Tips: Bring deodorizing spray for bathroom (constant stench we did not notice with other cruises)
Expect to pay extra for the coffee bar because their coffee is terrible (also something we did notice on other lines)
Use Rick Steve's (including free audio tours apps) and Tom's cruise port info. (tomsportguides.com) to plan and see the sights.
Do the wine package deal, start with a lower # of bottles and you can upgrade later if need be.
Avoiding cruise excursions and doing things on your own or with outside companies saves money and you often see more. (Exception for us was Florence)
The service, food, and entertainment were very good.
Dancing lessons and the salsa band Latin Express which was better than any other cruise. White party was fun and different. Embarq/Disembarq process was easy and no hassle. No obnoxious number of announcements and we could not hear them in the cabin (which can be good or bad). Beds were better than most average priced hotels.
DJ at cruise clubs are always awful and many of the shows are pretty lame, especially the marionette act. No late night comedian for this cruise. Avoid the mediocre food at the buffet when possible.
Standard chocolate buffet.
Booked a 6 hour tour of the Acropolis and Acropolis museum with a private driver, Petro with Greece-tours.org. Warning: due to protests and strikes public transporation can be a problem. Hire a driver or book the cruise excursion. We got to the Acropolis earlier than the big tour buses. Buy tickets in advance if possible (long line!) Did Rick Steve's audio tour app.
Changing of the guard 10 am. Interesting and fun photo opp.
Museum- nice modern facility, WiFi at the cafe no code needed. Self-guided tour. Spent 1 hour I think. Not the Archeological museum which I think is better but not enough time to do for us.
Lunch- we asked to be dropped off at a restaurant near the port. Yannis had great food with mostly locals. Mainly a seafood place so we had several appetizers. Try the green (pie?) and thank me later. Walked 5 minutes back to ship.
Cruise Excursion- "Florence on your own, Wine tasting at a Tuscan castle"
This is one port it makes sense to do the cruise excursion for us. To maximize your time in Florence do a transfer throught the cruise ship. They guarantee the ship cannot leave without you and it is a 1 hour drive from port. For Florence they leave you at a stop at the south end of the city. They pick you up at a meeting spot at Santa Croce square. See Toms's port guide for maps of exactly where.
David- get tickets and appt. for 10:30 online in advance or forget attempting this. From the bus drop off hail a cab to the Accademia. Join the line to the right of the entrance and after you pass security go to the ticket window to claim your ticket. See his Prisoners on the way to David. No photos allowed. Time is of the essence so see David and exit to see the rest of Florence.
Follow the signs to the Duomo. See the Baptistery "Paradise" door and walk the exterior of the duomo. Inside is not worth seeing, so proceed to Ponte Vecchio bridge. Take photos and shop for gold here. The prices and workmanship are fabulous. Leather is also a good thing to buy in Florence but for quality, not necessarily "bargains".
Lunch-grab a slice of pizza to go from a cafe. Best pizza we had on this trip!
Basilia Santa Croce-since this is right next to the meeting point try to make it here to see Michelangelo's tomb and some ggorgeous frescoes.
Castle and wine tasting in Tuscany-one of the highlights of our trip! Amazing history at the castle and they let you tour the cellar as well as part of the castle.,Castello Trebbio.Best tour guide yet, the cousin of the owner was very funny! After you will have leather factory ploy to get you to buy stuff. Prices are same as my local mall.
Self-guided using the tram was very easy. Get Turkish Lira for the tram tickets. Euros or dollars can be used most other places.
Out the door of the terminal walk take a left and you will see the tram station surrounded by a glass wall. Buy a token at the kiosk. Get off at the Sultanahmet stop for the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. NOTE: Blue Mosque on Fridays is closed until 2:30 so my schedule to see this first did not happen. There was a long line at 2:30 in the hot sun. Since we were there before 9 on a Friday we did the Underground Cistern first. Very cool! It is across the street from the Hagia Sophia. Have some Turkish coffee at their underground cafe and you will have plenty of energy for the rest of your day!
Next, Hagia Sophia. You can buy tickets online and get in the tour group line. Very impressive!
On to the Grand Bazaar. We walked but you can take the tram to Cemberlitas stop. Ignore the agressive merchants and buy some evil eye jewelry/souvenirs, turkish apple tea, Turkish delights. Stay away from the other crap they sell. Bargain for your price!
Lunch break at Kybele Restaurant
Yerbatan Cad.35 | Sultanahmetl, romantic Turkish hanging lamps all over right in tourist district http://www.kybelehotel.com. I sought this place out after seeing reviews on Trip Avisor. Take tram back to Sultanhamet stop and walk about 2 blocks along Yerbatan. Good food! Awesome apple tea.
Blue Mosque- normally we would have seen this already but it was Friday. Dress appropriately.
