37 Princess Grand Princess Europe - Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Reviews

my first cruise was on the grand princess in 2009 since then I have cruised six times mostly with royal Caribbean. the grand had under gone a make over since my first cruise it was ok but not spectacular the main thing that stuck out was ... Read More
my first cruise was on the grand princess in 2009 since then I have cruised six times mostly with royal Caribbean. the grand had under gone a make over since my first cruise it was ok but not spectacular the main thing that stuck out was the lack of hygiene, on rci you cannot move for handwash stations and staff encouraging you to wash your hands, when boarding the ship and entering food area which is no bad thing as the norovirus is the last thing you want on a cruise the food varied from excellent to good to quite poor, overall it was good but compared to rci not as good nor was the selection, breakfast became a bit boring the entertainment was a bit patchy to be honest compared to rci, I have no other lines to compare to, the entertainment was not as good the pub meal at lunch time was excellent and princess ought to make more of this I have to say that I did thoroughly enjoy the cruise but it was not perfect but then I didn't pay a perfect price first port was cadiz a lovely place   Read Less
Sail Date October 2012
Embarkation: We travelled up to Southampton the night before & stayed in the Highfield House Hotel, a basic but, pleasant place for an overnight stop. On arrival at the docks we dropped our luggage, drove to the short stay car park ... Read More
Embarkation: We travelled up to Southampton the night before & stayed in the Highfield House Hotel, a basic but, pleasant place for an overnight stop. On arrival at the docks we dropped our luggage, drove to the short stay car park where we were met by Edward from Looking4Parking (booked through Cruise Co.uk): he took the keys & we set off for the very short walk to the check in desks. After a brief wait we went through security & into the departure lounge where we waited until we were called to board (approx 30 mins). Once onboard we dropped our hand luggage in the cabin & headed to Horizon Court for lunch. Onboard: After the mandatory muster drill, we headed onto Deck 15 for the rather misty sailaway from Southampton. Dining: We had opted for Anytime Dining as this suits our needs. However, unlike the last time on the Grand, the tables for two had diminished & if you didn't arrive in time to queue for half hour prior to the dining room opening you were issued with a pager & a wait of over an hour. This did not apply if you were willing to share a table. However, many people wanted the small tables & there were a lot of unhappy diners. Contrary to the info provided tables for two could not be pre-booked, but, larger tables could. The food was as ever, very good with a varied menu: the "Always Available" selection & was served by efficient waiters. Food in the Horizon Court buffet was also very good, with a wide selection of hot & cold food & delicious desserts! The International Cafe also had some mouthwatering choices. We didn't eat in the Speciality Restaurants but, were told they were excellent. As were the Pizzas in Alfredos. We did sample the free ice creams & they were good. Free lemonade was available in the Horizon Court & this was very refreshing especially on the very hot days. Entertainment: The theatre shows were good. Production shows by the ships singers & dancers were the same as 2 years ago but, enjoyable. The comedians were mediocre & not to everyones taste. We personally did not enjoy the female singer but, that was our opinion. We did enjoy the violinist from Swansea. The theatre was packed every night for both performances & to get an aisle seat you had to be there an hour early! Infact if you didn't want to sit in the front you needed to be there 30 mins early: this also applied to the Vista Lounge. We did attend all of the lectures by Doug McKensie, a sprightly 85 year old photographer to the celebrities & royals. He was absolutely riviting to listen to & we really enjoyed his talks. The Ship: The Grand has benefitted from the refit in many ways. The Attrium is brighter & the introduction of the International cafe is a bonus. However, certain areas are still looking very tired & rust has already appeared along with broken handrails. Our balcony cabin was kept clean by our efficient room steward Luis who was always happy to assist. He provided robes, ice, extra pillows/coat hangers etc. We used the self service launderette twice as it was a 17 day cruise. There was one per deck with 2 washers , 2 driers & 2 irons. Cost 8 x 25 cents each (obtainable from the Customer services desk). The driers were very good. Medical Centre: Unfortunately, on Day 16 my husband became ill & needed to go to the Medical Centre. We had just heard from from the Capt. that the ship was diverting to Vigo as a seriously ill passenger was being taken off. The staff in the centre were first class, highly efficient & kind. Despite being busy with the evac. my husband was given all the tests necessary to diagnose & treat him before being allowed back to our cabin. We cannot praise the doctor & nurses highly enough. Disembarkation: We had been given "Pink 4" as our disembarkation time (9am) but, as my husband had been ill we were told to use the Assisted Embarkation point & left from Deck 5 just before our allotted time. We collected our luggage (with a Porters help) & found our car in the short stay car park. PORTS. Cadiz: As we docked in Cadiz the heavens opened: its a long time since we have seen so much rain fall continuously over several hours! We decided that as we were "on holiday" we would take a walk into Cadiz (only a short walk from the dock). It was a pretty place but, due to the appalling weather we headed back to the ship after visiting the Cathedral. Valetta (Malta): My husband got up early to stand on top of the bridge to film the sail into Valetta & it was well worth it. It is a spectacular harbour & a sight we'll never forget. We spent the day walking the pretty streets, taking in the beauty of the "yellow" brick work & generally soaking up the atmosphere of Malta. It was very easy to find your way around & as we found an elevator in the car park near the port it saved us the long climb up to the city! The sailaway was delayed by the arrival in Valetta of a large tanker which made quite a sight. Venice: The previous evening the Captain had broken into the address system to inform us that due to an unusually low tide our sail into Venice was to be delayed by an hour to allow suffient water below the ship: to compensate we'd be leaving an hour later. We were all happy to leave the safety of the ship & passengers to the Capt! Princess issue passengers with tickets for the Water taxi from the dock to St Marks Square, a cost of $15 pp is automatically deducted from your cruise account so if the tickets are not used you have to ask for a refund. We initially went into Venice on the People Mover (1 euro pp) & looked around the markets, back streets etc. Then took the water taxi to the square. There were complaints from some passengers that the taxi didn't drop them "in the square" & they had to walk to it!!!! (the mind boggles!) The square is stunning & a must see as was the hour long sail into Venice & the evening sailaway with all the lights of this beautiful city sparkling as we left. Split (Croatia): This was our only tender port & we had to wait almost an hour to be taken ashore. We strolled around this quaint port, taking in the markets, cathedral, water side walk & pretty streets. It was very much an "unwinding" port after the bustle of Venice. Dubrovnik (Croatia): This for us was the highlight of our cruise. We absolutely loved Dubrovnik. We caught an independent shuttle bus in from the docks ($15 pp return) & then bought tickets to "Walk the Walls": the cost was 70 kunas pp: no other currency was accepted although you could use a credit card. The views from the walls of the coast & the little red roofed houses took our breath away, it was amazing & well worth the 1,030 steps we climbed (there were more if you chose to!!!). Corfu (Greece): Again, in our opinion only: this was the only let down port on this itinary. It is obviously suffering from the Greek economic crisis & was tired, dirty & run down. Apart from the market there was very little to see. We had a free shuttle to the port gates but, it was still approx 2 mile walk to the town along a very uninspiring quayside. Gibraltar: We had visited Gibraltar before so had done the "touristy" things! So we just walked into the tow, strolled around & then returned to the ship. Sea Days: We had 9 sea days on this cruise & we spent them ambling around the ship, watching lectures/demonstations eg: fruit carving, ice sculpting. There seemed to be something going on throughout the day if you wanted to take part in Zumba to crafts or art auctions to wine tasting. Weather: The weather was changeable. We had it fairly calm until we entered the Atlantic when the side winds caused the ship to rock & a lot of people suffered sea sickness (we were lucky not to). As we left Cadiz the sun shone & it continued to do so until we returned. The average temperature on port days was 27 degrees. We hope that this review was helpful. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
We did back to back sailings on the Grand in April/May -- an 11 day Canary Islands and a 17 day Mediterranean & Adriatic. This review covers the Mediterranean & Adriatic cruise. This was our 56th cruise on Princess, and 13th on ... Read More
We did back to back sailings on the Grand in April/May -- an 11 day Canary Islands and a 17 day Mediterranean & Adriatic. This review covers the Mediterranean & Adriatic cruise. This was our 56th cruise on Princess, and 13th on the Grand. Overall it was a very good cruise although it started with an "issue." Embarkation This was the second of our b2b sailings this time on the Grand so no embarkation was involved, we were just told to meet at Alfredo's at 9:45 am to get new pictures taken for our new cruise cards. So we were there at 9:45 am but nothing happened until about 10:30 am when they showed up to take our pictures. The Ship The Grand is an older ship and is showing her age -- even with the drydock facelift. But there seems to be much less rock and roll than on the newer ships. On the warm and sunny days on this cruise all the deck loungers were occupied early. Also, trying to find any place where you could sit and read in the inside public areas was almost impossible, seemed very common that passengers would get up and dress, find a chair in a public area, and then spend the rest of the day there. The bars had more card players and readers and snoozers than drinkers. Skywalkers used to be a good place to watch the sea and read -- the One5 is dark with few windows. Needless to say this ship can feel and actually be extremely crowded in public areas especially on sea days. While Princess seems to be extremely proud of the redecorated piazza it now looks to us more and more like a multi-story outlet mall with a food court and street vendors and street performers and photographers, in other words it has really lost its elegance and charm. The Itinerary and Ports We picked this itinerary because it went to some ports on our bucket list (as well as old favorites) and we could do a b2b with our Canary Islands cruise. Doing b2bs does help spread the cost of airfare over multiple cruises but sailing the Med out of Southampton does add two sea days each way where the weather can be questionable and the seas rocky. So next time we do the Med it will probably be sailing in and out of a Med port, especially if we are doing b2b sailings. But on the other hand, most of the Princess Med cruises just go back and forth between the same ports with the same itinerary so non-repeating b2b opportunities are limited. We've been to Cadiz, Venice, Split, Corfu and Gibraltar before but Malta and Dubrovnik were new for us. In Cadiz we had planned to walk through the old town -- had done the hop on hop off bus with beautiful sunny weather last time we were there -- but this time it was so cold and rainy that we never left the ship. The next port was Valletta Malta and we took a ship's tour to a fishing village, a stop at a vineyard for wine tasting, a stop at a glass blower shop, and scenic drives in between. Malta is beautiful and the tour was good, we will definitely come back to Malta. We have been to Venice before and done all the touristy things you must do in Venice like ride in a gondola so we strolled leisurely to St Marks (a very long circuitous route) and took the vapporetta boat almost the full length of the Grand Canal to the people mover and then back to the ship for a very enjoyable day. Last time in Split we did a ship's tour to a Roman historical site and a medieval village so this time we just walked around the Old Town and saw the major historical sites. Dubrovnik was a delight, even more so than we had anticipated. We did the ship's tour of the city walls with a very funny, knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide -- and the weather was beautiful. At the end of our tour the guide told us we had been up and down 600 steps! We've done a full day tour of Corfu before so have seen the major sights, so this time opted for a visit to the Koum Quat liqueur distillery and island tour. Again the weather was superb and the tour enjoyable. In Gibraltar we walked through town and the botanical gardens since we have already visited the caves and seen the apes. The Cabin We had booked a guarantee and received a cabin assignment a few months later. We were assigned P208 -- deck 5 forward, actually way forward and across from the laundry! So we anticipated that it might be very bouncy but it also might smell laundry fresh. Surprisingly we only had a few nights (in the Atlantic) when the waves were large enough to cause creaks and groans and bangs and booms when the waves hit the bow -- other than that it was rather smooth. It also proved to be a very convenient location with easy access to the International Cafe for morning coffee and we often saw the paintings we bought on board as we walked through the art gallery frequently. The cabin did seem a little smaller than others and had a very unusual floor with bumps and ridges, felt like there was a manhole cover or something under the carpet. There seemed to be very little going on in the laundry so that was not a problem at first -- but late in the cruise there was a strong sewer like odor in the hallway for a few days. Internet access in this cabin was not dependable as the signal quality was poor and the connection when possible was often dropped. But as usual on Princess our stateroom steward Bibiana was excellent! The Food and Service We had an unusual surprise (the "issue") this trip using anytime dining. We have gotten very used to anytime dining and treasure it's flexibility to be able to eat at different times in the different dining rooms, to have a table for two or eat with new friends, and to be able to make a reservation for a specific time so we can plan our evening's entertainment knowing when we would be finished with dinner. But this time on the Grand we were informed that there would be no dinner reservations -- none would be taken! For each night we would have to stand in line and if we did not want to share a table with strangers and wanted to have a table for two we would probably be given a pager and have to wait until summoned. The first night we got in line at 8:15, got a pager and waited 20 minutes to be summoned, so since dinner took longer than expected we were late to the theatre and all the seats were taken -- so we missed the show we wanted to see. Since this was a huge change from what we had experienced since anytime dining started we asked for clarification -- was this policy change for just this cruise, or would it be permanent on the Grand, or was it yet another negative change in Princess service levels that would be implemented fleet wide? The only explanation we received was that too many people wanted tables for two so they decided not to take any reservations. Now at that time we had nine cruises booked with Princess for the future -- and the possibility of cruising under the new policy of "you can dine whenever it is convenient for us and we really don't care how it affects you" didn't sit well with us. We had already expressed our disappointment with the new policy of closing the dining room for lunch on port days, of the changes in menus to cheaper dishes (goodbye to the rack of lamb), and the greeting when you enter the dining room becoming "do you want to share?" -- or the short form which is just a blurted out "share?" If you listen to Princess marketing you would expect something more genteel like perhaps "Good evening, welcome to your personal choice dining experience, how can we as your "Consummate Hosts" serve you tonight and help you "escape completely?" As it turned out we were told the "no reservations" situation was for this cruise only so it wasn't another fleet wide change, but were also told it might happen again at any time. We did end up with a definite seating time but the experience has us thinking again about doing traditional dining since "personal choice" really isn't about your personal choice except for when you want to start standing in line. And it is yet another reason we are more seriously thinking about cruising other lines more often. For the most part the food in the dining room was very good and the service was as well. We also met up with some of the waiters we had sailed with before whom we were really glad to see again. We found the Michelangelo much more enjoyable than the DaVinci this cruise. The Horizon Court was good for breakfast (great omelets made to order) and OK for lunch but the lights over the food are so hot they can make some of the serving spoons almost too hot to handle, and they dry out the food as well -- it can get to look very unappetizing and not taste as well as it might when fresh. The Trident Grill still has great cheeseburgers and hot dogs, and if you like specialty pizzas Alfredo's was generally available. The Entertainment Entertainment was the usual you would expect on a cruise, varied and good. The production song and dance shows were enjoyable (even though they haven't changed for years) and the guest performers were supplemented by performances by ship staff members. Andrew (one of the production show singers) and Melissa (one of the cruise director's staff) did great solo performances. Ron Steta (a superb guitarist in the Grand Princess Orchestra) performed often in the piazza and even did a fantastic matinee in the Princess Theatre on the last day -- talk about saving the best for last! Siobhan Phillips has an unbelievable voice and was extremely funny as well. We also enjoyed the MacDonald Brothers and ventriloquist Jimmy Tamley -- probably the best ventriloquist we have ever seen. There were some British comedians we saw but we didn't quite get some of the jokes that most of the audience found extremely funny -- must have been the cultural difference... Disembarkation Disembarkation was quick and easy, and we took Princess transportation to Heathrow and arrived in plenty of time for our flight. Closing Thoughts Princess seems to be suffering from an organizational dysfunction -- marketing promises customers more and more at the same time that accounting is cutting costs and converting costs into revenue opportunities. The end result can be a huge expectation gap for the passengers -- fueled by exorbitant claims such as the current Princess "We Are The Consummate Host" advertising campaign at the same time that service levels are noticeably being reduced. We wish they would either actually be "The Consummate Host" they claim or adopt a more believable slogan. If you believe that everything on your cruise will be "perfect" you will probably be disappointed. The best cruising slogan we found is -- "It Is What It Is." So get past the "issues" quickly and get on to enjoying! Happy Cruising! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
Started our holiday 1 day early by staying overnight in hotel at Southampton which relieved stress driving down on day. Boarding was a doddle luggage taken off us and car driven away leaving us with just carry on.There was a slight delay ... Read More
Started our holiday 1 day early by staying overnight in hotel at Southampton which relieved stress driving down on day. Boarding was a doddle luggage taken off us and car driven away leaving us with just carry on.There was a slight delay in boarding owing to trouble with air bridge but this was minimal.Found boarding simple. Went to our cabin to await luggage which arrived about 2pm.Unpacked, plenty of space and hangers cabin was well appointed towels etc good quality, beds large a bit hard but comfortable enough. Off up top for sail-away had cocktail while slipping away down solent. We were 2nd sitting in Bottocelli.Dining was a pleasure with our two waiters Dennis & violetta, choice was varied and catered for all tastes found the soups to be excellent main coures sometimes bit fussy with sauces but on whole good. Settled down for our cruise to first port Cadiz. Did not do much for first two days just used it to chill and find way around used Horizon for lunch always good selection, had breakfast in room after 1st day as it was bit crowded at that time of day.Arrived Cadiz had excursion to Sevilla, then off to malta(or so we thought) in the night we hit a force9/10 with 12ft waves we were on deck 9 and some of the wave spray hit our balcony door,about 4.30am huge thump heard captain calling for containment teams,the thump was a rogue wave hitting the ship and breaking two of the windows on deck 5 in the interational cafe allowing some seawater in. The captain had to go off course heading for north African coast while crew did superb job of fitting metal plates to broken windows cafe out of action for most of day while clean-up and fitting of new carpets carried out. Storm carried on for next two days and was too rough to enter Valleta(which was my main reason for booking this cruise0 so headed straight to Venice so of first 7 days spent 6 at sea which was bit boring as some of the time captains advice to stay in cabin and all outside decks were out of bounds once we rounded heel of Italy things calmed down and entered Venice the evening before we were due found Venice ok but there were tatty street traders in St Marks Square and bridges adourned with advertising banners, totally out of place.Then Split Dubrovnik and Corfu. Split very clean and interesting as was Dubrovnik.Corfu did not get much chance to see as it poured with rain all day. then to Gib another two days at sea. Gib was best port of call. On sea days we did take part in quizzes,video horse racing and occaisional bingo, Pub lunches were excellent.My wife found the Library very good too.Did not use Spa etc as expensive($20 just to sit in Sanctuary)Evenings were spent after dinner in casino or the one5 nightclub which was very good. Main dislikes were photographers, wheelchairs & zimmer frames with wheels they thought the lifts were there for their private use pushing in front to get on and sometimes one wheelchair filled lift,on rough days people with sticks had difficulty getting around.The main concern with all these wheelchairs zimmers etc was if we had to board Lifeboats for real at Split these were used at tenders and it took 15 minutes to get everyone on.I say might do it again but you are at the mercy of weather to get into ports so if you want to go somewhere specific you take a chance. Read Less
Sail Date October 2011
We were on the Grand last year in 2010 on a Med cruise, and again on this post dry dock trip. This cruise was different in that the majority of the fellow passengers were much older clientele and many had mbility issues. It was end ... Read More
We were on the Grand last year in 2010 on a Med cruise, and again on this post dry dock trip. This cruise was different in that the majority of the fellow passengers were much older clientele and many had mbility issues. It was end of June, so not all schools were closed here in the UK. This did not affect us, but was disappointing for out 18 and 17 year old boys, as there were very few of their age to congregate with. Having said that, by the end of the cruise they seemed to be having a good time! The main changes on the ship are in the Piazza and the casino. These areas have been transformed beautifully. The rest of the ship remains much the same. The cabins and balconies have not been refurbished, and I think these are the areas that some people may have issues with. The balconies are showing their age...rust is rife. Having said that, this did not affect our cruise in any way. The food was good (as always)....but I did think by the end of the cruise the quality waned a bit....the choices seemed repetitive. It was a 17 day cruise, so perhaps we just tired of the food?! Horizon court seemed less crowded, as they have added a separate dessert area (which also is the area where toast and pastries are served at breakfast) so no huge lines. The same old problem of finding tables still exists, as they have lost a few tables with the addition of this separate area. I think there were fewer choices of entries in the buffet this year (so did our sons) We only had a few breakfast here and a couple of lunches. The main dining room for breakfast and lunch is a far more pleasant experience. I had arranged a Meet and Greet...and very graciously, the Captain, Cruise Director and Head Maitre 'd turned up. Although we are not Platinum or Elite...the Maitre 'd sent canapes every night to our cabin for the duration of the cruise...nice touch! If you are looking for a pristine, high tech, glitzy ship, then the Grand will not be to your liking, but if you are looking for a solid, well run grand old ship, then you are in for a great time. We really enjoyed our time.... yet again on the ship....and would not hesitate booking again in the near future. Read Less
Sail Date June 2011
Although we booked this cruise very late, we had an aft balcony cabin on the Baha deck, and loved the location - across from the laundry and after the last set of elevators. We enjoyed mostly beautiful weather, mostly calm seas, and ... Read More
Although we booked this cruise very late, we had an aft balcony cabin on the Baha deck, and loved the location - across from the laundry and after the last set of elevators. We enjoyed mostly beautiful weather, mostly calm seas, and wonderful blue skies. We did miss one port - Katakalon (for Olympia, Greece) because of thunderstorms and large waves. But, in a port-intensive cruise as this, missing one port was fine, and most people said that if you had to miss one port, this was the one to miss. So, we didn't feel that we had missed out on anything. All in all, this cruise was fabulous! The best that we have ever taken! I had read reviews of the poor condition of the ship and the unfriendly staff, so I was not sure what to expect. I will admit that we had booked this cruise very late (we did not get the 2 for 1 deals that many people got.) We booked the cruise for one main reason - our friend Arny Galoyo was the pianist at the Promenade Lounge, and we wanted to cruise again with him. If you have seen Arny, you know that he is a fabulous entertainer. We had cruised with Arny before, and will probably only cruise with him again in the future, we enjoy him so much. Anyway, we booked to experience the cruise with him, and found that we got so much more in addition! Staff - unlike some previous posts, I found the crew and staff to be superior. Never once did I have a bad experience. I got smiles, friendly greetings from everyone. The cruise director's staff (from cruise director Stuart Mac, to asst. cruise director Colin, to staff Karen, Armondo, Chris, Micheal, Ryan, Adam, and Jorge) was particulaly friendly and fun. They sat and talked, and danced, with everyone, were particularly funny at trivia and at the participatory games (Liar's Club, etc.) The waiters in Promenade Lounge knew us all by name, and brought our particular drinks right away, almost as soon as we sat down. Knew we liked the olives and brought those every night. Our room steward Roy was a miracle worker - seemed to know the minute we left the room, and was in and out in no time, and kept us stocked with ice water and fruit. The Horizon Cafe staff was very efficient and friendly. Food - we ate using anytime dining, and only went to the dining room on three occasions. The food was good and service was fine, but we prefer the variety in the Horizon Cafe to be honest. We did eat in the Sterling Steak house for my birthday celebration. Thought the steaks were outstanding and the service was top-notch. Worth the extra $20 cover charge per person. We did not do UBD although we thought about it. Did have room service coffee each morning, and it always arrived right on time. We thought that the variety in the Horizon Court was great. We do not generally eat too much meat, and the variety of vegetables was particularly welcome. Love their fennel au gratin. In answer to some peoples' questions, we did have smoked salmon every morning on the buffet. Also tried the midnight spread on a couple of occasions, and we pleasantly surprised by the variety of offerings. Loved the salmon sandwiches! Entertainment - have to admit that we spent each night in the Promenade Lounge with Arny, so did not go to the production shows or the comedians, illusionist, etc. We did participate in the Liars Club one evening and found that to be extremely funny and well done. Also, participated or observed the Pop Idol contest, the theme dance nights,and ultimate trivia. One of the things that we love about Princess is the variety and quantity of the entertainment. There seems to be something for everyone and you get the feeling that you can't possibly do everything that you want. Our one disappointment is that we went to the 12:30 a.m. showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show at MUTS and the LCD panel blew, so it had to be cancelled. We were tucked under the blankets and disappointed, but that was no one's fault and the screen was fixed for the next day. Did enjoy the "Greek themed" movies they showed (i.e. Mama Mia). Ports - we missed Katakolon (for Olympia Greece) because of bad weather, but made all other ports. We only went on one ship sponsored excursion - to Athens, which was fine. The rest of the ports we did on our own and we had no problems, and alot of fun. We got into Venice on Friday afternoon and were able to go right out to see some of the town on the ship's shuttle. Very easy. Walked around St Mark's Square, and many of the side streets. Just absorbing the atmosphere. Saturday morning went back to Venice to walk around. The ship sailed out of Venice at 1. Slightly rainy grey weather but an impressive sail away with the port lecturer telling you what you were seeing. Dubronvnik - the ship runs a shuttle into town and we took it in, and spent 100 kunas (about $20) to "walk the walls" around town. Did a little shopping and back to the ship in mid afternoon. Corfu - we rented a car from Sunrise Car Rentals and took the map we had brought from home of Corfu (purchased map on Amazon) and just randomly explored. We had a blast. We saw the Monastery and the Achillion Palace, and stopped at a few beaches on the west side of the island. Came back to Corfu Town and got drenched in a downpour. Dropped the car back off at the port - very easy - and 35 euros for the day. Missed Katakolon Athens - we took the ship tour - the Acropolis and the Plaka Sampler. Gave us time to visit the Acropolis and the Parthenon while doing some eating and shopping in the Plaka on our own. Also stopped at some other stops in Athens. WAs fine. I preferred our days in the small towns, but the excursion itself was fine. Myknonos - my favorite day. Was just wonderful. You can walk to town from the ship, and we walked along the beach to the windmills, saw the pelicans up close, took hundreds of photos, ate souvlaki at a small cafe (bought water to drink but did get a kick out of seeing that you could buy canabis tea), shopped in the small shops and visited a cafe to use the internet while sipping a Greek coffee. Saw sheep in the hills as we walked back to the ship. Had beautiful weather - not too hot- but very sunny. Perfect for pictures of what you imagine Greece to look like. Kusadasi - best port stop in my opinion. We negotiated with a cab driver to take four of us to Ephesus for $70 (US dollars). Ephesus is hard to describe. It is just awesome. Unbelievably awesome. Have many great photos to prove it. OUr cab driver gave us an English version of the tour guide to use as we walked around, and we do not feel that we missed anything by not having a personal guide. We walked at our pace, and saw what we wanted to see. Our cab driver was waiting for us when we got to the end and dropped us off in Kusadasi to shop. By the way, his driving was not for the faint of heart. He did not believe in stopping at red lights, although he did stop once for a green light. Then, we shopped at the stores in Kusadasi and had coffee at an internet cafe. Loved the fresh-squeezed pomagranite juice! Arny, our friend, brought us to the "Euro store" just like a US Dollar Store. So, no hard sell, everything was one euro. great for shopping for the Christmas stocking souveniers. Rhodes - this was a fabulous surprise. I had no idea how wonderful this town would be. We simply walked off the ship and began touring in the town. Hit the museum, the shops, the internet cafe, and then walked to the beach, so that we could say we put our feet in the Mediterranean. Loved simply walking around taking pictures. Santorini - we had to take the donkeys up the mountain! What a fun adventure. For 5 euros you got put on a donkey for the ride up, and were not sure how long it would take. Some of the donkeys walked up, some ran up, and some simply stopped. One of the people in our group said that her donkey thought he was on a cruise ship, since he constantly stopped to eat along the way. At the top, took loads of pictures, shopped, and sat at a cafe for retsina and baklava. The water really is that blue, the sky really is that blue, and the houses really are that white. A picture-perfect sight. Princess did a fabulous job with the tendering process at this stop. For the trip back down, we took the cable car - not nearly as much fun as the donkeys and 4 euros for the cost. Many of the shops were closed as this was the end of the tourist season. There were two ships in town, but it did not seem crowded. Naples - we took the commuter train into Pompeii. There was a wonderful long explanation (complete with photos) that we had found on Cruise Critic and we had printed it out and brought it with us. It was very helpful in finding the train station. It was about a 25 minute walk from the ship and the train trip was about 30 minutes directly to Pompeii. We bought a tour guide book and found our way around to all the stops we wanted to see in Pompeii. Be sure to walk all the way to the back (stip #87 near the theater) to see all the casts behind glass. very moving. And, be sure to bring water. It was hot with very little shade, and I can't imagine how it must be in the summer, since the temperature was only about 78 degrees. Then we took the train back to Naples and stopped at a restaurant on a side street for pizza and parmagiana. Delicious. Civatevecchia - we did not do any days in Rome. We got the Princess shuttle early in the morning to the airport and got home 22 hours of travel later. In general, this ship was beautiful. The crew was friendly. The entertainment was varied and wonderful. The ports were unbelievably beautiful. The new friends I made will be friends for life. All in all, the trip of a lifetime. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
