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Home > Member Reviews > ellay864's Port Reviews of Athens (Piraeus), Santorini, Crete (Heraklion), Rhodes, Kusadasi, Mykonos

ellay864's Port Reviews of Athens (Piraeus), Santorini, Crete (Heraklion), Rhodes, Kusadasi, Mykonos
Celebrity Equinox cruise in June 2012
Member Name: ellay864
Cruise Date: June 2012
Embarkation: other
Destination: Eastern Mediterranean
Member Review: ellay864's Celebrity Equinox Review
Athens (Piraeus)
Port Rating: 3.0 out of 5+
We ended up going on the Sunday to avoid a planned bus drivers' strike for the week ahead. We walked a short way from the dock terminus, out to the left as you leave the building and caught one of the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing buses. For 20 euros each that gave us 2 linked bus trips, each with audio commentary. The first bus took us from Piraeus up to the Acropolis on a journey of approx 20 mins. We got off there and went up to the Acropolis site. Being Sunday we had free entry; I'm not sure what the usual charge is. There's a fair bit of climbing steps and not a huge amount of shade but the various sites are impressive. There is a massive restoration project going on so many parts are covered in scaffolding; it became a challenge to take photos without cranes or metal poles in! We just went round on our own but saw many large guided groups. I think if I wanted more information I would get a downloaded audio guide on my ipod. There were various information boards around and we were fine with that.

After leaving the Acropolis area we got on the next ho-ho bus that took us into the city centre. The route does a loop around the parliament buildings and we got off behind them where there were some of those very comical looking guards on duty at some palace residence. We watched them doing some duty changing and then crossed the road to cut through the national gardens. It was beautifully calm and quiet in there. Going through there we then came out by the front of the parliament building in time to watch the proper changing the guard ceremony. It's certainly a spectacle seeing men in white pleated skirts, tights and pompomed clogs doing this very strange walk/march they do!

From there we walked down through the town to the Plaka area. There is a street of modern high street shops (all closed as it was Sunday) and then that gives way to an area of mazy streets full of lively shops, mostly touristy clothing or jewellery, and a variety of bars and restaurants. We had a lovely lunch down there then went back up to the parliament buildings to rejoin the bus and do the rest of the circular tour, before heading back to Piraeus.

I'm sure many people would spend more time in museums etc but that's not really our cup of tea and we'd enjoyed mooching round the town without going in any more attractions. I hadn't been sure of what to expect from Athens but did find it more sprawling than I'd expected. There was nothing I disliked about it but I'd not be in a rush to go back; there are other European cities I have much preferred

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Santorini
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
We tendered here and had already decided to make this a fairly lazy day, staying in Fira rather than doing a trip further out on the island, so we were in no rush off the ship. By the time we made our way downstairs all the early tenders had gone and they were no longer having to give out numbered tickets with a queue. We got straight on a tender and were on the island in less than 10 minutes. We had also missed the queue for the cable car so went straight onto that too. The cable car is only a few euros; the alternative is walking or donkey (mules).

Once you get off the top you're in tiny narrow busy streets. We headed downwards and found ourselves on one of the main roads (ie one with proper traffic!) Crossing over that took us away from all the crowds and shops and we walked through lovely little winding paths and alleyways between houses before emerging at the top of the hill overlooking the sea. We spent some time just admiring views and enjoying the peace before heading back to the busy bit. As with most of the Greek islands there's an abundance of clothing and jewellery stores, ranging from real tat to quite classy and pricey. There are also various souvenirs, mostly related to blue domed churches or donkeys! If you want to lunch there's lots of places but get there early if you want to eat with a view as it gets busy. We headed back for the cable car early afternoon and went straight down to the harbour without any wait. There's a couple of bars and shops at the bottom and we sat there enjoying the relative quiet by the sea with a drink before getting our tender back.

Undoubtedly there's much more to Santorini than we saw but our day was enough to give a flavour while allowing us plenty of relaxing time.

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Crete (Heraklion)
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
We docked in the port of Chania. This is a fairly new port, until recently the main destination was Heraklion.

From docking there is a bus that drives the 20 minutes into the main town. It's a local one and only costs about 3 euros each for a return ticket. It dropped us in what seemed quite a busy fairly modern town. My first impressions weren't great I must admit, but how that would change. We decided to do another ho-ho with commentary to see a bit of Chania before heading off on our own to wander around. The bus looks very much like the official city sightseeing buses you get in most cities but isn't. We kept being told the next bus was on its way but waited over 45 minutes, and then we sat on it ages before it finally drove off. The day wasn't going well -- so far we'd parted with 15 euros each to look at a busy road junction (though the manic motorcyclists are quite entertaining in their own way!) Once we got going the journey took us up with some spectacular views over the harbour and bay, and showed us some areas to explore later.

