This is a long review, but it is for two itineraries on one ship.
We did back to back cruises on the Splendour (7 nts/7 nts) - so visited all destinations in the Mediterranean that the ship sails to. Review, for ease of evaluating, will be in form of Ship, Embarkation/Departure and then itinerary overview, with tips for each section included.
Note: This is the last season for the Splendour in Europe....it will go to South America in November and then move to Dubai. Another ship will take its place for this itinerary.
Note: For a more English speaking passenger cruise, take the trip in June and early July. After that period more Italians and Spanish speaking passengers arrive. In fact, the shift is quite large as the Cruise Director informed us that he (English Speaking) is replaced by an Italian Cruise Director in July. So based upon the experience you desire, choose accordingly.
Splendour - a very intimate feeling ship, has been recently renovated so all areas are nicely kept to include the Cabins. We were upgraded to a junior balcony suite on the 1st cruise that had Athens in the ports of call and a standard balcony cabin on the following week. Both very comfortable and quite accommodating......for the balcony we were put on the left (port) side of the ship and it did not disappoint to see the sites when pulling in. We used My Time dining so we could adjust the week to fit the ports of call and allow us to have food on the stop and then eat later once back on the ship. We never felt crowded at all except out around the pool. The Viking Crown Lounge area now shares the space with the two specialty restaurants, so you lose the great views from on top.....other than that a very nice ship, crew and amenities.
Tips.... If you have My Time dining and have a special section you want to sit in, we recommend some planning to determine when you'd like to eat and booking the week once on board....we did the 2nd week and it worked out well for getting the table by the window and the Outstanding Waiter Stojan. The Park Cafe makes a great salad and also the Main Dining Room on sail days offers lunch and has a great Salad Bar, good menu and very light crowd. So it 's a great place to avoid the Windjammer lunch crowds and keep the ship feeling intimate.
Tips...we brought our own hair dryer as the one provided requires you to hold down the button on the grip to keep it on. Made it much easier for spouse to dry her hair. Also there are two European plugs (& 2 US plugs) so we brought adapters, giving us 4 plugs to use for our electronics and personal care products.
Embarkation - the ship normally clears customs early and begins letting people on about 11am and total check in time was approx 20 minutes and we were on the ship and walking about. Cabins don't normally become available till 1pm for checking in....also since a smaller ship, the crew uses the same elevators as guests to bring the bags up.....so you may see your bags and take them to your room.
Tips...There is a Duty Free shop in the terminal and the ship will allow you to take two bottles of wine and one bottle of liquor per person into your room....a GREAT DEAL. You buy and then clear security and once on the other side of security you pick it up from the shop and simply walk aboard.....saved us significant costs as we just mixed drinks in our room and took them around the ship.
Tips. The check in gets extremely crowded right before boarding as all are coming back from site seeing.....if you want to see Venice do so early in the day; come to the terminal and drop off your luggage, get your SeaPass cards then walk to the front of the dock and take the Alilaguna boat into Venice ( St Marks Square) and then back to the port. It is 15 euros round trip and very convenient for site seeing.
Departure - very simple and took us less than 10 min when called to get off, get our bags and head off to the train. There is a people mover train - for 1 euro you can get a ride over close to the train station from the port. Also if you want to get off on the first group you can simply keep your bags in your room and then just exit the ship with your bags.....
Excursions and Ports
Kotor, Montenegro - the ship comes into a 'fiord' and is very spectacular....so have your camera ready and get up on the deck. Be advised the 1st entry point is not the picture spot it is the 2nd entry point where it gets very tight, the ship will blow it's horn and then turn right......it is approx 20 min from 1st to second spot. In the city we were on our own and went into the old city and walked the old fort stairs up the side of the mountain to overlook the port. A must do....go early before it gets hot and will take approx 1.5 hours for a round trip. Take your time as it is a good climb and costs 3 euros per person so bring exact change or small coins.....they do not have the ability to break large bills.
Tip. Ship tenders here so you have to get Tender Tickets which are passed out at the Top Hat lounge......get there approx 30 min early and stand by the right entrance. The person should come and set a chair right in front of the door and pass out the tickets. Many folks come into the lounge and sit and wait.....then when the person comes in they call everyone out to get in line......this becomes a zoo.