Our Best Cruise so far, 4th with Princess.Two couples, mid-fifties, celebrating our 30th wedding anniversaries, and friend Paula's birthday. Grand Princess clean, staff great, can see signs of ship's age.Prefer Princess over ... Read More
Our Best Cruise so far, 4th with Princess.Two couples, mid-fifties, celebrating our 30th wedding anniversaries, and friend Paula's birthday. Grand Princess clean, staff great, can see signs of ship's age.Prefer Princess over other lines for demographics, service, value.Cabin steward, Tsvetomir was great, as was waitstaff Victoria and Benny in Da Vinci anytime dining. Wish Princess would standardize anytime dining reservation rules, seems to vary ship to ship.This review is more about the ports and experiences than the ship. Best advice I can give: go on the roll call for your ship and cruise date, share tours with others. Not only will you get better tours but you'll meet some wonderful like-minded travelers. Day 1-Shared ride from Rome to Civitavecchia with fellow roll call members, Stefano from Romecabs was prompt, courteous and graciously stopped at a store so we could stock up on wine.Ride was 70 euros per couple, 3 couples.Could have taken train, but we were glad not to haul our luggage around after doing so for the previous week from Florence to Rome. After muster drill had one of two roll call parties,someone counted over 70 people. What a great group, made many new friends, hope to cruise again with some.Shared private tours or did our own at all of the ports. More personalized, smaller groups and great savings. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
Our arrival into Rome was flawless and our B&B had arranged transportation from the airport. As we exited the baggage area the driver was there waiting and our trip was uneventful except for the Rome traffic. The B&B we chose was ... Read More
Our arrival into Rome was flawless and our B&B had arranged transportation from the airport. As we exited the baggage area the driver was there waiting and our trip was uneventful except for the Rome traffic. The B&B we chose was located close to the Vatican and our hostess met us at the door and helped us get settled. Our accommodations were excellent but small. Breakfast was served daily in our room and consisted of sweet rolls and yogurt. There was free Wi-Fi which was a terrific bonus in staying in touch with those back home. Our travel agent did a great job with all the arrangements. Embarkation was flawless, we arrived at the ship around 2pm and were in our cabin 45 minutes later. The cabin was clean and our luggage arrived within an hour. No complaints at this point! The lifeboat drill was the easiest I have ever experienced so no complaints here. The Grand Princess is old and is showing her age in lots of ways. The venues for entertainment were dated and the public areas were small. I understand what happens with age though so I am willing to be a little forgiving in this area. Crew. This was the first ship I've ever been on where the crew went through the buffet line with the passengers and sat in the passenger areas to eat. There were several times I saw crew members sitting in a bar, smoking a cigarette and drinking a drink. I knew they were crew members because they were wearing uniforms and or name tags. There was no professionalism! We were in one of the theaters waiting for a show to begin and a waiter approached the passengers in front of us. He was wearing jeans, a casual shirt and a name tag. I would have been a little hesitant to give him my cruise card to order a drink. The cruise director and staff were less than friendly and it seemed that anytime you were participating in an activity you were imposing on them. They were also quite sarcastic and offensive at times. The staff in the Horizon Court were acceptable but there were many times that you couldn't get anyone to stop and help you. They would walk by with eyes downcast to avoid making eye contact. Our waiter and his assistant in the dining room were acceptable but didn't make you feel special as I am used to. Food. The food choices at Horizon court never did improve. I can't really complain about the quality here, but I will say it was nothing special. The choices for free drinks were tea, coffee and water. We did ask about lemonade after the second day and found out that they have it but you have to find a server in the dining area to go get it for you. I asked once and watched the server go pour a glass of water and squeeze lemon slices into it. Needless to say this wasn't lemonade and I could have done this myself. The food in the dining room was just OK, nothing remarkable. I will recommend the pub lunch in The Painted Desert, one of the specialty restaurants. The lunch doesn't require a cover fee and the food was consistently good. The service here was the best we had experienced the entire cruise. Entertainment. The guest entertainers were good and the ships entertainers were also very good. The production shows were flawless but the venues need updating. No complaints here. Ports. We chose this cruise based on itinerary and we had no complaints here at all. I wish we had more time in each port but then we wouldn't have been able to visit as many great places. Tours/excursions. Because these ports were all unfamiliar we decided to book excursion through Princess. As always they were quite expensive but we were assured we would make it back to the ship in time for departure. The day we visited Istanbul the Eurasian marathon was being held and streets were closed to traffic. This resulted in much more walking than originally anticipated but we were notified ahead of time and the day was still great. We had wonderful guides on all of our excursions as well. Disembarkation. No problems and baggage was just where it was supposed to be. I wish I had more good things to say but overall I was disappointed. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
October 13, 2009 Egypt and Aegean aboard the Princess Grand. The basics: This is our 4th cruise and second aboard the Grand. We booked a Mini on Dolphin deck 9 forward. Room steward Raymond. The verandah is totally uncovered on this ... Read More
October 13, 2009 Egypt and Aegean aboard the Princess Grand. The basics: This is our 4th cruise and second aboard the Grand. We booked a Mini on Dolphin deck 9 forward. Room steward Raymond. The verandah is totally uncovered on this deck and has four chairs. There is a laundry up one deck on 10. A Princess cruise and there was 2 formal nights. The first sea day was day two, formal. The Next to the last sea day was formal also. No lobster till the last sea day, they also had lamb chops. This was a "celebrity cruise" which means they had 5 artists onboard that did painting demos. I went to see most of them and learned a few things which I found interesting. TIP: bring quarters for laundry, changers were out of order. Bring those Purex three in ones, run some water first then the Purex then add clothes. We did laundry twice. The ship offered digital photo prints for 15 cents on one day so think about it. 62 pics for $10. We left on Sunday to meet relatives in Rome and a quick visit to the Vatican. Flew AA business class, which was wonderful. We used some miles and some dollars. The food was great on board and they had to wake us up when we started to arrive. We were a party of three and I had arranged a private car from romancc dot com. Rates are posted on the website. We stayed at the Hotel Canada (200 euro) which was well rated on Tripadvisor. It's a few blocks from the train terminal and was a nice place. I would say it's not wheelchair friendly. Elevator is very small. There is no dinner served in hotel but they have a breakfast buffet that was included. Lots of stuff to eat. They also have a bar that's open about 4 pm. (You want ICE??) Free internet in the lobby. Had dinner at a local place. We arrived at hotel about noon, then went to the termini and caught the #40 bus to the Vatican 1 Euro each way, but your tickets at the news stand in the terminal. Wanted to see St. Peters again and went down to the catacombs. The line for the cupola was a monster and you only see part of it from the square. No line for the catacombs. No charge for either. Boy was the place full and in October no less. We walked around then outside and it started to rain. Umbrellas were about 5 Euros but we hesitated and wound up buying one anyway a few days later. We also went to see St. Maria Maggoire. Just the first of many churches. Rome has a lot of graffiti and it appears they just leave it. Off to dinner and bed. Next day walk around the area in Rome maybe another church or two and then back to the hotel to catch our ride to the port. Same driver as before picked us up and we had met another couple on Cruise Critic Roll Call that was headed our way so we had a total of 5 in the van. I arranged our meeting. They charged 10 extra for a second pickup but it really saved us money on the fare. About a 2 hour ride from the port to Rome or from the airport to Rome. We got on board about 3 PM, there was still a lot of people checking in but our rooms were ready. We don't go to the Princess Theater the first night after many times sitting through the "where are you from" fluff and "How many cruises" "any anniversarys" . Blah Blah Blah. We called and booked the steakhouse $20 for our anniversary and also the Chef's Table. They can't figure out what to call the steakhouse. The menu says Sterlings and they call it the Painted Desert. We've done the chef's Table before for the $75 fee and wanted to do it again. You have a great dinner, meet some nice people and get a picture and a cook book. Call DINER on your cabin phone. They had three Chef's tables this cruise and 15 people on a waiting list. It takes three hours, 7:30 to 10:30 . I suggested it to a couple from England who were concerned that she didn't drink and they went and enjoyed it from her after dinner review. I checked with her. Next day Naples. We did Italy a few years back so we opted out of the bus ride to Pompii and instead went to the National Archeological Museum in Naples and to The chapel of Sansevero . If you've every watched Rick Steves in Naples, you've seen the statues in the chapel which is where I wanted to go. You get off the ship and walk towards the town. There are cabs right there but they wanted 20 Euro to go to the museum. We walk up one block, crossed the street went one more block to a cab stand and got a cab. He said it would be about 10 Euro and pointed to the meter. The legit drivers use meters. It was about 12 Euro so we gave him 15. The Museum has a bunch of the items that were removed from Pompeii so there was plenty to see. They also have a secret room on the mezzanine level that has some of the erotic stuff not everybody wants to see. Look for the steel gates to the room and the end of the hall to your left. Also a lot of graffiti on everything. We left the museum and I had a map so we figured we'd walk to the chapel. Bad idea, we got lost. We wound up walking around some areas that I wouldn't send anybody to on purpose, but got lucky and nothing happened. Turned out OK and we finally found it. It is really hidden away in a back alley. Get a cab. The place was more than I expected. It was small but the statues were amazing. I think it was 6 euro to get in and I bought the book for the pictures. After looking at a bunch of statues from ruins with arms and noses missing it was great to see some masterpieces unmarked. Next went to the Galleria which was pretty much nothing with repairs going on then back to the ship. Saw the comedy show with Jon Courtenay which I liked. That was the only show we saw. Next night formal, rented a tux, dinner at the steakhouse. Sea day. I don't like monkey suits, that's the last time for me and I would say that more than 60% didn't do the tux thing. It worked out OK because a glass of red wine wound up all over the front of me. I may still get a bill for that shirt. Good thing there were two shirts. By the way the pants were too long and the room steward got me a replacement right away. His name was Raymond and he was great. We had the pork chop which was overcooked with a demi glaze. Kinda just OK. Should have had a Filet. Friday Athens. On Cruise Critic Roll Call we hooked up with a TA who arranged our tours. Now starts the early wake up calls. Up at 5:45 room service at 6 meet at 6:45. Warm and rainy. This is when we bought the umbrellas. We drove around the city, stopped at the tomb of the unknown soldier where they did a mini changing of the guard because it was starting to rain. Saw some more ruins then off to the Acropolis museum where we got a guided tour. They had parts of the building there and you get an explanation of what you're looking at. The big difference between a Princess tour and a private tour is that Princess gets 48 people on a bus and you get a little headset for your tour where a private tour is 20 people and the tour is the old fashioned type. Then on to the climb up to the Acropolis. This is when it got scary. The rain progressed to thunder and a downpour. We were soaked up to the knees and lightning cracking around us. I decided not to walk up a slope to the Acropolis and the people that did said that their hair was standing up from the static. You coulda got hit by lightning. Back to the ship and on to Kusadasi/Ephesus. Another 7 am tour. Now we're in Turkey. Bus to the ruins and a walking tour of what was a big city. Lots to see here and we opted to do the terrace houses which was extra but also was amazing to see. Lots of stairs but we looked down into the houses with their mosaic floors and rooms as we went through the excavation. It's a covered section which is on a hillside kinda like a condo setup. There is ongoing restoration as they piece the houses back together. Interesting. We saw the terraces instead of Mary's house. Good choice. Istanbul: Pulled into port as the sun was rising and saw the illuminated mosque from our deck. Yes we were up agin early. This time we had a 8:30 meet so we had time to grab a bite for a change. This was Meander Travel and was $61 pp US with lunch. All day tour. We saw the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and Harem drove by the Hippodrome cause it was raining. Had lunch in a Turkish restaurant. This is when the chicken or beef on a skewer started which is what we had on land for meals here and Egypt. A lot of cobblestone streets and tough terrain to navigate on this tour. The Hagia Sophia is a church I think. Saw that . Blue mosque was beautiful, palace and Harem also a beautiful place with grounds. Got to see the jewels on display, a big diamond and other stuff. Went to see the Carpet factory got the presentation there and one of us actually bought a 10 by 12 rug for $2400. Hand made, double knotted and natural dyes. If you've ever considered a rug you should come prepared. They ship it of course. They were having a marathon on this Sunday so a lot of the streets were closed. That was a mess getting around. Back to the ship with a stop to look at the local stores near the pier. Finally the rain stopped as we left for Mykonos Greece. Now it's Monday and we don't dock till NOON. You know what that means, SLEEP IN. We get off the boat and there's a shuttle to town or you can walk. We've been walking enough so it's the shuttle bus which drops you at the edge of town. We didn't take any tours here cause it's just a little sea side resort type place. Walked around and saw the sights then stopped in a few shops and had a salad in a restaurant on the beach which was one of the things on my to do list for this trip. All the buildings are white with blue trim which makes me think that the paint department must be small in town with only white or blue to pick from. LOL. Nice sunny day not too hot, hang out for a few hours and back to the boat. Next day sea day. Tuesday Oct 20 sea day and Chef's Table day. Meet at the bar at 7:30, put on a lab coat, go into the kitchen for Hor's d'oeuvres and champagne plus a little small talk. Then out to the dinning room for dinner with wine pairings. Risotto was to die for, guy next to me had seconds. The whole thing took till 10:30. We got pictures and signed cook books. Next day Egypt. Up before the crack of dawn as we pull into Port Said. I look out the door and see a tanker going by. Figure out that we are at the very entrance to the Suez Canal. Off the boat by 7 AM in the bus. All busses leave at the same time and are escorted by the police in a convoy. As we went flying through town they had streets blocked off to let the busses pass. That went on for a good hour and even out of town. It's three hours to Cairo and not much to see. When we get into Cairo we head straight to the Museum of Antiquities to see all the stuff from the tombs including the Tut golden mask and jewelry. All the stuff buried with Tut was there. A very, very interesting place. We had a guide for the whole two days plus we were on two busses that were half full. After that lunch on a Nile barge restaurant (more chicken) that doesn't move. Then to the "Conrad Cairo" to check in. Beautiful hotel great room. We are to meet at 5 PM for our Nile Dinner (optional $45 ). I have a drink in the Hotel for a mere $15 for a shot of Vodka (You want ICE??). Then it's off to the dinner. We get more chicken and a show with two singers to start, then a whirling dervish dancer that did some amazing things for about a half hour. Then a belly dancer, then we're done at 7:30 so it's off to the light show. Yes, the boat did go up and down the river for a short trip. It was a good show. Do the late dinner and skip the light show if you have to make a choice. The light show is done in a rotating schedule of languages so we were unlucky enough to get ours in German which means we get to use headsets and a translator device that says it all in English while the speakers blast away in German. Not a great sounding thing and I could have skipped the show after the first 10 minutes of lights on the pyramids. Then they go into the history of Egypt which we just heard from our guide. Then some story to fill up the 45 minutes. Then back to the hotel with another, you guessed it, 6:45 AM departure. I was in bed by 10:30, at breakfast by 6 AM and packed and ready by 6:45.AM. This is starting to sound like boot camp. Off to the pyramids to arrive by 8 AM. These trips are all designed to beat the heat of the day and it wasn't very hot anyway. The people that went into the pyramid (optional) said it was hot and stuffy and they would have skipped it. I don't like small spaces so it was an easy no vote for me. We went to see another crypt that was very interesting and had hieroglyphs on the walls and was built for a Prime Ministers family. We stopped at the Sphinx also. All done about 1 PM then off to lunch at the Caviar restaurant that did have an interesting looking fish choice. I had my usual chicken and a beer which was a big can 500 mil for $5 US. In Egypt they take dollars and euro's except at some places in the museum where they wanted Egyptian Lira only. All very interesting sights to see. Back in the bus and off to a store that had jewelry and papyrus products. We skipped the picture of Elvis on black papyrus and opted to get a little bag full of trinkets to take home. About 3PM back on the bus headed to the ship. Another three hours through Alexandria. This time no escort and the road is a well traveled major route. Had time and room to stretch out and take a nap. Made it to the boat by 6 PM. Alexandria is a lot nicer place than Cairo. I wouldn't want to spend another day in Cairo. It's a pit. The traffic in Cairo makes Italy look like amateur night. There are no stop lights, no rules and cops directing traffic at major intersections. Our driver did some stunts that I couldn't believe and I think he only used the brakes twice in the two days he drove. Not really. The peddlers in Egypt were selling Sheik scarfs with elastic bands for $1. A group from the ship bought a dozen and wore them to dinner that night. They had their waiters wearing them. Cute. We bought some stuff from the peddlers for $1. We also got some cartouches from our guide for half of what the ship wanted. Our entire Egypt overnighter was $295 PP plus the $45 for dinner plus whatever tips and drinks we ordered. We used Nile Blue Tours. The ship wanted $799 for the same thing. We saved enough to pay most of our on board bill. Two sea days to relax, then back to Rome. We had planned a day trip to Orvieto and an overnight at Hilton Garden Inn. Orvieto was a fantastic trip. Two hour ride there and back for about 60 Euro each. The town is on top of a hill and overlooks most of the Umbria countryside. Cobblestone streets, quaint shops, scenery to die for and some great restaurants. Had a great day and would do it again in a heartbeat. About 60 others had the same hotel stay plan as us with a morning flight out the next day. There is a shuttle every half hour but with 50 people waiting for the 7 Am bus they brought out a full size bus plus a van. They were late making the run and we didn't board the 7:30 run till 5 to 8 before we took off. It's a half hour to the American terminal and we had a 9:30 flight. We got to the gate about 8:45 and boarding started at 9. There were some cabs near the hotel and the ride would have been 15 euro. The shuttle was free. The drinks were still overpriced at $10 US for a beer. There is nothing around so you have to eat there. All in all it was a great trip with three continents visited, great places to visit and a lot of fun with our CC friends. Princess coffee is getting better and I can say I enjoyed the food. The Matra'd brought us out some Prochutta and other special appetizers. Felix Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
This review covers 4 b2b cruises on the Grand - including a 14 day Southampton to Rome, a 12 day Rome to Venice, a 12 day Venice to Rome, and lastly a 12 day Rome to Rome that included Egypt and Istanbul. In all we spent 50 consecutive ... Read More
This review covers 4 b2b cruises on the Grand - including a 14 day Southampton to Rome, a 12 day Rome to Venice, a 12 day Venice to Rome, and lastly a 12 day Rome to Rome that included Egypt and Istanbul. In all we spent 50 consecutive days on the Grand, in the same cabin. It was indeed a trip of a lifetime. We both fully retired the end of August so it was our version of a world cruise to celebrate. If I were to try and provide the details this review might not ever get finished so I'll just give some highlights and impressions. We booked Princess Air to fly from Grand Rapids MI to London, and we are very thankful we did! While we typically do our own transportation arrangements when we embark/disembark at the same port, we use Princess Air for trips that start and end different places. Our first surprise for this trip was having our Northwest flight canceled because of a mechanical as we waited to board at the gate. Total chaos ensued as people retrieved luggage and lined up for alternative arrangements. In a panic myself I called my TA who called Princess and when we got to the gate agent all was arranged. We also learned that the Grand would be late into Southampton because of weather coming from Oslo so our unexpected delay would not be a problem. When we got to Heathrow we were told to go to a meeting room at the Airport Hilton where we spent a few hours before the buses loaded to go to the port. It wasn't the way we thought we would spend our first hours in London but much better than if we were traveling on our own arrangements! Thanks Princess... The Grand is one of our favorite ships - not too small and not too large. We never had a problem getting a seat in the Princess Theatre and enjoyed the Vista Lounge for other performances. We had seen the production shows many times before as they don't change for years, but it is still interesting to see different casts perform. The other entertainers were mostly from the UK - some were fantastic but one of the comics should have retired years ago. But then after seeing one performance you know who you would like to see again! We like the idea of repeating shows to give everyone a chance to see them - too often on the Emerald class ships we found it impossible to get a seat. One of the new surprises for us was the Elite/Suites lounge in Skywalkers (we are Elites with Princess) that was open from 5-7 every evening except for the Captain's Circle Party night. There was a nice spread and a feature item that changed every evening as well as a special cocktail of the day at a discount. We met many new friends there over the 50 days. We chose this itinerary because we would see a variety of ports and even have the chance to see some multiple times - very important with some of the Greek Isles where weather might force missing a port. However our weather was almost perfect for the entire cruise and we made every port. We saw things firsthand we had learned about in school, and because we had repeat stops were able to take multiple tours - for example with three stops at Naples we did the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Herculaneum and Capri. We did mostly ship tours and were not disappointed. Some like to do their own thing and find tours for less but through the years we have learned the ship tours are the best alternative for us when the port is new to us. The crew was wonderful - for the most part. Of course you can always find one or two crew members on any ship who didn't smile at the right time or didn't do something "just right" or you personally did not like them because of your own likes and dislikes - but the vast majority on the Grand were friendly and capable and professional. We established almost as many friendships with crew as we did with passengers! We also gained a new appreciation for all they go through and how well they do their jobs. I spent most of my working career as an auditor so am quick to assess and criticize and recommend. I don't know if it was because of something I said but many of the simple things I recommended even in casual conversation with crew were implemented during our cruise! In the past we did anytime dining but always made reservations because we had experienced long waits on one cruise in order to get a table for two. In time we would find a table and waiters we really liked and would ask for that table for the rest of the cruise. On some ships that was not a problem while others would not take reservations for a specific table - not even just on a request basis. For this cruise we decided to just go to the dining room when the time was right unless we were dining with others we had met and needed a reservation at a specific time. We only had to wait on one night, and we had the chance to meet many different waiters and experience different dining rooms. We'll probably take that approach on our next cruises. Food on the Grand was very good and presentation was excellent. Our only disappointment was Sabatinnis which we didn't think was as special as advertised. The Horizon Court was as usual - great variety and good for buffet food, and wonderful when you want to stay in shorts and t-shirt. We hadn't recognized it when we booked but two of the cruises were Connoisseur Cruises with famous artists onboard. We enjoyed the live performances and the ability to meet and interact with artists such as Sharie Hatchett Bohlmann, Michael Goddard, Bill Mack, Eric Waugh, Alvaro Peppoloni and Nicola Beradino. We even made a few small purchases at the art auctions. A very nice touch was receiving an autographed picture of us with our new painting and the artist who painted it! As you no doubt have guessed we are Princess fans. We fully understand that nothing is perfect and things can go wrong - and they do. But on this trip we witnessed numerous times when passengers would blame Princess for problems that the passengers caused themselves, or jump to conclusions without fully understanding the situation. There were a number of time changes during our cruise and invariably on the morning of a time change there would be people waiting for tours complaining that their tour had not been called and how inept the Princess tour people were. When we pointed out to them that they probably had not changed their watches and were an hour early they mumbled something about how Princess should have told them. The reality was that 2500 plus other passengers had known enough to change their watches but these two apparently weren't in touch with reality. Or the guy who was complaining about drink waiters in the theatre dressed in jeans - apparently he hadn't read about the Western party that was scheduled next. Too bad people just can't let themselves enjoy the cruise... Our 50 days passed very quickly and we highly recommend the Grand and those itineraries. We might even do it again in the future! And as Captain Nick Carlton would say - "Happy Cruising." Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
I will begin with a warning: I am very detail oriented, and so is this review. If you are looking for a quick glance, keep looking. This review is LONG, really LONG. I have dreamed of visiting Greece and Italy for as long as I can ... Read More
I will begin with a warning: I am very detail oriented, and so is this review. If you are looking for a quick glance, keep looking. This review is LONG, really LONG. I have dreamed of visiting Greece and Italy for as long as I can remember. This year, my husband gave me this trip as a very special birthday present. Unfortunately, as we booked the trip, a work conflict prevented his accompanying me. So, our "Romantic Mediterranean Getaway" became "Judy and Stacy's Excellent European Adventure", as a friend decided to join me instead, and a girl's trip was born. The "Adventure" began for me on October 26th with my departure from the Nashville airport. I flew from Nashville to La Guardia airports, took New York Airport Service's bus ($13) from La Guardia to JFK, and then from JFK to Milan, arriving early on the 27th. Following information I received on the Cruise Critic Message Boards, I disembarked the plane, proceeded to baggage claim (even though I traveled with only carry-on luggage), and then followed the "Treni" signs to the Malpensa Express (11€if you have correct change you can use the machine for tickets and save time—be sure to validate the ticket in the yellow machine PRIOR to boarding). The Malpensa Express takes you to the Cadorna station, which is also a major Metro stop. I took the Metro Red Line three stops to the Duomo, then I changed lines and took the Yellow Line 4 stops to the Centrale station, a major stop on the Metro AND the main Train Station. Since I would be taking the Eurostar Italia train from Milan to Venice at 1pm, I went to the train station first to drop off my luggage in baggage storage. Once I had lightened my load, I got back on the Metro and took the Yellow line back 4 stops to the Duomo. The Milan Duomo is surrounded by the Piazza del Duomo. The Duomo is free to enter, and is not to be missed, it is filled with beautiful art and stained glass. (A website on the Duomo with photos: http://milan.arounder.com/milans_duomo_cathedral/ ). Also in the Piazza is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a shopping arcade built in 1864. This building is far, far to beautiful to be a shopping mall, but a shopping mall it is. This arcade houses many top of the line shops, like Prada. I spent a couple of hours exploring the Duomo and the Galleria, as well as having a cappuccino, before heading back to the Metro. Once back at the Centrale station I collected my luggage (not cheap 3, 80€, a bag for up to 5 hours), got a sandwich and Coca-Cola Light (Diet Coke) and boarded my train for Venice. The Eurostar Italia is a clean comfortable train. It takes 2 ½ hours to go from Milano Centrale to Venezia Santa Lucia. I booked a first class seat using ItaliaRail.com two weeks prior to leaving the US. Tickets were sent to me via Federal Express and I was able to call a US number with any questions. Having concrete plans made going solo from Milan to Venice less daunting. The train pulled into the Santa Lucia Station which is on the island. It is a very short walk (grab a luggage cart they are scattered all over the train station) from the station to the water bus stop. I bought a 72 hour vaporetto pass and waited for the next vaporetto to San Marco. Look at how much water travel you really plan on doing before buying the pass...I took ONE ride in my three days. The 6€ for one ride would have been all I needed, but I bought the 31€ because I thought I would "save" money. Also, the ticket counter only took cash, be sure to plan ahead for this expense. The vaporetto ride was beautiful. I managed to take the "long" route to San Marco, but I am so glad I did since I got a great overview of the Grand Canal. When we pulled into the platform, it was a short walk to the Piazza San Marco. I wasn't really sure how to get to there but I just followed the crowd. I took a moment just to stand open mouthed in awe, before I was able to look at the directions the hotel sent me. Based on recommendations from Cruise Critic Message Boards and Trip Advisor, I chose the Locanda Orseolo for our hotel. From Piazza San Marco, it was about a 2-3 minute walk to the hotel. This property received rave reviews, mostly for its outstanding service. This proved correct during our stay. I was greeted promptly and warming upon arrival, and shown to my room on the 3rd floor. There is NO elevator in this inn and if stairs are a problem consider asking for a lower floor (although ALL rooms require at least some stairs). Our room (#36) was large by European standards and immaculately clean (though the shower curtain could use replacing). It had a desk and chair, a king bed (the next night it was split into two twin beds), two side tables, a mini bar, a flat screen tv and a side chair. The bathroom had a toilet, bidet, sink and shower/bath combination. There was a mural painted on the wall of Venetian Comedia dell'arte character Balazone. (There are a number of photos on tripadvisor.com of the Locanda Orseolo and its rooms). In all, the inn and our room were delightful and our hosts were wonderful. We were greeted warmly and enthusiastically each and every time we saw them and they strove to make sure they helped us in any way they could, whether it was carrying our luggage, making dinner recommendations or reservations, giving directions or making us drinks. Breakfast was a bountiful spread with a buffet of European items like cured meats, cheeses, rolls, pastries and fruit, as well as juices. Barbara would bring you a choice of beverage, like cappuccino or espresso and ask if you cared for eggs, pancakes or crepe. Take my advice, get a crepe. The chocolate crepes looked amazing, but I could not resist the lemon crepes and had one two of the three mornings. After arriving at the Locanda Orseolo, I got cleaned up and unpacked a little. Soon it was time to get some dinner. The hotel recommended Antico Dolo, which was just past the Rialto Bridge. I will admit it, I got lost finding the restaurant and wandered for 10-15 minutes before finding it. The restaurant was small but charming. I was not hungry enough for a big Italian dinner, so I tried to order just pasta. Unfortunately, between my Italian and the waitress's English, I could not convey this. I ended up with a pasta dish (scallops and mushrooms with wide pasta noodles) and a sautEed John Dory with Radicchio. Both were delicious. However, with a ½ carafe of wine (I could not get her to understand that I only wanted 1 glass), mineral water (the BIG bottle), pasta and fish, I was VERY full and dinner was quite expensive (58€ for one). I got lost on the way back too. This time I was lost for about 30 minutes. The "streets" are not brightly lit, and I was very tired, so I was not at my best navigationally. Once I found San Marco, it was a breeze. I slept VERY soundly, the bed was very comfortable, though the pillows were flatter than I am used to using (luckily there were extra pillows in the closet). The next day, my friend Stacy arrived. We planned to meet in San Marco Square in front of Cafe Florian. It should have been easy, but some things conspired against us. The square flooded overnight so walking around was challenging, in addition, there were 1000 or more people in the square protesting for school reform. Luckily, Stacy found me quickly and we hiked up our pants and waded back to the hotel to drop off her luggage and let her get freshened up. We spent our day at the Basilica and wandering around the shops. The Basilica is free of charge to enter, but the museum/gallery charged 4€ to enter, and downstairs there is a 2€ charge to see the golden screen, both are worth the fee. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant off the Piazza and had pizza. I had a pizza Marguarita and Stacy had a ham pizza. Both were really delicious. For dinner, we asked the hotel for a recommendation on a restaurant where we could just have pasta or soup, not 3 courses. The recommended a great little trattoria called Amina Bella. We had a small salad and risotto for me and soup for Stacy. Just right. We found our way back easily and packed up since the next day was cruise ship day!!! In the morning we found out that the water was high again so our water taxi would not be able to come to the water door until later than our 10am reservation. Gigi rescheduled it for 3 p.m. At first I was disappointed because I wanted to get our luggage to the ship and come back and then explore the city some more. Instead, the inn held our luggage and we went out for a gondola ride. Stacy and I wanted to find others to share the gondola (and the expense) and luckily we found a young couple with their daughter who wanted the same thing. We were able to get one for 80E for all of us, and off we went. If my husband had been with me, I would have wanted it to be just the two of us, but in this case it was perfect. Our gondolier was not the most outgoing, in fact he talked on his cell phone for part of our ride, but it was THE iconic Venetian experience, and now we had done it. During our ride it started to sprinkle, but luckily never really rained. As soon as we finished it started to rain in earnest, so we popped the umbrellas and did our last minute souvenir shopping, grabbed a last slice of pizza and a gelato, and scrambled back to the Locanda for our ride. It was so fun to leave the Locanda from water door. The water door is a small short "door" in the breakfast room wall. In order to get to the water taxi you duck through the door and into the boat. Only in Venice. Our water taxi was a vintage Chris Craft. Very cool. The six of us sat in the cabin and our luggage sat in the rain. We were all worried about that, but in the end nothing got too wet. In no time we arrived at the Grand Princess and the embarkation process. As always, Princess knows embarkation. Granted we arrived well after the early crowd, but still, the entire process took about 10 minutes or less to get through and then we were in our mini-suite. I have traveled in a mini-suite on Princess all but once. I usually travel with my daughter and husband and we like the extra space it provides us. For this trip, traveling with a friend for 12 days, I knew the extra space would help us stay friends. It also allowed us to enjoy the amazing views as we sailed in and out of each port. This time we were pretty far aft (D721) and we definitely felt the vibrations of the thrusters as we docked. I was very worried the first morning, but we got used to it quickly and it did not happen often. The Grand Princess: The Grand is now 10 years old. In many places she is showing her age. I noticed spots of rust here and there and many of the soft goods (upholstery, carpets, etc.) had wear and soiling. Our cabin's soft goods, especially the sofa, could use a good cleaning. Of course, 10 years mostly in the Caribbean wear passengers are coated in sunscreen is hard on upholstery. Our balcony had some significant rust and our bathtub had some fairly deep gouges in the bottom. On the upside, the bathroom was extremely clean and with the exception of the gouges did not show its age. The walls and furniture were in good shape, with minimal dings and scratches. The new bedding was clean and comfortable. Love the duvets. We had egg crates on our beds, so I cannot accurately judge the hardness of the new mattresses, but WITH the egg crates we found the beds very comfortable. The common rooms looked well cared for, as did the pool areas. In all, she is still a beautiful ship, and since she will go into dry dock next month, I am sure she will be restored to her former grandeur (every pun intended). To clarify, we saw NO shows. So we cannot speak to their quality personally. We heard very good things about the pianist in the lounge. He was a French gentlemen ( I think) who played, sang and amused the audience. The comic juggler was supposed to be excellent as well. Many of our shipmates thought the production shows were excellent. Back to the trip, since it was now raining fairly heavily and almost 5pm, we decided NOT to go back into Venice. Instead, we unpacked and got ready for dinner. We dined in the specialty restaurant, The Painted Desert. We had the sweetest waitress, Elena, who gave us excellent service. Our dinner was delicious. We both started with the scallops and foie gras appetizer, I don't normally like foie gras, but this appetizer changed my mind. Outstanding. I had the Black and Blue Onion Soup and my friend, Stacy, had the Shrimp and Pancetta Bisque. I loved my soup, Stacy was less enthusiastic about hers. For entrees, I had the Ribeye and Stacy had the Filet, both were cooked properly and very tender. For sides we shared asparagus, creamed spinach and sautEed mushrooms. I skipped dessert (after all I ate half a cow) and Stacy had the Seven Layer S'mores Stack. I think she was too full to really enjoy it and only ate half. It was a very satisfying meal, with excellent service. What a way to start a cruise. Sea Day: The next morning was sail away. Stacy slept in and I went up to see Venice one last time. It was a brisk, breezy morning, but the sky was clear as we sailed off to Andrea Bocelli. Simply breathtaking. Stacy and I spent the rest of the day doing a little laundry and a lot of relaxing. We read, wrote in our journals and watched movies....oh yeah and napped. Stacy enjoyed the napping so much she missed dinner, our first formal night. I dressed and went to dinner without her. We had anytime dining, so I simply went to one of the two Anytime dining rooms, Da Vinci, and asked to be seated. They asked (as they did every night) if I minded sitting with others. When I said I did not mind, I was immediately escorted to a partially full table. Dinner was good, if not memorable. I had no meal in the main dining room that really wowed me, nor did I have a meal that I really did not like. Each dish was served hot and cooked to the proper temperature. I found the quality of the meals to be above average, better than banquet or wedding food, but not as good as my local fine dining restaurant. Of course, my local fine dining restaurants is not preparing food for 3000. After dinner, I went back to the room to find Stacy had woken up and had room service for dinner. We watched a movie on TV and went to bed early to prepare for Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik, Croatia: We ordered room service breakfast and watched sail in from our balcony. We did not have an organized tour for this port, so we did not hurry. We went down to get a tender around 9am. We were to tender into town and around noon the ship would move to a berth at the dock. The tender dropped us off about a 10 minute taxi ride from the city walls. The ship offered a shuttle to the city walls for 5€ per person each way. We found another couple from the ship that wanted to share a taxi for 10€ each way for all four of us. When we arrived all four of us went to the Franciscan Monastery to tour it and the apothecary, which is the third oldest European pharmacy (1317) and the only one still in operation. The Monastery was interesting but the pharmacy was, to be honest, a let down. There was not much to it. After the Monastery, we walked around town for awhile and then decided to "walk the walls". The view from the walls was breathtakingly beautiful, especially with the day's crystal clear blue skies. The day had warmed up quite a bit and after walking up and down and up and down, we were hot and hungry. We found a little restaurant on a side alley called Dominoes Steakhouse. Interestingly, the menu we got had NO steak on it whatsoever. They had lunch specials that included soup, salad and entrEe. Stacy had seafood pasta and I ordered fried calamari and fries. The waiter arrived with our soup in little pitchers which he poured into our bowls tableside. It was a chicken broth with vegetables and was VERY tasty...the highlight of the meal. The salad came at the same time as the entrEe and was very good with a tasty dressing. The fried calamari was tender and sweet. Stacy's enjoyed her pasta too. After lunch, we did some souvenir shopping and then looked for dessert. Our port lecturer, Rusty Wilson, held port lectures the day prior to each port, in his Dubrovnik talk he mentioned there were pastry shops all over Dubrovnik. Well we walked and walked and walked looking for a pastry shop. Just when we had about given up, we decided to look at the menu at a cafe along the main thoroughfare. Low and behold pastry. We both had the sour cherry strudel. Excellent, slightly sour filling and sweet crust, delicious. On a side note, the public restroom was the stand up variety, a metal plate with a place for your feet and a hole. When you flush, it rinses the plate, toilet paper goes in the waste basket. Very different, but quite an experience. Please note however, that both the restaurant and cafe we visited had regular toilets. Corfu: Again, we had no organized tour planned. This time we were docked. We got off the ship around 10 a.m. and walked through town. We found lots of souvenir shops, but little else, so we looked around for awhile and then returned to the ship. Katakolon: After a room service breakfast, we went into town. The town area is very small, but the shops were nice and we found a lot of items we had not seen before. Since it was about 11:00am we decided to see if we could take the train to Olympia, which is not something we had intended to do. After reviewing the schedule posted on the train station, it appeared the train takes about 1 hour to get to Olympia, which would get us there at noon. The return train options were at 12:30 and 1:40. The 1:40 train would not get us back until 2:40, only 20 minutes before sail away...too close, and the 12:30 would not give us anytime to see the sites. Stacy wanted to risk the 1:40 and I was about to agree when another couple asked if we were going to take the train. We both agreed it was risky and decided to ask the nearby taxis what they would charge to take us to Olympia and wait to return us to the ship. We got a driver to agree to 70€. We decided the extra money was worth it. Our driver got us there in about 30 minutes, and agreed to meet us in 2 ½ hours to take us back. We needed every minute. We spent about 2 hours wandering around the ruins, taking in the enormity of the place. It is hard to imagine how large and sophisticated the facilities were, and how incredibly huge the temples were. After wandering the ruins, we rushed to the museum to see the "treasures" removed from the site for their protection. From the outside, the museum looked tiny and unassuming. In reality, it was filled with amazing statues, pottery and glassware, much of it in near perfect condition. We did not have enough time to really give the museum the time it deserved, but we were very glad we visited. We got back to our taxi to find the other couple and the driver waiting for us. Our driver brought us back with plenty of time to get back to the ship at a relaxed pace. We got back early enough to put on the swimsuits and head up on deck. Pool drinks and MUTS (this is my first time with MUTS and I LOVED it) and we were relaxed and happy. One downside, the hot tubs at the MUTS pool were not working right, one was not hot but had working jets, the other was nice and hot but none of the jets worked. I got all wet for nothing. Oh well. We made it back to the room early enough to get ready for dinner and a movie in our room afterward. Athens: We docked in Piraeus, a short drive from Athens. We met David and Janis (also from Cruise Critic) for this tour at 7:45am. Janis arranged this trip for the four of us with Spiros from Athenstaxi.net. When we arrived outside the dock we were met by Fotis. He explained that Spiros was unable to meet us so he asked Fotis to look after us. We were led to a beautiful, new, clean, yellow Mercedes sedan. I sat in the front with Fotis and Janis, Stacy and David sat in back. As we drove into Athens, Fotis explained that there was going to be a planned transportation strike at noon, so we needed to do our city center tours first and then progress to the outskirts to avoid traffic jams. We thought this was great advice. Janis had hurt her ankle a few months prior to the trip, so Fotis brought us right to the main entrance of the Acropolis. Taxis are not usually allowed this far, but because Janis had her handicap sticker, we were allowed. Janis and David were also allowed to enter without charge and were escorted to an elevator to the top. (This sticker allowed her to enter most of the sights without charge, and allowed us to drive right to most entrances). Stacy and I walked to the top. It really was not too strenuous (Janice said that there were still a fair number of steps for her to climb even with the elevator). Like many of the sights on this trip, the ruins were awe inspiring. The detail, the scope, the size of each and every building is staggering. The doors on the Parthenon really are beyond giant sized... they are "god" sized, as if they truly expected the gods themselves to walk through them. The views from the Acropolis are magnificent. Athens is really a sprawling city and you get a 360° view. As you look down, it is so interesting to see ancient ruins sitting in the middle of a neighborhood. In every direction there was evidence of the ancient world. To follow up this incredible site, we went to the Acropolis Museum. There used to be a small museum on the top of the hill, but a few years ago the artifacts were brought down to the new building. The museum is newly opened but not yet complete, so we only saw part of what will be a large museum. As you enter the walkway has patched of glass so you can see the ancient ruins beneath the building site. Our driver told us that anytime you build anything in Athens you must make a choice. There are so many layers of civilization that you WILL find something when you dig a foundation, so you have to decide (or a government agency has to decide) if what is uncovered is significant enough to stop new construction. So the museum excavated what they could and built glass walkways to allow viewing of the ruins AND allow for construction of the museum above. The museum was filled with statues and vases from the Acropolis, but some of the items we thought we would see here were absent, such as Zeus (from the Temple of Zeus) and the Vestal Virgin Statues. Down the street, we walked to the Theatre of Dionysus. The theatre is HUGE and the front row seating is unique. First of all, the seats in the front row are engraved with name of the reserved patron. These seats are much more ornate than the other more stadium like seating (with the exception of THE seats for the ruler of the time...this seat was very ornate and elevated, right in front of it also elaborate was the seat of the Priest of Dionysus who officiated the event). Lastly, the seats had a small hole in the seat that went through to the front of the chair. We were told that since many of the plays of the times lasted all day (or longer) these holes we used for urinating during the play. After all, it was only men at these events. Whether this is myth or fact, I don't know, but it is an entertaining story. After exploring the theatre, we hurried to the Parliament building to witness the changing of the guard. I don't know if it was because it was a Monday or if it was due to the strike, but there was only a small crowd there, so we had a good view. Before the ceremony started we were able to get our picture taken with a guard. The ritual/ceremony involves the changing of the guards protecting the tomb of the unknown soldier; it lasted about 10 minutes and was very regimented. There was a soldier who was clearly in charge, he took care of crowd control and inspected the uniforms of the guards and made adjustments during the routine. The guards moved in precision steps that were very dance like, but performed at a slow motion pace. We really enjoyed getting to see this patriotic and symbolic ceremony. Now it was definitely lunch time. We were all hungry and we relished the chance to sit down for awhile. Fotis took us to a restaurant in a residential area. He told us it was where many local workers ate, so it would be authentic and affordable. I am never sure how "local" a guide recommended restaurant is, but we encountered very few English speaking patrons in this small restaurant. At this type of restaurant, you order by going to the counter to see what was made today and choosing from this "visual menu". Stacy and I chose Pasticcio, and I got us a small side order of veal meatballs in a lemon sauce. Both were really delicious. The lemon sauce on the meatballs was really wonderful. We all left incredibly full and our bill was 11€ each, which included our drinks and tip. After lunch we went to the National Archeological Museum and Lycabettus Hill. The Chapel of St. George sits on top of this "hill". It is quite a hike up this hill and while the view is breathtaking and the chapel lovely, I am not sure I appreciated it, since I was breathless. Lastly, Fotis took us to the Plaka. None of us really wanted to go at this point, but we were all afraid that if we did not we would find we missed the highlight of the trip. We wouldn't have. It was another narrow alley'd shopping area with cafes and restaurants and souvenirs abounding. We stayed only 20 minutes, found the car and headed back to the ship. By now, Fotis felt like family. He gave each of us a book on the Acropolis and a magnet of the Parthenon, and told us when we come back to visit him as friends. I think he meant it. Mykonos:From the minute we arrived I finally felt like I was in Greece. This was the Greece of movies, pictures and my vivid imagination. The weather was cooler than Athens (or any port so far) and there was a strong breeze all day. Our lofty goal for the day was to see the windmills. Of course our path was lined with shops, so it was a slow journey. After our warm days, Stacy was unprepared for this cool breeze, and sweater shopping topped the list. Luckily, they are plenty of options available. The shops line the narrow streets that wind through Mykonos town, and charming cafes line the waterfront. Most of the shop owners are willing to haggle somewhat on prices. Even if you are not interested in buying anything, it is interesting to wander the streets and enjoy the architecture unique to Greece. Beautiful whitewashed buildings with blue and red doors and shutters. Lovely little staircases lined with flowering plants leading from the street to apartments above. Streets flow into little squares centered by small churches. We happily wandered along the way in the direction of the windmills. At one point, we lost view of them and stopped for directions and a coke at a small grocery. I thought we followed her directions correctly, but when I looked for the windmills I realized they were behind us. We had gone too far. Fortunately, in order to get back to the windmills we walked along water's edge past a few lovely hotels. The windmills are very picturesque and very photo worthy, so I took about 50. Thank goodness for digital photography and large memory sticks. We found our way back to town very easily by walking through Little Venice. By now we were hungry and found a cafe to satisfy our appetites. I had a delicious Greek salad with a huge hunk of fresh Feta cheese. Stacy had a bruschetta type dish with a tapenade topping that was also very good. After lunch we shopped our way back to the dock and a relaxing afternoon on the ship. We had a nice relaxing dinner with two of the people I met on Cruise Critic that would be spending our Naples port day with. Ron and Gaye are from New Zealand and were wonderful dinner companions. Kusadasi: Janice and David from Cruise Critic planned our outing in Kusadasi (she also planned Athens above). This time we had Ray and Shannon (also on Cruise Critic) along. We met our guide and driver outside the custom building. We had a large van capable of seating 12, I think. So we were all very comfortable. Our guide, whose name I sadly never was able to understand, was VERY knowledge and proud of her country. We were to spend our morning in Ephesus, and return to the dock area for some time to browse the bazaar. However, the plans changed some. We did start by heading to Ephesus, which took about 30 minutes, I think. During our drive, our guide gave us a lot of information about Kusadasi, Ephesus and Turkish history (with a microphone so all could hear easily). When we arrived we walked through a small market place, and then into the archeological site. Our guide provided us our tickets inside the van, so we were able to walk right in. The site is enormous and parts are in extremely well preserved. We began at the ruin of the public baths. The engineering of this place was well ahead of its time. The baths had hot and cold running water, hot pools, cool plunge pools, steam and saunas, a gym and massage rooms. Locals returning home from traveling or visitors stopped here first to cleanse themselves from the dust and dirt of the road. Next to this is the parliament/senate building. Since the walls of the building are not up, the senate looks instead like a amphitheater. Seating exists for all the senators AND for spectators. Citizens were invited to watch the government at work. Further in we saw a temple to victory, with reliefs of conquering warriors and one of winged Nike with an olive wreath in hand. It is from THIS relief that the Nike shoe company took their swish logo. Our guide told us that in Ephesus citizens passed through many arches and gates when going from one area to another. Pedestals are all that remain of most of these gates, on these pedestals were engravings and reliefs marked what area you were entering. One gate we passed through was marked on one side with the symbol of Hippocrates, identifying a medical center. On the other side was the symbol for pharmacy. I never thought of there being a medical center and pharmacy where citizens would go, I guess I thought of medicine being more "house call" style and medicines being homeopathic. This public center really amazed me. Other shops and vendors had markings directly on the pathway, including a foot symbol leading the way to houses of ill repute. We passed one ruin of a shop with a wagon wheel symbol carved in the stone in front. The next gate we passed was Hercules' Gate, a tribute to the god. We had to stop and get Stacy's picture trying to push the gate's pillars apart...and blocking traffic. There are so many fascinating ruins, speaking individually about each would take pages and pages. Suffice it to say, this is a MUST see. Also, don't neglect to add the Terrace Houses. These ARE an additional charge to see, but so worth it. These houses were the residences of the wealthiest citizens of Ephesus, and the most recently excavated. The interior of these houses are very well preserved, you can see intact mosaic floors and walls covered with frescos. After exiting Ephesus' archeological site, we stopped at the restroom (keep in mind the restrooms are only at the entrance/exit) and went back through the market place. I picked up one of the highly touted overlay books. This made a great souvenir for my 9 year old daughter. All the posts I read said that they were 12€, but we found them to now include a DVD and were marked 16€, I think I paid 14 after some hard bargaining. Next we stopped at a carpet shop. We were asked if we wanted to do this, we decided it would be interesting to see. It was VERY interesting to see how they are made. However, the sales pitch afterwards, I could have done without. Stacy did buy a rug so I guess it is worth it. We had lunch here too. Lunch was very good, with appetizers of green beans, olives, bread, and eggplant and then a lunch of grilled chicken breast, keftas (a lamb or beef meatball/patty) rice pilaf and potatoes. We had tangerines for dessert, picked right from trees in the courtyard. Our next stop was the Virgin Mary's House, this required a 30 minute drive. We entered a wooded area, which was lovely and peaceful. There is a small house on this site that is reputed to have been the last home of the Virgin Mary. This has not been confirmed but has been considered a holy place in the area for many hundreds of years. There is a wall on the way out that is covered in paper. These pieces of papers have been left pushed into the wall by people leaving prayers and wishes for Mother Mary. Of course, it is rumored that many of the prayers have been answered. Our last stop was a leather shop. I think we hoped to find great deals on purses. We did get to feel some very soft leather, but there were NO bargains to be had. They claimed that the jackets and purses were made for famous design houses and some bore their names but none of us really believed that they were authorized designer bags, even if they did carry designer prices. We were then brought back to the dock. We had all thought this was to be a half day tour and that we would be back by 1 or 2 p.m. It was now 4:00pm and we needed to get back on the ship in 30 minutes. Stacy and I almost literally ran through the bazaar looking for a small Turkish flag for Stacy's son. We made it back in time, but just barely, flag in hand. Having had a tiring day, Stacy and I ate dinner in the Horizon Court. It was German night. Most of the food was not very appealing. I tried the roast pork, but it really tasted strange. I ended up eating a hot dog like sausage and fries. Neither of us really liked our dinner, but we were WAY too tired to sit through a 2 hour dinner. Again we went back to the room tucked into our jammies and watched the port lecture for the next day and then a movie. Rhodes: Since we had no tour to meet or transportation to worry about, we had a relaxed morning breakfast and then followed the port lecturer, Rusty Wilson's, advice and walked into old town. Rhodes is located near Turkey but is a Greek island. Rhodes' old town is more medieval than ancient or modern. Ramparts and towers surrounded the city and made it look like a fairy tale town. Inside, the medieval feel remains. Little shops carried wears similar to those available in Turkey, rugs, tapestries, linens and leather goods predominated. We found many beautiful items to tempt us, but first we wanted to find the Palace of the Grand Master. We came across a small fortress with a museum...this must be it we thought. Nope. It was an archeological museum, but not the Palace of the Grand Master. We went in anyway. This museum was 3€ to enter, quite a bargain. There was room after room of fascinating artifacts and statues. One room had the most amazing architecture, with arched ceilings and doorways. Very reminiscent of Hogwarts, for your Harry Potter fans. It was full of short doorways leading to very small rooms. There was no signage explaining the rooms (well at least not in English), so we were left to imagine. Were they the bedrooms of the knights? Their offices? Or their tombs? The room was filled with grave markers, so at first we thought they might be tombs. In the end, since they were all off a large room, we figured they were the knights quarters off the grand hall. Who knows if we are right? When we left this museum we continued down the cobbled streets where offices sit in what was a castle, and small courtyards full of flowers wait beyond gates. We found the Palace of the Grand Master and followed a large tour group inside. This museum was 6€ to enter and there were a good number of artifacts to see. We were both glad we went in, but both preferred the smaller, less expensive museum. We were pretty hungry when we left and headed back to town, we knew we were headed in the right direction, but we also knew we had walked further than we should have needed to. After making several turns, and walking down many deserted and obviously residential streets, some which looked deserted for the winter, we stopped for directions. Turns out we were one block off. One more right turn and we were in town. It just goes to show how quickly you can get "lost". Once in town, we decided to eat at a cafe in a pretty square. All the tables were full on the patio, but they led us upstairs where several more tables were on a deck. We ordered gyro plates, which were delicious, but were pork instead of the beef/lamb I am used to having. After lunch, we decided to shop a little and head back to the ship....but not before a gelato. We were definitely getting hooked on gelato. Back on the ship, Stacy went to check her email and then take a nap. Since I am a platinum member with Princess, I received a 250 minute internet package for free. Stacy and I used it to check our email and check on things at home. While we heard many people complaining about the speed of the internet, we experience no problems, and found the service to be very convenient and helpful. I went back to the room and got on my swimsuit, took my book and went to the deck in search of a hot tub and a pool drink. The drink was easy to find. The hot tub again proved elusive. Neither was hot this time; though both had working jets. The MUTS was showing a movie and I enjoyed a few minutes of watching it, while reading my book (I know it is weird to do both at the same time, but it was a movie I had already seen). I was happily enjoying the sun until the band came to play, The volume of this band (and any other band at this location) was unbearable. Many, many passengers left shortly after the band started. It was not pleasurable even if you liked the band. It was SO loud, it hurt your ears. You could not have a conversation or read, so I was forced to leave. This was really our only complaint on the whole cruise and the only thing we mentioned on our Princess survey. When Stacy woke up, we dressed and went to dinner. We met two lovely couples, Randy and Shirley and Daphne and Ray. Enjoying your dinner companions goes a long way to making dinner even better. The food this night was very good and as always the bread is excellent. I have told my husband more than once that he is lucky I did not meet Princess' baker first. Santorini: We arrived to slightly cooler weather and overcast skies. We ate an early breakfast and hustled to make the first tender. We had heard that the line for the cable car can get very long, so we wanted to get there early. Stacy was determined to ride a donkey. She tried very hard to get me to join her, but since all my previous horse experience was negative, I did not think a donkey was a good idea. Stacy followed an old Greek man calling for donkey riders and I walked on toward the gondolas. I made it on the first set of gondolas with some friends we made on the ship, Annagret and Mike and Jergen and Joyce. The ride up on the gondola is a very quick 90 seconds. I waited at the top for Stacy. After a little while I saw Stacy's orange sweater coming up the hill. I could not wait to get a closer picture of her on the donkey. After about 2/3 of the way up the hill I lost sight of her, but saw a donkey turned sideways refusing to move. I thought the donkey must be blocking the way. Then I saw Stacy walking up the hill. I was very confused. When Stacy reached the top, she explained. At about 2/3 of the way up the donkeys just stopped. Stacy thought it was just being stubborn but then the guide started yelling "get off" "get off". They realized that this was the end of the ride, they would have to walk the rest of the way. Stacy said it wasn't bad (though to me it looked like they walked the steeped part). She thoroughly enjoyed her ride. I am still very, very glad to have NOT done it. Stacy and I now walked to the bus stop to get the local bus to Oia. We found the stop pretty easily, and the bus was waiting. For 1.40€ per person, we rode the 30-45 minutes up steep and winding roads to Oia. We were dropped off right outside a walking area full of shops restaurants and art galleries. The town is built up the side of a cliff, so as we strolled along the walkway we had an amazing sea view on one side. Much of this town had already closed for the winter and the remaining shops were closing within two days. Many advertised BIG sales, but most were offering modest reductions in price. We did find a number of unusual items and lots of art and artisan pieces. The view and the buildings stole the show however. The pure white buildings with blue doors and window shutters seemed peaceful and tidy. The whole place evoked a feeling of simplicity and ease. It made you want to slow down and breathe. We stopped at a cafe and had a fredo (a cold sweet coffee) for me, an ice tea for Stacy and some Tzatziki and bread. The sun was now very strong and it got quite warm on this deck of this cafe, so we did not linger long. We wandered slowly back to the bus stop. Imagine our surprise to discover a very long line for the next bus. It looked like we would not make the next one and would