This was my 3rd cruise with Royal Caribbean, and although not as enjoyable as the last, we still had a good time. This time the excursions were mixed - with the docents being anywhere from engaging to barely understandable.
We stayed in Venice a couple nights ahead of the cruise, making sure to choose a hotel not more than 2 bridges from Piazelle Roma - where the transportation can be arranged to the ships.Carrying heavy luggage over those bridges was very difficult. There are steps over these bridges, no ramps. I don't know how anyone with much of a handicap can make it around this old city. Regardless, Venice is something not be missed. Bring your insect repellant if mosquitos like you - I'm sure glad I had mine! We used the Vaperettas and didn't do the gondola thing. Make sure to visit the Rialto Bridge and market! The fish market and fruits are not to be missed! Sharing a bag of cherries with my husband was a highlight to be sure. There was many little alleyways to get lost in all over Venice, so just make sure to get back to the Grand Canal and you can find your way back home.
When it was time to head to the ship taking the People Mover was a bit of a challenge, and we hadn't understood the directions, and nearly went back towards the city of Venice again.We even paid twice, and they man refused to refund the money after misdirecting us. Oh well...glad it was only a few Euros a piece!
Boarding the ship was a breeze. And our stateroom was ready quickly, and our baggage delivered promptly. I had the cabin decorated for my husband's birthday, and it looked nice. We ate lunch in the Windjammer, and shortly thereafter had the muster drill. We weren't required to wear life-vests, and I was happy to take part in the drill.
We needed to change tables frequently ,and we'd not been matched well to our dinnermates. I enjoy meeting new people, but that has to be the case in return. Fortunately, the head waiter let us move around a bit, and we finally settled on a mostly empty table with a sweet young military couple who were the same ages as our youngest children. We also ate breakfast in the main dining room so as to meet more people.
Meals were not very impressive. Sure, the staff was very attentive, but the food just not memorable. They did accommodate my gluten sensitivity with fresh gluten free bread, and that was quite appreciated. Otherwise, the food was just okay. All around the table seemed to have the same impression as I did.
Our cabin was quite nice, but the deck an issue. Right above us they wheeled heavy carts with noisy wheels day and night so we thought herds of children or buffalo were running upstairs. Truly, they need to fix these carts and provide different wheels, because this took away from our sleep and was a distraction from peace and quiet.
Our first stop was in Split, Croatia. It was hot. Not much to do there other than take the tour of the castle, and although they are now part of the European Union, they are not ready to accept Euros. So, we simply exchanged Euros for Kunas. The guide was warm and friendly at this port.
Next stop was Ephesus, Turkey, and we saw the ruins which were phenomenal. Again, quite hot! And the ruins were very crowded. The walk was mostly downhill, and fortunately, that's where we picked up our buses. Water had been provided for us on this excursion, along with a little evil eye. Then we headed to lunch in a nearby town, and that was quite refreshing. The food was delicious and plentiful. We shopped a little bit, and then off to a carpet demonstration...
Okay, it was interesting to see how they make the rugs, but the salespeople can be intense. A warning, do not ask for prices unless you want to be hounded the entire time. One poor couple was followed out the door of the store with another rug held out by a salesperson. Apparently this is an art the government is concerned about dying so they have a school where they teach young women to make these rugs. We're talking tying over 500 knots per square inch! My back hurts just thinking about it!
Then we were off to Santorini Island via ship tender and boarded a bus. The postcard view pictures you can take from Fira and Oia are breathtaking! Truly! All the blue domed churches open but one day a year according to the Saint they are named after. The shops were fun, but time too short to shop around. (My husband would disagree lol!). We saw rooftop cylinders and apparently they have little power to generate hot water. Be careful about buying capers here, as my jar was not properly sealed and leaked all over the place. We did also go to a wonderful wine collective in Oia, and had the opportunity to taste white, red, and super sweet wine with cheeses and olives...This was about 10am in the morning, and people were all drinking and enjoying the view. I'm not sure what we'd do on the island for longer than a day or so. Everything must be imported here but tomatoes and wine. We took a cable car ride down the island to the tenders to head back to the ship. Riding down the cliff on a donkey was not something I was willing to do.
