EMBARKATION DAY: Our flight went smoothly on Lufthansa from SF to Frankfurt, flight attendants were very friendly and helpful, the food was actually decent and they even offer wine and beer free (even in economy class). 10 hours is an awful long time to be seated even with a few stretches, but the aisles aren't very wide and I hated climbing over DH and a stranger to go wander. Even though we only had a 1 hour layover before our flight to Rome everything went well and it was soooo exciting to see the Swiss Alps out the window on our way! I'd been too excited to sleep during our long flight but surprisingly fell asleep on the short 2 hour flight to Rome. The airport: Hallelujah- all our luggage made it even with the short transfer time!!!! Our shuttle company was waiting with a sign with our name, but unfortunately the driver wasn't there yet so we had a 20 minute wait. (Airport Shuttle.com-40 Euro each for 4 people and luggage including tip). Took about 1 hour to get to the port, but like Bekah we ran into the roadblocks for the bike race. The driver didn't know an alternate route and we spent about another hour driving in circles with bad directions from the officers manning the detours. We could see the ship in the distance, but couldn't get to her! Just about the time we were tempted to walk the driver got good directions and we were there!! Up close the ship is so impressive, much better than looking at her pictures. We like to carry our own luggage onboard because we have had all the problems with luggage you can imagine-lost, damaged, dropped in the sea, misplaced for a few days etc. so we try to put everything into two roller bags each and that works well for us.
Check in- We were there about 3pm and there was hardly any line at all and we just went right on through. As Bekah mentioned they do take your passports and give you a receipt so they can process everyone for Turkey at the same time.
The dEcor on Freedom takes a little getting used to, but there were some areas that are really nice. I'm not a fan of the kind of art they used in the staterooms but they had real paintings and some pretty light fixtures. We had booked an inside guarantee and that's what we got-no upgrade, but we knew from our trip on Liberty that we really don't spend much time in the room on such a port intensive trip anyway, and when we do we're usually sleeping! I think we were probably the first people to use this particular room, the door lock was temperamental and had to be fixed and the drawers stuck and DH fixed them by rubbing soap all over the runners so they worked fine. Everything was super sparkling clean and it just gave us a very special feeling to be there! I room steward was there right away to introduce himself, ask if we had any special requests, and tell us his hours and how to page him. He got the lock looked at right away, and even though it remained temperamental it did work if you jiggled it while pulling out your cardkey. After the first introduction we rarely saw the steward: our room was always tided and ready magically even if we were only out for a few minutes, the towel animals were so cute, we always had plenty of ice and fresh glasses and towels so there was never any reason to call him!!! We went up and had a snack at the lido deck and of course had to get our first Fun ship Drink and glass. We wondered around the ship, ran into a few of the CC members who we recognized from the pictures Weatherguy T.Scott had put together for us. It's always exciting to watch a ship pulling out of port—especially when you're on the deck!!!! It was a bit windy and cold and there weren't many other passengers out there! Chic Dining room-almost late for dinner-oh no! The dEcor is more subdued that the rest of the ship and I actually like it quite a bit. Our waiter Ken and assistant Cassil are wonderful. Hope you get to enjoy being pampered by them!! I found the food to be wonderful too. I was intending to go with the Spa selections but couldn't resist splurging on the Chocolate Melting cake from the alternate menu!! As good as I remembered. We were supposed to meet up with the CC members at the Habana lounge and had even checked out where it was earlier, but we finished dinner around 10:15 and were falling asleep in our plates and as we headed for the stairs we just couldn't make it upstairs and went down to our room and fell fast asleep. By the way the new Carnival beds really are wonderful even after you get over jetlag.
