I wondered where to begin, and finally figured it should be from the beginning. Our cruise began on July 16 in Barcelona. We were with friends and decided to spend a few days prior in Barcelona to see the sights. We were not disappointed. Barcelona is a wonderful, beautiful city full of friendly people. Except for the one who stole my camera from my bag while I was being pushed through a turnstile in the Metro. You can say you are aware, you can say you are prepared, but if they are targeting you, they usually win. Not more that an hour later, again on the Metro, a group came into the car and jostled our friends. My husband noticed the man had a newspaper over his hands and was attempting to get into my friend's bag. My husband yelled at the man, who in turn got upset that he had been caught and starting cursing at him. It was a very interesting day. So if I was going to give any advice about Barcelona, I would say avoid the Metro altogether. There is a hop-on hop-off bus available and we wished we would have done that...hindsight and all that.
Back to the good stuff about Barcelona: We were booked at the H10 Montcada in the Gothic quarter. When our friends arrived before us, they found water problems at the hotel so the H10 moved us a little down the street to the Laietana Palace Hotel where we would receive free breakfast daily for our "trouble." The Laietana Palace was a wonderful hotel with lovely rooms and even lovelier bathrooms. Our room faced the rear of the hotel which overlooked the ancient Roman walls. These were softly lit at night and provided a beautiful view. The breakfast buffet was wonderful with a coffee machine that provided lattes, regular coffee, cappuccino and espresso. Wonderful!
I won't go into all there is to see in Barcelona, but if your trip begins or ends here, make it a point to spend at least a day. You won't be disappointed. The Gothic Quarter is a great area, so full of things to see and some very nice hotels. The Picasso museum was very near as well as the Cathedral of Barcelona, Las Ramblas and other sights.
The information tells you that embarkation begins at 1 PM but recommends you wait until at least 2 PM to get on the ship. Well, we had a cab available and thought even if we got there and it was crowded, it was better than just sitting around until 2. We arrived at the port at about 1:05, the porters took our luggage from the cab, we went in an filled out the card stating we weren't sick and got into line. We were checked in within 10 minutes. We stepped on the ship and were told our rooms were ready! Wow! We arrived at our room (Aloha 242) and found our luggage already there! Bonus! We unpacked and were in the Horizon restaurant eating lunch by 2:15!
Room: We had a balcony room on the Aloha deck, port side. This room was at the front of the ship and seemed a little removed from the restaurants, etc. However, our friends' room was at the rear of the ship and they had some vibrations from the engines. The room was large and well appointed. Queen bed, 2 bedstands with 2 drawers and a shelf, a desk with a cabinet below with 2 shelves, a "bar" area above the fridge and a flat screen tv on top. A chair near the door, also. The closet was huge by cruise standards. At least 7 feet of hanging space (no door) and at least 30 wooden hangers. A large shelf above and floor space below for luggage and shoes. A floor to ceiling cabinet with several shelves, one that houses the safe at eye level. The bathroom was nice with 3 shelves above the counter, counter space on both sides of the sink and a shelf under the sink the width of the entire counter. Soap, shampoo, conditioner and lotion are provided. The hair dryer is located at the desk in the room. The deck had 2 chairs and a small table. The decks on Caribe and Dolphin were larger with 4 chairs, but could be viewed by anyone above them as they were out further than ours and had no cover. There are privacy walls between the decks, some of which can be opened if you are next to family/friends. We did host our friends on our deck and used the desk chair and other chair for them on the deck and it worked well! Our stateroom attendant was Ryan and he was very nice. We had asked for a large ice bucket in addition to the smaller one in the room and he made sure we had it. Our room was "freshened" twice a day and bed turned down at night with chocolates. Love not having to make beds and clean bathrooms!! You can leave a wake up call notice on the phone (there is no clock in the room). This worked perfectly until disembarkation day (of all days). Good thing our friends were up before us and did not get their call, either. They called to wake us up or we might have slept through our ride to the airport!
Sail away was wonderful with lots of music, drinks, dancing and the usual merriment. After all the anticipation we were finally here! We dined in the Michelangelo dining room that evening and loved our meal and servers.
