Barcelona: We arrived in Barcelona a day before embarkation at about 8am. We took a cab (there were tons right outside the terminal, can't miss them) to our hotel, TRYP Apolo. Since our room wasn't ready yet, we left our luggage in their storage room. To get to the Parallel metro stop, you exit the hotel and walk to your left for a 1 minute walk. We took the 10 minute metro ride to the entrance of Sagrada Familia. It is an astounding building! Unfortunately, we didn't book tickets beforehand, and the lines stretched around the block so we didn't get to go inside. After some time there, we rode the metro to Parc Güell. We hiked up to the top of the hill (so.many.stairs. although there was the occasional escalator) and continued the winding path up. We stopped about halfway through because of the insane heat, but we did see some of the imaginative Gaudi masterpieces. Can't wait to go back on a cooler day to explore with having a heat stroke. :P We went back down the path, and with directions from a few of the street sellers working in the park, we headed to the nearest metro, which was supposed to be a five minute walk away. It's not. It's a pretty long walk, even though you just walk straight.
Toulon: We chose to take this port day to rest for the intensive touring in the days ahead. Right after the port office, there'll be tours that may interest you; we ended up taking a little tram ride through the town but it found it to be unnecessary. Toulon is extremely small and walkable. Had we more time between ports, we probably would've taken a tour to Marseille or Aix de Provence. There were some great beaches, too.
We took an NCL tour for Florence and Pisa because of the distance from port to destination. Livorno is an industrial port, nothing to stay for.
They dropped us off in Pisa right in Miracle Square and left us for about 1 hour and a half to explore. We took the obligatory holding-the-tower pictures and wandered about, eventually settling in a Subway down the street. They gave the NCL tour members free water and there was also free wifi. For Florence, our tour dropped us off at Church of Santa Maria Novella. The tour herded us in a leather shop in the square, which did have a lot of nice products. After that small presentation, they let us go. We explored the church for about 20 minutes and headed to Via Calzaiuoli, and then Piazza del Duomo. The photo opps are incredible. We didn’t go inside. We headed to Palazzo Vecchio, and with over 2 hours left, strolled back down Via Calzaiuoli with gelato in hand, and shopping in mind. We headed back to Piazza Santa Maria Novella and bought a few things from the leather store (called Misuri) and waited for our guide. He was prompt and we headed back to the ship with time to spare.
Civitavecchia: We took a basic Rome tour from NCL. The bus dropped us off a couple of steps from the Colosseum. Deciding to come back to it as our last stop, we took the hop on hop off buses to the Vatican, stayed for about half an hour, and went to the Trevi Fountain. Crowds are the fountain are massive, and we just didn’t have the patience to battle through so we took a few pictures and left for the Colosseum. The line was still pretty long, but quicker. After buying tickets at the booth (which is what the line was for) we toured around for about an hour and walked towards the Forum. I didn’t find the Forum to be anything too special because the ruins are, well, ruined. We had some lunch at a pizza place right off Via die Fori Imperiali and gelato at one of the street kiosks. After trudging through the hills of the Forum, we headed back down and to where our NCL tour was picking us up again. It was a long, hectic day, but we saw most of what we’d wanted too. Rome would definitely warrant an overnight stay.
Naples: Tour prices online were insane, so we decided to take a chance and hope there was a good tour offering at port. Luckily, there were many. We settled on one that had about 30 other of our fellow cruisers and had a great itinerary; visiting Sorrento, Amalfi (including the crazy coast drive), Positano, and Pompeii. The price of less than half of an equal tour of NCL. To our pleasure, we got much, much more than we paid for. Our air conditioned coach, excellent guides, and overall experience was absolutely amazing. I would take this tour again in a heartbeat, and I advise you to wait till port to find a great tour that won't break the bank.
Mykonos: Mykonos wasn't anything we felt needed planning, because it was so small. We were ashore first thing in the morning and were back within the hour. Mostly, we just walked through the streets and enjoyed the cool breeze. There wasn't much else to do unless you were into some of the great beaches on the other side of the island. I recommend you print out a map before you go because of the winding streets. Some much needed chill time after Italy.
