Port and Shore Excursions
Athens- if you are doing this in the dead of summer (as I advised you NOT to), do the Acropolis on your own! You can do it! It's easy and extremely cheap. Do it once, and get it over with! Rick Steves guided us through everything and it was worth it. Hop in a taxi and share the cost to the train station. It's a little far of a walk. Buy a ticket (and make sure to get it stamped!!) at the train station. Hope on, and go directly to the Acropolis. Get it over and done with. I suggest doing this ASAP in the morning. Before 10 am, as the cruise line excursions get into port and shuttle everyone there very quickly. We waited in line forEVER with sweat pouring down us (literally). You wait at the bottom of the acropolis, you wait to go to the middle of the acropolis, and you wait in line to go into the top of the acropolis. Go early! I have heard people say go at dusk as well, but if you do this in the summer (as I advised you not to..... once again), one couple almost didn't get in because they closed the acropolis by 2pm due to severe heat! It happens!! Bring lots of water! And comfy shoes again. We ate at Strofi Athenian Restaurant, recommended in Rick Steves' book. By far the BEST Greek food I have had. Wonderful service, and GREAT air conditioning!! A little complicated to find at first, but close to the acropolis. Avoid the main strip/touristy areas.
Down side to Athens- it is an extremely poor, and extremely dirty place. Most people we spoke with who have been all over the world, couldn't believe the devastation. The place had more graffiti than I have seen in all of NYC. There were several people on the T that looked like they were dying from hepatits or something horribly viral. Hand sanitizer, people!. Keep a low profile. Go to the acropolis, but get out. Don't wander around the other parts.
Turkey/Kusadasi/Ephesus- This was the one place I probably could have done with it. Turkey is dirty and sketchy. Although, I feel like they probably have improved a lot, the port is busy and pushy, people trying to get you to buy whatever crap they are trying to sell. It is what it is.... it's a tourist spot. Save the money of arranged trips! We hopped a local taxi (which is actually more like a mini van, it was kind of difficult to figure out at first. Ask the local tourist spot across the street from the port for a free map, and circle where the taxi stops. They all have signs in their windows, we were heading to Ephesus). The taxi to Ephesus was like 5 turkish dollars/pp, and entrance fee into Ephesus was not much more. We probably spent 40 turkish dollars on the whole thing. It was over 114 degrees that day, and you literally have to walk a mile from the taxi stop. Once again.. where good shoes and light clothes. Lots of water! We are not highly religious, so this trip we will not do again. Once you have seen it... you have seen it. The ruins are cool.. but, seriously. It was 114 degrees!
Mykonos- I have to admit, the place is beautiful! Get the windmill picture out of the way! Just do it. But... my day was completely tainted. Although we were advised against it, we rented a 4-wheeler. I grew up having 4-wheelers, so I figured this would be a fun day! When you get into port, you have to pay a fare to get transported to another port since the road is long and they say its unsafe. We paid the fare, it was like $7.. whatever. But, once we rode the bus, we decided to not go straight to the first ATV rental, we veered left and went to another place. I saved the card of the man we dealt with hoping to blast his name all over the internet telling everyone not to go there. We got an ATV that died on us about 10 minutes into our journey, about half way to the beach. Instead of making a long process out of it (and my husband was not about to turn on his cell phone and get charges), we continued the other half way to the beach once we got it going again. We ate lunch, went swimming and when we attempted to give the ATV another go... it died again. It died probably about 4-5 times in the total hour that we actually drove it. When I got back to the shop, the manager and I go into it. He said the machine was "brand new", even though the gas gauge told us it was empty, we filled it up, and it was not completely empty, it was rusted and it never worked for us... but yes, it was brand new and "perfectly fine". He called us liars and talked about us in Greek ("Americanos"). I was so angry. He refused to give us any money back, not even the gas money. Anyways.. nice place, but, skip the 4 wheeler. I still give this trip a high rating, it was beautiful and we made a crappy situation actually enjoyable! The beach was beautiful, very touristy though. The food, mediocre on the beach at "Kostos". Free wifi was a plus!