Monaco: We arrived in Monaco the next morning. We had gone to breakfast before docking so when we returned to our room before disembarking we opened our door to have an unbelievable view of Monaco from our deck! If there is only one reason to have a port side room on this trip (Barcelona to Venice), this is it. Most of the other ports are not this scenic.
We chose the Best of Monte Carlo excursion through Princess. While it got us up the hill to the palace area and back to the ship, if I had it to do over again, I would do this port on my own. The palace was amazing (head sets used) and St. Nicholas Cathedral was beautiful. We walked through beautiful gardens and past the aquarium. We also had plenty of time to shop in the shops across from the palace. Our guide was difficult to understand and we did not have head sets except in the palace and we had a hard time hearing everything she said. Due to time constraints, we did not have time to get to the casino as it was across town, down the hill. But we could see it from our balcony. We loved Monaco and felt like one of the rich and famous, if only for a few hours! Sail away was wonderful on our deck!
Tonight we dined at the DaVinci dining room. We ended up staying here for the remainder of the cruise. Godwin the Maitre'D, and every wait staff we encountered, Esther, Hong, John, Kayan..were simply the best. No matter where we were seated the would see us and leave their area to come to say hello. I can't begin to tell you the fun we had with them. If you are lucky enough to have any of these fine folks, please tell them you read about them here. Hong was leaving for home the day we disembarked and will return in October. So happy for her!
Livorno (Florence): We had visited Florence a few years ago so we opted for the Cinque Terre excursion through Princess. This was an amazing excursion! We had met other folks who did this on their own and admitted that they were sorry they didn't book through Princess as they worried the entire day about getting back to the ship on time. We started by bus to Manarola and walked through that city with our guide. The photos from this tour are amazing. We then walked along the "street of love" above the sea with more spectacular views to the next town of Maggiore. Again, we had time to see the town on our own before boarding a boat for the trip to Vernazza. Here we also had free time to see the town before boarding the next boat to Monterosso, the largest of the 5 towns (the 5th town is not accessible by boat or bus). Here we had time to shop and eat lunch and take more amazing photos. We boarded a bus here for the trip back to the ship. This is a place we have vowed to return. Absolutely wonderful! This is an intensive walking tour.
Rome: Again, we toured Rome a few years ago so we opted to uses the Rome on Your Own tour through Princess that provided a ride into town letting us off in St. Peter's square. I'm sure transportation is available from the docks in the form of buses or trains. But Italy is famous for it's transportation strikes (our friends were left high and dry on their last trip when trains went on strike) so we went for the safe route. We enjoyed our day and got to see some things we didn't see before and some of the same. Lunch in the piazza at the Pantheon was wonderful! Who could get tired of Rome? If you want to do this on your own, invest in a really good map of Rome. We did and had no trouble finding our way. Met back at St. Peter's square after walking through St. Peters (not nearly as busy a it was in the morning when we arrived) and got the bus back to the ship. It is a fairly good drive (about an hour and 10 minutes). Fun, HOT day! Love all those fountains in the piazzas to refill the water bottles!
Naples: We chose the Capri/Sorrento/Pompeii excursion through Princess. We bit off a bit more than we could chew on this one. Two of these places would have been plenty and afforded us more time to enjoy the areas. The three places were simply too much, especially because it was at least 95 degrees. We began with a boat ride to Capri. Of course this took up a good bit of time. We were seated below deck and the ride was a rough one. Some folks did get sick. Once we arrived, we had tickets to go up the funicular, but there was a line and we had to wait at the top for everyone to get there (more time). We were given a walk through the most amazing park with views you would not believe before we were given about 1 1/2 hours to ourselves. Shopping on this island is definitely for the rich! But it was fun to window shop and get lost in the maze of streets. Would love to spend more time here. The photos are amazing. We again did the funicular down and then caught the boat to Sorrento. Here is one place I could spend a week, easily. The shopping is amazing! Lunch was included in a local restaurant including wine and it was very good and we were given about 1 1/2 hours to shop. We shopped alot! We then boarded the bus for the ride to Pompeii. The drive is along the coast and beautiful. We arrived at Pompeii at the hottest part of the day. Walking on the uneven surfaces, the crowds and the heat made it very intense. It is unspeakably amazing to see Pompeii. Our guide was wonderful. We had head sets so we did not have to crowd around to hear. After touring for about 1 1/2 hours, we had a few minutes to get a drink outside the ruins before boarding the bus back to the ship. There is an excursion that does Capri and Pompeii and one that does Sorrento and Pompeii. I would recommend one of those over this tour simple because you cannot see as much as you should at these 3 places in this amount of time.
