Background info: It was the first cruise to the Mediterranean for my husband and I. We've cruised twice before with children. I had started planning the trip in August of 2009. I frequented Cruise Critic to get information which was a big help, although I learned some things along the way that I'd not seen here! I chose Royal Caribbean for itinerary and price. My main goal was to visit Santorini and I wanted the longest amount of port time we could get there.
Hotel info: We headed to Venice three days prior to the cruise; it was a smart move as we had adjusted to the time difference by Saturday and had time to enjoy Venice. (It became more advantageous, IMO since Sunday night you lose another hour.) We stayed at the Hotel Stella Alpina Edelweis in the Cannaregio area. I wanted a hotel convenient to P. Roma, yet in a price range we were comfortable paying by staying in Venice. It was a wonderful choice. We only had one bridge to go over and although those steps were a drag on the upside, it wasn't all that bad and easy on the downside. The hotel was lovely and the staff helpful and friendly. I was very pleased with our choice and would not hesitate recommending it to anyone.
Stateroom info: We had an inside cabin on deck 8. You could really feel vibrations and I wondered if it was the location (were we near some engines or something?). We laughed the first night as we joked there was no need for quarters to vibrate the bed! Thing is we noticed it around the entire ship. (The Captain did say at a Q&A that due to the era it was built Splendour does vibrate a lot compared to more recent ships that have newer technology. We got used to it and it was fine.) The room was a comfortable size, plenty of storage space (luggage slipped under the bottom of the bed) having previously traveled with four to an inside cabin this was luxury! We found the bed to be comfortable for us.....some may find them hard.
Activities: First, we loved the tear off portion of the Cruise Compass, which listed all the activities for the day. We'd carry it around and refer to frequently as the day went on. One of our favorite activities is trivia, although I am not the brains of the operation. ;-) Most of the trivia sessions were held in the Schooner Lounge which was too small a venue for the number of people who joined in most times. We stopped attending about mid week as there was no room to sit if you didn't get there plenty early. Some groups were large (I think the limit was 6, but some seemed larger). We won one round and got our key chains so we were happy. They had other types other than general trivia........Name That Tune, for example. The other things we went to were the towel folding demonstration, Captain Q&A, and my husband went to an art auction session which he found interesting. The activities staff were good. We particularly enjoyed Leo who held a trivia session one afternoon and was struggling with his English, and had such wonderful humor about it. He cracked us up. You can see we were not sports minded at all and although we do like mini golf, we never seemed to make it there to try it out!
Service: We felt the service and attentiveness of all staff to be great. A shout out to our head waiter, Lent, our waiter, Clive and assistant waiter, Ricardo. Ricardo "for sure" was a special delight. Our room steward seemed to always be working. The towel animals were great and he found things that needed to be taken care of (a closet door that came undone) before we did and had a work order put in - it was fixed almost immediately. I also was impressed with how friendly any staff were to us that we happened to see over the course of the week.
Dining: We chose the early seating at 6:30 pm and were happy with our choice. I had feared we'd be rushing back to the ship to eat on later port days, but we never felt like that. We had asked to sit at a table of 4 or more and were disappointed to find ourselves at a table for two, but as we looked around we saw they have a number of those 2-only tables and I could see where they'd tend to put couples at them. We later met up with a couple who were at a larger table, but none of them spoke the same language, and that was awkward, so sometimes you can't win The first & second nights were casual nights with a 50's & 60's theme and considered casual. (This info is found on the front page of the Cruise Compass.) The first formal night which was on day three, the first day we were cruising all day at sea and it was the big one - we had not brought real fancy clothes and seeing everyone else looking so grand had me wishing I had. We were fine - I mean no one cared, but it would have been fun to join everyone else in looking fabulous! The second formal night was on Day 5, which was on a port day & not as many people participated to such an extent. The 4th day was smart casual. Day 6 was casual/70's and Day 7 casual. Regarding food - it was good. We're not very particular, if we're not shopping, cooking or serving it we're happy! I enjoyed the fruit soups although they were not as pureed as some I've had on other cruises. We always had breakfast and/or lunch in the Windjammer. I loved it there, so many choices and I enjoyed it all. (We will not talk about the weight gain!)
