In Rome, we stayed at the Hotel Artemide. I'm sure we could have stayed at a less expensive hotel, but we had no complaints about the Hotel Artemide. They were very welcoming and accommodating. We arrived at the hotel around 10:30 am, and our rooms were not ready. This was no surprise. They stored our luggage and provided us with a safe for valuables that I did not want to carry with me as we began our sight-seeing. They gave us a map that I found very easy to use, and we set out for the Spanish Steps and lunch. Many of the important sites were within a 20 - 30 minute walk, and the walks were enjoyable in themselves. When we returned, our rooms were ready for our afternoon siesta! The rooms were a little small by American standards, but they were very nice. The bathrooms were spacious. There was free Wi-Fi and a FREE mini bar. The free mini bar was a nice welcome after a long day of sight-seeing. Breakfast was included, and it was very good serving both European and American fare (eggs and bacon). Taxis were not too expensive considering all 4 of us could ride in one taxi.
I enlisted Rome In Limo (romeinlimo dot com) to pick us up at the airport and the driver was waiting for us outside of baggage claim. Rome in Limo also picked up the other 12 family members when they arrived the day before the cruise. I highly suggest arriving at least a day early. 6 of the family members did not have their luggage when they arrived in Rome (thank you US Airways). Their flight was late leaving Tampa, and they made the connecting flight in Charlotte but their luggage did not. We used Rome in Limo (romeinlimo) for the transfer to Civitavecchia. They picked us up at 2 pm, and the luggage arrived at 12 noon, so there were no problems. Rome in Limo also provided an evening tour of Rome, which was nice for the family group of 12, since this was all they really got to see of Rome.
We arrived at the port of Civitavecchia around 3:30 pm, and there were no lines what so ever. This late arrival made for a very smooth embarkation. We were able to go straight to our rooms, and some of our luggage had already arrived. All luggage arrived within 30-45 minutes. We had 5 mini-suites side by side on Dolphin Deck 9. Our room steward opened the balcony dividers, so we were able to "roam" the balconies between rooms. The mini-suites were plenty roomy for the 3 adults in my room. We also had 2 flat screen TVs—-one angled towards the king-size bed and one towards the sitting area with the large sofa that turned into a bed for my 23 yr. old son. My son is 6' 3", and he was comfortable on the pull out bed. I thought the king-size bed was hard, but I was so tired after full days of exploring that I still felt rested in the morning. The balconies were open to the decks above, but we did not feel "exposed". We did have a few instances of a little water sprinkling down on us, but we figured it was from the pool deck. My mother had the beautiful Curacao suite on the back of the boat on deck 10. Wow! The view was incredible from the super-sized balcony. She had teak furniture with 2 chaise lounges and a table with 4 chairs. There were 3 people total in this cabin, and she enjoyed the room very much. Personally, I don't think I could justify paying twice as much as the mini-suite, though. It did have lots of amenities like free laundry, free Wi-Fi, daily hors 'doeuvres, fresh flowers, and breakfast in Sabatini's (only for suite guests).
Our first port was Monaco. This is definitely a port right out of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". The view from the Ruby Princess was amazing. This is not an easy port for walking, and it was very expensive. I did not see people returning to the ship with shopping bags. If climbing stairs or walking up steep inclines is not for you, definitely get transportation to the town square. My husband and daughter made the most of the day seeing the Oceanographic Museum, casino, outside of the palace, gardens, and the beautiful scenery. I stayed close to the ship with the 2 young boys and others, and we were not too impressed with the shopping and restaurants. We could not walk to the town square due to physical limitations of some our group, so we headed back to the ship pretty quickly. We definitely should have researched the transportation options and made our way to the town square, etc.
