria Novella in Florence

Firenze SMN as it appears on time tables and boards

trainVenezia Santa Lucia in Venice is the gateway to the city.  Its main exit takes you right to the Grand Canal. Breathtaking!

train Milano Centrale in Milan is connected to Milan’s Metro via an underground walkway.

train They have installed security gates to the train platforms at the major train stations.  Only passengers with train tickets are allowed onto the platforms.  Be prepared to show your tickets (paper and E-tickets) or rail passes to the guard.

Some stations have bars, shops, and restrooms located within the platform area.  They also have vending machines where you can stock up on beverages, candies, chips, and sandwiches.

trainIf you have any type of paper ticket you MUST VALIDATE your ticket before you get on the train.  Validation machines are located through out station and on the platforms.  These machines will time-stamp your ticket, it is not valid until it is stamped.  Failing to validate your ticket could be a costly mistake as there is a fine imposed for people traveling with an unvalidated ticket.

The machines pictured on the left can validate whatever ticket you have even if it is for a different company.  The yellow ones are on every platform in Milano Centrale and at the stations in the Lombardy area.  The green ones are Trenitalia’s machines, they do the same thing the yellow ones do, stamp point of departure, date, and time.



Courtesy of Seat 61

If you have an E-ticket either printed out or saved to your mobile device you don’t have to validate them.  Just board the train and show it to the conductor, he just needs the PNR number printed on the top of the ticket.

If you have a rail pass you must go to a ticket counter at any train station on the first day you will travel.  Present your pass and passport.  They will validate the pass with the date, the pass is valid for 30 days once it is validated.  Each day you will travel using the pass you must write down the date of travel in INK at the corresponding day on the pass, you do not have to travel on consecutive days, you just have to travel within the purchased time period.  Date format should be day/month, i.e. Day 1 – 24/11, Day 2 – 27/11, etc.


trainYou will find time tables posted at the train stations and on most platforms.  It will show all the trains leaving from  and arriving to that station every day.  It will show what type of train (AV/ES- high speed, IC – intercity, R – regional, RV – Regionale Veloce), Train Number, Train’s route – point of origin, stops, and destination, Time it departs from the station, and track (binario) from which it NORMALLY leaves from.

Trains leaving the station  (Blue heading) are listed by the hour beginning from the first train departing in the morning and ending with the last departure.  If your are looking at a time table with red headings you are looking at arriving trains!

Check your train number and check your stop, unless you are going to the train’s final destination you will need to know when and where to get off.  Trains are posted on the tracks according to their final destination, they may not always show the stops in between, your ticket can say Rome to Bologna, but if the train you are taking goes all the way to Venice it will say Train #— to Venezia S.L.  This can be confusing if you’re looking for a train going to Bologna!  So check the time table posted for your train number, its final destination, and note the stops in between.  You may have to count which number stop you must get off as the stops are not always announced on the train, or you may not understand or hear the announcement clearly, this is particularly true on the older regional trains.

trainEven though you see what track your train will depart from on the time table you MUST still check on the departure board to make sure it is the correct track.  They have been known to change tracks at the last minute, so you won’t really know which track you need until it’s posted on the board (sometimes just a few minutes before the train pulls into the station).  You will find these boards at the train station before the security gate and on the platform once you enter the secured area.  Don’t worry you can’t miss it, it’s where you see a crowd of people looking up!

Double check the track just before your departure time as they have also been known to change tracks after they’ve posted it.  If they do change tracks they will make an announcement, but most of the time it’s difficult to understand even when they make the announcement in English.

Be sure you are looking at departing trains – Partenze!

trainEvery track will have a lighted sign that posts the train number, time of departure, and final destination of the train leaving from that track. Be sure to check this sign before hopping on the train.  And remember your stop may not be the final destination that’s why it’s important to check the time table to find out your train’s final destination and which stop you must get off.   So don’t panic if the sign says Venezia when your ticket says Verona – as long as you know that’s your train number you can hop on and get off when it stops in Verona.

If you going on a high-speed train from one of the main train stations they usually depart from the lower numbered tracks located from the left side to center area of the platform, usually 3-7 in the main stations.  These tracks have signs on the platform corresponding to the train carriages.  Check your ticket for your carriage number and board the train from the corresponding number on the platform.

