Great. Santorini is beautiful as its reputation. Do believe your excursion personnel when they tell you to think twice about walking down to the pier instead of the gondola. The gondola looks scary from outside, but is not at all. Meanwhile, the path doesn't look that bad from a distance, but apparently it's rather difficult to avoid "donkey business" and you end up needing a shower the moment you're back on board. The owner of a great art and souvenir shop, Delphini, in Oia Village helped us find our way to some great views of the classic blue domes. Our guide Joy (I think with Navigator tours) was friendly and informative. Santorini was great!
While the tour (guide Aref with Tura Tourism) had a few hitches - trouble hearing the guide with faulty radios, trouble keeping up with him, it was still fantastic, and I would highly recommend tiring yourself out by doing a "complete Istanbul" tour if your ship stays overnight. The Blue Mosque is incredible from the outside, the Topkapi Museum has one room of mosaics that is stunning, the Grand Bazaar is a little more like a fancy shopping mall than I expected, but if you step off the main hall, it's fascinating and you won't get lost if you tell the shopkeepers "Gate One" because they can point out the way to the exit. The Hagia Sophia was nice as was the Spice Market. The Underground Cistern was skippable in my opinion, but the true highlight was the Bosporus Cruise. Incredible. Friends we met said the less famous Sulemaniye Mosque is incredibly beautiful on the inside, and seeing that mosque (from the ship) lit up by a perfect crescent moon was incredible.
This was the same tour with Irene, but Ephesus is incredible. Definitely be careful on slippery rocks. Lots of beautiful ruins, especially the Celsus Library. For someone who wasn't impressed the Roman Forum, this was much more worthwhile, and I think having a guide telling us about what we were seeing was a big part of it.
House of the Virgin Mary Rating:
Our tour was with Irene and Tura Tourism (booked through the ship) and went to both the Virgin's house and Ephesus. The guide was informative and friendly and she paced the tour well for the most part so as not to be exhausting but also making sure we got places on time. The House of the Virgin was more interesting for views along the way as well as the religious history Irene told us about along with the geological and ancient political history of the region. The tour company gave us complimentary flasks to fill with holy water we could gather ourselves at springs below the Virgin's house. A neat experience.
I was expecting the Acropolis to disappoint, but it did not. The Parthenon and other buildings were impressive, and made more so by the details given by our guide (Effie from Navigator Tours) and the views from the top are fantastic. If you are worried about falling at the Acropolis, I would say to still go on the tour as the stairs are not the problem. You can get fairly close to the top without running into the slippery surfaces that cause the falls. However, the area that is level with the Parthenon can be very difficult to walk on unless you're quite careful. We did see more than one person with a cane both there and at Ephesus, so it can be done. I want to add that several couples complained loudly about the cruise line's "Highlights of Athens" tour which apparently had a terrible guide (also Navigator) who did nothing but talk about a jewelry shop and did not offer views of the Acropolis as promised. I've heard more than once that there is a lot to appreciate in Athens besides the Acropolis, but I've heard the opposite as well. Based on my experience and what I heard from others,we were very glad we risked the "strenuous" excursion to the Acropolis.
Going to the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the season mostly seemed like a great idea considering how few crowds we had to deal with, but the disadvantage was evident in Mykonos. The weather wasn't great and the island certainly was not at its prettiest. Our terrific guide, Mia with Navigator, made our day though with a terrific history of the island, the mythology of Delos, and details about island life on Mykonos past and present. The Panagia Monastery was unexpectedly gorgeous. It's small and pretty on the outside, but on the inside it looks more like you've stepped into a treasure vault than a church. You won't get much time inside, but it's small so it will be enough. Mia's story about the importance of the monastery to the island (often used by the residents as a refuge from pirates!) also made this memorable. The tour also stopped by Elia Beach (nice enough if nothing special), a stop to take photos of Delos, and we got an ouzo sample in a pretty square across from the monastery. A great day despite the dreary weather.
First, the city of Naples is beautiful from the port. Only Piraeus (Athens) was unpleasant and that because of diesel fumes from other vessels. I would love to go back and do a city tour of Naples instead of Herculaneum as Herculaneum seemed lackluster after Ephesus and the Acropolis. Our guide Fabio did a great job providing knowledge of the history of Herculaneum, but it was a bit rushed and there were more uneven and slippery surfaces. Overall, I would say Herculaneum is not visually impressive compared to Ephesus, but entertaining if viewed as a puzzle being unraveled that continues to teach us about life (especially that of the wealthy) of Ancient Rome. The tour also stopped at a cameo factory - nothing special, but a pretty store and interesting (if environmentally disappointing) that they make high end cameos from seashell there instead of onyx or carnelian. Overall, I liked this tour, but unless you're a history buff, I might recommend something else.