Next was the port of Livorno. Again, I arranged the services of Rome in Limo (romeinlimo dot com). We took a private tour to Pisa and Florence for all 16 of us. Marco was our tour guide, and we had a driver as well. This ended up being cheaper than the ship's excursion, and we had flexibility that we would not have had on the ship's tour. We visited Pisa first, and there was a lengthy walk to the tower. The cathedral and baptistery were a wonderful surprise. After about 30 minutes of photos and souvenir shopping, we headed to Florence (they said it was 1.5 hours away but I think it was less). We walked through the town center (Duomo), and went to the Accademia to see the statue of David. Half of our group was tired and hungry, so Marco, our guide, arranged a meeting place for all of us. Marco then took 7 of us for a quick bite, and then we headed to the Uffizi and a quick stop at the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. It was a rushed trip to Florence, so we rubbed the nose of the bronze boar (Il Porcellino) to ensure we would return to Florence one day. We met the rest of the group at the arranged meeting site, and took a short walk to meet the driver outside of the town center. The return trip was 1.5 hours or less, and they made a pit stop at a rest area with free bathrooms.
Naples was next. 6 of us took the ship's excursion to Pompeii, which included a pizza lunch, and a trip to the National Archaeological Museum. After Pompeii, we stopped at the cameo factory for a "demonstration". Of course, they hope you buy something, but I did not feel any pressure to make a purchase. They took us to the "nice" residential area of Naples for lunch. The restaurant seemed open only to us, and it had a nice view of the bay. There was no ordering, but you had your choice of beverage (wine, beer, soda, water). Then we went to the museum, which was better than I expected. It was a nice way to finish the tour--seeing the artifacts from Pompeii as well as many others. My daughter is an artist and has a minor in art history. She loved this museum, especially the Farnese Collection! Don't expect all the high tech lighting and humidity control of US museums, but enjoy the sculptures and artifacts up close. This was a nice excursion because I would not have wanted to maneuver around Naples on my own—very scary! I definitely suggest a tour in Naples!
Next was the much needed Sea Day--a great day to relax. I'm not a pool go-er but I would have breakfast by the pool on most mornings. The chair hogs are alive and well on the Ruby Princess! The saving of chairs with a towel is ridiculous! Chairs would remain empty for long periods of time. I'm surprised that people honored this tradition, because I would have been very frustrated looking for a chair. At the very least, a real live person should be required to save chairs.
Comments about the cuisine... It was important to our family to have dinner together each night, so we had standing reservations in the Michelangelo Dining Room at 6 pm. Wish we could have made it later, but that's all we could arrange. We were able to do this in advance because we were a large group of 16. We had 2 tables of eight, and we would switch up the seating each night. I definitely developed a preference for the waiters and would try to maneuver my seat at the table with Eduardo and Agnelo (not to be confused with Angelo)! There were 2 female waiters at the other table. I can't even remember their names, and they would never ask me what I wanted to drink...which bugged me! The men seemed to get their attention, though, but perhaps that is because they ordered the same drink each night. I felt the food at dinner was very good. It was definitely a step up from the Carnival cruise we took last summer. We tried the Crown Grill and Sabatini's, too (the specialty restaurants with a $20-$25 charger per person). I loved the Crown Grill, which is a steakhouse but has seafood and more. Definitely go to the Crown Grill one night! Sabatini's was beautiful, but I did not enjoy the food (Italian) as much as the Crown Grill. The buffets were good, too, and I enjoyed grabbing lunch or a snack at the International Cafe. My son likes sushi, so we went to Vines Wine Bar once. They serve a plate of sushi (four small pieces, I think) if you buy a glass of wine. It was OK, but not worth the price of a glass of wine, IMHO.
The next port was Santorini. BEAUTIFUL! We tendered ashore with not much wait. We rode the donkeys up—for the experience. It is a very nice man-made trail up to the town of Fira. I made the mistake of riding them back down, which I would NOT recommend. The donkeys hug the stone cliff/wall, and they bump into the donkeys going up with no regard to your leg in between! I ended up with a very large bruise on my leg after the trip going down. Also, on the trip down the donkey guide got to know me much too well helping me on to the donkey, ha, ha! There is a platform to mount the donkey going up, but not going down...so leave this to your own imagination. My husband and daughter took the bus to Oia, and they loved it! Their photos were amazing. Fira was very beautiful, too, and the shopping and vistas were marvelous. Take the cable car if you don't want to ride the donkeys. There were lines, but they moved pretty well.