Sea Day: After 4 intense days of touring, we had a sea day. We slept late and enjoyed the ship getting ready for the next 4 intense touring days! This was our first formal night and it was nice having the day to rest up! Lovely dinner and photos taken in the piazza.
Mykonos: Wow, another place I could stay for a long time! We opted to do Mykonos on our own and I would recommend that. The view of the island from our deck was amazing. We docked early (7 AM) and found that the shops were opening for us. We were the only ship in port. We docked at the port that is about 1 1/2 miles from town. Walking to town is not recommended due to the winding road, no sidewalks and crazy drivers. We paid $7 per person for a round trip bus ticket and it was money well spent. We were dropped off at the beginning of "Little Venice." My suggestion is to walk along Little Venice and get to the windmills before the crowds, then walk back to town (down hill) and stay there until it's time to leave. We got some amazing photos of Little Venice and the windmills and it looks like we were the only ones on the island! The shopping here is great. Some suggestions for souvenirs: olive oil soaps with lemon and other herbs. I bought 7 for 5 Euros and they smell wonderful. Also, the jewelry stores are amazing. I purchased a Greek key pendant for a lot less then I expected. We had gyros is a small place that I could not find the name of on the front. The meat is actually cooking on the spit in the window. It was pork on a wonderful pita with lettuce, tomato, yogurt sauce and FRENCH FRIES! I'm from Pittsburgh and wondered if they had been to Primanti's!!! That with a Mythos beer sitting outside watching the world go by is probably one of our most fond memories! So much fun!The paths are winding and it seems like you can get lost, but you can't. There was a constant breeze even though it was very hot and buildings provided shade so it was a wonderful day. Everything is so white and the bright sun and blue sky made it even more beautiful. We had to board the ship by 1:30 and sailed away at about 2, which left a lot of the day to enjoy the ship!
Istanbul Another wow. The arrival is so beautiful. On our port side we could see the Blue Mosque, St. Sophia and the palace from our deck. This was another early arrival and we did the Best of Istanbul with Harem excursion with Princess. We boarded a bus and were taken to the Blue Mosque. Our guide was wonderful. He is Muslim and gave us more information about his faith, his life and his city than we could have ever hoped for. It gave me new insight and respect. He explained about the bathing before entering the Mosque and also toured us inside the Mosque before we were give some time to take photos. You must remove your shoes (we were given a bag to put them in on the bus) and shoulders and knees should be covered. My husband had longer shorts on and that was fine. Very memorable. Without looking at my photos, I'm not certain of the order of what we say next so I'll just tell you what we saw at each stop: St. Sophia: is now a museum so you do not have to remove shoes or be covered. It started out as a Catholic Church and then became a Mosque. It is the only place in the world where you will see images of Mary and Christ with Muslim symbols. It is truly beautiful. Topkapi Palace with Harem: Another one of the places that you pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming. A very thorough tour. You can then visit the Museum and Treasury to see the jewels and other artifacts. Simply amazing.
Photo Op. at the Hippodrome
Grand Bazaar: Another place that I did not expect. I thought most of the items would be souvenir type items. Was I wrong. I have never seen jewelry stores like the ones in the Bazaar. It's a candy story for women! I must warn you, from the time we arrived in Istanbul until we left, we were bombarded with people trying to sell us guide books, fans, toys, postcards. While they are persistent, they do not touch you and when you say "no thank you" they move on to the next person. This is true on the streets and in the Bazaar. I bought a glass "evil eye" on a string to use as a Christmas ornament. This is not to give an evil eye, but to prevent evil! They pin small ones on newborns to protect them. I can use all the help I can get!
