Celebrity Equinox Cruise Review by wismergirl
- Sail Date: July 2012
- Destination: Eastern Mediterranean
You are most welcome to post your questions to the above thread & I'll be more than happy to answer them.
This trip consisted of a 1-week pre-cruise train tour around Italy, an 11-night E. Med. Cruise on Celebrity Equinox and a 4-day post-cruise trip in Rome. I hope it is informative and helpful enough for those who are planning on a cruise to Italy, Greece and Turkey, as I just highlight some of the info that I think should be noted while planning.
July 16, 2012 (Day 1) -- Toronto to Rome
The 9-hour Air Transat direct flight from Toronto to Rome was cheap (just $1000 in the summer) and on time. The meals were good and the seat was comfortable. Air Transat offered us a $99 coupon (reg. $384) for Park'N Fly's valet parking for our 22-day trip when we did our online check-in.
July 17, 2012 (Day 2) -- Rome to Florence
We arrived Rome just after 12 noon and managed to pass through customs & get our luggage without a long wait. Our friends went to their resort and DH & I boarded the Metropolitan FM1 train from Rome's Fiumicino Airport to Roma Tiburtina train station at around 1:15 p.m. Train fare was only 5.50 per person and the train journey was 48 minutes long. As I booked my train tickets over 4 months in advance, we were able to pay only 9 per person per journey. This was way cheaper than an Italy rail pass. A 5-day train pass in Italy (used any 5 days within 2 months) would cost me â‚¬200 but my total train fare was only 70 for 5 days. We arrived in Florence in 1Â½ hours just before 5 p.m.
We went to the Accademia Gallery to view The Statue of David. Luckily we got there AND THERE WAS NO LINE (sometimes the line-up could be 2 hours long). Then we walked to the nearby Florence Cathedral (Duomo) bathed in beautiful sunset. Opposite the famous Cathedral was the Baptistery with its world-famous bronze doors. After dinner, we walked to Ponte Vecchio (the famous Old Bridge) to enjoy its beautiful night view.
July 18, 2012 (Day 3) -- Pisa & Florence
We boarded a regional train from Florence to Pisa. The journey was only 50 min. long and we used our credit card to pay 7.80 per person using the ticket machine at the station. The English instructions were clear and easy to follow. The trains ran every 10-15 minutes and we didn't have to specify which train we took. We just walked to the platform and took the first train to Pisa Centrale Station to view the Leaning Tower and the nearby attractions at Piazza del Duomo. It's best to take a taxi there (â‚¬8) so you knew where to get off and taking the bus back to the station was only 1.10 each.
We got back to Florence just after 5 p.m. and decided to take a taxi for 10 to go to Piazzale Michelango to view the replica of the Statue of David and enjoy the panoramic view of Florence. To celebrate our 25th anniversary, we had a lovely dinner at our hotel, St. Regis' award-winning Etichetta Restaurant, where there was superb service and above average food.
July 19, 2012 (Day 4) -- Florence to Venice
We asked the concierge to get us tickets for Uffizi (11 per person) & paid an extra 4 per ticket for admin. fee and to skip the line. Since we didn't have a lot of time in Florence, buying a Firenze Card for 50 was not really worth it. Having spent almost 2 hours at the Uffizi, we still had a couple of hours before our 12 noon train to Venice, so we walked to Palazzo della Signoria to see the Statue of David again, and to revisit Palazzo Vecchio and the statues. It's sad to leave the beautiful city of Florence! Next time I need to plan better so I could visit Lucca & Siena as well.
We took the 12-noon Frecciargento high-speed train from Florence to Venice and again paid 9 for each ticket. The journey was only 2 hours long. We arrived at Venezia S. Lucia at 2 p.m. and started to explore Venice, the MOST INACCESSIBLE CITY IN ITALY!! Despite how much I LOVE Venice as I still find it the most beautiful, romantic and unique of all the Italian cities, my #1 tip would be: VISIT VENICE WHEN YOU HAVE NO BIG BAGS. Be prepared to walk on bridges with steps but not ramps AT ALL TIMES!
