My husband and our have recently returned from a 20 day cruise of the Eastern & Western Mediterranean on the beautiful ship the Noordam. WOW ... we just loved it. Being first time cruisers we were not quite sure what to expect.
Well, the Noordam gave us everything and more than we could have ever wished for. The staff in all areas were fantastic. They were all very polite and obliging regardless of the time of day. No request was too big or too small. A credit to them all !! Our cabin boys, Happy & Sophy, were like friends by the time we left. We had a little laugh every day with them and when we came back they enquired how our day had been and wanted to know what we liked and what we'd done in that port. I also loved the animals made out of the towels every night in our cabin. The monkey was definitely my favourite. The staff at the Lido Pool & Bar were great. Christian, CJ, Lori and Dexter were great young fellas and looked like they really enjoyed being there. It was a delight to go to breakfast in the morning to be greeted by the staff with smiling faces and a very chirpy Good Morning, Ma'am and Sir. What a pleasure. There were also a couple of young girls who were especially chirpy in the mornings. One girl who we called Princess, her name was Yutra or similar, was bright and bubbly even though she had lost her voice. The other was the young girl who cleaned away the plates and tidied the tables in Canneletti area at breakfast time.
The entire ship was kept immaculate. The staff were forever polishing, mopping, painting, staining and cleaning the entire time. We could not complain about the overall cleanliness at all. I was really rapt in the idea of the sanitisers at the entrances to the dining rooms, outside the bathroom areas and the passengers being made aware of the necessity of such cleanliness.
We enjoyed all the ports of call, although Tunisia would be one of our least favourites and would not rush to recommend to friends 'it is one of those you have to go to'. Each port had its own uniqueness.
• Dubrovnik was just gorgeous with its great wall around the city and the interesting little alley ways where you could wander for hours at a time or spend time at the little sidewalk cafes and shops.
• Corfu was another great stop. Lots of walking to be done there, but well worth it. We also hired a horse & buggy ride for an hour to see the back streets of the old town. We haggled a bit and got the driver down to about 30 euro from memory. The fortress was well worth the walk up the steep stairs to catch a view of the entire town and harbour.
• Katakalon was a quaint little village that relies on the cruise ships coming in as their main source of income. My husband and I elected not to go to Olympia as we had heard reports it really wasn't worth the trip. . A fellow traveller told us that they could do a lot more with the site to get more visitors there. We enjoyed wandering around the small streets and browsing in the shops, and there were heaps of them. It was quite warm so we decided to prop at a little cafe there and have an ice-cold beer for lunch while people-watching. Great way to pass the time.
• Well - Santorini is another thing. There was a bit of a wait at the cable car, remembering tho, there was about 6 cruise ships in port at Santorini that day, as there was a strike in Athens at the time. I chose the cable car as I am a bit of a sook but my husband rode the donkey up the mountain. Yes he did live to tell the tale. He said it was hilarious. The donkeys decide to stop whenever and wherever they like and will not move until they are ready. Sounds like someone I know, actually. I'm glad I stuck to the cable car - the scenery was to die for. After about three quarters of an hour wait, it took about 3-4 minutes to get to the top with the other zillions of tourists. Once we got away from the main hub of the town, it was fine. It is their tourist season and summer, so there is naturally going to be a lot of people around. We chose to do a cruise around Santorini to Red Beach and Black Beach to the Hot Springs. The ship was an old Greek wooden ship, but was very comfortable. I must admit I was a little disappointed though as the website gave me the impression that we would actually stop at a beach and have a swim. This was not the case. We stopped out about 100 metres from shore in very deep water to have a swim. My husband was able to get out and enjoy the nice cool water but not me... my feet have to touch the bottom or it is not on. It was also about a 200-300 metre swim across to the hot springs so from memory there was only a couple on the boat that did it. The Greek barbecue made up for it though, and a couple of icy cold beers & wines.
• Ephesus was unbelievable. It was a very hot day and a lot of ruins to walk around but well worth it. I had organised an independent tour online before we left home through Cruise Critic. I found this was the way to go. The ship's tours are really quite expensive and you end up on a bus with 40-50 other people which is not really our cup of tea. On the independent tours, the most people we had were 10. Our tour guide in Ephesus was Emre, who had an unbelievable knowledge of the ruins and surrounds. On this particular tour there were only four of us so it was far more personal. It is unbelievable the history of this place, and the vastness of it all. After spending a couple of hours wandering through the ruins with Emre, we then moved onto a tiny little village up in the hills for lunch.. We tasted all the local cuisine which was absolutely fantastic. I really do recommend anyone that is planning on doing this cruise to definitely take the smaller independant tours.