Lunch: Lunch was included at a very nice hotel. If you are not adventurous, I would suggest you request a vegetarian meal and you will receive pasta. We started with Mezza's (little bites). A plate with stuffed grape leaf, stuffed pepper. hummus, olives and other spreads. I found it delicious. The main course was veal in a gravy type sauce over top of roasted eggplant with orzo. It, too, was wonderful. Dessert was rice pudding, which was also very good. Soft drinks and water were also included. Very nice.
We also had a carpet demonstration at a very nice store. We were going to opt out of it but decided to give a try. I'm glad we did as I learned alot about the carpets. There was no pressure. Unfortunately we did not ask prices because we didn't want to act as though we were buying!
Istanbul was everything I expected and so much more. What a busy, memorable day!
Tonight was the White Hot Deck Party. Everyone wears white, lots of dancing and drinking. Fun!
Ephesus: We booked the Best of Ephesus tour with Princess which included Ephesus, Basilica of St. John and the House of the Virgin Mary. We arrived in Ephesus at noon so we started our tour after lunch. The port surprised us as we did not think it would be such a large city. We began at the house of Mary. The bus ride to the house was beautiful and the area where the house is located is very lush. We walked from the bus on a path lined with trees and reached the house at the top. Inside are only 2 rooms and no photos are allowed. Inside the house are gifts from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. Outside the house is a spring where everyone was collecting water to take back. Also, there is a wall where people write prayers and requests to Mary and they are stuck into the wall. This whole area is very moving, even for non-Catholics like my friend's husband. There is a gift shop area below with beautiful souvenirs and small bottles of the water from the spring with a relief of Mary on the front (2 Euros). Perfect for someone back home who would appreciate it.
From here we went to Ephesus. These ruins are probably the most impressive of all that we saw. The history of the place, the people who walked here before us and the condition of the ruins is breathtaking. The 24,000 seat Great Theater is where St. Paul preached. The acoustics are amazing. The library is another most impressive building. Walking is difficult over very uneven surfaces and again, it was HOT. Bring water! Most memorable! From here we went to the Basilica of St. John. Now this is the apostle John, not John the Baptist. He was asked by Jesus to take care of Mary after his death and that is the reason they know Mary was here in Ephesus. The ruins are beautiful and the views are also beautiful. At the end you could opt for another carpet demonstration (we did not). Instead we shopped a little buying Turkish delight and Turkish coffee to take home from a little shop on the main street. A very nice shop owner who kept giving us samples of the Turkish Delight. HE was a delight! Wonderful day!
Athens: Another very early day. We booked the Acropolis, Plaka and Temple of Poseidon tour. In hindsight, we would do the Acropolis, Plaka and Museum tour instead. The drive to Poseidon took over an hour and we found the "Disney" version of the temple. Apparently all indications is this is where it was, but this temple is a recreation. The views are on the shoreline and are stunning, but it took up a good portion of our morning. From there we went to lunch back in town at a wonderful hotel. It was a buffet with many Greek dishes and also other items that would appeal to everyone. Wine was also included but since we had yet to get to the Acropolis, we held back on that. It was close to 100 degrees here! On to the Acropolis. Another "pinch me" moment. After all the years looking at photos of the Parthenon, I was finally here. Nothing can describe seeing this in person. My photos are beautiful because along with this 100 degree day came the bluest skies. That white marble against the blue sky is WOW! We had a good bit of time to explore on our own before walking down the hill. This walk is a killer. The marble is slippery and you must be careful. Our guide took pity on us going up and stopped a few times along the way to give us information. If she had walked straight up to the top some of us simply would not have made it! There were folks with canes and I was very worried that they would not make it!
On the drive to the Plaka, we stopped at the Olympic stadium for a photo op.
After the Acropolis, we were given time in the Plaka for shopping. This is a great area to either shop or stop at a cafe and have a drink. We had about an hour and after this very busy day, it was enough. We bought some things and headed back to the bus and back to the ship. Wonderful Athens! We were so happy their problems did not prevent us from coming into port. This would have been a great loss!
