Great ports, ok ship
Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
Our cruise started in Venice (stayed overnight and disembarked the 2nd day), went to Kotor, Montenegro; then Athens, Greece; Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey; Bodrum, turkey; Santorini, Greece; Mykonos, Greece; and finally Split, Croatia.
The ports of call were really great -- some I would not visit if I were planning a land trip, but very interesting and nice to visit and I am glad we got the chance to visit them all.
The weather was gorgeous throughout -- some drizzling rain at times, but was quick to pass, and happened most often in the afternoons after we had come back to the ship anyway and were leaving port.
Getting to the ship was not confusing, but the RCL folks were not very helpful. After we got off the plane (after flying red-eye), we saw a woman carrying an RCL clipboard, so we asked her what the best way of getting to the ship was. She said she did not have any spaces available on the shuttle, but the taxis would get you there for 15 euros/ppl -- More
we were traveling with 6 people. We had done some homework beforehand and read about the ACTV (bus) that goes to Piazzale Roma (the fare increased to 5 euros by the time we went) and asked her about it, so she directed us to the electronic ticketing machine that did not have english written on it, so we were a little confused when we did not see what we thought was the correct fare or the Piazzale Roma written on it. Ended up finding a ticket booth with a live person behind it to buy the tickets. We felt the RCL representative was not very helpful -- it's not like she had slots and we refused to take the shuttle. She told us the most expensive way to get to the Docks. Once we were at Piazzale Roma, there is a free shuttle bus to the cruise terminal (we had asked in advance what to do once we got there, but some people were clueless and the buses are not terribly well marked).
The ship itself is an older ship, but I've never been on one of the newer ones anyway, so I didn't know what we were missing in terms of the new fancy restaurants, water slides, etc. Besides, once the ship was moving, it got a little chilly/breezy up on deck for me anyway. It was clean, the crew was painting the railings and trim, which was fine. Rooms were standard, and dining room standard. Didn't feel too crowded, at least not like the Carnival cruise we were on to the Caribbean 2 years ago.
The staff on the ship, like the woman at the airport, was hit or miss. the Pursers were not very helpful -- did not know how to catch the prepaid shuttle bus at the end of the trip, for example. Our stateroom attendant was good and our dinner dining staff was great. The food was so-so. I thought there would be much more seafood -- after all, you're in the Mediterranean! I thought we would have an abundance of seafood -- fish, at least? Instead, they never have sea bass, though it's on the menu. And one lunch on the sea day, we ordered the trout and got salmon. When we asked about it, the chef said that a trout is a baby salmon -- what? When we were still confused, the head waiter came and said that "they're the same color anyway" and walked away. No appologies, no offer to order anything else. Even our own waitor had said that a trout and salmon were 2 different fish! We were very turned off, and she was a HEAD waiter, too! So the food was only so-so. The breakfasts were actually pretty good -- and I've always hated breakfast foods. The Windjammer was better for breakfast than the King and I Dining Room.
The entertainment was good overall, but only a few were great. Maybe part of it is because we felt very young on the ship -- lots of older folks. They even had a 40's and 50's song night! We didn't know many of those songs, but they did a good job.
The sea days were okay. definitely needed them to recup after running around for a few days. I was turned off that activities now required a fee -- scrapbooking was $5 for this packet, $10 for that, and if you wanted it for free, you had to stay the entire 40-45 minutes time and show her a completed layout before you left. Otherwise you'd be charged $5 for the packet. And the 2nd sea day, scrapbooking, even to sit and continue to work on the layouts you already did -- not getting new material -- or watching other people work on their layouts were $10. If you were there, they charged you. Jewelry making was almost as bad -- the first one was free, and the 2nd one was $10, but they let you stay and watch for free -- you just didn't get a kit to make the jewelry. I've never been on a cruise ship where even the arts and crafts cost you money. It felt too much like they were out to get your money.
I was also put off by the transportation fee -- getting to Venice from the docks, you could either walk (which I imagine would've taken you a bit of time) or you paid $15 for the RCL shuttle -- or in Mykonos, they docked at the Cruise line docks, about 1 mile away from the town. It's walkable, but if you're dropped off somewhere and have no clue where you're going, you are more likely to cough up the money ($10/pp) to just get there in one piece. If we had tendered, it would've been free, like the other cruise lines in Mykonos. we were the only ones to dock.
