An Adriatic cruise on points and miles: Venice and the JW Marriott

Points and miles pay off!

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’ll be writing up my final totals within the coming months as the last of my points are added up. 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

JW Venice

I had booked my parents and I at the brand new JW Marriott Venice Resort, which had its soft opening just a couple months prior to our stay. Before arrival, I had gotten myself thoroughly psyched about this hotel. I’d only stayed in a JW Marriott one time prior to this while in Peru and absolutely loved it. Granted, I had just come off of four days hiking the Inca Trail and was perhaps just a little biased by the shower the size of my bedroom at home. But still, the JWs are Marriott’s luxury line, so I had high expectations going in.

We stayed at the JW just one night before moving south to Rome to meet my brother. Since it was just my parents and I, we decide we could squeeze into one room with a rollaway cot. For the one night, the JW cost us 40,000 Marriott Reward points, which was a decent value considering rooms were going for over $600 for those paying cash.

The resort sits on a private island a few miles off of the main island of Venice and is only accessible by private water taxi or the resort’s free shuttle. Pulling into the resort on our private water taxi from the airport was probably my favorite part of the entire stay. How slick is this entrance?

Pulling into the JW Marriott's interior dock in Venice

Pulling into the JW Marriott’s interior dock in Venice

After check in, we headed to our room to get changed and clean up a bit from the international flight. Despite my dad’s lifetime platinum status with Marriott, we weren’t upgraded to a larger room. This was a little disappointing, considering there were three of us and a few extra square feet would go a long way, but I’m not going to complain when I’m getting a $600 room for free. The room itself was nothing special, in my opinion. Very white, neutral, clean. It was nice, but to be honest, it lacked the “wow” factor I’d been hoping for.

Underwhelmed, we headed up to the rooftop to find the pool that was supposed to have fantastic views of Venice. Exiting the elevator, we were finally smacked in the face by “wow” factor. The view from the rooftop was just stunning. Off in the distance, we could see the orange rooftops of Venice and even the tower of St. Mark’s Square. Also on the roof were a swanky restaurant and bar with outdoor seating, and thus equally stunning views. I ponied up to the bar, ordered a glass of prosecco, and soaked in the gorgeous skyline in front of me.

jw marriott venice pool

View from the JW’s rooftop pool

Drawn in by the allure of the island of Venice just off in the distance, we soon made our way down to the hotel’s dock to pick up the free shuttle to St. Mark’s Square. The JW’s shuttle was scheduled to run about every half hour from early morning through late night. In reality, we never had to wait more than 10 minutes or so. I was a little unsure of having to take the boat at first, as I thought staying right in the hubbub of Venice might be more fun for the short time we had there, but my worries were soon assuaged with the first ride.

The shuttles were less shuttle and more luxury boat, with dark wood trim and leather seats. Inside there was room for about 20 people or so, but we rarely had to share the boat with more than a couple other guests. The ride did take a little time, about 20-25 minutes, but it was oh so enjoyable. With all the swarms of tourists and busyness that is Venice by day, it was nice to be able to decompress a bit and take in the scenery as we sailed along the turquoise green waters around the islands.

jw marriott venice shuttle

JW Marriott Venice shuttle

The boat dropped us just outside of St. Mark’s, the perfect location to begin exploring Venice. This was my second time to this city, but it was my parents’ first, so we wanted to take in all the touristy sites before doing what I love most in Venice: getting lost.

venice st marks

Pulling into St. Mark’s Square


Exploring Venice

I had prepared my parents in advance for the crazy crowds that push and shove their way through Venice’s narrow streets. I understand why a lot of people don’t like Venice if this is all they see. But the (not so) hidden secret is that it’s so easy to get away from all of that. The crowds follow the same congested routes between St. Mark’s, the Rialto, and the train station. Just one turn in the opposite direction can lead you to quiet, residential neighborhoods with no other tourists in view. Granted, you’ll probably get lost by taking that turn, but that’s okay. That’s the joy in Venice: getting lost and finding something completely unexpected. And to be honest, Venice is such a small island that you’ll never get too lost.

Passing by large tour groups and pushy scammers in St. Mark’s Square, we made our way toward the Rialto and then past to the quieter neighborhoods just beyond. Here we found a charming cafe on the edge of the Grand Canal; the perfect locale for the first meal of the trip.

venice grand canal

Lunch with a view

Soon evening crept in and the sun began to set, so we headed back toward St. Mark’s and beyond to the lagoon. We wandered along the edge of the water as the sky changed colors. It was just incredible. Watching the gorgeous architecture light up next to the gondolas bobbing gently in the water, it was hard to imagine anyone not loving this city. I had no trouble tuning out the tourists and salesmen around and just enjoying Venice for what it is.

venice sunset

Sunset over Venice

Before leaving Venice that night, we had one last thing we had to do: head to St. Mark’s Square to hear the dueling orchestras play. There are times when paying exorbitant rates for a touristy experience are worth it, and this has to be one of the top on the list. Three cafes in St. Mark’s Square (and one just outside) have small orchestras out front playing everything from classical music to show tunes. The musicians are all dressed to the nines in tuxedos and fancy evening wear and the waiters match the classiness with complementary tuxes.

Most people opt to stand behind the rows of tables just in front of the musicians and listen for free, which is still worth it if you insist on not paying for overpriced drinks. You don’t have to look at a menu to know that those seats are pricey. But I’m telling you, they’re worth it. Maybe not for dinner or an entire evening, but do it for one drink. One prosecco. Or for dessert. You will never in your life sit in a more romantic, unique setting. It’s completely worth every penny.

st marks orchestra

Orchestras playing in St. Mark’s square

A few glasses of wine, a tiramisu, and a hefty bill later, we left Venice, half drunk on the intoxicating atmosphere that oozes from this unique city, and maybe a little on the wine. It was off to Rome in the morning to meet up with my brother. But I was glad we’d be coming back again before the trip was through. Just one night in Venice is not enough…