have to wait for the one after that. The could be 1 ½ hours or more. We decided to see how much a cab would be. We overheard one tell someone 40€. Wow. We found a one who would take us down for 20€. Another couple in line wanted to join us and we were off. 5€ per person was a small price to pay to not wait in that long line. We arrived back in Fira and decided to have lunch. We stopped at what we thought was a lunch counter, but it was a cafe. No problem we sat down and ordered gyro platters. Pork again, even better than the last. Once finished we decided to walk to the cable car and return to the ship. The line was immense. There was probably 1000 or more people in line, some of whom needed to board the Celebrity ship leaving at 3:00 p.m. It was now 1:30 p.m. The cable car takes 6 cars with 6 people each every few minutes. We figured that even if they took 36 people every 3 minutes, that line was HOURS long. It took about a nanosecond to decide to walk down the hill. (NO a donkey was NOT an option). It took about 20 minutes to walk down; my calves, thighs and bottom were feeling the burn; and at times we dodged donkeys, poo and fellow passengers; but it was all worth it. We at least weren't just standing in line. We got back to the ship and ordered a pot of tea and enjoyed drinking it on our balcony watching the coast and wondering if everyone made their ship. We went to dinner, did a load of laundry (our clothes from the donkey trail were sweaty, dirty and very smelly) and turned in for the night. Sea Day: Today was a rest, relaxation and packing day. We did really well on the resting and relaxing. Very little packing was done. Naples: This was a big day for me. This was the day of the first private tour that I arranged. I was a little nervous about it, since I felt that I was responsible for 7 other people's enjoyment of the port. Therefore, I woke up insanely early (4am) and tried and tried to get back to sleep. At 5am, I gave up and showered. Stacy woke up while I was in the shower and we were both ready for breakfast by 6:15. After breakfast we checked email quickly and met our other tourmates at the end of the gangway at 7:55 a.m. We found our driver outside the customs building. Our driver was Alex from Rome in Limo (www.romeinlimo.com ). We were led to a Mercedes van that held 8 passengers, 2 in the front with the driver, 2 in the middle row, and 2 in the back. There would have also been plenty of room in back for luggage. As Alex negotiated the Naples traffic, we discussed our schedule. We were all a little concerned about the traffic on the Amalfi Coast road (we all read the missing the ship horror story on Cruise Critic), so we decided to go to up the coast first and Pompeii last. Our first stop was Sorrento. Alex dropped us off in a town center and told us he would meet us in an hour. Being a Sunday morning, not much appeared open since it was 9am. So Stacy and I decided to walk to a small cafe and have a coffee and pastry. Sorrento is beautiful and the cafe was picturesque. We ordered at the counter and asked if we could sit. An adorable older man escorted us to a table and then brought us our items. We enjoyed our treats and decided we should use the restroom before leaving. What an experience. My very cute little waiter showed me into the little kitchen/bar area and pointed at a narrow, circular staircase leading underground. When I got to the bottom there were storage rooms and a kitchen. I found the tiny bathroom and on my way back up a counter person came to the top of the stairs and not seeing me threw an empty box down the stairs...right at my head. I caught it and threw it out of the way, but the poor man was SOOOO apologetic in Italian. It was pretty funny and a memorable moment in our trip. After our coffee, I decided to walk over to a little chapel to take a picture, as I did, I noticed that shops were open. We went to a small shop that had beautiful music boxes made of olive wood with inlaid wood tops. Needless to say, we each walked out with music boxes. It was now time for Alex to pick us up and there he was. We piled in and headed to Positano along the Amalfi Coast drive, a beautiful if harrowingly narrow and steep road to Positano. Positano is a town I have wanted to see for years, after travel shows and magazine extolled its beauty. Those shows and magazines did not lie. It was a beautiful town. Like Santorini, it is built up the side of a mountain, so amazing sea views are everywhere. Unlike Santorini, it is not all white buildings and clean lines. Positano is green and lush with flowering vines everywhere and many colorful buildings piled on top of one another like candy colored Legos. Also like Santorini, the season was over and many shops and cafes were closed, but many more were open and shopping and eating are readily available. I think I was about shopped out by this point and found the few things I liked were too expensive. I did get a few postcards and a lemon ice. Lemons are a very big product here and Limoncello is local product. The lemon ice was delicious, much better than Limoncello to me. We made it back to the van and Alex took up to a small restaurant in Piano di Sorrento. This restaurant was a local spot. I was a bit nervous at first because they only had 3 menus, all in Italian, and the wait staff spoke little English. My worrying stopped when the food arrived. We had the most delicious food. I had a pumpkin and sage risotto and green salad. They brought us out bruschetta as a treat. We all had MORE than we could finish. The waitress then brought us a treat of Limoncello. That is strong stuff. All of this cost us 15€ each. A pretty good deal. We now travelled to Pompeii, all of us trying to stay awake on the ride after our large lunch. When we arrived we got our tickets, went to the restroom (the worst on the trip) and rented some audiotour headphones, and headed to the first stop on the audiotour. We only had 2 hours in Pompeii, in order to get back on time. (The Princess tours had the same amount of time here). We knew we would have to hustle, but what we did not know is how HUGE Pompeii is. Alex explained that Pompeii was a big city at the time, like Naples is today, but we really did not get it, until we entered. Two hours could not begin to cover this. We decided we want to go back someday and spend a whole day. We wandered through the ruins, not really able to utilize the audiotour in such a short time, but we tried. We passed lots and lots of spaces that looked like small kitchens. The audiotour let us know they were in fact small take out restaurants. The circular wholes in the counters were for putting pots in to keep the food warm. These counters were in great shape with mosaics and frescoes. There was a laundry with washing rooms, drying rooms and a rooftop drying area, and many other rooms of undetermined use and gardens and courtyards. We really wanted to see the few preserved victims and got lost a couple of times trying to read the map. We finally found them with time running out. It was really sobering to see the victims as they fell. One person is kneeling and praying and another is holding his head in fear. These people really brought home the reality of what happened here. Very sad. I do think I will be back to spend more time here, as well as visit Herculeam, another city destroyed by the volcano. Our tour was over and Alex brought us back to the ship. When we got out and took pictures with Alex, he presented us with two bottles of Limoncello. We had such a nice day. Back on this ship, this was our last night. We had to pack. So we had a quick dinner at the burger and pizza stands and got busy. I KNEW that I needed another bag, but having not found the one of my dreams in any of the ports, I decided to get the rolling tote from the gift shop. I got it and returned to the room and packed it FULL of my souvenirs. As I zipped it the zipper broke. I fixed it and it broke again. I unpacked it and returned it and got a different tote, came back and started again. This time it worked. Soon we were packed and tucked in for the night. Rome: Up painfully early again, it is disembarkation day and Rome tour. At 4:40 I was in the shower, and laid back down to wait for either Stacy to wake up OR the alarm to go off. We were scheduled to disembark at 7:30. We were to meet our tourmates in the Da Vinci dining room at 7:25. We were showered and dressed by 7:00am and down to the DaVinci at 7:15am. We met Larry and Judy and Eve and Michael and disembarked. We met our driver, Salvatore, with all our luggage, outside the luggage area. He packed us all in and away we went. We got an early start and he thought that would help, since there was a metro strike that day and traffic would be bad. Suddenly, traffic was bad, very bad and we were in stop and go traffic. Salvatore took this time to serenade us with Italian music getting us into the mood and then finally, we arrived in Rome. Our first stop was the Coliseum, first we stopped at Palatine Hill to get our tickets, so we could avoid the line. This "trick" works very well. Salvatore recommended this (even though I already knew it from Cruise Critic). Salvatore was great about giving us tons of information regarding all the sites we were to see, as well lots of local flavor. There was NO line at Palatine Hill and the tickets are good for Palatine Hill, the Coliseum and the Forum. Once you get your ticket at Palatine Hill, you can skip the line outside the Coliseum, since the long line is to buy tickets. We had only 45 minutes here, so we did not get a guide. Since we were staying additional days in Rome we could come back. We took a number of pictures and soaked in the feeling of all the history. After that we visited the Pantheon (staggering in size with incredible art and a ceiling that is stunning), Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Fountain of Four Rivers. Then our guide took us the "the keyhole" in a small church. I won't tell you what you will see, but it is a wonderful little surprise. For lunch we visited a small restaurant recommended by our driver. The owner took care of us with a pre fixe lunch menu. We started with vegetable soup, followed by pasta amatriciana (wonderful penne pasta with a bacon tomato sauce), and a lemon tart for dessert. We also got delicious bread and olive oil, wine and bruschetta. We got all this for 20E each. After lunch we took pictures with the owner. We left lunch and headed for Vatican City. There we met our guide, Irena, who is a lovely, vivacious young woman, who really knows her stuff. We had 2 ½ hours to view this amazing place; we could have used much longer. The Vatican has so many works of art from all periods of history it is overwhelming. It made me think of the movie "National Treasure". It felt that every missing antiquity was here. We saw statues, and paintings; followed by the hall of tapestries, leading to the Sistine Chapel. After all the incredible art and history we had seen in the last weeks, I expected to be underwhelmed. After all, how could it compete with the beauty of St. Mark's Basilica, the majesty of Ephesus, or the raw emotion of Pompeii? Well...it does. I cannot describe the experience, but I will try. You enter the chapel in silence and are to remain silent while in the chapel. The quiet instills the sense of reverence of the place. It is hard to imagine that ONE man painted the entire work, never leaving his scaffolding for 4 years. The size of the work, the subject, and the sheer beauty makes it a "religious" experience (if you pardon the pun). When we entered the Basilica itself, however, it was the Pieta that brought tears to my eyes. After the Basilica, it was time to say goodbye to Irena, which was sad. She is a jewel of a guide, knowledgeable, interesting, and excited about what she does. And now, Salvatore takes us to our individual destinations. The six of us were heading to three different places; two different hotels and the airport. We got dropped off first at our hotel, Hotel Farnese. We said goodbye to our tourmates and our charming guide, Salvatore. (Salavatore was also went out of his way to bring my forgotten CPAP machine BACK to our hotel) Exhausted, we checked in to our new home. The Hotel Farnese is a little gem. It is close to everything we needed, esp. via the metro, which was ½ a block away. Our room was on the 4th floor, and the most adorable bellman helped us with our bags and showed us our room. It was smaller (slightly) than our room in Venice, but had a surprising addition, a small terrace, with 2 chairs and a table. We also had two armchairs, twin beds, a safe, a mini bar and a sparkling clean bath with a tub/shower combination. There were windows in both the room and the bathroom that opened allowing in fresh air, but they both also had louvered shutters which allowed privacy and kept out the light. The room did have a slight musty smell, but the open window soon took care of that. The beds were comfortable. After we freshened up and rested awhile, we got up for dinner. It was early. Very early by Italian standards. It was 5:30 pm. We asked the front desk for recommendations for dinner, he informed us we were far too early for dinner as restaurants did not really open until 7:00pm. We could eat at a bar (in Italy these are coffee shops with light food items, like Panini) he said, but for a real restaurant we would have to wait. We were HUNGRY and TIRED, so we went out to find a cash machine and look around. During our wandering, we noticed a large Pizzeria sign. We decided pizza would be fine and headed that way. What we found was Pizzeria San Marco, a delightful pizzeria that served pastas, entrees AND pizzas, but was not the typical multicourse Italian fare. Stacy had simple spaghetti with marinara sauce and I had four cheese gnocchi. They were the best gnocchi I have ever had, like little pillows of heaven, so rich, creamy and light. They were however, very filling, so I could only eat half my portion. Thank goodness we had not gone to a real restaurant. We were full, happy and back in our room by the magical 7 pm, and asleep by 9pm. The next morning, we got up early (remember how early we went to bed) and went up to breakfast. Breakfast is served on the 5th floor in a charming terrace room. We had tea and lemon tart with some fresh squeezed orange juice. There was also several other sweet options, eggs and bacon in a chafing dish, croissants, salami, cheese and fruit. There was more than enough selection for a busy day. We had the room to ourselves so we felt like we had our own little home in Rome. We took off for our busy day, we jumped on the metro and went back to Palatine Hill. We were able to use our tickets from the day before, which was awesome. We spent quite some time exploring the ruins here, we had no guide and there is little signage here, so we explored and enjoyed the beauty for its own sake. We especially loved a fountain we found that was covered in moss. You could tell there was something under all that moss; it was exciting imagining what was hiding beneath. When we finished here we exited and looked for the Forum. Silly us, the entrance is IN Palantine Hill. So we reentered (we had to explain to the person at the gate that we had missed the Forum entrance), and explored the Forum. We got an overlay book before we went in, so we were able to identify many of the ruins. We actually heard a tourist (yes an American, I think) say "all this shows it that they were full of themselves (referring to the Caesars)". Seriously? Considering all that they accomplished in their lifetimes and the enduring presence they offer the world, how can someone seriously say that. I am sure they were pretty full of themselves, but even they could not realize the impact they would have. We even saw the spot Julius Caesar was cremated; it had several bouquets of fresh flowers on it. Wow. As we finished, we went by the Victor Emanuel monument, called "the Wedding Cake". It is spectacular. It is home to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier; so you are expected to behave in a respectful manner, including not sitting on the steps. We looked at our map and decided we were not far from the metro stop so we walked. We it was farther than it looked. We stopped and ate lunch at a bar, walked, stopped for a gelato, walked, and walked. Finally, we found the stop at the Spanish Steps. We took the metro to the Vatican, so we could find the shop we saw yesterday. Due to our faulty memory, we walked by it a couple of times before we found it. At this point, our feet hurt badly and we were very tired. We bought our postcards and mailed them there so they could be postmarked Vatican City. This time we were very close to the metro, so we hopped on and went back to the hotel. We were again too tired for a real restaurant and headed back to Pizzeria San Marco. This time I had Pasta Amatriciana (like yesterday) and Stacy had pasta with a mushroom sauce. We both finished our dinner this time. Again, it was delicious. Back to the room to pack we went. It was sad as this was our last night together. In the morning, we had to leave too early for breakfast, but that was okay. The hotel arranged for a driver for us at 7:00am. He was exactly on time and we were whisked to the airport in a Mercedes sedan. Our driver dropped us off at Stacy's terminal and we went in. We found her check in point after some confusion and she was checked in. I left her waiving goodbye at the security point. I made my way down to baggage claim and to the hotel shuttle stop. After about 30 minutes, the shuttle for the Hilton Garden Inn came and took us to the hotel. The hotel is not far from the airport, but it is among the hangers and freight areas of the airport, so it is near nothing else. I arrived at 9:30 a.m. I was surprised to find I could check in immediately. I went up to the room and dropped off my luggage and went down for breakfast. The breakfast buffet was very large and varied...an expensive, but luckily included in my rate (139€). Other than the scrambled eggs, it was very good. (Scrambled eggs were also odd at the Hotel Farnese). The cappuccino was delicious. After breakfast, I went back up to the room. My room was modern in design, with a Scandinavian feel. It was bright and clean with a Herman Miller desk chair and a sleep number bed, which was oh so comfortable. The bathroom was spotless with a good sized bathtub. There was an alarm clock with an ipod dock, a big screen flat tv, and a electric kettle. I had looked forward to this last day, as a chance to recover from the trip a bit before going home. So I made some tea and took a bath. Then I settled down to read. The hotel has a small shop too, so after awhile I went downstairs and bought some chips and a diet coke and returned to my book. Soon I was napping happily. I woke up comfortably and read for awhile longer. I went downstairs to dinner. The restaurant was tasty and the service good. I was able to take the rest of my wine to my room to enjoy. I slept soundly and in the morning enjoyed breakfast and the airport shuttle. Of course, in such a flawless trip, some rain must fall. I arrived to find my flight cancelled and they were rerouting everyone to other airlines. I was very lucky to be among the first in line, so I was able to be routed to another airline with a direct route to Atlanta. In 13 short hours on a plane I was in Atlanta, and my husband drove me home. It was truly a dream trip. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
After much research and great doubts on the size of the Grand Princess, we decided to book their 12 night Med Cruise as it included all of the ports we wanted to see (Rome, Monte Carlo, Livorno, Naples, Santorini, Kusadasi, Mykonos, ... Read More
After much research and great doubts on the size of the Grand Princess, we decided to book their 12 night Med Cruise as it included all of the ports we wanted to see (Rome, Monte Carlo, Livorno, Naples, Santorini, Kusadasi, Mykonos, Athens, Olympia, Corfu and Venice). I planned 3 days pre-cruise in Rome, 2 post-cruise in Venice and 2 in Paris before flying home. We left LAX on a direct non-stop flight to Paris, onward to Rome. I had booked transfers on the Internet, as well as some tours, so they would be paid for in US dollars well before the cruise. Our transfer from FCO to Rome hotel went without a hitch. We had HO HO bus tickets, unfortunately the stop was about 10-15 blocks from our hotel (Domus Aurelia), and my friend was unable to walk, so we had to take the taxi quite a few times. I had booked this hotel as it was close to the Vatican and really very reasonably priced. Upon reflection, we would have been better off to stay at a more centrally located hotel, as the taxi fares raised our total output anyway. We had 2 beautiful days in Rome and saw all the major sights. EMBARKATION: Friday was departure day, and the morning dawned with cloudy skies that decided to open, so our transfer to Civitavecchia was in the pouring rain. We left the rain behind and arrived at the port to sunshine, and the fastest embarkation process I have ever had. I give kudos to Princess for the organization and quick processing of 2600 passengers. FOOD: We were disappointed in the food in the main dining room. The beef was always tough no matter how it was prepared. The menu is geared toward gourmet (some dishes we didn't even know what they were and had to ask the waiter). Some good old fashioned food would have been much appreciated rather than the fancy French, Italian or whatever names.Our waiter and his assistant were fantastic. After the first two nights, they knew what drinks we wanted both before and after dinner and promptly brought them to us. If there was something we had ordered and didn't care for, they were so apologetic and insisted on bringing us something else. The one fantastic meal we had was the last night of the cruise of course it was lobster tail with two huge prawns. My friend ordered two dinners and said they were excellent. ITINERARY: Was fantastic, as I already stated that was the reason we chose the Grand in the first place. We did have to miss Mykonos due to high winds, the Captain decided for the safety of the ship and passengers to abort the port. SHIP: Our balcony cabin was as expected. Layout was good and the sliding door to the balcony worked easily without a squeak or hesitation. Our TV was out of order, but was quickly repaired the same day, after notifying the Purser's desk. The overall layout of the ship was not to our liking. We were constantly finding we couldn't get to where we wanted to go without having to go up a deck or down a deck. And we never saw any notice that breakfast would only be served in the one dining room forward. We had dinner in the Botticelli and thought that is where breakfast would be, but alas, it wasn't, so we had traverse half the length of the ship for breakfast every morning. Our Room Steward did an excellent job, and seemed to know exactly when we were gone from the room. He was efficient and friendly. Always said hello and wished us a good day upon our return to the cabin. Another major complaint was the lack of communication from Princess regarding the ports. While I understand Princess would like all the passengers to book their shore excursions, the price was prohibitive. If you wanted to do the port independently, you were truly on your own. Shuttles were useless as they usually started at 9:00 am, if there was a shuttle at all. And some of the ports had taxis, but others had no taxis at all. Information was geared to the ship shore excursions. We missed Monte Carlo entirely because we hadn't been told there would be a bus. We tried to do the climb ourselves, but gave out about 3/4 of the way up the stairs. Then in Olympia there was a long pier, then a short walk to the main street, but no shuttle provided at all. Just not very convenient for someone with mobility problems. So we booked 3 ship shore excursions that stated they were mild activity only to find many many stairs and uphill climbing involved that we just couldn't do. ENTERTAINMENT: We found the ship's orchestra to be mediocre, but the ship's dancers did a great job. We didn't go to many shows as the Princess Theatre is at the front of the Grand and our cabin was aft. Just too much walking to get there. PHOTOS: We were really disappointed with the photo department. In the past we have had them hold all the photos taken until the last day to make our decision. Princess wouldn't do that. We had to put them in a slot where we knew they would be and just keep adding to them ourselves. Then there was a coupon that stated "buy 3 studio portraits and get the 4th on free". We picked out our photos and put the ones we didn't want into the destruction bin. When we went to the counter, we were told that offer was only for the formal studio portraits. The photos taken on the ship or at the ports didn't qualify for the free offer. So we ended up only purchasing one formal photo instead of the 3 we had selected. And most of Princess photos were 8x10 at $24.99, very few at 6x9 for $19.99. DEBARKATION: I had filled out the debarkation form stating we had our own transportation to our hotel in Venice. They wanted to know how we were getting from the ship to the hotel. When I said a taxi, we were informed there wouldn't be any taxi's and we would have to take the ship's transfer at $24 pp to go a 5 minute ride. We had to be out of our cabin by 8, but at least we could go to breakfast. OVERALL: I don't think I would ever sail on such a large ship again. And it would have to be a very special price and itinerary to get me to sail Princess again. We had a good cruise, with good weather and saw lots of interesting history and sites, but it wasn't THE GRAND cruise we thought it was going to be, just too many little annoyances added up to a not so grand cruise. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
To begin with there were five cities, four countries, three historical eras, two continents, and one ship - the Grand Princess. This cruise began Venice, a leading renaissance era city, visited the heartlands of Greek history, and ... Read More
To begin with there were five cities, four countries, three historical eras, two continents, and one ship - the Grand Princess. This cruise began Venice, a leading renaissance era city, visited the heartlands of Greek history, and concluded in Naples and Rome - central to Roman culture. Included in the tour were Italy, Croatia, Greece, and Turkey, located in Europe and Asia. Ports of call included Venice, Dubrovnik, Athens, and Naples. This review describes both the Grand Princess itself and the ports that we visited on this cruise and is written from the perspective of a single, 60-something male cruising as a solo traveler. I am an experienced traveler who has visited nearly 30 countries. The Grand was my third cruise. I have organized my comments under several general headings to facilitate finding areas of interest to individual readers (and to maintain my own sanity). Embarkation: I flew United Airlines and Lufthansa from Washington, DC to Venice to begin this vacation. United has implemented an Economy Plus program that provides a bit more leg room than the standard cattle car economy class passage. The difference was amazing and allowed me to actually sleep for several hours on the flight, which was an important benefit. I noticed that, for the first time in several flights this year, that there were a significant number of vacant seats. The recession and decline in air travel was very apparent. United and Lufthansa were efficient, effective, and timely. I arrived at my hotel with minimal delay and discomfort and checked in without any problems. I elected to stay at the Hotel Centrale in Mestra as a cost containment strategy. The hotel was very economically priced and offers the standard business class amenities of an European hotel. My rate of 103 Euros included a very basic breakfast that consisted mostly of coffee and rolls. This was fine as far as I was concerned. There was a more elaborate buffet available for 10 Euros additional. The hotel staff was very helpful and all spoke excellent English. The Centrale is in a business area within Mestra and there are numerous restaurants and shopping opportunities in easy walking distance. I am by nature a warm-blooded person and appreciate a warm hotel room more than most, but this was over the top even for me. Leaving the window open did not seem to help and I spent a rather uncomfortable night. The hotel was very centrally located on a bus line that was approximately 20 minutes from Piazza Roma in Venice (the juncture with the Vaporetto lines and a most desirable location). I bought a combination Vaporetto and bus ticket at the airport on my way in for, I believe about 15 Euros for one day. This allowed me to use the bus (a stop is just around the corner from the hotel. Use the Number 7 bus or any bus with Venice on its placard to get to the Piazza Roma). Despite the fact that it was rainy and a bit chilly I had an excellent time in Venice. The weather seemed to reduce the crowds. There was a minimal line for the Doges Palace and for the Basilica and I was able to see both on my free afternoon in the city. I also did some souvenir shopping near the Rialto Bridge. I found an excellent selection of small gift items for reasonable prices as well as very helpful sales people. I also was able to locate some fantastic gelato, which is a waist expanding hobby of mine. The next morning I caught a cab to the airport (30 Euros) and met the Princess reception staff. I had purchased a Princess transfer and found that to be an really helpful choice. The Princess people at the airport were very helpful, welcoming, and efficient. Within minutes I was on a bus and on my way to the ship. The trip was uneventful and Princess took care of everything very efficiently. Embarkation was very efficient. I had completed my embarkation documents online before meeting the ship and I highly recommend this approach as it greatly facilitates boarding. There are cafe facilities at the embarkation point in Venice and its possible to get a soft drink or something stronger (if you desire) while waiting to board. Princess uses a numbered group system and the gang way posts the group number, making it very easy to see when your group is up. The security process was very smooth and processing was rapid. I will never become totally comfortable with the requirement - found in many European countries - of surrendering your passport to inn keepers (including the Princess staff) but everything turned out okay. Within an hour of arriving at the terminal I was in my cabin and unpacking my carry on luggage (my bag arrived a bit later. There were stories about people whose luggage never did show up, but that didn't happen to me). Princess really seems to skimp on its disaster drill, held as required shortly after embarkation. Passengers are given minimal direction on getting to their muster station, which is not collocated with the life boats. There was a demonstration of how to put on a life jacket, but passengers were not required to attempt to don their own life jackets and the group was quite large, which means that some people were fairly distant from the demonstration and probably couldn't see very well. Cruise ship life jackets can be fairly complicated to put on correctly and trying to do so in a situation in which they are actually needed could be chaotic. I know that life jacket drills are onerous and I certainly don't enjoy or look forward to them myself, but they really are necessary and Princess ought to think more carefully about how they approach them. The sailing schedule was such that passengers had the option to go into Venice from the ship on the afternoon before we left port. I'm not sure that many took advantage of this opportunity since the trip was advertised as being about a half hour each way and the need to be back on board for the muster drill and dinner caused a time squeeze. Never the less Princess automatically added - and charged for - a vaporetto ticket. I heard that refunds were being given at the Pursers Desk for unused tickets, but this was not advertised and I did not have time to check for myself. The Ship The Grand Princess is a Bermuda - registered vessel that is 951 feet long, carries a crew of 1150 and has the capacity to house and transport 2600 passengers. As you can see, the Grand Princess is a large cruise ship, significantly larger than any I have cruised on in the past I found the Grand Princess exceedingly confusing and difficult to navigate. There are several reasons for this. For one, all vertical access points do NOT include both stairwells and elevators. If you like to walk the stairs for single or two deck movements you have to be very careful in finding the proper exit point. Second, directional signs are exceedingly poor. The deck schema diagrams are tiny and very hard to read. There are no fore an aft signs, making it nearly impossible to tell whether you are going forward or aft. Third, some decks are inaccessible from some elevators and stairs. You literally can't get there from there. I was on the ship for 12 days and got lost (again) on the final day going to the disembarkation point. Princess should do a much better job with signage. I hate to think about the results of an emergency, with people careening around the ship trying to get to their muster points and unable to tell which direction in which they are going. There are many comments and complaints about the elevators on the Grand both in reviews and among passengers frustrated with their slowness. My only suggestion is: "leave plenty of time to get from one point to another". I always allowed 20 minutes, for example to get from my cabin on Deck 11 to the dining room (deck 5, I believe) or to the gangways (decks 4 and 5, depending). Overall the ship is in excellent condition and in better shape than newer vessels on which I have cruised. The dEcor is a modernistic one that uses light wood trim both in the cabins and in the passageways. Art and decoration is minimal, which is fine with me. I don't go on cruises to behold great renderings in velvet portraits. I chose an interior cabin (I am seldom in it other than to sleep and I appreciate the blackout conditions, which are great for naps!). The cabin was big enough for one person and the storage was excellent (drawers as well as shelves, lots of hangers). The television is on a shelf rather than on the desk (not so on some other ships) and there was lots of room to place things if you were organized and neat. The shower worked very well and there was lots of room to store things in the bathroom. Princess uses single serving packets of shampoo and conditioner that nearly defy opening by anyone who doesn't have talons for nails. I learned to open them BEFORE getting my hands wet; otherwise the result is a wet, frustrated cruiser trapped in the shower and ripping futilely at the packages, hoping that eventually they will yield. Princess provides excellent television coverage including very helpful port information. Our port information authority was Rusty Wilson who was knowledgeable, well organized, and personable. He consistently provided useful information in a format that was helpful. Dress Life aboard the Grand was more informal than I expected and so I miss packed for this trip by bringing