Regional trains generally leave from the extreme right or left sides of the platforms, either tracks 1 & 2 and 20 and above at the larger main stations such as Milano Centrale.

If the train door is not open and you’re ready to hop on press the button or lever by the door to open it.  You can place your luggage on the racks located at the end of each train car or stow it in the rack above your seat.  If you have assigned seats find your seat and settle in.  If there are no seat assignments just find a vacant seat.

All trains have restrooms located at one end of most cars which you can use once the train is in motion, many are locked while the train is at the station.  Trains with bar and/or restaurant cars will make an announcement when those cars are opened.  You can move freely between cars at anytime although if you have a 2nd. class ticket you will more than likely be asked to leave a first class carriage.


The recent addition of security gates in the major train stations is designed to reduce petty theft on the platform.  I’m not sure how much of a deterrent they are for serious criminals determined on causing mayhem, they can easily buy a ticket for any train.  But they do seem to reduce the number of pickpockets, scammers, and petty thieves that roamed the platforms in the past.  But remember not all stations have security gates so you must be ever vigilant.

You and your belongings may be safer once you reach the platform, but before you enter the secure area you are fair game to the multitude of thieves that hang out at train stations preying on confused and tired travelers.  They are everywhere!  Particularly in the major train stations.  Recently I’ve seen women and children begging at the McDonald’s at Roma Termini, but those you already know to beware of.

The ones to avoid are those trying to be “helpful”.  Last year when we traveled with our daughter and grandkids we had a huge amount of luggage, there were 6 of us.  I can’t remember how many strange  women approached  to “help” us with our luggage at Roma Termini.  When we declined they kept returning, each time bringing even more women, and in the end men, with them.  They were looking for the opportunity to grab anything.  We literally had to form a circle around our luggage on the platform to keep them at bay!  At least the security gates have kept them off the platforms!

This year, I guess to make up for lack of income they got from the platforms, they have a new scam.

We were approached by many people, both men and women, offering to show us how to work the self-serve ticket machines.  If you do need help look for a Trenitalia employee, they were vests that clearly say “Trenitalia” on them, or head to the ticket counter, or ask a policeman or guard in uniform, they’re everywhere in the station and on the platform.

If you plan on having a bite before your train leaves keep your belonging close, be sure you can see them at all times, and most importantly they are within arm’s reach.  Do not leave your purse or other belongings hanging on the back of a chair, if possible keep purses on your lap while you eat.

Don’t carry your backpack on your back, keep it where you can see it.  I have seen thieves opening a backpack on the owner’s back, the owner was unaware of the impending theft.  A few years ago we witnessed them in action and my husband yelled at the thieves to get them to stop and then informed the would be victim of what almost happened.

Men should wrap wallets in a rubber band and place them in a FRONT pocket to avoid pickpockets.  The rubber band keeps the wallet in place, try removing such a wallet from your pocket and see what happens.

Keep purses, backpacks, fanny packs, etc. zipped up.  If your purse has a snap or clasp opening keep the opening side facing your body.  If possible wear purses and such across your body to avoid someone from snatching it.

Keep important documents, passports, ID’s, money, credit cards, train and airline tickets, etc. in a separate pouch that you can keep secure in a breast pocket if possible.  Don’t keep large amounts of cash in your wallet, just in case you get pick pocketed hopefully you won’t loose everything.  Always have a copy of your passports and IDs keep it in a separate bag, it will be helpful in replacing the originals.  If possible carry only copies with you and keep the originals secure in the hotel safe.  Trust me I was pick pocketed in Copenhagen 10 years ago, it wasn’t fun.  Luckily they didn’t take much money and didn’t take my passport.

If you are buying tickets from the machines keep luggage and purses IN FRONT of  you or have a companion watch them.  I witnessed a lady loose her suitcase at one of these machines, by the time we both realized what had happened the thief was gone.

When you get on the train keep your belonging in sight.  Loosing luggage on a train is rare, specially now that security gates have been installed at the major hot spots, but it’s not impossible.  Remember thieves can buy tickets too!