Istanbul: We found that the easiest way to do Istanbul was through taxi. The taxi stand is straight ahead of the port entry and impossible to miss. Find a driver that'll take you on a tour of the city for a reasonable price (determine price beforehand by researching which sites you want to hit). The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern are all within a stone's throw of each other, so have your driver stop at a central location and set a time for him to be there while you visit the sites. MAKESUREMAKESUREMAKESURE that you plan to return at least an hour or 2 before all aboard; traffic in Istanbul is absolute gridlock. Wear light, but conservative clothes if you're visiting religious sites.
Izmir: Ephesus was incredible! We took an NCL tour, and it was a good idea. It's about an hour from port and a large site, so stick to your guide. There is no shade whatsoever, so bring a hat and sunscreen. Our guide was very informative and I loved the library of Celsius, great photo op. It wasn't a particularly taxing day, especially compared to Athens...
Piraeus: There is so much to see in Athens! It's a beautiful city, a blend of past and future. Again, we took a tour that we saw after we got out of the port authority building. Piraeus is about 20 minutes from Athens, which I suspect is because Athenians were all gone for vacation in August. The city was pretty much empty except for tourists, providing with some breathing space. We visited the Olympic stadium, Panathenic, the various temples, and then the Acropolis. The guide was too hasty and distracted, but regardless it was breath taking. The walk up the hill wasn't nearly as bad as we'd prepared for. However, the sun at the top is brutal. The view of the monuments and Athens was completely worth it, though. We made it back to port with over an hour left.
Venice: Venice was a dream. The first day, we took a water boat to Piazza San Marco and milled around, seeing St Mark's Palace and Doge's Palace. We wandered down the streets and eventually circled our way back to San Marco. It was about sunset, and we approached the gondola stand and paid for a gondola ride of the Grand Canal and around the main islands. It was pricey, but for a once in a lifetime experience, nothing you wouldn't expect. It came at about 85 euros. Seeing the sun set on the Grand Canal while gliding underneath the Rialto Bridge is an incredible, why-haven't-I-done-this-before moment. We returned to ship just after (taking the waterbus again).
It was difficult to keep a stoic face on disembarkation day. You'll quickly realize how much of a home the ship had become to you, and your daily routine of waking up to exotic destinations had become so familiar. Make sure you had picked up your luggage tags in the days preceding, and stowed them outside your door before midnight. Your luggage will be found after disembarking in the Venice port terminal. After vacating your room (around 8 I think), you're free to lounge in public areas to wait for your timeframe to be called. They'll direct you to the terminal, and thus ends your cruise vacation.
Memorable Service: Muhammad Taufik, Grace Mata, Nelson Fernandes, Horace Reid, the Washy Washy crew, Barry Go
Raffles Court: Great variety, went there for breakfast most days. Breakfast usually stays the same, with croissants, cereals, vegetables, fruits, made to order eggs, waffles, bacon, you name it. Dessert wasn’t anything special, but there’s a great self-serve soft serve machine with chocolate and vanilla flavours. Crepes are served fresh and hot after about 5 at Raffles. You’ll see the line. Food can be brought back to your room; leave the plates outside for your steward to bring back.
Windows Dining Room: We ate all our dinners here. We had wanted halal food, but the closest available option was kosher food. Upon arriving for our first dinner, we realized the food was frozen and was rather bland. However, we spoke to Muhammad Taufik, our waiter, and it seemed that the crew did have halal meat. We talked to Horace Reid, who was in charge of our kosher orders, and he let us speak to the chef, Nelson Fernandes. He told us that it would see to it himself that we’d be able to eat like royalty. The promise was seen through 10x over.
I would sincerely like to thank all of them for their friendliness and for doing everything in their power to help us have the best vacation we could.
We didn’t attend many after hours parties because of exhaustion from the day at port and prep for next morning. We did, however, catch the On Broadway and Magicians shows in the Stardust Theatre. They were well worth our time, but I wouldn’t be overly disappointed in missing them.
Live music at Champagne Charlie’s is a fun throwback to times long past!
Random tips that came to mind:
Galaxy of the Stars Observation Lounge: Stay back on a port day and have the place all to yourself! Absolutely loved the decor, and the plush seats and floor to ceiling windows.
-Pools are nearly empty on port days, and you can claim a hot tub for yourself!
-Bring a lanyard to keep your key cards safe.
-Use common sense when out and about, keep belongings to self.
-Wear light clothing, layers, SUNSCREEN, maybe a mist bottle?