Back at the bus stop we got off and headed through the large market hall. This is great with all kinds of noises and bustle and smells. Outside there's shops ranging from cheap and cheerful touristy ones to quite nice 'mainstream' stores. There's a lot of little roads that you can spend ages going round and again we did our favourite thing of cutting away from the main busy shopping streets. The back streets are just gorgeous, so quiet and pretty and hard to believe that just a hundred yards away it's thronging with people. We found a wonderful restaurant in an old derelict building painted yellow, sounds like it shouldn't work but it did! After lunch we braved the crowds and headed down to the harbour. I loved this area as it is a semi-circle of lively bustle and fun looking out onto the most beautiful blue sea. We then walked a little along the sea front before heading back to town. The shuttle buses run every 20 mins or so and we were in no danger of being late back to the ship.

From a dodgy start Chania became one of my highlights of the whole trip. I could happily do a longer stay in Crete on the basis of that day out

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Rhodes
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
Our fourth stop was Rhodes. This is a lovely convenient stop as the old walled town is just a few hundred yards walk from the ship, so we didn't worry about booking a tour. As with Chania the day before, we walked in through one of the city gates, then looked to see where most people went and promptly headed off in a different direction. Again, lovely quiet streets full of character and the most gorgeous coloured flowers everywhere. However it's impossible to avoid the crowds altogether if you want to visit the various museums or chapels. The main street up to the Grand Palace is the Avenue of Knights and is a main tourist route. Be warned, it is quite a steep street, a little slippy on the cobbles and I found it hard going using a walking stick as I was. And of course in the heat and sun it doesn't make it any easier! The Palace itself is only a few euros to go in and was really quite quiet considering the number of people around. To be honest the palace is not that spectacular with quite spartan rooms; it's not on a par with many other European palaces and historic houses that I've seen.

What we did like was walking round outside in the gardens and between the city walls. The sheer scale of them is impressive and the idea of it as a fortress does come to life when you're stood at the bottom of it all! Within the city walls there is a lot to see though, and a huge variety of shops, bars, restaurants. And what was also very helpful for us was that as well as post offices and ATMs, there were at least 2 shops selling camera accessories so we splashed out on another memory card while we were there. Be warned, if you enjoy taking photos, an Eastern Europe itinerary will use up loads!!

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Kusadasi
Ephesus Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
We left Greek territory for our next day and stopped at Kusadasi in Turkey. From here we had booked a private tour to Ephesus through CC contacts, with 6 of us paying 52 euros each. That gave us a minibus tour to Ephesus with tour guide, included lunch and entry to the Ephesus site itself. The tour we'd booked was a gentle paced half day trip, taking some medical issues into account, but we didn't feel short-changed at all. The place is amazing and although hilly and with steps was manageable; to be honest the whole site is so impressive you'd have to really have access problems to not want to visit there. Here in the UK sites like Stonehenge charge a fortune to visit and then you're allowed nowhere near the artefacts, but at Ephesus we were just able to wander right into the heart of everything. We didn't go into the Terraced Houses that a lot of people say are a must, but I certainly don't feel we missed out as there is still so much to see.

The tour did also include the trip to a carpet place where the background is interesting but we really didn't appreciate the blatant hard sell they do. It's a shame but seems that must tours put this in; if you can arrange a trip that promises not to do this, go for it!

At the end of the trip we had time to spare so decided to wander round the bazaars in Kusadasi before going back to the ship. Unfortunately we were totally put off by the shop keepers' quite aggressive approach to visitors and it's impossible to browse, despite the 'no hassle' signs. Maybe that's all part of the local culture but it wasn't an aspect we wanted to embrace at the end of a long hot day.


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Mykonos
Port Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
The following day was back to Greek territory and a visit to Mykonos. Having been told that the old town was walkable from the port, we found out the day before that we would dock at the new port which was a good 20-30 min walk along a non-pavemented main road to the town. There was a ship organised shuttle bus at $10 each, allowing unlimited trips to and from the ship, which seemed pricey as we knew we wouldn't be making multiple trips but we weren't sure if there'd be an alternative so paid up. As it happened there was a local bus there but I have no idea what it cost or how often it ran.

Again we hadn't bothered with a tour and decided to stay round the old town, and again we weren't disappointed. I really liked Mykonos a lot and could easily spend more time there. As with various other places on this trip we headed away from the main tourist streets as soon as we could and found ourselves climbing upwards through narrow winding streets, beautifully whitewashed and with flashes of red and blue colouring throughout. There are lots of old windmills on the island and we headed up to a lone one from where we had a great view out across the water. I suppose there are obvious similarities to Santorini but I much preferred Mykonos. There is still the usual array of bars, cafes and gift shops, but it didn't feel as packed and busy. There are also some areas with some more upmarket galleries and also designer stores as we found out when we found ourselves outside a Louis Vitton store and then also spotted D&G, and Diesel among others.

