We arrived in Barcelona on Sunday. In baggage claim we got some Euros from an ATM and took a metered taxi to the port (30 Euro). We walked right in with no lines. We were on the ship by 11:45am. Dropped our bags in the room and hit the Garden Buffet. We then took a bus from just outside the port to City Center (3 Euro pp round trip). By 12:45pm the Embarkation line was outside the building and around the block. We were dropped off by the Christopher Columbus statue and walked down Las Ramblas, window shopping and people watching. We enjoyed the quaint streets and beautiful architecture and walked to the beach. We walked back to the bus stop via the Marina. Explored the ship before the muster drill and dinner. A table for two was easy to get in the Dining Room each night (we ate around 6pm).
The entertainment was the best of any of our 9 cruises. We prefer Royal but this was our best NCL experience. Inside cabin...small as expected but served its purpose and was well kept. We never had a bad meal. I asked for multiple appitizers and in some cases meals at the sit downs. We found the food at the buffet to be above average, well laid out buffet with seperate stations which prevented long lines. There was something for everyone everyday.
We do not drink, do not gamble, did not take any NCL excursions and did not try any of the specialty restaurants. They must hate us!
ROME: Free shuttle took us to the entrance of the pier. Stopped at an Information Booth just outside the gate where we purchased our round trip train tickets (9 Euro pp) to Rome's Termini Station. The tickets are also good for all busses and trains in Rome. Walked about three blocks (10 minutes) to the train station. You must validate your ticket in the yellow machine, however nobody asked us for our ticket in either direction. We took the 8:40am train ride (packed...standing room only) which got us there in 1 hour 20 minutes. At 10:00am we headed straight for the Coliseum which we walked around the outside(been inside on a previous trip to Italy). Then we walked through the Roman Forum before climbing the staircase on the far end to Capitoline Hill. We followed our map and walked the narrow, quaint cobblestone streets to Piazza Navona, the most famous square in Rome. Then toy to the Pantheon which is the best preserved ancient building in the city. On the way to Trevi Fountain stopped for a slice of pizza and a Panini. On the way to the Spanish Steps we each enjoyed another slice. We then took a fairly long but enjoyable walk back to Station Termini. We took the 3:40pm train back to Citavecchia and the shuttle back to the ship.
ATHENS We walked to the Metro station. Everything we read about tons of pushy cabbies was true. Exit the port and follow the road to the left hugging the water until you reach the train station. Look for the crosswalk over the road and take it. The walk was a good 20-30 minutes. A one way ticket costs 1.40 Euro pp. Round trip tickets are only good for an hour and a half so we bought them each way. Validate your ticket and take the Green line. We took the 6th stop (Thissio) which took about 20 minutes and gave us our first look at the Acropolis. We purchased our tickets at the entrance to the Ancient Agora (12 Euro pp (cash only) and is good for The Acropolis, Theatre of Dionysos, The Roman Agora, Temple of Olympian Zeus & Hadrien's Library. By the time we arrived at The Ancient Agora it was almost Noon. Last admission to each site is at 2:45pm! We followed the promenade path directly to Areopagus Hill which overlooks the Agora. Spectacular views! The walkway then took us to The Propylaia, which was the Grand Entrance to The Acropolis. Not being on a tour we took as much time as we wanted. They do have restrooms and a water fountain on the Acropolis. We decended at about 2:30pm and the path took us to the entrance of Herodus Atticus Theatre at the foot of the Acroplis. From there we made a left and walked to Hadrien's Arch and The Temple of Olympian Zeus. We arrived at 2:50, and the entrance was closed. The woman was nice enough to let us in for an up close view and some photos. We then walked across the street and through the National Gardens which brought us to Syntagma Square Metro station. We went down into the station to see the artifacts on display that they dug up in the 1990's while extending the Metro for the Olympics, including a glass wall overlooking excavated cemetaries. When we came out on the other side of the street we were in Syntagma Square. We took the obligatory photo with the Evzone Soldiers who stand in front of the Tomb of the Unknown soldier in front of the Parliament building with the pom poms on their shoes. They hold a changing of the guard at the top of every hour. Walking to The Plaka & Thissio districts where we saw The Roman Forum and its highlight Tower of The Winds. After spending some time in Thissio we took the Monastiraki Metro back to Piraeus at about 5:00pm which had us back on the ship by just after 6:00pm.
IZMIR We got off the ship and waiting for us with a sign was our tour guide from HelloEphesus. During the hour long ride in a Mercedes SUV, Seline gave us an overview & history of Turkey. The first stop was high on a mountain to visit the House of the Virgin Mary. Next we went to Ephesus. After 2+ hours seeing the ruins (which was amazing) we stopped at a Turkish carpet factory. The tour was interesting at first then the sales pitch got aggressive and with persistant "No thank yous" we finally made it to the exit. A traditional Turkish meal was served at a restaurant adjacent to the factory. We were dropped off at the ship at 5:00pm. The private tour with a driver and tour guide cost $190 US for the two of us plus tip.
ISTANBUL DAY ONE A short walk from the ship we found an ATM and withdrew 100 Turkish Lira ($75). We bought 4 jetsons (tram tokens) and took the tram 5 stops to Sultanahmet where we followed "Rick Steves' Istanbul" Old Town Back Streets walk. We walked through a cemetery filled with the graves of Ottoman bigwigs. We bought a calling card for 4 TL which lasted a good 25 minutes to the US. We walked to & through the Grand Bazaar. We exited into the Beyazit District which took us to the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. You must take of your shoes when entering and women must cover their heads (scarfs provided or buy one on the street). Next to the Spice Market and then across Galata Bridge (with fisherman on the top level and shops on the bottom level) crossing the Bosporus on one side and The Golden Horn on the other. As is always reported...watch for pickpockets in each port...no joke. Took the Tram back to the ship
ISTANBUL DAY TWO Again, tram to Sultanahmet. Our first stop was Topkapi Palace (home of the Ottoman Sultans since the 1500's). A separate admission allowed us to tour The Harem (well worth it). The Palace's Treasury Rooms included the Topkapi Dagger and the 86ct Spoonmaker Diamond. Then we went across the street to Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Underground Basillica Cistern & Haigia Sophia (all within a 10 minute walk of one another) before taking the tam back to the ship.
MALTA Enjoyed watching the approach to the pier from the Spinnaker Lounge on deck 13. Got off the ship, walked past the cabs & horse carriages and took a left into the Car Park. Followed the tunnel to the parking garage and took their elevator to street level. Saved quite an uphill walk! We walked past the Trident Fountain and the yellow 1950's & 60's busses to the main gate of Valetta. We walked Triq Republica (the main street) to the Grand Master's Palace, then to the St John co-cathedral. What a beautiful city! Next back the bus depot and took # 81 to Mdina. A beautiful 25 minute ride. The quaint streets were fun to explore. We walked around for about an hour enjoying the cathedral and the view from the city walls that stretched all the way to Valetta and the sea. Back on the bus to Valetta where we entered the city gate just beyond the bus depot and walked the back roads and Merchant Street all the way to the Fort St. Elmo. We then went to visit the Seige Bell Memorial then across the street to Lower Barraka Gardens for more great views and then walked to Upper Barraka Gardens. At the pier we purchased a 5 Euro phone card which gave us 40 minutes of call time to the US.
We walked our bags off ourselves and took a cab to the airport.
If we tried hard enough we can find something to complain about. We were on vacation to have fun and that's what we did. It was all about the itinerary and the ship, the food and the service were all above average in our opinion. Questions? Feel free to email me at Adam.Webster@citcomm.com