Amalfi Coast: We booked this excursion through two other couples that we met on cruise critic. I do not remember the name of the company, but I could find out if anyone is interested. We went to Sorrento and Positano, and ate at an amazing (AMAZING- there's that word again) restaurant. "Mamma" even came out to meet us. The food is made/grown right there, and hand rolled pasta by Mamma herself. The views are to DIE for in the Amalfi Coast! Breath taking! But--- all good things have a down side, the "tourist" spots for photography have graffiti everywhere, it's quite filthy and often disgusting (several condoms scattered on the ground. Seriously.). But, as long as you keep your head up, this trip was worth the hefty price (over $300 for two people). The cost included a three course lunch with wine. As long as you can stomach the drive back through winding roads.... it was WORTH every bite!!
Pompeii was wonderful! It was hot, but loaded with history. We enjoyed the private tour and tour guide because we could go at our own pace. We wanted to see it, but not spend eternity there. Once again.. once you see it, you're all set. A magical city! More preserved than any of the other ruins. Absolutely amazing.
Rhodes/Lindos- Lindos may have just been my favorite place. We did this excursion through the cruiseline and it was quite worth it. The guide was a young female, short, brown curly hair, and extremely intelligent. We went to Lindos, with a stop to a ceramics place. We bought the plate (oh yes we did.. for $100+), but seriously.. it was worth it. It's gorgeous, and a wonderful reminder of a great place! Bring lots of cash (as my wonderful husband thought a debit card only would get us far), because Lindos is wonderful, the Acropolis is an amazing sight, but the ATMs are prehistoric! All of the ATMS were down, and everyone (I mean everyone) was waiting in line at the bank for over an hour to get money until they were finally fixed. The tour guide was nice enough to help us into the bank (and be pushy with the locals) to get our money! The lunch on the beach was mediocre, stick with a shish kabob.. they know what they are doing! But, Lindos beach was amazing. The clearest (and saltiest) water I have ever seen. We could have spent a week there. Small huts for changing and toilets (if that's what you call it). Great tour guide! Finished with a walk in the old town of Rhodes, and swimming next to the cruise liners (even though it says not to, every one was. No one enforces it). We saw plenty of poor children, asking for money... and then stealing things out of unattended bags. They sit up in the windows and watch. Be careful!
Wish we had come in earlier and seen Rome. There was NO way I was ready for an excursion after that flight from NYC!
Santorini- We did a special tour with another couple on our own, not through the cruise. It was totally worth it! They took us to Oia and some of my best pictures were from there! Amazzzzing! They took us to a winery off the beaten path, called Sigalas. We had a wine tasting, and bought some wine. Delicious! Then took a trip to the black sand beaches and had lunch. My husband and the other husband climbed the cliffs and jumped into the water.... they're crazy, but they loved it! The best part of having a private tour was the flexibility, we changed the tour several times while we were in it. Down side of Santorini- the lines fill up quickly for the ride down on the gondola! Either get there early, or expect to be walking down in the donkey poo! We walked down because the line would take us 40 minutes or more. The walk down was just about 30 minutes. Tough on your knees if you have knee problems! And be careful, the poo is everywhere and the donkeys FLY down! Also, I am no animal activist, and I owned and rode horses for years... but those donkeys stood in the beating sun, all lined up with no food, no water for hours and hours. Don't take the donkeys.. seriously. It's disgusting. Granted they've been doing it for hundreds of years.... but try walking your lazy ass up there (ass as in donkey of course ;-) ).
Taormina was nice.. cute little town. Ate pizza at a small place at the bottom of the hill when you enter the town on the right. Good food, mamma and papa smoking in the kitchen, then putting tomatoes on the pizza by hand... haha. Had to laugh, but it tasted good!
Naples, Sicily/Messina (not listed in the rating below).. amazing. You must, I repeat, must do the Mt. Etna trip. We booked this one through the cruise line and it wasn't terribly expensive. It's a little far from port, so I'm glad we did it on something that was certified to get us back to our original place of departure.
Messina/Taormina/Mt. Etna: Wear comfy shoes. Wear absolutely nothing white! You WILL get covered in ash/dirt. Expect to hike up a very steep hill, and back down.. but the sites of the crater are unbelievable! You will not regret it. Taormina was ok.. it was hot (it was hot the whole trip.. like 115 degrees hot) and I would have preferred to do with out the shopping part in the town.