For starters, this cruise was highly recommended to us in Oct.2009 from someone who had just returned and could not stop raving about it. Since we were about to celebrate our 50th anniversary we thought this trip would be perfect. After we booked the trip we met several other people who had taken this cruise and EVERYONE had raved about it, so here we are. It must be noted that we worked very hard before the trip comparing shore excursions, taxi rides, cruise critic reviews, etc. and it was all worth the effort, without a glitch.
We arrived a day early and were met at the airport by a car from our hotel in Civitavecchia, Hotel Traiano. We shared the car ride with another couple also going on the same cruise. The hotel was charming, very European, included a wonderful breakfast and the price was right. That night we walked around the town, had an authentic pizza and gelato. The next day the hotel provided a free shuttle service to the port.
Embarkation was a cake walk. Quick and expedient. You would never know that 2800 guests were going on this cruise. We were greeted by the friendliest crew, went directly to our cabin where we were met by our Rowelito, our cabin steward. Later on in the cruise my husband named him "the hardest working man
I've ever seen," always smiling and courteous.
The first night's dinner was at Murano. They were offering the 2 for 1 special which we had read about on cruse critic. Do take advantage of this one.
The service was superb, the food outstanding and a wonderful opener for the cruise.
The first port was Piraeus (Athens). We took the ship's tour of the city which included a stop at the Olympic stadium, a view of the Acropolis, and a walk around the city and the Plaka, a touristy shopping mecca. Our tour guide was very good and spoke English very well. We had lunch on our own at a little cafe, each ordered a gyro and coke which came to about $25 USD which we thought was outrageous, but that's the Euro for you! Not really impressed with Athens.
Next port was Kusadasi (Ephesus). Private tour with Hello Ephesus. Did we luck out on this one! Our guide, Ergen, spoke English so well we thought he was American. He later told us that he was the guide who escorted Bill Clinton in Turkey several years ago. Spent too much time at the Home of the Virgin Mary but Ephesus was awesome! Do not miss the Terrace Houses, a most amazing excavation of the homes of the rich and famous. Then we traveled the countryside to a town I had read about, Sirince, very quaint but another touristy shopping mecca. The biggest ripoff of all was the Temple of Artemis. This is supposed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World. How could you miss it?? Please do. All that remains is ONE Grecian column, the rest is ruins. This trip also included lunch and a visit to a rug factory and souvenir shop, which we zipped right through. We later heard that the actual port of Kusadasi has become a European vacation spot with lavish hotels,etc. If you have chance you might want to make a stop there. Sorry we didn't know about this sooner.
Israel was unique because we did not book anything specific, having been there before on a very comprehensive tour. After we docked at Haifa we took the train to Tel Aviv, a 1 hour beautiful train ride along the coast, and then took a bus to the beach where we stopped in a couple of fancy hotels for a look/see, and then rolled up our pants and went on the beach in the Mediterranean, walked around Tel Aviv a bit until we got to Dizengoff Street where we had lunch and got the Israeli flavor, took the train back to Haifa, hopped in a cab who took us on a city tour with a stop at the magnificent Bahai Gardens.
In Jerusalem we took a ship tour to the Jewish sites, had an incredibly wonderful guide, Philip, an expat from Chicago who majored in drama in college so you can imagine what an animated tour we had, and had an incredible lunch included in the ship tour. Our tour ended with a stop at another souvenir shop. Nothing special to buy except T-shirts.
We did not know what to expect from the Egypt venue. We booked a Ramses
Tour for 1/2day in Alexandria. Our tour guide was young, bright and gorgeous, in the Miss Universe catagory. Very sweet and respectful of senior citizens, watching for our safety at all times. Although extremely knowledgable she was a bit difficult to understand at times, but who cared? All you had to do was look at her, and who needs information overload, anyway. The next day when we went to Cairo we had another gorgeous guide (Ramses Tours)and a very comprehensive tour. It takes 3 hrs to get to Cairo but the pyramids and Sphinx are awesome, went on to Memphis to see the other Sphinx and the statue of Ramses, and back to Cairo for a boat ride on the Nile. This tour did not include lunch,nor did we have time to stop, but Samah, our guide, wanted to make sure that we had a "taste" of Egypt, so she had some Egyptian food brought to the car and we had a car picnic. The food is called koshary and it is delicious. I would describe it as similar to chili but with pasta and rice, garnished with crispy onions. I must compliment our drivers on both days. The traffic in Egypt is not to be believed and they were both safe and caring and we got back to the ship safe and sound. We were very pleased with the decisions we made about our tours in Egypt and felt that there was nothing we would have changed.
Messina, the next port. We took the ship's tour, Taormina on Your Own. I highly recommend this tour because it takes you where you want to go cheaper than a cab. Unless you want to do something specific, this was enough for us. We had planned to take a cab to Castlemora on the top of the mountain but the cab drivers wanted $40 USD round trip for a 2 mile trip. Forget about it. Also, there is funicular to take you to Isola Bella but by the time we found it, it was too late. Taormina, a tourist shoppers mecca, big on ceramics, not cheap! We shared a 10"pizza, shared a coke. Bill came to 15 euros (approx.21USD). There is a 1 1/2 euro cover charge each which is not the tip!
Check this out when you are in Italy. If you sit in a restaurant there may be a cover charge.
Naples. Took the ship tour to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. This included a wonderful lunch in Positano and a FREE bottle of water on the bus. Sorrento, very pretty, touristy, Amalfi Coast and BUS DRIVER,awesome.
Disemarkation. Did we leave the ship? This is the easiest thing I've ever done. No pressure, no hype. Roma Cabs was there to pick us up on time.
It is utterly amazing how one cruise company can get it all right. With 2800 passengers and 1200 crew you never knew you were on such a large ship. We had the option of taking this trip on a smaller cruise line but we chose Celebrity because we like the excitement of a big ship, the shows, the variety of activities,services,etc. and we were not disappointed one bit. Everyone loves a cruise for a different reason, some to eat, to drink, to laze in the sun, to gamble, etc. We go primarily for the itinerary and Celebrity exceeded our expectations with all the bells and whistles.
The reviews of previous travelers on Celebrity Equinox Holy Land trip were invaluable to us. We could not have had such "smooth sailing" without Cruise Critic.