Entertainment: What a wonderful variety and I thought really impressive. The singers/dancers were great. There were two spectacular groups, one a Motown sound group - Soul Satisfaction, and the highlight, I thought were The Beatle Maniacs - they were phenomenal! Then there was a couple called Crazeehorse that did body acrobatics. I wasn't really into that so much, but you did have to be in awe of their strength! They also had a magician, Mark Taylor that I found boring, but that's just not my thing. I felt it was all well done.
Disembarkation: We chose to use the express method as 1) I dislike having to think about putting my bag out the night before and 2) we didn't have that much luggage that we couldn't handle it ourselves. You had to leave the ship between 6:45 - 7:15 am. We had no issues getting off, it was quite easy. We did ask about the shuttle back to P. Roma - and a number of us were confused about where the bus was going to be picking us up. It is in the large parking lot near where the ship docks, closer than we thought it'd be actually. We had gone further than necessary, but no biggie walking back to get it. We were back at P. Roma at 7:30 am and walked to the same hotel to leave our bags and take off for more adventures.
Summary: The cruise was great. We loved the ship, we loved the ports, and we learned so many new things and enjoyed our vacation tremendously. I wish all those yet to take their cruise have as great a time and weather as we enjoyed.
Venice, Italy I was so glad we had three days and then a fourth upon our return to explore all of Venice. I had not wanted to schedule any tours, or have any set time to visit things as I wanted to be more free flowing. It worked for us. My husband wears a pedometer when we travel and we were averaging about 12 miles a day in Venice. It surprised me how often we'd say, "we've been this way before," it just seems like it shouldn't happen unless planned. We used Rick Steve's book to plan get our information of where/what to see and do. We did a lot. I can't say enough about Venice it's just the neatest place. We went to St. Mark's late in the afternoon and did not have to wait long in line to get in, so we had no problems with the bags we had with us. I did see people who must have gone to the bag drop area and walk right in. We did not do the paid sights inside because of the hour we were inside. St. Mark's did not overwhelm me in anyway way, but I can say I saw it. The Bridge of Sighs from outside is looking odd now as they are doing work and the scaffolding around it takes away from the original look. We enjoyed the Campanile, the Correr Museum and the Doges Palace........we rate Doges the best. We did not do the Secret Itineraries tour - so we don't know what we missed/ We also went to the Jewish Ghetto, Frari Church, we walked out to the Santo Maria della Salute - that was quite a hike. We took a vaporetto back to our hotel. My main complaint would have to be about the lack of restrooms available and the steep price to use one! 1,50 Euro's is high and you need exact change, unless you find someone at the restroom who will give you the right coins. We found that our main issue in Venice and later in the Padua train station. We made use of the restrooms in the museums but nature does not always follow your touring schedule! ;-) Another thing, even though I'd read ton about eating there we had a hard time finding the places that served the cicchetti and never had any. (We'll have to return!) Our first night we chose a restaurant at the end of the street our hotel was on. We got what I considered to be a half a sandwich for each of us and a soda and ice tea. We ate outside and then were quite surprised to find it cost us 20 Euro's. We figure they charged us for sitting outside, a service fee and a coverage charge. From then on we were gun shy about eating anywhere. We had a lot of take out and only sat down for dinner one other time the first visit and then once the last visit. Each time we made sure that the fees were included and we ate inside! We did LOVE Venice and now that we have a handle on the quirks we know how to manage around them.