Kusadasi, Turkey, was our next stop. Here, I arranged the last "full family" tour for our family of 16—-a tour of Ephesus. I used Ekol Travel (ekoltravel dot com), and they were very easy to communicate with by email. We toured Ephesus, Mary's House, the Terrace Houses, and saw the Temple of Artemis (a lone column in a field). We had a private guide and our own charter bus with plenty of room. Our guide was great and she allowed us to use an English version of her name, Sky (her Turkish name means "sky"). It was very hot at Ephesus, but Sky was very aware of some of the limitations people had in our group. She migrated to shade and seats whenever possible. I paid by credit card after the tour, and they stopped by their office on the way back to the ship. It was a very quick stop. I should have researched my credit card fees before I left home. My Chase credit card charged large transaction fees. Should have used my debit card! We stopped at Mary's House first. It was very crowded and very shady, but the line into the house went very quickly. We drank holy water and put our wishes on the Wishing Wall. Take a paper and pen! We found receipts to write on, and other tourists were nice to share scraps of paper. Then it was off to Ephesus. It was amazing! It was also very hot! Take water! The extra charge for the visit to the Terrace Houses was worth it! The visit really allowed me to visualize people living at Ephesus. Also, it was a little cooler in the Terrace Houses because of the protective roof. There are a few sets of stairs in the Terrace Houses, so beware. Only about half of our group went in. My daughter strayed taking photos and missed the opportunity to see the Terrace Houses-—she was very disappointed, especially after I raved about the visit :-) When we left Ephesus, you go through a market area. Check out the "Genuine Fake" items...what a hoot! Turkish retailers are very "friendly" (i.e. pushy), so be prepared. You can definitely "deal" for items, though. We just drove by the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Our bus just pulled up for us to view the one column left standing. We were hot and tired...and didn't want to get off! I'm glad we didn't waste too much time there. Sky offered to stop at a government approved shopping area, which assured us of authentic Turkish items. Some of the group was tired, so we skipped the shopping stop. There are plenty of shops in the port area. One in our group was very interested in a purse with matching sandals. The price started a $300 US, and she ended up getting them for $90 Euros cash. Ephesus is a must see!
Next was the island of Mykonos. The ship arrived in Mykonos at 1 am, so some of the young people went ashore at that time to visit a few clubs. My immediate family of 4 took a ship's excursion to the island of Delos. We left early and missed many of the tour boats that arrived about an hour or two after us. We had a great guide (Amaryllis) who took us the opposite direction of the other 5 tour groups. She spoke very good English and was very knowledgeable. If you are interested in Greek mythology and ancient ruins, then this tour is for you. The island is mostly rubble, so the guide makes all the difference. We were back to ship around 12-12:30...had lunch...then took the shuttle to downtown Mykonos. I loved Mykonos a little more than Santorini, probably because I didn't have to take a donkey to town, ha, ha! My daughter and I just roamed the alleys. I'm still amazed that cars make it through the streets/alleys. Around every corner is a church or chapel. We made our way to the windmills and saw the island mascot, Petros the white pelican. I wish we had eaten in a cafe on Mykonos. We found the most beautiful cafe with a canopy of magenta bougainvillea. The table tops were painted magenta to match! All in all, a lovely day in Mykonos!
Athens... The day before we were to dock in Piraeus (the port for Athens), the BBC news channel reported riots in Athens. They also reported that protesters closed the port and no one could leave. We were a little concerned, but we had booked a ship's excursion and knew it would be refunded if there was a problem. Also, we knew that Princess would not dock if there was any danger. We arrived to a quiet port, and we took the "Acropolis and City Drive" tour. Our tour guide was "OK". We knew if she could make it to the top of the Acropolis, then we would have no problem! Our guide was asked about the riots, and she said that 300 young people out of 4 million residents cause all the problems. Sound familiar? The Acropolis was VERY crowded, and I'm amazed at the stairs going up and down—no railings so it seemed unsafe considering the large crowd. At least I can say I've been to the Acropolis and seen the Parthenon.
