This was our second cruise (both on Princess.) I talked my parents into joining us for their first visit to Italy and our first to Greece and Turkey knowing that we would be able to see a lot without hauling luggage around or having to check in and out of hotels. We are American, in our late 40's, and my parents are "young" 70's. The trip included an extra week in Rome split on either end of the 12-night cruise. We booked this port-intensive cruise when it included one more port (Rhodes) and only one sea day. We were booked in outside"obstructed view" staterooms.
We arrived in Venice by train and found our way directly to the ship. Embarkation took about 40 minutes from the time we got off the "people mover" and arrived in our state room, and went very smoothly.We had that evening to wander, take the ferry to Murano, cruise the canal and get back to the ship in time for dinner. We did use the tickets that were left in our room for convenience. It was a long walk through parking lots from the "people mover" but the shuttle boat dropped us right next to the ship and it was good for both our evening and morning trips. We had the morning in Venice and had to be back on board by noon the day of sailing, in time for Muster drill. Sailing out of Venice was spectacular from our vantage point on the top deck. We found the "secret" deck over the bridge, but although the door was unlocked, it was blocked with a "do not enter" sign.
We found the ship to be in beautiful shape and constantly being polished and repaired. The layout is such that you seldom feel crowded . Everything was sparkling clean. When there was drip from the ceiling discovered outside our door, there were maintenance staff chasing it for a few days (always when we were away) as it migrated inside the door. We received daily calls from the front desk to check if it was under control. When it was repaired we received a call from Passenger Service to make complimentary reservations to Crown Grill for our inconvenience. The cabin steward followed through with any requests right away, our room was consistently clean, all without disturbing us at any time.
The staff on the Crown Princess was always friendly, pleasant and helpful. We were consistently greeted with a smile and willingness to answer our questions. The crew on Princess are definitely their greatest strength.
Dining: We ate a few of our breakfasts in the dining room and most at the buffet. The breakfast buffet didn't change much from day to day, but realistically when is everything on the menu in front of you every meal? I could always put together a nice breakfast. I did notice that the fruit selections became more sparse as time went on (ie. fresh strawberries at the beginning and browning bananas at the end) and when I asked, I learned that all of the fresh food was loaded at the embarkation port: Venice. We also found that although there was always a beautiful selection of pastries, they tasted dry like they had been baked and refrigerated. If requested, the buffet staff would toast them under the broiler for me.
During this cruise only the buffet and International Cafe were open for lunch. There were always salads, soups and the makings for sandwiches , desserts and fruit. The hot entrees weren't impressive at lunch in most cases. We enjoyed the salads and desserts at the International Cafe and drank lots of free lemonade and iced tea, coffee and tea.
With the exception of one evening at the Crown Grill (good, but not better than the dining room) and two nights in Davinci, we kept our 8:15 dinner appointment in Botticelli. After only one meal, the wait staff knew what we liked to drink, when we wanted our coffee and tea, consistently alerted me if there were nuts in any of the selections (allergy) and made helpful suggestions. We missed that thoughtfulness when we chose the other dining options. The selections were mostly well prepared and beautifully presented. I think we had one instance of dry chicken and a tough veal chop, but the salmon that was available every day was always good. I loved the vegetables. The beef was cooked to our taste, there was always a different pasta dish and wonderful soups. Portions were moderate, but still there was more food than I could ever finish.
While we chose this cruise for the ports and didn't have much time for other activities, entertainment on this cruise was definitely the weak link. There were a couple of talented musicians (piano and violin) but the magician/comedian was pathetic. The band that played every day was mediocre. I enjoy good music and don't mind a dance act with elegance and grace, but I'm not into skimpy costumes with suggestive choreography. What we saw on the stage was surpassed many times over by the street performers we saw throughout the trip. Even the game show style "Liar's Club" was full of innuendo and crude remarks. The worst was the crew number "If I Were Not at Sea" during the crew talent show, where a male crew member repeatedly groped the breast of the female performer next to him, another pulled down the pants of her crew mate and the Director was dressed as Lorena Bobbit. I would describe the rest of what Princess has to offer as "classy" but the entertainment we experienced on this cruise was in poor taste.
Ports: We enjoyed most of the itinerary, were disappointed with the cancellation of Rhodes, but appreciated that there was some flexibility. We were notified as soon as we boarded that there was a planned strike in Athens the day we were scheduled to visit, so Athens and Santorini were swapped. That worked out in our favor in that we visited Athens on the day when all of the museums were free. We did not use any of the Princess excursions, but saw each port as we were able independently, and I feel we experienced the culture more than if we were insulated on the bus in a big group of English-speaking people. The cost of our sightseeing was about half of what we would have paid taking the excursions.
