I'll start with the con and then give the pros! We were on the January 21st sailing with the virus. 3 out of 10 in our party were violently ill for 24 hours and a bit weak for a few days after. Our ports in Athens and Egypt were delayed for 4-5 hours because of this. The pro to this, is the employees had to serve us everything. So...no weight gain! There's a plus! Now on to the good stuff. Traveling in January was incredible, no crowds, no crowds, no crowds. Trade some jacket weather for that any day. We did not take any NCL excursion, but did it on our own. Well worth saving over $1000 each and were very happy.
For the ship, we had an interior cabin on the 4th floor. The cheapest, I'm sure. We were happy with our room. Bed was very comfortable. The staff was nice, but very distant, like they wanted to be invisible yet get the job done. Other cruises our cabin guys were so personable, would talk with us, etc. We were good with it, just a noticeable difference.....get the job done, not make a new friend. We found the food to be great. The Grand Pacific dinners were wonderful. The buffet served similar foods each day. Not a ton of variety, but good. The best were the secret crepes after dinner, chocolate, raspberry sauce and cream with a squeeze of orange. Those were tasty and were way better than any dessert in the dining room. The entertainment was fine. Better than our other cruises. Wish they had larger gathering rooms to play games with a group. All in all it was clean and fun. We took off most of our gratuities and paid those who served us cash.
Barcelona: We arrived a few days early. Took the Aerobus to the Universitat metro, then on to Monumental metro and stayed at the Acta Antibes hotel. The public transportation was wonderful. Buy a T10 ticket...well worth it. Food markets and restaurants close by and the staff was very helpful. We saw the cathedrals, walked the streets, enjoyed the waterfront, Las Ramblas, the markets, etc. One of my favorite shopping experiences was the flea market: Mercat Del Encants Plaça de les Glories Catalanes C. Dos de Maig, 186 Metro: Glories, (Red Line, L1) Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat from 08:30 We got there first thing and it was so much fun. Bought some new clothes 4E, a ceramic tile for our travel wall, jewelry, gloves, glasses...bargaining was expected and fun. Very enjoyable and was able to get souvenirs at a reasonable cost. Barcelona itself was very expensive.
Next we spent time at Montserrat Monastery. It was a wonderful day. We packed a lunch (baguettes, meats, cheese oranges) The cable car was fun, the scenery spectacular, the hikes enjoyable and the cathedral and black Madonna interesting. Traveling in January was awesome. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. Loved it. Wish we had more time to enjoy this place.
Took the metro from our hotel to Christopher Columbus, found the blue bus and were off to the ship!
Civitavecchia\Rome Take time to download free tours walking tours from ricksteves.com. They were terrific. Print out the maps as well. Very helpful and informative. We took a shuttle from the port to the end of the terminal (5 min) walked 15 minutes to the train station, purchased the BIRG ticket (9 E) which is a day pass for the trains and metros. (NCL's shuttle was around $200 to\from Rome). We listened to some of the tours on the hour ride. We had rain today...lots of it. Rain=even less crowds. We walked into the Colosseum. Amazing. Roman Forum next, incredible. Took the metro to the Vatican. We purchased our Sistine Chapel\Museum ticket online from the official Vatican site. It was an extra 4E but worth the gamble of not waiting in line. As it turned out, we walked right in. The museum was fascinating. So much to see and enjoy. The Sistine chapel was incredible. Again, we enjoyed the downloaded reviews and explanations. Facing the back of the chapel, there is a door to the right that will take you directly to St. Peters crypt and then the basilica...skip the lines. St. Peter's was amazing. The art and architecture was incredible. Pietra was quite touching as it was focused on Christ. We recognize we could have spent weeks here, but were glad we saw what we did.
Piraeus\Athens Delayed by several hours by port control because of the illnesses on board. Argh. Most of the NCL excursions were also cancelled because of time restraints. We took the metro one stop and everyone got off. Apparently it is under construction for a few stops until March\April, so we followed the crowd, took a bus, and then back on the metro. Locals were incredibly helpful. In hindsight, should have taken a taxi with the delays from the ship and the metro. Since it was off season, everything closes early. We walked around the new museum which by itself was fascinating. Walked around the Acropolis (closed), spent time on Mars hill, did a little shopping in the Plaka, and then made it back to Piraeus. Right outside the metro station and before going on the overpass we ate a gyro. Fantastic! 2.8E You must ask for ztatziki....yummy good!
Izmir\Ephesus Turkey What a treat. We booked a tour with Kusadasi Tours. She was there to meet us as we exited the port. NCL was $175 and ours was $50 (each\group of 10). We went straight to the Ephesus ruins, about an hour drive. Wonderful ruins. The Terrace Houses are a definite must. Loved this place. Where there are typically 10,000+ visitors a day here, we literally had a 100+ Awesome! We wish our guide talked a bit more and gave us more history. The shopping before and after the ruins was fun. We bought a chess set ($30) and little trinkets. Bargaining again is a must. This was our only chance for purchasing souvenirs. Lunch was included in our cost. Nice buffet line with 8 or so dishes. Very nice. We sat through a carpet weaving demo (didn't like this at all and was surprised this was part of the tour as we had requested not to do it). The apple tea, however, was great. Spent time at St. Johns basilica. Cool. Saw the Temple of Artemis, and then asked to go to a local grocery store for some treats. Great day.