along a couple of dress shirts, a sport coat, and ties. I never wore the ties and would have been very comfortable without either the coat or the dress shirts. Few passengers dressed up at all for dinner (other than formal night). Dress for men was generally sport or polo shirts and casual trousers. Women primarily wore casual pants and blouses or knit tops as well. There were a significant number of jeans wearers (of both sexes) at dinner. As usual I rented a tuxedo, including shoes for formal nights, of which there were two on this 12 day cruise. There were a significant number of tuxedos and more formal dresses at these events, but there were many men in suits and some in sports coats as well. The Amenities The Grand has some significant amenities for its passengers. There are several pools, both indoor and outside on the decks. Hot tubs accompany the pools. Passengers also have access to a spa area that provides a range of services. The indoor pool area is quite nice and includes a fairly large number of tables that are frequently used as overflow for the dining room. There are bars located in all pool areas for refreshments. As mentioned elsewhere, the ice cream parlor is located just off of the indoor pool area. The grill (which was commented on favorably by several passengers with whom I spoke) is also located in this area. The mezzanine area of the indoor pool has been named the Conservatory and has sliding doors to a deck area. On this cruise the Conservatory was fairly lightly used. It provides a great location for reading or (as used by many of the people I saw) a quick nap. The Grand's exercise suite is small and crowded. It includes about a dozen Cybex treadmill machines as well as ellipticals and some weight equipment. A separate room provides space for classes, including spinner classes. The work out area does not appear to be monitored by staff. The cruise staff offers a number of basic yoga and stretching classes. The Crew Most of the Grand Princess' officers are Italian. The crew is more diverse than others with whom I have sailed. Princess seems to do a better job providing opportunities to women and there was at least one female senior officer (this is relatively speaking. Women are still vastly under represented among management on the Grand. There also seemed to be more women performing a wider range of duties than on other cruise ships. Without any doubt the Grand's strongest asset is its crew and staff. I can think of only one instance when I met a Princess employee who was not helpful, courteous, friendly, and welcoming. No group of over a thousand people is wholly exceptional and the Princess staff on board the Grand certainly made mistakes (who among us does not?); however, all of them made passengers feel that they were individuals and important. If I were to take another Princess cruise it would be because of the quality of their on ship personnel (such is definitely not true of the Princess customer service staff at their corporate office, some of whom seem to feel that their life would be perfect if it were not for those pesky customers). On board staff were exceptional in remembering my name. Those who realized I was a solo cruiser went out of their way to make me feel included and at home, which is so extremely important when you are traveling alone. My steward -Leonila - as well as the bar staff at the Promenade bar and the dining room staff in the Botticelli were very efficient, personable, and (in addition) kind. I will always remember them fondly. The Passengers The demographic on this cruise seemed to fall in the 50 to 55 range and was clustered close to the mean. There were few older and very few younger cruisers. I saw a handful of small children, including one couple with a toddler and a new born. While the Grand offers facilities for teens and preteens I saw none on this cruise and the areas set aside for these passengers were empty any time I walked past them (the time of year and its conflicts with the school year very likely could be the cause of this). It seems to be a characteristic of the Grand at least on this cruise that there were very few solo and/or single cruisers. There is a significant difference between the two categories. Solo cruisers (for purposes of this review, anyway) are persons traveling alone. Single cruisers are unattached cruisers. There were a significant number of "single" cruisers on this cruise but few were traveling alone. Princess does little or nothing to create opportunities for solo cruisers to connect. Other lines make an effort to seat solo cruisers together at dinner, which creates a venue for conversation and at least lets people get to know each other. Princess does not. There was one event for solo cruisers; three people showed up (this is not the line's fault. It is an outcome of passenger demographics I think, but something to be aware of if you are traveling alone). There were two singles events. I went to the first one. No one else showed up. I didn't attend the second one, which was held in Skywalker's lounge, the retro disco venue that no one ever visited for any reason as far as I could tell. None of this is meant to denigrate the Grand passengers. As a group the Grand passengers were a jolly group and pleasant at all turns. On other cruises I have occasionally met people or groups of people who were downright obnoxious (the Holland America Westerdam entertainment staff, for example, does a song poking fun at their passengers sense of entitlement called "get out of my way" sung to the tune of "I did it my way"). I met no one on the Grand Princess who was unpleasant or rude. It's also important to remember that each cruise is different in terms of it's passenger social network. On this particular cruise passengers tended to be less social. That may not be true of all cruises. The Food Sadly, the Grand's food is not the equal of its staff and crew. The food is considerably better than the wormy biscuits and stale water served to ships crews in the 18th century, but the difference is not sufficiently great to make a remarkable difference. I chose the traditional seating because the consistence of dinner partners offered by this approach is often more comfortable for those traveling alone. Dinner offerings were very uninspired and were obscurely described. The wine list was economical, but (on the other hand) there were no really interesting wines available. There was minimal recognition given for those who were more calorie aware. Other lines that I have cruised have made significant efforts to offer lower calorie choices. Princess is unaware of this alternative and could easily be dubbed the "lard line" for their lack of awareness of healthy eating. Food at the Horizon Court was significantly more interesting and at least as good as the main dining room's fare. As a result we had significant defections from traditional seating and at least one night only one person showed up for our table of eight. The Horizon Court offers 24 hour service. The dinner buffet is available until quite late, followed by a late service and then by a limited service until six in the morning. The food during the day is consistently good. Over all the food served on the Grand seemed bland and repetitive. There were a significant number of complaints among passengers about the quality of the food. The layout of the facility, however, detracts from the food. Rather than configured as an outward facing service that keeps diners in the dining room itself, the Grand's configuration is contained between steam and service tables. This creates incredible crowding with diners trying to use service counters that are facing each other and then twining around each other to reach the alternate counters. The result is chaotic, especially at breakfast when many people are not totally aware, for one reason or another. Seating is also a problem. There was seldom room in the dining rooms and finding a seat was always a problem. I am not entirely sure why and I spent some time trying to determine the source of this problem. The wait staff is diligent in clearing empty tables and there seem to be a fair number of tables available. All cruise lines find corners to edge in extracting the greatest possible revenue from their passengers. Princess is no exception. Their practice of charging for ice cream is one of these corners. It appears that ice cream was available for free at certain times (when the seas run high; when the albatross sings in the mainstays, something like that I suspect Har! Har! Har!). I never found it. There is an ice cream parlor located prominently in the pool area that sells ice cream for a very reasonable price ($1.50 for two scoops, generously served). There are also many different toppings. The Grand offered sugar free ice cream; however, over the course of the cruise there were two flavors: vanilla and chocolate. A bit of imagination in the flavor department for those of us who are sugar impaired would be appreciated. The Grand offers two specialty restaurants: Sabatini's and the Painted Desert - a steak and chop house. Other passengers reported enthusiastically about these venues and in fact much of our defection at dinner resulted from passengers skulking away to these restaurants for improved sustenance. I cannot and do not blame them. I also did not make use of room service and did not talk to anyone who did. The menu seemed very limited and seemed to consist only of continental breakfast types of things. The Grand makes room service available 24/7. I rarely saw dishes sitting outside of cabins, which suggests either that the service staff was very efficient in picking them up or that no one used room service. Coffee and tea are available from refreshment stations located in the corners of the dining rooms. The layout for these stations makes it easy for passengers to bunch up and crowding can occur. The crew serves coffee on request and is fairly prompt with this service. I take along a thermal cup that I can fill up when entering the dining room. Mine has a hook-like handle that allows me to hang it on my belt, leaving my hands free to carry plates, books, and other things useful at meals. Services The Grand offers the typical services available on any cruise ship and they are - in all instances - unexceptional. There are numerous boutiques offering items for sale. I have been on other ships where the diversity of interesting products was significantly greater and where there were better price points on products. Princess attempts to offer special sales and offerings, but these are generally clustered in the Atrium and just make it harder to get through that area. There were no bargains. Toward the end of the cruise there was a "special sale" in one of the dining rooms. The offerings were mostly tee shirts from ports not visited on this cruise and that were, therefore, left overs. Like all cruise ships the Grand has a complete photography service and takes lots and lots of pictures of passengers, hoping they can be sold. Princess seems to offer more formal portrait opportunities than some other lines; however, I found their photographers to be less proficient than others I have encountered, both in terms of creating interesting photos and from a technical stand point. As an example, my eyes were closed in some of the pictures they took and posted. These formal sitting portraits should have just been discarded. Also, Princess' photo vendor has implemented a truly outrageous photo reproduction policy. My experience has been that photo vendors generally provide a blanket copyright waiver for physical photos taken by shipboard photographers, permitting passengers to take the physical copies of their shipboard photos to a commercial photo scanner back home. The vendor on the Grand was charging $50 per print for a copyright waiver. The Grand offers a very efficient Internet access program that is available 24/7. Service seems quite fast. Printing services are very reliable and there is onsite help portions of the day. The technical support staff seems very knowledgeable and friendly. There are plenty of workstations and I never had a difficult time finding a computer from which to check email or print boarding passes. There is also WiFi service available on the ship, at least in the computer center, which serves as a hot spot. Access may be more widely available than that. The Entertainers There was the usual raft (pun intended) of jugglers, magicians, singers and dancers and their skill was about on a par with other cruise lines. There are two performance venues. The Vista Lounge is a club sort of venue where smaller shows are held, while the Princess Theater is larger and seats more people (all pretty standard). There were several entertainment groups imported for the cruise, which ranged from wretched to excellent. Princess often deploys piano players and small groups around the ship for musical entertainment in the bars. These groups and individuals were probably the best entertainment offered on the cruise. Lectures and Classes Princess is known for its educational programs and during sea days there were many and varied offerings. The programs on offer included lectures (Rusty Wilson was good; the other guy was a bit less so. His presentations didn't always fit with their titles and his Power Point slides were far, far too full); computer classes (ranging from Photoshop to Microsoft office products); dance (I took rhumba and line dancing classes and no one got hurt!); and a wide range of crafts and arts. The classes that I took part in were excellent. I did not hear any comment one way or the other from my fellow passengers. There was also a cooking demonstration and a galley tour on the second sea day. The tour was cursory and the cooking demonstration was interesting, although judging on the quality of what came out of the kitchen possibly inedible. The Ports This cruise offered access to a range of interesting ports (which was my reason for scheduling the itinerary in the first place). The large number of ports resulted in a different stop nearly every day with sea days both on the first day and the next to last day. A number of passengers commented that they would have been happier with an additional sea day and perhaps one less port. We were fortunate in having good weather throughout the trip (with the exception of my rainy pre-cruise day in Venice) and so did not miss any ports do to unsafe conditions. Given the lateness of the cruise (late October and early November) this could have been a problem. The following paragraphs briefly summarize my experiences in each of the ports Dubrovnik - This is a lovely and friendly city, the old part largely surrounded by medieval walls. Because Croatia isn't part of the EU prices were reasonable while the merchandise selection was surprisingly good. The old city is relatively small and shopping is primarily on a single main street with short excursions up narrow side streets available. While there were numerous restaurants in the area I spoke with no one who visited any of them and ordered no Croatian food myself while in Dubrovnik. There are several very nice gelato shops on the main street and the gelato, while not as creamy and flavorful as that found in Rome, was quite good. I took the Walk the Walls shore excursion which was interesting but moderately physically challenging (there are many steps on this walking tour, some of which are very uneven). Other tours visited nearby sections of Croatia, but I didn't speak with anyone who took them and cannot comment. Corfu - I visited Corfu town only. The ship docks about a mile and a half from the old town and walking to it is very easy on flat streets with good directions from the Port Consultant. Old town Corfu consists of narrow streets - many accessible by foot only - with lots of small shops and what I have been told are excellent restaurants. Some passengers with whom I spoke visited the Monastery on a tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. I visited the old fortress (there is also a new fortress, but it appears to be an active military installation). The old fortress includes lots of steps and little explanatory information. It sits on a headland and when I was there the wind was both terrific and cold. Corfu is a definite return visit for me as soon as I get the chance. Katakolon - This small town is the gateway to the ancient Olympic site, which is a drive of roughly half an hour away. Katakolon is a very small town with a population of two or three thousand. There are few cabs and - other several blocks of shopping along the main street - little to do in town without having booked an excursion. The Olympic site is well marked but the ancient buildings are largely gone and the crowds were significant. There is a small museum at the site which is a worthwhile visit. Excavation at the site has been performed for many years by German archeologists and the museum appears to be staffed by Germans as well. They bring their usual Teutonic efficiency and lack of good cheer to this job. We visited the site on a Sunday and it was crowded, even in the morning. Fortunately the ancient site is quite large and tourists tend to congregate in the most popular areas (the running stadium and a couple of the more famous temple sites), leaving significant areas where its possible to get away and get a sense of the past. Athens - I took a long, day long tour in Athens that visited the Acropolis and Parthenon (of course) as well as several other local sites (which were drive bys), including the Archeological Museum, the temple of Zeus, Hadrian's arch, and the stadium built for the first modern Olympics. The tour included lunch at a hotel that was reputed to consist of "authentic Greek foods". Wine was also served. Following the tours our group (along with many other Grand groups) were set loose in the Plaka. This is reputed to be a restored 19th century shopping district and sounds very quaint. In practice it appears largely to be a fairly large cluster of shops that cater to tourists. In terms of visiting Athens it is worth noting that the hike up to the Acropolis is fairly steep and (again) includes worn steps where the footing can be tenuous. Also note that the Parthenon is being restored (this is a long term project and has been underway for many years). As a result large parts of the building are covered with scaffolding. There are, however, excellent views from the Acropolis that cannot be equaled anywhere in the world Mykonos - Mykonos is a small island with reputedly wonderful beaches (I did not visit them). Mykonos town is picturesque and is made up of narrow winding streets, many of which bear no name. It is almost impossible to find your way around the town. I spent some time looking for the maritime museum only to find that I had walked past it several times. Its sign is very small and obscured by a tree. It didn't matter anyway; the museum wasn't open (despite its advertised hours of operation). Mykonos is very much a beach and recreation place and hours are arranged in recognition of the fact that many people spend a lot of their daylight hours doing things other than shopping or visiting museums. Accordingly, shops open somewhat later and some sites are open only during evening hours. Mykonos is reputed to be an early jet setter destination, although I saw neither jets nor jet setters while visiting it. The folks running the stores, however, definitely had the "I've seen one too many tourists" attitude. There was little friendliness or courtesy in the shops, where the primary attitude seemed to be "give me your money and get out of my way". Attitudes may have been different outside of Mykonos town, as they were almost everywhere else that we visited in Greece with perhaps the exception of some people in Santorini. Kusadasi - Kusadasi Turkey is the gateway to Ephesus, which is an incredible ruin well worth seeing. Our tour included a stone house reconstructed on what was believed to be the site of the last home lived in by the Virgin Mary and the tomb of the apostle John. The later is in the ruins of a basilica and offers little to see. The ruins are however, in a small town a bit off the path and offer a chance to get a little better look at Turkey. Nearly all the tours included in their itineraries a stop at a carpet factory. This was not listed in the formal itinerary as far as I can remember and was not elective. Our stop occurred at the end of the tour when we were rather tired and generally hot and thirsty. The carpet merchants offered refreshments (as is customary in Middle East) and the sales pressure was gentle but continuing. Fortunately the shops are within walking distance of the port. The walk, however, is through the bazaar. While there are some good buys there (I bought quite a nice belt) the shop keepers work very hard to snag tourists. Browsing is not an understood concept there and bargaining is fierce (and useful). If you don't intend to buy it is probably best to keep walking because - once inside - it can be quite hard to get free again without a purchase. Rhodes - Rhodes was one of my favorite ports of call and definitely one that I wish to visit again. Once again I elected not to schedule a tour and instead just walked into old town, which is a very easy walk from the port. The Palace of the Knights of St John is a very worthwhile visit and includes an excellent museum. It is possible to gain access to the city walls near the Palace for a small fee (I believe 4 Euros) and the walk around the walls is a unique experience, allowing views of small side streets and gardens that are not otherwise available. The Palace also has public water closets (marked as "WC" in Greece). It's worth noting, however, that in men's WCs the commodes do NOT always come equipped with seats. Directly outside the Palace is the street known as Knights Way (or also by the name "The Street of Tongues). Old buildings used as headquarters by various groups of knights with lovely little courtyards line this street and the cobblestones appear to be original. It is well worth a look. The people of Rhodes are terrific, despite the fact that the old town is a booming tourist market. There are numerous small squares lined with little cafes where it is possible to sit in the sun, have a drink of cola or wine, and watch life go by. If non-tourist purchases are on your agenda its my understanding (based on discussions with the crew) that you can obtain better selection and prices in the new market area. This appears to be just outside the old city walls and can be reached by walking left out of the port area rather than right (which takes you in short order to a gate into the old city). Some passengers from the Grand booked a tour to the Rhodes Acropolis. Word of mouth about this site was that it was a pretty strenuous climb and offered little of note. I heard no comments about other shore excursions. Santorini - I am not sure whether it was because I was tired by this point in the cruise or whether it just doesn't offer much of interest, but I could have skipped my visit to Santorini and been very happy. I scheduled a shore excursion to Oia (pronounced Ea with the emphasis on the E), which was basically a drive through the country (on high mountain roads with very sharp drop offs; Santorini is an island of very high cliffs and very sharp drop offs) and a stop at a winery (at 8:30 in the morning, where we were offered wine tastings). We were dropped off in Oia and given half an hour or so on our own to walk the town. Oia is a lovely little town, much nicer than Fira, the capital. Following our visit to Oia we were loaded back on the bus and driven into Fira, where the guide led us to the center of town, given cursory directions on how to get back to the ship, and then released the group. Fira offers what appears to be very nice and creative shopping, particularly - it seems for jewelry. There are two methods of getting back to the ship, which docks at the foot of the cliffs on which Fira sits. The cable cars are the more comfortable way down, although the line for the cars can be quite long. I caught the cars back in the middle of the day, long before the Grand or the other ships at dock were to sail) and waited approximately 40 minutes. Others who waited until later in the afternoon reported that they waited well over an hour. There are also stairs that lead to the port and its possible to walk down them. The stairs appear to be very shallow steps with long platforms, which could make for a very uneven and tiring stride (it's a LONG way down to the bottom). In addition, the stairs are used by donkeys carrying passengers UP to Fira, so you must share the steps with the donkeys and their by products as well. Given the alternative, my first thought was "bring on the cable cars" and I never regretted it for an instant. The ride up the cliff via donkey appeared to be an interesting trip. I spoke with one passenger who said she was a life-long rider. She said that the ride up was the most interesting thing that she and her husband had done on the cruise and that it was absolutely terrifying. Naples - I scheduled a tour of Pompeii that also included a visit to the Archeological Museum (I was getting pretty tired of archeological museums by this point, but what the heck) and lunch at a pizzeria. There was also a stop at a cameo factory where we got a very brief demonstration of the cameo making process and a chance to buy (big surprise there) cameos. The two hour tour of Pompeii covered only a fraction of this very large site and only a portion of the most significant buildings. Were I to go again I would most likely just walk to the station, catch a train to Pompeii and do the tour alone. It is possible to rent audio tour guides that would make the visit more meaningful. There is a bookstore at the site, which was not open during our Sunday visit, as well as many vendors who have tents set up near the exit. Vendor prices are outrageous. Tour books sold by the vendors, for example cost 18 Euros; the same book was for sale at the Archeological Museum for 8 Euros. Lunch at the pizzeria was excellent and the wait staff was hilarious. We were served small traditional pizzas, a salad and bottles of wine. Dessert was a sort of rum cake and a chocolate confection that was exceptional. The Archeological Museum was definitely worth the trip because it contains many of the artifacts removed from Pompeii, including many of the mosaics. There is a nice museum shop; however it had little material available in English. Disembarkation I had an early flight and was a bit worried about Princess' ability to get me to it on time (it helped that Princess had booked the flight and that I had a Princess transfer. In instances where travel has to be integrated I am a big proponent of using a single vendor so that responsibility can be easily determined in the event something goes wrong). I need not have worried, although I did have to get up at a quarter of four in the morning. The transfer off ship was seamless and quick and I was at the airport in Rome with time to spare. My flight home on United was excellent and on time, although very long (about 10 hours to Dulles, outside of Washington). In conclusion I book cruises on an itinerary basis rather than based on the cruise line providing the service. On that basis I had an exceptional time. Would I book another cruise on Princess? You betcha (whoops; the election is over) if they were going where I wanted to go and especially if it were one of the smaller ships. Otherwise, I wouldn't book a Princess cruise for the cruise experience myself. I know this is a rather long review and may contain details irrelevant to some. I hope that it is useful reading and enhances your cruise or assists you in making an informed choice. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
Grand Princess Eastern Med Oct 17th-Oct 28h First a couple notes. I will try not to repeat what has been said before in prior reviews and concentrate on only those things that have not been mentioned or are new. My wife and I are ... Read More
Grand Princess Eastern Med Oct 17th-Oct 28h First a couple notes. I will try not to repeat what has been said before in prior reviews and concentrate on only those things that have not been mentioned or are new. My wife and I are reasonably seasoned travellers and don't tend to take many excursions, preferring to do many ports on our own. For this reason, most of the notes on ports of call are for those that prefer to do things on their own. We also tend to pick cruises based on itineraries rather than Cruise line. Overall this was an outstanding cruise with some minor quibbles that I have saved for the end. Ok, on to the review: Pre cruise we redeemed points for the Hilton Airport. It was obviously easy to get to from the Airport since it has a moving walkway to/from the Hotel. Also important was the bus that ran every two hours starting at 8:00 that dropped us off between the Circus Maximus and the Forum. After two days in Rome we opted for the Princess transfer from the Airport. The trip was 50 minutes to Civitavecchia on a standard tour bus through mostly rural farms and small communities. Our "guide" gave some rudimentary comments about the area we travelled through. Embarkation was quick and painless. The Ship: The Grand Princess had held up well. I saw no signs of her being a ten year old ship. It was in good shape and everything was well cared for. Our room was spacious and there were more hangers in the closet than we have seen on other Cruise lines. The room was well thought out and the bathroom never had the "cruise ship smell" we have found on some Cruises. We found that the ship is exceptionally stable. My wife tends towards seasickness and after the second day stopped taking her Dramamine. The elevators took some getting used to. They don't always stop on the floor for people waiting to board. This can be a problem for anyone amidships where there is no stairwell as an alternate. Hint: The buttons for the main bank of Elevators are not connected to the elevators on the opposite sides. These can often be less full than the main elevators. To increase the chances of getting an elevator, push the button for the main bank and also for the two side elevators. "Movies under the stars" was almost always full. Movies were similar to those just released on DVD. It may have been the passenger make-up of this cruise, but Skywalkers nightclub rarely had more than a dozen people on any given night. The laundry rooms were pretty busy throughout the cruise. We weren't the only ones who packed light knowing we could wash clothes during the cruise. A special note on port lecturer Rusty Wison, whose port briefing was broadcast on the Princess channel the day prior to each port. These were very good briefings and always gave specific directions for getting off the ship along with pictures and maps. As the cruise went on, we noticed more and more Passengers touring independently and I believe this was the direct result of these excellent briefings. Also not to be missed is the very funny morning show hosted by the cruise director with updated notes on each port. Dining: There was apparently an elevated level of Norovirus on the previous cruise so the first two days in the buffet the staff served all the meals and brought all drinks. Several Crew mentioned they thought this was the result of their stop in Egypt. At any rate, there was no problem by day three and everything was back to normal with everyone serving themselves. This was our first time choosing "anytime" dining but never had a problem getting a table. We did wait approx. 