Grand Time in the Mediterranean
Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
This was our 8th cruise, 4th with Princess and first time aboard the Ruby. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary, which was port intensive but fantastic.
Embarkation in Venice was the easiest we ever experienced. We arrived at the check in desk at 1pm, there was no line, we showed our passports, got our cards and right on the ship. This didn't take more than ten minutes.
We booked an interior JJ category stateroom (B508, Baja deck 11), since we would hardly be in the cabin. No complaints about the cabin, except that there was a steward working area next to us and we heard some clanging from time to time, but not at night and our sleep was not disturbed.
The ship left port the following morning, and sailing out of Venice was wonderful. They did play the epic opera music other passengers have mentions and the port guide gave commentary on the city. That day and the next were sea days, so you had a nice rest before hitting the first 4 ports. More
FOOD: Overall the food was very good in both the buffet areas and the main dining room. The only areas that could use improvement were the soups which were not very good at all. We ate all dinners in the dining room with Anytime Dining and breakfast in the buffet. The pastries and cakes were excellent. We enjoyed the pub lunch on sea days, afternoon tea and the chocolate themed breakfast one morning in the buffet.
ENTERTAINMENT: It seems that this area has been scaled back considerably over the last 10 years or so. There was repetition in acts over the course of the 12 days. They did have a solo violinist, Chris Hawkins, that was very good. Otherwise it was the normal production shows you can expect on most ships.
CREW: Extremely helpful and polite. On the entire 12 day voyage, we only walked past 1 crew member that did not greet us. They stepped right up and found us seats at the crowded buffets in the morning. Our room steward did a great job.
GRATUITY: We found that many other passengers we spoke with weren't aware about the optional tipping, so just want to mention that Princess automatically adds gratuity to your account of $11.50 per day. Some people like this option since they don't have to tip staff individually. We prefer to tip individually, so we go the the purser's desk and have them remove the gratuity. If you choose the anytime dining option, you will have different waiters each day, although you can choose a specific table if you find one you really like. That's part of the reason we go with personal tipping.
EXCURSIONS: As previously mentioned, we only booked the Athens excursion through Princess, mainly because we were uncertain about how things would be there with all the recent problems. In both Turkey ports we booked private tours through cruisingexcursions.com and were extremely pleased with the guides. They were very knowledgeable about the sites and so polite. Istanbul and Kusadasi were probably our favorite places out of all we visited.
RECAP: This cruise involves a LOT of walking to really see the sites, most in hilly areas and many with uneven surfaces and steps. Bring a good pair of closed toe walking shoes. There are some excursions offered by the cruise line that are ride -through some places on a bus, but these seemed to sell out quickly, as there were a number of retired persons on this cruise.
Overall, it was a great cruise and the most interesting itinerary so far. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Athens/Piraeus - Except for visiting the Acropolis with the Princess excursion (only one we booked through them) this was the worst port of all. Our tour didn't depart until afternoon, so we walked around Piraeus in the morning. It was dirty, with public green areas not maintained at all. It may be attributed to the economy, but nonetheless was not pleasant. When we drove through Athens in the afternoon, we were equally disappointed. There was graffiti and trash everywhere, even on old buildings. Truly a shame. Would not visit again.
A lot of people went to Florence this day, but we chose to visit Lucca, a small city about a 45 minute train ride from the port, Livorno. Lucca has it's original wall around this city and was really lovely, kind of like Venice without the water. The town is laid out in a grid so you don't get lost like in Venice. There are some great leather buys here, so if you're looking for a wallet or handbag this is a good place. There are many small shops with cheeses and hams hanging from the ceiling, numerous gelaterias, cozy restaurants and some nice churches. We'd like to return to Tuscany someday and see more, as it's a really pretty area.
Topkapi Walking Tour
We booked a private tour of Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, and Grand Bazaar. All are in walking distance of each other. Our guide was wonderful and well informed. This is a beautiful city to sail into, with the Bosporus Strait dividing it. You could easily stay here several days to really experience it and may return one day.
We booked a private tour of the Ephesus ruins and enjoyed it very much. Our guide was wonderful, spoke perfect English (among 5 other languages) and included some other local stops not specified in our tour. We spent a little time at the bazaar before boarding the ship, as we only had half a day here. A full day would have been great.
We were in port only a half day, but that is sufficient time to see this one square mile principality. We toured the Prince's Palace, which was fairly short but very nice. Cost 8.50 euro. There are a few streets of shops and cafes. The shops sell mostly touristy souvenirs. A walk through the free Jardin Exotique is very nice with many trees and flowers from around the world. It's just opposite the cathedral. As expected, the harbour was full of multi million dollar yachts, the streets of expensive cars. The famous casino only opens at 2pm and that was our departure time, so we didn't get a chance to see it. We heard it is a 10 euro admission fee if you do go in.
Mykonos is very unique with it's bright white buildings and colorfully painted doors. Many lovely flowers further enhance the appearance. We walked around the town, took photos and checked out the shops. It's very hilly, as were most of the ports we visited on this cruise. Nice to see but don't need to do a repeat visit.
The city of Naples itself is not very nice, but once you get out of the city, it improves. We heard that a lady on our cruise had $400 stolen from her bag just outside the port area. One thing about all large cities in Europe is beware of the pickpockets and the "diversion thieves". If you're aware of what's going on around you and use common sense, you can spot the people to steer clear of. Most of the ones we saw were teenagers and would work in groups of 3 or more.
We took the local train (Sorrento line) to Pompeii and Herculaneum. As it turns out we would have had enough time for Sorrento too, but since this was our first trip to this port, we chose to be conservative with our time. Pompeii is huge, spread out and pretty much a lot of the same thing. Herculaneum is much smaller and better preserved. If you only have time to see one, Herculaneum is the better choice. Many others on the cruise went to Sorrento and Capri and said they were both beautiful.
Civitavecchia is the port for Rome and we took the local train into the city. The train station is about a 1/4 mile walk on level ground. There was no express train that day, so the local stop train took 70 minutes to reach Rome. We took an early train so it was pretty crowded with locals. The round trip ticket was 9 euro pp. Princess offered transportation on a "private train" the took the same time for $99 pp. It didn't include anything else but the train so for us it was a no-brainer. We like to do our own thing and are comfortable arranged transportation etc, so if you're not, there is the Princess option.
We got on a hop on hop off bus in Rome for 18 euro pp. It started raining mid morning after we visited the Colosseum, so we spent the rest of our time there on the bus loop. This was the only day it rained on the cruise and we were disappointed we didn't see all the sites we would have liked to, but would like to go back someday for what we missed.