Constellation 10-31-13 Turkey and Greece
Monday Tuesday, October 28 & 29
We were driven by family members to Newark Airport. We had booked the flights through Choice Air and were actually on United tickets, but all flights were on Lufthansa. The check-in process was incredible. We were waved over to first class check in as there were no first class passengers being checked in. The big bags were taken, and the nice person asked if we would like to check our smaller bags at no charge. Sure! This left us with only the laptop bag and DW’s small satchel with all our meds to carry on.
The flight to Munich was very pleasant. We left a little late but effectively arrived on time. The flight from Munich to Istanbul well, let’s just say it’s a good thing it was only 2.5 hours. The Airbus -200 had those skimpy plastic seats with almost no padding, and no legroom whatsoever.
We had obtained our electronic visas in advance, so after deplaning went straight to passport control. Five minutes wait, stamp our passports, and have a nice day. Why can’t it be like this when we come back to the USA? Our driver was waiting for us. We kept him waiting 5 minutes while waiting to use an ING ATM to withdraw Turkish Lira. The drive from the airport to the Doubletree Old Town was interesting. The first two-thirds was along the Golden Horn waterway and there were a lot of people and families out along the water picnicking and enjoying the Republic day holiday, but traffic seemed somewhat light.
The last third of the drive seemed like gridlock, and we felt a little bad for our driver. We asked him and he said the traffic was mostly normal, not any worse due to the holiday. All together it took about 40 minutes to reach the Doubletree. They took our luggage and checked us in promptly. With all apologies that our room needed another ten minutes to be ready we were invited to enjoy a beverage on the house.
The room is adequate but nothing special, but the location is very central. The concierge had the six pre-ordered museum passes so they were obtained for our touring with friends starting tomorrow morning. That took most of our Turkish currency but it will be replaced by our friends. After exploring the hotel we went out exploring.
The weather is fabulous. "Shirtsleeve” weather, even after dark. It did seem hazy (dare I say ''"Smoggy?”)during the afternoon. Our driver told us that Istanbul recently exceeded 20 Million residents. That makes New York City, or certainly Philadelphia, seem like a country town! We walked up and down the main street and found that one does not need to find the ''"Grand bazaar” to shop. The whole city seems like a bazaar! If our luggage had been damaged it would have been very easy and inexpensive to replace a piece, two doors down from the hotel.
Shops have their stock replenished by mostly young men wheeling hand trucks so overloaded that "OSHA” back in the US would certainly not approve! I have photos to prove it. We found a shop along the way where a man was carving chicken and beef off of huge Kabobs and making sandwiches. I had a beef sub and it was good. DW had a flatbed chicken sandwich and she said it sat in her stomach and was not very comfortable. We also had bottled water and peach tea.
We walked some more and finally returned to the Doubletree at about 7:00. After a very long day, a short night, and another long day, it was time to shower and relax, and call it a day. A pleasant surprise awaited us in our room from the Doubletree! They left us a plate of sweets and a plate of fresh fruit. This sure helped round out our ''"Dinner” for the evening.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 Istanbul
Our cruising friends Rick, Sharon, Lisa, and Harold arrived early this morning. The Doubletree had their rooms ready (at 7:00 AM!) so we left at 8:30 to see historic Sultanahmet.
What did we do today? We toured the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, the Underground Cistern (really, really neat!), learned the tram system, found mile marker "Zero” (once considered to be the center of the earth), took a Bosphorous cruise, had a super late lunch at the ''"Hamdi restaurant” with an incredible view of the three cruise ships in port, toured the Spice Market, climbed a mountain walking to and through the Grand Bazaar, and back to the Doubletree. All this left everyone quite exhausted!
Arrangements have been made for our transfer to the ship tomorrow at noon. Beforehand, we have lots of things to see in the morning.
Thursday, October 31, 2013 Istanbul and embarkation on the Celebrity Constellation
Thursday morning we enjoyed breakfast at the Doubletree. We met our friends and pushed our way onto the tram to visit the Topkapi Palace. We were there when the gates were opened and immediately began following Rick Steve’s printed tour. We saw all the highlights, including the Harem, and left the palace shortly after 11:00. We entered with no wait at all. When we left, the queue line for tickets was long and there were school groups and tour buses waiting to enter the grounds as well!
We walked back to the tram stop and hopped back to the Doubletree, arriving at 11:30. We all gathered our luggage and checked out. Our arranged 12:00 transport through Istanbul Airport Express was waiting, but with a smaller vehicle than expected. I never thought they would fit the six of us plus the luggage. They did, but it was a lot like riding the Istanbul tram except in a Mercedes van.
