One more wonderful cruise vacation came to its end, so nice to know that there will be more....
This was our seventh cruise with Celebrity and the second Mediterranean one.
When in port, we always do our own thing because of the two obvious reasons: Cost and itinerary, we pay less, usually half the ship land tour cost and we see and learn more, much more. One have to spend a lot of time looking at the options and for the pitfalls ... Thanks heavens for the internet and cruisecritic.com.
Those who do not have the time or the inclination to organize such tours, those who do not mind sharing a tour bus with a crowd of 45 fellow passengers, those who do not want to spend time looking through the long list of land tours, Celebrity offers two packages of 6 shore excursions each, one for half day tours at each port and the other is for a full day tours, cost was $371.50 and $732.50 respectively.
For those who do want to do their own thing, we describe what we added a day by day description and added some website addresses that can help. Here and there we expressed our opinion about the Solstice.
On this cruise we used one of our Celebrity Open Passages, a voucher we purchased on our last cruise. The Open passage is a $100 voucher you buy aboard a Celebrity cruise ship to be used when making the next reservation. The $100 voucher is used as a down payment for the next cruise and entitles you and two more couples for an on board credit of $100 to $300 per Cabin depending on the length of the cruise. This time we and our friends got $200 On board credit per cabin. The concept was applied first only for the US and Canada but became available for other countries last January. Guess this is why my travel agent did not know what to do with the vouchers and we had to ask Celebrity customer relations to sort things out for us.
Read more about the Open Passage: http://creative.rccl.com/Sales/Celebrity/General_Info/Flyers/11022582_CEL_Passages.pdf
One thing before we begin: The Crew members on the Solstice are fantastic in every respect. May I tell you a story: We met few hotel directors onboard Celebrity cruise ships, the hotel director are in charge of most of the Celebrity employs aboard the ship. The hotel managers we met were kind people, not at all the army commander's type I expected. So, I asked one of them how do the run such an operation with out being tough on the crew, and the reply was: The secret is in recruiting the right people, people who are geared to give others good service with a smile, Well, it works!
Tue Oct 11th 2011- We left the Barcelona International airport terminal at noon, no need to take the cruise ship transportation as there is always a long line of yellow and black taxis waiting out side the terminal. The drivers speak only Spanish, but they understand "Cruise Ship" and "Celebrity". In twenty minutes and for 30-35Eu the taxi will take up to 4 passengers and will take you all the way to the port and up to the terminal doors.
In the terminal there were no lines and many reps were waiting for passengers, we got our Sea Cards and went right away to our Cabin. As this was our fourth time in Barcelona we decided to stay on the ship. On past cruises we took the bus from the terminal to La Rambla Ave. for a quick stroll.
We had a nice Tuna Steak lunch at the Spa Coffee and had some rest before the unavoidable drill.
Dinner, early seating, had table for four as we asked to be sited with our friends.
Marlin and Ali were our attentive waiters.
After dinner: A show. Bits and pieces of what one can expect on next evenings shows.
The theater on the Solstice is nice but we prefer the theaters on the Celebrity Millennium class ships, as they have more legroom and little tables for each couple.
Few words about our Cabin: We were lucky as the two of us got one of the four family cabins measured 600sq feet, with two bedrooms, large living room and large balcony (8108). Our friends got similar cabin but it was on the same level as the Helipad and got a smaller balcony (7107).
For the best cabins on the Solstice look at: http://cruiseadvice.org/celebrity-cruises/celebrity-solstice/cabin-selection
Wed. Oct 12th -â€" Sea day:
06:00am: As always I went to the Gym early. I go there almost every day during the cruise while my love takes a walk along the 1000ft long track on deck 14.
10:00am: A get together party for the Cruise Critic members. It was also time to meet the 12 guys who will go with us on the self organized day tour in Malta. And help a second group to find a four more people to share the cost of the tour.
17:00: The Elite Captains Club daily happy hour (Actually two hours), Cocktails, beers and soft drinks for free and a chance to meet people who love cruising and prefer to cruise with the specific company. Gabriela, the lady responsible for the Captain Club activities was always there making sure all is working fine.
A word about the Elite Captains Club goodies: It is a good idea to join the club right after the first cruise. You get credits for every cruise you go on; number of credits is a function of cruise length and type of cabin. Once you have enough credits, I think nine credits is the magic number, Celebrity gives you a lot of goodies: The happy hour with free drinks in the Sky Lounge, Light breakfast with real coffee in Michael's Club, three hours free internet per cabin worth hundred dollars and 60 items of laundry, 4 items for ironing, couple dry cleaning items and more. Because of the free laundry we bring fewer items from home and save luggage weight, which means more room for presents for the grandchildren.
