About our shore excursions in Florence, Rome, Naples, Istanbul, and Ku: Royal Princess Cruise Review by sailing mart
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About our shore excursions in Florence, Rome, Naples, Istanbul, and Ku
Destination: Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
The departures from the port of calls were almost permanently forced earlier than provided in all the documents at the More moment of cruise booking, a thing that put pressure on those passengers who independently booked shore excursions. No reason was offered for this schedule violations.
The captain's routine messages, usually about what is he going to do after leaving the ports of call were compulsory for everyone, broadcasted via the emergency announcement system, no matter of passengers' option: we were on vacation, but we felt like in the army, forced to listen to the commanding officer!
As positive remarks I should mention the ship's design, the decoration quality, the inspired musical live shows that were accompanying our stays in the bars and lounges, the embarkation and disembarkation services that were well organized, the staff being courteous and hard-working. Less
Cabin review: BEE221 Balcony
Location on starboard very good for sightseeing (e.g. the ship's entrance in Venice, allowing to admire San Marco sq.) Quiet enough. Close to the mid-ship lifts, although these elevators were very crowded.Not very large, despite how it has been advertised. Still, a sufficient and well organized space for luggage and personal belongings.The balcony a bit too small, unusable, except to stand and look at the sea.In the bathroom, the location of toilet paper not handy at all!Read All Balcony (BE) Reviews >>
Port and Shore Excursions
Florence & Pisa Tour
We decided for an exceptionally convenient private tour for 4 persons, offered by Smart Cruise Tours (www.smartcruisetours.com/?), beating all the too expensive Princess shore excursions for the Livorno port of call: a wonderful Mercedes limo, with air conditioned, a good driver and guide at the same time, Mrs Myriam Buzzi, who told us a lot about the region, its geography, history and art.
We were picked up at the disembarking point, on the pier, at 8,30 and brought back at 17.30, after having visited Pisa and Florence.
After the first 30 minutes drive we were already in Pisa, in the Miracle Square, which ranks as one of the world's lovelist squares, where we could admire La Torre Pendente (The leaning Tower -there is an opportunity to climb the Tower, it takes 30 min), Pisa's majestic Romanesque Cathedral and the unusual round Baptistry.
We have continued for an hour drive to Florence, traveling through the beautiful countryside of Chianti (with stops along the way to admire and photograph the magnificent landscapes). The tour of Florence started with the wonderful Romanesque church of San Miniato al Monte, one of the oldest in this area and Michelangelo Square, where we could enjoy the most beautiful panorama of the city. The tour continued in the historical center, where we mostly walked, with stops at the beautiful Santa Croce Square, the Brunelleschi Dome, Piazza della Signoria and Ponte Vecchio the bridge famous for its charming appearance and for the fabulous jewelry shops.
We could not visit the Academy of Fine Arts where the Michelangelo's David is, because it was Monday (closed!) nor the Uffizi Gallery, because lack of time.
As cruising with Royal Princess on the Great Mediterranean Tour, we decided to search a less-expensive, but still valuable day tour in Istanbul, and, thanks to the internet and to Trip Advisor, we were lucky to find Ada Vegas Travel agency, managed by a really professional and enthusiastic staff, led by Yuksel Tasdemir (http://www.adavegastravel.com/). They have set everything to be just perfect, at a more than convenient price for the four of us: a great comfortable Mercedes, a skilled driver and an exceptionally knowledgeable and nice guide, Erkal. We have seen the amazing Istanbul, heard its adventurous history, visited the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Topkapi Palace, the Topkap? Harem and all, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar in a more than pleasant speed (so many to enjoy in just a couple of hours limited by the ship's departure!).
Everything we saw was just unforgettable, full of history and magnificence.
The last but not least experience was a visit to the "Matis-Carpets and Jewellery" demonstration shop where splendid carpets, made of silk, with a breathtaking art so old and so perfect, that made us think we were in heaven! Mr Yavuz Ozdemir a courteous host, made of the demonstration a great lesson of Turkish traditional art, a must see when visiting Istanbul, where West and East mingle in an harmonious way.
The Spice Market - a great place to find not only the fantastic Turkish delights, but also hundreds of spices and species of tea, a paradise for our noses and tongues!
All sort of rare spices, very exquisite and expensive too, like the saffron,along with very well-known ones, make the joy of the cooks. In some shops we were served cold tea in a very courteous Turkish tradition.
The Grand Bazaar - a bit too crowded by so many tourists, it is interesting to walk inside. Good opportunities to find whatever one needs/wishes. If you want to bargain, you should be really good at negotiation techniques. Otherwise, don't be sure you have found the lowest price in the city!
