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18 Istanbul to Europe - Western Mediterranean Cruise Reviews

Concerns about Turkey and Istanbul in particular before leaving the US. These concerns were quickly overcome by this 7-day cruise from Istanbul to Athens. Stayed at the Pera Palace for a couple of days prior to departure and toured the ... Read More
Concerns about Turkey and Istanbul in particular before leaving the US. These concerns were quickly overcome by this 7-day cruise from Istanbul to Athens. Stayed at the Pera Palace for a couple of days prior to departure and toured the city. Istanbul is a great mix of history and modern, the hotel spectacular! Embarkation was a breeze and the ship was in great shape following its recent dry dock. The itinerary started off with a day at sea and gave the 80 guests a chance to get to know one another, very easy on Wind Star as it is a small vessel. Enjoyed the time on the open bridge and even got some star identification training from the Watch Officer. The various ports of call were a great recap of history. The top was Ephesis and the private event at the Celsus Library. Windstar does this event right! From the minute you arrive you are taken back in time, no other visitors to be seen or heard, music playing in the library upon arrival, photographer at the ready and they don't charge you for the pictures. Dinner was served, dusk settled in, and then the lights illuminated the library, pathways, and colusium, very SPECIAL! The other stops were also well done though too many other cruise ships were with us in Santorini, you lost some of the intimacy that we experienced elsewhere. Athens was a huge let down, the Parthanon and museum were as expected. However, Athens as a city is a dump, don't bother spending any extra nights here. We got the news of the Istanbul bombing just as we got home and felt fortunate with our timing. Turkey was the unexpected highlight of our trip and would love to return when it settles down again. The Wind Star crew is top notch and looking forward to another Windstar trip soon. Read Less
Sail Date June 2016
Viking Ocean is by far the best ocean cruise line we have taken. We have cruised with NCL, Princess and Celebrity and the level of service provided by Viking is a cut above the rest. First of all, we like their itineraries. We took the ... Read More
Viking Ocean is by far the best ocean cruise line we have taken. We have cruised with NCL, Princess and Celebrity and the level of service provided by Viking is a cut above the rest. First of all, we like their itineraries. We took the “Empires of the Mediterranean” tour from Istanbul to Venice and went to some fascinating venues including Santorini and Dubrovnik. Since there had been recent terrorist attacks in Istanbul for safety reasons, Viking Ocean cut short that visit and substituted Troy instead. Luckily, we had a pre-cruise booked for Istanbul and we did find Troy interesting. Viking Ocean appeals to us because it does not have the Las Vegas strip look of other larger liners. Passengers on our ship the Viking Sea, numbered around 600 because of people cancelling due to fear about terrorism in Istanbul, but the ship only has a capacity of around 940 passengers. Amenities such as elevator service equals that of larger ships. The stateroom we had was DV5 level and had 270 square feet plus a verandah. It was quite roomy and elegant. In fact, elegance of understated Scandinavian style would describe the Viking Sea. Everywhere there are little surprise nooks to sit in and read and art pieces to admire. The tone of superior service was set upon our arrival when we were greeted with champagne and the strains of music played by a classical trio. Our favourite hang out was the 2 level Explorer's Lounge with 180 degree views of the ocean. Viking Ocean is considered more expensive than other cruise lines, however I like the fact that all the costs except gratuities are pre-paid and you are not nickeled and dimed to death like on other ships. There are no continuous merchandise sales or photography sales pushed upon you. Amenities such as Internet, wine and beer with meals, and two hour free excursions are included in the price of the fare so there are no surprises when you get your bill. As we are not big drinkers we found that the wine veritably flowed! The food is excellent. The World Café serves buffet style and it included an ice cream and gelato bar, and a latte machine at no additional charge. Other lines charge for these items. Above all the regular coffee is very good. With other cruise lines the coffee was so awful I had to get a specialty coffee card. At night this buffet served excellent sushi, crab legs and other seafood. There is an outside grill plus wonderful specialty restaurants such as Manfredi's which serves Italian fare and the Captain's Table where you can do food sampling and wine pairings. They have a more traditional restaurant plus a buffet or grill when the specialty restaurants get booked. You are allowed 2 bookings of each specialty restaurant and unlike other cruise lines you are not charged extra for these. Another surprise was Mamsen's where you could pop in for a heart-shaped waffle for breakfast. Also, there was the Wintergarden where everyday they served tea time pastries, sandwiches and scones to the strains of the classical trio. Most of the time we took the more lengthy paid excursions instead of the 2 hour free ones however the level of the free ones that we took were good. There were fascinating enrichment lectures on naval warfare, art and music aboard ship. We attended sessions on naval battles that fit with the territory we passed including Gallipoli. These warfare talks were given by a Rear Admiral of the British Navy. The entertainment was with one exception of an outside singer, provided by the ship's singers and dancers. They were a small but a mighty talented troupe. We thoroughly enjoyed their performances particularly the way troupe members mingled jovially with passengers, Loads of fun! We especially enjoyed the trio of male singers who put on a tribute to the "Rat Pack" in the Torshaven Lounge. The house band was terrific too! Since this was the maiden voyage of the Viking Sea there was a glitch with our air conditioning that was resolved to our satisfaction. The gym is small and there are no classes but enough equipment to get the job done. We loved this voyage so much that we have booked another Viking Ocean trip called "Barcelona, the Baltic and Beyond" for 2017! Read Less
Sail Date April 2016
We wanted to see all that istanbul offered ,unfortunately because of the recent bombing in the tourist section, Viking opted to substitute seeing troy and the ruins in Canakkale. It was still really interesting. The food was outstanding ... Read More
We wanted to see all that istanbul offered ,unfortunately because of the recent bombing in the tourist section, Viking opted to substitute seeing troy and the ruins in Canakkale. It was still really interesting. The food was outstanding and so was the service. People on board just couldn't do enough for us. We ended up purchasing a beautiful Turkish rug and a gorgeaous blue diamond ring, both from stores that Viking guaranteed. The cabin, which was on the third floor Deluxe Veranda seamed to be smaller than the Viking River Cruise room. Maybe it was just the way it was layed out. We aren't in our room very much, so I guess it doesn't really mean too much. Most of the shore tours were right about the length of time. We were always given time to shop etc. after the tours. One of the best tours was an extra in Santorini to the ruins of Akrotiri, ruins of the volcanic eruption. We really felt special to be able to see these ruins. The tour guide was so knowledgable. The evening entertainment was for about an hour in length, which was just perfect, and extremely entertaining and knowledgeable. The ship is outstanding in every way. I've only been on two other ships but they are pale in conparison. The dining rooms vary to your likes and dislikes. We normally don't go to Gourmet Dinners, but the dinner at The Chief's Table was really delish!! Even my husband cleaned his plate of food he normally would not order. It was nice to escape to the Explorer's lounge when it was needed. I would give the total cruise a AA++! Our only dissappointment was that we didn't see any of Venice,Italy. We felt misled about the broucher because it included time in Venice and they swept us off directly to the airport at 9:45 A.M. and our flight wasn't till 2:45 P.M. If Viking would have scheduled us a little later, we could have seen at least 3 or 4 hours of Venice. Read Less
Sail Date April 2016
This is our second ocean cruise with Viking Oceans and one on their river cruises ( China riverboat adventure) . The first ocean cruise was on the Viking Star on July 11 2015, in which we did the Viking Homelands with the extension to ... Read More