A sea day is a good opportunity to look at the culinary options they got on board the Solstice: A ward of advice, if you find it hard to control the amount of food you put on your plate at the buffet style Sea Side Cafe, go for breakfast at the Grand Epernay. Here you are being served by waiters and what you ask for is what you get... You can also have lunch here on sea days.
In the Solstice ships they have the buffet style food served on "Islands" and they do not have trays, people are wondering back and forth to their table as they can carry so many plates and drinks on one trip. And the restaurant looks busy and crowded. I do not like that.
Thursday Oct. 13th: Rome.
Took the 07:30 train from Civitavecchia to Rome.
You first take the free shuttle bus to the port gate and than follow the signs to the train station. Train station is less than 10 minutes walk from the port's gate, just follow the signs. By the way, they opened a ticket booth right next to the port gate, save you some time. Buy 9Eu return BIRG ticket that allow you free all day ride on all public transport in Rome, Do not forget to validate your ticket before going on board the train. This ticket is good only for the Regionale train company.
Our friends had tickets for the Vatican tour and got off the train near the Vatican while we went all the way to Termini station and took the underground line A to the Piazza Di Spagnia. There we took the 11:00 o'clock Free Tour to the Vatican City.
Purchase tickets ahead of time on the internet for the main sights in Rome; Lines are unbelievably long, even when it is out of season.
The free tour we took was just OK. We had couple of tours with them a year ago and the guides were very good. This time the guide seemed to be in a hurry. We arrived exhausted to the Vatican City.
Here we met our friends and leisurely walked back going through Vittorio Emanuel Bridge, Campo de Fiorri, Piazza Navona, Trevi's fountain and back to the Piazza Spagnia. We took the 15:39 train back from Termini. It was a good idea to return to Termini and take the train from there as the train gets very crowded on next stations. It can be a very long 80 minutes ride standing up after all the walking one does in Rome.
Find a train from Civitavecchia to Rome: http://www.trenitalia.com/cms/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=ad1ce14114bc9110VgnVCM10000080a3e90aRCRD
Tickets for the Coliseum and the Vatican: http://www.italy-museum.com/
Tickets for the Borghese museum: http://www.galleriaborghese.it/info-en.htm
The free walking tours: http://www.romefreetour.com/free%20tour.html
Friday Oct. 14th: Naples.
Last time we rented a car and drove along the Amalfi coast. This time we took the Hydrofoil to Capri. It was a 30 minutes, 17 EU each way very bumpy ride. Crew members were ready with plastic bags handing them to those passengers who felt sick. Hydrofoil terminal in Naples is few minutes walk from the ship.
We decided to buy our return ticket when in Capri and not to restrict ourselves to specific company or time of return by buying a return ticket (the cost is the same)
Weather was cloudy and cool, the Chair lift from Ana Capri to Monte Solare did not work that day due to weather condition, so we decided to go along with an advice we got from a local guy and took the bus from Marina Grande up the hill to Capri's city center and walked from there through the beautiful streets to the Arco Naturale, the natural rock arch and than took 500 stairs down to the trail that follows the shore and led us back into Capri.
Beautiful and very quiet hike, no tourists on this trail.
A note: The Blue grotto was closed too. But we did not plan on going there any how. We believe the 30 seconds visit inside the grotto does not worth it.
Had a pizza in one of the Marina Grande restaurants and a very good hot chocolate.
The Hydrofoil ride back was not too rough. No need for plastic bags....
Tomorrow, another day at sea.
Hydrofoil to Capri time table: http://www.capri.net/en/ferry-schedule?path_id=11
Saturday Oct 17th: Sea day:
Time to rest, read a good book from the ship library, relax on the balcony or next to the pool, or better yet, at one of the many romantic secluded places aboard the ship. We always wondered how is it possible that there are 3000 passengers aboard the ship and still one can find so many quite places like the Sky lounge, Michael's club, the higher decks, the library and the game room, the cinema etc.
Problem was, Sea was rough. My wife stayed in bed feeling awful while I enjoyed every minute of the rollercoaster???? ride. Yes, it is a big ship, yes they got computer controlled stabilizers, but still, and the ship went up and down with those huge waves. A note: According to the ship first officer, best cabins for stormy weather will be the cabins located mid ship lower decks. Thought you should know before going on your next cruise.
