How to do Europe with no luggage....
We flew to Rome several days before our departure date of 5/10/08. Our most direct flight option was to fly through Newark airport. Mind you we claimed our luggage in Newark, and hand carried it to the international check in desk, because we had heard that they had 'baggage issues' in Newark. We checked 2 bags, and had 2 claim checks when we arrived in Rome. As we waited for a very long time at baggage claim in Rome, we finally realized that one of our bags did not make it with us. Mine...We stood in the obligatory line at Allitalia and filed our claim for missing luggage - with a promise to call and deliver our bag when it arrived.
With that, we collected the rest of our belongings and headed for the train station where we purchased tickets for the express train to the Termini station. Once at termini, we purchased another ticket to head to the countryside where we had reservations at Ann's Place B&B (recommended from another cc member). David and Ann were very accommodating, helping us by phoning the airline at least once a day searching for our luggage. In the interim, helped us find places to purchase necessities. They were very good and had BIRG (all day) train tickets (which were good for metro and busses once back in Rome) available for purchase and free transport to the train station each day as needed or desired. They also provided free transport to area restaurants as needed or desired for lunch or dinner. We hated to leave Ann's Place even though it was time for our cruise. They arranged for transport to the port, which we shared with another couple from cc. 140 Euros for everyone and their luggage.
When we arrived at the embarkation tent, it was very crowded. The biggest surprise at embarkation was that they took our passports from us, to be returned at a later date. We were on board relatively quickly and took the luggage we had left with us. Our room, and inside cabin, was very spacious for an inside cabin, and had adequate storage and hangers. Our room steward greeted us very quickly and was very thorough in determining our needs. We headed to the lido for lunch and headed off the ship for the train station to purchase tickets for a train journey at the end of the cruise. There is a shuttle bus that will take you to and from the entrance to the port...from there it is about a 1000 yd. walk to the train station - on cobblestone sidewalks - very doable even with luggage (if it's on wheels)
First off, our preference was that we thought Todd, the Cruise Director was annoying and out of touch with reality. (example....commenting on how great the sunset was when we were all on deck (without a view) for the lifeboat drill.) Every day was 'fantastic,' or 'amazing' = but also very heavy plugs for the cruise line excursions, and how much more 'wonderful', 'fantastic', or 'amazing' our next day could be if only we would sign up for the shore excursions....We only signed up for 1 shore excursion. The excursion itself was very nice, the trip to Rhodes from the port of Marmaris. However, the staff was rude and didn't want to be bothered by the passengers. They shed their uniforms for street clothes once we were on the transport to Rhodes and never bothered to tell anybody where to go once off the transport or what time to be back in the afternoon.
We had second dining in the Posh dining room, Table 433. On night 1, the shaking and shuttering of everything on the table was awful! One couple asked to be moved to another table, but by night 2 we had another couple joining us. Our waiter, Kasama, was great, learned our names, likes and dislikes as well as our drink person who always brought my husband's Pibb without being asked. However, our assistant waiter disappeared for very long periods of time, and by the middle of the cruise, you could tell that Kasama was getting annoyed with him. So, she was frequently in a bad mood by the time second seating rolled around....and because service frequently got behind so many nights we still had our dinner dishes on the table when other tables were departing for the show. But, we had a great time with our table mates. If you ordered one of the specials for the day, they were generally good, but the steaks more often than not were overcooked and tough.
I never did receive my luggage, but instead dubbed this cruise the commemorative t-shirt tour and purchased t-shirts along the way to supplement my wardrobe. I didn't find out until several days into the cruise that I needed to have filed a missing luggage claim with the pursers desk, but once I did, they left several messages telling us that they still had been unable to track down my luggage. There were over 60 passengers on our cruise who had lost luggage, so the dining room made exceptions for those who didn't have appropriate attire for formal nights. I was fortunate to have had a fellow passenger loan me a dress for the first formal night.
Sun King restaurant: Amazing....best food ever, well worth the cover charge. If you have a choice of photos or Sun King - choose the Sun King
Naples - we arranged for a private tour through Guiseppe at Sorrento Top Cars...we did Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. Awesome tour - beware that there are 3 exits from Pompeii, and 2 in our group of 6 got turned around after leaving from a different exit. We were late, and Guiseppe saved the day by getting us back to the port on time.
Marmaris - ship's tour of Rhodes. This was the first Mediterranean itinerary of the season, and a new port so the tour operator had to work out some of the logistical issues.
Izmir - private tour through Ekol travel to Ephesus. Lots of street vendors going into and out of the ruins at Ephesus - tried to charge us for taking a picture...then there was the rug weaving co-op/school. We took the tour, and then into the private 'viewing' room where not only was tea set out, but lunch. Obviously they had mistaken us for 'rich' americans. They were very pushy sales people. I'm pretty certain that the tour guide was supposed to get a 'kick back' on the sales, because none of us spent thousands of dollars on a rug, and she acted very upset with us all the way back to the port. Tour fees were collected in USD, and since we used the same travel agent for the next day in Istanbul, she tried to collect ahead of time for that tour...When as a group, we refused, she was quite 'put out' with us. And informed us that we could pay it the next day, but it had to be in cash.
