Venice through Eastern Med October 2011 - by MNDutchGirl
Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
BACKGROUND INFO: I am 45 years old and this was my 21st cruise. Princess is my favorite, but I've also cruised on all the typical lines (Celebrity, RCCL, Norwegian, Carnival, Holland America). I traveled with my mom, brother and a friend on this cruise and chose it because of the fantastic itinerary. We like Princess because of the wide variety of entertainment and the anytime dining.
ITINERARY: Venice, Venice, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Katakalon, Athens, Mykonos, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Santorini, Sea Day, Naples, Rome (We were unable to stop in Naples due to rough seas -â€" this was a tender port and we were unable to accomplish the tender process due to weather and extreme safety concerns)
WEATHER: The weather was superb for the majority of the cruise. Venice through Mykonos was crisp, sunny and in the upper 60's to mid 70's. Kusadasi was overcast but mild. It rained during the morning in Rhodes, but then was simply overcast with temps in the upper 60's. Santorini More
was partly cloudy and in the upper 60's. Our first sea day was sunny and in the upper 60's, but the day around Naples was overcast in the 60's.
TRAVEL TO PORT OF EMBARKATION (VENICE): I love sailing out of Venice because it's an easy airport to get to, relatively small and easy to navigate, and fairly close to the ship. We arrived in Venice at noon and immediately boarded the bus to the ship. It was full, as many passengers arrived at the same time. On our last Med cruise, we arrived in Venice at 4:45pm and the cruiseline transportation was not available so we took a private car at about 50 euros - just found the service online and it was extremely convenient. The ride is about a half hour or less to the ship.
HOTEL: We did not arrive early in Venice, but instead just took advantage of the fact that you get 2 half days and a night on the ship before sailing away from Venice. We were on the ship by 3pm and so were able to spend the afternoon/evening in Venice and then the next morning we went back into Venice until about 11:30. Princess charged each passenger a flat fee of $15 (refundable if you don't use it) for a water taxi service from the ship to St Mark's Square, regardless of how many back and forth trips you make. You simply walk off the ship a few hundred feet to the water taxi (running continuously) and take the enjoyable ride for about 15-20 minutes. We went into Venice about 4pm Sunday (day before departure) and then back in the following morning. The last ferry left St. Mark's at 11:30 to get passengers back on the ship by noon. The safety drill was at 12:15 and then we sailed away at 12:30. Tip: If you have a balcony, try to get it on the port side (left side as you are facing forward), as this is the side you will see Venice from as you sail away. This is a beautiful sailaway!
STATEROOM: We had a balcony room on the port side, on the Caribe Deck. In researching balconies, we realized that the size of the balconies on the Caribe deck were 1.5 times deeper than all other balconies and also half covered and half open. If you want a balcony, be sure to research the sizes and coverage, as they do vary. We absolutely loved our Caribe balcony. Our neighbor smoked quite a bit, but beginning in 2012, that will end as no smoking will be allowed on balconies.
SHIP INFO: My three traveling companions (ages 73, 54 and 42) had never been on a Princess ship and they all three loved it! They easily figured out how to navigate it and thought it was set up really well. We counted over 15 entertainment locations and loved the Piazza area on deck 5 for a regular meeting place. We walked around the outside of the ship on deck 7 regularly to walk off our meals and also loved the gym. My brother commented that although the ship was full (2600 passengers), he never really felt lines or crowds because there were so many venues around the ship.
DINING: We chose Anytime Dining because we did not want to commit to 12 days of regularly scheduled dining. We ended up going to the Capri dining room all but 3 nights, and tended to go earlier (between 6-6:30) because then we could get a table for 4 people without waiting. The larger the table, the longer it takes to make it through the meal, and we didn't want to eat for 2 hours. I thought the food on this cruise was the best I'd ever had on a Princess cruise. From the main dining rooms to the Horizon Court buffet, even to the pizza and burgers on deck 14. We loved getting a couple of cookies from the International Cafe on deck 5 in the Piazza!
ACTIVITIES: This cruise itinerary left little time on the ship during the day, so we really only participated in the evening activities. We always found something we wanted to do and our favorites were the piano player (Paul Burton) in the Promenade Bar, Accent (the live Caribbean band) in the Explorer's Lounge, various movies shown in either the Vista Lounge or at the Movies under the Stars on deck 14, Shawn Alexander (the Magician), and some of the other shows in the Princess Theater. There was one planned sea day on the second to last day and the crew did a good job of planning various activities -â€" enough for everyone. Our last port (Naples) was cancelled because the seas were too rough to tender in. The crew did a great job of creating a last minute list of activities for an unplanned sea day and the Captain did a superb job of quickly developing an itinerary that had us slowly sailing closely past Capri and the Amalfi coast while commentating on all of the sights were were seeing from the sea.