Boshorous cruise- take the tram back toward port Tophane or Eminonu stops where there are boats along the water with cruises for 1 1/2 hours. We missed this activity because someone (cough, cough) read the time wrong. The intention was to buy baklava and coffee and catch a boat for the cruise. The best baklava is at
KarakÃ¶y GÃ¼llÃ¼oÄYlu which is directly opposite the cruise terminal building. There is another one in Sultanhamet I believe, near the Cemberlitas stop. Point to what you want and pay at the cashier. She gives you a ticket to take back to the counter to collect your goodies.
We backtracked to the Spice Market since we missed the Bosphorous cruise. Skip this if you have already done the Bazaar. It is very similar. We also skipped Topkapi palace and were glad we did after talking to others who went. Do the Bosphorous cruise instead.
Private excursion (Ephesus Shuttle) was less than the cruise excursion and we had our own guide and a driver. Ask for Gurka (?) he is a well-educated young man and did a great job. My complaint is with the company- they will take you to a "state-sponsored" rug factory for lunch. I requested to go to a lunch place of my choosing instead which they said no problem in our emails. However, our guide was not informed of this and could not do this. So we had to see the exploitation of women for the rug sales pitch. I was not happy. Lunch however, was in a beautiful garden setting with excellent food. Food was extra and drinks 10 more. Ask for Rake if you want a strong Turkish drink. We had a 40 mins. or so afterwards so after the drop off from the terminal if you walk across the street past the supermarket 2 blocks there is nice shopping/cafe area.
Bandol Wine tours with Richard
This region is famous for rose wine. Not a fan of rose (can't make that character over the "e") but I really wanted a wine tour in France. Actually the rose has evolved and is now not the sweet pink wine anymore. It is a bit dry with a salmon color. We did the full day with picnic tour. Do not miss the picnic! This was the other highlight of our trip! He took us to the top of a montain overlooking the region where we had the most most delicious food: bread, cheese, foie gras, grapes, salamis. We saw 3 great cellars and bought some excellent red and rose wines. Even though it was just the two of us the cellar managers spent quite a lot of time educating us and answering questions.
Naples is dirty and not tourist friendly. Use precautions against pick-pocketers. If you are interested in history and have not seen Pompeii/Herculaneum it is worth it, otherwise get the heck out of there and go to Capri or somewhere else. For the non-adventurous I recommend an excursion here. Time will limit you so best to see Herculaneum and the museum rather than Pompeii. Herculaneum is smaller and a shorter distance from the port. It will easily take 2 hours of walking the ruins. Pompeii is twice as large and less better preserved (requires more imagination). Then hustle back to Naples and see the best pieces recovered from the ruins of both at the museum.
From the port, through the gates pass the many circling sharks offering their services and proceed to the taxi stand. It's too confusing to look for the tram and these are the craziest driving people we have ever seen. I asked for Naples Centrale/Gribaldi station but he said that is not the best way to Herculaneum and took us to a different station. It worked out okay because it is the same line that stops at Centrale as well. Buy tickets for the Sorrento line which will stop at Erculano Scavi. Exit Erculano and head down the street to proceed steeply downhill pass through a roundabout. Don't take the 3 euro shuttle it is a very easy walk. Towards the bottom the arches are the entrance but the ticket building is much futher along. Buy an audioguide or find a local guide here, it is essential. You will also not get a map unless you buy an audioguide. Snack/drink machines are on site, contrary to Rick Steve's guide. Walk back to the train and use your same ticket. Make sure you go through the turnstiles for "Napoli" on the right or you will be on the wrong side of the tracks.
Museum- take the "Circumvesuviana" local train to Naples Centrale, "Napoli Garibaldi." Exit the train and follow the signs to the Metropolitana (the metro) Take the metro - direction Pozzuoli -(usually track 4) and get off at the first stop "Cavour." From Cavour you can walk to the museum. Exit and head to the right hiking sightly uphill through park. Look for old red building at top of block.
Lunch- stop somewhere (that looks clean) and have pizza along the way. Do not try to seek out a place because there are almost no street signs. We lost precious time looking for a particular place and never found it! Pizza is good everywhere in Naples, I am sure. There is a cafe across for the museum with WiFi and Nutella espresso. Yum!
Take a taxi back to the port and shop across the street if you have extra time for souvenirs like Limoncello.
Self-guided Colloseum and Private skip the line tour of Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and Basilica with Presto tours at 1 PM.
Note: this is another risky area for self-guided tours only because of labor strikes. Mondays and Fridays are the highest risk days. Make sure you plan enough time to get back. One couple had to take a taxi back because they cancelled their train last minute. Cruise excursions are VERY pricey. It was easy and tourist friendly to do it on our own. The city is clean and well-signed. Plan your return route and check the train schedule ahead of time!
