Testimonials - Jean: From cruisecritic.com

Friday morning the weather was lovely again as Sicily came into view, followed by the first views of enormous snow covered Mt. Etna. One of the nicest things about the cruise was that only one of the ports (Villefranche) had an early morning arrival so each morning our port was just coming into view.

This was the only port where we'd planned an excursion. My daughter had been here before and wanted to rent a car, but the time constraints (6 hours) had made her agree to go with Mario Astone of Sicily with Mario.

We arrived almost an hour early (from our balcony we saw dolphins accompanying the ship) and I called Mario. His brother Ignazio answered the phone and said they would rush right over, which they did. We were lucky enough to have both brothers for tour guides in their comfortable Mercedes van!

When they drove us straight up the side of a mountain, past Taormina to Castelmolo, I was SO glad we hadn't rented a car as I couldn't even bear to look over the edge! We were immediately comfortable with the brothers and took all their recommendations with how much time to spend in each place. Mario and Ignazio walked us through Castelmolo, a gorgeous little mountain village, and then we went to eat at their favorite little restaurant, Gallo Cedrone. The bruscetta and dessert wine were free, our bottle of local wine, pastas, pizza, meatballs, and espressos came to 60 euros. Mama didn't speak English but she made sure we were happy with everything and it was a wonderful meal.

We asked where we could buy more bottles of the local wine we'd had, and they sold us the bottles at 6 euros each!

One of the little jewelry stores had caught my daughter's eye, and we ended up spending 5 euros per pendant and 10 euros per bracelet of lava rock. We had great views of Mt. Etna from here.

Then we went down to Taormina, which was PACKED with school groups and busloads of tourists. The brothers told us our meeting place and off we went. We checked out the old Greek arena first and then just started wandering up the pedestrian walkway. It started to rain so they ducked into an Irish Pub and I continued to walk. There was a wedding going on in the rain and I hadn't melted yet, so I didn;t figure it would hurt me. Eventually we got back in the van and returned to the ship. We parted like old friends (they gave us a bakery box of delicious fruit tarts), and the 240 euros it cost for 4 of us were more than worth it. I have used other tour companies in Europe and they were clearly the best.

We ate a light dinner, my husband turned in, and I stood on the (very cold - I'm from Florida!) deck for an hour to watch us traverse the Straits of Messina. Mario had explained it was less than 2 miles wide, and it sure took some careful maneuvering on the part of our huge ship. Meanwhile the car ferries steadily ran back and forth between Sicily and the mainland of Italy.

from: cruisecritic.com