CHILDREN'S CLUBS: We did not use this and didn't see too many children on the ship at all -â€" but in general, I can see that Princess has a great area for kids with really good facilities.
SERVICE: I thought the service on this ship was superb and very attentive. The crew in general seemed very happy. I had been on this exact ship in March, 2011 and had the opposite experience. The crew then was lazy and rarely smiled. Clearly, there is different leadership on this ship today and it was very obvious in the crew.
ENTERTAINMENT: This ship had plenty of night time entertainment and varied enough that we always had a few options that interested us. I will say that over my 21 cruises, most piano players had one foot in the grave and were boring beyond belief. The piano player/entertainer on this ship was so fantastic that we went to see him every night and there was always a standing room only crowd. His name is Paul Burton and if you ever see his name, make sure you get there early. I loved the live Caribbean band -â€" Accent. Very good. They played good movies each day. There were the typical Caribbean type events (50's night, Country night, Deck party night), but those didn't seem to fit in the Mediterranean. I would have liked to have seen some entertainment specific to the Mediterranean. Maybe showing some movies like Shirley Valentine or Zorba that showcased the region, or even having some Greek music and dancers a few times. It wasn't really very creative entertainment, but it was good.
PORT AND SHORE EXCURSIONS: We did not book any excursions through the ship, but I felt they had a good selection at reasonable prices. We chose to explore on our own and I'll talk about what we did in the port reviews. Because the Port Review section only allows 8 ports, I will not cover Venice, Rome or Naples (since this port was cancelled).
DISEMBARKATION: We had a 10:20am flight out of Rome, so booked the ship's transportation to the airport and were the second group to leave the ship at 6:05am. Everything on the ship was very organized and getting off and to the bus was very quick and efficient. The ride to the airport took only about 45 minutes, but the Rome airport check-in process is an absolute nightmare, so make sure you get there very early and have lots of patience.
SUMMARY: This was an AWESOME itinerary and the reason we chose this cruise. Since I had just been on the Star Princess in March and didn't have such a good experience, I warned my traveling companions to expect the worst but hope for the best. But by the end of day 2, all three were absolutely pleased with the ship, the crew and the experience. My brother even booked his next cruise while on this ship. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
This was my 6th trip to Athens, so I had seen most of the sites before, but my traveling companions had not. Unfortunately, all trains, buses and taxis were on strike for our call in Athens, so we booked the ship's transportation to and from Athens for $39 per person. If there is no strike, it's easy to take the train/metro into Athens for only a couple of Euros. Once in Athens, we were warned of demonstrations in Syntagma square beginning at noon, so we did avoid that area. We walked and visited the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched the majestic display of the changing of the guards. We walked through the National Garden to the Olympic Stadium and that was a great self guided tour for 3 Euros. You got an audio player so you could take the tour on your own -â€“ it was not crowded and is a really good experience. Once you've climbed to the top of the stadium, you have great views of Athens. We then walked to the Plaka and wandered around shopping. We found the same little caf we had been to two years ago for our regular lunch of tzaziki, feta, bread and beer. The owner even bought us a couple of glasses of wine because we were such good customers. This ship excursion is great because you get into the city with a guide who is giving you great info, you get a very good map, you get dropped off and walked to the Acropolis if you so desire, then you get about 6 or 7 hours of time on your own with easy transportation back to the ship. There were at least 6 cruise ships in port, along with the thousands of other tourists in the city, so it's definitely very crowded - be prepared for that.
