My husband and I recently completed a B2B cruise from Athens to Athens via Greek Isles and the Black Sea (July 2012). This being our second cruise with Azamara Quest it exceeded our expectations.
We spent 3 days in Athens prior to boarding the Quest and were pleased to have utilised the services of the Kalomiris family taxis services as recommended by fellow Cruise Critic readers (refer http://www.greektaxi.gr or https://www.athensminibus.com). We were impressed with the professionalism of this company and their genuine pleasure in showing us the best Athens and surrounds has to offer. Our half day trip to Poseidon's Temple to watch the sun set over the Mediterranean was delightful and we can highly recommend this tour.
Following embarkation -- which took all of 10 minutes -- we enjoyed a pleasant lunch in Windows Cafe prior to accessing our suite. Following introductions with our charming butler (Melvin) and cheerful cabin attendants (Alvin and Vitali) we spent a lazy afternoon on the balcony of enjoying the occasional glass of "bubbles".
The Quest is still a delight -- the staff are as efficient and friendly as ever, the food is divine, the ports of call really interesting and the entertainment entertaining.
We cruised from Athens to Hydra in very calm seas, blue skies and warm temperatures. Hydra was gorgeous - no cars, brilliant crystal clear water and really friendly locals; next was Santorini where we went on a tour around the island and visited a winery -surprisingly good wines! Then lunch in Fira at Ampelos Wine Bar (www.ampelos.com.gr) - a taverna perched above a shop front and overlooking the bay and surrounding islands where you had views to both sides of the island. Lunch was outstanding- ampelos pie -- a filo pie stuffed with feta, pine nuts and scallions and a red capsicum sauce, sardines baked in lemon and olive oil sauce, and artichoke hearts baked in tomato and dill passatta sauce - yum!..... and of course a chilled bottle of dry Santorini white wine!
Mykonos was next which was pretty but a bit too touristy; Patmos was terrific - another legendary luncheon - fabulous goat dish. Weather still blue sky and very warm. Our Butler Melvin has been very diligent in the supply of tonic for the gin....though we think he is starting to tire trying to keep up the supplies! Wine and gin prices in Patmos were outstanding (compared with Australian prices)...750ml bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin was only $18 Euros, a Santorini White Wine sells for $9 Euros, and a 4 pack of 500ml cans of Mythos Beer costs $5 euros.
Lesbos we hiked up a mountain to explore a fabulous castle.... 'Mitilene' Castle - a huge site with brilliant views over the city and sea, then an easy walk down from the Castle on the way back to the ship whereby we visited the new and the old Archeological museums -- very reasonable price $3 Euros for both.
Sailed past the Gallipoli site on route to Istanbul -- very thought provoking and the Cruise Director gave a respectful overview on the PA system as we cruised past the relevant memorials.
Istanbul -- brilliant -- the Spice Market, the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, the Palace, the Cistern -- so many things to see and a culture to embrace. Locals were very friendly. Heaps of places to eat and we took advantage of the recommendation from Ruby (waiter in Mozaic Cafe) to dine at a lovely restaurant near the ferry terminal that overlooked the Blue Mosque and Palace. One weird thing we did observe as we crossed the old bridge that leads to the Spice Market -- hundreds of men and boys fishing from the bridge and all of their fishing reels were on the left side of the fishing rod -- go figure!
We didn't have fun in Constanta, Romania...let us see which bit was the most exciting...hmmm...the myriad of dogs waiting to greet us at the Port, the lack of any trees, the lack of any buildings that were built after the WW2, the broken pavements, the shotgun wielding guards wearing their flak jackets, guarding the train carrying what appeared to be scrap metal....nah the best bit would have to be the young girl of about 5 years of age sitting on the steps of a run down church looking demur - who upon seeing us immediately gave hot pursuit to us demanding "money, money"...and we hadn't even bothered to take her picture...hmmmm note to self - Constanta is not a recommended tourist destination but if you want to be reminded about how some countries are still struggling to reinvent themselves then it is sobering place to visit -- and from that perspective we did not regret visiting this port!
