We arrived in Athens two days prior to embarkation, so we could see the sights, and had a marvelous time, not a HAL excursion, but taken about by Constantine with AthensTaxi.org. This is a family run taxi/tour company that will go out of their way to show you the sights and a good time. He picked us up upon our arrival at the airport at 9:AM, took us to The Athens Gate Hotel, where we checked in, checked our luggage since the room was not yet ready, and we went on a 1/2 day Athens tour.
I admit to being awed by the ancient ruins, as I studied classical Greek in high school, but this was my first in-person exposure to the area. It was super-hot on the acropolis, but we took our time and saw everything - Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike, looked down on both theaters from above, took a zillion photos - then went to a great casual outdoor restaurant near the agora for a gyros lunch with fresh feta & tomato salad, and tried to local beer. The beer was probably a mistake, after a long flight, no real sleep, and the heat on the rocks, began to be very tired.
But, we sucked it up, toured the agora, then took a drive up Lykavittos Hill, stopping for several views of the area below. After a tour past some of the important government buildings, the university, we drove thru the main downtown business area, and then back to the hotel.
Dinner at the hotel was great, we ate at a rooftop outside table with a view of the acropolis - I don't think we'll ever top the ambiance of that evening.
We took off the next day to the Peloponnese, stopping to watch some ships go thru the Corinth Canal that connects the Adriatic Sea to the Aegean Sea. Then, on to Ancient Corinth, with the Temples of Apollo and Octavia and other fascinating ruins. Then on past vineyards, farms and goat herds, to Ancient Mycenae - again left to wonder at the amazing history from nearly 4000 years ago.
Constantine then took us thru the resort town of Nafplio, a resort frequented mainly by Greeks, then on to the small seaside beach town of Tolo, where we had a lunch of local sea bass and Greek salad, with some delicious local white wine overlooking the beach at Maria's Cafe - remarkable!
He stopped by a local grocery store where we bought some wine to take on the ship - the local Peloponnese white wine was a "must buy", and cheap!!! Note: the red was not so great, but what do I know when picking Greek wine?
Oh yeah, the cruise, almost forgot. On day three, he picked us up at the hotel, and took us to Piraeus to board the ship, and we said farewell to Constantine.
We got on board, and had heard that there was a luncheon in the main dining room beginning at 11:30 for Mariner's club members, but we were directed to the Lido, and could not go elsewhere on the ship. It's probably just us, but we don't like the Lido. We go on a cruise to enjoy great service and luxury, but the Lido seems hectic, too much standing in line, racing here, there and everywhere, your food gets cold before you can start, because your busy collecting salads, beverages, main course, etc. The Lido on the Westerdam was a step up from that on the Veendam, but still not 'our cup of tea. But, on embarkation days, what can you expect, or do? Just enjoy it.
After lunch, no announcement, but I went to check anyway, and "sure enough", ours was ready, and I found our luggage in the elevator lobby, so brought it to the stateroom myself. Pleasant surprise - two bottles of wine in the room, compliments of our travel agent, Cruise Club of America. Didn't think much of it, but noticed there were no excursion tickets in the room as on the Veendam last year for our Alaska cruise.
The next thing I noticed was that the balcony room was "well worn", bordering on seedy. Carpet was obviously old by cruise ship standards. Couch was worn on the arms, edges. Furniture on the balcony was very basic, one comfortable chair with ottoman, one not-so-comfortable chair, and a small table. But, OK, this is not the Waldorf, I'm not complaining.
When the excursion tickets did not show up the next day, I went to the desk, waited in line, and they said: "Sometimes this happens", they reprinted the tickets. I began to worry that someone else would show up with our tickets, and there might be a donnybrook on the Istanbul evening excursion, and on each one thereafter, so I carried the "boarding passes" with me on each excursion just in case - more to worry about just when I went on vacation to get away from worrying.
Cruise went smoothly; we had "open seating", and we tried to make dinner reservations for the Vista Dining room "open times", but could only get 5:30 or 8:PM. Eventually, they explained that if we wanted other times, "just show up". That worked, no problem, no long waits. I never could figure out why no reservations for other than 5:30 or 8:PM. About day 3 or 4, they began announcing that people were getting sick in excess of normal, and the announcement about "vomiting and diarrhea" during dinner didn't add positively to the ambiance. A hand washing lecture while trying to select dinner was unnecessary, we thought.
They re-implemented serving measures to try to prevent the spread of the virus, but we seemed to be doing just fine - until the last port. We had to forgo the Kusadasi - Ephesus excursion (and lost about $300) because we fell victim to the virus - felt OK, but couldn't risk being too far from a bathroom. You couldn't buy any meds in the shops, so had to go to the med center, and be charged $46 each to visit with a nurse and get 1/2 a box of Imodium, and a bunch of other stuff that we didn't need. We were then confined to our cabin and threatened that the captain would throw us off if we were out of the cabin. Thank God there was only one day left. They claimed they would do anything for us, and they did provide unlimited room service, and continue to offer “anything". The one thing we asked them to do was to get a box of Dristan cold tablets from the store and charge our account, but they would not do it, so our respitory symptoms went untreated and ignored by the nurse - they focused like a laser on vomiting and diaharrea, and totally ignored the fact that half the passengers were coughing, hacking, sneezing, etc. Go figure.
We didn't pay much attention to the entertainment; the Adiago Strings (string quartet) were excellent. We saw the beginning of one show, but left to get to bed due to an early excursion the next day.
This seemed to be an "early excursion intensive cruise", and it was our fault that we booked the most intesive, longest excursions offered. Coupled with the heat experienced in Athens, Antalya, Antakya, Israel and Egypt, the long tours were exhausting, and the return to the ship late in the evenings meant standing in long lines at the Lido hoping there was some food left. It was a little grueling at times. Fortunately, there were 3 days at sea that relieved some of the hectic pace.
At the end of the cruise, they whisked us off the ship early, along with the other "recently sick" people, and onto a separate bus for the airport. That was good for the other poassengers so they would not be exposed to potential virus. But, we did not get a final bill, nor the "cruise log" that passengers are supposed to get before leaving. I need to figure out how I can get a itemized bill for the charges that came after the preliminary bill, and the credits that were supposed to show but were not yet posted to the preliminary statement.
No comments for the Kusadasi port, because we were "confined to quarters" that day.