This is our second ocean cruise with Viking Oceans and one on their river cruises ( China riverboat adventure) . The first ocean cruise was on the Viking Star on July 11 2015, in which we did the Viking Homelands with the extension to Iceland . That voyage was just beautiful and both the crew and ship out preformed our expectations . Our second Ocean Cruise was even better that our first, if that could be ! We did the Catalonia to Constantinople (Istanbul to Barcelona) cruise starting on April 3,2016 with a pre cruise stay in Istanbul. I must say, we had no issues with any of the Istanbul stay and Viking's pick of the Conrad Hotel, was spot on. Beautiful Hotel and wonderful service. We had contracted with a private tour company thru our travel agent . Our local guide made us feel at home and very safe ! . I do believe that Istandbul, the folks and city, are getting a very bad rap. Go and enjoy your time there, it's a beautiful and vibrant city . A special note - early April is their peak time for tulips and spring flowers and you shouldn't be missed . Small Note : The tulips and other bulbs had their start in Turkey,not in Holland, Back to tour cruise; we had a DV1 size cabin on deck 7 , it on the same level as the Explorers Lounge , Pools and World Cafe and I wouldn't have changed it a bit, Wonderful. No noise from people passing thru, almost your own private hallway . Our first Viking cruise was on deck 8 and and DV1 . That's was very good but deck 7 was much more convenient. The crew was very highly trained and made you feel at home for all of the 23 days aboard. The Viking group has worked very hard to improve the small areas of concern that others have expressed in their reviews (embarkation and shore excursions) . You can see and feel these improvements to their operating procedures - wonderful to see a smile on the crew even after a very long tour of duty . When we where in some of the ports on this last cruise, I looked out at these VERY LARGE CRUISE SHIPS with 4000 plus passengers and worried that word will get out that the Viking Experience IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN WHAT THEY ARE SUFFERING THRU. What can I say - Best Cruise Ever ! So much so, we signed up for their 141 day Around the World Adventure in 2017/18 and can't wait to leave. Read Less
Sail Date April 2016
First cruise. Fantastic Ship, all staff were wonderful except Guest Services people. They were just OK. Our small room was great. Did not need much more. Good size bed. The bathroom was a nice size as well as the shower. Our room had a ... Read More
First cruise. Fantastic Ship, all staff were wonderful except Guest Services people. They were just OK. Our small room was great. Did not need much more. Good size bed. The bathroom was a nice size as well as the shower. Our room had a nice TV, desk, coffee table and chairs as well as a out side veranda. A lot of different places to eat. All were very good. The restaurants where you made reservations were fantastic. The main dinning Hall had different stuff everyday as well as some of the same favorites each day. The Excursions were mostly very nice. Some of the guides were hard to understand but over all very good. The ship was beautiful and had so much for you to do. Or it was also a great setting to do nothing at all. Pools, Spa, Bars, and entertainment were all very nice. I never thought I would enjoy a cruise as much as we did. Both me and my wife thought 9 nights were going to be a little long. We now believe we good go on one that was 15 nights. Yes we would go again and probably will. Soon Read Less
Sail Date April 2016
This was our fourth trip with Viking, and we had been a little apprehensive about taking an ocean cruise because we love the intimacy of the relatively small river cruise ships. Our fears were soon set aside. The ship was filled to ... Read More
This was our fourth trip with Viking, and we had been a little apprehensive about taking an ocean cruise because we love the intimacy of the relatively small river cruise ships. Our fears were soon set aside. The ship was filled to capacity but never felt that way at all. We never felt crowded or had to wait in lines. The choreography of moving people on and off the ship for in-port excursions was seamless. The decor of the Viking Star is absolutely beautiful, and we found the layout to be very functional. We used most areas of the ship, with the exception of the top deck. The weather was not quite warm enough for that. The service was outstanding, which is typical for Viking. We greatly enjoyed knowing our cabin steward, the servers in the dining room and the spa personnel. The dining experiences were quite enjoyable: the cuisine was varied and representative of the areas we visited. We were never rushed through a meal. We enjoyed the cultural lectures and really appreciated Vikings' efforts to keep us informed on current events in the Middle East and to put them into perspective by engaging a retireed State Department diplomat as a lecturer. Our one regret was that there were no exercise classes offered. We'd been told there would be yoga classes, but apparently the contract with the vendor who provided those classes was cancelled just before our trip. That said, we were never left with nothing to do. There were always many options from which to choose in the spa, entertainment venues, public areas and restaurants. Read Less
Sail Date November 2015
Husband and I have cruised at least 20 times on a variety of ocean liners as well as 3 Viking River Cruises. Viking has done an amazing job on their ocean liner. The ship has been divided into lovely, intimate, inviting spaces for reading, ... Read More
Husband and I have cruised at least 20 times on a variety of ocean liners as well as 3 Viking River Cruises. Viking has done an amazing job on their ocean liner. The ship has been divided into lovely, intimate, inviting spaces for reading, chatting with new friends, enjoying a hot or cold drink, and more. The fabrics, pillows, throw blankets, were chosen with care and each space laced with understated viking luxury. Cabins were nicely appointed and the beds so comfortable with luxury linens. The crew ALL were friendly, helpful and knowledgeable and kept the ship immaculate. The dining options were all great! The Chef's Table was a special treat as Chef Hugo created really unusual and fabulous meals-we tried all three menus thanks to Igor getting us reservations. Our best excursion was the Kitchen Table with Chef Frederick, Chef Hugo and Head of Food and Beverage, Marco. The trip to the market in Kotor, chat with coffee and then the best meal ever prepared with fun and expert flare. A day and evening we will not forget!! Fun in the evenings at Torshaven bar with expert bartender Jay ended almost every day for us. We enjoyed the smaller size of the ship as compared to very large ocean liners with way too many people. Yet there was always something interesting to do. I particularly enjoyed all the reading areas and my husband enjoyed the pools, the gym and the spa. We feel that Viking wants to get the ocean cruise experience right as they absolutely want input and work hard to make things right if there is a problem of any kind. As a result we have already booked our next cruise on the Viking Star. Read Less
Sail Date October 2015
Ignore any moaners..we got back this Monday 17th Aug...that's if there are any !!! we had an amazing time...I have never seen so much food...if you dont wish to dress up you can try the buffet service....wish we did in the days ... Read More
Ignore any moaners..we got back this Monday 17th Aug...that's if there are any !!! we had an amazing time...I have never seen so much food...if you dont wish to dress up you can try the buffet service....wish we did in the days time then you can pile the food up as loads did..breakfast you can have either tea-coffee and cold drink...the main restaurant you have to pay tho for drinks..so breekie..elevens..lunch..afternoon tea..dinner...and even late night food... our room was a bit small but we only sleep there 90% we were out and about on the trips...we had room 365 and our cleaner was lovely ( Olga ) towels aplenty... as for our 2 waiters in the main restaurant Ted and Ludi what great blokes...4 course meal and a good choice of 4/5 dishes...gawd we were pigs lol...plenty to do when your sailing..reading room..library ( free ) cinema..3 pools although small ( kids took over ) some thing for every one JUST ASK at reception or go to the reps meeting...as for the shows..fabulous like a west end...the other room is live band an game shows...hair dressers which aint cheap but i had mine done twice...shop on board too which sell bits you might have forgotten..all the tours we did were amazing...just watch the cheeky people who again try to save sun beds with towel BUT the towels police are on the case now and if they see your stuff will be remove if you leave your more than a morning...drinks service every where..think that's if....but rem more than any thing its VERY hot..... oh forgot the small gym too. Read Less
Sail Date August 2015
We are not experienced cruisers but we loved our 12 nights aboard Insignia. Embarkation was a breeze. We turned up a little earlier than the appointed time of 12 noon and walked straight through the embarkation process within minutes. Our ... Read More