Istanbul - private tour through Ekol travel to Topakaki Palace, Blue Mosque...Many school children at that palace, and huge crowds. Our tour guide was good, but at lunch time received a call from the agency saying that we had only booked a half day tour...but we had e-mail saying that it was a full day tour...so we compromised. Make sure you know what you are paying for....I'm not a shopper, so was not impressed by the bazaar - but enjoyed people watching while waiting for our group. But where they dropped us off to go through security at the port there is an AMAZING baklava shop right across the street. We purchased a box which made for lovely afternoon snacks with tea on some of our other days.
Athens - private tour with Paul at Athens Taxi (another recommendation from CC) like touring a city with your favorite uncle. He definitely had a passion for his city and I think we saw everything. We finished early, and he didn't want us to feel cheated so he took us down by the port to where some navy vessels were and a replica of an ancient ship was.
Katakolon - we opted to NOT go to Olympia, but took the short walk into town...a small shopping area where we found a store that sold beautiful wood carvings (made by the owners father) from olive wood. There we found a beautiful, sweet nativity set. Since our remaining luggage was tight, this was one of the few purchases we made.
Livorno - of course against the recommendation of Todd and not purchasing a cruise ship sponsored excursion...we opted for a cab. However, the cost of the cab was going to be 20 Euros a person to take us to the train station or to 25 Euros pperson (I think) to have it for the day...so 8 of us piled into the van cab and headed for Pisa (it was pouring rain) the cab driver got us there in record time and we got the obligatory pictures (in the rain) of the tower and surrounding area even before the museums were open. Then it was off to the medieval town of Lucca. Lucca was charming, and I couldn't believe how many or how ornate the churches were. Then the cab driver took us back to the ship...we didn't find out until dinner that there was a rail strike in Livorno that day, so if we had gone to the train station we would not have been able to go anywhere. And, in taking the cab, we were dropped off less than a block from the leaning tower in Pisa whereas the tour bus dropped them off a long distance away and everyone had to walk in the rain. Down side: The driver didn't speak much english and we didn't speak much italian.
Rome - We had done some of our touring prior to embarkation, but had left the Vatican for the day in Rome. We booked all of our tours through Angel Tours and were very happy with them. They accept paypal and are very quick at responding (except for 1 or 2 emails that got lost in cyberspace)....Now, prior to the cruise, we missed one of our tours in Rome due to a metro strike, and they not only waited for us, but when were unable to get to the meeting site and missed our tour, they promptly refunded us our tour cost. We did an afternoon tour, and only stood in line for the Vatican museums for about 45 minutes. Again, in Rome, it was raining that day so we were very happy to have our rain ponchos from the dollar store (at home).
Debarkation - We had made reservations to travel back to Naples and had decided to not rush debarkation and so were one of the last groups called to leave the ship... I thought it humorous that my husband and I had different debarkation numbers - but it didn't matter, because we carried our luggage off with us.
Europe streamlined - I did more laundry than I cared to admit, and wound up washing out undergarments in the sink each night...On deck 7 in the laundry room the 2 dryers closest to the ironing board will give you 99 minutes for your $2.00 whereas the others only give 48 minutes. ...yes my choices for clothing were limited to a skirt, 3 knit tops, a pair of slacks and a pair of capris (plus the t-shirts I accumulated) less choices made dressing for dinner less of a challenge. If it was chilly in the morning I wore the slacks and if it was warmer, I chose capris. And, I had 50 lbs less of luggage to drag to the train station and on or off the train.
We enjoyed taking the train, although it was difficult getting luggage on and off the train it had to be lifted rather than rolled on and off. Beware of 'helpful' people - one panhandler asked for money to show us how to purchase a train ticket from a vending machine and another offered to help us stow our luggage - we thought he was a train employee, then he asked for money, all my husband had was a 20 Euro bill, and he said he would give us change...we only got 10 Euro back - so an expensive 'helping hand.'
Biggest complaint (besides the CD being annoying) - We had selected late dining because of the large number of port days, and not wanting to miss the dining room experience because of tours getting back. Every dance production for the late dining passengers didn't start until 10:30 or 10:45 and for the tours the next day, if you took a ship's tour, you were required to be at your meeting place by 7 or 730 am. Given that this was a crowd whose median age was probably late 50s and the tours were very physically demanding with lots of walking, it would have been nice for them to do the show for the late diners while the early diners were eating. Bathrooms in public areas were the hardest to find of any ship we have been on.
Compliments: Cabin stewards, bar staff in the lobby bar, drink girl in the Posh dining room, purser's desk, staff at the sushi bar.
Ekol travel and visits to turkish rug stores.
Ship Internet was slower than dial up even when in port.
Travel insurance: We purchased through our travel agency, and their determination on my 'delayed' luggage portion of the policy was that it didn't go into effect until the day the cruise started...find out ahead of time what your company's policy is....A fellow passenger suggested that next time we 'split pack' half of my clothes in my husband's bag and vice versa