This is our second European Cruise, the last was 2 years ago and some of the ports were repeaters, however you only get a day in port and there is always something new to see. DH and I are in our 50's, we chose to go to the Med in Sept as the last time we went in July and it was very hot! This time the teperatures were perfect and we didn't get one drop of rain, the seas were like a millpond. There were only about 10 children on this cruise, a few honeymooners and I would say the average age of our fellow cruisers was about 65.
We flew from Toronto to Barcelona via Munich independantly 2 days prior to embarkation. We hadn't been to Barcelona before and we loved it, very vibrant and clean city, there was a major festival called Merce, on while we were there and there were many concerts and a huge parade. We stayed at the Hotel Jazz which is ony about a block from Las Ramblas and we were more than happy with this hotel. We particulary enjoyed the Gaudi buildings and used the HOHO bus to get around. Watched out for pickpockets, gypsies with babies etc and saw nothing except the wonderful city. We took a taxi to the ship at around 2 pm and were in our cabin within 10 mins, we had preferred embarkation but didn't need it as there were no lines at that time.
The ship is lovely, sparkling and clean and we never saw a disgruntled crew member, everyone was so friendly. We noticed there wasn't as much pushing to sell items on this cruise either. We had anytime dining and lucked out after 2 nights getting a table for 2 by a window with amazing waiters in the Michaelangelo DR. The Head waiter, Jan was very accommodating and we reserved the table for the rest of the cruise. Food is subjective but we found it to be very good this cruise. We didn't use the specialty restaurants as we have used them before and are happy with the main DR. We used the buffet for lunch and breakfast, usual buffet food but always something that we liked to be found. We also used the laundry on 4 occasions - no lineups at all. We didn't do any of the shows as I'm not a fan. Because this cruise is so port intensive Skywalkers tended to be empty at night (most nights, we checked)We sat in Crooners with friends we had made most nights but wasn't too keen on the singer. Had to use the medical clinic once for a minor medical problem and the clinic staff were effecient and helpful (I'm an ER nurse so I notice these things!)
I used the fitness centre to work off some of those souffle desserts and it was always nearly empty, no lining for anything and had good equipment. Used the spa for a manicure and it was very good too. We did either independant tours or "on your own" at the various ports. I absolutely hate the large organised expensive ships tours and found great advice and tour companions on the CC boards.
There were just two things that really niggled me onboard. Given the age demographic of this cruise, I was really surprised at the rudeness and nastiness I encountered by many of our fellow passengers towards the crew members. Never a please nor a thankyou, very rude if the crew member didn't understand what was being said immediately. It wasn't just once, it was many times every day. I had to bite my tongue sometimes, I had never noticed it on previous cruises. The second thing was the door bangers, on our corridor the doors seemed to be banging all the time from early morning to late night. People can to be very inconsiderate to fellow passengers it seems. Just small niggles and it didn't spoil our cruise.
Monaco was a little rough tendering across, we only got a short time here because of the lineups for the tenders, they could only be half filled and travel slowly. However we fulfilled DH's dream of travelling around at least some of the F1 circuit, would have liked longer here. We climbed the Rock and visted the cathedral and caught the little train that takes you around the town.
In Livorno we used Rome in Limo. I can't say enough good things about this company or our guide, David. They were marvellous. We arrived in Pisa before the crowds and DH and I climbed the Tower on the first climb of the day. We had heard the wait was about 4 hours long later in the day. We had plenty of time to see what we wanted and then onto Florence going through some lovely Tuscan countryside. We had wonderful stopping points to get good views of the city and had lunch in a great restaurant in the square outside the church of Santa Croce. Our guide was so knowedgable and we had lots of time to see what we wanted to in Florence. He had already reserved tickets for us to see the Statue of David so we had no waiting. A great day! Rome was the next day and we decided to have a day on the ship. We had visted Rome for 3 days previously and felt we needed a nice quiet day which we certainly had on a nearly empty ship.
In Naples we again used Rome in Limo with friends from the roll call. The guide wasn't quite up to the standard of David but he was good enough. We drove down the Amalfi coast to Positano and sorrento where we had lunch and a chance to wander around. We then came back to visit Heraculaneum. Having visited Pompei previously this was a nice "add-on" It was very quiet there and we really enjoyed it.
Our next stop was Myknonos, another repeater for us. We had explored the island quite extensively last time and our visit here was only half a day so we had a coffee at the port and then caught the ferry to Delos and spent the morning there exploring the ruins, very interesting, the quide you obtain at the ticket office was enough information for us to enjoy the island. In Istanbul we had hired Ekol tours to visit the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, I particularly enjoyed the Palace especially the treasures of the Sultans. We had a really good guide here - Tulah. We had a local lunch and then she dropped us at the Grand Bazaar with advice on how to shop well there, we caught a taxi back to the ship. I would have liked longer in the Bazaar to explore more
We also used Ekol tours in Kusadasi to visit Ephesus which was a higlight for me. We had previously stopped at Kusadasi and decided to have a port day, when we got home everyone who has been to Ephesus told us we had missed one of the best sites and they were right. Our guide was Oskar and he was very good. We had included the Terrace houses and Mary's house in this tour, well worth visiting, we also had the Temple of Athene and that's entirely missable in my opinion. The Terrace houses are spectacular and large tour bus groups are not allowed in there. The only negative about Oskar is that we ended our tour in a carpet shop!! I don't know how he managed it but we felt quite pressured and embarrassed as we wouldn't buy anything as expensive as a carpet without researching it previously. However our tour companions saved us by buying a rug and the pressure was off!!! I would have preferred not to have gone there. I have learnt since that guides get commission of up to 25% of the purchase price so that was why he was so keen to have us "meet his friend"
Athens was another repeater and I truly had been disappointed last time we had visited as I'm a Grecophile and have had many land based vacations on Greek islands. Our roll call members invited us on their tour and as the price was good we decided to go along. They had booked Jordan and he was an absolute hoot. Very passionate about Greece and it's culture. He taught us alot too, we had to remember it all as he tested us and you only had one chance to get it right! Hilarious, but I remember all he taught me! We were at the Acropolis as it opened, there was no entrance fee to monuments that day as there were Greek elections on. We saw the changing of the guard, had lunch at a marvellous restaurant and spent the afternoon in the Agora and Plaka, he prsented us with baclava, wine and a book about Greece. I would highly recommend him www.greek-tours.gr We sailed into Venice at around lunchtime, this was our second visit and we disembarked from here the following day. We spent 2 nights at the Al Ponte Mocenigo hotel, a 2 star which really should be a 4 star hotel. It was absolutely charming, in a quiet residential district about 5 mins from the Rialto Bridge. We didn't take a Gondola ride, saving that for the next time we visit! We took the vaporetta to Murano and toured the Doge's Palace. We had a wonderful 2 days in Venice one of our favourite cities and really explored it walking miles and using the vaporetta. A perfect end to a perfect vacation