Great Itinerary and cruise overall, despite some problems
Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
Well just to get the bad things out of the way - as someone mentioned in a previous review, 1st September was still school holidays for Italian children, so if you are travelling without kids, I'd advise you to postpone your cruise till after that one week. Generally the Italian children (and adults) were very noisy and quite inconsiderate to other passengers (I do apologise to Italian people reading this who are not like that). The kids were running around the ship till really late at night and the fairly large family groups that tended to travel together paid no attention to other people. We heard quite a number of people complaining about this, and we did feel that our enjoyment was rather spoiled during that first week by all the noise.
We loved our cabin, never having booked a balcony before - it was great being able to go out there and relax, and get the views without having always to go out on deck. We appreciated the coffee machine that was in the room, with a More
selection of filter coffee and various types of tea bags. We didn't like the regular coffee on board, and found all sorts of ways of trying to improve it (e.g. adding some hot milk from the porridge area at breakfast!). We enjoyed the meals in the main restaurant, and only paid a supplement when we went to the Jazz Brunch at the French Bistro. We went mainly to enjoy the Jade Band playing - great all round musicians.
We enjoyed most of the shows, though we both found the amplification too loud, and it wasn't necessary when good musicians and singers were performing - in my opinion it distorted the quality of the sound. I found myself putting my hands over my ears at times. However, other people didn't seem to be bothered by it at all.
I have mixed feelings about freestyle cruising, and about the size of the ship. I know it's not a large ship by today's standards, but compared to the five or six hundred we've had previously on Thomson and Voyages of Discovery, it was quite different. We chatted with a lot of people, but seemed to be on our own a lot more than we had been on previous cruises, and it was not so easy to really get to know anyone. My husband loved it because he didn't need to get dressed up.
The choice of ports was brilliant, and we had a variety of types of tours or do-it-yourself visits to the different ports. I ordered a few private tours and bus tours through links I found on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor, and they all worked out very well. The rest we did our own thing, which was also good. I felt I made the right decision to book tours for Ephesus, Athens, and Olympia. At Dubrovnik we mainly walked around the old town walls, which was great. At Santorini, we paid about 20 Euros for a boat and bus to Oia and bus from Oia to Fira later on, which we felt worth it because it made getting about the island so much easier. We watched the sunset from Fira and then walked back to the ship down the donkey trail (quite a challenge in the approaching darkness, as there were still donkeys and donkeys' trailings afoot!). It was a great day - Santorini is beautiful. Sailing in and out of Venice is not to be missed, especially as they may stop the cruise ships sailing down the Grand Canal eventually, due to pressure from the locals. We ended up with four lots of photos as we sailed out and in, and then out and in again on our two-week back to back cruise. Each time the light and the weather was different, so it made for a new set of photos to be taken!
I suppose the final way I can sum up is to say that we came back wanting to go on another cruise as soon as we can! It might not necessarily be on NCL, but we would certainly be happy to sail on Norwegian Jade again. Less
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Cabin review: B1 Aft-Facing Balcony
We loved our cabin. It wasn't one of the larger balconies, so we had no loungers on it, but we were happy with the two chairs and a table. It was near the back of the ship on the starboard side on Deck 9, and we were quite happy with that location. We really appreciated having a coffee machine with a variety of coffees and tea bags there every day. The bed was very comfy, although seemed strangely provided with lots of extra toppings over the mattress. It was two beds pushed together, and covered with several extra mattress toppings, including a double layer of foam padding. It must have been difficult to make for the cabin attendant with all those bits which could have got pushed out of place, but actually made the bed very comfortable to sleep on.
Port and Shore Excursions
It was a bit hectic at the Acropolis. Our guide had bought our tickets in advance, which was meant to prevent us queuing in the main queue. However, the people at the Acropolis had moved the goal posts and wouldn't let us in without us going into the main queue to get our tickets stamped or something. Fortunately we found our guide (who on this type of tour was not going to take us around the Acropolis himself - he would wait with the bus until a pre-arranged time for us all to meet back at the bus. He sorted things out for us, but it was a bit annoying at the time, as there were people everywhere pushing and queuing. We enjoyed the visit anyway, and would like to visit Athens again sometime.