Arrival and check in at the ship was flawless. Porters took our luggage, we walked immediately through security, were checked in, went through Turkish passport control, and on the ship with a Mimosa in hand in about 150 minutes or less. We visited the Lido and obtained some lunch. Eventually our traveling friends found us (we had gotten separated at check-in) and at 1:30, just as we were finishing lunch, the ''"Rooms are ready” announcement was made.
We dropped our hand luggage in the room and met up again at Café El Bacio to head out to take Rick Steve’s Golden Horn walking tour. We enjoyed the tour, seeing the fishermen on the bridge, the restaurants underneath, and the Sirkeci train station (the terminus of the Orient Express). We then hopped the tram back to the cruise port and headed to our rooms to unpack and get ready for dinner. A few of us took the time for a relaxing break in the Thalassotherapy pool.
One of our group had made arrangements for all six of us to enjoy the Tuscan Grill tonight. Dinner was excellent and much enjoyed and appreciated.
Friday, November 1 Istanbul
A hearty breakfast of Celebrity waffles with an omelet began my day. DW enjoyed the spa cuisine and a smoothie. We met our friends at Café El Bacio and headed out for out day. Last evening, we all agreed to ditch the ''"New town” tour we had planned and instead spend the day at the Grand Bazaar. We found that walking North to the tram was half the distance we covered on Thursday by heading south.
The tram brought us quickly to the area near the Bazaar. After walking part of the perimeter around a mosque, we reached one of the main entrances. What are we looking for? Watches, leather goods, possible ''"Made in Turkey” souvenirs are all on the hunt list. No ''"Made in China” stuff!
After many hours, we estimate we covered perhaps half of the grand bazaar. Among our group, we procured a handful of ''"Made in Turkey” belts, tea sets, silk scarves, a pashmina, a purse, a turquoise necklace set, and two watches. I guess we did our part to support the Turkish economy today!
We rode the tram back to the port, and had enough time to enjoy the T-pool before getting ready for the muster drill followed by our first dinner in the San Marco Restaurant. Not as a complaint, but as constructive criticism, this was the ''"Worst” and most ineffective muster drill we have experienced in sixteen cruises. Yes, they showed us how to put on life jackets. But really there was no instruction on what to do, where to go, in the event of a real emergency. It also seemed to take a very long time, as instruction was given in five languages. Tracking down the cabins that had not checked in also took quite a while. Even though "All aboard” was earlier, everyone knew the ship wasn’t leaving until 8:00 PM so it is very likely that some had not come to the ship in time for the drill?
The six of us are assigned to a table of eight. A nice couple from Ireland are our additional table companions. Dining service this first night was good. As expected, beverage service in the San Marco leaves room for improvement. Most everyone was happy with their meal. After dinner we enjoyed the sail away party in Reflections on deck 11. We walked the ship during the late show and enjoyed a bit more music in Reflections before calling it a late night. Looking forward to our sea day on Saturday.
Saturday, November 02, 2013 At sea”
Saturday is the first of only two sea days on this port-intensive cruise. We enjoyed a late (for us) breakfast, very similar to the prior day. After coffee and tea at Café El Bacio, it was time for the cruise critic connections party. We had a huge turnout. The cruise director, the captain, and several other officers came to welcome us on board. Captain Tasos shared that he followed the cruise critic ''"Blog” and seemed pleased with the mostly positive reviews since he joined the ship on the transatlantic in May. We met everyone that has planned to join us on our earlier port excursions and that is always a good thing!
After the party we shopped the ''"Bazaar” on the lido and bought two T-shirts. They actually had a nice one for Athens in XXXL. Too bad they didn’t have the Istanbul T-shirt in that size; Celebrity lost a sale here. After shopping we spent some time in our cabin sending out a very packed laundry bag (30 items ''" the maximum) for the Captain’s Club $20 laundry bag deal.
We enjoyed lunch in the San Marco, always a nice option on a sea day. Shortly after lunch was the Captain’s Club party. This is always a very nice, and also, very packed event. That ended just in time to enjoy the party band playing on the pool deck. As we head South it is beginning to warm up a bit more ''" not that we have any complaints about the completely dry weather we have enjoyed thus far.
We took advantage of the ''"Gelato happy hour” and the two-for-one Gelato cones. While this was very good, we likely won’t do this again as I didn’t think it was significantly better than the ice cream always available on the lido deck. The only benefit was we were able to get Coffee and Tea from Café El Bacio at the same time, and their service is super.
This is the first formal night. The menu tonight in the San Marco we thought somewhat a disappointment for a formal night. DW’s Cedar plank Salmon didn’t taste right, so she did not eat it. I also had the Salmon and mine tasted fine, but I only ate about half. I also ordered the everyday available Chicken and sad to say, the Chicken was better than the Salmon. Dessert was a hit, however! The Warm Apple Crumble was filled with Apples and worth the price of admission.
