July 16, 2012 (two days before the official start of our cruise):
We like to make the most of our time and money, so we try to spend a couple of days at the departure port. Since we are flying to Venice anyway, we might as well take more time to explore the city. This will only cost us the hotel room and the pizza and pasta we eat. In our case we booked a hotel in Venice for two nights prior to departure. So in actuality, our cruise started on the 16th of July.
Our vacation started early that morning. Our flight to Venice was scheduled around 10:00 a.m. from Amsterdam. Since we live in the southern part of the Netherlands, we had to drive up there, park the car at the long term parking and get to the terminal. Schiphol (Amsterdam’s airport) was very busy as it is not only the major airport for the Netherlands, but also a very popular hub for international airlines. Except for the long queue, check-in was pretty smooth and around noon we were in Venice. We were seated at the right-hand side (that’s starboard) of the plane. That allowed for some great views of the Venice lagoon when the plane landed. We could already see most of the city including the cruise ship port.
We arranged for a car to pick us up at the airport. We loved that very much in Rome last year (using romecabs.com). A comparable service in Venice is Click Airport Transfer, they are slightly more expensive than a regular cab, but the driver is waiting for you at the airport, helps you with your luggage and works for a fixed price (no hassle with opportunistic drivers), so it is very convenient.
Some people may think: a cab in Venice? Yes, there is a small part of Venice that’s reachable by car. You cross a long bridge, pass the cruise port and arrive at Piazzale Roma, a very busy square, simply because everything further away can only be reached by foot or boat. That also means that if you are staying in a hotel pre-cruise, you must get to that hotel by boat, or the hotel has to be within walking distance of Piazzale Roma. Because we had a lot of luggage, we chose for the latter. Hotel Santa Chiara is on the corner of Piazzale Roma, so the driver dropped us off right at the hotel.
The best thing about this hotel is the location. Not only was it reachable by land taxi, it is also very close to a vaporetto stop. Let me explain how the vaporetto works. It is just like a bus, but on water. We bought a 72-hour unlimited card since we were going to be in Venice for three days (two days in the hotel and one overnight on Nieuw Amsterdam). Venice is a very walkable city but with kids it is nice to use the boats now and then. We were lucky, Piazzale Roma is the starting point of some of the vaporetto’s routes. Most vaporettos have about 10 seats at the front of the ship. They fill up immediately so your only chance is being first in line at the starting point. We were, so we started our Venice tour with a vaporetto cruise on the Canal Grande. Really a great way to get used to Venice. Enjoy our pictures of the Canal Grande from the vaporetto.
At the Venetian Arsenal stop we got off the water bus, it was time for lunch (which means pizza and pasta). Just off the main boulevard we discovered a little square with a nice family owned restaurant. It gave us enough energy to continue our Venice exploration on foot. First, we went to the Torri dell’Arsenale, once the largest shipbuilder in the world.
We decided to get in the shade and visit Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale). In the afternoon the lines are short or no line at all, as we had. The Palazzo Ducale was for the regents of ancient Venice, you can visit the beautiful rooms where the important counsels of the city held their meetings. The do-it-yourself tour ended in prison. To get there we walked through the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). The convicts, like Casanova and Galileo Galilei, walked through the very same bridge before entering the cold and very moist dungeons. We looked through the same windows that gave them the last daylight they would ever see.
Afterward, we walked to St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco). The basilica closed at 5:00 p.m. so we decided to check out the shopping in the boutique-rich mercerie. After, we continued our walking tour and enjoyed beautiful squares like Campo San Luca and Campo San Stefano and, of course, nice buildings like Teatro La Fenice (The Phoenix) named after the fictional bird because it has burned down multiple times but is rebuilt each time.
Around 6:30 p.m. we had dinner on a nice terrace on Campiello Morosini. After dinner we walked over the Accademia Bridge (Ponte dell’Accademia), one of just four bridges over the Canal Grande, and saw the gondola yard San Trovaso.
We caught another Vaporetto to get back to the hotel. On our way, we passed two cruise ships in the Venice harbor: Carnival Breeze and Grand Celebration.
Sitting on the vaporetto was great after a day spent experiencing so many impressions. We passed our hotel and stayed on the vaporetto until we reached the Rialto Bridge,another bridge crossing the grand canal. Then we went back to the hotel to get our nights rest.
Joost and Jolanda van Driessen, together with their daughters Kim and Rhodé, cruised the Mediterranean aboard Nieuw Amsterdam in July and chronicled their journey for us.