Naples-The Blue Grotto, Capri and Ana Capri. Slept like a log until 3AM and then found ourselves wide awake. Went up to Lido deck and walked around a while and came back to read. We docked in Naples while having our Eggs Benedict in the Posh dining room. A really beautiful clear day. We were able to disembark right away and walked over to the Ferry and Hydrofoil area to the left of the ship. There were a lot of Taxi drivers offering excursions that will approach you as you head that way. They hydrofoil tickets from Naples to Capri were sold out (I think that the tours got them) so we took the Ferry instead. It was actually very nice on the top deck and we got some beautiful pictures of the old fort and port of Naples and of Capri on the way, it was very relaxing and cheaper than the hydrofoil. I'm sorry to say I forgot to write down the amount and can't find the ticket. Right off the Ferry we walked down to the little dock and bought our tickets for the Blue Grotto-We paid 10 Euro for the boat ride over and then you pay an additional 9 Euro for the little boat that actually takes you into the Grotto. It's a bit expensive for such a short trip, but worth it. Pictures just don't do it justice. When the boatman makes you lie down in the boat to get into the mouth of the cave and pulls you into a completely dark cave you feel like you're being ripped off until he says sit up and look back. It is truly amazing how glowing blue the water is. It just takes your breath away. On the way back to the marina we got a better look at all the houses built along the cliffs and the rockwork all along the water. You also look up at the road you have to take up to Capri and Ana Capri. It makes you hesitate a bit to think about the trip. Back at the marina we had some great gelato while waiting for the funicular that takes you up to Capri. Even though it would only have been 1.60 Euro for the little bus, there were so crammed full of people that we decided to negotiate with a taxi to take us to both Capri and Ana Capri for 20 Euro for 4 of us. The driver pointed out the sites during a pretty hair raising experience driving up the narrow, windy road going quite fast. It's hard to believe that 2 way traffic is going on the little road and when you pass someone going the other direction no one slows down!! It's amazing that the buses and cars aren't all scraped along the sides. Beautiful views from Capri, lots of expensive shops. We didn't spend much time there, but went on up to Ana Capri. Here there were more touristy type of shops, more gelato, and of course the chairlift that takes you to the top of the mountain. Up by the entrance to the chairlift is an ATM if you need more euros. The trip up gives you great views of the coastline and you also go over the little houses and pretty gardens of the people living on the hillside. At the top there is a small restaurant and bathrooms which were unfortunately not opened this early. I think it would be great to sit in the glass enclosed area and have lunch, fortunately we had brought some subway sandwiches from home that we had intended to eat at the airport before our flight out but were too excited to eat. They made a great snack sitting on a wall looking out over the sea. You could probably buy sandwiches down below or use some ziplock bags and get sandwiches off the ship from the Deli. We didn't stay as long as I would have liked since the restrooms were all locked up. I will say the ride back down the chairlift was really scary. Even though you're still not too far off the ground as you look forward it's really high up the mountain!! Back at Ana Capri we bought some souvenirs sampled some gelato, and bought some strawberry and lemoncello after finding the restrooms (.50 Euros). Then we met back with our Taxi driver and headed back to the Marina Grande. Still a scary ride and noticed the net covered areas to keep the rocks from falling on the vehicles!!! Back at the Marina we spent some time on the little rocky beach admiring the clear and almost warm water, bought hydrofoil tickets for 12 Euro for 3:35PM and had a snack at one of the outdoor cafe areas and some delightful red wine. Checked out some of the shops, bought a bottle of red wine at the far end of town put all our stuff into our backpacks and made the hydrofoil in plenty of time. The trip back was much faster than the ferry, and we were back on the ship way before our 6pm sailing. A very excellent day. Tonight was the welcome aboard show, if you miss it you can also see it played in the cabins afterward. Some people have complained that it's just the same thing that John has done on other ships, but I think that as an ice breaker it's a great thing. I know we've gone up and talked to people who have participated in the shows when we see them at dinner or around the ship, and we even talked to "Willie banger" when we saw him again at a different cruise. I know that "Dastardly" from our Liberty cruise Bedtime story is on our cruise this time.
Relaxing day at sea and 1st formal night. Slept in, had a great breakfast, went to the "HOT TUBS" which aren't really hot, but comfortable. We actually spent quite a while in them relaxing and reading. Didn't take part in any of the fun and games but did get to know the ship a little. Tonight the majority of people did seem to dress up in fancy dresses and I noticed more suits than tuxes on the guys. Plenty of different Photo ops around the ship without much waiting. Captain's cocktail party was well attended, nice band, but not too many people dancing. Great dinner-my lobster was excellent and my husband's rare prime rib was too! Afterward we went to the show. I thought it was great. A tribute to New Orleans, very vibrant, a little risquE and colorful. Then we went off dancing at the "70S" club for a while and ended up at the piano bar with RON. Very enjoyable and entertaining, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Time change tonight and a busy day planned for Rhodes so we didn't stay too long, but we'll be back!
