Monday, June 13, 2011

Back Home from Mediterranean

Terminal 5 Rome Fiumicino Airport (FCO)

End of Mediterranean Cruise Vacation
Home Sweet Home

We are now back from our 12-Night Mediterranean Cruise from Rome to Venice.  We have lots of information and pictures to share with our readers.  This was a fabulous cruise vacation and one that we would highly recommend to our readers that have any interest at all in the region and its history.

When we last posted, we had just arrived in Rome. It is hard to believe that the 15 days have gone by already.   Our initial intentions were to post some pictures along the way to keep you updated on our progress through the cruise, but uploading pictures was too slow on the ship-based internet connections and this became impractical.   In addition, we had very little down time as we took full advantage of our time in each port and did take some time to relax, which is a must.

Long Return Trip

We will detail our return trip saga so that it will help you plan your flight times.  You need to allow sufficient time if you are connecting and also be sure to allow enough time for check-in at the airport in Rome.

Our return day started really early, 5:30 AM, as we got ready for a 6:30 AM taxi ride to Rome's Fiumicino International Airport (FCO) from our post-cruise hotel, Hotel Giardino, which was located nearby the Trevi Fountain.  The cost for four of us to the airport was 45 € which we rounded to 50 € to include a tip (due to all the luggage we had).  It was less than a 30 minute ride from the hotel to the airport on this early Sunday morning.

Our traveling companions were leaving about an hour earlier than us out of Terminal 3, while our flight was leaving from Terminal 5.   We knew there was a shuttle bus between the two terminals, so we took the taxi to their terminal.    After saying our good-byes, we walked to the shuttle bus which took us the remaining 800m to the other terminal.

You will want to allow 2-3 hours for an international flight, even though you probably won't need that much time.   Security is quite different at international locations than we are used to in the states.   The one big difference in Rome was the need to put electronic gadgets (cameras, laptops, cell phones, iPods, games - anything with a battery) in plastic bags that are provided when you first show your passport at the airport.

At FCO, from the initial passport control desk, you  then proceed to the airline ticket counter to check your luggage and get your boarding passes.   After that, it's off to the security screening just like other airports, but as already mentioned, the electronic gadgets go into the plastic bags and need to be put in plastic bins for scanning separately from other items.

Next stop is passport control which is a breeze, at least it was for us.    This process took us less than an hour, so we had plenty of time to kill before our flight.    There was very little seating in Terminal 5, and the seats were anything but comfortable.    We decided to get some refreshments before camping out on the metal chairs for the duration.   

To make a long story shorter, time for boarding finally arrived and we lined up for our turn based on class of service and seating areas.    Since we had Premier status with UAL, we were one of the earlier groups called.   Once again, our boarding passes and passports needed to be checked and some passengers were screened.   

We then took an escalator downstairs where we boarded a bus that took us on the tarmac to the waiting Boeing 777 airplane.    Lugging our luggage up the stairs, we finally were on the plane.   (I make this point so that you don't have too much hand baggage if you aren't able to handle carrying it up stairs).

The flight from FCO to IAD was uneventful, with it taking off on time and arriving on schedule in Washington, DC. (Dulles Airport).    After deplaning, we arrived in the customs hall where we lined up in a maze to be welcomed back to the USA.   There were at least 10 international flights arriving at the same time, so the hall was quite full.

Getting our stamp of approval, we then headed to baggage claim, through the final customs check point, baggage recheck, and then into yet another long line to wait for security screening for our next flight.   One German passenger was wondering how many more security checks would be needed.  We assured him we were almost done at that point.

This was the usual process we were used to, except that the lines were much longer.   People were getting worried as their flights were about to take off, some within minutes.   People were helpful, allowing those with little time to cut in line.   I think that even surprised the TSA agents, who said if we didn't mind, it was fine with them.  

This whole process took 1.5 hours from the time our plane landed until we got to our connecting gate.   Take this into consideration when booking your connecting flights.

Our day was about to get interesting as a thunderstorm rolled through and forced a ground stop on flights.  That might have been the saving grace for some of the passengers in line with us that had short connections.

As luck would have it, our plane also had mechanical issues that had to be sorted out, so we started a creeping delay after the storm passed by and the ground crews were allowed to continue working on planes.    After we boarded, another issue with a seat  caused a further delay.   The final  delay was caused by the lack of ground personnel to push back our jumbo jet resulting in a total delay time of almost 3.5 hours.    

Now that you've heard the beginning and ending of our trip, be sure to come back for everything in the middle.   We'll post pictures for our Facebook fans, so be sure to visit our page there.   All in all, this was a great vacation.   If you want relaxation, you need to make an effort to fit that in the schedule, as it is easily possible to fill every minute of every day between touring in ports and activities on the ship.

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