Corfu, Greece - ship had shuttles into the town square where we just walked around, shopped, had lunch and went into the old fort for pictures.
Athens, Greece - used ship excursion to go to the Acropolis and see the sites with many, many folks doing the same thing. Was a very good tour but it is quite crowded on the hilltop and after a while we just left the group and walked around on our own. From the dock it is 6 kilometers to the Acropolis and takes approx 30 min given the traffic. If you are doing any shopping recommend doing so in the city or by the excursions as there is not much at all by the port. Recommend an excursion here as getting off and walking around will not be of value.
Mykonos - AWESOME. We tendered here and took the 1st tender (no tender ticket required for early tenders) and walked the city while all the shops were still closed and the city was waking up. It was spectacular....once the city and shops opened it took a completely different and busy appearance. Here just walk about and get lost on the streets and make sure you make your way to the bus circle and the 24-hour bakery which was fantastic for cheap eats and desserts......Wow! Tip: Get off early and walk about when nobody is on the streets except the locals....what a wonderful city. Do not eat by the water, go back in the village as the food is much better and 40% cheaper.....and more a local feel.
Argostoli, Greece - did the ship Excursion that included the Melissani Cave and Monastery.....the monetary was so-so, but the cave was very nice. Then the tour took us around the island for some spectacular views and an awesome beach view. There were friends on the boat who took a taxi to the beach and an island tour.....not sure of the cost but that is an option as well.
Dubrovnik, Croatia - visiting the Old Town and walking the city walls is a must. The Old Town is a 15 minute drive from the port, so we booked the ship's transfer there & back but explored the Old Town on our own. It is an amazing city, especially when you think about how recently they were affected by war. Walking the city walls allows a chance to see not only the spectacular views, but get an idea of what life is like for the locals. Other passengers did a private taxi tour and said it was well worth the cost.
Kusadasi, Turkey - we booked a private tour for Ephesus and had a fantastic day. With only three of us plus our guide, we could linger as long as we wanted at various places in the ruins while the larger tour groups were being hurried through. Don't miss the Terrace Houses...apparently the large groups don't get the chance to go inside, but they were a highlight of our day, seeing the restoration of 6 homes complete with mosaic floors, artwork and even central heat! It does get very hot, & there isn't much shade, so wear sunscreen & a hat, bring water & maybe even an umbrella for shade!
Tips from the crew & others: Shopping in Kusadasi is an experience - don't buy at the shops nearest the ship, prices are better further in. Haggle for price - heard you should be willing to walk away several times before getting their best price. If looking for Turkish carpet, do your homework before you sail. It's almost impossible to work a good deal in such a short time, but even worse if you don't know what to check for quality.
Santorini, Greece - this is a beautiful island - but transportation is challenging. We tendered in and as all of the towns are at the top of high cliffs, you get to the top by either cable car, on a donkey or climbing the steps to get to Fira. From there, to get to Oia (the picturesque town), you either take a bus, taxi, or hike 6 miles. OR you can do what we did... We booked a 3hr private boat tour which picked us up at the waterfront below Fira, took us to the volcano, swimming in hot springs, swimming in a bay at a neighboring island, dropped us off at the waterfront below Oia, then picked us up a few hours later to take us back to Fira to meet the ship's tender. We did have to climb steps to get up to Oia, but it only took 15-20 minutes. Others we spoke with later said they had to wait 45 min - 1hr in the hot sun waiting to take the cable car back down. The private tour was definitely the way to go. You can also hire a boat just for the transfer to & from Fira/Oia to avoid the cable car lines. Worth the cost!
Katakolon - we had private transportation to & from Olympia and were very glad we did so. Our driver helped direct us once we reached the site. Recommend you do the museum first, as it helps to see what artifacts came from Olympia then be able to imagine them in the temples once you get to the ruins. The site was super crowded with 3 cruise ships in town. We explored on our own using a map from the ticket office and the signs, and felt like we had a good understanding of the place. Passengers who booked ship excursions felt crowded and rushed. Had lunch at a small taverna in Olympia, where there are also plenty of shops. You can also shop or grab a bite to eat in Katakolon.