By, Lorna & Phil Bettisworth, Retired Senior Chief
Gretna (New Orleans), Louisiana
Thurs., 9/23 – Sunday, 10/24/10
We haven’t taken a military space-a hop “across the pond” since April of 2007 – other
than a transatlantic cruise out of Miami to England and then we space-a’d home from
there, so that one was relatively easy … especially compared to this one!! Some
space-a hops are just more difficult than others --- like they say, it’s like a box
of chocolates --- ya just never do know what you’ll end up with!!
We needed to get over there to be in Rome by October 2nd for our 2-week Azamara Cruise.
We’ll be going to: Rome (Civitavecchia), Sorrento, Taormina, (Sicily), Ravenna,
Trieste, Venice, Dubrovnik, (Croatia), Florence/Pisa, (Livorno) and back to Rome.
This is a wonderful itinerary and hitting all of the places we haven’t been and
wanted to go … what better way than a cruise where you don’t have a worry about your
lodging or meals!! This was our 13th cruise and the best one of all!! The amenities
were unbelievable – complimentary soda and bottled water, complimentary wine that
they kept refilling, fresh fruits in our room every day, fresh cut flowers in our
room, complimentary self-service laundry, complimentary shuttle bus service and
on and on. Oh, the gratuities were also included with the price of our cruise which
was a great deal!! We got a balcony on the back-side of the ship which we enjoyed
so much. This was only the 2nd time we’ve ever gotten a balcony – the other one
was for our 16-day Panama Canal Cruise, but the ship for that wasn’t nearly as nice
as this one. Oh! Another thing that was super about this cruise was that we only
had 600 guests – it holds 700, but the ship wasn’t full - I think they said there
was 1 staff person available for every 2 passengers, so we got super pampered!!
Thurs., 9/23: We decided to drive to Charleston, SC to catch a hop as we’d been
monitoring flights on Pepperd’s website, and it was looking like there were several
planes going often to Ramstein. We drove as far as Havana, Florida (1/2 way to Charleston)
and stopped to spend the night with an Evergreen B&B travel club member.
Fri., 9/24: We drove to Charleston today (drill weekend), so no lodging was available
on the base. We stayed with another B&B (ATC) club member in Mount Pleasant.
Sat., 9/25: Checked passenger terminal – no flights out today going anywhere. Ate
lunch at galley on base; retirees can eat all meals there, but the best thing there
was the salad- not great food.
We did some Charleston touring (1st time) – went downtown and took a nice carriage
ride/tour of beautiful Charleston; it really is a very pretty city. We had dinner
at A.W. Shucks – sat outside and had their seafood specialty. Went to an Evergreen
B&B to spend night – they had a great house on a lake, and we had the entire upstairs
to ourselves. The 4 of us sat outside that night enjoying the view of the lake and
a glass of wine and good conversation.
Sun., 9/26: We were supposed to get out today, but it’s been changed to tomorrow
– bummer! Ate at galley again; we were able to get lodging on the base - $39.50/night.
Our room was really nice – looked like it had just been remodeled.
Mon., 9/27: We went to the terminal for the 1:40pm show time for a Ramstein flight.
We met two other couples, Frank & Donna, who we really enjoyed. They needed to
get to Paris for their timeshare week that was to start the same day as our cruise.
Jim & Hillary, the other couple was on their very 1st space-a hop and was trying
to get to Ramstein to meet their friends (2 other couples) who were also space-a’ing,
but already there! Bad experience – no cat. 6’s (retired military like us) got on
the C-17 plane – only 15 seats were released for space-a passengers. We all stayed
at the terminal ‘til the plane left – just in case they decided to release more seats
– a space-a “golden rule”. No such luck, so we all went back to the Air Force Lodge
that we’d put a 6pm hold on this morning. We three couples all piled into our car,
and went to the Olive Garden for dinner – good food and lots of laughs.
Tues., 9/28: There was a flight to Rota, Spain today, so we figured we best take
it as we need to get across the pond so we can work our way to Rome by Saturday.