Booked a bus similar to the hop on/hop off type except that it had a guide, and you stayed with the same bus. Worked very well. Drove us around various places, and the most memorable stop was at the Changing of the Guards. We had an hour and a half of our own time walking around the Plaka area, where we got a nicely home-cooked meal at the 'Taverna Plaka', recommended by our guide.
When the ship gave us information on how to get into Corfu town, it did not mention the Number 16 bus which was conveniently waiting in the port area - just go left when you disembark, and for a Euro or so it took us to the old town.
This is a general review, not just Terrace Houses ...We booked a private tour to Ephesus ourselves, and did not get to visit Izmir. Worked out well. It was terribly crowded at Ephesus, but still worth it - you just got used to the volume of people. It wasn't easy underfoot as there are marble stones to walk on, which can be slippy, even in dry weather. So you must wear comfortable shoes. The Terrace Houses are very interesting and incur an extra cost of 10 Euros each. They are certainly terraced, so beware quite a few steps - not for people with weak legs. The detail of some of the wall illustrations is amazing. we said that we didn't want to visit a carpet shop afterwards, but after resting with a pleasant lunch, we didn't feel ready to go back to the ship, so we went off to the carpet place. It was interesting to see the way the carpets are made, but we felt uncomfortable - they go to a big show of giving you a drink, and laying out a huge sample of their rugs at your feet, and we knew were weren't going to buy anything. Of course I liked the most expensive one in the place. They did try a bit of sales pressure but soon gave up when they started dropping the price and noticed that the glazed look in our eyes was still there.
We didn't get to see much of Katakolon itself, but there didn't seem a lot to see. Seemed like three quite pretty streets running parallel to each other. We had a coffee there after our organised trip to Olympia, and before getting back onto the ship.
We went to Olympia with the company 'Katakolon Express'. It was a private tour that I arranged after seeing reports on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor. It was a minibus, and there were 15 of us, all from the Jade. It was reasonably priced. We had a good guide, and we started off visiting the Museum before going onto the site itself. It's certainly advisable to have a guide at Olympia because otherwise you don't really understand much about what you're seeing unless you are willing to read everything you can on the various notices around. Inside the museum are many sculptures from the original buildings at Olympia, which are no longer standing. The Olympic stadium itself may be a bit of a let-down if you are expecting to see a proper stadium, or ruins of such. There is hardly anything left there, and you just see the size of the field, as it would have been. You can stand at the spot where the starting line would have been, and people like to have a run up and down there. There are lots of fallen pillars around the Olympia site, but hardly any buildings left standing.
Afterwards were were taken to the Palace Hotel (might not have remembered the name right) at Olympia for lunch. It was pleasant sitting in quiet hotel gardens eating outside. Then on to the village of Olympia where we were shown a jewellers shop which presumably our guide had links with. They did have good prices of gold and silver items of good quality, if you were willing to haggle there.
Another pretty seaside port with many maze-like narrow streets painted brightly white, with blue paintwork on the buildings. Many shops selling souvenirs and arty things too.
We tried to make our way to the famous Windmills, which you can easily see. But somehow we kept getting lost in the maze of streets and steps.
If you want to visit Delos (the archaological island with mythical history), we noticed that the boat across to there from Mykonos stopped around 11 am, and we were already too late. I don't think there are many ruins to see at Delos, but it sounds interesting and atmospheric, and I'm sorry we didn't make it.
The Windmills were a bit disappointing, as you can't go in them, and there isn't really much to see. However, they are painted prettily (white and blue of course!), and there are nice views from there across to the port and the area known as 'Little Venice', presumably because the tall houses come right up to the water. It's a very windy spot there (and rightly so, for an area of Windmills!), so beware sandy dust flying around. There were several cars parked there with some interesting graffiti written in the dust - Leeds United fans have been around in Mykonos! Plus somebody proposed (marriage) in the dust on a car window.