After dinner we listed to the Jazz trio for a while with friends and shut down the bar. No, we didn’t stay up until the wee hours! Rather, the bar essentially closed down once second seating dinner started and the first seating show was underway. We were too tired for the I-Broadway show and have seen similar Broadway themed shows before. Tonight is an early night as the meeting time in the morning for our private tour of Ephesus is 7:15 AM.
Sunday, November 3 ''" Kusadasi / Ephesus
The Constellation docked timely in Kusadasi, the first of four cruise ships docking here today. We had scheduled a 7:15 meeting for our private tour at Café El Bacio, and were off the ship and in our tour van by 7:30. We had booked this tour through White Travel tours, through a Rick Steve’s recommended guide referral. Ersin Gokce was our guide and he was a ten on a scale of ten. Ersin provided a wealth of knowledge and we greatly enjoyed our guided tour of Ephesus, the Terrace Houses, the Virgin Mary House, the ruins of the Basilica of St. John, and the ruins of the temple of Artemis.
We were back at the port at 12;45 and immediately found our friends who had been on a different tour and began our search for the perfect watch. Early on in our search we found a few promising prospects, but we continued our search none-the-less. Eventually we returned to one shop, the ''"Watch Clinic.” Between our group we purchased four watches, and three pens. Several other items were also acquired by our group. A handbag, and a number of Turkish made scarves. An ATM stop on the way back to the ship was also required!
Once back on board, some burgers from the pool grille and an assortment of beverages gave us a revival. At 4:30, a local group came on board to perform a folkloric show on the pool deck. They were very good. Afterwards quick showers were needed to get ready for tonight’s dinner in the San Marco dining room.
Monday, November 4 ''" Bodrum
Bodrum was a port that we didn’t find a lot of information on ahead of time. We did learn that the main attraction, the Castle of St. Peter and the Underwater Archeology Museum, we closed on Monday. We arranged a group of 11 through our roll call to ''"Wing it,” a primary thought being that if the weather cooperated, we would charter a ''"Gullet” to cruise around the harbor.
We left the ship at 8:30 but it was soon apparent that Bodrum was just in the process of waking up. A fifteen minute walk brought us to a marina and we were offered a gullet cruise for the group for 350 TL. Split eleven ways, that came out to less than $20/pp. It was suggested that we cruise to ''"Black island” to enjoy the thermal springs and cave. Few of us planned ahead with swim gear, so we told the harbormaster we would return by 10:00 ready to go.
It was a beautiful day to cruise the still harbor on a small boat. The thermal springs in the cave were nothing to go out of one’s way to experience, perhaps why we didn’t find it in any guidebook. In any case, it was a very pleasant and inexpensive outing.
We returned to the ship for a change and lunch. A note on lunch, I had two pieces of fish from the fish and chips station. One piece was fine but the second piece tasted very fishy. Although I only swallowed one small piece, that was a mistake. After lunch, we caught the town-provided harbor taxi to take us downtown. We found the shopping in Bodrum to be more appealing than Kusadasi! Shop we did, and our group bought at least five watches, a handbag, and countless other items. Returning to the ship we enjoyed dinner in the San Marco restaurant. It was during dinner however that I began to feel the effects of the lunchtime fish.
Tuesday, November 5 ''" Rhodos, Greece
Our first time in Greece! My breakfast this morning was very light ''" just Cinnamon tea and dry rye bread. We had planned to take the bus to Lindos while on Rhodos, but after our frantic pace, everyone was happy to adapt those plans and simply walk the town instead. Again, leaving the ship at 8:30, the town was just in the process of waking. It was kind of nice to walk down the streets before the shops were open, and eventually we found the Castle of the Knights of St. John. This was unique to tour as many of the floors were painstakingly transplanted mosaics from around the Greek islands.
Heading back to Constellation, we found our dining room waiter, Arslan heading out for his first visit to Rhodos. We thought of him again 30 minutes later, when, having lunch by the aft bar, a storm rolled in and for the next three hours the rain was ''"Intense.” This gave us time to head to the ''"T-pool,” in which I enjoyed a nap on the racks. I then enjoyed another nap on the padded loungers. Later, I enjoyed a third nap in our cabin. Dinner in the San Marco closed our day (can you tell I was tired? That ''"Fish” took a lot out of me) but DW and friends stayed out and went to the show.
Wednesday, November 06, 2013 ''" Marmaris, Turkey.
An early breakfast was followed by a 7:30 gathering of the eleven of us from the cruise critic roll call to meet our prearranged guide for a trip to Dalyan, and then a river boat cruise to the mud baths, thermal springs, rock tombs, and Turtle beach. Our guide and driver were waiting for us. Off we headed for the 80 minute drive to the town of Dalyan.