We decided to search for a better Kusadasi half-day tour than the pricy one that the Princess Cruises was offering, and we were certainly delighted by all we have got by this private, high value for money excursion that we found on Ada Vegas Travel site (www.adavegastravel.com/ ): the car was at high standards, very comfortable and with a good driver, the guide - Ozan Ozgun, was a pleasant, intelligent, educated and very competent young person who made this tour as instructive and as enjoyable as one can ask, the city of Kusadasi and the Ephesus site were breathtaking!
The Ephesus site, this great outdoor museum of Turkey is perhaps one of the the best-preserved ancient cities we have visited. Financially supported by the government of Turkey, it is a real attraction for the port of call Kusadasi. A real out-of-time city, with ruins of commercial, religious and social buildings staying erect from ancient Greek and Roman times, Ephesus is an unforgettable gathering of spectacular ruins, among which The Celsus Library is an outstanding structure, made of white marble, with rich decorations in relief, rosettes and garlands, and the figures of antique gods, like Nike and Eros.
Not to be missed inside Ephesus, the Terrace Houses, very impressive indeed, well preserved, just being dug. These houses inhabited by the wealthy social class (for this reason they are also known as "houses of the rich" or "palaces on the slopes" enchant the tourists by beautiful mosaics decorating the amazing bathrooms with central heating of that times!
Not to forget a very tasty traditional lunch served far away from the hot and crowded areas, in a small restaurant, inside a paradise garden with no other noise than the birds' singing, full of Mediterranean colors and odors. We have also visited two handcrafts points, the Selcuc Firca pottery showroom and demonstration center, where fabulous hand-painted ceramics made using rock crystal powder were a delight to admire, and the Galata Quality jewelry center, a true Aladin's cave full of marvelous pieces!
We took the very expensive Princess day-tour including Popeii, Sorrento and Capri and we were totally disappointed by the great failure of this Princess shore excursion.
Pompeii was our first stop after leaving the ship in our princess day tour in Naples, including also Sorrento and Capri and we had the whole day ahead. We expected to do more than an hour or so walking: to see some marvelous mosaics and/or frescoes,but the tour was somehow superficial and "easy" (intellectually).
Sorrento,this small touristic town was included in Princess' Naples day-tour. Practically, due to the heavy traffic on the road to Sorrento, we arrived late here and had no time at all to visit it. We were rushed to an ordinary, barely adequate restaurant where we were served some food from frozen supplies, e.g. a schnitzel, more steam-heated than fried,while Naples is well known for Italian quality pasta, or at least the pizza, born right in this region.
For Capri-at the end of the day- there was no option to choose the Blue Grotto, even on our own, with extra payment, but "under Princess umbrella" to be sure we were not lost on the way back to ship. The only stupid choice was to stay in a super-crowded line, on a hot day, to take the funicular in order to shop on the top of the island. It is true that the small streets in Capri and the flowers in the gardens are very nice to see, but shopping is not the desire of everyone on the planet!
Rome on Your Own
Since Rome has so many worth visiting places, one should decide and prioritise the options. Again, the Princess prices seemed to be inconvenient, so we chose to make a combo: we booked online, at Smart Cruise Tours (www.smartcruisetours.com/?) the Fast Track Express Train + Vatican Museums excursion, including both the round trip access to Rome by the express direct train and the skip the line Vatican tour. Afterwards, we negociated a taxi non-formal tour of all important touristic highlights in Rome! It was an excellent idea, since we enjoyed privacy, setting our own rhythm and still managing to have a very complete sightseing passage in Rome, where the distances between the sites of interest are so long, that one cannot compress the visit of the ethernal city in the available 8-9 hours.
The train dropped us off in Rome St Peter's railway station in 40 minutes and after other 10 minutes easy walk we reached ORP Meeting Point in St Peter's Square, just in time to catch the 11.00 Vatican Tour, including the Sistine Chapel. The tour ended in the majestuous St Peter Cathedral. Note that Rome, the Vatican are quite overcrowded in this period and a skip the line facility is mandatory if you wish to be back in time on the ship.
The taxi sightseing drive that was the only option for the short free time left after the Vatican tour allowed us to see at a more than convenient price the Colosseum, the the Roman Forum, the panoramic views from Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, the Spanish steps (Piazza di Spagna), Piazza Navona, the St Angelo Citadel, Piazza del Popolo, the Trevi Fountain, and many other wonderful places.
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