Back down by the harbour there are some bars that are in old buildings with the sea lapping at the walls; there is a lot of character that's still retained despite the commercial input and new hotel/holiday accommodation in evidence. We thought this place really did have a nice balance of old character and modern convenience. Again it was another inexpensive day for us as we had a light lunch and went back to the ship mid afternoon. We really did feel that we were having great days, getting a good feel of places but not spending much money as we avoided doing tours in most stops.

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Naples
Amalfi Coast Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
On leaving Pompeii we headed off on an at time hair-raising drive down the Amalfi coast. This is a stunning area with views out across the gorgeous azure sea. The road sticks very close to the edge and is very winding. There are numerous spots where cars pull up for photo opportunities and we did get to do that eventually before making our first proper stop in Positano. This is a colourful town clinging to the cliff face. Cars are allowed through on a one way route to a certain point, and this is where most tours drop off visitors. We had an hour so we headed into the pedestrianized part of the town and made our way down to the harbour. But we knew we would then have to climb back up again (slowly in my case) so we didn't have time to do much more than a quick look round and a drink before heading back.

We then drove onto Sorrento where we had a bit more time. We were given the choice of staying with the driver or taking a ferry back; as the ferry would have only given us an extra 30 mins, allowing for time to buy tickets etc, we decided to stick to the original plan so had about 90 mins before having to meet the driver again. We had lunch and then explored the town. Again this is a place I would love to go back to again.

My criticism of this tour (and why I've rated 4 not 5) would be that doing the 2 stops meant we got short time in both; with hindsight I would have preferred to just stop at Sorrento with a decent time to spend and relax.

On arriving back in Naples our driver did give us a quick tour round pointing out main attractions from the car but we were really unimpressed. Although graffiti is a recognised problem in other cities we found Naples really dirty and messy. I've heard that the museums are wonderful but we saw nothing to make us want to explore the city more.


Pompeii Walking Tour Rating: 5.0 out of 5+
After a second day at sea our final port of call was Naples. From here it's possible to visit Pompeii, Amalfi Coast or Capri. I had always wanted to go to Pompeii so through CC we booked a tour with 5 others. This cost us 80 euros each to visit Pompeii with a guided tour, and then have a drive down the Amalfi coast with stops at Positano and Sorrento.

Pompeii is just brilliant and if you were to do a DIY trip I could easily imagine you could spend a whole day there. We had to pay extra to enter but at just 11 euros each it is great value. There's a lot said about the merits of Pompeii v Herculaneum; from what we were told it seems that Herculaneum does have better preserved artefacts but Pompeii is a much bigger site. Now size may not be everything but in the case of Pompeii the sheer scale of it brings home just the huge area of devastation. Visitors get to tread on old cobbled streets that still bear marks from where the carts would have left town. And to use the stepping stones across the streets that were the way to dodge the sewage as it would wash down the streets! Many of the old buildings are shops and it was easy to picture full streets; especially memorable was the site of an early fast food outlet..right outside the entrance to the theatre. Some things never change! We saw the old baths buildings, many of which still retain a lot of the old frescos and mosaic tiling. And of course we got to see some of the brothels, the most notable being one where pictures are still not only visible but also clear enough to see what was on 'the menu' at the establishment!

All in all I had finally visited a place I'd wanted to for years and am so glad I did it at last


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Rome (Civitavecchia)
St. Peter's Basilica Rating: Not Rated
The Vatican was our first stop in Rome, and it was great to walk on past the massive queue for tickets and go straight in to St Peter's Basilica. We had a guided tour inside the Basilica (though the audio did fail a couple of times!). To be honest we hadn't been looking forward to being part of a large group, especially as we like to take time to go off taking photos, and also zoom around with the camcorder. We did manage to get ourselves separated from the group at one point but found them before having to resort to the emergency numbers we were given! The Vatican is just superb, and even as someone with no particular religious inclination it is still quite awe-inspiring. Be warned...you will take loads of pictures!

We had about an hour touring round and just a short break afterwards before heading into the city centre to the Coliseum


Colosseum Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
We arrived in Rome early morning and as our flight home wasn't until the evening we booked a ship's excursion that took us into Rome and then onto the airport. We did try to find a private tour for this but were unable to get people to join us to make it viable. While we're often happy to DIY things, with having our baggage to take care of we felt we couldn't do that. The city centre is about 45 mins from the airport, and also about an hour from the port

We had a guide on the coach who talked us through our journey into Rome itself. The Coliseum was our second stop having earlier visitied St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. We bypassed the queues and firstly had a talk about the place itself before being taken up to the 2nd tier. We had quite a bit of time to take plenty of photos, though as with the Vatican, it would have been easy to spend twice the time there.

After leaving the Coliseum we did a bit more driving tour round the city though we had no free sightseeing time, the only disappointment. We were back at the airport at about 1pm, though I don't think anybody had a flight until around 5 or 6pm. On the basis of what we saw, we are planning to pop back to Rome for a long weekend if not more. There is so much to see and I'd recommend anyone doing a cruise that starts or ends in Rome to make sure you get some time to spend in the city


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