We reach Dalyan and transferred onto the river boat, which was just our group. We cruised up the river to the mud bath and thermal springs. Three of the group actually went in. Once done, we cruised down the river, past the town, to the rock tombs. Seeing these, painstakingly carved into the side of the vertical cliff faces from the 2nd century BC until the 4th century AD was quite an experience.
Finally, we cruised downriver through the tall grass where ''"The African Queen” was filmed and reached Turtle beach. I actually did see a turtle, twice, for no more than a second each time. The locals claim this is one of the top ten beaches in the world. It is a pretty beach, with a nice setting, but the sand is dark and in the summer must become incredibly hot. Sorry, but it would not be on the top ten list of beaches I have been to myself.
We returned to Marmaris and we had asked our guide to show us the shopping area. Somehow, he misinterpreted the request that we be dropped off in the shopping area. He assured us it was a ''"Five minute” walk back to the ship, so everyone was kind of okay with the drop-off. We shopped a little, among our group of six, only one belt was purchased. Then we found out it was over a 35 minute walk back to the ship! I am sure some who were on our tour will not be happy that they were left with such a long walk. We weren’t happy either ''" it wasn’t just the walk, we were carrying full bags of towels and damp swimsuits, etc. Someone heard that the port often runs a shuttle, but for some reason it was not running today. Marmaris is a nice port, but I will rate it poorly on the survey due to the very long distance around the marina to get to the cruise port.
Once on board, we had a little something (Jell-O from Café El Bacio and tea in my case) to hold us over until dinner. Tonight is formal night but we all made it ''"Formal light.” After a long port day we just weren’t up to the full tuxedo dress up thing. Dinner was good although one of our party’s steak orders was too undercooked and needed to be sent back.
Thursday, November 7, Santorini, Greece
Santorini. The view of the caldera wall in the pre-dawn light from Constellation promised a day unlike any other this cruise. We were up early as our group of six had arranged to rent a large enough vehicle for all of us to travel in. One of us went down to obtain tender tickets as they were made available at 07:00. He obtained tender tickets for ''"#1.” We all met for breakfast at 07:00 in the Oceanview café. At about 7:20 we heard the announcement that tender #1 and 2 were available to board.
We were ashore at 7:35. Called the rental car place and received a message. We went up on the first cable car run of the day, and were in Fira at 7:45. We walked to the main road and one of the kind people at another rental company called our company for us. They were surprised we were off the ship and up the caldera so quickly, but that is possible with only one ship in port. Ten minutes later someone drove up and two of us went to pick up the vehicle and confirm the drop off point.
By 8:15 we were in our large Fiat, and on the way to Oia. A number of ship’s tour buses had passed while we were waiting for our vehicle, so we knew we would not be alone in Oia. We followed a combination of Rick Steve’s cruise port volume suggestion and Tom’s port guide to Santorini for planning our day. We found the parking lot at Oia; made a quick run into the already open Pharmacy, and soon were taking the first of hundreds of photos that day.
The main walking route is incredible, with every turn a new ''"Postcard view.” We walked all the way to the ''"Old fort” at the end of the peninsula, and enjoyed nearly every step. A few cold water bottles completed our early morning adventure in Oia.
By about 10:30 we returned to the Fiat and headed back towards (and past) Fira, to the Santos Winery. This proved to be a great stop! Santos is located on a point on the caldera affording magnificent views. Clean ''"WC’s” and easy parking made this a pleasure. We sampled a number of their wines, and most were impressive. They also offered 30 minute complementary internet so this allowed a short opportunity to post a few photos of the day for friends and family back home.
By 11:30 we were back in the Fiat heading to Prygos. We never found the parking area in Prygos, and ended up making a long turn taking us up a huge mountain. Before reaching the end of the road we realized our error, and returned to Prygos and the correct road to reach Kamari beach. Kamari beach is a ''"Black sand” beach. It is a really nice beach. The sand is not very fine, but coarse. Likely due to the volcanic rock from which it comes is less than 4,000 years old. We have visited black sand beaches on the island of Hawaii that have very fine black sand. The waves were crashing and the beach runs straight into the mountain (the one we were driving up!) that juts out into the Aegean Sea.
Nearly all establishments along the beach were shuttered for the winter, so we were able to drive very slowly along what is likely a pedestrian walk during the season, and followed the beach north as long as we could. It is doubtful many cruise passengers make it to a place like Kamari. By now its 1:30 and we thought we should return to Fira. We followed the map and took a different route back, seeing still more of the island.
