Westerdam Cruise Review by dumbaxel: Exploring where never before - or whatever Star Trek says
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Exploring where never before - or whatever Star Trek says
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, More 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. Less
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Cabin review: VB4133
4163 - well worn, but otherwise AOK.
Port and Shore Excursions
Long bus ride thru Alexandria to Cairo, to Sakkara (also spelled Saquora). There was a lot of dust in the air from the sand / desert. This is in the Sahara, after all, and if it’s breezy, it's dusty. It was also approx 100 degrees F. Saw the Step pyramid (2686 BC) the bent pyramid, and an outdoor museum, while trying to duck the souvenir vendors. Saw the Giza pyramids. Boarded a bunch of 4WD vehicles, many of which were nice, others older and beat-up. These were privately owned by the drivers who were hired by the tour operator. In some cases, seat belts were inoperative. Very rough, occasionally high speed (for the terrain) ride to the Dahshour area. One lady who had been riding in a non-air conditioned jeep passed out while standing on a concrete platform viewing the pyramid. She fell, and her husband tried to catch her, and he went down on top of her. VERY lucky not to be seriously hurt. She took my spot in an A/C vehicle, and I rode in the junker to the next stop. I found a spot in another with A/C, and my wife in a third one, so the husband could be with her for the last jaunt, which was a good thing, because then we went hell bent thru Cairo traffic in the jeeps to the hotel for "lunch" about 3 or 4PM. My life passed before me on that trip thru Cairo traffic, and not just once. About a 1/2 hour ride, heavy traffic, maybe one traffic light that was merely a suggestion, I think. I was never so happy to get out of a car in my life. Had a good meal, then back on the bus for the 3 hour ride back to the ship.
The pyramids are amazing - so old, so large, such engineering feats. But, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn't. If you've always wanted to go to Egypt and see pyramids, I have one word of advice: don't. Not just because of the jeep trip, but the whole country is a mess. Garbage all over the streets, ruble everywhere. While there are certainly some nice hotels, great people, etc., the place is 90% a shithole. Look at pictures, read books, but stay away. Just my opinion, and please excuse the language, but that's the best adjective I can think of that applies.
All day tour next day: Istanbul Deluxe Part 2. The Hippodrome (no big deal), Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace, lunch, St Sophia's Church/ museum, and finally a carpet demo, then the Grand Bazaar. Awesome! Pleasantly surprised and impressed with Istanbul!
We entered thru the Jaffe Gate, and sort of went backwards, starting at the Church of the Holy Seplechre, which is a conglomeration of churches, Greek Orthodox, the old Crusader church, Roman Catholic, and an Armenian ladder (it's a long story). A very long line waited to go into the tomb given to Christ by Joseph of Aramithea, but Moti pulled some strings, and we jumped the line - probably would have been murdered if it was not a church. Past by the stone where his body was prepared for burial, many very emotional people, sobbings, praying, etc. Saw where the cross may have been erected. We back-tracked the last five stations of the cross, and then went down the Via Delorosa which is now a market of seemingly never ending vendors, into the Muslim Quarter, turned onto Wadi St, and ate at a nice restaurant. Had hummus with pita bread, salads, and lots of water.
Continued to the open area near the Western (Wailing) wall. An amazing place to "people watch". Then, thru security and up a "temporary ramp" (the original collapsed, and the temporary is being used while they sift thru artifacts before rebuilding the main ramp) to the Temple Mount. We could not go in the al Asqua Mosque or the Dome of the Rock (Muslims only, although it changes from time to time), but we walked around the entire Mount, taking loads of pictures, of course.
Went out thru the Cotton market, back to the car. By this time of day, the dust in the air was getting bad - dust from sand storms in Eqypt of from the Negev, depending on whom you talked to.
Drove back past Bethlehem, but did not go into the city, because it is in Palestinian controlled territory, and israeli guides cannot take you in. We could have transferred to a Palestinian gude / taxi, but they require you to go on a "shopping opportunity", and we would have lost 1/2 a day total, so it was way too late for that.
We saw the famous walls / fences that Israel built to prevent terrorist attacks, and Moti pointed out that the settlemenbts in this area were built on land formerly owned by jordan until they foolishly joined in the attacks on Israel by most of the Arab nations. This land became part of israel, and was never Palestinian land when these settlements were built. So, they are not really settlements at all.
Took a different route back to Ashdod along the old Roman road, and thru the valley where the armies of the Philistines stood across from the Israelites, and only two warriors met to settle the war, in lieu of great losses on both sides. David, of course, bested Goliath in that contest.