We are not experienced cruisers but we loved our 12 nights aboard Insignia. Embarkation was a breeze. We turned up a little earlier than the appointed time of 12 noon and walked straight through the embarkation process within minutes. Our only other embarkation experience had been on a Holland America ship and that we would not wanted to have repeated. We were greeted warmly once on board and informed that our cabins were not yet ready but that we may make our way to the Terrace cafe for lunch. This we did and had a very enjoyable experience and a glas of wine until an announcement was made that our cabins were ready. The cabins on deck 7 are not large. But they are comfortable and we were able to unpack all our things and get our suitcases away under the bed or in the closet. There is a comfortable sofa for two and a writing desk but no chair to sit at, just a stool which was next to useless. There were plently of clothes hangers in the large closet allowing us to unpack properly. This may be a small thing but to me it is a plus as so many hotels have an inadequate number of hangers in the room. Others have commented on the bathrooms. Overall within our expectations; not overly luxurious but acceptable. A small verandah has two chairs and a small table but the side boards separating your deck from the cabin on either side do not render any privacy. There is a small round table inside as well and it is decked out with a complementary bottle of chilled champagne (yes the real thing) for our enjoyment. We oblige!! The air conditioning is working well and the room is at a very comfortable temperature. (Outside the Turkish summer is a scorcher). Our evening dining experience is at Toscanas. We were delighted. The food was quite excellent and we especially enjoyed the thoughtful touch of the olive oil menu. We also enjoyed the company of our "shared" dinging companions who were excellent company throughout the meal. The whole experience that evening, being new to us, was perhaps one of the most memorable of the cruise. Later in the cruise we dined at Polo Grill (where i must say I ahd an excellent steak, perfectly cooked to my order and Cheryl had the lobster which was expertely de-shelled at the table by our waiter and served in true 5 star style. Our experience in the Grand Dining Room was that the place lived up to its name. The service and attention is really exceptional and the food is great. You can enjoy wine by the bottle and if you do not want to finish a whole bottle, it will be kept for you and be made available in any dining room on the ship at any time thereafter. So this leads me to offer some comments about drinks on board generally. In my opinion the drinks are not overly expensive and the drinks package does not relally represent any value as we did not deny ouselves anything, chose good wine for evening meals and ultimatley spent on drinks less that what the package would have cost the both of us. I would like to add some more detail about drinks pricing but may have to wai for another review. I agree with other reviewers that there is a feeling of a lack of crowd on the ship. We are able to wander around almost by ourselves. Many pepole seemed to gravitate to the pool deck but if that was a bit crowded that didnt bother us as we onle spent minimal time there. I was especially impressed with the well stocked and comfortable library. We choose a couple of recent best sellers for the duration and took thme down to our cabin. There are ample copies of each of a wide variety of titles. Read Less
Sail Date June 2014
I will be a Windstar cruiser for life after our 2nd voyage with them. After a wonderful week on board the Windstar going from Istanbul to Athens with 5 stops in between it got even better. I had left my University of Florida Football ... Read More
I will be a Windstar cruiser for life after our 2nd voyage with them. After a wonderful week on board the Windstar going from Istanbul to Athens with 5 stops in between it got even better. I had left my University of Florida Football National Championship ring in our stateroom when it fell out of my backpack. Our wonderful steward, Cecep, found it and had it forwarded to our Athens hotel before I even knew I had lost it. I will be forever grateful to Cecep for his honesty and integrity. The week started well when several crew members remembered my wife and me from a cruise we took last year. By the 2nd day of the cruise every food and beverage service member would know all 140 of us by name. It's amazing how they do that on Windstar cruises. The food and service was excellent and the crew could not have been nicer. The Captain and I were discussing the Costa tragedy and without my asking he had a good magazine article sent to our room for me to enjoy. The refurbished ship was beautiful and the afternoon treats on deck never failed to cool us off. As did the ice wash cloths waiting for us when we returned from our tours every day. If you are looking for comfort and personal service, on a ship that makes you feel like you are really on a boat, Windstar is the cruise line for you. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
I just returned from my first Crystal Cruise and am in what I'm calling the 'Crystal haze' --a surreal place where one is treated like royalty, wined and dined and pampered beyond belief. I booked my Crystal cruise expecting ... Read More
I just returned from my first Crystal Cruise and am in what I'm calling the 'Crystal haze' --a surreal place where one is treated like royalty, wined and dined and pampered beyond belief. I booked my Crystal cruise expecting to receive the level of excellence they tout, but had no idea that they would meet and exceed me expectations in all categories. We sailed the Serenity on the Roman Empire Exploration from Istanbul to Barcelona. Ours was a port-intensive voyage, calling in many wonderful ports. And with three days at-sea, there was time to relax and enjoy the ship's offerings as well. My stateroom (PH) lacked nothing. With a walk-in closet complete with plenty of drawers, jacuzzi tub and glass shower, vanity, writing desk, sofa/table, ample balcony and VERY comfy queen bed, I enjoyed the time spent there. My friendly, professional and most anxious -to -please butler provided pressing/shoe shine services and brought canapes and champagne nightly at my request. Breakfast on my balcony was delivered in minutes after requesting...and always with a smile and kind word or two. It is obvious that Crystal selects their crew because of their love of people. And it is the crew and their stellar service that separates Crystal from all other cruise lines. Our stewardesses, waiters, servers, spa employees, concierge and front desk staff and even the librarian could not do enough for us --they greeted us with smiles and warm welcomes at every meeting. The artistically presented five star cuisine also differentiates Crystal as well. I can honestly say that nearly every morsel I ate in our 12 days aboard was excellent. From fresh squeezed juices every morning at breakfast to the bananas foster our head waiter Augusto made for us table side by request after dinner, the meals were memorable. I particularly appreciated the use of fresh ingredients, prime meats, not overly salty sauces, the most perfectly prepared risotto I've had anywhere, amazing soups, fresh made pastas and desserts that were as beautiful as they were delicious. Sommeliers in all dining venues were knowledgeable, upbeat and added greatly to the overall dining experiences. Specialty restaurants Prego and Nobu's Silk Road served up meals among the best I've eaten anywhere in my life. I could write an entire review about the Prego cuisine, presentation, ambiance and service!! We attended both optional formal nights in the Crystal dining room and found them to be a delightful change of pace. Another thing Crystal excels at is offering choices. From the pillow menu from which one chooses their preferred pillows, to the multiple dining options at each meal my every desire was met...and then some! The lime and ginger salt rub I experienced in the spa was one of the singular happiest hours of my life. It was so amazing in fact that I booked the same treatment later that day for a friend with whom I was traveling, and he agreed it was one of the very best experiences of his life as well. For those contemplating cruising.....I would very highly suggest Crystal. Contrary to most things I've experienced in life, with Crystal Cruises, you really can 'believe the hype.' I cannot wait to return to sea with them. Though this was my first Crystal voyage, most all passengers I met were on their 2nd, 10th or 15th Crystal Cruise. Now I 'get it.' Someone asked me last week if I could change one thing about our voyage or Crystal Cruises what would it be.......I'm still thinking. The only thing that comes to mind is that one or two of the chocolate desserts was too sweet for my taste. If that's the worst thing I can say about 12 days in heaven, that's pretty darn good. Read Less
Sail Date November 2012
I read a lot of member reviews in CruiseCritic to the extent that I think I can write my review even before the cruise started. Luckily, I can restrain myself and of course this review is written AFTER the cruise. Ha ha ha .... First, ... Read More
I read a lot of member reviews in CruiseCritic to the extent that I think I can write my review even before the cruise started. Luckily, I can restrain myself and of course this review is written AFTER the cruise. Ha ha ha .... First, the background. Both DW and myself are around our early 60 yo, from Indonesia, speaking very little English, vegetarian, no alcohol, no smoking. This is our first major cruise (a few local cruises of 2 or 3 nights are nothing, I suppose), and we did enjoy every moment of it. What I've read about Crystal Cruises proved to be true. The staff are (mostly) friendly and (all) courteous. A select few crews are extra special in winning our hearts. Embarkation : We pre-order a taxi via internet so the transfer from Istanbul airport to the port is easy. The boys took over our baggages, and I'm so confident those be will delivered to our cabin promptly we even gave them our carryon as well (of course I keep the important ones with me). It was already 2pm by the time we arrived so there was no line at all at the security check. Checking in was done in less than a minute (thanks, PCPC). The welcome onboard picture takes longer time than the check in, hahaha.... The Trident Grill served us veggie burger, and then the cabin was ready, with all our luggages inside. We started unpacking, and within 5 minutes Sheetal our stewardess knocked on the door. After a brief exchange of greetings I gave her my note (pre-printed, thanks CCers) of things we like to have in our fridge. She hesitated about cans of V-8 but said she would try (and she did find us enough cans for the length of the cruise!). Cabin : Clean and beautiful. Enough storage space. Of course I deliberately leave the closet all for DW, except for my three dress shirts and two suits. All my other things go into the drawers in the seating area. The extra hangers we brought proved to be unnecessary excess. Once emptied, we put our carryon inside our luggages, and everything disappear under the bed. Magic! So this is going to be our home