This was a surprising highlight of our cruise. We wanted to see the Underground Basilica Cistern which was only available on the 'most expensive' tour at $399 each !!
we were told by the cruise line that Istanbul is quite a rough place to be out by 'yourself' and they recommended everyone did a tour ! they said that people get lost, that the traffic is so bad on the bridge leading back to the ship that passengers get stranded and the ship cant wait for you etc etc
But we found all of that to be utter nonsense.........the ship docked on one side of Istanbul and the ancient sights are on the other side, but this doesn't mean its miles away, all the main sights are visible from the ship itself. The bridge you cross is 5 mins walk from the dock and it took us 15 minutes ( 42 and 41 yr olds ) to walk to the Basilica Cistern which was then opposite the Hagia Sophia, which was across the road to The Blue Mosque and very close to the Tokapi Palace. We saw everything we wanted to in just over 3 hours. ( this also allowed us time to eat some Turkish food ). The Grand bazaar was VERY busy and with over 58 exits very hard to walk around but the Spice Bazaar is an L shaped building, you go in one door and keep walking, turn the corner and walk to the other door......you cant go wrong. We then took a leisurely walk back to our ship ( 20mins) and were back with 3 hours to spare before everyone HAD to be back onboard. We felt that there was a lot of unnecessary scaremongering about transport etc which was totally unfounded.
There were a lot of warnings about the buses / taxis etc getting stuck in traffic and therefore you should take a tour but there is actually a brilliant tram service that runs all around the sights in the ancient area and the tram runs down the middle of the road on the bridge which is not affected in anyway by the cars/ busses etc on the bridge, so if you have had enough of walking you can catch the tram back and get off right next to the dock !!!
The Turkish people were very friendly but like anywhere you need to watch for pickpockets mainy from the Roma Gypsies not the Turks themselves and you should also note that The Blue Mosque closes for 90 mins at a time for prayers 5 times a day so plan your visit , we walked the place gardens whilst waiting for our 90 mins to be finished then just before it was due to reopen we joined the queue so it wasn't too long and got straight in.
Lovely place, an excursion with the ship is not necessary as you can walk around the town on your own very easily ( unless you want the history - personally do some research on the web and take yourself around and save your dollars )
. This was the only place we tendered in and you need to be aware that the process for tender tickets is a bit hit and miss.
my advice is to get to wherever they tell you they are going to hand out tender tickets at least 30 minutes before as the queues will build up and you are not likely to get off the ship very quickly.
we got tender number 1 and some people we spoke to got tickets for tender 12 and they were still on the boat and hour and half after we got off !! The only other thing you can do is get tickets for others for example we got friendly with another couple and so collected 4 tickets not 2 and we all got off together but only 1 person from each travelling party needed to queue up !!
It pays to be friendly !!
this it was described as a 3.5hr tour ( inc the 20 min there and back ) so we should have had at least 2 and a half hours ( which having been before would have been possible) however we had a trip to a cameo factory included which said ' time permitting' on the excursion details. We left the ship and went straight to the factory where we wasted 25 minutes - no one wanted to buy anything. We ended up with 1 hr and 15 minutes in Herculaneum. Our guide was nice enough with good English but we had no ear pieces unlike other tours so it was nearly impossible to hear what she said and our group was over 50 people. Many of them were elderly and couldn't keep up with her anyway. I had been before but my husband hadn't and he never got to see the Mens Baths with undulating floor created by the pressure of volcanic mud or the boat sheds with the skeletons in down on the old sea front site or any of the main villas, so we were extremely disappointed. We sat around on the ship until 2 pm when NCL could have started this tour much earlier and given us a decent amount of time to visit the site properly. It was billed in the pre tour talk in the theatre as ' better preserved than Pompeii' and a ' must see ' site but they didn't actually allow us the time needed to do it justice.
Having visited Rome before we decided to do our own thing and booked the ' Rome on your own' tour which basically meant that the ship took you on a coach to Rome , dropped you off and then you met up again for the return journey to the ship. We were dropped off at 10am and had to be back on the coach for 4pm. This would normally give you enough time to see some sights, the metro system is easy to use ( there are only 2 lines ) and quite cheap it was 1 euro 30 cents each for a timed ticket valid for 100 minutes of travel. HOWEVER what they didn't tell us was that EVERY WEDNESDAY ( yes you guessed it - it was a Wednesday) the Pope gives an audience in St Peters square !! therefore we and 100,000 other people were in Rome trying to get into St Peters basilica. We only wanted to go up to the Cupola ( the dome of St Peters) and down to the grottoes ( tombs of the Popes) however the police closed everything down til 1 pm. We went back at 1 pm and fought ( and I do mean fought) our way through the crowds of people only to be told that the ppope was then deciding to take a little ride in his car and so it would be closed til at least 3pm!! Bearing in mind our return time of 4pm for our coach our visit to St Peters was completely ruined. We asked an English speaking guide how come this was al happening and were told that this happens EVERY Wednesday..........now NCL have run countless cruises to Rome and I feel that they should have known this info and imparted that info to their PAYING guests, we ended up spending $180 for a coach trip to stand shoulder to shoulder with 100,000 others and see exactly NOTHING !!!
If I had known that I would have opted for a different tour and actually seen something instead.