This was my second time to Corfu, but first time to Corfu Town. Corfu is really an island where you should visit the beaches. The city is just a city, but this island is beautiful if you get out of the city and visit the beaches. Because we went in October, it was a little late to go to the beaches, so we wandered around the city and I heard many people say they didn't like Corfu. It's not Corfu, it's just that they didn't leave the main town. After getting off the ship, you can either take a local bus right there (1.5 Euros) or walk along the waterfront to the main town. It's maybe a 20-30 minute walk but nice and easy. The bus will drop you off at a small main square where you are expected to dive right into the myriad of pedestrian alleys and start shopping. We walked further along the waterfront and ended up at the old fort (there is an old fort and a new fort). We paid a few Euros (watch him or he'll rip you off and not give you your full change -â€“ this happened several times at all ports when paying for tickets). Once in the fort, we wandered around and climbed the 100 steps to the top for amazing views of Corfu Town and around the area. Make sure you wear very sturdy shoes -â€“ who are these women that traipse around in heels! From the fort, we walked just a bit to the main square and took another local bus to a monastery about 20 minutes away. This was really cool as we climbed down a path and then walked out on a little causeway to this small, very old monastery on a tiny little island. Then the bus back to Corfu Town for some wandering and shopping. This started our daily ritual of finding an outdoor cafï¿½ to have a chunk of feta, bread and tzaziki, along with a local ice cold Mythos beer. Kumquats are the local fruit, so we tasted some and bought some really good kumquat liquor and ouzo to take home. Since October is the end of tourist season, many shops were discounting, so there were some good bargains to be found.
This was my first time to Dubrovnik. Our plan was to take the funicular to the top of the big hill overlooking the city, then make our way down to the walled city and wander around before going back to the ship. We figured this would take us all day. There are two ports for ships to dock in Dubrovnik. One is a newer port where you do not have to tender, but you will have to pay a few Euros to take the organized local bus transportation to and from the walled city. This is what we did. The other choice is to anchor off of the walled city and tender in. Although Croatia is not on the Euro, we never exchanged any money and they took Euros wherever we went. We took the shuttle to the walled city (maybe a 10-15 minute drive, but NOT walkable) and it literally dropped us off just outside the city. It's free to walk in and around, but you do have to pay if you want to walk on top of the wall. We heard from several passengers that it was so crowded on top of the wall and that it took them forever to get around. We walked about 10 minutes to the funicular ($9 per person one way) and took that to the top for amazing views of the coast and city. It's a very new and excellent facility at the top of the hill with the old defensive fort that you can tour. We chose to walk down which is not easy. There is a path with about 15 switchbacks that's pretty rocky. It took us 1 hour to walk all the way down and to the city, but it earned us a great lunch and ice cold beer. We then wandered around the old city for a couple of hours before taking the shuttle back to the ship. In the walled city, wander to the farther back and up streets for more dining and shopping choices. We aren't museum and church visitors, but there were several to visit within the walled city. Dubrovnik was many people's favorite port -â€" very picturesque with nice people and good prices
This was my first time to Katakolon. It is the port to Olympia, but unfortunately, all museums and historical sites were on strike in Greece this day. Tours still went to Olympia, but you could only view it from outside the gates, and not go in. I'm not sure if it was because of this strike or not, but my brother and friend went into town and found a local bus tour for 10 Euros per person that took you to Olympia and let you wander around. Compared to the $78 cruise shore excursion doing the same thing, this was a great deal. Katakolon is just a very small little one street town that is easily walkable. There is one street with lots of shops, and one street with outdoor cafes. There is a tiny little local beach with chairs, umbrellas and a beach bar, but it's a pebble beach. There is a local touring train (open air) and for 6 Euros, it takes you on a 30 minute round trip drive around the area. This also goes to a local beach and you can take the train back at a later time as it runs continually. This was really a surprisingly cute little port to wander around. We took the touring train and got off halfway around and walked to the Mercouri Vineyard. There is a cruise excursion that goes here for $59 per person. We walked about 5 minutes to it from the touring train, and wandered around on our own. We tasted a few wines and honestly, did not really like them. We stayed for an hour, and then caught our little train back to Katakolon. After some shopping (good purchases here of some jewelry and a super soft leather backpack), we had our usual lunch of feta, bread, tzaziki and Mythos beer at a lovely caf' on the water.