Parking in Fira, even on a day with only one ship in port, is near impossible. We dropped off most of our group to shop, and began to return the car. A miracle occurred and a parking slot opened up 2 minutes later. We were unable to locate our group, but that did afford us a chance to see a little of the shopping area. What was disappointing (after Oia) is that the main pathway did not seem to afford the views, almost always blocked by buildings on the ridge.
Returning to the car, we dropped is at about 2:45 at the designated return area, and then had a challenge finding the most direct path back towards the cable car. This entire route afforded not one good glimpse of the caldera, although we were on (or very near) the ridge line the entire time. There was a short (five minute?) line for the cable car, and by 3:30 we were back onboard the Constellation. An hour or so later the other part of our group returned.
We enjoyed the hot tub and watched the guitar player set up to play at the pool. Well, he set up. He never did play. It was an incredible, 72 degree day and perfectly clear by late afternoon. Dinner in the San Marco was enjoyed, and for us that ended the day as all the up and downs walking the caldera proved to be very draining.
One note on Santorini ''" we kept saying to one another, we can’t imagine being here and enjoying it with even two additional ships in port. We know there are days of seven ships in port. The infrastructure to move people up and down the caldera can’t handle that many people. After our most enjoyable day, we were in no physical condition to stand in a line for an hour (or more) to ride the cable car down. We are immensely glad we visited when we did, and would be extremely hesitant to book a cruise that visited here on a multi-ship day.
Friday, November 08, 2013 ''" Athens, Greece
WOW! An incredible day in Athens began early with a 6:30 breakfast meeting followed by our group of twelve gathering at Café El Bacio at 7:15. All arrived promptly and we left the Constellation. We were shuttled by port bus to the terminal. Exiting the terminal we found a few drivers but not ''"Billy,” our pre-arranged driver. It was 7:28 and our meeting time was 7:30. I checked my phone and sure enough I had a text from Billy that he ran into unexpected traffic and would be there by 7:35.
A very short time later Billy came running up all apologies. He confirmed we were all present, and ran back to get his Mercedes Sprinter mini-bus. We all boarded the very comfortable bus and Billy gave us the plan for the day. Our first stop was to be the Acropolis. Billy was able to drop us off at an entrance that actually ''"Saved” us more than half what the climb would have been if we had taken the metro or a public bus into town. He gave us a lot of information on Athens during the drive into to town, and explicit directions on buying the Acropolis entry tickets and not to lose the paper ticket as it would also be used for sights later in the day. We prepped our MP-3 players and I-Pods that we had pre-loaded with Rick Steve’s audio tour.
We followed Billy’s instructions and were quickly climbing the hill. We first saw Mars Hill, the outcropping on which the Apostle Paul preached. We next saw the Arena of Herodes, which is still used today for concerts and artistic presentations. Then we turned a corner and witnessed the magnificent Propylaea, or the ''"Grandest gate ever built.” Many photos were taken and we all were amazed at the incredible structure and also what a marvelous day the weather had given us. This was certainly the ''"Clearest” day so far. Not a cloud in the crystal blue sky. Continuing with our climb through the Propylaea, we reached the summit and beheld the Parthenon, or actually, the Temple of Athena Nike. Athens is named after the goddess Athena, the patron of the city, and goddess of wisdom.
The temple has been in the process of being rebuilt with the original stones since 2001, when it was completely disassembled. The hope of the Greek government and EU (who is footing much of the bill) is that when complete the temple will be ready to last another 2,500 years. In our photos scaffolding can be seen from some angles and I actually shot some video of a crane moving a large section of stone into position.
Not much less impressive was the Porch of the Caryatids, part of the Erechtheion. This structure was perhaps more prestigious that the Parthenon in its day. Even here, on ground with over 2,500 years of history, more recent history was made as the Greek Flag flies on the far end of the Acropolis. This flag can be seen from almost everywhere in Athens and when the Nazis occupied Athens this flag pole became the first rallying point of the resistance.
We gradually descended from the Acropolis to meet Billy at the designated 10:00 AM meeting time. This was just the right amount of time, not too little, nor too much. Next Billy drove us to the ruins of the Temple of Zeus. These are the highest historic columns in Greece, at 15 meters. A handful of columns remain, the rest having been scavenged over the centuries for ''"Recycling” in other buildings. The ruins only hint of what must have been an incredible structure.
After the Temple, we made a quick photo-stop at the all-marble ''"Modern” Olympic stadium, built in the 1800’s. This stadium, built entirely from white marble, is still used and in fact was being prepared as the finish line of the Athens marathon just two days later.
Next we climbed Lykavitros Hill, to the highest point in Athens. From here, we could take photos looking down towards the Acropolis, and got a good bird’s eye view of the sprawling city.
