Port and Shore Excursions
The acropolis tour was just OK. The tour guide stood in one place and talked for a long time and we wanted to move around a bit more. We ended up setting out on our own and meeting the bus at the end.
Not much of a tour, but it was nice to just kick back and experience Athens.
The Monaco tour was really nice and more interesting than I thought it would be. Long bus rides though. And not enough free time. Unfortunately we couldn't go in the casino because it was reserved for VIPs at some big tennis tourney. But we did get a bird's eye view of the tourney itself from the bus.
From Haifa we went to Nazareth - The Church of the Annunciation, drove through Ceasarea and stopped at the Jordan River. The guide pointed out the Golan Heights and told us about the history of the area. We saw Peter's house and the synagogue at Cana. We saw the mosiacs at the church of the loaves and fishes. We had a FANTASTIC lunch at a kibbutz and saw an actual fishing vessel from Jesus' time.
It was a very long day, but I wouldn't have skipped any of the sites. This was by far the best ship excursion we had.
DO NOT TAKE THE SHIP EXCURSION.
OK so it didn't help that, in addition to Pacifica, there was Costs Serena (i think) AND a Pullmantur ship at the port. It was gridlock from the start so we were behind schedule all day. All the buses made the same potty-break stop at the same cafe/souvenir shop at the same time. There were 10-15 busses, with probably 25-40 people on each - all trying to use the same 10-stall bathroom. They said we had 15 minutes. Seriously? 500 people? It was ridiculous.
So we get to Ephesus and it's awash in people. Probably more than when the city was at it's height. The guide hustled us through in less than 90 minutes. Didn't even mention the Terrace houses. It didn't help that we had two couples trying to navigate with infants in strollers. What were they thinking? Before we even got to the ampitheater at the end, she gave us 10 minutes to look at the ampitheater, use the bathroom, get something to eat, and get back to the bus. One man blurted out "10 minutes?" incredulous. "Yes" she says "we're running late."
Late to what? The tour of Ephesus was over, it was 2 o'clock. We hadn't been given any time to eat anything and the ship doesn't leave until 6.
Of course the rude Spanish party kept everyone waiting on the bus for an extra 10 minutes. I didn't know who to be more annoyed at - the guide for rushing us through or the people that kept us all waiting.
So where were we late to? A "rug academy" of course. Out in the middle of nowhere. Not mentioned anywhere in the excursion description. Having been to Turkey twice before, we'd seen the whole rug schtick. We bolted as quickly as we could, only to have to pass through room after room of overpriced "fine jewelry" at "discount prices". After about 4 rooms of "fine jewelry" we started getting more standard souvenir faire - which was fine. I wanted to get some Turkish Delight and inexpensive "evil eye" beads for friends back home. But since we were the first to break free, the salespeople literally pounced on us while we were barely in the door. Finally we got outside. We were starving and we had seen what looked like a little cafe outside. Turns out they had chips, soda and ice cream. That was it.
By the time we were herded back on the bus, we had spent more time at the rip-off rug academy - that wasn't on the itinerary - than we had at Ephesus. I wouldn't have minded so much if we hadn't been rushed through Ephesus and not allowed any time for a bite to eat. Or if the rug demo had been somewhere where there were other options to shop or relax.
We should've demanded our money back, but we were so worn out and angry we just didn't want to deal with it.
We booked a private tour of Jerusalem. Shmuel Brown was fantastic! We saw much more than the ship tour, including the temple mount - which is only open to the public for a short period in the morning.
Shmuel is very knowledgeable about the theology, the history and the architecture.
For three people the cost for Shmuel's services and cab transport was only slightly higher than the most expensive ship excursion, and would have been less had we not been scammed by the cabbie at the port.
Worth every penny to have the flexibility and individual attention in this overwhelming and fascinating city.
We had seen Olympia before and didn't see any reason to go a second time.
Katakolon was a pleasant little tourist town with a nice variety of shops for browsing and cafes with wi-fi where you could catch up on email while just enjoying the Greek sunshine. Not a high point in the trip, but a pleasant, unhurried break from the crowded tours and somewhat garish ship.
We started a few days early in Rome and toured on our own there. Love Love Love Rome! This was my third time in Rome and the city still blows me away. You can't possibly experience Rome on a single day ship excursion. St Peter's and the Vatican museum are a whole day all by themselves. You could spend a whole week there and still just scratch the surface.
Do yourself a favor and spend a few days there before or after the cruise on your own.