From the port be first off the ship because there will be long lines for the shuttle bus which takes you to the port entrance. Walk along the waterfront 2 blocks or so to the train station on your left. People with red shirts will stop you along the way to offer train tickets for the high-speed train (not BIRG ticket which is good all day for trains and metro). I'm not sure what that is but we bypassed that and took the regular train 1 hour to Termini stop. - Wait on the platform in an area clear of crowds so you have a fighting chance of getting a seat.
Exit Termini station and follow signs for the Metro station. Take Line B to the Colosseo stop (the lines and directions are clearly marked in the station.
The Colosseo stop lets you out literally in front of the Colosseum. Buy your tickets ahead of time online, so you can avoid the long line (or the walk to the Palatine ticket office). Don't listen to Rick Steve's advice here!
You can then do the Rick Steve's audio tour app or if you arrive at the right time do the English tour which is a few euros extra. Since we did not buy tickets in advance we did the guided tour and were done in about 30 minutes or less. Take picture of the nearby Arch of Constantine. Back to the Metro now for the Vatican tour.
Return to Termini. Switch Metro lines (Line A) to reach the Vatican. Depending on what you want to do at the Vatican, you can get off at Ottaviano (closer to St. Peters) or Cipro (closer to the Vatican museum). We got off at Ottaviano which was probably a mistake because it was a longer walk than it needed to be. Grab lunch at a cafe along the way but it took us 15 minutes to get to our tour meeting spot from that station. The 3 hour tour started a little late and we had to leave the Basilica little early to make sure we caught a train in time. To make up for it the tour operator met us and led us to the station, which was a few blocks away around a few turns. Could be quite confusing. It was not the San Pietro station we had thought! Communicate with your tour operator in advance to plan your return route.
We left on a 4:50 train and had enough time on the way back to stop for gelato at a WiFi cafe on the walk back from the station. Best we ever had on this trip!
There are kiosks in the bag claim and outdoors where you can buy the combo airport transfer and vaporetto pass for 24/36 hours. I bought it online and could not claim it at the bag claim kiosk and had to print it from the one outdoors near the bus pick up. It is a huge line if you get them at the ticket window. Bus ride takes 15 minute to Piazzale Roma.
Hotel: Ca Doge
Very convenient location with breakfast included and WiFi, mediocre accomodations
Situated in the Piazzale Roma to the left of the People Move but across the street. You will need to take the People Mover with your luggage to the cruise terminal, so this is a great location. Vaporetto #1 line which stops all along Grand Canal is across the street to the far left. They store our luggage while we explored after check out.
Day 1: Check in afternoon, dinner at Club del Doge (pricey but the most romantic spot with the best waterside view of an old church and the gondoliers. Make reservations) Vaporetto line 1 Giglio stop. Go straight down narrow and make a U turn at the square to Gritti Palace.
Nighttime gondola ride (100 euros, dock is next to restaurant) It is more $ at night (70 by day) but you see quiet side canals and it is more romantic than the crowded Grand Canal during the day. Then it was late and no more pickups back to P. Roma for our stop! We found we had to go the opposite direction to the next stop which has a N line (N= night stop) back to P. Roma.
Day 2: Good breakfast at hotel, take faster #2 line to St. Mark's stop to the Doge's Palace (buy tickets online in advance). Self guided tour, no audio guide took 1 1/2 hr. Audio guide would take longer, just eavesdrop on the many tour groups.
Next, St. Mark's square use Rick Steve audio tour app. Lunch was upstairs at a bistro just past the bag check for the Basilica on the corner.
Basilica 2 PM-buy tickets online in advance and go to tour group entrance at your appt time. Backpacks must be checked at the small church down a tiny side street. Facing the Basilica it is to the left, 500 ft down the steet doorway on the right). Dress appropriately. Use Rick Steve's audio tour app.
Murano glass- there is a Murano glass factory behind and to the left of the Basilica. They do glass blowing demonstrations and have a shop. Prices are higher than street vendors but the street vendors are pobably selling "Murano made in China" glass.
Ca' Rezzonico- Vaporetto line 1 stop. Sparsely furnished museum of a palazzo with a lot of art work. Interesting but those not into art may prefer something else. Spent 1 1/2 hour, self-guided tour. There are info sheets to guide you in each room.
Cruise check in (5 pm) Do not let them trick you into checking in earlier if you miss the muster drill you can go to talk the next morning at 11 am. Had a quick dinner and went back out to see more of Venice.
Buy the Artis Vaporetto ticket next to the port terminal near the dock. This takes you directly to St. Mark's square and back for $15 and runs until midnight or so. The People Move does not run that late and you do not want to hike back from P. Roma late at night.
St. Mark's Square at night- much less crowded, live music outdoors at the cafes. You can stand and listen for free or sit and pay a cover charge.
Vivaldi concert at the "Vivaldi Church" S. Maria del Pieta? which is along the water front maybe 1/2 mile from the Vaporetto dock. Wonderful! Buy tickets online in advance.