When you arrive at your final destination and need a taxi head for the taxi cue located outside the main entrance.  Taxis at the cue are licensed by the local government, their tariffs are posted in the car, they have numbered badges for IDs, and use meters.  DO NOT get into a cab that is not in the taxi cue and DO NOT accept help from a tout telling you he can get you a taxi without waiting in the long cues.  These are gypsy cabs not licensed as taxis by the government!  They do not use a meter and will charge you whatever they want once you reach your destination and you will not have a choice but to pay because they hold your luggage hostage until you pay what they ask!  Before you get on any taxi ask how much it will cost and ask to see the meter, once inside make sure the driver turns the meter on!

Don’t walk around train station areas at night, if you must keep to the main streets and exit from the main station exit.  Most stations attract a variety of derelicts and petty criminals lying in wait for the unsuspecting tourist.

Most of the things I’ve listed to keep you safe are common sense things that we all practice at home, but when you’re on holiday sometimes you let your guard down.  But with a bit of vigilance you can enjoy your train ride and your vacation without falling victim to petty theft.

If you have any questions feel free to comment here or shoot me an email.  I’m happy to help fellow travelers!

Spring Break Family Destination Ideas

Spring Break Family Destination Ideas

It’s that time of year again, Spring Break!  Many of us are waiting for Spring Break to take a short vacation but are afraid to dive into the craziness going on in some beach resorts.   The term Spring Break  brings to mind wild and crazy college kids taking over the beaches from coast to coast, I’m sure you’ve seen them on TV!  Don’t worry, you don’t have to get trampled by the mass of kids partying all day and all night, there are many family friendly destinations you can go to this year.

Here are some family friendly Spring Break ideas:

spring breakBreckenridge

Spring Break doesn’t mean you have to head to the beach to have fun.  Try heading to the mountains instead!

It’s Breck Spring Fever 2017 time.  There are many activities for the whole family and many of the lodges and hotels offer discounts if you make Breckenridge your Spring Break destination.

You don’t have to go skiing, you don’t even need to know how.  There’s a Beer Festival,  Chili Cook Off and even an Easter Egg hunt.  And for shopaholics it’s Fever Reliever time when main street merchants offer shoppers specials and discounts.

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spring breakNational Parks are great Spring Break family destinations!

A trip to any National Park is a great idea any time of year in my opinion.  I’m a huge fan!  But it’s also a budget friendly Spring Break destination.  For one you can more than likely drive to one.  There are many national parks across the country, I’m sure there’s one close to you.

Park admissions are very affordable and if you’re on a tight budget bring your tent and rent a spot in their camp grounds.  (Check to make sure the park you choose has a camp ground before you go.)  Otherwise you can choose one of the other park lodgings, they range from cabins to luxury hotels depending on the park.  Find your park and plan your trip at NPS.gov.

As for activities there is so much to do at our national parks from hiking to mountain climbing to  horseback riding and more.  I’m sure there’s something fun for everyone.

spring breakDude Ranch – Yee Haw!

Want to play cowboy?  How about a Dude Ranch Vacation?  There are many destinations to choose from in different states.

They offer many activities including horseback riding and camping trips.  They also have a choice of lodgings to fit your needs and budget.  Best of all they’re all inclusive, meals are included in the price!

Click here to find the top 20 Ranches in North America!

spring breakTheme Parks

So you’re not the sporty or back to nature type.  Then take the family to Disneyland or one of the other theme parks around the country.  I don’t have to tell you how fun it will be, but be ready for long lines because Spring Break is a busy time of year!

Read my articles for Disneyland Tips or Disney Resorts!

Plan your Disney vacation here!


spring breakHow about a cruise?

This is our family’s favorite way to go!  There are many cruises lines to choose from, our favorites are Celebrity, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.

For families the best one in my opinion is Royal Caribbean, they’ve got the largest ships with lots of fun activities for the whole family.

Check out my review of Harmony of the Seas!

And read my articles about cruising with kids, there are several that offer you tips on how to stretch your money, how to choose your stateroom, and more!

Plan your cruise here!

Where ever you decide to go this Spring Break, be safe and have fun!  Drop us a line and share your vacation with us!
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