for 12 nights ... not bad, eh? I only find the tiny sofa uneasy to sit on (and I am Asian size!). Perhaps they can make it little bit more "normal" size (hopeful mode "on"). Balcony : We enjoy using this space very much. Some times it is too windy, but Crystal so thoughtfully provided the mohair blankets which very pleasantly helped us to stay warm. Once we left a plate of cakes for a few minutes on the balcony and suddenly a seagull already perched on the railing! We shooh the bird away and flew he did but only after posing for my camera... Dining : Well, all vegetarians should not go hungry onboard Symphony. Plenty of choice, and choice, and choice! We took Perfect Dining by Reservation, and very happy as most of the time they sat us by the window, table for two. One evening my wife is not feeling so well we have to order room service from the CDR menu, and it is delivered promptly. We also enjoy one breakfast on the balcony as on that day we have an early excursion. We don't want to have more room service than necessary as we feel pity for Sheetal , who has to carry so heavy dishes to the room. Specialty restaurant: I highlight this item in separate heading as what I write might be controversial. Contrary to those wonderful reviews, we find there is nothing so 'special' about Nobu's Silk Road. It is even less than what we used to have in our country, or in Japan. Initially I thought our view may be biased as we are vegetarians, but I met some fellow passengers from Malaysia, and they also think that for those who are used to taking Japanese food in Asia, the food in Silk Road is under the expectation. However, we must admit that the mushroom soup and mushroom salad are nice (but not great!). On another night we tried our luck and sit at the Sushi Bar. They can't even serve simple "inari" which we can find on some days during buffet at Lido Cafe. There is less vegetarian option in the Sushi Bar, which we understood, but whatever vegetarian selection on offer is lacking "creativity". While one of the Japanese chef at the bar is quite friendly, one of the other chef looked as if he is disturbed by our being there. Prego is ok but again not great. I found the non-alcoholic wine they served there tastes "funny", unlike the ones I have at the CDR, which is nice. Drinks : We enjoy the non-alcoholic version of everything possible : NA beer, NA wine, NA cocktail... hmmm... Mozart tea : Hmm... Again, it is pathetic to see the crew in worn costumes. Crystal should have prepared better. Don't get me wrong. Mozart is my favorite composer, and I really enjoy the string quartet. It would of course be very fitting if the crew dress in the period costumes as well, but unfortunately I found their costumes have shown wear and tear. Please, please, please buy new costumes, please. Entertainment: With all due respect to the Crystal Singers and Dancers, who have entertained the guests with their wonderful talents, I must say that listening to "Evita" three times (albeit in three different versions) in a week is just too much. Somebody has to coordinate the repertoire, I think. Michel Bel deserves the standiong ovation. Naki Attaman is great with "Around the world" but in my humble opinion, the credit of that night should go to David Price with his superb percussion. And the winner of the best show in all goes to... the Sorrento Musical! Spa and fitness : I enjoy having sauna and steam in the spa, and more often than not take my shower there rather than in our cabin bathroom. Shore excursion : On our own. Crystal provided free shuttle so very easy to find our way around. We did participate in Crystla sponsored We Care You Care program in Athens, helping the Sea-Turtle Rehabilitation Project, and we did enjoy it very much. Best of the best : Hot chocolate at the Bistro, and the energetic smile of the Lido crews. Special thanks goes to Scott the CD and his team. In a short notice they enable us to have a Vesak Day celebration with our fellow Buddhists on board. Disembarkation : Smooth and easy. We disembark at our own timing as we stayed for two more nights in Barcelona. Well, funny that at first I thought I can easily write a cruise review. Now I must admit that writing a cruise review is not as easy as it seems. It takes me more than one month to finish this! :-) Read Less
Sail Date April 2012
SEABOURN ODYSSEY CRUISE 31.10.11 TO 07.11.11 This was our third Seabourn Cruise this year, having sailed on Sojourn and Quest earlier in the year. We flew to Istanbul the day before embarkation and stayed in ... Read More
SEABOURN ODYSSEY CRUISE 31.10.11 TO 07.11.11 This was our third Seabourn Cruise this year, having sailed on Sojourn and Quest earlier in the year. We flew to Istanbul the day before embarkation and stayed in the Senator Best Western, this hotel was recommended by British Airways. We were met by a prearranged courier service who took us to the hotel, a very efficient service. The hotel was very clean and comfortable; our only problem was that it was situated right next to a Mosque, so we were awakened very early by the Call to Prayer from the speakers. We were then taken to the ship by the same taxi service we had had the night before, again on time and very efficient. Our arrival at the dock at 2pm was greeted by a very long queue for check in, I must say that Seabourn must take note, fortunately for us the weather was dry but rather windy, but if it had been raining then passengers would get very wet, there was no shelter until you got inside the actual check in area. Even though there were more than four people in the area checking passengers passports only one was working, and even he was too busy talking to so that passengers had a very long wait. Once through this check we were soon onboard with the normal service you would expect from Seabourn. We were escorted straight to our suite, and when the lift doors opened we were greeted by name from the Maitre'D from our cruise on Quest, a gentleman by the name of Nicolas. We then found out that he had recently been promoted to Head of Training. I cannot believe that the staff remember people's names like this, they must see thousands of passengers over the weeks they are onboard. Our suite was as normal, everything in place including the onboard bar stocked to our requests. We were then introduced to our Stewardess, Ana, again nothing seemed too much trouble for her, requests made were soon fulfilled. Our sail away from Istanbul was magical, it had started to go dark and all the lights were on and we were greeted by the Cruise Director, Mr. John Barron and his deputy Mr. Garry Timms, both of these gentlemen proved over the cruise how likable they are. I can see why passengers have such good words to say about these two as each day progressed they became more like lost friends. We were even invited to a hosted table in the MDR by the two. The ship in general was clean and tidy, and the staff could not do enough for you, many times we were greeted by name, and asked if everything was to our liking, you only had to ask and they went out of their way to accommodate you. Little things on the Odyssey were slightly different than her two younger sisters, main one for us was the spa area. On both Sojourn and Quest they have done away with the free Ladies and Gents steam room, but on the Odyssey they had both steam room and sauna in the ladies and gents changing area. We think we can see why this is, and it must be the money. On Sojourn and Quest they charged to use the stream room and at 30 dollars a day was in our opinion is rather a lot. Many of the passengers commented on this and felt that they should have kept the design the same for all three ships. Food again was good to excellent throughout, the only problem we found, was that they ran out of "Berries" We talked to the Chef and he said that due to the recent strikes in Piraeus (Greece) some of the containers had not been able to get through. We also had an evening in Ephesus which was well attended, but due to the time of year it did get very cold towards the end of the evening. As usual when we returned to Odyssey we had the traditional "Welcome Home" where the staff comes out to greet you "Home" along with the usual hot toddies. Our Itinerary was as follows:- ISTANBUL LESBOS KUSADASI MYKONOS RHODES PATMOS MILOS ATHENS Soon it was all too soon to disembark Odyssey and hope that it will be not too long to board yet another of Seabourn Yachts. Thanks must go to John Barron, Cruise Director, Garry Timms, Deputy Cruise Director, Our waiters Tony and Vaughan, and Angela in the Colonnade our Stewardess Ana and the whole of the crew, including bar tenders, entertainers etc etc. Read Less
Sail Date November 2011
We are a professional couple, ages 52 and 61, and well traveled internationally. We have been 1000% anti-cruising, thinking that cruise boats were floating nursing homes, or floating buffets for drunken rednecks.We have been converted! ... Read More