The actual process of disembarking the ship was well-organized -- much better than Carnival! The only problem was that no one directed us where to go AFTER we left the ship. there were no signs or people directing us where to go. And we pre-purchased RCL's transfer back to the airport! No one seemed to know or care where we were supposed to go. Disappointing.
One last note: if you're prone to seasickness, May was a fantastic time to go -- I can get pretty bad seasick, and I was fine, and my mom, who ALWAYS gets seasick did fine without any meds or bracelets or ginger tabs or anything! I've heard that other times of the year are not so calm, but May was PERFECT! Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Athens is dirtier than I ever thought it would be. before we went, I always dreamed of going to Athens, seeing the parthenon, and admiring the structures. I suppose for such an old city, it stands to reason that it would be dirty. we took the metro up to the acropolis. the metro is a 20 min walk from the port -- keep the water on your left, and when the docks end (after walking around 20 mins), cross the street and go up the overpass. when you come down, it will be in a while building on your left. it's 1.40 euro for a 1 way trip, 4 euros for all day pass (though you're only going there and back). we got off at the acropolis stop (had to change lines once). It was an easy hike up from there through dionysus' theatere. The acropolis is BUSY, jammed pack full of people! But the view from up there is awesome, and you can see the ancient agora below you. the Parthenon was undergoing some restoration work when we went, but still, the massive structures were incredible. coming down, we passed the agora and ended up in the Plaka. we walked around the plaka, ended up passing hadrian's gate on our way to the Parliament. then we walked around and ended up going back via metro -- just watch out -- the metro ticket selling guy tried to rip us off by not giving us our full change -- left a bad taste in my mouth.
I didn't initially think much of bodrum, but after walking through town along the water to get to the castle and exploring the castle (we must have spent a good 2-3 hours there!), we really enjoyed it. It houses the underwater museum (and I don't think I ever really FOUND the underwater museum, but when I looked at my entrance ticket, it said it was for the underwater museum -- either that or she gave me the wrong ticket) and a bunch of other small museums full of interesting artifacts. You're a bit at the mercy of when the "guard" (person overseeing the small room/museums) take a break, but they will reopen again if you come back later. It also has fantastic views of the city itself from the castle outer wall -- my parents and aunt/uncle skipped that part, but I think it was one of the better parts of the castle. We took the free shuttle (which was not publicized on the boat) back from the castle (there is a pier right outside the castle) to the pier where our ship was docked. It goes back and forth from the cruise ship dock to the castle, so if you don't want to walk through the town, you can just take the shuttle back and forth. One note, however -- they will only take lira at the castle (entrance fee), so if you're out of lira, walk through town and exchange your money there -- they don't charge a handling fee/commission either.
LOVED Kusadasi. we arranged for a private tour prior to our cruise (cost about 1/2 of what the cruise line charged). we were picked up from the docks and traveled in a 10 person, air conditioned van. We saw the House of the Virgin Mary (we wish we had brought a bottle so we could put some holy water for my father in law, who could not come on the trip), St. John's Basilica (ruins of -- but there was an orthodox service going on at that time, so they did nto let us see St. John's crypt, which was disappointing), ephesus museum (definitely should see!) and then of course, Ephesus (Terrace houses are a must-see!).I felt like we so much in Kusadasi, and would highly recommend it to everyone! We were haggled about seeing the carpet making factories, and that was a bit of a downer. the souvenirs are cheaper here than in Bodrum, so if you want souvenirs, get them here (they're the same stuff, just a bit more expensive in Bodrum).
we docked at Mykonos rather than tendering in -- so RCL charged ups $10 per person to take us to the city. We took a boat out to Delos (was much more expensive than we had expected -- all the travel books said the trip would cost 9 euros round trip -- apparently the fee jumped to 17 euros -- there's a board with the new price covering the old sign). Delos was interesting, though didn't feel like we had a tremendous amount of time there, and it would've been nice to have climbed to the top. We were, admittedly, a bit on the late side getting out of the boat since we thought we would have a leisurely day. When we got back from delos, we wandered around little Italy. Personally, that's my favourite part of Mykonos -- such a charming maze of little alleys full of tiny (and i do mean tiny literally hole in the wall) shops, and some of the locals sitting out talking. It was very quaint and wouldn't have minded spending more time wandering the streets there. we didn't go UP to the windmills themselves, but saw them from the boat and from Little Italy.