I had to admit that the vaporettos (water buses) were very convenient to travel along the Grand Canal if they were for everyday sightseeing. We bought a San Marco Venice card for 24.90 with a 72-hour Travelcard for 35 plus a round-trip Grand Canal Cruise (10) with commentary and found it most useful. As many of you may be planning a pre-cruise or post-cruise stay in Venice, please research how you are going to your hotels. Some luxury hotels had their private shuttle boats, then it's fine! However, if water taxis would be your choice, a journey from the cruise terminal to a San Marco hotel or from the hotel to the airport could cost 80-120. Bear in mind that a water taxi could take 10-12 people so it's worth considering if you have a big group. This is a very useful website: http://www.mediterranean-cruise-ports-easy.com/venice-water-taxi.html.
When I did my research I read this from that site but I was not sure if it was still the case now:
Venice taxi from cruise terminal to downtown Venice
Unfortunately such a thing does not exist. If you are visiting Venice for a day or two as part of your Europe cruise itinerary and want to get downtown Venice or to San Marco, you'll need to look into other means of transportation.
Taxis (land) will be available inside the Stazione Marittima terminal mostly only on turnaround days.
Even if the day of your cruise ship's visit coincides with other ship's turnaround and taxis are available inside the Stazione Marittima, taxi drivers will always rather take passengers to the airport than to Piazzale Roma which is only a 5 minute ride away.
So, if you decide not to take cruise ship organized transportation to Venice and want to take a vaporetto down the Grand Canal, walking to Piazzale Roma will be your only option.
While taking the Grand Canal Cruise, we could move freely on the boat so we were able to get the best view of the canal. On a vaporetto it would be crowded the whole time, unless you manage to get the front seats.
July 20, 2012 (Day 5) -- Venice
Visited the Bell Tower (Campanile), St. Mark's Basilica, Doge Palace & other museums listed on the Venice Card -- great to skip the lines! Met up with my colleague & her husband and they took us to a great restaurant for dinner. We only paid 30 each for a meal with starter, pasta, entree, dessert, coffee and wine at Trattoria Alla Scala near St. Mark's.
July 21, 2012 (Day 6) -- Milan
As Christians, we went there mainly to view The Last Supper. It was also great to visit the upscale designers' stores where DH bought a well-fitted silk suit. There were â‚¬9 tickets only for the return trip so we had to pay 19 for this outbound journey. Our train left Venice at 6:58 a.m. and reached Milan in 2Â½ hours. Milano Centrale Station was very clean and modern. We bought a 4.50 24-hour Pass for unlimited use of public transportation in Milan. The Metro was easy to use and we first went to Milan Duomo, then we went to the upscale shopping mall Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II opposite the Duomo. We also visited the La Scala Opera House before going to Fashion Quadrilatero where the most prestigious boutiques and showrooms were. The four streets of Fashion Quadrilatero were Via Montenapoleone, Via Sant'Andrea, Via Della Spiga and Via Manzoni. Most of those streets were pedestrianized, making that area perfect for an easy stroll. DH bought a designer silk suit for only a quarter of the original price. The stores were very professional and efficient as they prepared all forms and receipts in a package for us to claim tax refund at the airport. The receipts must be over â‚¬180 before tax in a single store. We got 18% cash back as tax refund while claiming it at the airport.
We took the bus to continue our sightseeing at the Sforza Castle. From Sforza Castle we went to the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie for the viewing of The Last Supper that we reserved the tickets through Tickitaly 4 months in advance. We were not allowed to take any picture while inside the refectory where the painting was. I never knew that the painting was actually on the wall of the refectory until I saw it and also learned that later on people put a doorway where Jesus' feet were. That's why we couldn't see His feet on the painting now.