We are a professional couple, ages 52 and 61, and well traveled internationally. We have been 1000% anti-cruising, thinking that cruise boats were floating nursing homes, or floating buffets for drunken rednecks.We have been converted! The same week we returned home, I booked the Paul Gauguin Society Islands for February, and The Baltics on Oceania for next July.We agreed to this cruise on impulse, because a professional friend asked us to join him. His wife is a travel agent and booked the cruise. I would guess that the Black Sea would not be a first cruiser's preferred destination, but the dates worked out for us.Embarkation:We flew into Istanbul a few days early to enjoy that fabulous city. Being terrified of Istanbul's dishonest cabbies, we were pleased that the Intercontinental Ceylan had a cadre of honest cab drivers at their disposal. The cruise port was very close to the hotel, and it cost less than $10 to get us to the terminal. We arrived at 3pm, and there was no line. We were serviced immediately, and quickly sent up the gang plank to the reception lobby, where our pictures were taken and we were given a glass of champagne.Room:We were in 8047, S1 Sky Suite with butler service. The room was attractively decorated in red and beige. There was a large bottle of vodka and scotch (which we don't drink and gave away), a bottle of champagne (which we also gave away) and a bowl of fruit. We were later given a bottle of wine, which suffered a similar fate. The mini bar was stocked with a variety of beer and soft drinks and water. We had the butler replace everything with Diet Coke. I booked this category because my husband is 6'3", and I wanted him to not feel claustrophobic. The only problem he had was in the shower. He had to step in the bathtub, and his head hit the ceiling, so he had to shower with his head to one side. The amenities were large size Elemis. Our cabin steward kept the room in immaculate condition, but annoyed us by knocking on our door several mornings to see if we had left the room. We promised to put the 'make up room now' card on the door when we were ready for him!Food:I thought the food was wonderful! We ate in Prime C three times, in Aqualina once, and in the main dining room twice. One night we just had a club sandwich in the room because we were stuffed! We never tried the buffet. We had room service breakfast once, then skipped breakfast the other days (again, because there was too much food!). The delivery person set up by bringing the table in from the veranda, but the coffee table could just as easily have been used.My favorite meal was.....the lunch time hamburger and french fries I had on the pool deck! That cook made the best french fries I have ever had in my entire life! Hot, light, thick and crispy; the perfect fry!Of the fancier places, Prime C was leagues above the other venues, at least to our taste. The little donuts with dipping fondues were to die for. I always had fish, and was very happy with the sea bass and salmon. It was all delicious. The best appetizer, however, was Aqualina's lobster salad with citrus. Perfect blend of citrus with light, non chewy lobster chunks. I could not taste the Cointreau in Aqualina's souffle.If you love to eat, there are plenty of opportunities: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea with sweets, afternoon savories, dinner, and evening savories! One night we asked our butler if it was possible to order from the specialty restaurants for room service, as we were not able to get (another) reservation for Prime C and loved the little donuts. He said, no, but we later found a tray with the little donuts in our room! That's service that leaves one feeling pampered.Entertainment:We didn't go to any shows. We did play bingo once, to use up some of our on board ship credit from AMEX.Enrichment:We both are intellectually curious, and thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Richard Farkus's lectures on the area. He was an excellent speaker. His lectures were replayed on the TV system, and we listened to each at least twice.Ports:We did not do any of the ship's tours, rather hired a private guide with two other couples for Ukraine.Nessebar Bulgaria is a quaint town with souvenir vendor lined streets. Constanta Romania should be eliminated as a port. It is desolate and depressing. There is no economic activity, and skinny stray dogs roam the streets. Many buildings are rubble. When we were exploring, we ran into a group of Brits.I asked if it got any better where they had been, and he answered "no, in fact we have seen four suicides since we started our walk." So much for British humor, but he accurately described the area.Perhaps we should have gone on the bus trip to Budapest, but we didn't want to travel 3 hours each way to tour for 3 hours. The boat had to delay leaving for the next port because these buses were late.Ukraine- Odessa, Sevastopol, and Yalta was absolutely fascinating. Our private guide was well connected and we got into areas normal tourists aren't allowed, like the private areas of the Livadia Palace, where Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill divided up Europe in 1945. Bribe money is left under telephones.SummaryWe came to realize that cruising is an efficient way of seeing locations we would not want to spend a significant amount of time. No risk of encountering dreadful accommodations and even worse food.If Azamara had an itinerary we liked, we would not hesitate to travel with them again. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
Small ship with 450 passengers and about the same amount of crew. The staff were all excellent and nothing was too much trouble. The rooms are all suites and most have a balcony. The suites are furnished with subtle matching colours and ... Read More
Small ship with 450 passengers and about the same amount of crew. The staff were all excellent and nothing was too much trouble. The rooms are all suites and most have a balcony. The suites are furnished with subtle matching colours and all the bathrooms are marble and have a shower, separate bath, 2 hand basins and Molten brown amenities. A choice of 4 restaurants each night and one can dress formally or smart casual in the most formal of the restaurants. The code of dress is very relaxed on board. the food is excellent and the portions are on the smaller side which is good as you have so many places to go to eat throughout the day. The drinks are included and although there are no drinks lists, you can have any cocktail made that you want. The staff are always on hand and rather than wait to be called, they are always there wanting to serve.The excursions were very well run, with no waiting on buses or queuing. We got off the boat, into the coach and headed straight off on the tour. The tours were interesting and the guides were also very knowledgeable.The entertainment on board was excellent although not a lot of choice. The singing group did 3 shows during the week that were excellent, and after the shows there was dancing in another area, or you could go to the Observation Deck for a late night drink and listen to the lady singing and playing the piano. For us , the choice of entertainment was sufficient, and what we had, was very good.The amenities on board were excellent. I went to a few of the gym classes and also went to the gym once. Although the gym is small, it is quite adequate for the number of passengers on board. The pool area is well designed with 2 whirl pools but the pool itself could have been a little bigger. There was another pool aft of the 5th deck but this was even smaller and not utilised very much.Seabourn Square is a great place to relax and read the multiple choices of world newspapers available to passengers. In the Square there are is also access to internet , a coffee bar and also staff to make tour bookings etc.We did the Galley and the Bridge Tours which were very interesting, but need to be booked early on in the cruise. Restaurant 2 also needs to be booked early as it only holds 30 passengers and it can only be booked once in the week. It offers a degustation plate accompanied by selected wines.The staff are multi cultural and all are very friendly, and the cruise director John, was fantastic at organising the activities and keeping us all informed on the following days events.We would not hesitate to recommend Seabourn and look forward to returning next year!! Read Less
Sail Date June 2011
Nautica Black Sea Serenade Review July 2009   We joined Nautica in Istanbul having organised our own flights from London and a private transfer from the airport with Istanbul Airport Shuttle (22 euros). It was our second Oceania ... Read More
Nautica Black Sea Serenade Review July 2009   We joined Nautica in Istanbul having organised our own flights from London and a private transfer from the airport with Istanbul Airport Shuttle (22 euros). It was our second Oceania cruise out of about 25 in total, and as expected was thoroughly enjoyable. The food and service were as good as we had experienced on Insignia last year. Rather than adding to all the existing good reviews of Oceania ships I intend to focus on the Black Sea ports.   I always try to do a lot of research before a cruise as we prefer to explore on our own than on organised tours and this is especially important for us in recent years as my husband uses a wheelchair for any distance more than a couple of hundred yards. Some of the ports on this itinerary were quite difficult to research as there was very little information available. I hope the following may be of help to future visitors.   Istanbul, Turkey   Our third visit to one of my favourite cities and we had the luxury of starting the cruise with an overnight stay. We had visited the main attractions before and, being a Sunday, the Grand Bazaar was closed so we decided to start with a look around the new part of the city. Leaving the port we turned right and walked along to the tram stop, bought "jetons" (1.5 Turkish Lira each = 60p = $1US) and took the tram one stop to Kabatas. This is the end of the tram line and from there we used the  underground funicular (well signposted, disabled access lifts and uses the same "jetons") to take us up to Taksim Square. There was a large military parade in progress, something like remembrance day it seemed, with hundreds of soldiers, military bands etc, but once they left the square was quite deserted.   From there we walked along the main street of Istaki Kadesi (follow the old trams to find the right street). Most of the shops were open and there were a few street vendors too. Our plan had been to take the "Tunel" funicular back down but we seemed to miss it at the other end of the main street (there was a Metro station which I think was probably the place) but we kept walking down, found the Galata Tower, and continued along a steep downhill street which brought us out by the Karakoy tram stop at the Galata Bridge. From there we took a tram up to Sultanhamet, the central part of the old city. The Blue Mosque, Cistern & Hagar Sophia are all easy to find within this area as is the Grand Bazaar.   