The Ancient Agora was the next stop on our whirlwind tour. Billy left us here for two hours, the idea being one hour to tour the Ancient Agora and another hour or so for lunch. It took almost exactly one hour to tour the Ancient Agora using Rick Steve’s audio tour. The highlights were the museum and the Temple of Hephaistos (a.k.a. the Theseion), one of the best preserved temples, being built in 450 BC. Another building just too inspiring for superlatives.
Lunch could be quite another story, but one left for telling at another time. Suffice it to say that for a very reasonable cost, all were fed with authentic Greek dishes.
Billy picked us up at 1:30 for the 15 minute drive to Syntagma Square, for the changing of the guard ceremony in front of the Greek Parliament building. When we arrived, there were two guards at their post, but also about 1,000 pigeons all over the ground. We watched some people feeding the pigeons, and others letting pigeons rest of the heads, shoulders, and arms. We wisely kept our distance ''" although this did prompt us to think that the Parliament may be ''"For the birds.”
The ceremony was very interesting and caught on video. After this brief stop, as discussed during our drive, Billy split the group up. Seven of us went to the Plaka, or ''"Central market” for an hour or so of shopping. Five of us went to the Acropolis museum to enjoy the highlights of this truly world class museum in one hour.
At 3:30, the pick up being made at the museum, Billy began to return us to the ship. He had one question for us? Would we like to visit the best bakery in Athens for Baklava (or whatever we wanted?) It was directly on the route. All agreed, and what a great bonus stop this was. Most everyone seemed to buy something, and they even had Gelato. Outstanding Gelato ''" the best I’ve ever had. During the drive back to the port, Billy told us that the bakery had won the Europe-wide competition for the best Gelato. They use only natural ingredients and no preservatives.
We returned to the port and said our goodbyes to Billy, one of the greatest guides ever. Getting through the terminal building here in Athens was the most ''"Airport-like” we’ve ever witnessed returning to a cruise ship. Soon enough we were on board, and settled down at the aft Lido deck to relax after a very exciting day, enjoy a beverage, and watch the sunset.
We enjoyed dinner as usual, although dessert service stumbled tonight. The Captains Club senior officer’s party was tonight so we visited there for a while. We tried the show after some said how outstanding it was but found it boring and turned in for the night.
Saturday, November 09, 2013 - Mykonos
After the frantic pace we’ve been keeping we were looking forward to a relaxing day for our visit to Mykonos. Celebrity tries to convince their guests to purchase an $8/person bus pass good for ''"Unlimited” trips back and forth the 2 KM to town. However, right outside the port gate is a local public bus that will take you there for 1.60 Euro each way. That is well under $5 round trip. We found the public bus to be super-fast going into town (it left just after we were seated) and we needed to wait just ten minutes for the return trip, but were seated comfortably on the bus while we waited.
No early start this morning, we met at 10:00 to head out and explore Mykonos. It was another wonderful weather day, around 68 degrees and crystal-clear. We followed the walking path outlined in Tom’s Port Guide and also used the Rick Steve’s chapter on Mykonos for reference. Another day of postcard after postcard photos. We found Pertos the Pelican, and posed for photos with Pertos. The classic Greek windmills of Mykonos were also the subject of many photos.
Not far ''"Behind” the windmills, we found a pleasant little piece of beach. In four trips to Europe I had not yet had a good opportunity to dip my feet into salt water, so this was the chance! Off went the shoes and socks, and I was able to enjoy the crystal-clear water up to my knees. We had noticed the design of the beach allowed one to pretty much avoid sand sticking to the feet when putting the socks back on, and this worked out about 98%. A very pleasant ten minutes indeed!
Next we began exploring the maze-like streets of Mykonos town. There is the usual assortment of souvenir shops, T-shirt shops, clothing shops, mini-markets, hi-end jewelers selling ''"Authentic” watches (29,000 Euros for one!) and one other shop, named Hermes. It turned out that Hermes is owned by an independent businessman, who has a good friend who is a ceramic artist. Everything in his shop is hand-made and hand-painted by his friend in Greece. This was the second to last day he would be open this year, as the season is over. Everything in the shop was half-price, or perhaps just a little less. Our group all purchased something at Hermes for their homes. That luggage scale is going to get a work-out!
We also ran into Captain Tasos of the Constellation while walking the town. The Captain was kind enough to pose for a photo and also took my photo as I had just found a shop named after myself. We can’t say enough nice things about Captain Tasos. He and his command crew at least equal the most ''"Visible” crew we’ve ever experienced on a ship.