Beautiful Santorini. We did not take the donkey ride up but caught a whiff of them at the top and boy are they stinky! We took the cable car up and back -- 4 euro each way per person. Then we took the bus (about 1.60 euro per person) to Oia and wandered around for several hours. Took some breathtaking views of the houses on the cliff with the water just below. It was everything I had imagined in Santorini and more. After Oia, we went back (also by bus) and tried to find the oh-so-photographed church (blue dome with the bells) only to never find it and find out after asking several shop owners that the dome is no longer blue -- it's been painted white. so that was a bit disappointing given that that's the church you see on all the postcards. Nevertheless, the view is spectacular, and my husband and I walked along the wall overlooking the water for a bit until it was time to turn around and head back to the ship.
Split has a very european style about it. the Palace is the entire walled city, and it's charming to wander around in it. We wandered both inside the Palace and just outside the palace. on the East side, there's a nice plaza with a converted building now an exhibit hall -- there was a woman making lace -- we missed that in venice and honestly, didn't think it would be that interesting, but watching her fingers twiddle the sticks like it was second nature was mesmerizing and impressive. At the Gold gate, there's a very nice park and large statue of a priest? bishop? We did not go into the substructure of the Palace, nor did we have any interest in doing it, esp after smelling how musky it was! But the entrance to the substructure houses some vendor stalls -- so we perused through them as well.
We spent 2 days in Venice -- unfortunately, I had thought we would have more time, and in retrospect, probably should have booked a hotel and stayed there overnight either at the front or tail end of the cruise. So our first day was part travel, and we checked into the ship around 2-3pm. The whole process is very quick and easy -- though we were a little surprised that they needed to hold on to our passports, which made us feel a little uneasy. They explained that it was to clear customs prior to disembarking the ship at a few of the ports without having everyone try to clear it at the same time after disembarking. It worked well and we had no snags, so the system works, but just be forewarned that they will take your passport when you check in. After we checked in, we were all tired and starving, so went up to the Windjammer (buffet) to eat. By that time, they were closing -- around 3pm -- but still let us grab some food to eat. By the time we made it outside, we wandered on the docks -- the signs were not clear on how to get OUT of the docks proper and how to get into Venice. We found a water shuttle, run by RCL, costing $15 round trip to San Marco Plaza, and thought maybe it would be nice to walk. We took 15-20 minutes to walk from the docks to the entrance of the terminal, figured out that it was going to be a rather lengthy and time-consuming walk to anywhere of importance downtown, and headed back to the ship for our 6:30pm dining. It felt like a waste of a day, so the 2nd day, we coughed up the $15 to get to San Marco Plaza first thing in the morning. We visited the Doge's Palace first because it was the only thing open. It was interesting to see how beautiful the Palace was and learn about the different councils (checks and balances too) that governed Venice. We spent a good 2 hours there -- bathrooms are clean, FYI -- then went to the Basilica. There is a bag check down a small alley next to the Basilica where you can check bags in -- free, but it is customary to tip them 1 euro -- then they give you a plastic card. You show the guys at the entrance to the Basilica and they will let you right in past all the waiting visitors in line outside. We then went to the Rialto Bridge (follow the signs. It's only confusing when the sign directs you in opposite directions, but we found that all the streets eventually intersect each other, and we were not steered in the wrong direction. We found the Rialto Bridge easily (all the while window shopping along the way). Then it was time to head back to the ship via the shuttle. It's a bit of a downer to have to pay for the transportation from the pier, but it was the only way to see Venice in a morning. BTW, we did not find Venice to be as stinky as everyone said it would be.
I'll put our 2nd port here, because it's a new addition to the itinerary, and cruise critic does not have it as one to choose from. Our 2nd port was Kotor, Montenegro, and they tender you to the city. It's a beautiful ride into the fjord all the way until you reach Kotor. we simply walked around the town -- small, easy to finish in an hour or so. It has that old world charm that you always dream of. No cars are allowed in there, so you're not really worrying about getting run over like in a big city. We took a small map (though not very accurate), wandered around (really can't get lost), and went into every church imaginable (though as an FYI -- they'll let you into the churches with shorts and t-shirt, but there are signs posted that they'd rather you be in more modest clothing, so we respected that preference and did not see EVERY church... just the ones where they welcomed us in). you are able to walk up the fortress, but the rocks are slippery and it was about to rain, so we opted not to go. I later spoke with someone on the ship who did go up, and he said the view was spectacular, so in retrospect, I wish I had just ventured to go up.