We had visited some cities before, so we could slow the pace a little. However the early morning tour starts were a drag even though we knew it would be too crowded and hot if we set off much later.
This was our seventh cruise; five were with Princess but had been in the Caribbean. Princess generally has a class act when it comes to organisation. Embarkation and disembarkation were a breeze and the transfers to/from the airports were efficiently accomplished. The only downside was that the flight desks at Barcelona will not open until exactly two hours before take off so as we were dropped off earlier we had a forty-five minute wait standing in line with our suitcases. (The same happened to us earlier in the year when we did an NCL cruise. However they dropped us off nine hours early!!! At least with Princess we got to stay on board and were fed and watered until our transfer time.)
The food was good overall. The steaks and roasts were terrific. We really cannot get the quality of beef that the Americans can. As usual the desserts were nothing to write home about. Bottled water was much cheaper to buy ashore (with no gratuity to pay on top). The only hiccup in the supply chain was – shock, horror – they ran out of Budweiser half way through the cruise. Honestly, we did not drink that much!!!
The evening of the stop in Civitavecchia (port for Rome) the buffet was over-whelmed because so many people had had a really long day’s touring and could not be bothered with the dining rooms. The practice was to only open the Café Caribe section in the evening and it just could not cope with the volume of people. With regard to the breakfast bun fight, Princess had already sussed out that with so many people setting off on early morning tours they would need more than just Café Caribe at 6a.m.
The entertainment consisted of the usual mix of shows, cabaret and musical entertainment. Our usual venue had been Wheelhouse Bar but the singer there was not great, even though the band was okay. We do not do the shows in the theatre but the cabaret acts we saw in Explorers Lounge were very good. There were not many ballroom dancing opportunities. Crooners Bar had a regular pianist and there were also short “street” acts in the Piazza on a number of occasions.
The weather was good for the whole trip with only two rough occasions; one slightly choppy sea mid-way through the cruise and one very rough sea between Monaco and Barcelona. The captain indicated that the latter was normal and that we were fortunate because it was usually extremely windy round Mykonos (hence the windmills). Temperatures were in the mid-twenties generally and it only got a little cooler as one might expect towards the end of the cruise (26th September) and further north in Monaco and Barcelona.
PORTS OF CALL We booked late and had not been able to take up the option of extending the tour in Venice. However, our mid-afternoon arrival allowed us sufficient time to get off the Ruby Princess and take the Princess boat shuttle into St Mark's Square. Princess handily supplies each cabin with shuttle tickets (at 15 euros, not as cheap as if you took the vaporetto). I was disappointed that the boat went down the Guidecca Canal and not via the Grand Canal (which the vaporetto does). Late in the afternoon was ideal for seeing Venice because there were less tourists and it was not too hot. The sail-away from Venice next morning really was fantastic with great views and photo opportunities.
After two days at sea we did an Easy Athens tour mainly just to avoid sitting in Piraeus harbour. (Most of the docks we stopped at were ugly working ports.) We had visited Athens before and the city was just as frantic and crowded as we remembered. However we got the obligatory Acropolis photo and were rewarded with an excellent refreshment stop in the Hotel Grande Bretagne (worth a viewing).
Kusadasi seems like an interesting holiday resort but we saw little as we had opted for the Ephesus trip, which meant a very early start. (There was a note in the cabin saying that trips would begin early to avoid the crowds as other ships were expected in port. Some ships dock at Izmir also.) There are headsets so the guide can communicate without shouting. These were very necessary in a number of ports because everywhere was overflowing with tour groups. You are dropped off at the top of the site and you walk down through the ruins back to the coach park. The path is uneven and you are standing
or walking for most of the tour. There is little shade so you need a hat or umbrella and sunscreen and plenty of water. It was a hot morning (only a half day port) but not too bad.
For us the purpose of the whole trip was to visit Istanbul. It was a full day tour but the morning was a frenzied rush around four sites whilst, after lunch, we were only taken to a carpet showroom and then had free time to do not much (as it was Sunday and most shops were shut). It is certainly worth doing an organised tour because the tickets are pre-purchased. However you still have to wait in line with all the other tours! The Blue Mosque photographed well because the decoration is best overhead but I can only recall how crowded it was on the ground. We both liked the Topkapi Palace and at least we did not feel pressured to rush around. Then it was time to move on to Aya Sophia. Again the crowds were so thick it is impossible to gain an impression of the size and ingenuity of the building. Our final stop before lunch was the underground cistern. Very tricky to get around – crowded, wet underfoot and pretty dark too. Then it was on to lunch – no choices (people were complaining) but the meal was very good. The main complaint on the tour was the timing but the other problem was lack of appropriate toilet facilities. The only toilet stop (apart from the hotel lunch) was at the Topkapi Palace before you get your ticket. Also be prepared for security checks going into the Palace and having to take off shoes for the Blue Mosque as well as cover up, if inappropriately dressed. Mykonos was a pleasant afternoon break in the hectic schedule of city sight-seeing. There was a shuttle bus from the pier to the edge of the very pretty town. A beer was advertised as five euros in one shop. BEWARE We were stupid enough to sit down at the Veranda Cocktail Bar and order cokes without first checking the price and were billed twelve euros for the two. We understand that they have to import everything but that was even more expensive than on the ship!
Naples port meant trips to Sorrento, Pompeii, Capri or Amalfi. We opted to walk into town which was an easy walk even with manic traffic. The major sights are all grouped together – starting with the Castello Nuovo, Piazza Plebiscito, Galleria Umberto, and Palazzo Reale.
Civitavecchia is the port for Rome, which is one and a half hours drive away. So those on trips had another long day touring. We had visited Rome before and opted for the medieval town and olive oil tasting. It was an interesting drive but Toscania was unsurprising. The hospitality and the explanation of the olive picking were fine but we did not get to try different olive oils, only a buffet consisting of different foods made with olive oil. No explanation was given about the different pressings of the oils so that was disappointing. However the buffet was great.
Livorno is the port for Florence or Pisa, which are a couple of hours drive away. We took the tour to Lucca an hour away and even so we had an early start. This was a lovely town, which was easy to get around and, at that time of day, very quiet. Fascinating buildings surrounded by a huge wall, used for walking, jogging and cycling. One of its main claims to fame is the Tintoretto painting of the Last Supper in the cathedral.
Monte Carlo was a half day port. A mile square means you could see everything easily, if you do not mind climbing the hills. We managed to find the elevators and got up to the casino.
SUMMARY You definitely need some stamina for this cruise if you are to see all the sites. There was a lot of walking and most of the excursions were classed as “active/most active”. It is to be expected that in any major city with interesting historic sites there will be crowds and traffic but this trip seemed to pack them all into one hectic cruise! Worth the effort though.