RHODES- St Patrick's Day Had breakfast on the lido deck and watched the ship pull into Rhodes harbor. It really is a medieval castle town!! We brought a map I downloaded from the internet, but inside each gate there are big display maps that were much better. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes as the streets are really uneven and stony. A good walking tour is at site www.rodos.com/rhodes-tn/old-town-rh.html The Street of Knights was easy to find even if there hadn't been walking tour groups to follow. At the top of the street if the Palace of the Grand Masters. Beautiful mosaics the woodworked benches and the stonework are very interesting. We bought a combination ticket for all 4 museums for 10 Euro since just one museum cost 6 Euro and we definitely planned to visit as many as possible. I don't know if it's always so but on the day we were there all the museums including the clock tower closed at 3pm. I had read that you could get a really great view of the city from the Clock tower and trade your ticket in for a drink at the tavern at the bottom! Well, if we ever return we'll have to give it a try as we only made it to 2 of the other museums. There are huge piles of stone cannon balls all around to remind you that defense played a major part in the plan of this city. We loved the various bazaar type stands all along the streets and bought some wonderful stuff. The websites had said to haggle, but most of the vendors seemed to stand firm unless you were buying many items at once. Greek olive oil soap-1euro each/ 6for 5 Euro "Black ouzo" a coffee flavored anise flavored liquor that is specific to Rhodes-7 Euro for a fancy bottle A beautiful woven linen embroidered tablecloth and napkins for 12 for 70 Euro-and I wish I could have bought more, they were all so great just check that you get the ones really made on Rhodes and not imitations. Some perfume/crème ceramic bottles 3 Euro each, but we bought a dozen for 25 Euro. I also bought a soft leather fanny pack for 7 Euro and a small leather purse that just fit my camera perfectly for 5 Euro. Then we went to one of the central squares and had a lunch of gyros, "calimari" and some really nice local red wine while sitting and watching all the other tourists walking by. It seemed like they were all people we'd seen on the ship! By the way there are lots and lots of friendly cats everywhere. The wander around like they own the town (well, maybe they do) As the ship was just a short walk back and in sight of the gates we took our time getting back on board about 30 minutes before sailing. We decorated our door for St Patrick's Day, and dressed ourselves in green flashing necklaces. Tonight was the first entertainment night from the dining hall staff, and they did seem to wait until just about everyone around us were finished eating to start. The show tonight was a comedian that one of the other passengers aptly described as a more sarcastic "Mrs. Doubtfire" type person, and I thought that pretty much says it. If you get singled out, just don't take it personally. IZMIR-EPHESUS Due to a miscommunication the tour I thought I'd set up didn't materialize. My fault, they did send an email requesting some additional information and when I didn't respond (somehow I missed it in my email) they assumed I wasn't confirming. Anyway when we docked and couldn't find our driver and contacted the company I realized that we were going to have to go this one on our own too. There is an area just outside the port gate where there's a Taxi stand and quite a few drivers waiting. There is a main guy there who speaks English, but don't expect to get a driver that does!! We arranged to be taken to the House of the Virgin Mary and Ephesus, about a 4 hour round trip for 90 euros for the 4 of us. Despite what we had heard previously on some of the CC threads and what John Heald had told us in our port talk none of the drivers wanted to take USD, only Turkish Lira or Euro so be prepared. The trip is mostly freeway (actually toll roads) and fairly flat and our driver was going FAST!!! I was seated in front and we were registering 180 km/hr most the way. I'm not sure how that translates to mph but things were really whizzing by. He didn't seem to understand my request to slow down some either. The only really scary part of the trip was when the driver swerved off the road into what looked like a gas station with a large building next to it and four guys came out and started opening our door and gesturing for us to get our!!! Talk about panic! Turns out that they just wanted us to go in and look at some jewelry-I'm sure the drivers get some kind of kick back if they get us there. We all refused to get out of the taxi and finally someone who spoke English came out and we were adamant that we had to get to Ephesus because we only had a few hours to see everything before the ship sailed. We had to do a lot of arguing