Alexandria\Cairo We were delayed for 5 hours at this port. ARGH! Very frustrating. Booked a tour with Ayman the guide. (NCL was $500 for the 2 day-hotel included pp, ours was $100 per person plus $40 entrance fees and $60 for hotel-$150 pp)He was fantastic. He was happy and did not seem put out at all for having to wait. The driver was happy too. He was very personable before (with emails) and on the trip. He was an open book and we felt comfortable asking any question about him, his personal life, culture, religious views, political views, etc. He was knowledgeable and made sure we were happy and satisfied with each stop. We skipped the Mosque because of our delay and it was closing. Went to the Egyptian Museum. We weren't sure we wanted to go there, but so glad we did. Ayman showed us the highlights. We spent most of our time with King Tut's exhibit and then wandered on our own. This was a great place to take pictures outside in front of the museum. People of all walks of life were there. Great memories. We also bought papyrus\banana leaf pictures here for $1 each...gifts for the kids teachers. We then went to the Khan el-Kahlili market. We went into the mosque there and enjoyed our shopping experience. I could have spent hours and hours here, but it was the championship soccer game between Egypt and Ghana and we were strongly advised we needed to get to our hotel before the end of the game. We got what we needed and Ayman was extremely helpful in getting us great prices: camel w\real fur for $6, soccer shirt $5, t-shirt $6, pashmina shawls for $2.25 (I bought 15 for friends at home), head beads for my girls $1. We were happy. Man were we very happy to be home before the end of the game. Egypt won, and there was celebrating like we've never seen before. It was so fun to see. 1000's of fans in the streets waving flags, blowing whistles, lighting aerosol cans with fire, the streets were packed. I guess everyone was very excited and the celebrating continued until 3am. We stayed at the City View hotel which was not your 4 star hotel, but a great experience. The staff took us out and showed us where the atm was, about 3 blocks away. We ate dinner at a fast food place called Felfella chicken shwarma $1.50, lentil soup .60, rice pudding .60, drinks .60. It was great. We walked around with the crowds for a while and then thought it best to get back. Enjoyed the Internet at the hotel to connect with the kids.
Breakfast was included with our hotel price. Simple but tasty...breads, pastries, cheese, cucumber, tomato, eggs, fruit, etc. When Ayman came to the lobby to get us, he mentioned this was a great hotel for the price and location...compared to others he had seen. Visited the Saqqara pyramids, walked down to the tomb chamber. Easy climb, just climb in backwards. Ayman was terrific with his explanations and insight. Off to Giza. Loved taking pictures along the way of locals, donkey carts, kids playing, shops... The pyramids were awesome and the camel ride a must, the sphinx so cool. We felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was so deserted. Loved that! Bought a few more trinkets and then Ayman took us to another place for lunch. We ate falafel sandwiches and visited on our 3 hour trip back. Again, we talked with him non-stop and he was so gracious. Highly recommended.
Valetta\Malta This was such a cool country. The views coming into and out of the port are a must. It was beautiful. Malta is clean, courteous, and fairytale like. The history was amazing. I read the book "The Kappillan of Malta" historical fiction. I'm so glad I did. The book talked about the life of a priest during WWII but wove in historical stories of the past. It brought the country to life. This country is a treasure! We walked off the ship and were bombarded with hop on hop off bus offers. Half of our tour went with them, the rest of us opted for public transportation $14 for a 3 hour tour, $3 for an all day bus. We made a few mistakes here, but were still happy. We first walked to the bus station and took a bus to the ta qali market. We spent too much time here, but were able to find some things...little ceramic clock with the Maltese cross $7, watercolor print $2, tie $5, pastie $2. We then took the bus to Rabat. Saw St. Pauls church. Afternoon Mass was starting and they had a full house. Fun to see. Walked to the catacombs. Never having seen them, they were really cool. We were amazed at the tunneling system. Walked over to Mdina which was awesome. There is so much character on every street corner. Amazing. The narrow alley ways were very cool, the view amazing. We took the bus back to Valletta and walked the streets, shopped, and took in the ambiance of the city. Delightful. St. Paul's closed a few minutes before we got there (our mistake). We did happen on St. Paul's shipwrecked church. Very cool...we felt a little vindicated. We walked the streets back to the port. Loved this place.
All in all this cruise exceeded our expectations. Getting a taste for so many different countries and major historical venues was fascinating and well worth it. Traveling with friends and family doesn't hurt either. Hope this helps! Enjoy.