We chose Celebrity Cruises as we are now elite Captain's Club members and enjoy the benefits and privileges that go with brand loyalty. The main destination for us was Istanbul, the one port that we hadn't been to before. We had also sailed on Celebrity Equinox before in the Caribbean and it suited us. Most of our credits had been accrued on Royal Caribbean ships, (the same company) but Celebrity seems to have that little extra although our previous cruise had been on the Brilliance of the Seas down to Mumbai from Dubai.
This cruise we opted for the Celebrity arrangements for travel from the UK flying from Leeds/Bradford on Jet2 and then coached to and from the ship by coach commissioned by Celebrity. Rome's Fuimicino Airport is organised chaos but Celebrity's agents were very much in evidence, welcoming not only our flight but also several from the USA and Canada. Escorted to the coach and had to our hand baggage in the luggage bay of the coach, which I wasn't too keen about.
Registration and embarkation were a dream having checked in online beforehand and on arriving at our stateroom were immediately welcomed by the cabin steward Mayan. We had chosen select dining so as to choose our own time of dining and were more than pleased with the way it went. The head waiters in select dining are wer very efficient and friendly. The menu was always varied but there was a concentration steaks, in fact after 11 days I could have galloped home! I did miss a few varied fish dishes but you can't possibly moan about getting every kind of steak served to satisfy your palate.
We had been to Santorini before but just meandered around the town, had a drink on the terrace overlooking the bay and the ship. As usual there was a large queue for the cable cars up to and down from the town but unusually for the Greeks, it was very efficient at shifting large numbers of people up and down. Don't be tempted to take the donkey path - we were told that it would have been possible to surf down on the donkey poo!
The highlight of the trip for us was Istanbul and we had booked a tour on the first day with Viator at half the cost of the Ship's own tour. Much better - we were transported in a Mercedes minibus rather than a coach and had a much more personal rapport with the guide. From the outside the Blue Mosque looks most impressive but we thought that the Hagia Sofia was a much more interesting visit. The Topkapi Palace is fascinating although it does not seem to have a centre to it. The guide was great in avoiding queues and kept us informed the whole time. I winced at going into the circumcision room but the view outside across the Bosphorus is outstanding. Lunch was included in the tour at a hotel terrace overlooking the Bosphorus.
The Grand Bazaar was something else, alley after alley of stalls selling jewellery, pashminas, polo shirts, leather goods, watches etc., all a bargainable prices. Istanbul's population is estimated at 15 million and I swear that most of the have a stall or a shop. The traffic is horrendous but it is so easy to get a tram from the dock gates right into the Bazaar area in minutes, although we found it more convenient on the second day to use the ship's shuttle service at 8$ each to spend more time in the Grand Bazaar. Of course we had the inevitable carpet demo followed by the high pressure salesmen, "I make you good price" and all of us came out of the shop like rats up a drainpipe.
Athens is very busy and we chose to use the hop on/hop off bus available from the dock gates at 20 euros each and which was one of our better decisions. We got off at the Acropolis, spent some time amongst the crowds there and then got back on the bus to tour the rest of Athen's sights. We were exceptionally lucky to get perfect weather throughout the whole cruise and touring the city on an open top bus was great. However there was a Costa ship in port and I learnt that there was no word in Italian for 'Wait' or 'queue' or 'stand in line' and had to do a bit of elbowing to get on the bus at the stops.
The next stop was Mykonos and having been before we just had a leisurely stroll around the town in the perfect weather. Naples was the final call and again we used the hop on/hop off open top bus to have a complete tour of the town and surrounding suburbs. We had heard so much about Naples being a bit dodgy but it was great and the bay area to the north of the city centre is idyllic. Again the bus was a fraction of the cost of the ship's tour.
The sea days were blessed with fine sunny weather and in the evening we took advantage of the Celebrity's Captains Club bar in Michael's Club, followed by dinner and the shows which were excellent.
Disembarkation was a dream compared to some we have experienced and we were back into Fuimicino Airport quickly and efficiently although Jet2's check in took its time to identify the right check-in desk. All-in-all a great cruise, with perfect weather, a near perfect ship and crew and great ports of call.