We have cruised frequently but this was the first time on a smaller ship. We were on the Pacific Princess and we loved it! The ship was intimate and luxurious in an understated way. We had cabin 327 (ocean view porthole) and we found our cabin very comfortable. We liked the ease with which you can move around a smaller ship and how uncrowded it felt. The only drawback was the lounge where the entertainment was held. It was hard to see because of the lack of slant. The best kept secret was the lovely lounge on the 10th floor forward. It had very few passengers in it and was a great place to meet friends and play games. We flew into Rome early and utilitized Romecabs (www.stefanorometours.com). They were great - they picked us up at the airport and delivered us to our hotel. The next day they drove the group of 5 of us to Tivoli for Hadrian's Villa and Villa d'Este. The fountains at the Villa d'Este are spectacular and well worth visiting. The following day, they picked us up and delivered us to the port. The drivers were all excellent, timely, and knowledgeable. I highly recommend the use of this company. They were also reasonably priced.
Our first port was Sorrento. We independently took a ferry over to Capri which is a lovely island. We enjoyed taking a taxi to Anacapri and taking the gondola up to the top of the mountain for the view. After taking the ferry back, we enjoyed walking around Sorrento for a brief time and wished we had spent a little more time enjoying Sorrento.
After 2 days at sea, our next port was Istanbul. I had made arrangements with Daily Istanbul Tours (www.dailyistanbultours.com) for a private tour for each day that we were there. On the first day, we visited the Hippodrome (too much detail from the guide - should have been 10 min at most, guide spent about 45 min), Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, had lunch at a great place, Underground Cistern, and Grand Bazaar. Our guide was very nice and very knowledgeable but not flexible and was on his own agenda. We would have liked to have spent more time at the Grand Bazaar.
The next day we requested specifically to see the Dolmabahce Palace and it was worth every minute. This is the most spectacular palace we have visted ever (beats Versaille). It is absolutely amazing that this is not on every tour of Istanbul. We think it is because the Turkish government is embarrassed of it as the building of it bankrupted Turkey and created the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Anyway, the rooms are opulent, full of the original furniture and the Grand Ballroom literally took our breath away. They don't allow pictures and I tried to buy a picture in the gift shop but there was no representation of it worth buying. After the Palace, we did a tour of the Bosphorus (if you are doing the Black Sea, don't bother as you will see the exact same thing from the ship). We then went to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. This is great. We wanted to go back to the Grand Bazaar but our guide drug his feet so we didn't get to go. Unless you want a lot of commentary, I would say go to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, & Topkapi on your own. They are all close together (easily walked). I think this place would be relatively easy to do independently as long as you are comfortable taking a cab. But don't miss that Dolmabahce Palace whatever you do.
Our next port was Nessebar - very easily walked. Not much to do but a pleasant historical section, lots of shops, and lots of very attractive restaurants. Costanta, Romania was a complete waste - very broken country with infrastructure breakdown. The Peter and Paul Cathedral was beautiful. We elected to not take the ship excursion to Bucharest because of the long bus ride but we wished we had.
Odessa was a lovely city - lots of greenery. We used Odessawalks@gmail.com for a guided tour and had a very pleasant, knowledgeable guide. We had an excellent lunch in a nice restaurant and we paid extra for a tour of the Opera House which was worth it. We used this same company for our guided tour in Yalta and had a great guide and a wonderful tour which included the Orthodox church, a view of the Swallow's Nest, tour of Vorontsov Palace, tour of Livadia, and an outside walk around the grounds of the Massandra Palace. Our guide was able to get us in and out of these places efficiently. Volos was wonderful for seeing the Meteora Monasteries - We used firstname.lastname@example.org and they were great. The Meteora Monasteries are well worth seeing. We then ended our cruise in Athens.
We had arranged for athenstourgreece.com to pick us up at the port, give us a tour of Athens, and drop us at the airport to catch our flight for Santorini. They were great and it all worked out well. We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Santorini before flying home. I hope these links are helpful to you. A review like this would have saved me hours of time!