Debarkation at Civitaveccia was painless as we brought only carry-on luggage. We had a reservation in Rome so walked the few blocks along the waterfront to the train station, avoided the long lines by buying a "BIRG" ticket at the newsstand and were on the train in no time. Before and after the trip we rented two-bedroom apartments through a vacation home website. The cost was less than half what we expected to spend at hotels and both properties exceeded our expectations.
Overall this was a great experience for us. I would highly recommend the itinerary if you are interested in longer days in port as compared to other lines . Princess gets high scores for customer service. If I were to book another cruise and couldn't find another port-intensive one, I think I would choose another cruise line that offered more activities on the ship and better entertainment.
With four in our party, we chose to hail a taxi at the pier rather than pay twice the cost for the Princess shuttle bus. It was our good fortune to be picked up by an American expat and war veteran who took us to the top of the mountain for an hour for a spectacular view and answered all of our questions before dropping us at the Pile Gate. We wandered the city before climbing the walls, avoiding some of the long lines and crowds. After returning to the ship for lunch and a change, we took another taxi to the beach for a few hours.
Corfu may have been charming at one time, but the crowds and shops made it difficult to see beyond the commercialism. We walked to the forts, found the open air market and the modern city, wandered our way through the old town and sat in a cafe for gelato and coffee.
Knowing that we would have our fill of ruins on our itinerary we skipped the Olympia site and instead took the little tourist tram to pebbly Agios Andreas for a beach day, toured the Technology museum and sat on the waterfront sipping sodas and checking e-mail while watching the schools of fish in the crystal clear water.
Again on our own, we took the gondola up and walked directly to the station where we boarded a bus for Oia. After climbing all over the town and enjoying spectacular views and the lovely details in blue and white, we took the bus back to Fira. That was an adventure since rental cars parked illegally clogged the road and the bus had to back up several times to get through. The small Folklore Museum was scheduled to be open according to our guidebook, but the guide was locking the doors as we arrived. When we asked when he would re-open, he glanced at his watch and waved us in. I was expecting more activity, but the 1860's home with wine and olive presses, caves and workshops was interesting. The Archaeological museum was closed (same strike we avoided in Athens.) The line for the return trip on the gondola was a bit long, but sitting on the tender I could clearly smell those who had taken the donkeys.
We caught the public bus to town from the pier, but it only goes about halfway (to the bus station). There are few taxis in town, so when we wanted one later we walked back to the bus station. Again we admired the beautiful views, sat in a cafe eating gelato, walked all over town, tried the almond pastries and then caught a taxi to Paradise Beach for a swim. The taxi fare was 20 euros from the bus station but 10 from the taxi stand next to the windmills and 20 back to the ship.
By far our favorite port. We followed Rick Steve's instructions for getting to Ephesus on our own using the public bus system and found the Turks warm, friendly and easy to communicate with. On the way we discovered the most amazing open air market where we shopped for assorted olives, baklava, the best halva I've ever had, dried figs, and beautiful pears, all of which we brought aboard and set out on the dining room table to enjoy with our lunch. The Ephesus site was crowded with tour groups, and we were glad to be taking it at our own pace using an audio tour downloaded on our own devices rather than following an umbrella. I've read that the Terrace Houses (separate admission) were more impressive than Pompeii so we went in, but I don't recommend them.
We had made prior arrangements with private greece tours for an all-day "Footsteps of Paul" tour. Spiros, our driver met us at the port and took us directly to Corinth, where we had the place to ourselves, to the canal, up to a castle, then back to the Agora , giving recommendations for a tasty and reasonable sandwich shop for lunch , then met us again to go to the Acropolis, where we again missed the crowds.
The driver was not a tour guide, so he did not go into the sites with us, but gave us a thorough history and instructions as we drove. He spoke excellent English and was able to explain to us the current events in Greece as well. We had downloaded Rick Steves' audio guides and were able to see these sites at our own pace.
Naples is a "gritty", big city. Watch out for traffic. The day we docked in Naples the trains were on strike and the National Museum was closed, so we took a taxi to Pompeii (90 euros round trip pre-arranged pickup in 2 hours), had lunch at one of the historic pizzarias and walked all over town.