Exhausting Eastern Mediterranean itinerary
Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
The Celebrity Equinox is a beautiful ship meticulously cleaned and maintained. The Eastern Mediterranean ports-of-call would make up a perfect itinerary except that each stay is too short by at least half. Even at that, first time visitors to these ports-of-call (like ourselves) have to visit so many unskippable sites in so few days that it really is an exhausting trip.
Aquaspa class offers nice accommodations (the showers are fantastic), better dining, and closer proximity to the pool and spa decks. The other advertised in-room amenities were just marketing hype: the "floral arrangements" were a single bud in a tiny vase, the afternoon canapes were marginal when they weren't irrelevant because of being ashore, the aroma stuff was nonexistent as was the "pillow menu" (though I have no doubt you can get as many pillows as you want with a quick phone call or word with the cabin stewarts).
We loved the ports-of-call and the ship was spectacular. However, leaving More
Santorini before 10PM is immoral (especially when the ship simply holds station most of the night in front of the next port-of-call at Mykonos). Giving Celebrity the benefit of the doubt, I suspect that huge cruise ships in port beyond closing time for the souvenir shops would screw up the evening ambiance on the Greek islands. If we consider a repeat of the Eastern Med cruise, we'll give careful consideration to the smaller cruise lines with ships that can stay in port later or, alternately, the bare bones cruises that have you forfeit comfy cabins, good food and on-board entertainment for rock bottom prices and much longer port stays. It just might be better to spend the money saved on restaurants and entertainment in the ports and just use the ships for clothing storage and a place to sleep. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Athens is pretty disappointing on Mondays. The Acropolis is spectacular, for sure, but we were unable to get into any major museums; the New Acropolis Museum is closed on Mondays and the National Archaeological Museum is only open in the late afternoon on Mondays. We ended up missing both.
Part of the reason for missing the museums was due to the taxi strike on our port day. We should have jumped on a ship's excursion but we didn't. Instead, we walked the 40 minutes it took to get from the port entry to the train station. From there, we got around Athens by subway. It was workable but the trains were jammed even mid-day. That meant we were conservative in the times we allowed ourselves which, in turn, meant our times were cut short. That proved to be good move because there were additional train problems getting back.
The news out of Athens since September 2011 suggests there are greater and greater impacts on 1-day visitors due to more and more strike actions.
Kusadasi is the Turkish port of call near Ephesus. First time visitors to this port must see Ephesus. During a trip that included weeks in Rome, visits to Pompeii, Rhodes, Mykonos, Santorini and Athens, Ephesus was 2nd only to Pompeii as a fascinating archaeological site. In truth, it would have been 1st had we not spent so much pre-trip time studying Pompeii so that we could know what we were looking at. Otherwise, Ephesus is the most accessible and understandable archaeological site we visited.
Buyer beware if you step into any situation that might involve a sales pitch. This includes stops at rug factories or strolls through the local market. The sales pitches are exceptionally high pressure. That can make the experience either good or bad depending on your disposition. It was highly entertaining if somewhat stressful in the moment. Of the 4 of us, nobody escaped without spending at least a few $100 on something they had no idea they needed until arriving in port. One of us spent nearly $1000 while another came close to pulling the trigger on fantastic, $2800 bargain. In the end, everyone is very satisfied with their purchases. If anything, I have some minor regret at not buying the 5'x9' oriental rug that we came within moments of saying yes before emphatically saying no and walking out.
Naples gets high marks simply because it's the gateway to Pompeii and Pompeii is a fascinating place to visit.
Lessons learned with the port of call?
1) Be sure to have a licensed guide during your visit to Pompeii. Otherwise, you won't know most of what you're looking at.
2) Two or three hours at Pompeii is a ridiculously short visit. Then again, it's hot and dusty so that's probably all the time you can spend there on any given day.
3) Given a choice between visiting the Pompeii and Naples museums or Sorrento/Almalfi/Positano, I'd go with the museums. Most of the interesting finds from Pompeii are on display at the Naples museum with the remainder of minor objects in the Pompeii museum. Pompeii proper is mostly empty. Even empty, it's well worth visiting at every opportunity. During a 1 day port visit in Naples, a schedule that includes Pompeii and Sorrento/Positano means that you'll have about an hour in Sorrento and less in Positano. If you've never seen spectacular mountain and ocean scenes with cliffs and hanging villages, the Sorrento/Positano time might be worth it. But, given the short times and the stunning expense of Positano, we would have preferred more time in Pompeii or the museums.
Rome is tough. There's so much to see, so many places to visit, it's an embarrassment of riches. It cannot be sampled in anything like 1 day. We spent 11 days in Rome and hardly sampled it.
If 1 day is all you have, I'd suggest picking at most 3 things you'd like to see and not allow yourself to be distracted along the way. St. Peter's counts as 3 places to visit (the basilica, the dome and the grottoes). The Vatican Museum counts as 1 to 4 places to visit (the picture galleries, the marble people, the papal apartments and the Sistine Chapel). Be forewarned that group tours through the Vatican Museum (which includes the Sistine Chapel) mean crushing crowds. There's just no way around that.
Simply one of the must beautiful places I've ever seen. We rented ATVs for the day (CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP) and explored the entire island. We'd love to return someday for an extended, relaxed stay at one of Oia's hotels.
ATVs are definitely the way to go for those who can. We rented 50cc models which is the smallest engine possible. There were 2 passengers per ATV resulting in some real anxiety over whether or not those little engines could get us up some of the hills on the island. They did but just barely. The ATVs let us get away from the roar of tour buses. It was a fantastic option.
If you go with an ATV, do NOT fill up the tank at the beginning of the day. Put in 4 or 5 liters only and keep an eye on the gas gauge during your ride. There are gas stations at regular intervals around the island so it's easy to add a liter or 2 along the way. But, with 50cc engines, it's unlikely you could possibly use that much gas. Whatever is left in the tank is undoubtedly drained out before the next person rents it so, in effect, the extra gas is an additional charge by the rental agency. Fill up the tank and you'll end up doubling the cost of the ATV rental.