Just arrived home from this fantastic 12 day European Cruise. It was our fifth cruise overall and for me the best ever as we saw some wonderful sights in Europe. My husband and I had an aft balcony on Baha and across the hall my teenage children (age 19 an 16) shared an inside room. It was a wonderful family cruise. I definitely love having a balcony and the kids came over many times to "share" but we had gotten a great price especially for the inside room.
Our trip began in Venice after a small snafu in the States. Our first leg of our flight was cancelled but Delta re booked us on new flights which worked but then one of our pieces of luggage didn't make it on our new flight. Good thing we had booked an extra day in Venice before the cruise departed. That was the only snafu we had the whole trip.
Embarkation was a breeze for us as we didn't go to the ship until 8 pm (departed 8 am the next morning) no crowds just walked on the ship directly after they screened our luggage. We had spent the day in Venice on our own and had stored our luggage at our hotel. Venice was amazing.
Muster drill was at 8 am and then sail-away down the Grand Canal. Beautiful! We spent the next two days at sea. We loved playing Bingo, went to a couple of trivia type games and then my husband and I went dancing. We were surprised when we went to anytime dinner early (5:45 pm) that no one was in the the dining room. On our Caribbean cruise if you didn't get there by 6 pm you had to wait. Our waiter told us that there was only 15-20% American on the ship with about 30% Spaniards and the rest were mainly Russian, English, Australian and Canadian. It seems they all liked to eat later and we did have our only long wait one night when we went at 7:20 pm (took an hour to be seated). It was a very nice and interesting experience being with such an international mix of passengers. We mixed our dining experiences between the formal and in Horizon Court (especially after long port days) I enjoyed both but was really surprised at how good the Horizon Court food was. There was a lot of variety that did well with my family of different tastes (ie very picky teenage girl). The international cafe was also fun to go and try new or several different desserts.
I will post individual reviews of the ports we visited but here's a quick review as we are very DIY's and I think saved a lot of money by not doing the shore excursions and we had a great time. It did take a lot of research but I loved cruisecritic and tripadvisor.
Venice: stayed on the Piazzale Roma at Hotel Olimpia: Great Location! Walked to the vaporetti and took it down the Grand Canal to St. Mark's Square. Stored our luggage on our day of embarkation and then walked to the People Mover and then to the ship.
Athens: DIY. Took taxi's both ways to save time. The drivers were both very nice and although the first wanted to give us an all day tour we politely said no just drop us off at the Acropolis. We actually beat the crowds and were at the Parthenon before it was too crowded. We then walked the city and saw the many sites.
Ephesus: Used Meander Travel and took a private tour for four to Ephesus, Terrace Houses and House of Virgin Mary. Hakan our guide (he was an actual archaeologist that was part of the excavating team in the winter in Ephesus) and his driver picked us up at the dock and whisked us away for a 5 hour excursions. His knowledge was phenomenal.
Istanbul: DIY We let the ship and took the very easy Metro to Topaki Palace where I had already bought tickets to the museum and Harem. Again were there before the crowds. We then went to Hagia Sophia (pre-bought tickets online) and then to the Blue Mosque. A huge rainstorm hit on our way to the Grand Bazaar so we were drenched. I didn't care for it as it was crowded and the merchants were a little too pushy for my tastes. Easy to jump back on metro to the ship.
Mykonos: DIY Our kids had signed up for the ship's excursion to Delos but it was canceled so they went with us and we just went to a local beach and then walked the narrow streets and took pictures and shopped. I loved the shopping! Found some neat handmade jewelry (25-30 euro)
Naples: Used Rome in Limo with driver Stefano. He picked us up in front of ship and took us to Pompeii where we had a private guide. We avoided the crowds and saw so much. He then took us down the Amalfi Coast line to eat lunch in Sorrento (Wonderful Pizza) and then a quick stop in Positano.
Rome: Used Rome in Limo with driver Francesco. Again picked us up in front of ship and took us to the Vatican where we again had a private guide: Praeda. She was fantastic and again we beat the crowds and had an almost empty hallway (map Gallery and Tapestries) leading to the Sistine Chapel. She said it's usually wall to wall. It was very beautiful. We also saw St. Peter's Basilica before heading to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and then Piazza Navona. It was 104 degrees that day and we were so glad to be driven place to place in air condition. RIL is awesome!
Florence/Pisa: Used Rome in Limo with driver Elizabeth. She was so energetic. We were off first thing to Pisa where I had booked tickets in advance to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was so unique. We were then off to the Academia in Florence to see Michelangelo's Statue of David. Simply stunning! and then we toured Florence and on the way out of the city she drove us to a beautiful place on top of a hill for us to really see the Tuscany landscape. It was everything I had dreamed it would be. Beautiful old villa looking over golden rolling hills of vineyards and olive trees. Breathtaking! Rome in Limo gave us three days of superb service
Monte Carlo: Just walked around. Enjoyed the port .
Overall, great cruise! Great service, sites and loved the family time.