The ports: I spent seven months researching for this cruise. Because I had others coming with us, I arranged for all private or DIY tours. It was a lot of work, but it turned out to be well worth it. We got to go where we wanted and do it in more comfort and for less money. I will not go into too much detail here as I have posted information in answer to questions in the various Ports of Call threads on Cruise Critic.
Rome: eight of us came in on the same flight from Nova Scotia and were picked up at the airport by Driver in Rome . We stayed three nights at a small B&B La Casa di Amy near the Termini Station. We had been to Rome before so had the opportunity to do some special things. We hired Driver in Rome to take us to Tivoli and the nearby Hadrian's Villa and Villa D'Este. This was an interesting day. The highlight was Villa D'Este with its amazing fountains. Four of us spent a wonderful day going to the Borghese Galleries in the morning (amazing sculptures!) and then going to the Pantheon, Piazza Navonna, Trevi Fountain area. Our last evening, I arranged for 18 of us going on the cruise (We met on the Roll Call) to meet in a restaurant, and then take a tour of Rome at night with Driver in Rome. Our driver/host was the owner, Remo and he was wonderful. Six of us were driven to the port with Driver in Rome, but my husband and I and another couple took the train. This was easy and the 4.5 Euro price cannot be beat. Sorrento: There are so many choices here and not enough time. I am glad Azamara will be doing overnights here in the future. We opted to go on a private tour with Marcello of See Sorrento. We first went to Herculaneum and had a quick tour to see its amazing mosaic tile floors and frescoes. Then we took a drive along the Amalfi Coast. We were lucky that it was a beautiful sunny day. The highlight of the day for me, and the reason I chose to go with Marcello, was the lunch in a wonderful (not to be posted online) small hilltop village with a view down to the sea. We ate on an outdoor terrace at a table laden with treats, from fresh whole wheat bread, grilled vegetables, pizza, pasta, cold cuts, salads and cheeses. Pitchers of red and white wine were never empty. With the four special cakes for dessert came three kinds of liqueur including limoncello. It was a meal to remember.
Chios: What a great island and docking beside the main street in town was amazing. Two groups of us rented vans so see both the Nea Mona Monastery in the north and the Mastic villages in the south. We easily had time to see both areas and I would be hard pressed to choose between as the Azamara tours require you to do. We had time afterwards for the Intenet cafe, bars and souvenir shopping in the town.
Istanbul: This overnight stop was the main reason we chose this itinerary. Istanbul was all we had heard and more. Sailing in was a memorable experience. We toured on our own thanks to CC and Rick Steves. In the two half days we had time to see the major sites. It is a clean, safe, friendly city and we plan to go back on our own for a much longer stay. The evening in port, 28 of us were taken by bus to the Sultanas Night Club for dinner and a show (mainly belly dancing). The dinner was mediocre, but the show was great. Later the bus took us for a quick trip back to the old city to see Istanbul at night. Magical!
Kusadasi: A group of twelve of us took the deluxe tour to Ephesus and other places with Hello Ephesus. There is so much history there: We saw the Basilica of St. John, the House of the Virgin Mary, the Temple of Artemis, and the amazing Roman city of Ephesus with its library, two amphitheatres and the Terrace Houses. Their mosaics and frescoes were better than those in Herculaneum. We had a wonderful day capped by a late lunch in a garden and a demonstration of silk spinning and rug making at the government run school. There was no pressure to buy and no one did. We did some shopping later on in Kusadasi which has plenty of that in case you didn't get enough in Istanbul!
Bodrum: This is a scenic resort town with a crusader castle containing an excellent museum of underwater archaeology. In season, this would be a boater's paradise. We took the shuttle boat from where we were docked across the bay to the castle area. We had lunch on the waterfront. Later after visiting the ruins of the Mausoleum of Helicarnasus and peeking at the ancient amphitheatre, we walked back along the harbour to the ship. We did a bit of shopping here too.
Fethiye: Another beautiful resort town! We hired two vans to take us up into the hills to see the abandoned Greek town of Karakoy. This was very evocative. We had seen an abandoned Turkish village on the now Greek island of Chios. How quickly things deteriorate over time! Why can't people just get along with each other? On the way back we saw the 4th century BC Lycian Tombs carved into the rocks. How they were able to do this is beyond me. The waterfront in Fethiye is great for walking and there is lots of shopping here too. The number of boats for hire is amazing. Antalya: There is so much to see here that I had a difficult choice. I decided to forego the museum of antiquities and the shopping to continue with our exploration of ancient Roman ruins. We hired a bus for 15 of us to go to the ancient Roman ruins at Perge and the amazing theatre at Aspendos. The proscenium of this theatre is the best preserved Roman one anywhere. Perge reminded us of Ephesus, but the restoration is not so developed. Our tour included a wonderful lunch near Aspendos at a riverside restaurant. We enjoyed a buffet and fresh caught fish. Then we drove back to the city of Antalya and had time to do a bit of shopping or explore the old town, including Hadrian's Arch. We spent our last Turkish coins for two cups of tea and a great chat with our tour guide.
Cyprus: we had only half a day but managed to see a lot. We hired two vans with drivers to take us to Paphos. On the way we stopped at Aphrodite's rock. At Paphos we toured more wonderful Roman archaeological sites. The mosaics were even better than in the Terrace Houses. On the way back we went to Kourion to see another Roman amphitheatre and more amazing mosaics. We had a quick peek at the outside of Kolossi Castle and then it was back to the shop.
Alexandria: We hired Ramses Tours to take us for a long, full day to the Pyramids and the Museum in Cairo. The pyramids are amazing. So were the crowds and this was off season. We also toured the Solar boat Museum and had lunch in an Egyptian restaurant. Our guide took great care of us and was very knowledgeable. The Museum was amazing, but far too crowded to get the most from it. Each guide had to wear a mike and we had to wear earphones to hear him. We returned to the ship in plenty of time.
Athens: After our easy disembarking and sad farewell to Quest, we took a taxi into Athens. We stayed at the very inexpensive, but satisfactory Hotel Attalos, at Monasteriki Square, a very central location. We spent three nights there and walked all around the main part of Athens. We were very pleasantly surprised by how clean it is and pollution free. We also rented a car and spent two days (and one night in Naphlion) exploring more ancient wonders (Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus) in the Peloponnesian Peninsula.
Are we the kind of cruisers Azamara is hoping to attract with their new direction? We are older and retired and not at all wealthy. However we love port intensive tours and will enjoy the new house wine served with each meal. We are certainly looking forward to our cruise on Quest in Asia in 2011.