but in the end the driver got back in and took us where we wanted to go. PHEW! House of the Virgin Mary- 10.75 Turkish Lira or 5 Euro-no USD here either. This was easy to do with out a guide and truthfully you can't help but overhear what's being said to the tour groups while you're there. It was interesting and we did drink from the three springs down below the house for Health, Wealth, and Love and bought a few trinkets at the stalls just by the entrance to the site. This took only about an hour. There are nice bathrooms and you don't have to pay. Ephesus-this is a large site and even though I had done quite a bit of research I really felt we needed a guide. Again the price was 10.73 Lira, no Euro or USD was accepted at the entrance at the top. Believe me you do want the driver to take you to the top and walk down, it's a lot of walking and climbing regardless, and be sure to take sunscreen and water. It was a fairly cool slightly cloudy day for us and we were still sweating. I hate to think what the summer months will be like. No toilets inside either unless you count the ancient public toilet ruins! Anyway at the entrance we were able to hire a government licensed guide. We were fortunate because the one we spoke to was a retired history and English teacher named Llamil and said all official guides had to have badges with their pictures and license #. # on them. We spent a leisurely 2 hours being escorted and educated and had a thoroughly good time although Llami quizzed us a lot on our knowledge of ancient Greek legends and history so that I felt I deserved a grade A at the end. Thank goodness I'd boned up on my history! At the end we gave him a good tip on top of the agreed upon 30 Euro. And went to find our guide. The good part of not paying until we returned to the ship was we felt confident that he would still be there waiting as agreed! With the assistance of our guide we told him to go straight back to the ship if he wanted a good tip because we didn't have time left for any side shopping. He was really unhappy about it, but agreed and we were back at the ship with plenty of time to spare which made me happy especially when we heard that some passengers didn't make it back in time!!! All in all I think it was a great day, a little stressful at times since things weren't going the way I planned but I enjoyed it immensely.
ISTANBUL-This was one port where we had decided in advance to take the ship tour. There was so much to see and do and I wasn't sure about the safety and reliability of public transportation. Also we were told that the Hagia Sophia would be closed Mondays except for special permission for ship tours and I really wanted to see it. I'm glad that we did even if we did have to go to the rug demonstration. They were really beautiful and I know that several people on our tour skipped the demo and just went straight down the street to the Grand Bazaar. We started with the Blue Mosque and it was delightful to see inside the wonderful building that we've all seen for every ad for Istanbul and to hear some of the history about it. Wear socks because you will have to take off your shoes when you go in, but women don't have to cover their heads even though there will be guys trying to sell scarves to go as you get close to the entrance. Then we walked over other to Topkapi Palace. Use the bathrooms on the right before you get into the main area of the palace. There will be long lines inside for those bathrooms and the ones outside were cleaner and more modern.. We learned more history from guide inside and then were sent off to view beautiful jeweled items and saw the famous Spoonmaker Diamond (84 carats!) and the Topkapi Dagger. There were also many other rooms with weapons, clothing, and dishware on display that we were able to walk around and see at our leisure. Don't try to sneak a picture of anything especially in the jewel room; the guards will be on you in a flash!!! I had heard on a website before we left that one guy who had taken a picture actually had his camera taken from him. We were given lunch at a restaurant in the palace overlooking the harbor that was really excellent and filling. We had a nice salad, ravioli, then lamb with mashed potato, rice and broccoli and rice pudding for dessert. Beware of the drink called "sherbet"; it's an extremely sweet fruity drink that actually makes you thirstier! Fortunately they also served water. The restroom inside the palace had a combination of seat less toilets and standing holes in the floor. Next we walked over to the Hagia Sophia (and yes, except for the Grand Bazaar everything was easy walking distance from each other). This was originally one of the oldest Greek Orthodox Churches that was turned into a mosque and now is a museum. There are a lot of beautiful mosaics from the early Christian era that had been plastered over and are now being recovered. It is truly