First European Cruise: Splendour of the Seas Cruise Review by Cruisin'Liza
Overall Member Rating
First European Cruise
Destination: Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
We arrived in Venice 2 days prior to our cruise. Our plane got in at 9 am which was wonderful for avoiding jet lag. We went right to sight seeing by jumping in getting lost in Venice. We really just wondered around town after checking into our hotel the Allogi Barbaria. The hotel is more a B&B and isn't what you'd call a romantic or memorable place to stay. However, it was certainly functional and you couldn't beat the price in Venice (100 Euro a night for 4 of us). The location is nice and off the beaten path so More away from the throngs of tourist.
More on Venice in our Port Review. We used the Vaparetto to get to the ship on embarkation day. Easiest embarkation ever! I was able to carry my luggage on (one wheeled carry one and one shoulder bag type carry on). We got to the ship around 3:00 and there was no line at all.
Right after boarding the ship, we started to encounter what made this cruise special -- THE STAFF! The staff was absolutely fantastic. From our room steward who always had a kind word for us, to the cruise director's staff who we got to know fairly well even though we aren't huge "joiners," to our waitstaff in the main dining room. Our waitress, Vivianna, was truly a joy! In addition to being a genuinely nice person, she did a fantastic job with her recommendations every night for dinner and hints for the port the next day. She even let Lisa practice her Spanish each night - so she was able to learn another accent and dialect. Even the crew who checked us back onto the ship after port days remembered us after the first port.
As I mentioned, we like the smaller ships, and that certainly was true on this ship. The pool did get crowded on sea days, but you could always find a deck chair when you needed one. What surprised us was how empty the evening shows were - this was certainly a first for us. We chalked it up to the busy port schedule, but it was still a surprise. The shows were all good - not the big productions I read about on the larger ships, but entertaining and the perfect length for me - about 45 minutes.
We attended trivia every night (and were first losers most nights and never the winner). This was a really fun activity and evidently our cruising had a bunch of trivia buffs since we had to move from the Schooner bar up to the Viking Crown and then to the Top Hat because our crowd was so big.
I did utilize the fitness center. It was fine for a smaller ship. My only complaint was the temperature- it was warm in the fitness center on the verge of uncomfortable. It was also fairly crowded every time I was in there. I never had to wait, but one of the sea days I was there around 5:00 PM and others had to wait (I got the last elliptical). The track was nice to use, but really only feasible in the morning and evening (I took many walks around it late at night) as there were just too many people and deck chairs during the day.
Disembarkation was just as easy as embarkation. We took advantage of the walk off option and did just that....walked right off the ship and to the people mover. Less
Basic, inside cabin
Port and Shore Excursions
If you go in the summer especially, be sure to bring water with you to the Acropolis - although there is a water fountain there and I refilled my bottle there with no ill effects.
From the Acropolis we walked to Constitution Square to witness history. We saw the tents and signs of the protesters, but luckily no violence on the day we were there. Along the way, we stopped at a Children's Museum since both my mom and aunt are teachers. Little did we know, but my company was sponsoring one of the rooms in the museum - so it was a little taste of work for all of us!
From here we headed to Plaka, stopping at an Orthodox church on the way. We had lunch in Plaka which was very nice outside (our tablemates from the ship were actually at the same place). I don't think where we stopped was any different then any other place you'll find in Plaka.
Changed into our swimsuits and went for a swim in the very rocky beach right next to the ship port.
Once we were off, we headed straight through the walled town to the trail up to the fort. It was hot - I'm not going to lie - but well worth it. There is a church to stop at about 1/2 way (maybe a bit less then 1/2 way) up. Wear steady shoes (although many did it in flip-flops - I don't know how), but most of the way the stairs are pretty easy. There is a path about 1/2 way between the church and the fort that leads to a ruin town - the most notable is the church that is still standing. It's definitely off path and I'm not sure you are suppose to go down to it - but you can, and I suggest it. We did it on the way back down. You can see the church from the top of the fort.
Once we were all sweaty from the hike up and down, we stopped and had pizza and beer to cool off. Then wondered the walled town seeing the churches. Again, make sure you are dressed appropriately. Shoulders must be covered (I just carried a pashima in my day pack to throw on). The small orthodox cathedrals are free entry. Cathedral of Saint Tryphon (Roman Catholic) is a small entry fee - 1 Euro maybe - but well worth it. We had the place to ourselves.
We got off a bit early so she whisked us up to the House of the Virgin Mary so we got there before the bunches of tourists. Hands down one of the highlights of our trip. Ahu was incredibly knowledgeable about Ephesus and the Terrace Houses. The Terrace Houses cannot be missed!
Lunch was also one of the best we had. A fairly basic meal of meat and potatoes and sides, but absolutely delicious.
All-in-all our tour was about 9 hours and we still had a bit of time to spend at the bazaar. I'm not a fan of bazaars so I'm not one to ask about it - but it seemed like you could get whatever you wanted and bargain for it.
Just a fantastic day.
We stopped at one of the first restaurants in Oia and had the best Santorini salad and baklava. Granted, I think all food tastes better after you earn it!