However, this time we wanted to visit Topkapi Palace, as we had neer previouslly been there. From the map it looked as though we had to walk down the hill to get in, but in fact from that entrance we had to push back up a steep hill to get in (entrance 20 Turkish Lira = 8 GBP = $12US each). The palace is huge, they have tried hard to give wheelchair access wherever possible but of course by the nature of an old building some parts were difficult. but we enjoyed a couple of hours wandering around and looking at several exhibitions (did not visit the Harem which would have been 15 lira extra). On leaving we found an exit which led to a gate just behind Hagar Sophia - a much easier route for anyone else who wants to visit ! Just follow the road with Hagar Sophia on your immediate left and you will arrive by the Topkapi wall.   We then walked down the hill to the Spice Bazaar at the bottom of the hill near the Galata Bridge, which was open and very busy even though it was Sunday, and some internet sites had said that it would be closed.   From here it would be walkable back to the ship but we opted for the tram again, as we find them so convenient and easy to use in Istanbul. Getting on at the Emminunou stop almost outside the Spice Bazaar involves quite a lot of steps down to an underpass and, surprisingly, there is no disabled access lift at this stop. Fortunately husband can manage the steps and I can carry the wheelchair ! We got off at the Tophane stop, to the old city side of the port and waked back - there is very little difference between the  distances of the 2 tram stops to the port - just a few minutes walk either way.   Nessebur/Nessebar, Bulgaria   The old town  is on an island linked to the mainland by a causeway and we tendered into a harbour close to the old city. I had been nervous about the accessibility here due to the hills and cobbled streets and Oeania's daily newsletter "strongly discourages the use of wheelchairs in this port". We decided to try with the backup plan of going to the beach if it was impossible to see the town. The cruise terminal itself was very hard work, numerous steps up and down into the customs building etc and from there we were immediately greeted with a huge flight of stone steps up to the town. However, there were some shops along a flat road to our left and passing those we arrived at the bus terminal, from where there was a nice gently sloping smooth tarmac slope up to the main square of the town. I would recommend this route for anyone other than the most active.   The old town of Nessebur/bar (the spellings seem to be interchangeable) is lovely, full of wooden houses and pretty little churches made from small bricks (in various states of repair). These days it is really a giant bazaar of several streets and squares (only about a quarter o f it cobbled, the rest is easily accessible for wheelchairs)  and the tourists flock in from the nearby beach resorts for a day of shopping. By lunchtime there were.hundreds of people waiting for buses back to Sunny Beach (fare 1 lei, I was told) and there was also a little train that cost 3 lei. We had bought a few Bulgarian Lei from home (1  lei = 50p) but there were plenty of ATMs in town. There we also a lot of money changing shops, although one shopkeeper told us not to use them as they sometimes give out fake money.   We debated a trip to Sunny Beach but the weather was not wonderful, it was cloudy and cooler than expected, so instead we walked across the causeway to have a look at new Nessebur. There are some hotels there and a few shops but nothing much. Further along the coast we could see some large hotels on a nice-looking beach but we did not walk that far, returning instead to the old town to use up our last few lei.   Constanta, Romania   The cruise terminal here is modern and bright but located in the middle of a large commercial port. There is a shuttle bus to Ovida square in the old town of Constanta about a mile or so away for $20 (yes $20 US for a maximum 3 mile round trip on  bus  - a rare black mark for Oceania!) but it was not a hard walk, even though it was hotter today. To begin with there is a long, flat, straight road to the port gate, which must be close to a mile. On the left just before the gate was a large bank with an ATM where we drew some Romanian Levs as we had been unable to buy any before leaving UK. We got 100 levs which was just over 20 GBP (so 1 lev = 20p = 30c US) but in fact the minimum withdrawal of 50 lev would have been plenty.   Once out of the port the casino building (no longer operating but an attraction of the city) is on your right and there is a short hill which leads up to some Roman ruins (less than impressive but work a quick look) just in front of the cathedral. The cathedral was quite nice - the entrance is on the left coming from the port, and continuing up that same street for a few minutes brings you to Ovida square. This square (actually more like a triangle) is home to a large archeological museum, which we did not visit but it looked very busy. Next to the museum is a smaller glass building housing the Roman mosaiacs (entrance 5 lev) and this was worth seeing, we thought. Beware of the toilet attendant on the square - she refused our offfer of a euros each but nearly frogmarched us to the museum cash desk to get change for her 1 lev fee !!!   There seemed little else of interest in the old city - as generally reported it is quite grotty and most of the buildings are in a serious state of disrepair. I had read on the internet about a double decker city tour bus aand had asked the local tourist representative about this when she came aboard Nautica that morning. I do like the availability of a local representative most port days on Oceania but on this particular trip found several of them to be quite negative and unhelpful. The Romanian lady first denied the existence of a tourist bus but when I persisted and showed her the internet pages I had printed out she 'remembered' and marked on a map where we could get it - on the corner of Tomo Boulevard and Ferdinand St (on some old maps still called Republikki). So we walked up Tomo Boulevard from the old sqaure towards the new part of the city, which was slightly nicer but nothing special. We found the bus stop then walked a couple of blocks beyond to the pedestrian shopping street (Stefan St) (found a free wifi connection outside Western Union which was useful) but soon returned to catch the bus.   The 'City Tour' bus is in fact a shuttle service to the nearby beach resort of Mamaia, but the advantage is that it runs right up the beach strip to serve the hotels whereas the local bus to Mamaia seemed to terminate at the very beginning. We got off the bus (fare3 lev - very reasonable) at the central stop of the beach strip by the casino and this seemed to be the main part of a typical beach resort - shops, fairground rides, cafes, bars and a cablecar stretching for miles along a nice sandy beach..   I enjoyed a swim in the sea at last, although it was not as warm as expected, and we sat in one of th beach front bars for a while (about 5-7 Levs for a beer or soft drink) before catching the bus back to the station. Tired by then, and still having 30 Levs to spare, we decided to get a taxi back to the port rather than try to work out the local bus. We told the driver to stop when his meter got to 30 Levs and in fact that took us just to the port gate (but I don't think he went the most direct route !). In any event taxis are  not allowed into the port so we had to walk the last mile back along the straight road. So for anyone unable or unwilling to do that walk both ways the only options here are a tour or the $20 shuttle -  and to be honest there is very little within easy walking distance of the shuttle drop off, so a tour might be preferable if you are not up for the walk. Constanta is certainly not my favourite port, but I must say we had a nice day, especially on the beach at Mamaia.   Odessa, Ukraine   As expected, Odessa was a beautiful city full of amazing buildings, the opera house being the best of the lot. The cruise port is widely reported as being "right at the bottom of the Potemkin steps" which is it but there is quite a walk out of the terminal and across a long bridge over several railway lines then down some stairs (or sloping road, as we did) to the bottom of the famous steps. Fortunately there is a free funicular that runs just to the left of it and saves climbing 200 steps. At the top you find yourself in Primorsky Boulevard, a nice park  along the top of the cliff. Turning left leads to the City Hall and several museums, from where the Opera House comes into sight. Nearby we found a Bank of Piraeus which had an ATM with English instructions and withdrew some local currency (12 hryvnia = 1 GBP  so 1 hryvnia = 8p = 12c US). This was another currecny that seemed to go a long way - in all 3 Ukrainian ports a soft drink or beer  or ice cream was about 5/6 hryvnia from a stall or about double that in a cafe, public toilets cost 1 or 1.5 (and the attendants always seemed to have change).   After looking around the outside of the fantastic opera house we wandered down a road to the side of the large Mozart hotel and came to a park which turned out to be the city garden. Now, I am not usually a bad map-reader but I never did get my bearings in Odessa. The layout of the streets did not seem to correspond with either the map I had printed from the internet or the ones given out by the tourist information lady - but it did not seem to matter much as we found lovely things to look at just by wandering around.   