This was a C-5 with lots of seats, so we all got on … Hurrah! This was Phil’s and
my very 1st time on a C-5 – a new experience, and we enjoyed it a lot. There were
lots of steps to climb up (30), but it was such a comfy ride – plenty of leg room
and regular airline seats; we had 3 seats for the 2 of us. The seats are positioned
so we fly backwards, and there are no windows. We’d purchased one box lunch ($4.25)
to share. They passed those out shortly after we got on the plane – plenty of food
in them. This was an 8-hour flight, and Rota, Spain is 6 hours ahead of us.
Wed., 9/29: Got in Rota at 10:15am their time. We were so lucky and got manifested
for the patriotic flight going to Sigonella (Sicily) right away. It was about a
3-hour flight, and they served us lunch which was a nice surprise; there was no charge
for this flight as there is from Norfolk to Sigonella for a patriotic flight. Another
“lucky” (blessed) for us was that we got lodging on the base (NAS I) – we landed
at NAS 2, but we waited across the street from the terminal and caught the free shuttle
bus (15 minute ride) to the Gateway Inn - $60./night for a 2-1/2 room suite – really
nice! It was real handy to everything too, i.e., nice, big Navy Exchange and Commissary
and Food Court, also bowling alley, MWR, travel agency on base, movie theater, library,
etc. all within very easy walking. We walked right outside the gate, across the
street to have a nice, Italian dinner.
Thurs., 9/30: Went to the travel agency on base and made arrangements to take the
train tomorrow night to Rome … 94 Euros for both of us for 2nd class (no 1st class
and no sleepers available) – this 94 euro also included our train ride from Rome
to Civitavecchia, which is an hour ride north of Rome. We got more euros today from
the ATM machine on base. We picked up lunch in the commissary and sat and ate outside.
We went to the library and did some
e-mailing. Again went off-base for dinner to Medusas, a little nicer restaurant
than last night. Met 3 other couples (also space-a’ers) and we all had dinner together.
We went to the movie to see “Wall Street” after dinner. We stayed at Gateway Inn
Fri., 10/1: Checkout was 11am, but Gateway Inn let us store our luggage all day
‘til we had to get our cab at 5pm. Stayed on base all day – went to the library
to do e-mailing and had lunch at the nice big mall on base where the Navy Exchange,
Commissary and Food Court is. We picked up hot food at the deli in the commissary
and ate in the food court. The taxi picked us up at 5pm at the BOQ and took us to
Catania for our 7:20pm train ride to Rome. It only takes 30 minutes to get there,
so we were really early – more people-watching time – paid 35 euro for the cab. Our
train ride (11 hours) to Rome was pretty miserable! There were 5 of us in a compartment
– the first two people there took all of the luggage space, so Phil had to sit with
the big suitcase between his legs all night! It was almost impossible to get any
sleep – the other 3 people with us spoke no English; trying to communicate with each
other was quite a trip in itself – Ha! Our train went on a ferry boat in Messina;
we could all just stay on the train, but we got off for a short time just to take
a look outside. That was pretty interesting.
Sat., 10/2: We arrived in Rome at 6am – got off the train (not an easy encounter
with heavy luggage!) We went and got a cup of coffee and roll. They don’t feed
you on the train and no place to go and buy food. We also went to a bathroom at
the train station to clean up – cost .70 euro each. We went scouting around outside
the train station – lugging our luggage behind – looking for a hotel or B&B to book
for when we come back from our cruise. The librarian at Sigonella Base told us of
a B&B in Rome, so we went there and looked at it, and they discovered they were full
at that time frame, so he called his lady friend who had an opening and so we’ll
stay there. We got the train from Rome to Civitavecchia at 12 noon to get to our
Azamara Quest Cruise. Make sure to stamp your train ticket in the machine (in terminal)
before boarding or you could get a 50 euro ticket if it wasn’t stamped! Train ride
to Civitavecchia took 1-1/4 hours. When we got off the train, we walked about 5
blocks to the port gate where they had a free shuttle bus to our ship. The boarding
went so, so smooth – 20 times better/faster than when we go on other cruise lines.
We were on the ship in less than 10 minutes and were given a glass of champagne
and warm welcome and a harpist was playing. It was wonderful finally getting there
– after working on it for 9 days (since we left home!) Our stateroom (#6093) on
the back-side of the ship is fabulous! Such a great place to have a cabin and the
views from the back are marvelous! The ship is so much smaller than we’re used to
which is so nice. It’s a classy, top notch line – part of Celebrity and Royal Caribbean,
but really much nicer.