This trip was to celebrate my wife's retirement from teaching, and for once, we were able to travel at a time when school was in session and the crowds a little less intense. The weather throughout our cruise could best be described as "pleasant," with daily highs in the mid-70s and lows around 60....just about perfect for the port excursions we took.
We arrived in Venice three days prior to sailing, and very much enjoyed our first trip there. It was crowded (on the weekend), but not overwhelmingly so. The food was great. Be prepared, Venice can be an exhausting city. If I had a dime for every stair I climbed and descended, it would have more than paid for the whole trip. We spend much of one day in San Marco Square, ascending the bell tower and taking an extensive tour of the Doge Palace. The other two days were spent walking all over the city. At night, my wife was able to find a symphony concert one night and an excellent program which featured arias from some of the most famous Italian operas on another night. We saw some flooding in San Marco Square, but nothing like what happened in November.
On Monday, we took a vaporetto to San Marco Square, where we were able to board a larger boat that took us to the cruise terminal at the far northwest part of the city. We were met by Princess personnel, who assisted us with getting our luggage checked through, and we headed (via shuttle van) for the embarkation facility. Since the ship did not leave Venice until Tuesday afternoon, it was a fairly relaxed scene getting checking in and to our cabin. The sail-away from Venice was truly spectacular, as the ship departed the cruise port and sailed just south of the city, through the Grand Canal. Since our cabin was on the port side, we were able to enjoy the view from the comfort of our balcony.
This was the first time we had booked a stateroom with a balcony, and we were both very happy with our cabin. We liked just about everything on the Crown Princess. The food in the main dining rooms was very good, with a wide array of entrees. We had selected the "anytime" dining option, and on most nights, we chose to share a table with four to six other people. We had a great experience with meeting people and can honestly say, we never shared a table with anyone who wasn't friendly and interesting. The make-up of this cruise's passengers was a good mix of people from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia primarily, with the age demographic decidedly older than what we experienced on prior cruises.
The buffet restaurants were very good, and although the dining tables were always quite crowded, there were plenty of tables on deck just outside the buffet, where you could always find room. Like other cruise ships we have been on, the Princess had a "fast food" pizza station, where you could almost always get a fresh slice of cheese or pepperoni pizza, as well as a spot where you could order a cheeseburger and fries at a moment's notice.
The entertainment on board was pretty much what we expected, and I mean that in a positive way. Diane Cousins, a British singer and comedienne, was featured on two nights, totally different shows. She had some good-natured fun at the expense of the Americans in the audience, offering to talk slower if we "couldn't keep up." There was also a British comedian named Lenny Windsor, who was also funny. The ship's entertainment singers and dancers were very good as well, as they performed in about four different shows throughout the course of the cruise.
My wife and I like to participate in trivia games and contests, and there were many opportunities to do that. We especially enjoyed the singer in the piano bar (I wish I could remember his name), but he was very entertaining. On one night, he featured a musical trivia contest on Broadway show tunes, and on another, it was movie themes. Both seemed to very popular with cruisers, since his shows were always packed.
As for the ports, our first stop was Dubrovnik, Croatia. This was an excellent stop, which provided us the opportunity to explore the walled city. It was tiring, but the views were spectacular, and the cool, but sunny weather made for an excellent day. Be sure to take the cable car ride to the top of the city.
Corfu was our second stop. This old city has a large fortress on the coast, and some nice outdoor restaurants and shops. On Friday, we took the tour to Olympia to see the site of the original Olympic games. Obviously, not much of these ruins are left after more than 2,000 years, but it was very interesting, nonetheless.
Saturday morning, we left the ship for an eight-hour stay in Athens. I would recommend touring the Acropolis (very historic and scenic), as well as the new Acropolis museum, just down the hill. Even on a Saturday, Athens was very crowded and busy, although we did not see any of the social unrest that has become the norm there.
On Sunday morning, we docked in Mykonos, a small coastal town with mostly white buildings, very narrow streets and dozens of shops. Mykonos is known for its windmills and seaside restaurants (an area they call "Little Venice.") It was a very picturesque village.
Our next stop on Monday morning was Kudasi, Turkey, which is the port that serves as the gateway to Ephesus, a half-hour bus ride away. Ephesus is the town where the Virgin Mary lived after the death of Jesus. Down the mountainside from the Virgin Mary's home are the spectacular ruins of Ephesus. If old ruins from ancient civilizations are what you are looking for, Ephesus is the place to go.
On Tuesday morning, the Princess anchored off the the island of Santorini, and we took a smaller boat into the main town. My wife had done her homework about Santorini, and knew that the town of Oia was the place she wanted to see. After we stepped off the tender boat, we boarded a boat to Oia, about 15 minutes by sea. A van took us from the dock up a very steep road to the town of Oia, which sits far above the ocean, looking almost straight down to the sea.
Oia was, by far, the most beautiful location we visited on the entire cruise. The city has a number of ultra-expensive hotels, some actually built into the cliffs. If I ever win the lotto, this is where I will vacation.
Our next two days were at sea, as we traversed the long crossing from the Greek isles to the western coast of Italy. This gave us a couple of days to recharge our batteries after many consecutive days of ports and tours. We enjoyed the hot tubs on the upper decks. Our last port (before debarkation in Civitivecchia), was in Naples. There were several tour options for Naples, but we decided to take the tour to the Isle of Capri, about a 50-minute boat ride from the cruise port in Naples. Capri was beautiful, not quite as spectacular as Oia, and despite the time of year (October 26) very crowded. We took a chair lift ride to the highest point on the island, and visited many of the shops. Part of our tour included a luncheon at a restaurant.
We docked in Civitivecchia before dawn on Saturday. The disembarkation process went very smoothly, and a bus provided us with transportation out of the immediate cruise terminal. We then walked (about half a mile) to the train station, where we were able to make our way to Rome. We spent three additional days in Rome, where we got to see St. Peter's Square, the Vatican museum, as well as seeing the Pope during his Sunday noon blessing. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum and many of the world-famous Rome attractions were definitely worth the trip. Transportation throughout Rome is pretty easy via the subway system, and you can buy a 3-day pass, which also gives you reduced admissions to certain attractions. But beware of pickpockets, especially on the subway! I kept my passport, credit card and cash in one of those plastic-and-velcro holders that I wore around my neck (inside my shirt)....otherwise, you are really taking a chance.
Our cruise was great, probably our best vacation of our lives. If you decide to take this cruise, I recommend bookending the cruise with at least 2-3 days in both Venice and Rome. I know many of the passengers on our cruise did exactly that.
The personnel on the Princess were always friendly and helpful. The cruise director, Sam, was excellent, and made herself available to answer any questions people had. If you are at all concerned about stormy weather affecting the cruise, you will have no worries on the Princess. On the second night at sea, we experienced winds of about 50 knots, and they closed the promenade deck that night, but there was almost no perceptible motion that I could sense on the interior of the ship or in our cabin.