We book this tour through the ship. We had done this before and we wanted our children (adults) to experience it also. Pisa was first with the Leaning Tower and the baptistery. After going through Pisa on our own we met at a small restaurant to wait for our guide. We were given free cold bottles of water here, which was nice as it was upper 90's. Next was winery in Tuscany. Here we were given a short tour of the winery and how they process the grapes. The we were seated and given a 4 course lunch which was wonderful. During the meal we were given glasses of wine to drink. No a sip but full glasses. The food was home made and great. The bus ride from Pisa to Luca was delightful and scenic. Great tour don't miss it.
We hired a private tour from 'Rome Driving Tours'. This was the first time I have ever booked a private tour. It was fantastic, so much so I would a not sure if I would book a ship tour again ! We were met at the port by a man holding a sign with our name on it. We had five adults and we got into a Mercedes van and headed off to Rome in air conditioner comfort. We went to so many sights. All of them, the Vatican, Spanish Steps, ruins, fountains we did it all. The driver was informative and spoke excellent English. He parked the van or dropped us off at each location with informative instruction as to what to see and do and when and where he would pick us up. He also said at each site that if we wanted to stay longer, he would keep coming back every 15 minus to pick us up. He had cold water for us at each stop. As I said we saw everything and we were able to go where those large tour buses could not go.My wife wanted to go to a nice Italian restaurant for lunch. The last time in Rome we did a tour that took us to a restaurant that served us chicken nuggets and french fries !!! So we were taken to this nice small restaurant Restaurante Iaciane (I think) we ate and drank two bottles of wine and the entire bill for 6 (we took our driver with us) was 100 euro. The lunch, the sights, the private tour was outstanding and we couldn't have had a better time.
In Naples we also booked a private tour. It was the same company Rome Driving Tours. The vehicle another Mercedes Van. We went first to the Amalfi Coast stopping first in Sorrento. Very nice drive and Sorrento was very pretty with lots of small shops and beautiful water front. Next it was to Positano, again a lovely village with small shops all over and another lovely waterfront. BUT, then it was off to lunch. Up, Up, Up we went on this small twisting road until we were high about Positano at a restaurant that had the most amazing view and then to have great food to go with this view...WOW. This is another place that a tour bus could ever get to, so the private tour was again the place to be. The restaurant was unbelievable. I Don't have my credit card statement yest so I am not sure of the name, I think it was something like Constatines (not sure0. There was a full menu abut also a price fix item. We chose the price fix. It was bruschetta, salad, pizza, ravioli, tiramisu. We also had two litter pictures of white wine and the owner sent over a limoncello for each of us. All for 25 euros each. It was great.
Then the afternoon was Pompeii on our own. It was VERY hot upper 90's again (August) but our driver had cold water and umbrellas for the woman to use against the sun. After that it was back to the ship for our next port.
We needed to tender into Mykonos. This was a NIGHTMARE. We were only in port from 8am until 2pm. We did not get onto shore until 9:45am. That left a shorten time on this beautiful island. We wanted to go to the beach, but because of the poor tendering process this was not possible. We were able to walk around the small town which the tender lets you off at. This was very pleasant. Small winding roads and paths. Lots of shops. We ate a great restaurant "Varnals Konstantinos' is if directly on the waterfront and even has eight seats that sit over the water. It was found by accident but the view, service and food made it a great find. W will have to come back to see the beaches which are said to be spectacular. I am not sure why the Norwegian even stopped here given the short time frame and the added burden of tendering. Oh well, next time.
The ship docks very near the center of the city. You can walk there, or take a trolley which runs right by. It wa so hot that we took a take 10 euros. There was a slight problem as all the taxis wanted to take you on a 'tour'. After 5-6 'no thanks ' and walking away one cabbie said he would take us. But to give us a little tickle, he dropped us off about a mile from the Blue Mosque where we wanted to go. So be certain about the taxi's here. I have read many reviews that have been negative about the taxis.
That aside Istanbul was a pleasant surprise. I am not sure what I expected but I liked the whole city. Very modern, very clean, lots of everything, shopping, restaurants, things to see. We did a few tourist things, Blue Mosque, etc, but the biggest and happiest place was the Grand Bazaar ! It is unbelievably huge ! and lots of fun and LOTS and LOTS of thing to shop and buy. You just can't describe how big this place is. I thought it would be lots of people selling stuff from blankets like other cities. The bazaar is covered, like a tunnel, it is cool and there are many, many high-end shops, well lit, air conditioned but LOTS of shops. The sell everything. We were not going to buy anything.........well we ended up with two watches, three pocket books, scarf, bracelets, etc. There is no set price on anything. You barter for everything. I don't like this....or I didn't before the Grand Bazaar. They are SO friendly, they make it fun and are not hurt or chasing you down the street to make a sale. My 30 year old daughter is so shy I thought she would just die in there.......she was the one doing all the negotiating and bought the most. They vendors there could not have made you more comfortable and the experience was lots of fun and with great deals. I mean great deals. Had we know more about this place we would have done all our Christmas shopping there.
We walked back to the ship. The bridge connecting the center of the city to where the ship was docked had tons of restaurants under the bridge , all with a water view. We ate at one of these and had a delicious meal. The only thing at the restaurant we ate at did not serve alcohol but the one next to it did. I had a beer at that one and returned to my family for our meal.
The other interesting thing about walking across this bridge was that we walked for the European Continent t the Asian Continent. You can't say that everyday. Istanbul is VERY safe, lots of police officer. The issues of Syria is on the other side of the country. Istanbul is a very western city,
We booked a private tour of Ephesus fro Ephesus Tours. There was again the Mercedes Van but we had a driver and a guide who stayed with us throughout the tour. If you think you have seen ruins in Rome or Pompeii, you haven't seen ruins until you have seen Ephesus. They are not to be missed. The terrace house is also worth the added ticket. The 25,000 seat amphitheater is spectacular along with everything else and to think this was 1500 years before Christ. A must see. I did not hear of any shipmates who went to Izmir so I can not comment on that. But Ephesus needs to be seen.
At ehe last minute we booked a private tour for Athens. I thought our other tour guides / drivers were good. This was the best as to being informative and extremly knowledgeable. I was also impress by his use of the english launague. He hot onlt showed us ALL that was to see in Athens but he went on to explain the monatary problem that Greece is experiencing, at least in his view. Very interesting. One thing he took us to wa the changing of the gard at the tomb of the unknown soilder. It was so different and a must see. After so many ruins in other cites the 'other stuff' was intresting. Again we went places that tour buses could not get into.
We wanted to experience a local greek resturant, which he took us too whch was an outdoor resturant in the Plaka area. The food wa great, the people watching was terreffic with lots of tourists and the wait staff was a riot. Another great tour with lots of memories.
This was our las port and it was an overnight stop. We entered the port at 2pm and it takes you ast Saint Marks Sq, so there are lots of great photos. We took the water taxi to St. Marks Sq and went from there. Lots of churches and many, many shops. We were all amazed at all the shops that are in Venice. Again, having never been there we didn't know what to expect, but it was not all the shops that were there.
Ther is so many photo ops. every cannal is pretty than the last. The streets are so clean and the houses well kept. It was a treat to walk with out cards, rucks buses or bikes.
We ate at a resturant near Plaza Roma, right on the grand waterway with lots of great sights one being a wedding party in a boat going by. This wedding ended up in the resturant we were eating at so that made it even more intresting. The wedding cake was near our table and it had the bride and groom in a gondola !
Venice was very nice and it was also the first place were were at after dark, so that was different. A GREAT TRIP ! may family will remember for ever.