Dubrovnik, Croatia What a pretty area and the city within the wall was a great place to wander and enjoy time. We took the shuttle from the ship. We'd not read or heard anything about it onboard, but I knew from CC it existed, so once leaving the ship I looked for it. We got in a line to find we needed to purchase tickets. A woman was in a separate spot taking care of that, so we got in that line and then went on the shuttle. We did wonder how we missed hearing about the fact it was offered. No issues though. Once dropped off outside the walled area we looked for an ATM to get Kuna's which I'd read we should get. We weren't sure how much to get (and while I knew in my head how much it cost in US dollars to walk the wall I had no idea in Kuna's!!) We made the mistake of not getting enough the first time (choosing the least amount from the options) so had to do it twice. Not a good thing with the fees on our ATM card, but what are you going to do? What floored me though is when we went to get the tickets finding out we could have used Euros! Let me just say I was kicking myself about that for some time.......maybe still am. Walking the wall was fun - and a good work out. It was a gorgeous day when we were there. I was not too hot in jeans, but shorts would have been perfect also. Since we had extra Kuna's after the wall we wanted to use them up so bought some take out lunch by the pier area and ate on a bench and watched another ship leave port. We then walked around the town within the walls for awhile - checking out some churches and small shops. We're not shoppers, but we bought a postcard that left us with only one Kuna to take back with us as a souvenir and remind us of our story. The buses were to be taking folks back to the ship every 10 minutes, but something happened and apparently some people were waiting for 45 minutes - then a bunch all came at once. Have no idea what happened there. I'm just glad we hadn't needed to wait so long!
Ephesus, Turkey I had arranged back in December for an all day tour through Hello Ephesus - Ephesus Deluxe for $80pp. I had requested Bill Orkus as our guide since he'd been recommended on CC. He met us outside the port. I was confused about the time we were to meet as I had one email saying 8:30 and another saying 9:00. We were there well before 8:30 and I did become nervous as I saw many names, but not ours. Bill was in fact there, but in his notes had the 9:00 time. When I finally asked someone for help, they connected us. I should have asked earlier. ;-) Bill is a wealth of information and is able to explain the history to you in a way it makes sense and gives you a good sense of how things were way back in time. (I could not get over how OLD things were!!) We started at the Selcuk Museum to get oriented and not get caught up in the bus tours at Ephesus in the morning. (In the summer Bill explained that isn't an option as it would be unbearably hot in the afternoon.) It was helpful to really get a full understanding of what we were going to see. From there (I think!) we went to St. John's Basilica; saw a Mosque, which was quite interesting and we learned a lot about Muslim beliefs; and The Temple of Artemis. We then headed to the school to see about the carpets (we were interested in seeing/learning and it was where lunch would be). We were fascinated by the making the carpets. We were shown what seemed like thousands of rugs and felt badly as we had no intentions of buying even a small one. I'm sure it looked like my husband was going to get one because he just was in awe of their quality and the colors. For lunch we ate outside in this lovely relaxing area and had Turkish starters, salads, kebabs from the grill (believe it was lamb) and fruit. It was lovely. My husband thought the starters were are complete meal so he had eaten a lot up! After lunch we went to the House of the Virgin Mary......how serene and lovely was that; I could have stayed there for hours and meditated. Then onto Ephesus itself and the Terrace Houses which are amazing. (While there the workers were busy taking pictures of baby owls that they must have found.) Ephesus was beyond fascinating! The whole day was amazing. We couldn't have asked for more. We had time when we were done and dropped back at Kusadasi to wander the streets there and soak up more of the Turkish culture.