amazing. Do not use the bathrooms at Hagia Sophia!!!! Even in March and cool weather they were disgustingly smelly, dirty, and just the standing holes in the floor with no soap or paper available. Next stop was the rug demonstration, and like I stated before it was interesting, but way out of our price range for buying. It was also easy to skip it and when you get off the bus walk down to the Bazaar instead of going in to the rug showroom. Grand Bazaar-Everyone should see this place at least once. It's very crowded and you will be jostled and bumped continuously so do keep you money inside your clothes in a money belt or neck pouch. I really do think that you could buy anything imaginable there. My BIL bought several really nice silk shirts for 10 Euro each and they even have signs stating they're selling genuine fake watches, shoes, purses or whatever. They don't even try to fool you into believing you're getting the real thing. We did buy more trinkets and the bookmarks were the best price of all the ports there-just .50 Euros apiece so I bought a couple dozen to give people at work. The vendors will be very aggressive and even follow you around trying to get you to by something if you even look closely at it! One thing I noticed is that they would take just about any currency you had with you. I bought some things with Euros, some with USD. And of course you have to haggle because the asking price is never what they'll eventually sell it for. When the ship pulls out of port be sure to be up on deck watching. You can see the Blue Mosque, the palace and several other buildings all light up. It's just a beautiful sight. After dinner we were so tired we didn't even make it to the show. Later I heard that the entertainer didn't make it anyway due to Snow and they were showing the movie The Queen in the Victoria Lounge so I didn't really miss anything.
Tuesday -Day at Sea. Really relaxed today, Used the gym and the Jacuzzi's are still more warm than hot. Checked out the photo gallery, ran into a few other CC members. Had tea at the Posh restaurant. Very nice music, scrumptious pastries. Beatles review show tonight which I thought was really great. Rough seas though and we were really rocking and I was a bit queasy. Took my ginger which helped some, but I didn't bring anything stronger since I don't usually have a problem with motion.
ATHENS-We were late getting into port due to rough seas and the ship had to get permission to go into port. We didn't get docked and off the ship until 10 am instead of 6 am. Fortunately they changed the return time to 6:30 PM instead of 4:30 because we had a lot to see here!!! The ship has a shuttle for $5 but it only takes you from the ship to the terminal which is only a five minute walk-so why bother?
We wanted to take the Metro and do the sites on our own and it was very easy!!! When you get out of the terminal go to the left. Stay on the Water side of the street and walk along the harbor about 20-30 minutes until you get to an escalator. Go up and across and over the street and down and you'll be right at the metro station. Buy an all day ticket for 3 Euro. Be sure to stamp it before getting on the Green line. Ride to Omonia, where you get off and transfer to the Red line by going downstairs and heading for Demitris. Then ride to the Acropoli stop and get off. When you come out of the station look up and behind you-you can't miss the Acropolis!! We bought a ticket for 12E for 4 museums at the bottom of the acropolis. We were there before the tours so there wasn't much of a line. There are some renovations being done at the Parthenon so there's scaffolding covering much of the building. The museum at the top is fabulous but small. You can take pictures, but no flash and no posing with the pictures either. After wandering around the top of the Acropolis for a while we climbed down to the Agora and the further down to the tower of the winds or bathhouse of the winds depending on which guidebook you're using. We heard that if you buy your tickets at the Tower of the Winds there's never much of a line and you can get the same ticket for all the museums. From there we went down to the Plaka and bought some more souvenirs and found a nice little street cafe where we had a snack and some local wine. The Greek people were absolutely wonderful to us. Every time we stopped to look at our map someone would stop and help us and give us helpful tips on what we were going to see, or what little cafe had good prices and good wine. We even got advice on getting on the metro at a different stop than the one we planned because it was easier to get to. Back at the Metro stop there were a lot of vendors with more of the stuff that we tourists love to buy! We made it back to the ship with no problems, even helping out some other cruisers who had been dropped off at the Plaka after their tour and were unsure how to get back using the Metro.