10 minutes on one night but that was the only time we waited. We had planned on taking most of our dinners in the formal dining rooms but we ending up eating dinner at the buffet more than planned due to two factors: One, we were tired after many long days on a port-intensive itinerary, and more importantly, we felt on many occasions the food at dinner in the buffet was as good as what we would find downstairs. The only quirk, which is not unusual, was the lack of variety towards the end of the cruise. For instance, "Lyonaisse Potatoes" were served four straight times on the last two days (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and breakfast again) One typical nights buffet had Lamb chops, Weiner Schnitzel, Broiled Barramundie, and Roast Pork at the carving station, along with the usual vegetables, fruit, breads, etc. The desserts in the buffet I thought were unremarkable and were the only items consistently better in the formal dining rooms. Outside of normal meals times are pre-made sandwiches, fruit, and desserts from 4:00pm-6:00pm and "bistro" dining from 11:00pm to 6:00am with fruit, bread, sandwiches, and leftovers from dinner that hold well on the buffet table. The Ports: Monte Carlo- The shipped docked at the port across the bay from the Casino. It was about a mile walk from the ship into town and all uphill to the Casino. The Casino does not open until 2:00 so we spent our time at the old fort and wandering around town and went to the Casino later, for which there is a charge of 10 euros. For anyone wanting to take a train to Cannes, Nice, or other close destinations, the train station is directly opposite the dock behind the church. To find the Train Station from the street, look for the sculpture of the racing car. One funny note; the ship's photos for purchase at this stop were all labeled "Monte Carlo, France" even though the locals seemed to think they lived in Monaco. :-) Livorno (Florence/Pisa): The ship docks in the port of Livorno and Princess announced that no one was allowed to walk from the ship into town. Anyone not doing an excursion would be required to take the Princess shuttle at $5 each way. This was a Sunday and there was hardly anything open in Livorno. We did not do an excursion and after exiting the shuttle took the local bus #1 to the train station and then took the train to Pisa (1,80 euro each way). We had pre-reserved a tour time to climb the tower but wouldn't have needed it. There were many available slots when we arrived. Our tablemates at dinner all went to Florence by different methods (4 by private car and 2 by excursion) and agreed there was not enough time in Florence and too many lines to really see anything with enough time to enjoy it. Naples: We again did our own thing and walked to the train station and took the train to Pompeii. (2,40 euro, about a 40 minute trip) If you really want to see all of Pompeii, you should do this independently and use a local guide or do your own research ahead of time. None of the excursions from various ships went beyond the forum and surrounding area which is the most destroyed part of Pompeii. The main market area as you walk towards the Colosseum is much better preserved. We then took the bus to Mt. Vesuvius but didn't have time to climb to the crater. The bus to Mt. Vesuvius leaves down the hill from the Pompeii entrance and goes to the base of the older caldera. It will take 3 hours for this if you stay on the bus. The bus was 8,70 euro and to climb to the top (45 minutes each way) was an additional 6 euro. To climb Vesuvius and look in the crater you need at least 4.5 hours. Santorini: We took a tender in to the port. There is a Furnicular to the top for 4 euros or you can walk up the steps or take donkeys up to town. Many Passengers opted to take the furnicular up and walk back down on the steps. The only drawback going down is sharing the steps with the donkeys going up. Bottled water on the ship is $3.75 for .5 liter so my wife insisted on buying 9 liters of bottled water in a local Supermarket. The donkeys going up had to share the steps with a two legged mule that was walking down. We took the local bus to Oia for 1,40 euro each way. I thought Oia is much more picturesque than the town of Thera and I would recommend visiting it for part of your time here. Kusadasi (Ephesus) This was our only ships excursion to visit the Roman port of Ephesus. The guide took us down the main path and gave very good explanations of what we were seeing. However, he didn't go to the Odeon or go into the very large amphitheater so we took off on our own to take some great pictures of these structures and rejoined our tour group quickly. This was the only location on the cruise where you could actually go into the theatres and sit in the stands or walk on stage so we didn't want to miss this. Our tour also visited the reconstructed house of the Virgin Mary which was on a hill overlooking Ephesus Kusadasi has the second largest Turkish bazaar next to Istanbul. The ship docked only minutes from the main shopping and this was the easiest port for walking around. Mykonos: Due to high winds we were unable to dock or tender (apparently a common occurrence for Mykonos this time of year) and spent the day at sea. The at-sea activities were the usual putt putt challenge, team trivia, etc. Athens: We walked to the train station which was very easy. You just follow the sidewalk around the port and take the pedestrian walkway to cross the street to the Train station. The fare is 1,20 euro each way. The Acropolis was absolutely packed with people and we took our pictures and got out fast. Overlooked and very relaxing was the Agora which we went to on the way to the Plaka. Admission for the Acropolis which includes up to five other sites is 12 euros. We spent the rest of our day shopping in the Plaka which is also a great place for lunch. Katakolon (Olympia): Katakolon is an easy walk from the dock but you can see all there is in an hour or two and then have time to relax and have lunch at one of the local cafes. We went to Olympia and again took the train for one euro each way. It was a nice 45 minute trip though the Greek country side. The train station is the little yellow building at the end of town and you purchase your ticket on board from the Conductor. On the way back you will need to pay at the Station. The train line starts in Katakolon and ends in Olympia so there is no chance of getting lost. The archaeological site is not far from the Train station and there is some shopping available in the town of Olympia. Cost for entrance to the site is 6 euros. Corfu: The ship docked about 1.5 miles from town. While there are other things to see, for us this was mostly a shopping stop with many of the same items that were available in Kusadasi, with the added exception of Kumquat products. Many of the merchants were offering free samples of the local Kumquat liquor so be sure and get a taste. Old town itself is nice just to walk through and absorb the ambiance. Disembarkation: We were informed two days prior that no Vaporettos would be available during disembarkation until 8am and they were a half mile away in the Piazzale Roma. We were advised to use the ships offer of $37 pp for transfer to the Airport or local Hotels. We decided to forgo their offer and used the Vaporetto that was actually right outside the terminal and leaves every 30 minutes or so and goes to San Marco. The cost is 6 euros plus 3 additional euros for each bag. If you have lots of bags the ships transfer would probably be a better deal but we only had one each so felt this was much cheaper and faster/easier. Plus we were irked that Princess made it sound farther away and more expensive than it actually was. Venice: We arrived at 9pm and on the way to the port cruised past San Marco which is nice to see at night. Venice is a great walking town with signs everywhere to get you back to San Marco or the Rialto bridge. We found that both the food here and many of the souvenirs were actually cheaper than many of the other stops. After the cost to get to/from the Airport and the high Hotel prices, this was a pleasant surprise. Post Cruise we stayed at the Best Western Monte Carlo which was a great value and only about 50 yards from the exit of San Marco square. For the trip to the Airport we took the Alilaguna Vaporetto located at San Marco for 12 Euro each. This was a great cruise and I was very happy with the ship and crew but there were a few minor quibbles. Princess' habit of nickel and diming Passengers is well discussed at other threads so I'll skip it here. One interesting note is that the automatic charge to your onboard account for staff gratuity is now called a "Dining and Hotel charge" In the dining room the staff performance seemed to go down after the 4th day. At the same time, Princess decided for some unknown reason not to allow Customers to get their own silverware. This caused many delays during busy times in the buffet since a table may be available but you had to wait for utensils while your food got cold. This may have been one reason I could never seem to get a drink unless I got it myself. The same lack of attention affected the formal dining room when it came to getting water glasses refilled or after-dinner coffee. However, the traditional seating passengers we spoke with were extremely happy with their experiences. I suspect this was because they had the same waiter each night. From 3:30-4:30 every day there is free ice cream on one side of the buffet. However, the sign at the door said "Please use other side". I don't know if this was a way to keep people away so they would buy the ice cream at the ice cream stand or what, but it was a little odd. Speaking of the ice cream stand, I initially balked at paying for ice cream on a cruise, but the ice cream is only $1.50 for two huge scoops and toppings are .25 each. If you need an off-hours ice cream fix I felt this was actually a good deal. Summary This was a port-intensive cruise but the ship was great, the food was great, and the staff was good. I would definitely book a "Grand" class of Princess ship again. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
After doing a lovely land trip of France and Italy the year before we seriously considered canceling this cruise, but thought logistically, it would just be too hard to cover the territory by land. We were right ! We flew Vancouver ... Read More
After doing a lovely land trip of France and Italy the year before we seriously considered canceling this cruise, but thought logistically, it would just be too hard to cover the territory by land. We were right ! We flew Vancouver to London on Air Canada non stop which was lovely and even better was we were upgraded to business class. We very easily navigated our way with luggage on the Heathrow Express to the Hilton at Paddington Station. Great hotel to stay in and quite reasonable. 109 Pounds per night which included buffet breakfast and a dinner. Only issue was the bed was hard as cement. Other than that we loved the Hilton's location - right across from the tube station. Our two days in London were spent traveling around Hyde Park, Knightsbridge (hubby had never seen the Food Hall at Harrods), Big Ben, the London Eye, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus before a couple of hours of retail therapy and beer on Oxford Street. Next Stop: Venice! We we're flying from Gatwick to Venice on British Airways. Getting to Gatwick was easy, we flagged a taxi outside out hotel and for less than 10 pounds we were at Victoria Station to take the Gatwick Express to the airport. All very easy and quite manageable. The flight was excellent, we had upgraded on line for about 100 pounds and drank our share of free champagne on the flight. Arriving in Venice, we opted for the Alligunia water taxi, cheap, convenient, but man it takes a long time to get to St. Marks. Nice cheap tour of Venice though! Upon arrival at St. Marks we walked to our hotel, The Westin. Again, very easy to navigate as we'd stayed there before and knew exactly where it was. The Westin was fabulous. We had booked on points and were given a lovely room (I called it our Wing) overlooking the Grand Canal. We immediately dropped our bags and started touring. First stop, Gelato! Second stop, liquid both for the room and for the ship. We headed over the Accademia bridge and kept walking until you hit the water on the other side and then head right. There's a decent grocery store there. We bought beer, wine, mix, etc. and headed back to the hotel. Embarkation. To get to the ship, we headed back towards St. Marks with our luggage, to the Alligunia stop again. It was 6 Euro each for a person and I think 3 Euro for the suitcase. Super easy, super cheap and we got there very fast. Check in was very easy about 1:00 pm ish, no waiting in line and we could board immediately. We went straight to our room Caribe 703. The balcony was huge, but the room was smallish compared to our last two cruises which were a full suite on the Sea Princess and a Corner FV on Millennium. The room proved to be big enough for two and we had no issues with storage or bumping into each other. The Ship at first glance. We loved the Grand, people had told us beforehand that she was too big, but we didn't find her that way at all. Being by the aft elevators was great, we're not show people so I don't think we actually ventured much past the middle. Back to Venice. As the ship wasn't leaving until the next morning, we got off and walked to Piazza Roma and bought vaporetto passes. We sailed up and down the Grand Canal, taking pictures, getting off at the Rialto for a little shopping, a lovely way to spend the afternoon/evening. Sailaway from Venice: Wow, I really don't think any sailaway could compare. We have sailed into Venice before and it's just magical...cold, but magical. We wrapped up well and got our spot on deck for the 8:00 am sailaway. Something I will always remember. Of course it doesn't hurt that we sailed out of Venice on our wedding anniversary. Meet and Greet: One of the lovely ladies on our extremely active roll call had organized our meet and greet for the sailaway afternoon in the Skywalkers nightclub. We had a great turnout and it was fantastic to finally meet all of these people that we'd been chatting to for 18 months online. The "assistant" cruise director showed up and made a bit of a speech. We also had a get together on the last sea day where the cruise director and photographer showed up to take a group picture. Ports - may not be in order Dubrovnik: We'd been here before in 2005 but because of a downpour then, we were unable to walk the walls…not this time!! We shared a taxi for 10 Euro with friends and headed straight to the wall. It's quite the hike with some climbs that I hadn't expected but really worth it for the views. You can pay in Kuna or Euros for the wall. You got a better deal paying in Kuna. After the walls it was beer time, we didn't care that it was only 10:30 am and most civilized adults were sipping coffee, we'd earned our beer! For lunch we went back to Mea Culpa Pizza which we loved last time and it didn't disappoint this time. Not very good shopping, so we headed back to the ship. Another 10 Euro for a taxi for 4…very good deal to not have to wait and pay for the ships shuttles. Corfu: We just walked the town in Corfu and met up with friends for a beer (are you starting to see a pattern?) In retrospect, I do wish we had done a tour to see the island better, be we did enjoy the downtown area. We walked there and took the 1 euro bus back to the port. There was a duty free store by the port We didn't see any booze being taken away or any table set up in any of our ports to confiscate liquor….Yeah Princess!! Olympia: This was a new port for us and with the Olympics being in Vancouver in 2010 it had special significance. However, it really is a huge pile of rocks that you assume was once the home of the Olympics. It will be cool though when they light the torch there and we'll know it's on its way to Vancouver. Did a little shopping in Katakolon after our ½ day tour. Athens: We've been to Athens before and then and now, I still think it's a hole. Which is shame for such a historically significant city. We did the National Museum which was excellent. My husband had his wallet lifted in Athens (no what's not why I don't like it). It wasn't as secured as it should have been and it was lifted when he got on the Subway. The thief only got his one day spending money and one credit card. The ship was fantastic in getting us through to Capital One to get his card cancelled. They made all the calls at their expense. Can't say enough about how they handled it. I firmly believe in Karma and we didn't let this ruin our vacation. (Probably saved him 1,000s anyway not being able to buy me stuff). The Grand was delayed in Athens due to a fuel strike or something. The people that pump the fuel were not too co-operative and they were still filling her up at 7/8 at night. We had to leave our cabin as the fuel was being pumped on our side….Yuck!! Mykonos: Lovely, Lovely Mykonos. Very glad we got to return here. We had no tour booked, we just took the ships shuttle into town. Wandered over to Little Italy to check out the windmills and have our first beer of the morning overlooking the windmills and getting splashed by spray coming up. We had a mission in Mykonos, well actually two. Mission #1 was to get back to Nykos Taverna for lunch which was fantastic. I swear, I've never tasted Feta like it. And the 500 ml Mythos beer, how can you complain. Mission #2…Yellow Label Grand Marnier. Mykonos is one of the very few places I've seen that sells it. It's made by Grand Marnier and tastes a lot like Cointreau, only better. We succeeded in both of our missions !! We spent the afternoon walking around in the lovely sunshine and met up with a two couples from our roll call for what else, an afternoon beer. Rhodes: Rhodes was supposed to be after Kusadasi but the two ports were switched due to traffic congestion. Loved Rhodes. We took the ships excursion to Lindos and climbed up to the Acropolis. Fantastic views, but a lot of steps!! After the climb we had about an hour free, I'm not even going to tell you what we did, I'm sure you can guess ? Anyway, met 6 or 8 Brits on a roof top Taverna and we had a great chat. They were there on a land trip. Our tour bus dropped us off at the ship and we grabbed a quick lunch before heading into Old Town Rhodes. I really wanted to buy a leather coat on this trip and figured either Rhodes or Kusadasi would be good. I found the exact one that I wanted but the price tag was 720 Euro…I think not. Anyway after some negotiating and walking away and what I swear was being sworn at in greek ;) I got it for 360 Euro. I was happy, they were happy, and I got a beautiful coat. Old Town Rhodes is a giant shopping mall. Everywhere, stores, stores and more stores. Kusadasi: this was the first of our two Private Tours. This was booked by Jackie from our roll call who organized this for 13 people. Of course, we were going to Ephesus. We toured with Nejat who is often mentioned on these boards. He was great and very knowledgeable. We started at the Virgin Mary's House and then made our way down to Ephesus. What a fantastic site. Wow! You really could spend hours and hours there, it's fascinating. But it was also really hot and PACKED!!! Can't imagine what it was like the day before if we got switched because of Traffic! We seemed to suffer from the disappearing group in Ephesus. By the end of the tour 5 people had become separated from the group, which was too bad because they missed the Terrace Houses which was incredible. If you go to Ephesus, make sure your tour includes the Terrace Houses, awesome. And keep your group on a string ! After Ephesus we headed for a late lunch which was great. Kabobs, salad, etc. Not much time for shopping at the end of this tour, glad I got my coat the day before and the shopkeepers were so aggressive, it was such a turn off after being with so many people in Ephesus all day that we just turned around and headed back to the ship. Santorini: Santorini is a place that I turn into a different person. All the cares, worries just disappear and I'm instantly relaxed. They should bottle it! We knew there was going to be a few ships in port with us so we wanted to make an early start. We were able to get the first tender with only about 15 other people and we got the first funicular up to Fira. Not much was open at this point and we'd talked about doing the walk to Oia. There is a trail that stretches across the caldera away from the road. We found the path and started to walk. We got about 3 K and the trail was starting to get bad and you could tell it was going further and further way from the road and we'd hit the end of civilization…..so low and behold, upon walking to the road, we came out at one of the only bus stops on the entire route! We waited about 10 minutes and hopped the next bus to Oia. Best of both worlds really, we were able to take in the fantastic views of the caldera in the first 3 K without tiring ourselves out and got to Oia quite quickly. We spent about 4 hours in Oia, had breakfast there, shopped, took a ton of pictures, walked around to the windmill and then went for lunch and took the bus back to Fira. Hubby left me at this point to go back to the ship and I did a little shopping in Fira before returning. There was no line up for the funicular going down as it was now mid-afternoon and the two Costa ships had left by 1:00 pm. Sea Day !! Yeah, finally a chance to sleep in and relax!! I spent some time by the aft pool and the casino (the casino was terrible this trip). I placed 3rd in the slot tournament which got me a t-shirt and hat. Naples: We had arranged a private tour for 8 with Salvatore of DriveAmalfi. Great day, but this was probably our worst day weather wise. We headed straight down to the Amalfi Coast and drove through Positano with lots of stops for photos along the way. We then headed to Amalfi with some free time. Had to buy our Lemoncello to take home. We then went for lunch just below Ravello. I had the Gnocci which I think was 6 Euro and it was fabulous…..light as Angel's Pillows!! The rest of the group had Pizza which looked delicious and was equally as cheap if not cheaper. Our next stop should have been Ravello, but as we came to the top, the heavens opened. If we'd have even attempted to get out of the van, we'd have been soaked to the skin in seconds so we skipped Ravello and headed to Pompeii for more time there. Pompeii was fascinating. It's far bigger than I thought it would be. But of course, within ½ hour of arriving, the heavens opened there too and our entire group was huddled against a wall trying to escape a hail storm. You really couldn't help but giggle about the whole thing especially when the rain and hail started coming sideways. C'est le Vie!! We were at Pompeii for about 90 minutes and barely scraped the surface. Disembarkation: OMG, did we really get off that easily? It was incredible. We were given a time to meet in the Casino with our land luggage and within 5 minutes of that time, we were walking off the ship. Shocking! By far the easiest disembarkation we've ever done. Food: I think we're getting tired of the dining room on cruises. We opted for Anytime Dining this time and it worked out great (when we were there) I think we ate in the dining room 3 times…one was a disaster…I'll get there in a minute. We ate at Sterlings twice. I had the fillet both times and found it outstanding. My DH had the Rib Eye one night and said it was very fatty, he ordered the fillet the second time. We also ate at Sabatini's once with a group of 6. That was excellent. I had the Sea Bass - really, really good. The other nights, we either ate at Horizon Court, ordered a pizza from Room Service & Nachos and Guacamole (excellent) and one night we brought back olives and cheese, etc. from Santorini and went up to the Horizon court for food to supplement our greek dinner and very much enjoyed eating on our deck. Back to the dining room…. We ate there one night with two other couples from our roll call. The waiter was awful, very rushed service, almost like he had somewhere to go. Removing silverware from your place setting while you were eating. Terrible, terrible service. This came to a head when he spilt coffee on one of the ladies legs. They were very light silk pants and of course would have scorched her instantly. He and the Maitre'd of that dining room were too busy filling out their paperwork to check to see if she was ok. Anyway, long story short, they were invited back by the Head Honcho on the last formal night, we ate with them and were treated like royalty. MUTS: I LOVE MUTS!! I really do. I don't enjoy the shows, I find most of them very cheesy, but give me a blanket and popcorn and I'm happy under the stars. We watched two movies on this trip. Aft Pool and Hot Tubs: Loved the aft pool and the Hot Tubs. Being right by those aft elevators, it was very easy to sneak up in your bathrobes at night. Quite often about 9 pm we'd be in the hot tubs and no one around! Very nice and relaxing. Not once did we spot anyone else up there at night. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
This was my and my husband's second cruise on the Grand Princess, having done he Norwegian Fjords cruise in July 2007. We were very pleased with the food, service and facilities last year, but I can say with complete honesty that ... Read More
This was my and my husband's second cruise on the Grand Princess, having done he Norwegian Fjords cruise in July 2007. We were very pleased with the food, service and facilities last year, but I can say with complete honesty that Grand Princess had actually made some real improvements this year! We took my parents and sister and her friend with us this year - and it was their very first cruise, which they seem to have thoroughly enjoyed. We began in Venice, with stops at Dubrovnik, Corfu, Olympia (katakolo), Athens, Mykonos, Rhodes, Ephesus, Santorini and Naples, finishing at Civitavecchia (Rome). We made our own way to Venice and spent 1 night at the Best Western HOtel Olympia - very close to the Piazzale Rome and bus terminal. WE were able to walk from there (about 10 minutes) to the cruise terminal, and when we arrived from the airport it was a fairly simple walk (1 bridge to cross) to our hotel. The hotel was very nice, and Venice is so compact that everything is within easy walking distance or water bus. After 1 night, we made our way to Piazzale Roma for the shuttle bus to the port at about noon, when embarkation commenced- as the shuttle was nowhere to be found, we walked to the port, which was not too difficult, even with our cases in tow. Once at Maritima Terminal it was easy - we dropped our cases and walked straight up tot he check-in desks. My parents, who needed extra assistance, were on board in less than 5 minutes, while us younger folk had to wait about 15-20 minutes for our numbers to be called. We had 1 hiccup once on board - I had ordered champagne for each state room, and this is acquired by way of a coupon left in your cabin on arrival. One of these coupons was missing, as were my sister's pre-booked excursions tickets - however, after a quick enquiry at the pursers desk, they arrived later in the day. We departed Venice the next morning and the whole cruise went by without a hitch (apart from a slight delay leaving Athens, due to a refueling problem caused by a strike - however this did NOT affect our arrival at the next port). Here are a few of my main points and comments: FOOD - excellent - in fact even better than last year. A new streamlined menu had been devised, and the quality and choice of food in the Michelangelo Dining Room was fantastic - if you wanted a main course as a starter, no problem; if you wanted 2 souffles, no problem; if you wanted a different vegetable NO PROBLEM! Presentation was also improved from last year (and it was very good last year!). Food in the horizon court buffet was also good and varied. We also enjoyed the food in Sabatini's, but the tables were a bit too small and uncomfortable for 6 people (with odd table legs shooting out at odd angles) - and their way of giving you multiple tasting menus before the main course left us stuffed and not really that keen on the main meal. SERVICE - excellent! From the cabin stewards to the barmen, who artfully created shaken espresso martinis for us each afternoon, you really couldn't fault anyone. Everyone said hello and smiled, and everyone went out of their way to ensure you had a good time. ROOMS and PUBLIC AREAS were spotless and constantly being polished, painted, scrubbed etc. While the furnishings (and the Skywalkers Nightclub - something out of a Star Wars/ 70s disco ball nightmare) could do with some updating, generally everything was kept in a good state. (the ship will have some work done in December 2008 to update soft furnishings). PORTS OF CALL - all excellent. The tour lectures on the tv gave you all the info you needed. One drawback was that some ports were crowded (with 3-4 ships in port) and we had to tender more often than had been advertised. However, this wasn't a big issue. We did some Princess tours, which were all fine, and also did our own thing, which was very easy if you did your research. WE booked a private tour at Ephesus with EKOL travel, which was WONDERFUL. Our only complaint would be this was a very port intensive itinerary, and we could have done with another sea day in the middle to catch our breath. FINALLY, a perfect cruise was almost ruined by Princess staff in head office, who decided to block cancel all flights they had booked with Alitalia. I had been concerned that there might be a problem, but was assured beforehand that everything was fine. However, 48 hours before we arrived at Civitavecchia we received a notice that our flights had been cancelled and our new itinerary back to the UK would entail a 5 hour drive to Florence, followed by a wait of 4 hours, before continuing to Pisa for a late night flight home. Despite the best efforts of staff on board (who knew nothing of the changes until informed ont he same day as us), a problem with satellite communication at sea meant that we could not get thru to head office to try and change this. We therefore informed staff that we would make our own arrangements, and after several attempts to text a message to my sister's colleagues in the USA, we finally got some flights with Ryanair. A final stressful moment occurred when we embarked at Civitavecchia at 5am to find there were no taxis - however, finally 1 arrived and sent word to his office that there were quite a few people wanting taxis to airports and town. Princess staff at the port were helpful, but considering there were something like 7 cruise ships in port that morning, changing over 13,000 passengers, I cannot understand why port staff were NOT on hand to ensure that there were sufficient taxis/transfers available - from past experience, I would say this is not unusual for Italy. We made it home safely, though at considerable personal expense, and all we wish is that Princess had asked us FIRST before canceling our flights, as most Alitalia flights that day were not cancelled. We know they did it to ensure we were not left stranded at the airport, but we would have liked to have considered our options before they block cancelled a perfectly fine flight. My parents had onward flights to the USA the following day from London, which they could not change (without a substantial cost),which was why I had checked with Princess pre-cruise to ensure that there were not likely to be any last-minute changes. Well, these things do happen, and in future I will probably book all my own flights and transfers - I cannot fault the Grand Princess staff, who were marvellous from beginning to end. A great cruise and a great ship, despite her advanced years! If you want to see the wonders of the ancient world with the least amount of effort/pack/unpacking, this cruise was the way to go! Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
I had always wanted to go on a cruise to the Greek Islands and finally my wife and I decided to celebrate our anniversary by taking this 12 day cruise from Venice to Rome aboard the Grand Princess. We flew to Venice two days early to stay ... Read More
I had always wanted to go on a cruise to the Greek Islands and finally my wife and I decided to celebrate our anniversary by taking this 12 day cruise from Venice to Rome aboard the Grand Princess. We flew to Venice two days early to stay in one of our favorite cities. It was great to roam around Venice and get over jet lag before boarding the ship. EMBARKATION Getting to the port in Venice is really pretty easy. You can either take a bus or a water taxi. We took the water taxi from St Marks and were delivered right to the port area. You have to walk about 500 yards to the baggage drop off area. Venice is a bit different than other ports in that the baggage drop off area is some distance from the actual place you get on the ship. It is not marked well, but if you keep asking you will get directed to the right area. After you drop off your bags you walk back over to the actual embarkation terminal. Check in was pretty easy and we were allowed on the ship after about a 30 minute wait. SHIP I had read some reviews that the Grand Princess was getting old and a little long in the tooth. I completely disagree. Yes, she is 10 years old, but was in great shape and she is a really well designed ship. We never felt crowded, even though the ship was full. There is plenty of space on deck and the public areas are really nice. The only suggestion would be to have a card room for use in the evening. We loved the movies under the stars. Played on the putting green and never had a problem getting a deck chair around the pool or in the covered pool area. I could go on and on about how well I think this ship is designed. Our cabin was an inside room and was just fine. The only thing I could wish, was that they had more drawer space. Storage was good, but could have used a couple more drawers. Had a desk,chair and table and the space was fine. Bed was comfortable and the room service was fine. Not great, but adequate. The only area that Princess needs to work on is the service at the Purser's Desk. Staff was friendly, but often gave out wrong information. It was like this was their first cruise to the area. Loved the internet service. FOOD Loved the anytime dinning. Never a problem and we actually were seated at the same table most of the cruise. Always was able to find something I like loved the Pina Colada soup! Buffet service was very good as was the pizza. Did not try the room service. Ate at the steak house and it was exceptional. Well worth the extra charge. PORTS AND SHORE EXCURSIONS This is why you take this cruise. We actually had 10 ports of call. You get to overnight in Venice and get off in Rome. In between you get to visit Dubrovnik, Corfu, Katakolon, Athens, Mykonos, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Santorini, Naples and get off in Rome. Dubrovnik and Corfu were nice visits I would not care if I went there again, but we had a pleasant time. In both places were just went into town and wondered around. Took a boat excursion in Dubrovnik which was great to see the city from the water. Katakolon is the stop for Olympia. We were going to take the train there, but missed the early one and then decided to just shop and enjoy the town. People who went to Olympia said it was nice. In Athens we took a Princess tour to the Parthenon. Great tour, good guide a not miss attraction. After leaving Athens, you stop at Mykonos, one of the magical Greek Islands. We took the shuttle into town and just wondered around. Found a great bakery. Then we rented a car and drove all over the island. It was easy to rent a car and the roads and directions are not bad at all. Next stop was Kusadasi. This is the stop to enable you to go to Ephesus. This was one of the places I was really looking forward to and I was not disappointed. Took the Princess tour and it was great. Our guide was fantastic and also was our guide at Ephesus. he was one of the best guides I have ever had. Enjoyed the shopping when we returned to the ship. Great port of call. From here you go to Rhodes. Great walled city to walk around and just enjoy. No need for a tour. Easy walk from the ship. Then it was off to Santorini. Probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. We spent about half the day just walking around and then hired a cab to tour the island. Worked out great. As great as Santorini was, Naples is the opposite. Take a tour and get out of the port area. Just a depressing port and dirty city. The countryside is great and if you haven't been to Pompeii, do go there. One of the reasons were chose this cruise was we were in every port at least a full day. No half day stops as some of the Greek Isle cruises. Great cruise. ACTIVITIES ON BOARD Since you are in port almost every day, the daytime activities are limited. We found that fine. The evening entertainment is typical cruise line fare. Some good, some not so good. We did enjoy the shows, especially the Beatles tribute band. Cruise director gave good port talks and they were repeated on the TV, if you didn't want to go in person. SERVICE Overall good. In the dining room our servers were excellent. Room steward adequate. Purser's desk needs work. Captain's Circle rep very helpful. Guys in the computer could not have been more helpful and friendly. As others have said the coffee in the buffet is terrible. DISEMBARKATION Probably the best I have ever had. The ship gets into port at about 4 am. We were off the ship and in our waiting car, by 8:00 am and some friends were off and took the train and got to the airport to catch a 10:30 am flight. They got off the ship a 6:45am! Could not have been smoother or easier. SUMMARY This is a great cruise. Great ports, very nice ship. I have been on probably 30 cruise and this may be the best ever! Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
My husband and I booked this cruise back in January and were very excited about it. May seemed to creep up on us and it was time to leave. We had a very long flight to Rome and stayed in Rome one night before embarking on the ship. We got ... Read More
