A Great Mediterranean Sampler!
Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
After a challenging time getting out of the US due to snow in Atlanta we made it to Barcelona with a few hours to spare. We met a group of 62 in Atlanta that ended up flying to Rome and boarding the ship there. Check in (while crowded) was efficient. They worked with Delta to get one lost bag to meet us in Rome, which it did. Our room (a last minute upgrade from a mini-suite) was wonderful. Deck 10 looking off the aft of the ship on the aft/port corner. The fact that we got to eat breakfast and lunch at Cagney's restaurant was worth the price of the upgrade (which was not that much). Our steward, Ronald, and butler, Totaram, were both very nice and very attentive.
The ratings we have given on the ports are for what we thought of that stop. They are not ratings of the specific tours we took.
We found all of the Jade crew to be very friendly. Our favorite restaurants were Cagney's (breakfast, lunch and dinner), La Bistro (dinner) and the Blue Lagoon (lunch and More
dinner). We found the Grand Pacific to be pretty average and the buffet to be fair. We did not do much else on board other than chat with lots of nice people.
As to the virus that previous cruises reported, there was no sign of it that we heard on this cruise. After Athens, restrictions on serving yourself were lifted, though great attention to cleaning was continued. Less
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Cabin review: SF10664
We were in a Romance Suite (Category AD). It had plenty of room for two. We did not feel cramped at all. We had a queen bed, couch, chair, dining table with four chairs, desk (very small), great (but noisy) coffee maker, small fridge, lots of clothes storage, vanity (small but usable), wireless internet (for a fee), shower/tub combo in the bathroom. Balcony had two loungers, two chair a side table and lots of sun! We looked straight off the back of the ship and were on the end so no unit was to our right as we stood on our balcony. The people above could look down on our deck if that bothers you, but we could not see the balcony below.
Port and Shore Excursions
Our next port was Athens. We chose an NCL tour, Athens and the Scenic Coast. The primary stops were the Acropolis and Poseidon's Temple. We loved seeing these things and the lunch they served was very good, but this was not worth the money. A cab to the Acropolis and guiding ourselves would have been just fine. We left the NCL guide as soon as we got in the Acropolis and just met them back at the bus. Poseidon's temple at sunset, however, almost made it worth the cost. Maybe with some good negotiating you could get a cab driver to take you out there. It was stunning at sunset. Again, there was next to no shopping time. The Acropolis is impressive. Just stand there an imagine what it must have been like in it's day.
We did lose a lot of time in traffic and yet the guide insisted on driving back into Athens to stop for a few minutes near the Hard Rock Cafe and some other shops. Too late and not enough time anyway.
Barcelona only got a lower rating because we have not seen much of it yet. When we arrived we took the NCL shuttle (a little expensive) but we got an orientation type tour of Barcelona on our way to the port. We went past several Gaudi buildings, Olympic sites and stopped at Sagrada Familia. When we returned to Barcelona after the cruise we stayed at the Gran Hotel La Florida (we got a great deal on it). It is high on the hill overlooking Barcelona. It is right next to the Tibidabo Sagrat Cor Church and the Tibidabo Amusement Park. Even if you do not stay at La Florida, go up to Tibidabo for the views of the city and for the quirky amusement park. (Tip: If you stay at La Florida, it has a free shuttle down into town) We will have to come back to really explore Barcelona.
The port is Alexandria, but we took the NCL Overnight to Cairo. We would recommend joining with other CCers and go in a smaller group for the same itinerary for less money. First, we saw everything that we wanted to see in and around Cairo and it definitely met expectations. We really enjoyed seeing the pyramids and the sphinx. Seeing them lit at night was especially impressive. They were the reason we took this cruise in the first place and they did not disappoint. The hotel was great and the two lunches were very good. Our guide Mondur was very very good. He was great a communicating about Egypt and preparing us for dealing with people at the sites (See note below). That hits the 'pros' of the NCL tour.
Here are our the cons as we found them. Day one we visited a mosque and the Antiquities museum. One of these should be dropped if not both. There are some very interesting items at the museum and more time there might have been nice, but why put that before going to what people have really signed up to see? After lunch and checking in at the hotel, we headed to the sound and light show. The problem was it was not dark enough when it started to see any of the projections, so for the first half hour it was just a sound show. The good thing was, you got to see the sphinx and the pyramids in the background. But after that (now 7PM after a 6:30AM departure from the ship) we still had a stop at a Papyrus making demo and shop and a dinner cruise. While we thought the Papyrus making stop was interesting and nice shopping, but at the end of a long day was not the best time. The final stop was a dinner cruise on the Nile. Everyone was very tired, the food was very average, the entertainment was the same and there were no views to speak of from the boat. Our group was slowed by low mobility travelers which we likely be someday, but we hope they will group us only with similar passengers so we do not slow down others.
Important Note: Beware the vendors at all of the sites in Cairo. They are very in your face and do not relent easily. They have many tricks that your guide should explain to you how to deal with.
The port is Izmir but the site is Ephesus. While we did our pre-reading on this stop we were not that interested . . . until we got there. This turned out to be the "hidden gem" for us. The work they have done unearthing Ephesus is extraordinary. Our guide was well versed and articulate. She really brought you into the city and it's culture. Our NCL tour (Exclusive Ephesus and The Virgin Mary) did not include the Terrace Houses which we understand was something you really should not miss. We did not think the NCL tour was a bad deal for the money although other CCers did similar tours for cheaper. We also stopped at the Virgin Mary's home. We felt there was a calming spirituality about that place. We would recommend including this stop. We did stop at a Turkish Rug center and saw how they were made. We also saw how silk was made before we were ushered into the sales room. This is a stop that gets lots of complaints, however, we were in the market and did get a good deal on a rug. If you are not interested in rugs, exit quickly and there are shops of all kinds at then end.
After traveling in the large NCL groups in Athens and Ephesus we decided to cancel our NCL tour in Malta. After the Cairo NCL trip we were REALLY glad we did. In Malta we just took a bus up to the city center and walked around town on our own. We did a little shopping, sat and had a "thick hot chocolate" and watched the people and boat traffic. It was very relaxing. Malta is another place we would like to come back to and spend more time.
Rome was the first stop. We joined a Cruise Critic group for a Rome in Limos tour. This was our only rainy port the entire trip. We had three vans of 6 people and visited the standard sights: Coliseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and the Vatican. We did drive bys of a few other sights. We would have skipped the drive bys to spend more time at the places we stopped. The restaurant they took us to for lunch was right across the street from the Vatican and had pretty good food. Our drive was very friendly. The guide through the Vatican was okay but not impressive. Very little time was left for souvenir shopping. The Coliseum was amazing, you can see what it must have been like. Trevi Fountain was pretty cool. We were less impressed with the Sistine Chapel than expected and more impressed with St. Peter's than expected. The Pieta was wonderful. We know we will return to spend more time in Rome and Italy.