Next we went to Olympia, Greece. What will I remember most? The cicadas! WOW! Deafening creatures in the trees were unreal. The ruins of the original Olympic events were interesting to see, but the tour guide had such a thick accent! We could understand just a portion of his presentation. I loved posing at the marble starting blocks for the races, and found the museum there amazing! A word of caution here...do not dare try to POSE in front of anything in the musuem and have a picture taken. I don't know why they get so angry, but they do. I understand no flash photography, but not the posing issue.
Anyhow, my favorite part was the statue of Hermes. They have many partial statutes which are missing limbs, etc., but it was still fascinating to see what remains, and what thus far they've unearthed. Pottery, statues, masks, etc. Afterwards we were taken to Apollo Jewelry. Obviously, there is some connection here between the guide and the shop owners. Okay, so I bought a silver laurel wreath here for 10 Euros...but a couple stores down was a shop where the owner had a little studio where he made his own unique pieces and they were very kind non-pushy people, and took American currency with ease. Oh, almost forgot, delicious frozen coffee drinks in a little store with free internet is across from Apollo Jewelry.
On the road to Olympia you can see them growing lots of corn, melons, and tomatoes. Olive trees too. We stopped back in the village close to the ship's dock, and I HAD to have a Greek Salad. Feta, olives, olive oil, tomatoes and super yummy! Little street urchins there beg for money, and my husband gave up a Euro to one, BUT they are NOT hungry! We tried to feed them as they persisted begging, and they threw the food in the garbage can right in front of us and some other tourists from the UK! So, it's a scam. They wanted my coke and $ not food. I think not...A hungry kid I'd feed, but these children were not hungry -they just appeared to be that way...We also walked to the beach, and took a few pictures there from the rocks.
Back to the ship itself...The crew was certainly pleasant enough. The condition of the ship was clean. The shows were some better than others. My biggest beef was probably not being able to obtain a lounge by the pool as people grab them up and just pretend as if they're being used. There needs to be better oversight here. The internet, which I wish I didn't need, was awful. Apparently it's a new company which promised better results, but honestly it was faster the last time we sailed RC 4 years ago. The cruise directors were fun and engaging. We didn't participate in most of the pool events. I think the sun just drained us, and we were happy to head off to bed for the next day's adventure.
This time I also purchased the photo package ahead of time. What a fantastic deal! Do it! $199 for ALL the pictures is a bargain compare to $20 each. The photographers were wonderful aboard this ship, and we have many great memories of our cruise experience for a album.
For some reason they chose to have one of the formals nights a day after a port visit, as opposed to a day at sea. This to me was nuts. I'd rather have a day to relax before dressing up. And speaking of dressing up, I was disappointed to see so many people underdressed. At least I think they were underdressed. Some wearing shorts - yes even in the dining room! Maybe I'm getting old, or am just old-fashioned - I don't know - but I enjoy seeing people dressed up on formal nights, and think it's all part of the cruise experience. To me this is a deterioration of the environment, and I'm sure people will disagree with me, but this is my opinion, and I stand by it.
Disembarking was efficient. Our baggage handling at Venice Airport, apparently not....there were 6 families on the flight from Venice whose luggage was mishandled. That airport was a challenge, and there was no help despite our efforts. Our boarding gate was moved with little notice, which is not fun when you don't speak the language. So, while I'm typing this from home,I expect my bag is leaving Venice today, and will be home tomorrow night. I hope it has a nice safe flight with my gowns and all my other dresses and souvenirs.
In terms of transportation to and from Europe we used Choice Air this time around. The price was better, but the seats home awful. I asked for aisle for my 6'4" hubby, I always do. We were stuck in the middle seats, and not able to do much of anything about it. Just a lesson learned next time I will be much more direct to get what we need!
Until we sail again...