Sea Day Let me tell you, to say this trip is "port intensive" is an understatement. We were exhausted. We're in our 50's and we say 20 somethings fading fast so we didn't feel too badly! We sat at the pool (the movies under the starts also shows movies during the day), then we went to afternoon tea, which was very nice because we met some lovely ladies from Chicago. It was our last formal night so we got ready for that and enjoyed our lobster and prawns dinner! Couldn't believe we only have a few more days!
Venice: We arrived in Venice at about noon. You MUST be on deck (starboard side or front) to see this arrival! Hutch, the port expert, narrates what you are seeing and then you are serenaded with beautiful music until we are in port. The view of the canals, St. Marks and Doge's palace are wonderful from this vantage point. So memorable! We did not do any planned excursion as we had been in Venice before and even if you haven't, I would recommend you do it on your own. Princess provides transportation to St. Mark's Square for $15 per person and it is unlimited. This is charged to your account automatically and the tickets are delivered to your room the night before. If you do not want to use them, you can request they be removed from your account. So if you want to go into town right away and then come back for dinner and then go back in the evening, you can! The ticket is good until 1 AM so you have plenty of time to go back and forth. You may not take any luggage on this boat. Shopping in Venice is amazing. We stopped for a drink on the Grand Canal and there's nothing better than watching the world to by! Some notes: Venice is in a midst of what looks like major construction. The Bridge of Sighs is practically enclosed with drapes that have advertisements on them. St. Mark's has 1/2 of it's facade covered, and other areas throughout the square are also covered. Maybe if you haven't been here before you might not notice, but I'm very happy I have photos from my first trip as these will not compare. Also, there is a concert series in July and Aug. on Tues. and Thurs. The entire square is closed off at night and you cannot walk through. This means all those wonderful cafes and orchestras are not playing on these dates. VERY disappointing! There was one cafe and one orchestra playing on the side area and that was it. Again, if you haven't seen it before, maybe you wouldn't be disappointed. We went back to the ship around 6 PM for dinner planning to return to Venice in the evening. We had to get our luggage outside our room before 10 AM (all except our hand luggage). We then went to the dining room and NO ONE was there! It was wonderful! We had our favorite wait staff, Esther and Hong, all to ourselves and had a blast with them. Then Kayan saw us and joined in on the fun. We went back to Venice for the evening and enjoyed walking around again before returning to the ship.
Disembarkation: We opted for the Princess transfer to Marco Polo airport. Our flight wasn't until 1:40 so we had to be in the dining room at 9:30 am. This gave us plenty of time to enjoy one last breakfast. We had to be out of the room by 8 AM so we left a little before and found the buffet very busy. We had our hand luggage so we took turns at the buffet and arrived at the dining room for our bus at about 9 AM. We were the first ones on the bus and the drive to the airport was about 1/2 hour. Marco Polo airport is absolutely crazy. It is not nearly large enough for the crowds. We were not permitted to check in until 2 hours before our flight, but the line started almost immediately so we were in line about 3 hours before we could actually check in. Staff there not very friendly or helpful. We flew British Airways (that is a story in itself) and the person at the desk hardly spoke any English and printed my ticket with "Mrs." in front of my husband's name instead of putting my first name on it. This caused all kinds of problems later as it did not match my passport! Another story for another time!
Some random info.
I would never arrive at the embarkation port the same day ship is leaving. Our flight to Barcelona was delayed, we missed a connection and did not arrive in the city until 8 PM instead of the 3 PM we should have. We would have missed the departure! One night hotel is a bargain compared with trying to catch up with the ship and possibly missing a night.