Katakolon( KA-TAK-OLON) Once again we decided to take a ship tour in order to get the guide and tour of Olympia. I wouldn't take the one that included the folkloric dancing and meal again!!! I loved Olympia and appreciated all the information our guide provided. Unfortunately we had some of those wonderful guests that don't believe that the time to leave applies to them!!! We waited over 30 minutes on the bus before they could be located and we could leave and get back to Katakolon. At this point the Folk dance show was pretty much over, there wasn't much food left at the very long table they sat us at. We got a few olives, tomatoes, cheese, wine and ouzo. The other people at our table had all the other pastries, bread and dishes and put all of them on their own plates. Even though we asked for more from the waiters they never brought anything. I was very disappointed with this tour. If I had it to do over I would definitely too Olympia-great history there, but I would like to see Katakolon on my own and spend some time looking at the shops and I am sure that I could find a much better meal at a far smaller price that what we paid for this excursion! Tonight's show was a talent show which was very good; we have some pretty talented people on board. We also had new of a new Grandbaby born today to one of the passengers who got to watch the whole birth by internet. Personally my kids would kill me if I left the country when a baby was due, but it was very exciting to hear about.
Day at sea-also the second formal night. The best thing today was the viewing of the active volcano Stromboli. Absolutely amazing!!! The bad news was that we were late getting to the site because 2 passengers had to be taken off due to medical problems. I hope that they are both doing well by now and shudder to think of all the problems of getting medical care in any foreign country. Tonight's show was again really great-Jump, Jive and Wail. Very energetic and colorful.
LIVORNO-When we were on the Liberty Oct. 2005 we had an excellent driver who took us to Pisa and Florence, showing us all of the great sites there and telling us that if we ever came back he would love to show us Tuscany-his home area! So this time we contacted him in advance and he met us at the ship for a most wonderful day. We saw some beautiful Tuscan country side and drove through many small towns, visited a great winery located in an old castle (and of course bought a few bottles of excellent wine after a wine tasting that involved full glasses of wine for each sample!!!) They also had great local breads and sausage and proscuitto locally raised on the premises. I would have loved to bring back some, but I know we would never get meat products through customs. And of course olives and olive oil. I don't know why our olives are so tasteless when compared to those in Greece and Italy!
Rome-last visit in 2005 we arrived before the cruise and had a guide who took us to all the famous tourist sites. This time we took the train into Rome and used the Hop on-hop off bus to revisit some of them. For 13 Euro we bought the all day pass on the red tour bus. You get earphones and can select the language as the tour describes some of the sites and fountains you pass and the areas where you will want to get off the get to the point to see the actual sites. I also loved the map that they provided to locate everything when you are off the bus. The only place we had a problem was at the Termini bus stop. It seemed like everyone (including us) only wanted to sit on top and the drivers didn't want to leave until the inside seats were filled. We had to wait at least 15 minutes constantly refusing to get on and waiting for the bus behind before they finally left and let us get on the next bus which still had seats on top. The rest of the day we had no problems at any of the other stops with finding a seat on the top. The day we were in Rome there was a communist rally by the Coliseum with multiple booths with information and the streets leading up to the coliseum were all blocked off so the buses couldn't go their normal routes. We got off at the #10 stop by the Trevi fountain and after walking to all the sites around there headed over to the Coliseum on foot. We had a great time, used the audio guides and then headed back to the same spot to catch the buses back to the Termini station. When we got there we went way down a side street to a little restaurant where we had a couple of pizzas, some raviolis and of course wonderful local red wine. Then back up the street for some gelato and a return to the train station and the ship. Even though we were in port over night we were leery of staying out too late, but I think that I would love to see all the famous sites illuminated at night if I ever get back there again. But no one else in our group was willing to risk the train running all night since we had heard rumors that there was going to be a strike just during the night time hours of the train workers.
Finally it was time to leave. I can't believe how quickly 12 days could pass!! We did self assist debarking as we had everything packed into our two bags each and were able to just walk off the ship when we were ready around 8 am when we had our shuttle driver scheduled to pick us up. All in all it was a great cruise; I loved it and would definitely recommend it.