Cabin review: IB9573 Mid-Ship Inside
We had three in an inside cabin and it was fine. We chose to spend our money on the ports of call. There was plenty of storage for the three of us and we were pleasantly surprised. Also, the pull-down bed was very comfortable--another pleasant surprise. Our stewards were great and we loved our towel animals. Hallway was quiet and we slept great. Bring a night light and power strip. Overall, we were very satisfied with our room.
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Port and Shore Excursions
Another amazing port of call. To stand on the Acropolis is just incredible, and to have a guide who knows his history and can explain everything to you makes it even better! Again there were seven of us. I hired Paraskevas (Paul) Kalomiris as a driver and he hired a licensed guide for us (he called him Billy, but his Greek name is William--in Greek, of course). We called him Bill and he was amazing. He knew so much history including dates and names, we could hardly absorb it all. We spent a lot of time at the Acropolis and Bill talked the entire time. We asked questions, he had answers. We loved him. The cost for our tour with the guide for seven was 670 euros or about 100 euros each. We added some for a tip, of course. I usually tip about 10-15 percent if happy with the guide and driver--and we were! After the Acropolis, we visited the site of the Temple of Zeus, another interesting site. Bill took us to the Plaka for lunch and we had a wonderful Greek meal. We then walked to the new Acropolis Museum. As you approach the museum, you see the reflection of the Acropolis and Parthenon on the third story windows. That was beautiful. Under your feet is a clear walkway where you can see ruins being excavated right below you! The museum was amazing and Bill explained so many of the treasures to us. We finished just in time to go and see the changing of the guards at the Parliament Building in Athens. That was fun to watch. We didn't have time to stop for coffee and baklava which was a bit disappointing, but we will have to do that next time. We were back to the ship in plenty of time (as always).
We hired Jose Soler (395 euros) as our private guide on the Sunday of departure. The ship didn't leave until 7 p.m. and we arrived on Saturday afternoon, so we had time to do a half day tour of this beautiful city. Jose was wonderful and showed us the highlights. He shared with us a lot of history and details that made our tour fascinating, especially the Gothic Quarter (my favorite place). We saw Las Ramblas, but didn't spend any time there. The architecture by Gaudi including the Sagrada Familia church was wonderful. Park Guell was amazing! Mont Juic gave a stunning view of the city and we saw the Jade from up there too. Jose had a driver and beautiful van with a sound system...just for the three of us! He drove us (and all our luggage) right to the pier and the Jade. It was a wonderful day!
I would rate this a 5+ except it is a disappointment as far as how they handle the monuments in Giza. It seems there is no care taken around the pyramids as far as traffic control, parking lots, etc. There is garbage everywhere and the aggressive sellers can be annoying. Once we realized the games some of them played, we easily and politely said "no." You can spot the ones selling things, so that's not a problem. It's the men who come up and shake your hand and ask you your name and then want to wrap a towel on your head (if you're a male) and have you take their picture with you. Then they want to use your camera to take a picture of all of you. NEVER give anyone your camera. We knew that ahead of time and didn't do that. But in order to get your camera back, you will need to fork over some money. A couple of US dollars works great, so don't be too alarmed. There are also children selling things which is hard to resist. Most of the things they sell are for one US dollar. We also learned that some of these sellers will ask to see your ticket. NEVER give anyone your ticket either. They will appear to be official people (police even), but no one should need your ticket once you are looking at the pyramids. We hired an Egyptologist named Rasha El-Ashmawy who briefed us on all of this before we got out of the van. That was very helpful. She was very knowledgeable in Egyptian history as well and we learned so much from her. Cost was 130 USD per person per day; but it was worth it, that's for sure. She would go and get us our tickets while we would wait and we would be on our way. She hired all the drivers and even made sure we got checked into the hotel as well. We stayed overnight in Cairo at the Le Meridien and it was great. Interestingly, hotels in Barcelona and Cairo (the only two hotels we used) had no rooms for more than two people. It seemed to be a recurring theme and I wonder if that's normal. We had two rooms in both cities for the three of us. They weren't super expensive so that wasn't an issue. Just a curious thing. Back to our tour: After the pyramids and sphinx (wall to wall people), we got back in the van and Rasha had purchased us a "fast food" Egyptian lunch. It was pasta, rice, and a tomato sauce that was wonderful. We ate out of plastic containers and it tasted great! We headed to Cairo and the Egyptian Museum. WOW. Here is were you see the real stuff, that's for sure. The best was, of course, the treasures of King Tut. To see the gold mask and the decorated coffins was a real highlight. Yes, the museum is old and dusty, but you forget about all that when you see all the ancient treasures. Having a guide walk you through and explain everything is priceless. We headed to our hotel back in Giza and Rasha made sure we were in our rooms. She met us later to escort us to the Sound and Light Show at the pyramids. This was the highlight of our trip...not the show itself, but getting there early and just sitting and watching the sunset behind the pyramids with no one trying to sell us anything. It was quiet and clean and we just sat there and enjoyed the view of the three pyramids and the sphinx. The show we attended was in German so we rented headsets in English. I would highly recommend you go early to the first show and just enjoy the view. It was magical and the one thing I remember most about the whole cruise. The next morning, Rasha picked us up early and we headed to Saqqara and the Step Pyramid. We were early enough to beat all the buses. Rasha was very excited about this and took us to a tomb where she explained the reliefs and hieroglyphs and we were the only people in the tomb! Just as we finished, the big groups came in. My mom and I took a few minutes and visited another tomb where we had to bend over to climb down into it. That was fun. After that we headed to the complex of the Step Pyramid of Djoser. That was very interesting. We then headed to Old Cairo and the Alabaster Mosque. Another interesting stop and we enjoyed our time there. We headed back to Giza and another fast food lunch (seasoned beef in a wrap) and that was very good too. We parted ways with Rasha and began our three-hour trip back to Alexandria. Another memorable port was now a beautiful memory.