July 22, 2012 (Day 7) -- Venice to Rome
We woke up to another beautiful day. Since we had a morning to spare before taking the 1 p.m. train to Rome, we decided to take the vaporetto from Piazzale Roma to Rialto Bridge and had breakfast by the Grand Canal. It's time to get back to the hotel, check out and take another 9 train to Rome. The journey from Venezia S. Lucia to Roma Termini was 3 hours and 45 minutes long. We only visited the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum after dinner at Trattoria Gigi.
July 23, 2012 (Day 8) -- Rome to Civitavecchia (Cruise Port), Italy
Yay! First day of the cruise had finally arrived! We booked a van through Rome Shuttle Limousine (165 for 8 people - 15 cheaper than Rome Cab) to pick us up at St. Regis to go to the cruise port. The ride took about 1Â½ hours and check-in was easy. Celebrity collected all our passports so we didn't have to worry about going through immigration at any of the ports. We were given a receipt to claim the passports on the last sea day.
As we already got free alcoholic drinks from the Elite Happy Hours being Elite Captain's Club members, we found it good enough to prepay for a premium non-alcoholic package of $18 per day which included canned and fountain soft drinks, Evian, Perrier & San Pellegrino water, specialty coffees and teas, frozen drinks & smoothies. After a quick lunch at the Oceanview Cafe (the food was actually not bad for a buffet), we went to our Aqua Class stateroom #1535 on Penthouse Deck 11. The room was just an average-size balcony room, with added amenities like daily fresh fruit, fresh-cut flowers and different types of tea (prepared fresh daily with choices of raspberry, jasmine, herbal, green, etc.). After a Spa Tour, DH & I did our first spa treatments in the afternoon. Great & relaxing!
As a Captain's Club Elite member, I received an email a few months before the cruise, offering me a 20% discount for dinner at Murano (reg. $35 per person) on the first night, so I prepaid and the 4 of us had a lovely meal there with above average food, service and atmosphere. The Filet Mignon I ordered was tender and juicy and the Crepe Balon Rouge prepared tableside was delicious.
July 24, 2012 (Day 9) -- At sea (1st formal night)
We had a very busy morning. First we went to Cellar Masters on Deck 4 for the Meet & Mingle at 10 a.m. It's great to meet the CC friends whom we chatted for so long before the cruise. We also met our private tours' travel buddies there. Then Celebrity invited us to join the ship's Honeymoon and Anniversary celebration at the Sky Observation Lounge (Deck 14 Forward) at 11:15 a.m. In order to get ALL the hard copies plus a CD of our pictures taken by Equinox's photographers, we decided to buy the ship's All inclusive picture package for $299.95. DH & I took lots of nice pictures from station to station on this 1st formal night. We ate at Blu, the specialty restaurant exclusively for Aqua guests...loved the food, atmosphere and especially the service.
July 25, 2012 (Day 10) -- Santorini, Greece
I was very excited about this first port day in Santorini! We had a beautiful view of Santorini from our balcony. Breakfast was at Blu and I really liked their smoothies. They were free for Aqua guests during breakfast time.
As we checked http://www.cruisetimetables.com (a very important & useful site, check and plan accordingly!!) and knew that there were 3 other cruise ships docking at Santorini on the same day, we decided to join the ship excursion SO01 (CA$79.75 per person) - Village of Oia and Santorini Island - to take advantage of visiting Oia first, instead of taking the cable car or donkey to Fira with the crowds. Besides, there was no need to queue up early for the tendering tickets. Some of our friends told us that since all early tenders were for cruisers that had booked ship's excursions, other guests had to wait for a couple of hours to get on a tender, and they could only have time to visit Fira but not Oia. IMO, Oia was more beautiful than the well-known capital, Fira. We were given some time to explore Oia on our own and DH took lots of amazing photos. It's so true to say that if you can't take a beautiful picture in Santorini, it's because you don't have a camera.
This picture showed the donkey station where people walked up and down with the donkeys (they were actually mules). Some parts of the donkey path were not very wide so it's not easy to walk up or down from/to the shore with the donkeys.
