Upon walking out of the port, we bought bus tickets at a newspaper stand for 2.4 euros each took bus # 843 to the train station. We found out later that we could have bought a ticket that is good for the bus AND the train for 2.80 euros. Rats. Don't forget to validate your ticket on the bus and on the train.
Anyway, at the train station we bought roundtrip tickets for 2.80 euros each to get to the Monastorian station, which is in the heart of the Plaka area and a short walk to the Acropolis. It took about a half hour. The area around the Acropolis is pretty junky, lots of graffiti everywhere, but the Acropolis itself was amazing. Tickets to get into the Acropolis was 12 euros each. The walk is about 15-20 minutes uphill, so wear comfy shoes.
On a small rocky hill next to the Acropolis is the Areapagus, or Mars Hill, which is where the apostle Paul gave his famous speech (Acts 17:16-34). This site isn't advertised much but it has a lot of meaning if you are a student of the Bible. There is a plaque on the hill that explains the site.
After visiting the Acropolis, we went shopping in the Plaka. Tons of shops but very aggressive salespeople, so we didn't enjoy shopping very much. We picked up a few spices and olive oil soap but that's about it.
Overall, a very nice day trip that is very easy to navigate on your own.
Actually, the first port we went to was Ashdod but it isn't listed on the cruisecritics ports of call so I'll just include it with info on Haifa.
Months before we went on the cruise, I booked tours for Ashdod and Haifa through guidedtoursisrael.com after reading rave reviews about this tour company. It appears, though, that they use free lance tour guides so it's really hit and miss as far as who you get. For our group of 7, Ashdod was $115 pp and Haifa was $99.
For Ashdod, the email from Guided Tours Israel said that when we exit the ship we were to proceed to where the vans are parked to meet our tour guide. We did exactly that but there was no tour guide to meet us. Needless to say I was very panicked and walked up and down the line of buses and vans to find a sign with our group name on it. Nothing. A very nice tour guide who was waiting for her group let me use her phone to call Guided Tours Israel. I was told to take the free shuttle to the port gate to meet my tour guide. That was not what we were told in the email. Anyway, we looked for the free shuttle. No free shuttle. The only transportation available to the port gate was a Royal Caribbean bus that was charging $10 USD roundtrip per person. Since we had no choice, we used this bus. By the time we got to the port gate, I was pretty irritated.
The tour guide was indeed there and when we told him we were waiting outside of the ship, he was surprised and asked: didn't the agent tell you to meet me at the port gate? Grrr. He explained that the port authorities used to let tour guides come in to the port up until 2 weeks ago, then they wouldn't allow them in. It would have been nice if Guided Tours Israel had informed us of this.
Our tour guide looked like he was around 70 years old, which, to be perfectly honest, was alarming because let's face it: who wants a senior citizen to be driving a huge van-ful of people around for 10 hours?! I have to say though, he was very kind and did a good job of navigating the roads, especially since it was during the Succoth holiday and some roads were closed.
He was very knowledgeable about the history and geography of Israel. However,he had a strong accent and sometimes it was hard to understand him. Also, since we are keen Bible students, we found many of his explanations of Biblical events to be based on myth or tradition rather than the Bible or other solid evidence. He also sometimes got a bit carried away and would stop the van for 10 minutes to explain something, which we felt wasted valuable time. We had told him from the beginning that we were not interested in seeing churches but would really like to see Hezekiah's tunnel in Jerusalem. He said he would try to fit it in, but we ended up seeing a few churches and not having enough time for the tunnel, so that was a bit disappointing.
We ended up seeing the Garden of Gethsemane and the church on its site (the church part we really weren't interested in seeing), the Mount of Olives, the Wailing Wall, the Via Delarosa (the path Jesus supposedly took on the way to his crucifixion) and the Dead Sea. We enjoyed the Garden and the Dead Sea most of all (the Dead Sea was an additional $14 USD pp).
For lunch, the guide took us in this hole in the wall place in Jerusalem and ordered salad, hummus, and falafel. We ordered drinks as well, and since he didn't order any meat, we asked if we could also order a meat dish. So he ordered two small plates of lamb kebabs, so we each got 2 small meatballs. He also ordered a small plate of roasted lamb. When I mean small, I mean tea saucer size. We didn't think it would be very much but when the bill came, it was $18 USD per person! What a rip-off! And we had to pay for the guide too. So another lesson learned: Always ask to see the menu prices first!
For HAIFA, again we had an older gentleman as our tour guide. I'm thinking: Do they not have any younger tour guides in Israel?! His English was better than the first guide but he was a bit disagreeable and again, tended to base his explanations on myth and tradition. When we objected to some of his explanations, he was pretty dogmatic.
We had learned our lesson the day before and asked to be taken to a more reasonably priced place for lunch. He said lunch there would be no less than 20-25 USD pp, which we didn't buy at all. We said we could just go to a strip mall and eat whatever food was there. So that's what we did and there was PLENTY of eateries where you could get a meat and veggie filled pita and drink for less than 10 USD pp. He went off and got his own lunch, which was fine with us.
On the tour we saw the city of Nazareth (and the supposed site where the angel spoke to Mary), the Sea of Galilee (very pretty), The Jordan River, and Capernaum and the supposed site of Peter's house. We enjoyed seeing these sites.
Overall we enjoyed seeing most of the sites, but I would not book through Guided Tours Israel again. I think I would make more of an effort to get the name and email of a tried and true tour guide and communicate with them directly.
We wanted to see the Pompeii ruins in Naples. When we got off the ship in Naples, we couldn't find an information desk anywhere. We walked towards the road to get out of the port area and there were very aggressive taxi drivers along the way. We just ignored them and walked straight out of the port. When you get to the main road, across the street you will see a newspaper stand to your left and a tram station to your right. We bought combination tram/train tickets at the newspaper stand for 8.40 euros each. We found out later that since it was a Saturday we could have bought the same ticket at the weekend rate of 4.50 euro. Rats.
Anyway, we walked over to the tram station and took tram #1, which will take you to the train station. I think we had to validate the ticket on the tram. Once you're at the train station, validate your ticket again before you board the train to Pompeii Scavi. It took about 45 minutes to get to the Pompeii ruins.
TIP: After getting off the train you'll probably need to use the restroom but don't use the one right by the train station, which charges 1 euro pp. There are free restrooms by the Pompeii ruins ticket office which is less than a block away.
The tickets for the ruins were 11 euros each and are supposed to come with a map but they supposedly ran out of them (at 9:00 in the morning!) so we had to buy one for 2 euros at the gift shop. It wasn't a very good map but better than nothing. The ruins are really spread out over a huge area and we were surprised at how little information there is about them. Hardly anything is explained so we had to resort to secretly tagging along tour groups to get some explanations. The map lists a few notable sites but doesn't give any information about them. The temples and Roman bath houses were neat, and it was interesting to just wander around. The ruins are totally exposed so you can walk all over the place. Definitely worth visiting.
When you're ready return to the ship (give yourself plenty of time), go back to the train station and go downstairs and then upstairs again to get to the platform opposite of the one you arrived at. We waited a good 20 minutes for the train to come. Then we took the train back to the Naples train station and took the #1 tram back to the port. We waited for the tram for about 10-15 minutes.
Overall, a pretty easy day trip to make on your own.
Rhodes was a great stop. It's an easy 10 minute walk into old town where there are shops galore. The buildings and roads are well kept and the salespeople were very pleasant, not pushy at all. The prices were pretty good too, so now looking back we wish we had bought more souvenirs here.