Leaving the city gardens at the other end we turned left and soon arrived at an impressive building called the Vorontsov Monument - not sure what it was but it was surrounded by another nice park and a reasonable sized art & crafts market.   Continuing down the same street eventually lead to the Cathedral - it was further thn it looked on the map and when we got there only the crypt was open, but it was nice enough.   We made our way back to the funicular by a slightly different route (found free wifi near McDonalds in one of the main streets) and again enjoyed our day. Do be aware that maps are of little use here unless you have one with the street names printed with the cyrilic alphabet as well as English, as only the cyrilic ones are used on street signs and hardly anyone seemed to speak English.     Sevastopol, Ukraine   Sevastopol was another nice city and the map here seemed far easier to follow. From the port there is a road leading the short distance up to a square from where we walked along a very nice seafront park to the main  sqaure of the town, Lazarev Square (according to the map - again the street names were unrecognisable). Turning right at the roundabout (just past McDonalds) brought us into the central market. Later we followed the main street heading towards the famous Panorama Museum, visiting one of the catherdrals on the way. Unfortunately the Panorama is on top of a hill far too steep for us to climb with the wheelchair, but people who had visited al seemed impressed.   We walked back towards the ship along the seafront (Lenin) street which looked more direct but was not a very interesting walk, I think the other route was much nicer and did not seem much further. The tourist information lady had said 45 minutes to walk from the ship to the Panorama and I think that would be about right, it must be about a mile and a half to the bottom of the hill. There were horses there to take people up to the museum (husband declined this !!).   Apart from the Panorama there are monuments all over the city, mostly military I think, but it made it an interesting city to explore, nicer than I had expected,   Sochi, Russia   Russia can only be visited independently if you hold a Russian visa, which are difficult and expensive to obtain, which is a shame as Sochi looked like a nice resort town and we docked right on the promenade between 2 busy pebble beaches. However, one of our Cruise Critic group was kind enough to put together a tour with Sochi Holidays (www.sochi-holi.ru). It cost $70 US each for 10 of us for 5 hours with a driver and excellent English-speaking guide. We visited an Orthadox church, walked along the lovely seafront park then drove up Akhun Mount, 600 metres above sea level, to climb the observation tower for amazing views of the surrounding city, sea and mountains. From there we drove to Stalin's Dacha (holiday villa) which was interesting, visited a glorious old Spa Hotel from the Soviet era, sadly somewhat decayed now, and enjoyed a sightseeing drive around the city before returning to the ship at 2pm. This was considerably cheaper than the ship's tours and we saw much more. Also, all of the ship's tours stated that they were unsuitable for passengers with wheelchairs or walking difficulties, whereas our driver and guide really put themselves out to help - the only thing Paul could not do was the tower climb, everywhere else was fine. It was a very interesting day and highly recommended for anyone visiting Sochi.   All cruise lines like to encourage the belief that any guests not on one of their own tours needs a visa to be able to get off the ship, but I can confirm that (as in St Petersburg when we toured with Red Oktober a few years ago) there was absolutely no problem or query- our tour leader had given our names to the immigration officers in advance and we simply walked through with everyone else and were met by our guide outside immigration, where we paid cash for the tour on the day.   Yalta, Ukraine   Yalta is a beautiful resort city located in a bay surrounded by huge mountains, a really stunning view. Even though it was a hot, sunny day the mist never quite cleared from the mountain tops. Again the port is right in the centre of town and there is a nice promenade with many cafes, stalls and designed outlet shops (but not particularly cheap from what I saw).   The tourist info lady gave out good maps on board and was informative about public transport - bus 5 or 11 goes from next to the cathedral to Livadia Palace (of Yalta Conference fame) and there is a ferry from the jetty about half way along the seafront that goes to the pretty Swallows Nest Castle. We decided against Livadia as it was very hot and we didn't fancy getting on a crowded bus. There were also taxis offering tours for $20 per hour to both of these main sights. We investigated the ferry but there were no English timetables and the Swallows Nest ticket booth wasw closed when we walked past fairly early. We intended to go back later but time went on as we explored the city, visited the Alexander Nevsky cathedral (the nicest on this trip) and the huge market area near the port (shown as a 'shopping area' on the map - follow the pedestrian street behind the Kodak centre) so we did not get around to it, and with anearly sailaway of 4pm we found plenty to do in Yalta itself. There are several grey pebble beaches but they were completely packed with people enjoying the weather - there was hardly room to stand on the beach, let alone lay down a towel, but the whole place had a nice family fun atmosphere. (Free wifi outside a large hotel at the far end of the beach, near a small tourist craft market) And as we left port we could see the Swallows Nest castle in the distance.   The following day was at sea but an interesting one as we sailed through the Bosphorus, passing Istanbul in the morning and the Dardanelles in the afternoon, passing quite close to the Galipoli monument early evening. the cruise director gave commentary at the points of interest.   Kusadasi, Turkey   Since our last visit about 8 years ago the cruise port has developed enormously and in fact the whole town has cleaned up a lot to the extent that the bazaar is now more like a shopping mall. But it is still a nice place to visit and wander around the shops within a few steps of the port.   When we tired of shopping we went to the city beach a short walk to the left from the port. It was nice to have a swim and cool off,  but the water was not very clear or, probably, very clean. But it is handy and you can rent a sunbed & umbrella for 5 lira if you want to stay longer. Maybe another time I would get on one of the many minibuses that pass the port every few minutes going to Ladies Beach a couple of miles away.   Santorini, Greece   We broke the habit of a lifetime and stayed on the ship - Paul hates heights and would not go up the cablecar, on our last visit I had taken the cablecar up and walked down.   Athens, Greece   We had to vacate our cabin by 8am and leave the ship by 9am, breakfast was available until 8.30am so it was not too early a start. Our flight home was not until 7pm and from internet research had found that we were able to leave our cases at the Student and Traveller's Inn in the Plaka District for 2 euros per bag for the day.   It was our 4th time in Athens and in the past we had been rather unlucky, delayed by general strikes and overcharged by argumentative taxi drivers, and my impressions of the city have never been that good. But I must say that this time everything worked smoothly, the taxi driver had quoted 20-25 euros for the journey and although I could not persuade him to switch on his meter he asked for 25 at the end which was fine by us.   We duly left our bags in the luggage room at the Students Inn and paid our 4 euros. No receipts were issued for either our money or cases, receptionist assured me he would recognise me and it was not necessary. We had already made sure that my jewellery, laptop etc were in our day bag and nothing of major value in the cases, but there was no problem, they were there safely waiting for me when we went back later in the day.   Having focussed on the Acropolis on previous visits we decided to do something different this time, walked first through the (wonderfully wheelchair accessible) Plaka to the flea market at Monastiraki then from there to Syntagma Square, mainly to check out the airport bus departure point but while there we saw the changing of the guard at the Parliament building. Later we walked through the lovely  National Gardens, where is was much cooler than in the city, to visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus (2 euros each to go in but nearly as visible from the road really) and Hadrian's Arch. From there we wandered back through the Plaka to collect our suitcases then returned to Syntagma Square to catch the 4pm airport bus (X95 - runs every 15-20 minutes, costs 3.20 euros each).   Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
This was our 6th cruise, and the first one with NCL. I was not sure if we would like the freestyle dinning. We have always enjoyed formal nights and our seat mates on other cruises. We did for the most part enjoy it greatly. Dinning ... Read More