Sunday, Oct 16th: Athens.
There is always some one on strike here in Greece, This time, the museums' guards. That is why the Acropolis was closed to public.
Last time we took the train from Piraeus to Athens. Was very easy and cheap ride. This time we arrived to Athens using the HoHo bus. It is a 22EU all day ride with commentary in 11 languages. Busses are located right next to the port terminal. We decided on going to the Acropolis new museum. Very good and informative visit, every thing here is both in Greek and English (5Eu pp). Then we went on the 90 minutes ride with the HoHo bus, plus a little self guided tour of the city, and than, as it started to rain we took the HoHo bus back to Piraeus and the ship.
The Hop on Hop off bus: http://www.citysightseeing.gr/blue-and-red-route/
The Acropolis new Museum: http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr
Strikes in Athens: http://livingingreece.gr/strikes/
Monday, Oct 17th: Mykonos.
If you are interested in Archeology, than a boat trip to the near by Delos Island is something for you. Just keep in mind that the whole island of Delos is considered a museum, and it is closed on Mondays, The only way to visit the island on Monday is with an expensive ship tour as they open the Island especially for ship tours.
We took the 10$ (Return) shuttle into town.
This was our second time in Mykonos and we just followed the same walking tour rout we did last time, using our IPod.
It was windy and rather cold, so we went back to the ship for a Jacuzzi and a Sauna. (We like the Sauna on the Millennium class ships better as they have a huge window facing the open sea)
Self guided walking tours: http://www.ricksteves.com/news/travelnews/0602/podcast-faq.htm
Tuesday, Oct 18th: Kusadasi Turkey.
We did not go ashore, so, had the whole ship to our self.... a spoiling experience....
Friday, Oct 19th: Santorini.
What a beautiful sunny day!
Three options to go from the port to Fira: You can climb 600 stairs; you can ride a mule for 5Eu or do as we did: We took the 4Eu Cable car up to Fira, and from there we took the bus to Oia.
There is a bus every 20 minutes, you get in, find a seat and a conductor gets on the bus somewhere on the way to collect the few cents this 25 minutes ride costs.
Oia is the place all those postcards pictures are taken. There is no need for a guide, just walk around the town and enjoy the view.
After returning to Fira and walking along the streets that were so crowded with tourists from the four cruise ships that were in the port, we found out that waiting in the line for the Cable car that goes down to the port will take about an hour and a half, so we went down the 600 stairs, it took us around 20 minutes including avoiding the mules and their manure on the way down.
Santorini bus from Fira to Oia: http://www.ktel-santorini.gr/
Friday Oct 21st: Valletta, Malta
The guides, Vince De-Bono and Louise were already there, waiting for us, when we left the boat. It was 07:00 am, still dark but there was a long day ahead, full with interesting sites: The old town of Mdina, an artisan village, a Neolithic temple, a boat ride to the Blue Grotto, Marssa Xlokk fishermen's Village, Valletta with the impressive St John Cathedral and so more. Vince is very knowledgeable guide and a very kind and eager to please person, very enthusiastic when the knights' period is discussed.
Both groups had a wonderful day in Malta. The tour was organized using the thread on Cruise Critic web site. It was a 400Eu for 12p plus the cost of the boat ride (7 Eu, and the ticket for St John Cathedral ($4.60Eu) and the tip. In short, very well spent $70 per person. Thank you Vince! (Hope you liked the wine we brought you from our home country)
Touring Malta with a guide: http://www.guideinmalta.com/
HoHo Bus in Malta: http://www.maltasightseeing.com/
Scenic Flights over Malta (But read the cancelation policy before making reservations): http://www.harbourairmalta.com/harbourair/content.aspx?id=45136
Walking tour of Valletta: http://www.geovative.com/GeoTours/tourView.asp?6174Vq=JEHH
Saturday Oct. 22nd: Day at sea.
Had time to make 500 pictures PowerPoint Show of the whole trip, even added music to the show and made copies for those couples who went on the Malta day trip with us. Had fun working on my laptop, seating in the balcony with the sea right there. Wish I had my office in such a location.
Sunday, Oct 23rd: Arriving to Barcelona.
Got off the ship around 08:00am. Again, no need for ship expensive transportation to the airport as there is always long line of taxis waiting for you right there at the port terminal.
While on board, we purchased four (4!) Celebrity Open Passages as we plan to go on Back to Back cruises either to South America and/or to New Zealand and Australia with as many as 5 more couples and we want them all to enjoy the $600 on board credit for the two long B to B cruises.