An Adriatic cruise on points and miles: Exploring Rome

Just in case you haven’t been following along on my points-hoarding progress, I took my parents on a trip of a lifetime to Italy and the Adriatic for two weeks using points and miles to offset almost 95% of the cost. I’m finalizing my totals as the last of my points are added up, so be the lookout for the final breakdown soon. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of the fun details of my trip, so here we go!

  • Getting there
  • Venice and the JW Marriott
  • Exploring Rome
  • Boscolo Venezia
  • Embarking on the Norwegian Jade
  • Port day in Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Port day in Piraeus, Greece
  • Port day in Kusadasi, Turkey
  • Port day in Split, Croatia
  • Getting home

Wandering Rome

After an overnight in Venice at the brand spanking new JW Marriott, my parents and I hopped a high speed train down to Rome to meet up with my brother who had flown in from Arizona. He quickly found us at the train station and we set out to do some exploring and pizza eating.

My brother and I had visited Rome previously but it was my parents’ first time, so we decided to hit up the must see tourist attractions. First up was the Colosseum and Roman Forum. This area of Rome never ceases to impress me. Ancient ruins of a great civilization are casually dotted amongst modern city streets and shops. It’s such an interesting juxtaposition.

We were there too late in the afternoon to enter the Forum and the line for the Colosseum was still incredibly long, so we opted to wander the outside of both. From the last visit, I remembered a great viewing point overlooking the Forum just west of the ruins. If you can’t get in (or don’t want to spend the money) to stroll the actual grounds of the Forum, this viewpoint is a great second option, providing a fairly expansive view of the grounds and Colosseum off in the distance.

roman forum

2015

Same picture, seven years ago:

roman forum 2008

2008

Of course, you can’t read the signs next to the ruins to figure out exactly what each thing is as you could if you paid to enter, but Wikipedia and a map can help you figure it out.

We did have a bit of a hard time remembering how to get to the viewpoint, as the roads in Rome aren’t exactly in square-block formation. You need to head west, away from the Colosseum, and around this grand war memorial thing pictured below. Once you’ve passed by the building and a couple other small ones, you can access the view by heading up the steep hillside on your left. It’s worth the hike. But then again, I think all views from above are worth the hike…

rome unsettled meliorist

While stopped at one of our favorite pizza places for lunch, my brother and I remembered that the Irish pub we enjoyed so much on our last visit was just around the corner. I know not everyone sees the value of visiting an Irish pub in a non-Irish country, but I’ll tell you, you’re missing out if you haven’t tried it. Irish pubs are some of the best places to spend time, no matter what country you’re in. And this one is one of the best. Including this recent trip, I’ve now visited this pub on five different occasions and it has been a blast every time. We’ve met the friendliest people and had an overall great time.

shamrock's irish pub rome

The secret to happy family travels: Irish pubs.

Vatican City

Our second day in Rome brought us to Vatican City. The main reason we visited Rome on this trip was so that my mom, a lifelong cafeteria Catholic, could visit the Vatican. I could’ve left it, since my first visit didn’t leave the best taste in my mouth, but I understood why she’d want to visit. And to be honest, I do feel it’s worth seeing at least once, if for nothing else than to appreciate first-hand the ungodly amount of money the church has.

The lines to get into St. Peter’s Basilica were absolutely ridiculous first thing in the morning. Clearly, I didn’t remember much from our last trip since we should have been there way earlier in the day. Realizing we’d never make it in with enough time to explore and then get to the Vatican museum entrance for our scheduled time, we left the long line and headed toward the museum instead.

vatican line

My least favorite part of travel: lines.

Despite being almost an hour early for our assigned entry time, we were let in. I had planned much better for the museums, having pre-booked tickets with assigned entry times. We cut past the long line of tourists stretching around the block and walked right up to the entrance. Although I didn’t take a picture of this line (because I was strolling past it at a brisk pace) it was likely just as long as the line pictured above, if not longer.

I highly recommend going with the pre-booked tickets over waiting in line.You can purchase tickets in advance with assigned entry times here.

vatican

For the next hour or so, we were herded like cattle from room to room with work of art after work of art. If you’ve never been to the museums before, you’re likely to be blown away. Not only is there an insane amount of priceless artwork covering each of the walls, but the walls and ceilings themselves are works of art. It’s so over the top, you’re almost jaded by the time you reach the Sistine Chapel toward the end.

What I hadn’t forgotten and had been dreading from my last visit was the crowds. The hallways of the museum are just packed. This isn’t the place to casually wander and take in random pieces of art; this place is a battlefield. People pushing, tour groups blocking any forward movement. Any possible straying from the hoard and you risk being trampled. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Personal note to my future self: never, ever return to the Vatican museums.

vatican museum ceiling

Vatican museum, you sure are pretty, but we’re done.

Breathing a sigh of relief at the exit, we headed back to St. Peter’s Basilica and returned to the (now slightly shorter) line. An hour and a half later, we finally passed through security and entered the church. Unlike the museums, I do find the Basilica completely worth the visit. Despite the many ornate churches I’ve visited around Europe, this one still takes my breath away. It is a truly stunning building.

vatican st peter

Gorgeous St. Peter’s Basilica

Our hotel

Our two nights in Rome were spent at the Marriott Courtyard Central Park, which was a little ways outside the city but had beautiful views. Trains made the commute to and from the hotel easy and it was kind of nice to get away from the hustle and bustle after really busy days of sightseeing. We booked two rooms at the Courtyard. One was paid for using leftover United miles, which may not have been the best redemption value but was useful toward saving money on this trip. The second room was booked under a senior rate at $139/night. To offset some of this cost, I purchased gift cards at a 20% discount rate through the annual Daily Getaways discounts to knock our out-of-pocket cost down to $222 total for the two nights.

view vatican city

View of St. Peter’s Basilica from the Courtyard

After two hectic days in one of the most interesting cities in the world, we were ready to head back to Venice and get ready for some cruising.

Cheers!