Having spent a couple of hours in Fira, we went to the cable car station to meet up with our friends. Each cable car could hold 6 people max and there was a set of 6 cars that moved together. The journey from the top of the cliff to the port took 3 minutes. When we got back, we quickly changed for dinner at Tuscan Grille. Since we got a special discount of 25%, we only paid $90 for the 4 of us. This proved to be the best dinner on board.
July 26, 2012 (Day 11) -- At sea
After lunch, we went to the Senior Officers' Social exclusively for Captain's Club members, had a drink at Michael's Club before dinner at Blu, then watched the A Capella quartet performing at the Entertainment Court. Some of the songs sung by the quartet were good but the balance was not desirable, especially when the harmony was louder than the melody.
July 27, 2012 (Day 12) -- Istanbul, Turkey (Day 1 of 2)
Celebrity Equinox's itinerary with 1.5 days in Istanbul and 1 full day in Ephesus was one major reason why we booked the cruise. DH & I had always wanted to visit Istanbul, the only city in the world that lies in both Asia and Europe. I booked Tour #4 (1.5 days Private Istanbul Tour) for 10 people with Ephesus Shuttle. Each paid US$116. I highly recommended Ephesus Shuttle for private tours in Istanbul and Ephesus. Lots of CC cruisers used them and were all happy about their service. The best about Ephesus Shuttle was we could pay for our own tours at their office in Ephesus using different forms of payment not before but after the tours. For those not going to Ephesus could pay the guide after the Istanbul City Tour without going to the office.
Omar from Ephesus Shuttle was our guide and he met us at the Istanbul port on time at 8:15 a.m. He had been in the profession for over 20 years and knew all the tricks of how to see the most in the shortest time...that's exactly our travel style! His English was excellent and he was very humorous. We first went to the Hippodrome Square where chariot races and riots took place in the olden days. Then we walked to the Blue Mosque nearby and visited Hagia Sophia built in 532 A.D. After Topkapi Palace, we had lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, we went to a carpet presentation before visiting the Grand Bazaar.
One of the cruise highlights for DH was the Turkish Night Out where he could watch different belly dancers dance. I paid US$80 per person for Ephesus Shuttle to pick us up at 8 p.m. from the ship for a Turkish Night Out and they took us to Kervansaray Restaurant & Night Club. The food was below average from a fixed menu (everyone there attending the show had the same food). The female singer was not up to par, but the belly dancers were very good and they even claimed to have the #1 belly dancer in Istanbul. The show with the knives was also amazing.
We left the restaurant at 11 p.m. and took some night shots of the pier before boarding the ship. This is the famous Bosphorus Bridge connecting Europe & Asia.
July 28, 2012 (Day 13) -- Istanbul, Turkey (Day 2 of 2)
Our Â½ day city tour of Istanbul with Ephesus Shuttle began at 8:30 a.m. today. Omar met us at the pier on time and took us to Suleymaniye Mosque without delay. The mosque was well-kept with the most beautiful view of Istanbul. From the Suleymaniye Mosque, we could see Equinox and the Bosphorus Bridge. Our next stop was the Underground Cistern which was the largest underground water reservoir in Istanbul built by Justinian I. Our last stop of the city tour was the Spice Market. From there we walked to the Galata Bridge to watch people fish. The bridge had the most amazing view of the Golden Horn (Istanbul's deep, natural harbour) with the floating restaurants.
July 29, 2012 (Day 14) -- Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey
We booked Ephesus Shuttle's Tour #5 and we met our guide at the Kusadasi Port at 10:15 a.m. First we went to the House of Virgin Mary. It was claimed that Mary went to Ephesus with St. John in 37 A.D. and lived there until her death in 48 A.D. The "Wishing Wall" outside the House of Virgin Mary was a "must-see". Then the van took us to the highlight of our cruise -- Ancient Ephesus.
That day was an extremely hot day! Luckily, I wore my hat and used my umbrella so I didn't really feel the sun but just the heat. As soon as we entered, we saw the Baths of the "State Agora". Then we passed by "The Bouleuterion" which housed the meetings of the Council as well as musical performances and contests built around 100 A.D. The Market Basilica was a 160-m long arcade, also built in the 1st century. We continued to walk in the heat and finally arrived at Terrace Houses. Our guide gave us the ticket to enter the site and it was amazing. The extra cost of $10 was so worth it.