Odessa, Ukraine -- what a beautiful place and it is true -- the Ukraine woman are stunning. But that was merely a bonus for my husband -- the real beauty was in the gorgeous old buildings, lovingly maintained. The only disappointing aspect was that the city was experiencing the 2nd day of no power so despite there being heaps of restaurants to choose from none of them could offer anything due to no power.......poor shop owners - all these tourist coming off the ship and climbing the Potemkin steps with money to burn and ....nup...only the banks seemed to have the capacity to loan/buy/steal a generator to keep their business functioning.
Following Odessa we arrived in Sevastopol at the same time they were celebrating Navy Week - a lot of navy 'merchandise' was in the harbour - all capable of blowing each other out of water - loads of photos taken! We went on a tour to see the former 'secret' Russian submarine base - would make a great wine cellar now! The tour also included seeing the battleground for the Crimean War - specifically the site for the Charge of the Light Brigade. The site is now covered in vineyards -- a much better use for a bit of dirt.
Next stop was Yalta - you would have to see the photos to believe us - a number of pebbled beaches of a couple of hundred square metres - and not a spare pebble to be stood on due to the myriad of bather clad Russians on holiday desperately trying to soak up the sun! Temperature wise it was approx mid 30 degrees C. We did the russian food fare thing and had Borsch and Chicken Kiev for lunch - a quaint little restaurant in middle of Lenin Square where the cute young waiter could not speak a word of English and we didn't know much Russian beyond how to say yes, no and goodbye - hilarious but we still were able to order lunch and beers!
After cruising the Bosphorous Strait we then arrived in Cannakkele, Turkey - went to the site of City of Troy ruins - thought we saw Brad Pitt in front of the fake Trojan Horse but we think it was his brother. Interesting to walk amongst the ruins but the depth of history surrounding this site was humbling.
After being disappointed at not seeing Brad Pitt at the City of Troy we sailed off to Santorini for our second visit due to doing the B2B cruise. This time there were 4 other cruise boats in the harbour (all of which did not have long enough anchor lines due to the depth of the harbour so all day they have to keep engines at idle to maintain their respective positions....interesting!) - but with so many people on the island it was about a 20 minute wait to get on the cable car up to the city of Fira. Not being interested in shopping in the myriad of shops, we immediately went back to our lovely restaurant from previous visit and had an even more outstanding long, long lunch whilst watching the scenery and the myriads of tourists looking for the next shopping bargain in between taking photos of the spectacular scenery.
After Santorini we departed for our last port of call - the island of Paros - beautiful - long expanse of beaches (with sand...not white...but it was sand!). All the beaches have free beach lounges and umbrellas and staff just waiting to deliver your cold beer and food whilst you laze away...all was idyllic until we had to get the tender back to the ship which was maintaining a station some 1km out in the harbour in a 3m swell - the ship would have been at a safe anchor point in the harbour but a rather dodgy looking ship named the Ocean Pearl had overstayed at the anchor point..... What did that mean for us....well we caught the last tender that was allowed to return to the ship before the Captain called it quits due to the dangerous seas and those still on the island had to wait until much later in the afternoon when the ship could move to the anchor point after the Ocean Pearl had moved on. Let's just say that everyone cheered and clapped when we got the tender alongside the ship - it was a better ride than you could get at a Royal Show - no one got sick or fell overboard but one young American lad thought he was going out the back of the tender when he grab for a window to steady himself and the window flew open...what a hoot!
When we arrived in Athens to disembark at 9am we again utilised the services of GreekTaxi and went on a full day private tour -- spent a fantastic few hours seeing Temples and Tombs (very similar to Pyramid arrangements) and fortresses - then off for a late lunch at a delightful taverna in Nafelios for another mezzes style lunch. Nick our driver was so good at providing just the right of amount of information about each site without being boring. His sense of humour also made for a enjoyable fun day before returning us to our Hotel.
To sum up our trip - exceeded our expectations, the amount and depth of the history in these countries was truly humbling! We enjoyed the Azamara Quest so much we took advantage of the savings to be had for booking whilst on the ship and reserved another trip for 2013 -- 3 B2B cruises starting in Copenhagen, Denmark and finishing in Germany seeing Iceland, Shetlands, Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland (and the British Open!), and Norway.