Soon, carrying around the ceramics we purchased signaled that it was time to head back to Constellation for lunch and a relaxing afternoon. After the quick bus ride back, we had our lunch on board, some beverages and snacks at Café El Bacio, and just ‘chilled’ until it was time to get ready for dinner. Dinner was nice and ran very promptly until dessert. We are not sure what happened with dessert, but the ladies were served and a very long time passed before the men’s desserts appeared. Even then one was missing. Well, no one went hungry.
We closed out the night listening to the party band in the Rendez-Vous, but their sets are beginning to sound very repetitive.
Sunday, November 10, 2013 ''" Chania (Souda port), Crete, Greece
Our meeting time this morning for a tour arranged with Lefteris of Crete by another roll call member is 8:15. DW enjoyed a spa café breakfast while I obtained hot-off-the griddle waffles and an Omelet and carried it to the spa café to meet her. We then picked up our travel gear and headed down to Café El Bacio to meet for our fourteen person tour of this part of Crete.
I love the port set up here! We got off the ship and less than 100 feet away; there is Lefteris with his mini-bus! We were ''"On the road” at 8:28 AM! Our first stop was the Souda Bay WW2 cemetery. Over 1,000 Allied foreign soldiers are buried there in a setting befitting their sacrifice. Lefteris and his associate both emphasized how much the people of Crete still today, remember how so many from around the world helped them during their battles with the Nazis.
Crete is situation at a mid-point in the Mediterranean. Crete is 180 miles from mainland Greece (Athens), 180 miles from Turkey, and 180 miles from Africa. Crete enjoys an average of 310 days of sunshine a year, and a Caribbean type of climate without the humidity or hurricanes.
Next we climbed (and climbed) in the bus, to a park including a Greek Orthodox Church with a service in process. From this vantage point we could observe the entire Chania area and see all the way to the western end of Crete. The chanting of the church service was amplified and played outdoors. The graves of two revered leaders from prior wars are also on the grounds.
Next we drove down to Chania town. We were dropped off and toured the central market, the leather market (where some purchased belts, or handbags), and then came to ''"Little Venice.” This area along the harbor was built by the Venetians many hundreds of years ago. It is very photogenic and we enjoyed walking along and seeing the sights. Our driver picked us up and we were off to see ancient Aptera, built by the Minotians 3500 years ago.
The disappointment at Aptera is that the Minotian Theater is closed as it is under restoration. There is a monastery at the sight and it seemed we spent too much time there. Nearby is a fortification only a few hundred years old built by the Turks when they controlled the area. From there, sweeping vistas of Souda bay and the surrounding waters, mountains, and Olive groves were enjoyed.
We were then taken along the interior roads through small farming communities and stopped near a mineral water spring for lunch. ''"Lunch” was not on the scheduled agenda and this caught all by surprise. While the lunch was a nice opportunity to try many locally grown foods and wine, three of us passed on this. My DW very much enjoyed it, while I passed.
We visited an Olive Oil processing facility. Being a Sunday, nothing was running, but they certainly explained the operation. Of course, there were items available for purchase, which some did. On the way we had passed a beach, and I asked if we were heading back that way could we stop at the beach? We did, and everyone seemed to enjoy the stop. The shame is, it was actually warm enough to enjoy the beach, but this was only a photo stop. Everything along the beach was closed as the season is over.
While on the beach stop we organized the finances and took care of paying Lefteris for the tour. From here we drove along the beach, back to the highway, and twenty minutes later were back at the Constellation.
It was a very pretty afternoon on the Constellation. After boarding, it was obvious that many chose not to leave the ship today. The sun worshippers were out in force on the pool and upper deck. We picked up a snack and snagged a table at the aft lido deck bar. Our dining room waiter, Arslan, was working back there (he looked tired) and he said it had been packed there all day. We enjoyed being in the open air (and in the shade) and relaxed with our friends.
This is the final formal night. We did it up right tonight, and met early to take our own formal portraits. We went into dinner and the one couple at our table who don’t come to formal night again, did not attend. Dinner tonight was another adventure. Lobster! Well ''" everyone except one ordered the lobster. Two of us received perfectly ''"Okay” Lobster. Three of us had mushy lobster that did not taste right. The seafood curse on this cruise continues. Alternate meals (not lobster) were brought.
Of course, the introduction on the executive dining team and parade of waiters was held towards the end of dinner. I used to think this was a nice event. Not anymore. For first time cruisers I guess it’s a big deal, but I would not miss it at all if Celebrity decided to stop this.
The baked Alaska was even somewhat of a disappointment ''" so much so that I asked for Apple Pie. Thanks Arslan! After dinner we relaxed a while in the Rendez-Vous listening to the party band that was playing a different set tonight. The dance floor was packed. Rather than attempt the show we took a round of beverages back to the cabin and called it a night.