It is so beautiful. It's worth making the effort to get to Oia, though I'm sure that you would also enjoy Fira on its own if you didn't manage Oia as well. The boats usually dock by Fira, and you get up there (to the top of the cliff) by cable car, donkey ride, or by foot (not advisable going uphill - you'll be worn out before you get to do anything else!). We got off the boat by Fira, and immediately saw a company selling tickets for a speed boat to another port nearer to Oia. The ticket (I think it was 18 or 20 Euros) included the boat trip (about 10 minutes), minibus to Oia, and then an hourly bus from Oia to Fira. It suited us fine. We were able to spend quite a few hours at Oia (we take ages wandering around with our cameras), and it is a very photogenic place, and I guess quieter than Fira. There were some lovely and quite expensive shops at Oia, and some attractive souvenirs, better quality than the usual tourist souvenir ware. We then got the arranged bus to Fira, and had a snack at a cafe there overlooking the sea. We could see the Jade docked below. We wanted to spend time just sitting there so that we could watch the sunset. This meant we didn't really get to walk around Fira much, but we were ready just to sit and relax at that point. After the spectacular sunset, we got a renewed burst of energy and decided to walk down the donkey trail instead of getting a cable car down (didn't fancy actually getting on a donkey at all!). As we walked down, all the evening cafes and bars were coming alive, and as it darkened, the lights were pretty. It was fun at first on the donkey trail as groups of donkeys were still coming up. After a while, as it seemed to go on and on, winding down the hill, we got a bit worried that it was quickly getting really dark, and not all of the path was illuminated. You couldn't really see where you were putting your feet (and this not a good idea with all the donkey mess that gathers on the way!). But it was quite exhilarating, and we were finally glad to make it back to the tender and the ship.
The People Mover is good for getting from the port to Piazzale Roma (the main Bus Station from where you can get Vaporetto boats to take you around the Canals). It's a raised train, just one stop, and costs about one and a half Euros. It's worth getting a 12 hour (I think it's 12 hours or something similar) boat pass, as single journeys are expensive. I've never taken a ride on a gondola - I expect that is very expensive. The Vaporettos are great, but can be quite crowded and crushed - however you can still manage to get good views as you sail along. It's really lively. Or you can walk from the Piazzale Roma through any part of Venice down to the Rialto Bridge/St Marks Square which is the hub of the tourist area. If the queues are not too long, do visit the Doges Palace and/or St Marks Basilica. Or even just walking round the quiet maze of streets and little squares away from the main tourist area is just lovely - you can discover various churches and galleries which are worth visiting. Beware rip-off cafes, especially in the more popular tourist areas. Food and drinks are generally expensive. It's more expensive if you sit outside a cafe with a view. Only sit outside a cafe in St Marks Square if you are happy to pay a lot.
If you are looking for a basic fairly cheap but good hotel in Venice, I can recommend the Hotel Dalla Mora, which is quite close to the Piazzale Roma (five minutes walk), hence convenient for buses to the airport. The rooms are basic, but comfortable enough, and there is a pretty terrace to sit out on, overlooking a canal, and it is in a quiet area with some reasonably priced restaurants nearby. I've been told there are cheaper hotels in the Mestre area, but that is further out of the centry of Venice. The Dalla Mora is cheap for a centrally based hotel. It is classed as 1-star (perhaps because not all rooms are en-suite), but seems much better than what I would expect a 1-star to be like. Beware of hotels which are difficult to reach (check the access before you go) because there are no roads/car access in the tourist part of Venice - if you can afford a good hotel on the canal, you can reach your hotel by boat or water taxi, but many hotels are tucked away down little streets which you can only reach on foot and usually over numerous little bridges over the tiny canals, where you have to lug your cases up and down. There's a bit of that getting to the Dalla Mora, but not much.