Compare to the rest of Ancient Ephesus, these houses were way better preserved and the excavation only started in 1960's. The Terrace Houses were located on the hill opposite the Temple of Hadrian and were also called "The Houses of the Rich". There were 6 residential units on three terraces and now they're covered with protective roofing. The mosaics on the floor were clearly visible and the frescos have been consolidated. We continued on to see the Library of Celsus, next to it was the Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates. Near the Great Theatre, we stood in the shade and watched a 5-minute live presentation. We went on to visit Selcuk Museum where many of the archaeological treasures, especially from Ephesus, were preserved.
We had Turkish pork and beef kebabs for lunch. After lunch, we drove to St. John's Basilica. It's believed that Jesus' disciple, John, spent his last years in the region around Ephesus and was buried in the southern slope of Ayosolug Hill where the basilica was located. When we stopped at the Temple of Artemis, it was so sad to see what used to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World had only 1Â½ columns left. After we paid at the Ephesus Shuttle office, we were dropped off at the Grand Bazaar in Kusadasi to do some last-minute shopping. The prices were cheaper than Istanbul but the quality in general was not as good. I bought many Turkish bracelets with evil eyes on and they were only $1.00 each. Great souvenirs!
Bye Turkey! Off we sailed to Athens, Greece.
July 30, 2012 (Day 15) -- Athens, Greece
We had a super early breakfast at the Oceanview Cafe in order to get ready for our 8 a.m. one day tour in Athens. We chose Nikos Loukas for his "Full Day in Athens (shore excursion)" at http://www.privategreecetours.com. The cost for 6-12 people on a minibus tour was â‚¬400. As there were 10 of us, we each paid â‚¬40. I didn't know that he would not be our guide while we were at the attractions so I was a bit lost when he just dropped us off at the Acropolis. We followed the crowd to the ticket office and bought our tickets for â‚¬12 each. Although some local guides approached us for a guided tour of â‚¬10 per person, we declined the offers and just used Rick Steve's audio guide on our iPads.
We saw the Acropolis Theatre while walking towards the Parthenon. Then there was the Erechtheum with the rebuilt of the famous "Porch of the Maidens". After the Acropolis, Nikos drove us to the Temple of Zeus at Olympia and showed us the 1896 Old Olympic Stadium. Then he parked the van at a parking lot and we walked uphill for about 10 minutes to the top of Lycabettus Hill to get a panoramic view of Athens.
Since it's almost 12 noon, Nikos drove us to the House of the Parliament with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers to watch the changing of the guards. We were all hungry so Nikos dropped us off at a local restaurant near Plaka. It's very close to our next attraction, the Ancient Agora, which used to be the political, financial and commercial centre of ancient Athens. At the Ancient Agora, we saw one of the best preserved ancient temples, Temple of Hephaestus. After visiting Ancient Agora, Nikos dropped us off near Plaka to do some shopping. Hadrian's Arch was just across the street.
We spent about an hour there and did some shopping for Greek souvenirs. When we went back to the port, we just wanted to hold on to the ice-cold towels and drank all the cold water and juice before boarding the ship. We were SOOO HOT!! Athens was very hot in July & August. We heard that a few days before our arrival, Acropolis was closed due to the extreme heat. We're so thankful that it's open for us!
As soon as we got back, we took a quick shower and headed to Tuscan Grille for the Elite Elegant Tea exclusively for CC elite members. The food, the tea, the view and the service were all wonderful!
July 31, 2012 (Day 16) -- Mykonos, Greece
After breakfast at Blu, we bought a Shuttle Day Pass ($7 each) to go to town. We went to the closest ATV/Motorcycle rental store (Auto Power - Nazou Vasiliki) after we got off the shuttle and luckily they still had some vehicles that were not rented out. As it was so windy there, DH thought it would be safer renting an ATV instead of a motorcycle, and we just drove it off to Paradise Beach. We paid â‚¬35 for a one-day rental, (inclu. tax & helmet rental). On our way back we went to Little Italy and the 5 windmills.