This port of call was a pleasant surprise. Ephesus was an amazing place and the history is so compelling you feel as if you have stepped back in time. Unlike the Acropolis, you are allowed to wander around the ruins and actually walk where people walked and shopped and ate and even went to the bathroom! We hired Ertunga Ecir, a native Turk who knows his history. He was very sweet and knowledgeable and we really enjoyed our time with him. Cost for Ertunga for the three of us was $300 USD including entrance fees (not including tip). So for $100 each, we had a private guide for the three of us. Sweet! Anyway, we spent the morning at Ephesus and it was incredible. After I got home I read my small book on Ephesus again and it made so much more sense after having been there. I can't wait to go back with my husband and hear it all again! Cleopatra was at Ephesus and I walked where she probably walked. The Library of Celsus was incredible too. The Terraces Houses are the icing on the cake here and are not to be missed. Simply amazing. Ertunga was able to share with us so many facts and interesting interpretations, it made these buildings and areas come alive for us. A small presentation with costumed actors was well done and gave you a flavor of the sounds and colors of the time. Walking on marble roads was so cool. This is where the Olympic flame was born and that story alone is so compelling. We reluctantly left Ephesus and headed for lunch at a wonderful restaurant that served buffet style. We tried almost everything! After lunch came the Basilica of St. John (the Baptist). These ruins again are full of history (time and earthquakes have taken their toll). From here you can see the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. There is only one reconstructed column standing but you get the idea of the size and magnificence of the structure. Ertunga shared with us stories about this area which made it that much more meaningful. We opted out of the visit to the House of the Virgin Mary. The reviews I had read were so-so and we aren't particularly religious so we figured we would skip it. I talked to some on the ship who did take the time and they said they wished they had skipped it too. There is no real evidence to prove Mary every resided there and they said it seemed more like a tourist trap than anything. I am glad we passed on that. Again we were back on the ship with time to spare and wished we could have stayed longer in Turkey. Don't miss Ephesus!
It is fun to get a good seat in the Spinnaker Lounge (or outside if the weather is nice) to watch the ship come into this port. We were up early and found our front row seat in the Spinnaker Lounge around 8 a.m. The ship doesn't dock until 11 a.m. but we enjoyed the view and took turns going to get coffee, etc. The entry into the port was wonderful and we were glad we got our good seats. We were off the ship in no time and on our way. We went through Chris at Malta TravelNet and our guide happened to be his wife, Joan, and Maltese native. (315 euros, so about 100 euros each). She was wonderful and has been guiding in Malta for over 20 years. She was able to get us in to places quickly and bypass the long lines (this is why a private guide is sometimes an advantage). She explained the history of this island and then took us on a tour of St. John's Co-Cathedral which was amazing. We had a quick lunch outside and enjoyed walking down the narrow, busy streets with all the bustling shops. It's a lovely place and quite the contrast to Cairo and Giza. After lunch we made our way to the Hypogeum, and UNESCO World Heritage site. This is a 5,000-year-old system of underground temples and tombs and is not to be missed. You must get your tickets way ahead of time (our guide got ours for us). Only 10 people are allowed in per hour, so a year ahead is not too soon! I book our trips about 11 months out to ensure I get to do all the things I want to do and also get the guides I want. It's worked well so far and I love looking forward to these wonderful adventures! We then headed to Mdina (pronounced em-deena according to our Maltese-speaking guide). This is a magical place! We toured an 800-year-old house and learned so much about the history of this walled city. It is now the home of the rich and famous of Malta, but you can walk around and enjoy the medieval authenticity of this place. Many movies have been made here for that very reason. It's the real thing! The view from Mdina is beautiful. Take some time and enjoy this wonderful site. It was also fun to experience driving on the left side of the road (we didn't drive, of course!). This was a British colony until relatively recently and that explains that. Valletta and Mdina were a wonderful way to end this fabulous cruise.
I gave Rome a 4 out of 5 because it was a bit rushed and VERY expensive. We added four others to our tour to help keep the cost down and that worked out great. The guide I had hired (Stefano Constantini) had a family emergency and his replacement was Marco who was just fine. No separate driver or sound system in the van, unfortunately, so sometimes it was hard to hear him. I loved the Colosseum, but wasn't sure how to hire a guide there. Once I figured it out, we were already inside and on our way and it was too late. That was frustrating. The audio tour was okay (I ran back to get one once I realized where the booth was), but not as good as a guide would have been. Before you go into the Colosseum, you will see the booth where they rent the audio guides. You sign up for the tour guides there too. They start every so often, so just look at the sign or ask the attendant. That being said, we loved the Colosseum and loved being there. Of course Trevi Fountain was fun and all the other sights we saw as we drove around. We stopped at a restaurant and had the opportunity to sample appetizers, wine, and entrees, as well as dessert and Lemoncello. YUM! It was expensive, but worth it. The afternoon consisted of our tour of the Vatican with a private guide (hired by Stefano) named Rosella. She was fabulous and our tour of the Vatican was a real highlight (and we're not Catholic). The history is amazing, and to be standing in the Sistine Chapel was really something. I bet we said "Wow" a thousand times on this cruise and many of those were in the Sistine Chapel. Cost of our tour with Stefano (Marco) for seven people was 600 euros, and the Vatican guide was 120 euros. It was worth every euro!