Santorini, Greece Ah, Santorini, the reason I was taking this cruise! I had read plenty and knew we could DIY here, and be happy. I read about people getting their tender tickets earlier than the announcement, but my husband was not ready to go and I wasn't sure if I could go get tickets without him. I overheard some others later and it did sound like I could have - yet when we did go to get the tickets others in front of us were told to come back when they were actually ready to board. My guess is the difference was the tenders were now running and they wanted folks to be loading as soon as called. We were ready and had Tender #4 and only waited at most 5 minutes (extra time for the bathroom. ;-)). When our # was called we simply went down to Deck One and were loaded onto the tender (It was probably around 7:10 - seemed to me we were on Santorini at 7:20 if not earlier). Once on Santorini I knew I wanted us to take the cable car up so we followed the group headed that way and we bought our tickets and immediately boarded the cars and went up to the top. We off-loaded and I read the information I had about getting to the bus station. We came across the donkeys being herded down to the donkey station - something like the running of the bulls! I noticed some shops, eating areas were open, but we had our plan. Bus to Oia. I can't explain why, but this was hard for us! We were re-read the information countless times; returned back to an area with a map that said "You are Here" - but we could not get oriented to find that bus station!! IN my head I kept thinking we had to go UP, not down! But down it is. I'll sum it up to just say we asked several people after wandering around for quite some time and we finally did find it! By the time we had, we'd seem a lot of Fira and saw a lot of tour buses already headed the direction of Oia. Oh well.........we ended up on the 10:00 bus and that turned out to our advantage as we then saw many of the tour buses returning on our way out and when we arrived in Oia the place was emptying for the most part. Something that might help you on Santorini regarding bathrooms - I decided to use a bathroom and walked in the one by the bus terminal......a woman was cleaning and I didn't see anything regarding money so headed to a door - she called to me and proceeded to unlock a cabinet and pull out toilet paper and pointed to her palm indicating I needed to pay money for the paper. I had no change at the moment so I said I couldn't pay and left. Thank goodness I wasn't in desperate need, just taking advantage of having spotted one. The public restrooms are pit toilets and thankfully I never had to figure out how I would squat right to use them, but I'm sure I'd have figured it out! My thought was I wish I'd known about the toilet paper; I'd have stuffed some in my purse before leaving the ship, because the woman left and I could have used the toilet minus her paper. Oia is just one wonderful camera shot after another. When you get to the top of the street, or whatever they call it, go right first, it has the most magnificent views. It was only dumb luck that we did that first. We walked, explored and shot pictures. It was the warmest day by far - I can't imagine being there at the height of summer. We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the sea and just soaked it all up....and used their American style restroom. Yay. After lunch we walked the opposite direction and continued walking past where we'd come up but the views weren't as grand - still beautiful though. We got the 1:00 bus back to Fira, no problems with crowding. I was a bit nervous as my husband noticed it was not going the same route as the bus out and we never had asked if it was THE bus to Fira - we just assumed it was.....as did everyone else. FYI, when we were getting the bus out there was a man who herded us into an area and told us not to get tickets at the window. He then had us get the tickets when the bus was ready to leave, took all of us over to the bus and we loaded. On the way back we all got on without paying and it wasn't until we were getting off that the same man as earlier had us pay for the tickets. We walked around Fira more but it was quite crowded by now and really hot, so we headed back to the cable car and waited just a few minutes before loading and heading down to catch the tender. We waited maybe 5 minutes, luckily undercover RC had provided because it was hot. Once the tender came they piled us on to bulging. It was really hot in there - no air coming through. We were by no means the last tender of the day, so no concerns if you didn't get on this one. It was an easy process on/off. Going through security onboard holds things up just a bit, but we were pro's by now.
Corfu, Greece I think because I'd spent so much time researching the other ports, I couldn't wrap my head around Corfu and what we could do on our own and decided to do a ship excursion that looked good. We took the one that did the Achilleion Palace and a walk through old Corfu Town with a visit to the Church of St. Spyridon. It was a good choice - no thinking on our part needed. The best part was once back in Corfu Town if we did not want to take the tour bus back to the ship when it was going to depart (5:15 I think) we could catch the ships shuttle - just show your tour sticker. (I'd read previous reports of folks paying a taxi.) The last bus was at 7:30 pm. Corfu appears to be like any city as you drive to the Palace, but oh my, some of the views and the greenness (especially just coming from our visit to Santorini) were striking. We enjoyed walking the Corfu Town and got ourselves lost, but treated it like Venice.....sooner or later you'd figure it out. We would have liked to have explored the Old Fort there, but didn't want to spend the money for the short amount of time we had left.