Food: The Caribe Cafe is an amazing place for lunch. The theme changes daily. The International Cafe is also amazing whether it's for lunch or a snack. Coffee and other drinks served here are at an extra cost, but the wonderful salads (try the shrimp salad!) sandwiches and sweets are free! Also, they serve gelato here. Three HUGE scoops on a frozen glass plate for $1.50. The best bargain on the ship. Great for when you board the ship after a very hot day in port! The Botticelli dining room is for timed seatings (6:15 and 8:30) The Michelangelo and DaVinci dining rooms are anytime dining from 6 to 10 PM. The Horizon Court is open for breakfast and lunch and I believe dinner. We used this mainly for breakfast since it was open early and for lunch. Much variety and mostly good. Vines is a wine and seafood bar. If you order wine, you get free tapas. We did not try any of the premium dining rooms where you are charged a fee. We were so happy with the food and service in the DaVinci dining room we saw no reason. The coffee at the buffet is terrible! The dining rooms have better coffee. You can buy a "coffee card" where you pay a set price and can get many coffees, lattes, etc. We did not buy this. We can't believe that the large dining rooms could serve perfectly cooked seafood to so many people. We were waiting for rubbery shrimp and never got it! Every time it was perfect and we ate tons of seafood. Veges were perfectly done, desserts were special and delicous. We couldn't have been happier with the food.
Pools and lounges: We only had 2 sea days and we had no trouble finding seats at the pool. There is an adults only pool.
We did not see any shows. Usually we were so tired we ate dinner, went back to the room and enjoyed wine on our deck.
You are permitted to bring one bottle of wine or champagne on board per person. We did just that. This is for drinking in your stateroom, although we did take it up to a rear deck to enjoy the night one time. We also brought on a bottle of limoncello from Cinque Terre and they never even opened our bag. Great, inexpensive wines in Barcelona, Mykonos, Cinque Terre. If you want to drink it at dinner, there is a $15 corkage fee. We purchased wine every night at dinner and drank our stash in our room!
The was a Connoisseur Cruise where the ship was full of artists and many art auctions going on. An interesting group!
Hutch, the port lecturer, gives information on each port. He does not push Princess tours, just gives very good info. on what you will see and what you should do. These are video taped and played on TV beginning at 5 PM the day before you get to that port. We only went to one "live" talk in the Princess lounge about Venice. He is full of very good info. and suggestions on how to enjoy each port.
All the Princess excursions meet in the Princess Theater. You will receive your tickets for any booked excursions at the beginning of the cruise that will tell you what time to be there. We found if you are the first in the theater, you are the first bus to leave.
This cruise is so intense that we were saying it was like work: get up early, "work" all day, get home, take a shower, eat dinner, go to sleep and start over again! I wish this were my job!
The Princess Patter will be delivered to your room each night. It is full of important info. so read it! I kept mine as a reminder of the things we did and saw!
We did not use the spa or the casino so cannot speak to those areas. The casino is pretty large and not really that busy.
The Piazza is where everything happens. All the shops and information desks are on these few floors. It is very pretty and there always seems to be some kind of entertainment near the International cafe area.
We chose the Barcelona to Venice route over the Venice to Barcelona route because we liked the idea of spending a few days in Barcelona first (so glad we didn't do it in reverse because we were exhausted!) and we liked touring for a few days before a sea day. The Venice to Barcelona has a sea day right away and the final sea day several days before the end of the cruise.
There are laundries available on nearly every floor. $1.50 to wash and $1.50 to dry and detergent is available for sale. This was a life saver. Do not wait until a port day to wash if you can. It gets very busy.
Cruise Crud: This is what we named the red rash on the ankles that so many folks had after several days of touring. One woman told us someone she knew went to the ship's doctor ($60) to find out what was wrong. She was told it's caused by a combination of heat, gravity and too much walking and all that can be done is elevate your feet (yeah, right) and put cold compresses on them. 3 out of 4 of us had it. There was some swelling, too, but it was not painful or itchy. And it disappeared after we weren't touring for a day or so.
We loved crusing with Princess. We have cruised on other ships and found Princess to be at the top. The staff was very friendly and helpful, the rooms were great and the ship was very clean. We loved Princess and would cruise with them again.
I know this is a long review but I know how I was looking for information before we went on this cruise and I got bits and pieces of info. here and there. I thought it would be good to get a lot in one place!
If you have any questions, please let me know. I may have forgotten something...NOT!!!