My husband and I booked this cruise back in January and were very excited about it. May seemed to creep up on us and it was time to leave. We had a very long flight to Rome and stayed in Rome one night before embarking on the ship. We got to the Crowne Plaza Hotel to board a bus for the port. I have to say that it was a mass of confusion as some people were checking out of hotel and some were boarding the bus etc. however we finally got our bags to the appropriate spot and then waited for the bus. I will back up a bit and say this was our very first cruise. (and also first trip to Europe) The bus ride was fine and we reached the port where we lined up for our cruise card etc. Yes there were lineups but for us there was no problems. WE arrived on the ship went to our cabin and waited for our luggage. Mine arrived however sad to say my husbands did not and it was very hot so his shorts would have been appreciated. We know there were many many suitcases, so we waited patiently and watched from our balcony..........oops !!!! was that his luggage that the forklift drive dumped (hopefully not) We ordered something cold to drink as we waited and that was delivered promptly. The ship was beautiful in itself. For us it seemed like there was always lots to do. The ports we visited were absolutely amazing and we only did some excursions through the ship. For the most part the guides were informative, knowledgeable and friendly. Our only complaint was that our tour guide in AThens didn't seem to want to wait for those who were slower walkers. The food on the ship was fairly good, we chose personal choice dining as we like the freedom to eat when we want. We really had only one bad meal. We had ordered ultimate balcony dining ( as we were celebrating our 25th anniversary) and it was very lovely) The food and service were the best. Yes we did have to pay for it but it was worth it. Our cabin steward was good but really didn't go above and beyond. Our room was great............so glad to have a balcony. The only thing to complain about here was there was often a smell of raw sewage..........don't know where that was coming from. We found that the staff was friendly and for the most part helpful. We enjoyed the entertainment (cmon guys we know it isn't Las Vegas but they tried very hard and worked their butts off) The pool areas were fine except quite often we would want to go into the hot tub and they were roped off........that was disappointing particularly after some very busy walking days it would have been nice to sit in there. SO to wrap up this review I have a few things I was disappointed in. We didn't find out until later that we were allowed to bring wine, beer and also water aboard from the different ports. We spent alot of money on this aboard the ship. I also think that the water should have been provided. I know this was a different trip than what we have been used to we have done all inclusive land trips so for us to pay for coffee, water, drinks etc that was hard. ALso I think to lay off all the picture taking it got annoying after awhile (however this is very minor) All in all we had a wonderful fantastic time and I would recommend this cruise to anyone with a few tips thrown in. The memories will last a lifetime. One more thing........I had heard alot of complaints about the beds ours was comfortable albeit a little lop-sided but it was good to have comfort after those long days ashore. We will not likely go on a cruise again.........not because we disliked it but there are other places we want to go and not cruise. As I have mentioned this was a great cruise and such a great ship and for the most part I dint even feel like I was moving at all when we were at sea....very smooth. Thanks Betty Cammack Read Less
Sail Date May 2007
First, a little background. This cruise was meant to be the cruise of a lifetime. It was the most expensive cruise I have ever taken, and was a great disappointment in several ways, although my friend and I had a great time. This was my ... Read More
First, a little background. This cruise was meant to be the cruise of a lifetime. It was the most expensive cruise I have ever taken, and was a great disappointment in several ways, although my friend and I had a great time. This was my fourteenth cruise, first on Princess. I have cruised four times on Royal Caribbean, three each on HAL and Celebrity. Once each on Carnival and NCL. The chances I will sail again on Princess are slim. Now, for the good stuff first. We took the pre-cruise package, Under the Tuscan Sun, with two nights in Milan and two nights in Florence. All arrangements were very well planned and well-handled. Not one, but two Princess reps met us at the airport in Milan! The hotel, Melia Milano, was very luxurious and not far from a Metro stop that allowed my friend and I to tour on our own the first day - we went to La Scala, the Duomo, and window shopped the Galleria area. On tour we saw Leonardo's Last Supper! The next two nights were in Florence at the Anglo-American hotel, with the world's smallest elevator! But the rooms were nice. The hotel restaurant was very expensive...one martini was nine Euros - about $14. The highlight of this tour was a lunchtime visit to an old winery, with a five course meal and wine. The countryside was lovely, the food was outstanding, and the wine was great! The next day we took the train to Venice to embark, and that is where things began to decline in quality. When we arrived at the ship, after a delay on the train and a very slow embarkation process, we were immediately aware of a lack of sparkle and excitement. I thought we were on a floating Motel 6. Our cabin, Category BA, was very bleak and less attractive than a college dorm. We needed a cabin with two twin beds, what we got was a cabin for four with two beds in the ceiling. There were no bedspreads or duvets on the bed, just sheets and blankets. There were no pictures on the wall. There was inadequate storage space, few drawers, no bedside tables, just a hole in the wall by the head of the bed. The beds were like lumpy marshmallows. There was some wasted space that could have been filled with nice little shelves. My friend and I, both females, had packed very lightly - thank goodness! And even so, we were cramped for places to put our stuff. The balcony was very large, but furnished with four plastic chairs and a plastic table, no lounge chairs, although there was room for them. Our steward was barely adequate and had to be reminded to bring ice and fruit. We never did get the robes we had asked for on line. And a water jug was not available. The balcony arrangements on this ship are just absurd! The more expensive mini-suites were just below us, and their balconies were completely exposed to the sun and the view of the balconies of the three or four decks above them. Had I paid the extra for a mini-suite I would have been livid! Balconies, to me, are to be private and shaded for at least part of the day. The buffet on the 14th deck was always crowded, and poorly arranged. The food was about the level of a Hoss's Restaurant. No waffle bar, no omelet bar, no pasta bar. Just cafeteria food every day. The pastries were not of the quality, variety and quantity of the other cruises I have enjoyed. We ate in the dining room as much as possible. The service was leisurely, but courteous and friendly, and the food was better than the buffet. The one time I had steak - a filet mignon - the steak arrived cooked like a hockey puck though I had asked for rare. The waiter brought me another, which was mostly gristle. So no more steak for me on this cruise. The pizza bar and the hamburger bar were terrific! The entertainment was so-so, but the musicians were great - lots of them, and all over the ship. The other cruisers were wonderful - lots of Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, and some South Africans, as well as Canadians and US. I enjoyed meeting lots of these fine folks, and miss the pick-up Trivia team we developed. In my conversations with them I discovered that many were experienced Princess cruisers, but were universally disappointed with this ship and this cruise. One good thing: the shore excursions I went on were well-planned and we had excellent tour guides. I do deplore that when a shore excursion runs late, that time at the attractions is sometimes curtailed, but shopping time never is. I am not a shopper, and would welcome excursions that do not dump me out at a shopping venue. I am somewhat limited as to mobility and I walk with a cane. I chose the E-Z versions of shore excursions and was not disappointed except for the E-Z one in Marseilles. The shore excursion office recommended I do this one because the others involved some serious stair climbing to get to Notre Dame du Guard. Well, guess what? The E-Z tour took us to Notre Dame, and there was the same stair-climbing involved. I stayed on the bus. There was really very little to see in Marseilles, at least on this tour. Princess advertises something like: large ship with small ship feel. The way they do this on Grand Princess is to have a lot of little, cramped, dark public rooms. There were no two-story dining rooms. The dining rooms are dark - the curtains are always drawn, and there are tacky metal ceilings with little lights in them - sort of like a 50's idea of twinkle. The Princess Theatre was also one deck only, and was no where near large enough to seat every one who wanted to go to a particular show. There was usually an alternative show event in another lounge, but again, all the lounges were small, low ceilinged, and dark. Why do they draw the curtains all the time? I had intended to send out laundry but found the prices high. And there is no by the bag service as there is on HAL. Our balcony served as a drying rack for stuff we washed out by hand- I know this is a no-no, but after seeing drying laundry on every apartment house balcony we saw, I guess we were trying to go native. Drinks were not too badly priced! A double martini in the Promenade Bar was $8.50 with a 15% surcharge. A bargain after the experience in Florence. And nicely served by my favorite bar waiter, Narciso. I also bought -bar packages- through room service. A 375 liter bottle of Jim Beam with three cans of Club soda was $17.00. One could NOT order just the booze, but had to take the soda. I purchased a bottle of gin at a Duty Free ashore, put it into my pocketbook, and went through check-in on the ship without any problem. There were 21 kids aboard, and I never saw them except when I wanted to use the hot tub. One notable exception was a toddler who enlivened the whole dining room one day at lunch. When her parents were good and ready, not before, she was removed, kicking and screaming. Disembarkation was at 5:00 am for us. The port of Barcelona does an excellent job of moving luggage out swiftly and on carousels. We arrived at the airport by 5:30 am. Air France would not allow us to check in until about 9:00 am for a 10:30 am flight. Then we stood inline - it was glacially slow - why in this age of computers cannot this be speeded up? This was for check-in, not security! Our flight to Charles De Gaulle airport was smooth, and on time. Our connecting flight was about 55 minutes after that. Almost everyone on our flight was connecting to US flights. What a boondoggle! When we arrived, we were told that we would have to be shuttled to an area 45 minutes away, and that we would not make our flights. Then began the interminable process at a ticket line to re-schedule flights. WHY did Air France schedule our connecting flights at impossible times? Didn't they know that there is on-going construction at the airport? Did they care? Anyway, my friend and I were lucky to get tickets on a plane the same day, leaving at 4:40 pm. We were shuttled to the Terminal where US flights depart - really about a 45 minute ride. And then the security procedures were most rigid - everyone was patted down and all handbags and carry-ons thoroughly investigated - X-ray was not enough. So, OK, the alert level was high and in the long run I don't object if everyone is examined. When our flight was called for boarding, we were put aboard shuttles once again and bused to some area very remote. I am not sure if this is because of security, or has to do with the ongoing construction and expansion at the airport. But I will most likely not want to fly on Air France again. Overall, it WAS a great vacation, and I am not sorry we went, but next time I will do a little more homework on the cruise line and the configuration of the ship, as well as airline schedules. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary, and because my friend had sailed on Princess and recommended it highly. Next time - and there will be a next time - we will most likely go with HAL or Celebrity. Read Less
Sail Date September 2006
This was our first cruise and we had no real idea of what to expect. To say that the cruise surpassed our expectations is an understatement. We travelled with our son who had a "drop down" bed in our room. The room itself was far ... Read More
This was our first cruise and we had no real idea of what to expect. To say that the cruise surpassed our expectations is an understatement. We travelled with our son who had a "drop down" bed in our room. The room itself was far more spacious than we had imagined - the large 10ft x 10ft balcony adding to the impression of space. Food was generally excellent and the service was uniformly cheerful, attentive and respectful. We took a Princess run tour at every port. Whilst they could be considered expensive, they do offer excellent value for money and ensure that you don't miss anything vital! The tours were well run and led. The organization of so many bodies at once was remarkable. Reading some of the other reviews, I can only assume there must be 2 Grand Princesses afloat. Nowhere did we see worn out carpets - indeed, a programme of replacement was going on discretely throughout the cruise. Prices for wines was very fair, with the cost of any particular bottle of wine being the same as I would expect to pay in a supermarket in the UK, and much less than in a UK restaurant. Entertainment was generally good. You cannot please all the people all the time but the entertainment ranged from classical to broadway shows. I have no other cruise to compare our experience with. However, I have had a lot of experience of hotels and dining out. Grand Princess impressed us enormously and we will re book in the near future. Read Less
Sail Date August 2006
This was our 6th Princess cruise and the first time on the Grand Princess. We have taken approx. ten cruises on other lines. We had tried to book this in 2005 but found that it was so popular that there were no cabins available. When we ... Read More
This was our 6th Princess cruise and the first time on the Grand Princess. We have taken approx. ten cruises on other lines. We had tried to book this in 2005 but found that it was so popular that there were no cabins available. When we booked it in Dec. 2005 (seven months in advance), so many cabins had been sold that the LBS (Love Boat Saver) fares shown in the brochure were no longer available and we paid a higher price. We feel that Princess needs to change their wording in the brochure since getting the LBS price has nothing to do with how far in advance you book but rather how sold-out the ship is. Pre-Cruise: We arrived in Venice a day early because we had been driving through Slovenia and Croatia and took the train to Venice. The train station fronts the far end of the Grand Canal which is relatively close to where the ship docks. We reserved a room in the 3-star Garni Hotel Carlton across the canal from the train station and down a small walkway. The more-deluxe Hotel Carlton actually fronts the canal and would also be convenient for a pre-cruise stay. Embarkation: This location was excellent because we were able to walk about ten minutes (and over two canal bridges) to the Piazza Roma to board the free shuttle bus to the port. The shuttle serves all the cruise ships and comes approx. every half hour. We boarded about 2:30 PM and found the embarkation desks nearly empty. Embarkation is a bit more of a hassle in Venice because you must leave your luggage in one building and then walk to another building for documentation processing and finally board another shuttle bus to get to the ship due to the dock arrangements. Our Cabin: By 3:30 we had dropped our carry-ons in our cabin and were exploring the ship after a brief stop in the buffet for a snack. The staterooms are pretty much standard cruise size and arrangement. Two notes: There is one open closet space about 36 wide which at first seemed small but after requesting extra hangers from our cabin steward worked out quite well as long as you remember to put your suitcases under the bed (we saw a few cabins with them in the closet and cant imagine where they put their hanging clothes.) There are six shelves in a closet with the safe and the standard drawers in the desk and night stands to provide adequate storage. Balconies on Aloha deck are often shaded by the overhang of the pool deck above giving both shade and privacy. Be aware that the balconies of suites and mini-suites a few decks below extend farther out so much that people on Aloha and Baja balconies can see down into them. Shore Excursions: This is a port-intensive cruise  there was only 1 sea day. We found that doing a few ports on our own helped lessen the whirl of facts and figures thrown at us. Dubrovnik has a bus shuttle right to the old city gate. The old city is very small and you can easily walk the walls halfway around (counterclockwise) which will bring you down at the large square at the far end of the main street. In Rhodes, the ship docks about a 5-minute walk to the old city gates. Just browse the shops and tour the castle on your own. We wish we had skipped the tour in Corfu. The Achillion Palace was unfurnished and we only saw a few main floor rooms and the gardens. The next palace was equally unexciting and was mainly a show of old artifacts. The Greek folk dancing and refreshments at the end were fine but overall we felt this wasnt a great tour. In Katakolon, we went to the Olympia Museum and learned quite a bit about the first Olympics. Some tours went to both the museum and the original grounds which might have been a better choice depending on the length of tour you want to take. In Piraeus (Athens), we took the early morning tour to the Parthenon and succeeded in missing the worst of the heat and the crowds. In Mykonos, many people on our tour wished they had found their way to the beach we visited first since much of what we heard was duplicated in Santorini later and Santorini is much prettier. In Kasadasi, we toured Ephesus, Marys House and St. Johns Basilica. This was one of the best tours we took on the cruise due to an excellent guide and interesting material. The all-day tour of Santorini including a visit to Oia, an old family winery and lunch really covered the island well. We were sorry to leave such a gorgeous spot even with the high heat. Since we had been to Naples on a previous cruise and seen Pompeii, I opted for the afternoon tour to Herculaneum which is slightly better preserved but smaller than Pompeii. There were only a few other tours and we had time to explore on our own after the guided portion. My husband went to Capri and regretted it. The island was wall-to-wall people; the lift to the highest viewpoint was broken and overall he felt it just wasnt worth the long ferry ride each way. Dining: We chose anytime dining and had no problem getting a table if we showed up before 6:30 PM. With only one exception, service was timely, smooth and the menus had lots of great choices. The Horizon Court buffet was adequate and well used. There is a bowl of cold, steamed shrimp every day at lunch and sometimes at dinner too! You can pay for name-brand ice cream sundaes near the pool but there is no-charge ice cream in the buffet for an hour every afternoon. And yes, there is a twin-lobster dinner on the second formal night. Entertainment: Princess has upped the ante with their stage shows. The team of singers and dancers were extraordinary on our cruise. One stage show had some Cirque du Soleil type effects  gymnastic moves using strands of silk fabric and hoops suspended over the stage. We skipped several of the single performer shows to go to the Movies Under The Stars. If a comedian or harmonica player in the showroom isnt your thing, grab a lounge chair around the pool at night and watch the movie. The outdoor pool is closed and the chairs have special covers with little pillows and blankets folded on top. And theres free popcorn! The Internet Café on Deck 5 is very popular but not everyone knows there are 3 more terminals with more comfortable chairs in the library. Tips: Bring lots of sunscreen, a hat to shade your face, and women might want to buy a fan in Venice. It will make a great souvenir and you will find it very handy later if you hit 90 degree plus heat combined with 75% humidity! Stick a baggie of laundry detergent in your suitcase for use in one of the three laundromats on board. There were 3 washers, 4 dryers and 4 ironing boards with irons in the one on our deck and the machines took US quarters which we got from the Pursers Desk. The old Pursers Desk was on Deck 5 however it has been moved to Deck 6. There was no sign on the old Pursers Desk indicating the move and people would sometimes stand there wondering why no one came to help them. If you dont have a balcony or dont want to be out in the heat, go to Skywalkers Bar at the back of the ship and watch the ship depart from 125 feet above the water! Read Less
Sail Date August 2006
This was our 6th cruise and second with Princess. My wife and I are in our late 50's and enjoy cruising about every other year. We very much enjoyed this cruise and the itinerary. We flew from Philadelphia, PA to Paris over night ... Read More
This was our 6th cruise and second with Princess. My wife and I are in our late 50's and enjoy cruising about every other year. We very much enjoyed this cruise and the itinerary. We flew from Philadelphia, PA to Paris over night where we were to get a connecting flight to Venice. Because of a sudden thunderstorm at Philadelphia, our flight was delayed for 3 hours. We missed our connecting flight. Air France met us as we got off the plane and escorted us to another terminal where we boarded a commuter flight to Bologna, Italy. We were told that in Bologna, a bus would take us to Venice, about a 2 hour bus ride. Upon reaching Bologna, Air France dropped the ball. No one met us at the gate and no one at the airport seemed to know anything about our bus. After getting our luggage, we waited for someone to find us. Eventually the bus driver came looking for us. The two busses that were to be used to get all of us to Venice (48 total) were too small to carry all of the luggage. We waited another hour for a truck to come and pick up the extra luggage. We then were taken to the Venice airport where Princess met us and transported us and our luggage to the ship. We originally were to be on ship by 11:30 am but did not board until 7:30 pm. My wife and I had been awake now for about 33 hours. We had missed our dinner seating so went to the Horizon Court Buffet for something to eat. After eating we felt better and decided to see Venice that evening rather than in the morning (the ship left Venice at 12:30 the next afternoon) and we knew we would never arise early enough. We took a Princess provided water taxi to Venice city and had a wonderful time getting lost trying to find the sights. We returned to the ship around 12:30 am completely exhausted. The Grand Princess is the largest ship we have sailed on to date. At first sighting, we were worried that on a ship so large, service and public accommodations would be sub par. That was not the case. The ship was magnificent. It was sparkling clean and everything we tried worked as it was supposed to. The cabin was quite nice, roomy with a balcony that is not exposed from above. There was plenty of storage and the bathroom was small but satisfactory even for me (a large man at 6'1", 300 pounds). Our room steward Chai met us upon arrival at 7:30 and from that time on greeted us by our first names every morning, afternoon, and evening if we saw her in the corridor. She was one of, if not the best, room steward we have ever had. We chose to eat and first serving (6:15) and were seated with another couple who had booked the cruise through our travel agency. We enjoyed their company immensely. Dining service was adequate and the food was satisfactory, although not as fancy or as tasty as we have had on other cruises. We usually ate breakfast, and when on ship, lunch, in the Horizon Court Buffet and often found the food there to be a bit tastier. Breakfast in the dining room was too limited. My wife was disappointed that they did not have eggs benedict. Upon leaving Venice we sailed to Dubrovnik, Croatia and took a morning excursion to Ston & Trsteno. This was very enjoyable and the tour guide was easy to understand and quite knowledgeable. We returned to ship about 3 and rested before departure and dinner. The next day we sailed to Corfu, Greece and took the Best of Corfu tour. This was an all day tour and also quite interesting. The scenery was beautiful. On Friday we arrived in Katakolon, Greece and had a 1/2 day tour to the sight of the ancient Olympics. We were returned to Corfu where we spent the remainder of the day wandering through the shops. On Saturday we were in Piraeus, Greece (the port for Athens) and had booked an all day excursion "the Best of Athens". The Acropolis was magnificent. As a retired history teacher, the architecture and history fascinated me. Our tour guide was a bit more difficult to understand. The tour included a wonderful lunch in a local tavern. Next stop was Mykonos, Greece where we took the island tour. Again, this tour was done very well and well worth the price. On Monday we were in Kusadasi, Turkey and took the Ancient Ephesus tour. The ruins here were fabulous. The grandeur of Ephesus in its day must have been unbelievable. On our return from Ephesus were taken to a rug factory and then given the option of returning to ship or shopping in the bazaar. We chose to shop and this was a mistake. The shop keepers are very pushy and walk out in front of you, try to drag you into their shops and sometimes block your way. After about 45 minutes of constantly saying no and pulling ourselves from their grasps, we returned to ship. Others we talked to seemed to enjoy the hassle, but not us. Also, this was the only port in which a security vessel kept circling our ship. Next we were in Rhodes, Greece. We took the Best of Rhodes tour and enjoyed this very much. Again, the scenery was gorgeous. Santorini, Greece was the only stop that we had to tender to shore. Santorini is a very unique island in that the ship anchors in the crater of the volcano, which is still active. The black sand beaches and sheer cliffs were quite beautiful. Thursday was a sea day and we used it to rest and recharge. Friday was Naples. We had been to Naples before and done Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast, so decided to go to the island of Capri. That was another mistake. The island was much too crowded, you could hardly move around the streets. The roads are so small that they have to use mini busses to get around and one of them was so small that I could not sit in the seat as my legs and back wedged in and I never got to sit on the seat cushion. Lunch here was not very good and prices in the shops were extremely high. We saw very little, it was basically a shopping trip. Saturday we left ship at Civitavecchia for a bus ride to Rome. Disembarkation from the ship was done very well, having received a schedule of departure times the night before that was followed very precisely. Since we had booked a 2 night stay at the Grand Marriott Hotel in Rome, we did not have to touch our luggage, Princess transported it directly to the hotel. The hotel is located in the main part of Rome and since there was a taxi strike at the time, put us within walking distance of all the major sites. We had a direct flight from Rome to Philadelphia and returned home without incident. All of our excursions, flights, and hotel were booked by Princess. We do believe that the quality of food has gone down a little bit since Carnival took over Princess but overall, our experience was quite delightful. The shows we attended on board were quite professional and entertaining. We will book future cruises with Princess. Read Less
Sail Date July 2006
In order to make this as user friendly as possible, Ill break it down by category. You may pick and choose as you please. Ive tried to give an objective personal view of our trip. There were some great things, and some things that ... Read More
In order to make this as user friendly as possible, Ill break it down by category. You may pick and choose as you please. Ive tried to give an objective personal view of our trip. There were some great things, and some things that could have been better. Just a caveat&these are my opinions only and Im sure others have a different perspective. Any negatives we experienced were far outweighed by the positives. The Grand Princess Experience Embarkation was flawless and completely hassle free. I think the fact that we checked in around 5 pm helped, as there were very few people waiting in line. The ship is in very good condition, despite some expected signs of wear and tear. Really no complaints on maintenance or cleanliness. Our cabin (D622), a mini-suite, was very good for our purposes. My wife and I shared that one, while our two teenage children shared an inside cabin on the C deck. We did not mind the balcony being uncovered at all, and used it frequently. We had sufficient hangers, and the bed was quite comfortable without using an egg-crate. The service onboard was, in my opinion, a mixed bag. Our cabin steward was great. Very responsive and there when needed, but unobtrusive otherwise. A real gem. We had anytime dining, and it was pot-luck as to the quality of our waiter/waitress at dinner. About half the time we got what we had expected; attentive, friendly and knowledgeable. The other half, we got waitstaff that was borderline disinterested and just not what I would expect from a top flight cruise line. Maybe it would have been better with a consistent waiter that got to know us as the cruise progressed. If you do use the anytime dining option, try to make a reservation so you wont have to wait at peak times. We generally used the buffet for breakfast. Often difficult to find a table at busy times, but we always managed. Service from the cocktail servers was mixed as well. I think Princess has some work to do in this area. Food in the dining room was good¬ great. The beef dishes were generally not outstanding (order the Chateaubriand, but not the Beef Wellington!), but the fish was better overall. Desserts were OK, but again not great. Breads and rolls were consistently very good. The buffet food at breakfast was plentiful, but average at best. Again, the rolls and pastries pretty good, but the scrambled eggs usually watery, and the bacon was usually not edible. Then there is the infamous Princess coffee! Im not sure why they dont fix this. Its not horrible, but certainly not what you can get in any decent restaurant. We did go to the Painted Desert Steakhouse one night for dinner. It was very good, and I would go again. We did not try Sabatinis. The pizza and burger/hot dog grill near the pool were mediocre, and often slow. Onboard entertainment was average. It seemed to us that they could have done much better on such a big ship. It was, for the most part, something to go to only because you wanted to kill time¬ something one would look forward to. Billy London, the Cruise Director, was simply a distraction as MC. He apparently has a dream of being a comedian. Billy&keep your day job! We did not utilize MUTS, only because of timing and or movie choice. There was too much hawking of the boutique items, the souvenir video, etc. I understand they are in business to make money, but it was overkill in many cases. Even the tour of the Galley was used to hawk the recipe book, and also led you through a closeout for the boutiques, where every item for the last twenty cruises that did not sell was on display. Looked like a flea market! Disembarking was fine as far as it went. We utilized PCLs transfer contractor in Barcelona, and there was some confusion about process, as it seemed that the communication was lacking somewhat. Not a major issue, however. Would I sail again on the Grand? Yes, if the itinerary and timing of the trip were right. I probably would choose another line, and a somewhat smaller ship if all else were equal. I dont think of myself as a snob, or someone that has a negative attitude about things in general. It has also been six years since we last cruised, so maybe it is just the industry overall, but our last shipboard experience, on RCCL, was just better overall in most aspects. The Ports Venice We left for Venice a day early, both to spend some extra time in the city, as well as to have an extra day to overcome that nasty West-to-East jet-lag. We had decided to take the bus from the airport because it was inexpensive (3 Euros), convenient to catch (right in front of the airport terminal), and our hotel, the Antiche Figure, was only a 5 minute walk from Piazza de Roma, the bus station. This proved to be a very good decision, as all expectations were met. We arrived at the Antiche Figure around 10 am, and were able to store our bags while the rooms were readied. They upgraded our rooms to canal view on the first floor (which is what we Americans would call the second floor). I really liked this hotel, both for its great location right on the Grand Canal, as well as for the exceptionally friendly staff. It is also quite close to the cruise terminal, which is handy. A very adequate breakfast is included with the price. Our first journey out to explore this amazing city was a boat ride to Murano. The hotel had an arrangement with one of the showrooms there to provide a free boat trip to the island. There are forty such factories on Murano, and Im sure each one has an arrangement with every hotel and tour company in Venice. If you are not interested in buying some Murano glass (which can be quite beautiful) then I would suggest you pass on the trip to the island. After our trip to Murano, we wandered around the city for a couple of hours, avoiding the tourist areas, and ultimately back to our hotel. Venice is not really a walking city. Even with a good map, it is difficult to navigate the maze of streets and alleys. If you have more than a couple of days, wander to your hearts content&its a charming and unique city. On any case, the only rationale way to get around is to buy a Vaporetto ticket for as long as you plan to be there. Very easy system to understand and use. Our second day in Venice was spent in more of the tourist areas, including San Marco and Rialto. We had a very good lunch at Trattoria Alla Madonna, and spent a lot of time on the Vaporetto seeing the city from the water. We wheeled our bags from our hotel to the bus station and caught a cab to the Marratima port where the Grand was berthed. Even though some will tell you that there is a free shuttle from the bus station to the port, neither we nor anyone we talked to ever found it. Regardless, after a 23 Euro fare to the port (about a 5 minute drive) we checked in and boarded the ship The final morning in Venice, we went on the PCL Doges Palace, San Marco Basilica, Glass Factory tour. They did a nice job with this one, as they had individual headphones for everyone. Do not miss seeing these beautiful buildings! We spent very little time in the Glass Factory, as we had already been to Murano. The sailaway from Venice was one of the highlights of the trip. From our port side balcony, we had spectacular