This was our 6th cruise, and the first one with NCL. I was not sure if we would like the freestyle dinning. We have always enjoyed formal nights and our seat mates on other cruises. We did for the most part enjoy it greatly. Dinning rooms. Our favorite was the Grand Pacific. The food and service where usually very good. The Bistro was very good. We ate at Papa's Italian Kitchen one night. Would NOT recommend that. The lobster ravioli, could have came out of a can, rubber and tasteless. State room. We had a mini suite on the 11th floor. Loved it! Didn't want to leave it! We slept with the door open every night. It was great to hear the waves. We felt very little motion, even though we where near the front of the ship. Our state room attendant was the worst we have had on a cruise (only because we have had such great service in the past) The first day the room wasn't clean until dinner time. We had to repeatedly ask for coffee, lotion, etc. He seemed to have to many rooms to clean. It did seem to get better later in the trip though, and I expect it will continue to improve. Shows. We though most of them where pretty good. Ports. IZIMIR - we had a private tour in a mini bus, with 4 other couples. One of the other couples booked it over the internet. Private tours are absolutely the way to go. MYKONONS - We rented a 4wheeler for 15 euro for the day (near the bus stop) and off we went! It was great. No traffic to speak of, and easy to get around. SANTORINI - beware of the donkeys! They are very stubborn and difficult to get moving. However 2/3rds of the way up my husband's donkey turned around and started racing down the hill. The saddle came off and he was thrown from it. Luckily he was only bruised, and not thrown over the cliff. EGYPT - Again we had a private tour with 3 other couples. We used Nile Blue, and where very satisfied with them. We spent the first long day in Cario, went back to the ship overnight, and the second day in Alexandria. I was glad we did that, as we really enjoyed the scenery and thought the catacombs where really interesting. KATAKOLON - we took the train into Olympia. It cost 3euro round trip and was a very short walk to and from the tiny little train station. Would highly recommend the train. We spent 3 days in Istanbul. We stayed near the Blue Mosque, and walked to everything. really enjoyed it. We also spent 3 days in Athens, and really enjoyed that. We stayed at the Amazon hotel. Great location, very basic room. I would definitely go on an NCL cruise in the future. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
NCL Jewel 9/15-27/2006 We arrived in Istanbul 2 days prior to sailing. We stayed in the lovely Sari Konak and enjoyed the breakfast spread that was included with the room. The inn was well maintained, clean , excellent and very helpful ... Read More
NCL Jewel 9/15-27/2006 We arrived in Istanbul 2 days prior to sailing. We stayed in the lovely Sari Konak and enjoyed the breakfast spread that was included with the room. The inn was well maintained, clean , excellent and very helpful staff and the best location for seeing the area attractions. We walked everywhere and found the historic Sultanahmet to be safe and easy to navigate with some help and a map. The Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace are not to be missed. We didn't stop for 2 days! The harbor is one of the busiest and most exciting we have ever seen. Just mesmerizing to watch the heavy traffic pass majestically by. We enjoyed every minute of Istanbul. Boarding was set to start at 1:00, but we arrived around noon. The lines hadn't really started to form at check in so we breezed thru and were in our Penthouse, #9000, in minutes. Soon after, we met our butler, Karan. A very nice person who was available to take care of the little things that make a cruise really special. I'm missing him now and the appetizers delivered around 5:30 each day. We had been on the Jewel last Sept.2005, we are happy to report that she looks just as beautiful now as she did a year ago. In fact , we decided to just stay on that day to enjoy and relax and watch the harbor rather than try to go back into Istanbul. The Jewel was in port over night. We ate dinner at La Bistro. One of our favorites! We had a wonderful Cruise Critic gathering with 26 in attendance and 6 of the ship's staff including our captain. We met in Maltings after sail away. It was fun to put faces with screen names! Thanks to all who attended. The next morning we were docked at Izmir and soon on the tour bus to Ephesus. It's a fairly compact site and the day we were there extremely crowded. We had a guide who enlightened us on the way of life and history of the area. The biggest challenge was to take pictures that were not filled with the hoards of people. In spite of that, we enjoyed the site and had a great time. At Mykonos we opted for the tour to Delos. This site was more open and spread out so the crowds didn't seem to bother us as much. Our guide was able to steer us away from some of the rush and that made it so much nicer. A not to be missed site but be warned&the museum is not open on Monday and the cave of Hercules is probably going to be too far to hike in the time you are there. We were disappointed by that! And, wear a hat and sunscreen and carry water. Santorini is beautiful. Again we encountered many ships at anchor with us and too many people. This day we did not take a ship tour. We opted to hire a guide upon arrival with some CC friends. The town of Fira is 1,000 feet up from the base where the tender drops you off. There are 3 options for reaching the top: cable car, donkey or walking. Don't walk if you aren't in really good shape! I need to also mention that the donkeys also use this cobble stone walk so lots of droppings to avoid and smells to endure¬ to mention dodging donkeys!!! We used the cable car to go up and no line since we were among the first off the ship. Coming down was a different story. Seems everyone wanted to leave at the same time and the line for the cable was huge. We walked. It took about 20-30 minutes of moving pretty fast and being careful of our footing. It was not something I'd want to do again. We decided that it would be impossible to take a bad picture of Santorini. Just a wonderful place, beautiful towns and even some nice red wine. We enjoyed the island in spite of the crowds and would do it all again. Next we were docking at Iraklion, the capitol of Crete. Again we opted not to take a ship tour. Mainly because this cruise itinerary was so active we felt we'd need a down day. We negotiated a taxi and went straight to the museum. It's not a huge one but very well done. We ran into The History Chanel's team filming a segment for Digging for the Truth with Josh Bernstein. Since we were about the only people who recognized him, and we stood there to watch for quite a while, he came over to talk with us and give us autographed pictures. Nice man and easy to look at! The show should air late Jan 2007. From there we walked to the shopping area and wandered up and down the streets full of small shops and markets. Then, found a taxi and returned back to the ship. A day at sea!!! Finally! Yea! The port of Alexandria is really beautiful. It's all new. The circle drive was filled with busses and taxis were waiting. Again, we opted to hire a private tour for Cairo, the first day and Alexandria, the second. We did this prior to leaving home. There are lots of registered tour companies to choose from. We were met by our driver and Egyptologist and headed out for the 3 hour drive to Cairo. We were stunned by the conditions of the city, the crowded living conditions and the trash in the streets. Do go to see the pyramids, the museum and several other sites of interest. We had tried to go to the bazaar but were turned away by police due to some danger in the area. With such unsettled times don't try to do anything in Egypt without a guide. We were boarded on the first class train for our return to the ship. In Alexandria we were met by our driver and taken back to the port. The next morning we were met by our driver and a different Egyptologist. We toured the Catacombs, Roman Amphitheater and new library. All of these are not to be missed. We lunched at the Fish Market and had a great view of the old harbor where the Great Lighthouse once stood at the opening. A very enjoyable day. The popular opinion was glad we came to Egypt but probably won't return. Another well deserved day at sea to relax and enjoy the ship! We docked in Corfu and walked to town. Again let me warn you that the museum wasn't open on Monday! We found out the hard way. Several ship tours are offered we opted not to do them. We just spent the day taking in the sites of the town. A nice way to spend any day! We docked in Katakolon. It would be easy to walk to the small town and enjoy the shopping but this day we did take a ship tour. We visited the site of the Olympic Games. We arrived after a 40 minute bus ride thru the countryside. Again we were met by lots of busses from other ships and large crowds. Once inside the site groups dispersed and it was easy to move around thru the ruins and enjoy the area. Since it's spread out and not easy to know what you are viewing, we thought a guide was important. She talked all the way to the site and part of the way back. That was before most of us dozed off. With an itinerary this intense it's hard not to get worn down. Sadly the cruise came to an end at Piraeus (Athens) Greece. We felt this trip was a once in a lifetime itinerary. We enjoyed every minute! I noticed it will be offered again next year on the Jewel. You won't be disappointed if you decide to book it. We spent 2 days in Athens and stayed at the Electra Palace and just loved the place and the location. The Acropolis is under serious restoration. You have to work to get good photos and no cranes. The museum on the property is lovely. We toured on our own here and were glad we did. We arrived about 8:30 and as we were leaving the tours were arriving. It's much nicer to see it all without the crowds. Things I learned:2 times laundry was offered for $ 25 a bag - rolling allows for more room in the bag. Washers & dryers & irons are available on several floors. Butler and Concierge services are wonderful! Freestyle is the best way to travel! Reading the CC boards is essential! Read Less
Sail Date September 2006

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