After exploring Oia, we took the bus back. We found the bus to be more of an adventure then the walk! We weren't trying to get back at sunset, it was probably about 3:30 in the afternoon. We found the bus stop and waited and waited. Evidently the buses do not come on time. Finally a bus showed up - we were about 1/2 way down the line. We didn't get on. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and we ended up in the back of the line since we didn't push and shove. So, we waited and waited for the next bus. We probably wouldn't have gotten on this one either despite being first in line, except another guy who didn't get on the first held back the line until we were one. Just a lot of pushing, shoving and not paying attention to the line. Nothing scarey, probably just a cultural difference, but I just couldn't bring myself to push and shove. The ride back was uneventful and the ride back down in the cable car was also uneventful (this was a fairly simple process - hardly any line and no cutting of shoving).
Our first day in Venice we explored on foot. We weaved our way to St. Mark's square from our hotel (Alloggi Barbaria) which was by the Ospedale Vaperetto stop. Venice is a pretty walkable city and it was only about a 10 minute walk (if you did it directly) to all the main sights in Venice.
We left around 4:00 to get my cousin from the train station where she was arriving from Germany. This is when we found out that we should have read some things better - lol. We couldn't validate our Vaparetto passes at the Ospedale or the the Fondemente Nove stops. So, we hiked it to the train station. It wasn't a bad walk at all. Luckily, we could validate or pre-paid 48 hour Vaparetto passes at the train station (veniceconnected.com). So, we took the water bus back to the hotel. It was an easy ride even at "rush hour." We had to stand but to my surprise, standing on the vaperetto is pretty easy. After an early dinner, we went to bed early that first night.
Day 2 - we headed (on foot) to St. Mark's Basilica for our sight seeing day. We followed Rick Steves' advice for entry to St. Mark's and used his guided tour (my mom and aunt the audio/ my cousin and I the Kindle). We were glad we got there early. Don't miss going out on the balcony - it is a highlight. It is amazing to see the mosaics up close and the view can't be beat! Make sure you dress appropriately (no bare knees or shoulders) and to go up to the museum the entry fee is 3 Euro - but well worth it (entry to the main floor of the basilica is free).
From the basilica, we headed to the Doge's Palace. We had bought a museum pass online prior to departure. However, I wouldn't recommend it. Venice is best enjoyed by roaming. We didn't get our money's worth. But, we did get to skip the line and that was a plus (you can do the same thing by buying your ticket at the Correr). I have to say, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the Doge's Palace much surpassed it. It was truly worth the stop. You could spend a long time in the Palace. Again, we used the Rick Steves' tours. I know his tours are short on details for some people, but for us, it was just right. From there, we went back to the hotel. My cousin and I decided to walk it since we wanted to stop for Gelato on the way; my mom and aunt took the Vaperetto. Another case of reading, they didn't get on the wrong one per sae, just one that took longer then they needed. My cousin and I beat them back by at least an hour.
We took the 51 Vaperetto to P Roma, from there the People Mover to the cruise terminal, and then found the shuttle to the boat. We rested that afternoon on the ship.
Day 3 Venice - we took off first thing. It was a bit rainy (good for us since it kept the crowds down). Took the People Mover to P Roma and then the #2 to the Tomas stop to see Frari Church. This was my favorite site of Venice. We actually got to the church before it officially opened for tourist so we basically had the place to ourselves and a few worshipers. We could hear mass being celebrated in the attached chapel. As we were leaving, they were opening up - so we did pay the 3 Euro per person entry even though the ladies said we didn't have to. We continued through the church after they opened though to see some of the art work lit up. Walked from Frari to see the view from the top of Rialto Bridge and from there to the outdoor vegetable, fruit and fish market. We then "wondered" (i.e. got lost again) in a nice little neighborhood with no tourists. We just got back to the Grand Canal - hopped on the #2 and back to the ship we went for our 3 pm departure.
Day4 Venice - When we got back from the trip, we took the walk off option and were back in Venice by 8:00. Bought another 48 hour vaperetto pass. Took the 52 back to the hotel. We walked for awhile until we found a gondola that "spoke to us" on one of the back canals. We lucked out with a fantastic Gondolier that filled us in on history and was one of the gondolier's that the Pope had on his visit (we saw pictures). After we put my cousin on the blue line (separate ticket) to the airport, we headed down to P Roma again to take a sunset cruise down the Grand Canal on the #2 -- it was beautiful. We spent the evening in St. Mark's listening to the orchestras. I must say, I like Venice at night much better than Venice by day. We walked back to the hotel stopping on the way for cheap meal of a huge sandwich (you'll see these window type stands all over Venice).
Day 5 Venice - We took the Vaperetto to the islands of Burano and Murano. We had a great time escaping the crowds on both of these islands. It was a nice escape from the crowds since it was Rendentore Fest.
All-in-all, I couldn't begin to tell you everything we saw and did in Venice. All I can do is echo everyone else, explore. Get lost. See what you can see. The Basilica, Doge's Palace, and Frari are can't misses in my opinion, but everything else you can just run into. If you are there at night, see the orchestras at St. Mark's Square.,
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