• Fortunately we had pre-booked an independent tour for Athens as there were seven or eight cruise ships in Pireaus that same day and the place was crowded. We got off to an early start and beat the majority of the crowd. The Parthenon was unreal and as there were only 10 of us we could get around quite easily and move on without too much hassle. Our tour guide was fantastic showing us around the back streets of Athens and as luck would have it, we saw the President drive past and into the President's Palace. The protests were being held every afternoon in Syntagma Square but this did not affect our visit to Athens. We drove past the Square and could see all the protest banners and protesters milling around but fortunately it was peaceful at that moment.
• In Messina we were picked up by our guide, Ignazio, fom Mario Astone Tour, who is Mario's brother. He was just fantastic. He spoke really good English and even treated us to little pastries from the local bakery. Just scrumptious...... The drive to Taormina from Messina took about 30 minutes. It was just spectacular. This was probably one of the best tours of the cruise, thanks also to Ignazio. The scenery was beautiful. We saw Mt Etna in the distance, still smoking from a few days earlier, then went onto Castelmola for a walk around the old streets of the village. We then had an hour or so spare time in Toarmina to explore the ancient city. Ignazio then drove us back to Messina in time for the Astronomical clock at 11.55. This tour is well worth taking. A real surprise.
• The Western Mediterranean was special in its own way I guess. I did prefer the first ten days of our cruise, but Monte Carlo and Barcelona were unreal.
I loved the rotating toilet seat in the Casino at Monte Carlo as it was being cleaned by some automated brush etc. Small things amuse small minds. Definitely worth spending a penny there if you do go to the Casino. Monte Carlo was very clean. The whole city was preparing for the wedding of Albert and his bride the next week.
• You probably really need a week in Barcelona. There is so much to see. Gaudi's Church was amazing. We took the Passion Lift up to what seemed the top of the world. Barcelona was very busy the day we were there, so the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus was packed to capacity. Probably the best option would be to organise a tour before you go. We did enjoy sitting on the bus and going the entire way around several times, then haggling with the stall holders in Las Ramblas. You have to be very careful there, as there is quite a few con-men with a game of picking which box the ball is under and keep pushing 50 euro in your face to get you sucked in. We don't know what the game is called, but do be careful.
• Mallorca was great. We walked the three or so kilometres from the port into town. Although, it was very hot, it was a flat walk and a bit of shade here and there. We walked around the town for quite awhile then caught a small boat to do a cruise of the Harbour which cost 10 euro. We caught the boat just near the Cathedral. That was a welcome break as we then walked back to the ship; I think we covered about 11 kilometres that day. A nice cold beer on return was well deserved
• We were not impressed with Tunisia at all, particularly my husband. We went on a tour from HAL (almost literally). The tour guide was not at all welcoming, yelling into the microphone, screaming of feedback and repeating himself the whole time. Our tour didn't go to the Medina which was probably lucky. From all reports, that can be a bit hairy with the stall holders grabbing at you and hassling. We went through the slums of Tunis out to Sidi Bou Said and another coastal resort. Perhaps we are spoiled in Australia for nice beaches and tourist resorts, but it didn't really even compare to any of the beaches we have here. Made us appreciate home even more. Sid Bou Said looked quite nice with its white and blue buildings, but we had seen a lot better elsewhere.
• Palermo was just another old European city to us but that may be because we did not organise a tour and I think upon reflection we should have to see the surrounds of the city. Our own fault there. It pays to do a tour of these places as you cannot possibly walk far enough to see the interesting sites. The bus was a little crowded as well.
• From Naples we did a tour to Sorrento and Pompeii. An absolute must. Sorrento is a gorgeous place. And the drive there is amazing. I did get a little nervous looking out the window as we drove around the rugged windy roads to get there. We spent a few hours in Sorrento wandering around the small town and then had lunch in a beautiful garden restaurant with a traditional meal. Bellisimo!!!!!. Lunch was included in the price. Absolutely beautiful. We then went onto Pompeii for the afternoon. What an interesting place that was. Our tour guide, Vncienzo was very informative and did a great job to mix it all up for the day. A must.
I hope I haven't bored you all too much but it helps to read and learn from other's experiences
Enjoy our cruise. Can't wait to be able do another one and would highly recommend the Noordam. Bon Voyage.