This was my first time to Turkey and I was super excited about going there. This port in Turkey is the gateway to many ancient sites including Ephesus and the house of the Virgin Mary. There were several reasonably priced ship excursions and my brother took one of these. They loved the tour and thought the sites were amazing. I know many people booked their own excursions with local guides ahead of time. There is a great tourist information office just across the street as you leave the port with excellent maps and assistance. My mom and I just wandered around Kusadasi, shopping in the grand bazaar and bargaining with everyone. Yes, they are aggressive, but they are extremely hospitable and you just have to enjoy it and bargain if you want something. We were taken through the entire carpet weaving process and shared the traditional apple tea with the salesmen before seeing many beautiful rugs. When we told him we were not going to buy anything, he graciously thanked us and we said goodbye. We walked to Pigeon Island and wandered around that before stopping for our usual lunch and beer and doing a little more shopping. I bought a pashmina -â€“ there are many different qualities and prices for these, ranging from 10 Euros for a thinner cashmere/silk blend to 25 Euros for a pure cashmere. I bought one that started at 80 Euros and ended at 25 Euros, but it is super thick cashmere and I absolutely love it! I also bought a moonstone pendant that started at 100 Euros and ended at a 20 euro note and a 20 dollar bill. I came across these camel bone (yes, dead camel bone) hand painted boxes that were extraordinary. They started at a total of 400+ Euros and ended at a one hundred dollar bill plus a 50 euro note. One other thing that was on my list to do was to go to a Turkish Bath. There was a hotel right along the main promenade that offered the entire experience for 10 Euros, but I ran out of time. We really enjoyed this port and the people were very nice. Don't get suckered into the Turkish ice cream / gelato. It was horrible!
I have been to Mykonos several times before and just love this island. It's windy here, so be prepared for that. Some ships tender in, but our ship docked. There is a local shuttle (a few Euros round trip) that takes you around the port to the town. It's a short walk, but not very safe as the route is trafficked and there is no shoulder. Mykonos is all about walking and wandering. We walked around and out of town and kept going along the road to a beach a little south of town. If you're there in summer, it's great to take a local bus to one of the main beaches, but make sure to save time to wander through Mykonos town and have a drink at one of the cafes in Little Venice. We did a lot of wandering and shopping (more jewelry and a really cool red peacock feather purse) and then relaxed at a cafe in the port for our regular lunch and beer. We watched the town's pelican wander around and walk right past us before being shoo'd away by the cafe owner. Great people watching before heading back to the ship.
This was my first time to Rhodes. If you have the chance to be on deck while sailing into Rhodes, do it. It's a very picturesque historic port with great views of the walled city. Unfortunately it was litely raining this day, but I would definitely return to Rhodes. You dock right in the port and it's a 5 minute walk to the walled city. We walked first all the way around the port past the city and to the smaller port where the stag statues guard the entrance. Then we wandered back to the entrance to the walled city that took us up to the palace. Our recommendation is not to bother paying to go into the palace of the grand masters because there's not too much to really see. It was just as good to walk all around the streets of the old templar homes and then wander along the wall all around the city. This is like wandering around Venice, but instead of canals, you have alleys. The people were extremely nice and the more you got lost, the more interesting everything became. The shopping here is unbelievable and because it was the end of the tourist season, the bargains and bartering were there to be had. I bought two leather bags, a pair of sheepskin slippers, a pair of lambskin gloves and a cowhide hat. The leather goods here were fantastic! We again had our typical lunch with ice cold Mythos beer and the gelato was fantastic at 3 Euros for two scoops.
This is by far my favorite island and the 5th time I've visited Santorini. All ships tender into the little port and you can either take the funicular to the top for 4 Euros, walk up, or ride one of the mules. We chose to take the funicular up and walk down. Once at the top, we made our way to the bus stop where they had large tour buses organized to take cruise ship passengers to the town of Oia for 1.5 Euros each way. There were 4 cruise ships in port, which is why they had these organized buses. Normally, you would just hop on the local bus. You can take a taxi to Oia for about 15-20 Euros. It's a beautiful 15-20 minute drive so we liked the bus so we could take in the sites. Once in Oia, we just wandered around all the alleys taking so many pictures. There are fantastic little shops everywhere but the prices are high. Lots of unique jewelry and art. We stopped at a little cafï¿½ for some Santorini white wine -â€“ fantastic! After a few hours in Oia, we took the bus back to Fira and wandered around more. Last time in Santorini, we got off the bus before Fira and wandered around the little town alleys, making our way back to Fira. That was a great walk and exploration, but we didn't have as much time to do that this trip. We wandered all around Fira shopping and sightseeing. Upon seeing the very long line to the funicular, we decided to walk down to the port. Very interesting! The donkeys were ï¿½parkedï¿½ along the route through the first 3 switchbacks and kind of intimidating - there had to be at least 100 of them. But once we successfully got past them all, it was clear going. It was probably a 30 minute walk down and we could feel it in our legs that night. I heard several passengers take a tour over to the volcanic rock and swim in the cold water then hot springs. I will definitely do that next time. Akrotiri is the ancient site, but that is still closed. You can also rent a car and drive around the island, but for a one day stop, it's really all about Oia and Fira.