Katakalon... This is the port where you can visit Olympia. We took the ship's excursion to Olympia and then to the museum. It was interesting to see the change in the geography—very green, lots of trees, farms, etc. Olympia is a very nice 30 minute drive. As with Delos, the guide is the most interesting aspect of the tour. The archaeological site is mostly rubble, some pillars, and the stadium. The family enjoyed "racing" on the track and taking photos. Then we were off to the museum. The museum is small, but the artifacts were remarkable. Seeing the museum after visiting the site (as we did in Naples/Pompeii), allows you to appreciate the historical significance of Olympia. Then we headed back to the ship, and this time we chose to eat lunch in the small town of Katakalon. So glad we did! We ate at a small corner restaurant that a shopkeeper referred to as "fast food"—if only we had this kind of fast food in the States! We had yummy gyro platters, a Greek salad to share, and Greek beer (of course). After this lunch, I wish I had taken in more Greek cuisine at the other ports. Shopping here is typical, and it is a good place to pick up souvenirs.
The next day was Corfu—what a pleasant surprise! We took the ship's shuttle to the terminal, and then you can take a taxi to the town center ($10 Euro). We always fill the taxi, so the cost was $2.50 Euro each—not bad. The city looked very Italian, due to its history of being part of the Venetian Republic. We enjoyed shopping, and we "discovered" a woodworker's shop down a little alley. He was busy making olive wood items. His items may not have been as refined as other shops, but we felt his items were "authentic". Lots of places to eat, but I couldn't get my group to stop shopping long enough to grab a bite. Others from my family enjoyed an affordable meal of—-you guessed it—-gyros! I definitely wish we had more time to explore the island of Corfu!
The last sea day was busy for me getting packed. They ask that you put the majority of your luggage outside of your cabin before dinner. We enjoyed our last dinner on the Ruby Princess at Sabatini's. They serve lots of food, but I still did not enjoy it as much as the Crown Grill.
Disembarkation was a breeze! I love the silent disembarkation. About 2 days before the end of the cruise, you are assigned a time and place to meet. Don't forget to tear off the luggage tag stubs (like I did). This indicates to the crew that you are scheduled to disembark at that time. One of our family members had extra luggage tags, so I was fine. You take a shuttle to the area that houses your luggage. There were plenty of carts, and it was very organized. Within 5 minutes, all 16 of us had our bags loaded on carts, and we headed to the bus provided by Princess. We paid Princess $24 US each to take a bus less than 1 mile to the Piazzale Roma, which is the location to get taxis, buses, or take a short walk to the train station. If I had it to do over, I would have arranged for 2 water taxis at the port to take us to our hotel on the Grand Canal. It would have been cheaper because there were so many of us, and it would have been more fun!
All 16 of us stayed one extra night in Venice at the Hotel Antiche Figure, which I found on Trip Advisor. They were very easy to communicate with by email, and they required a small deposit in advance since we required 6 rooms. It was a short walk to the hotel, but be prepared to cross 2 small bridges that have steps. We had plenty of able bodied people to handle the luggage for the few who could not. We arrived at the hotel around 10 am, and we knew our rooms would not be ready. They stored all of our luggage in one room that was ready. The hotel's staff was very welcoming and suggested a small cafe behind the hotel while we waited an hour for available rooms. When we returned at 11 am, the rooms were not ready (I didn't think they would be), and another staff member apologized and said we should not have been told the rooms would be ready so quickly. We did not really need to wait for our room, so we decided to head to St. Mark's Square. It was very hot (at least 90) and very crowded, still worth the trek. The hotel staff gave us a great hint when we left. Just follow the signs that indicate San Marco or Rialto with an arrow. On the way back, we looked for the signs that indicated Piazzale Roma or Ferrovia (the train station). This was an easy and enjoyable way to go sightseeing in Venice, because we knew we could always find our way back. Buy food, drinks and souvenirs before or after visiting San Marco (St. Mark's). Prices jump a few Euros on and around the Square.
All in all, our Ruby Princess Easter Mediterranean cruise was fabulous! The food was good, and the service was excellent. Bring good walking shoes, and be prepared to do lots of walking—-some strenuous. If this is a problem for you, I would suggest a cruise that is less port intensive. I could have used an extra sea day! I would also suggest extra time before and after the cruise to see Rome and Venice. Arrivederci!