Monday, November 11, 2013 ''" Sea day
After nine port days in a row, this one lone sea day is very welcome! A lazy morning was in store, along with some coffee/tea from our favorite place on the ship, Café El Bacio. We wondered the ship a little during the late morning and met our traveling friends at 10:45 to attend the poorly publicized sea day Brunch in the main dining room.
The Brunch is a very nice affair. Many intricate ice carvings were slowly melting away while all kinds of food is wondrously presented. And it’s even tasty! We all enjoyed the food. What could be better at this event? Well, table service (to take away used plates, bring beverages, etc.) is virtually non-existent. I ended up ''"Busing” our used plates to the waiter station myself twice. After the second time, a dining room manager was walking by and I snagged him to let him know. Later in the day we heard that there were a crush of guests who all showed up at about 12:00 (when the crew talent show let out) and many people were unhappy with the situation, as tables had not been cleaned and reset for new guests.
We left the event in order to attend the party band at the pool; on the schedule for noon. Well, we were there ''" the band wasn’t. It took a while to find anyone who knew anything and we were finally told they canceled due to bad weather. Temps in the high 60’s and sunshine is bad weather? It may not be ''"Go in the outdoor pool” weather, but certainly pleasant enough to sit and listen to the band. Were they playing somewhere else instead? No. We had just about completed our passenger survey and this moved the rating for entertainment from fair to poor.
We sat on the very pleasant pool deck for quite a while as I downloaded our friend’s photos onto my PC. Once home, I will copy them onto SD cards and send everyone all the photos. Once this task was done, it was back to the cabin to pack. Packing went well, and our portable luggage scale was in high demand! We managed to keep the two big bags right under 50 pounds each. Once everything was packed we found an unused carry-on case. This was filled coming in with the first day’s clothing. Now it was filled with the pottery from Mykonos that we will carry-on the plane heading home.
We visited the Café once more for teas and found an ideal table at the aft bar on deck 10 for our transit of the Dardanelles, which conveniently was happening between 4:00 and 5:30 PM. All too soon it was time for our farewell meal in the San Marco dining room. Tonight’s dinner had no incidents although again, for some reason, dessert seemed to take a long time.
After dinner we had some more tea from the Café and attended the show. The show was a magician from the UK and he was very good. I was selected (I did not volunteer!) to be one of the witnesses for one of his tricks. Even being ''"Right there,” I had no idea how he did the very convincing illusion. That made a good last event for the cruise!
We put out the luggage for transfer to the dock and called it a night.
Tuesday November 12 ''" Disembarkation
We met for breakfast at 7:40 at the Ocean view. Everything was in full force and we were able to get our last ''"Fresh squeezed OJ” for the trip, along with waffles and an Omelet. We met another couple at Café El Bacio for our last coffee and tea of the trip and at 8:35 proceeded towards the gangway to leave the Constellation.
There was quite a line leaving the ship. Seems like quite a few people got the ''"Buzzer” when trying to leave and needed to return to guest services for one reason or another. By 9:25 we were in the terminal with the entire luggage. Our prearranged driver was waiting for the eight of us with the promised ''"Sprinter” mini-bus to take us to Ataturk airport. We arrived without incident and began to navigate a very strange airport situation. We went through security twice. First, with the checked baggage going on the belt. Very strange. There was then a very long and very slow moving line to check in at Lufthansa. So everything nice I said about them at the beginning of the trip was ruined on this end. Eventually we got through the line, left our bags, and headed toward the gate. Another passport check and another security check, and we were finally in the main international terminal.
We did lots of walking as our boarding pass said gate 224. While having a beverage near #224, the monitor changed to gate 205. That is on the other end of the airport. The good thing is we passed several additional shops and picked up a few items. We arrived near #205 to find the gate changed to #222 ''" back where we were! Well, at least we got some exercise before lots of sitting…
We boarded a few minutes late but supposedly arrived in Munich on time. We needed to get from one end of the terminal to the other, and pass through yet another layer of security in Munich, before boarding our flight for Newark. No time to dawdle as the flight was boarding as we arrived. This 9 hour and 15 minute flight seemed longer. To end a very long story, at 11:30 PM we arrived in our driveway, 22 hours after we began the process of leaving the Constellation.
This was a journey we will remember all our lives. The trip was certainly port-focused, and for the ports this was a five star trip. The Constellation is a fine vessel. The captain was great and almost without exception, the crew a delight to be around. The cruise experience itself was very good. ''"Cutbacks” are evident and I doubt that a Celebrity cruise will ever again reach the five star rating we gave Infinity back in 2010.
We certainly never went hungry, but overall felt that food quality has slipped from even last fall when we were on the Summit. That is a half-star reduction. Add to that the lack of entertainment available when returning from ports (even in ideal weather); the good ship Constellation gets four stars out of five.