views of the city and lagoon. Athens We took the PCL tour package of Poseidons Temple, Acropolis and Plaka sampler. The group was a bit too large, and no headphone this time so it was difficult to hear the guide without elbowing your way to the front. The area around Poseidons Temple is truly beautiful. The temple itself is also interesting, but the real highlight is the view. The Acropolis was fascinating, as there is a tremendous amount to see. The provided lunch was good, but we would rather have had a meal in a local restaurant than the buffet provided at a local hotel. We were not really drawn to the shopping opportunities in Plaka, so we decided to sit at a local cafe and have a drink instead. The tour ended with a sightseeing drive around Athens, which was interesting. Kusadasi (pronounced Koosh-ah-dus by the Turks) We very much enjoyed our private tour (Ekol Travel) of Ephesus, the Temple of Artemis and The Virgin Marys Home. Ephesus was simply incredible. Extremely well preserved and the history just mind-boggling. You could really picture how the old city looked, and the amphitheater was tremendous. We loved it! The Temple of Artemis is very much a ruin, and there is not a tremendous amount to see now, but it was interesting just the same. The Virgin Marys Home seemed to me at least, to be a bit of a stretch in its authenticity. Without that provenance, its not really very interesting, and Im not sure I bought into it. Our tour ended (as many do!) at another retail establishment, this one a Turkish Carpet factory/showroom. They put on a great show in displaying the carpets, and they really are beautiful. Make sure you do your homework before attempting to buy a carpet, especially an expensive one, in either Kusadasi or Istanbul. Prices are incredibly negotiable, and unless you have a good idea going in what it is you want and how much you are willing to pay, you can be dazzled into a purchase you might come to regret. FYI, the reason so many tours end up in stores is that the tour guides get a cut of every purchase made by their group,. Depending on who you listen to, and where you go, this cut can be anywhere from 5% to 20%! Istanbul Istanbul is a fascinating city. You can really sense the meeting of East and West here, and again, the history is fascinating. Pulling into the port of Istanbul is in itself a neat experience. What a bustling harbor and a unique skyline. Once again, our private tour arranged through Ekol was very good, although our guide Omer was maybe a bit too verbose at times. We did an extensive tour of the massive Dolmabahce Palace (the Topkapi was closed) and were very impressed with the extensive gardens and the huge meeting halls. Probably could have spent a bit less time here. The drive around Istanbul was interesting and exciting! Traffic laws are definitely optional. The visit to the Hagia Sophia was very good. The changing purposes of the building as the dominant culture and religious practices changed are evident in its structure and decoration. The Blue Mosque may be one of the most beautiful buildings we saw, both externally and especially internally. Do not miss it. One memory that will always be with me as I think back on our trip is that of sitting on the steps of this magnificent house of worship, listening to the haunting and beautiful calls to prayer echoing around the city from the minarets. We also had a good lunch of Shish Kebab and lamb meatballs at a local restaurant in the area. Mykonos We decided to make Mykonos a beach day. We walked to the local beach near where the ship was berthed, which was only about a 10 minute stroll. As you walk out of the dock area, go up the big hill on your left, then back down, and you are there. Very nice beach, with lounge chairs under thatched umbrellas for 4 Euros. FYI&some topless sunbathers here, but not the majority. More of a family beach. Some friends took a cab to Paradise Beach, which is a bit more risqué. Naples We did the Amalfi Coast/Pompeii tour through Drive Amalfi. Great tour and a very enjoyable day. The Amalfi Coast is just a feast for the eyes at every turn. Simply incredible views! We also stopped in the towns of Positano (described by my somewhat cynical 19 year old son as The coolest town hes ever seen) and Amalfi. Just a lot of fun to wander around, take in the sights, and do a bit of shopping. How do they build those roads and towns straight up sheer cliffs? We were also taken to the designated ceramics store, which was actually pretty good. Stopped for a good lunch at a local restaurant near Ravello (which we later learned is owned by the tour company owners brother) which we very much enjoyed. Good pizza and pasta, as well as a taste of Limoncello to finish the meal. Pompeii was everything we expected it to be. We hired a tour guide specifically for Pompeii, which probably was a good idea. It is a massive site. I actually preferred Ephesus myself, but Pompeii was also spectacular. Rome How do you do Rome in one day? You dont! In retrospect, we were fortunate to visit on a Saturday in early August, when the town is relatively empty. Our guide Manny from driverinrome.com was very knowledgeable, and not on overkill with the narration, which was a good thing. We were able to get to a huge number of sites we wanted to see, including The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, The Hippodrome, The Pantheon, The Catacombs, Palatine Hill and Vatican City. I would never try to see Rome on my own in one day. The highlight for me was St. Peters Square and Vatican City. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the Sistine Chapel, due to the two hour line that is there for the limited hours on Saturday, but we did see St. Peters Basilica and the tombs of the Popes. St. Peters is the most impressive church we saw on the trip, for its size alone if nothing else. Rome is a city that demands at least three or four days to see very much of it in any depth. Id love to go back sometime. Great pizza and gelato too! Florence We skipped Pisa, and did the PCL Florence on Your Own tour. The drive to the city through the Tuscan countryside was beautiful, with vineyards, orchards, and huge fields of sunflowers in bloom. Florence is very walkable in terms of the major tourist sites, and reasonably easy to navigate on your own with a good map. Being there on a Sunday, many of the stores were closed, but we did have some success at the Leather School that is in back of Santa Croce. Many of the charms of Florence are outdoors. The city truly is an open-air museum. We did get advance reservations online for the Accademia Gallery, where Michelangelos David is so beautifully displayed. Well worth seeing, and very hassle-free to get in with those. We also went inside Santa Croce, which is interesting to see primarily because of the people entombed there; Michelangelo, Gallileo, Machiavelli, etc. The Ponte Vecchio is fun to see from a distance. On the bridge itself, its pretty much a long line of overpriced gold jewelry shops. For me, Florence was best enjoyed simply wandering the Piazzas and taking it all in. Again, probably could have used at least one more day to see it all. Marseille Probably the least interesting of all our ports, but we were pretty much ready for a slow day anyway. We took the PCL walking tour of Aix en Provence, which was nice. Its a charming, typically French city with lots of sidewalk cafes and shops. Nothing too exciting here, but a good place to relax and enjoy a stroll around town. We just sat in a café over our coffee for a time, enjoying watching the young children play in a fountain. Barcelona We spent no time here. Only the bus ride to the airport. Wish we could have. Final Thoughts This was wonderful trip, with an amazing itinerary. Those of you who look forward to taking it will have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Were I to plan things over again, I would not do anything with PCL off the ship. Our independent tours were much more enjoyable and personal. We also got to spend some great time with our Cruise Critic buddies!! Read Less
Sail Date July 2006
This was not only our first cruise but also our honeymoon so expectations were high as a lot of people have sung high praises for the Princess cruise line (P&O sister Company, part of the Carnival group.) We started the trip to join ... Read More
This was not only our first cruise but also our honeymoon so expectations were high as a lot of people have sung high praises for the Princess cruise line (P&O sister Company, part of the Carnival group.) We started the trip to join our ship on the 3rd July 2006 at Heathrow to meet our chartered flight of Qantas. Our opinion of the flight was satisfactory. We arrived at Venice for embarkation and our first impression was that the Princess cruise stewards at the port were absolutely miserable. You would have thought they would have at least a smile on their faces to great the people that are joining the ship. When we got on the ship we were told that our luggage would be with us in a couple of hours, this was at midday, so we spent the rest of the time exploring the ship. When it arrived to 6.00 pm and no luggage I made an enquiry at the pursuers desk. I was not the only one! There were hoards of people, mostly from the same Qantas flight and they were really irate. The main issue was that at the desk everyone was getting told different information and they way that the employees addressed the customers was part arrogance part nonchalance. They just did not seem bothered. One couple we befriended had been on over 20 cruises and if it was not for him having to say this did they sit up and take notice. As the couple explained they should be making the effort with the new clients on board such as the honeymooners as the veterans have already paid several times over whereas the newbies would not sail again with Princess if this was the attitude to rectifying situations. Our cases did not arrive until 11:30 pm so any chance of our plans to go into Venice and have our first romantic honeymoon meal were dashed as we only had the clothes literally on our back which we had traveled in. Turned out a good first evening as we were on anytime dining and met two lovely couples that we spent a lot of time with on the cruise. We found out that there was a mix up with the disembarkation and embarkation luggage but Princess said that there was a scanning problem at the port. However several of the other cruises notice that the labels had been re-written as if they had been re-sent on coaches. Still none the less we got our luggage in the end, a shame the same could not be said for some other cruisers that did not get their luggage for the whole trip! Overall, we loved the whole cruising experience, such as the lovely cabin service, excellent food and the places we visited. The veteran cruisers had said of all the cruises they have been on with Princess this was probably the one that showed most cost cutting and lower standards though. A lot of people said that it was not the ship or the cruise line itself but the actual management running the cruise were to blame for the poor entertainment and lack of atmosphere on the boat. We had a great time and if it was not for the people we be-friend a long the way we would have found the entertainment boring. The majority of it was the cruisers entertaining themselves with open mike nights and tell a joke and Karaoke. They had adverts like exciting cabaret with amazing orchestra which turned out to be a guy behind a piano and a trumpet! My advice is to be open-minded and listen to those that have cruised before (i.e. what I call the veterans) as they gave us great advice for picking our next cruise/cruise line etc. Would we use Princess again? We would only because we had a good time at the places we visited the food and service at meal times and in our room was fabulous. If it was not for the veteran cruisers saying that on the entire Princess cruises they have been on they are not normally like this then we probably wouldn't. However, we were told it is not normally like that and we have all agreed to write to Princess to say that they need to raise their standards if they still wish to advertise it as a floating 5* hotel. With cigarette burns in the carpet I do not believe that warrants their advertising! For honeymooners I advise looking around this website more as this cruise did not really make a fuss of honeymooners in the way that I've been told our cruises/cruise companies have done. Read Less
Sail Date July 2006
Mediterranean Vacation  July 2006 We spent 17 days on a pre-cruise 3 night visit to Rome, 12 night Mediterranean cruise on the Grand Princess, and a post-cruise 2 night visit to Venice. Thanks to a lot of input from the CC Boards we had ... Read More
Mediterranean Vacation  July 2006 We spent 17 days on a pre-cruise 3 night visit to Rome, 12 night Mediterranean cruise on the Grand Princess, and a post-cruise 2 night visit to Venice. Thanks to a lot of input from the CC Boards we had an awesome experience for this first time visit to the Mediterranean. We were 3 families consisting of 6 adults plus 5 children (ages 9 through 15). The focus of this review will primarily be on what we did in the various cities and ports we visited, especially with children in tow. A lot of what we did was on our own because we wanted to particularly experience the beaches of the Mediterranean and not focus solely on souvenir shopping or viewing of museums, churches and ruins. We tested out inexpensive public transportation, hired private guides and paid for ship shore excursions. PRE-CRUISE  3 DAYS IN ROME Transport from Airport to Rome  We booked with Airport Connection and our driver graciously waited for us even though our flight was delayed by an hour. For 8 of us the cost was 75 Euro in a 16 passenger minibus. It was a great and comfortable way to start our vacation. Hotel  We had a great 3 night stay at the Visconti Palace just off Piazza Cavour on the Vatican side of the Tiber River. The Visconti Palace is a modern hotel and was ideally situated such that the Spanish Steps were a 15-minute walk across the Tiber on the east and the Piazza Navona was a 15-minute walk across the Tiber on the south. The rooms were well kept, clean and came with an abundant breakfast buffet. The hotel public facilities were excellent and done up in a modernistic Italian design. Roma Pass  An excellent deal for any short term visit to Rome. Cost 18 Euro and includes 2 admissions to participating museums and sites (including bypassing the infamous line at the Colosseum), plus public transport (bus and subway) good for 36 hours. Access to other participating museums and sites are then available at discounted prices. The 110 Open tour bus rate was also discounted for each Roma Passholder. We purchased ours at the Ara Pacis museum since it was close to the Visconti Palace. Metropolitana subway  We used the subway to quickly get to the Colosseum, to Termini (to board the 110 Open double decker bus), and to get to the Via Veneto. Based on horror stories about pick pockets and thieves on the subway, we were reluctant initially to ride the subway. We exercised common sense and were alert to our surroundings (as we would be on subways in New York, London or Paris) and did perfectly fine. The 36 hour access using the Roma Pass was great. Ancient Rome  Our first full day in Rome was to focus on ancient Rome. Huge lines to get through security at the Colosseum. Be aware that once past the security gate, the bypass line for Roma Passholders is on the far left hand lane (marked by a ceiling banner). Once we figured that out, it was an easy no-wait access into the Colosseum. The Forum is free and adjacent to the Colosseum. I loved it, but my kids were too hot and tired to fully appreciate the site. 110 Open Double Decker Bus - While being a nice way to get an overview of Rome as it meanders throughout the city, it is also extremely hot in summer (and no AC). Unlike London, the key points of interest are not always visible from the bus, requiring one to get off and on. For the money it cost all of us (11 Euro discounted using Roma Pass), we would probably not do it again. However, the 110 Open bus stop at Piazza Cavour made it convenient to get back to the Visconti Palace and the buses ran until 8:30 PM. St. Peters Basilica  Our second full day in Rome was to focus on Christian Rome. We arrived to St. Peters with no line wait and were blown away by the actual church (that pictures cannot adequately capture). We were successful in getting 3 Scavi Tour tickets to visit the crypt of St. Peter at 10:30 AM (cost 10 Euro). The only way to get the Scavi Tour is by email in advance and a lot of luck. This is not the same tour as the Grotto visit that most people take. The Scavi Tour is not advertised and is limited to 12 persons per group. You are given a guided tour of the excavated Roman burial crypts deep under the dome, and eventually make your way to the excavated spot where St. Peter is presumably buried. It was one of the best tours we took in all Italy. Vatican Museum Tour  I had been unsuccessful after 3 fax attempts to get tickets for the Vaticans museum tour. One week before we left, I tried again and struck gold with a reply granting us 11 tickets at 21,50 Euro each. This fourth fax attempt included the names of all 11 family members (which the previous 3 faxes failed to include) so perhaps that made the difference? The 2-hour tour consisted of about 25 persons, included head sets to hear our guide, provided an adequate overview of the museums key artifacts (including the Sistine Chapel), and best of all, bypassed the huge line. The place was indeed packed and hot and noisy, making for a less than memorable afternoon visit. Transport from Rome to Civitavecchia  There was a taxi strike in Rome. Fortunately we booked a minibus to pick up the 11 of us from the Visconti Palace to the Grand Princess in Civitavecchia. We had excellent service from Fabio. Since the drive was much longer (90 min) the cost was 224 Euro for 11 persons for the 16-passenger minibus. GRAND PRINCESS First Impressions  Embarkation was done in a hot and stuffy tent set up on the docks. Fortunately we did not have to swelter too long and boarded the Grand Princess. We booked a minisuite on Emerald deck. Given the age of the ship the public areas still seemed in good shape. Our minisuite E718, however, was not as clean as we had hoped & filthy markings on our balcony floor mat; black mold around the grout of our shower soap dish, faucets and handlebar; broken and discolored floor tiling in the bathroom. Our room steward Noel introduced himself saying this was his first day on board the Grand. He immediately set about to clean the bathroom grout (and did a commendable job which we tipped him for). Final comment: Minisuite E718 is far aft and therefore very noisy throughout the night (to about 11:30 PM) from music coming up from the Vista Lounge one deck below. Since we were late sleepers this was not as much of an issue for us. Personal Choice Dining  Unlike other Princess ships we have recently sailed, the head waiters of the Grand Princess were not as helpful in securing a fixed table and time assignment for our group of 11 as we would have hoped for. (Some of our party were still waitlisted for the First Seating, and so we all decided to switch to Personal Choice dining so that we could be together). On embarkation day I immediately went to the maitre ds desk to request a fixed table assignment for 11 persons at 6:30 PM in whatever Personal Choice dining room they could accommodate us to. After our embarkation dinner we were told we would have to reserve at table every night and could not reserve the same table, same waiter and same time ahead of time (this was not a problem for the staff on the Golden Princess or the Caribbean Princess, so we could not understand why we could not do this). I was told I had to seek out the maitre d once again and request this. By the second night we were granted our wish, but not without a lot of extra leg work on my part. We had the same table, same server and same time every night of the cruise and thoroughly enjoyed every meal. Ship Amenities  Much has already been written on the CC boards about the Grand. Overall I think the ship is still beautiful and in good shape since we sailed her in 2004. The outdoor pools were always packed during the day and a lot of lounge saving was going on. Since this cruise was very port intensive, none of our 5 children thought much about the kids clubs onboard. There were also fewer ship board activities during the day. The addition of the Jumbotron for movies under the stars was a great idea. Shore Excursions  Be aware that cancellations of any ship-sponsored shore excursions must be made at least 48 hours before the scheduled date. The ship tour staff were not merciful in granting any exception to the rule. Many passengers who had previously booked a Florence shore excursion with the hope of viewing David were surprised to learn the museum would be closed on the day the Grand arrived in Livorno. But since the deadline was the evening of embarkation, many people who were either unaware of the immediate deadline or the museum closure, were stuck and could not cancel. MONTE CARLO  Toured on our own by walking up to the Old Town hill (immediate left after exiting the port gates). Did the audio guide tour of the palace and visited the cathedral. Shopped and had lunch in the Old Town before returning to the ship. Awesome vistas from the top of the hill. LIVORNO  Pre-reserved a Pisa tower climb for 1:40 PM thinking we would do Pisa on our own via bus and via train. But we forgot to cancel our Pisa shore excursion on the day of embarkation. So we decided to take the shore excursion to Pisa and inform the tour guide of our plan to not return on her bus, do our tower climb and return to Livorno on our own. The climb was unusual and fun, especially when it dawned on us that the likes of Galileo climbed these same steps to the top. Reserved tickets cost 17 Euro. Our return from Pisa to Livorno took 2 hours (waiting for Bus #4 near the Tower so as to get to the Pisa train station, then waiting for the train to Livorno, then a cab ride back to the Grand). NAPLES  Our family of 11 splurged to book 2 minivans and 2 drivers (650 Euro) for a personal tour guide in Pompeii (100 Euro), drive along the Amalfi Coast, lunch in Sorrento and time spent to shop or visit the beach in Sorrento. The Amalfi Coast was beautiful (but held little interest for the children). Loved Pompeii and our personal guide, but the place was packed with tourists and very hot. We dined at Ristaurante Zio Sam in the hills overlooking Sorrento (great affordable lunch). We should have skipped Sorrento and their sorry excuse of a beach and should have headed over to Positano instead. But by the end of the afternoon our children were exhausted and we returned back to the Grand, sleeping most of the way and therefore missing all the coastal scenery on the return drive. SANTORINI  Tendered ashore and paid to ride up to Fira Town. Decided to pay for a donkey transport up the hill and then the cable car back down in the afternoon (cost about 3,5 Euro for either). I think the ride up in the morning would be better than the ride down in the afternoon (perhaps hotter and smellier). Our goal was to take the public bus to Monolithos Beach on the east shore of the island and then return to Fira Town for shopping before tendering back to the Grand. Fira Town has very narrow streets crammed with shops. Getting to the public bus terminal was fairly easily by simply heading on any of these shopping lanes in a downhill direction. The public buses were comfortable, clearly marked, air-conditioned coach buses that cost less than 2 euro to ride to Monolithos Beach. The beach had pairs of loungers and umbrellas to rent (7 euro) and had the best waves for body surfing we experienced in all of Greece. Great sand, few people, good for families. It was a great and leisurely way for our teens and young ones to take a break from history and ruins and museums. KUSADASI  Our only Turkey stop and a great surprise because it broke all of our stereotypes of what we thought Turkey was going to look like. Took the ship tour to Ephesus and well worth the visit, if for no other reason than to experience viewing the rest of the area. Very modern and developed tourist areas just north of Kusadasi with impressive and newer beachfront hotels, golf and even 2 very attractive water parks. What I did not like about the ship tour was the mandatory visit to the carpet factory upon our return to the town. Some sales pressures if we were even remotely complimentary of a particular carpet we saw. Got out ASAP. If you are looking for inexpensive gifts to buy, we thought Kusadasi was the place to do it. Yes, the sales culture was pushy. But if you could get past that, then great souvenir finds could be had here compared to the rest of the ports we visited. Some of our group had had enough shopping and opted to walk from the ship to the nearby beach along Ataturk Blvd (just walk 20 minutes north along the curve of the waterfront until you come to the beach umbrellas and loungers). Gentle waves, nice sand (not rocks) and a very pleasant way to spend a hot afternoon with kids. MYKONOS  Had to pay 3 euro for a shuttle bus that took us from the Grand to the town. One could walk this route, but there are no sidewalks on the busy highway. At the drop off point of the town there was a small lane of shops that appeared to end and become residential. So we thought is this it? and were ready to go back to the ship. Fortunately we decided to continue meandering our way through the Old Town and eventually came to the Little Venice section to then find the windmills (immediately west of the town and a puzzle to initially find). Had the best inexpensive gyros at Jimmys in Little Venice. Some who were on the ships walking tours were doing the exact same thing we did, but paying a premium for the privilege of doing so. ATHENS  Part of our group took the ship shore ex to Corinth (that apparently included an early AM visit to the Acropolis with hardly any crowd there). They liked the visit to Corinth because of its historical significance but concluded that the children would have been bored seeing more ruins. I, as the solo adult, decided to take 4 of the children and tackle Athens on our own. Taxis will take a carload to the Acropolis for only 15-20 Euro. We negotiated a taxi (5 euro) to take 5 of us to the Piraeus train station (otherwise it is a very long and hot walk for the kids) and then the modern and ultra clean public light rail (0,70 euro) directly to the Acropolis and Plaka shopping district. After 6 short stops, we exited at the Thissio stop and walked towards the Acropolis area (admission 12 euro and children are free). Again, the Acropolis area was crowded with tourists and we were fine visiting the sites on our own. We climbed atop Mars Hill (made famous by St. Paul) for great views of Athens, proceeded up to the Parthenon, and ended our visit with a walk through the crowded Plaka (lots of shops and an interesting flea market). We reversed our journey back to Piraeus and caught another cab (5 euro) outside the light rail station to talk us back to the Grand. I am glad I did it, would highly recommend seeing the Acropolis and Plaka on your own using public transportation, and would do it again with me and the 4 kids solo. KATAKOLON  Tendered ashore to Katakolon Village which consisted of a single stretch of shops extending for about 7 blocks and a single stretch of bay front cafes. Limited and expensive selection, but a pretty and clean area. Next time we should take a ships tour or a taxi to Olympia (although we were told by family members who paid for the ship excursion that there was not much left to see, but they appreciated its historical significance and even jogged the Olympic track). Really & Olympia was the only reason to stop at Katakolon. CORFU  This was going to be another Mediterranean beach day with the goal to take a public bus to Glyfada Beach on the eastern side of island. The hardest part was to find the central Green Bus Station once we left the ship dock (it is a 30 minute walk from the dock to Avramiou Street and the Green Bus square is situated near the harbor between the New Fortress hill on the north and the Lofos Avrami hill on the south. No cabs were willing to drive us the few miles to the bus station and the cabs were outrageously expensive (40-50 euro per hour). Once we figured out which bus would take us to Glyfada Beach (there is only one bus) it was a great day & the best overall beach experience on the vacation. Sandy beach, beautiful cliffside setting, loungers and umbrellas for rent, beach boats and toys for rent. The bus ride took about 45 minutes and ran pretty reliably to schedule. We took the 11 AM bus from the Green Bus Station and caught the 2:30 PM return bus from Glyfada so as to not miss the embarkation (any public bus later and you could miss the ship). The same bus passes by and has a stop at the large Acqualand water park. Better to simply go to Glyfada and rent a paddle boat with built in water slide (10 euro per hour) instead. Absolutely loved this place, and great for families and children of all ages. Great beach facilities with 2 large beach front hotels, no topless sunbathers, and beautiful warm water. Other passengers we saw at Glyfada hired a 4-passenger taxi for 100 euro for the day. We paid 1,70 euro (each way per person) for the public bus. VENICE  Since Venice was to be our disembarkation point, the Grand arrived at 9:00 PM and sailed by Piazza San Marco and berthed at Marittima terminal. Venice at night literally glittered as our ship glided through the city. Once docked, Princess offered an optional water taxi service ($10) good only for the arrival night, but unfortunately not the next day at disembarkation. Since we were spending 2 nights post-cruise in Venice, we opted to stay on board for our final night and then disembarked the following morning. PRINCESS DISEMBARKATION WATER TAXI - On disembarkation the next morning, Princess offered a water taxi for $31 pp to go from Marittima to the docks at Piazza San Marco for those staying at selected nearby hotels that were walking distance from that dock. This is an option cruisers should seriously consider since private water taxis are apparently not picking up passengers directly from Marittima (see next paragraph), but only if you travel lightly. Once at the Venice drop off point, we saw only a few porters assisting hotel goers, but dont expect many to be available if you arrive during the rush hour. Venice has many cobblestones and bridges to even the closest hotels to Piazza San Marco, so bringing lots of heavy luggage and trying this option may not be for everyone and the Princess ticket only takes you and your luggage to the Piazza. Getting to your hotels from that point is on your own. Another option some people might consider is taking the public Vaporetto to Piazza San Marco. It would be cheaper but these looked VERY crowded and the hassle of bringing on lots of luggage may not be feasible for most. VENICE WATER TAXI PROBLEM  We had a leisurely final breakfast and were off the ship by 9:00 AM. This is where the private water taxi debacle began. We originally booked two private water taxis online for 70 euro per taxi to pick the 11 of us up directly from the Marittima docks to take us directly to our respective hotels in Venice (Locanda Orseolo and Violino dOro) & no intermediate car, bus or boat transfers, just Point A to Point B so we thought. Email verifications were fine before our vacation and communication with the vendor was fine up until our actual arrival in Venice. What the vendor failed to inform us about was that most private water taxis (licensed or not) were boycotting the Marittima port due to the ports imposition of an additional higher tax on them. This only affected Marittima. Therefore no water taxis were going to meet us even though our email confirmation indicated so. After a series of frustrating phone calls on my part to try to find the representative who was supposed to meet us at Marittima terminal, we and another group of 22 family members (who had pre booked 3 taxis with the same expectation as we had) were asked to board a shuttle boat from Marittima. All 33 of us (and luggage) were then shuttled to a drop off point in Piazza Roma where the Veneziana Motoscafi taxi office was located and each group was then assigned to our respective water taxis for our hotel destinations. We eventually got to our hotels, but not in the convenient Point A to Point B manner we initially imagined (and paid a premium for). Word to the wise: no matter what you are told or what you think, demand to know about the private water taxi surcharge and the willingness of the private water taxis to actually pick you up from the Marittima docks beforehand. If they do, then it is an extremely convenient way to get to your Venice hotel. POST-CRUISE VENICE  2 DAYS IN VENICE Hotel  We were taken via private water taxi to the Locanda Orseolo. It was everything the online community has posted and boasted about this little Venetian B&B. We encountered a gondola traffic jam in the narrow canals fronting the canal side water entrance into the inn. Our lovely Quad room overlooked the canal and we were a few minutes walk from Piazza San Marco. Our only regret was that we did not book for a longer stay here. Doges Palace Secret Itineraries Tour  Locanda Orseolo pre-booked the 11 tour tickets for us far in advance and we thought the tour was worth it (16 euro pp). The children were especially intrigued by our entering the former torture gallery hidden high under the rafters of the Doges Palace (which the general visitor would not be able to see). This behind the scenes tour also took us to the very top of the attic to view the manner in which the ornate ceilings of the public spaces were supported by the builders. Afterwards, we toured the rest of the public spaces on our own, crossing over the Bridge of Sighs to the prison and then the exit out. St. Marks Basilica  We got in the long line and headed immediately to the museum gallery (stairway to the right before entering the actual basilica) to view the original bronze horses, to tour the fascinating series of galleries, to view the interior of the basilica from the second level and the exterior fronting the square. The gift shop had some unique and reasonably price souvenirs and Christmas ornaments that we did not find elsewhere. My son did the obligatory feeding of pigeons in Piazza San Marco. We passed on the pricey gondola ride since we rode the canals on a water taxi anyway. We shopped the Rialto Bridge. And we realized there was a lot more we did not have time to do there. We thoroughly enjoyed our short stay in Venice and would want to return. Read Less
Sail Date July 2006
Grand Princess Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 3.0 4.0
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 3.0 3.7
Public Rooms 3.0 4.1
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.8
Family 4.0 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.8
Enrichment 4.0 3.6
Service 4.0 4.3
Value For Money 3.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 4.0

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