We've done multiple cruises in the Caribbean and to the Bahamas, as we live in central florida, and it just makes it an easy vacation. We decided to go for this Mediterranean cruise, as we were already planning an Italy vacation, but wanted to cut the cost a bit. This cruise fit the bill, and then gave us a lot of wonderful surprises!
First off, we were in Rome for a few days before departure. If you are looking to do that, here is what we did, and what I recommend:
Fly into FCO (Fiumicino airport), and after you get your bags, follow the signs (or pictures actually) for the train (little black and white image of a train car overhead as you walk through the airport). At one point, you hang a left, and go down some escalators, and on for a few minutes- then up another set, and you'll see signs that you are leaving the airport and entering the train station.
Go to the TrenItalia desk, and purchase passes on the Leonardo Express. It runs to Termini every 20-30 minutes, and it only takes about 30 minutes to get there. They run until 11pm. EASY!
We stayed at Welcome Piram Hotel, just blocks from Termini. VERY convenient and safe, as you really don't want to be dealing with your bags on the Roman subway (gulp), and the area around Termini is graffiti-ed, yet safe. You can walk, take a bus or metro anywhere from there too.
We booked an express train to Civitavecchia from Rome, 13.50 Euro pp. Pros: only about 8 people in our car, booked seats, and tons of luggage storage area within eye sight. WAY cheaper than renting a van or taxi. Your other inexpensive option is to take the commuter train. I think it's about 1/2 the price, but crammed with people, and your bags are often out of sight with all the people. Hard to get on and off the trains with bags too sometimes.
We stayed over night at the port town to keep things simple, we didn't want to mess with the train the day of and risk something going wrong. We stayed at a B&B type placed called Villa Susanna- HIGHLY recommended! Inexpensive, simple yet has everything you need, and the owners are accustomed to cruisers, and will have all of your answers before you know your questions! They're about a 5 minute walk (about a 10 minute stroll) from the train station, and about a 10-15 min walk from the port entrance, even pulling bags.
Getting to the ship from the port entrance was super simple and efficient- a shuttle (full bus) picks you and your bags up, and drops you at the entrance to the boarding area for your ship. If you get your luggage tags at home, you go to one side and hand over your bags, and then the other way to go into the port building. GET THERE EARLY! Don't wait for 12 or 1! Be at the port entrance at 11am for the first shuttle to the ship! You'll get through with no lines, and be on the ship sipping something fruity (or in my case, a frosty beer), having lunch, maybe sitting by the pool catching some sun, while everyone else is standing in line, waiting to check in and board. This embarkation port is highly effective, and makes boarding a breeze!
The ship was great as always- we'd been on once before for my best friend's wedding a few years ago. Good food, good staff (although our head waiter wasn't too great), good drinks, great shows, and we made some new friends as well!
Before the trip, we thought Athens would be our highlight- but WOW- were we surprised! Here are the excursions we did:
Sicily- Panoramic Sicily
My Etna is the main focus, going up to the craters. The colors up there are amazing- deep black rocks and dirt, yet red and brown too- and here and there you get bursts of yellow or green plants. It was cloudy when we were there, so we didn't see down to the ocean, but it was AMAZING!
Athens- Athens & Cape Sounion with Lunch - PR03
You go straight to the Acropolis, which is great for missing some of the crowds. Once some time went by though, it got really crowded, and we were ready to go after getting some great pictures. Then we went through Athens, seeing some major highlights along the way (like the 1st Olympic stadium), and then had a fantasticcccc lunch with wine at at local hotel/resort. Amazing food, really. Then the highlight for us, turned out to be Cape Sounion! We really didn't know much about it, but were game, since hey- when are we going to be there again right?? We were in awe of some of the views on the drive out, even though I live in FL and have been through the Caribbean and Hawaii, I've never seen water like this. By the time we got to the Cape, we just about ran off the bus to start soaking it in.... that place is perfect! We want to go back! Poseidon's temple is something else too!
Kusadasi, Turkey- Ephesus, Didyma & Miletus with Lunch - ****BEST PORT****
even with the sales pressure when you go into stores, this port was by far my favorite! Ephesus feels like it still has a soul- and when you are there, you are sharing it with all of those who have lived there in the past. They do a little cheesy show of Cleopatra, etc. but it doesn't take away from the place. We saw an amphitheater in Miletus that was also amazing.. and HUGE! I made friends with one of the local kitties there too. :)The Temple of Apollo at Didyma blew our minds. It was like the temple was built for giants...and we were just little bugs visiting in comparison. It was better than the Acropolis, hands down. We had lunch near by, all good food again, and got some souvenirs before getting back on the bus to go back to port. I got a small onyx cat to remember the Turkish kitty I made friends with. :)
Crete- no excursion! ****2nd favorite port****
We took the city bus in to Chania, and checked out the local market first. We aren't shoppers, but we did get some great olive oil, and some other cooking items, as well as some inexpensive but good quality gifts for our nieces and nephew. We walked through the harbor, and all the way around and over to the light house, and back. It's amazing to stand up on the wall, which divides the ocean from the harbor, and see how different the two bodies of water look! We can't wait to come back here!!
Overall, we really didn't spend a LOT of time on the ship, because we booked long excursions. We made it off the ship at 7am, and back on within an hour of sailing out of port. We did the early dining, because 9:30 is too late for us :), so we'd meet up with our AWESOME table of new friends at dinner, eat, swap stories, laugh at each other, and then go hang out at the Two Poet's pub until we couldn't handle the smoke, then switch to the Vintages Wine Bar. The server let some of us order beer there too, he was kind enough to go to the pub to get it for us. :) The 24 hour free (for food)cafe in the promenade has great good- check out their napoleon dessert when they have it (awesome!!!!) and the Kahlua Cookies rock. :)The bartenders up by the pool made us our signature drink from our wedding last year, even though it wasn't on the menu. If you want to try it- ask for a Banana Colada, with Kahlua and White rum added. Fantastic! Even for someone (like me) who hates Kahlua. There was a guy in the Pub on board that did American bar music late night, which was great. There was also a group called Mariakas (spelled differently but not the right way either), and they were a strings group that played all kinds of music- we really liked them too.
Once we got back to Civitavecchia, we split direct transport van back to Fiumicino with two other couples we met on cruise critic. It was simple, quick, and inexpensive compared to other options. We stayed at the Marriott Airport Hotel for a night (always a good stay at a Marriott!), and went out for dinner in the little fishing town of Fiumicino. We found a great street-side cafe, but I can't remember the name of it. :( It was recommended by Trip Advisor, which I found out after the fact. We flew back to the states the next morning!
All in all- one of the best vacations we've ever had, and we can't WAIT to go back! If you are considering booking this cruise, do it! You won't regret it! And splurge for the longer excursions! You won't regret that either!