August 1, 2012 (Day 17) -- At Sea (2nd formal night)
We needed a sea day to relax before going to Naples tomorrow. I hid myself in the spa all morning and had treatments from head to toe...SO SOOTHING! DH had to collect our passports from the Sky Lounge at 10 a.m. and he said there was no line. DH & I didn't feel like having the Brunch in Silhouette Dining Room so we paid $5 each to have lunch at Bistro on 5. Delicious crepes!
After lunch, Vacation Vignettes offered us a free but very good Galley Tour. Then we attended a scrapbooking workshop (DH was the only male there!) before getting ready for the 2nd formal night. We went to many photo stations and took lots of pictures. We ate with our tour buddies at Blu and shared our trip pictures on our iPads. A cake was brought to us for our 25th anniversary. That night we went to the spectacular and incredible show of "Equinox" in Cirque du Soleil style.
August 2, 2012 (Day 18) -- Naples & Capri, Italy
Since we went to Pompeii, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast 5 years ago, we decided to do something different this time. We booked a tour with Tours of Capri and paid 780 for the 6 of us. As a Capri taxi could only accommodate 6 people, we couldn't have more than 6 on this tour so each of us had to pay 130, the most expensive of all our tours but IT'S THE BEST!
First we had to take the ferry to Capri from the Port of Naples. Our guide Michel was introducing where to go for the day while we were on the ferry. Our first stop was the Blue Grotto (entrance fee of 12.50 included in tour price). We all had to lie completely flat on the rowboat that could seat 4 people in order to get past the small entrance of the grotto.
Since the opening of Blue Grotto was so tiny, no boats could go in when the tides were high or when the sea was rough, so we were lucky to be able to enter. It's so incredible to see nothing but blue inside the dark grotto! Next we went to Anacapri and used the chairlifts to go up to Mount Solaro for a foggy panoramic view of Anacapri. The journey took 20 minutes. After lunch, we started to walk to Augustus Gardens which offered the most incredible view of the Fragolini Rocks.
We took the Funicular Railway to go down to the Port of Marina Grande. Our private motorboat was waiting for the 6 of us at the Marina. During the 1-hour private cruise, we saw beautiful coral and sea arches. The highlight of the boat ride was to have a close-up view of the famous Fragolini Rocks and to go through its arch. It was definitely a fantastic way to end our East Med. Cruise!
August 3, 2012 (Day 19) -- Rome, Italy
Disembarkation was really easy. Since we left the ship at 8:45 a.m. after a big breakfast in the main dining room, our luggage was very easy to be identified as everybody has taken theirs and our bags were the only ones left in the area. We wanted to be adventurous so instead of getting a taxi, we boarded the Celebrity free shuttle to take us to the port entrance and we walked for 10 minutes to the Civitavecchia train station. Train fare was 5 to Roma Termini (fast train 9). We got on the regional train and the journey was 1 hour 10 minutes long (fast train took only 45 minutes).
We paid 10 to take a taxi to Hotel Eden (close to Spanish Steps & Villa Borghese). Since we bought a 3-day Roma Pass with unlimited use of public transport, we used the buses a lot. All we had to do was to tap the pass on the ticket machine to validate. We heard some tourists complain that their tickets could not get validated by inserting the pass to the slot, well, it's just not the way to validate the ticket!! DON'T INSERT, JUST TAP!! We went to the main attractions like Spanish Steps, Navona Square, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon & Colosseum by bus.
We went to the "Enjoy Rome" office near the Termini Station to book an English speaking tour for the following day. Apparently "Enjoy Rome" ran most of the English speaking tours in Rome at quite a reasonable price. This is the link: http://www.enjoyrome.com/walking/combcatanc.html. We booked a combination tour of the Catacombs and Roman Countryside (3 hours) and the Ancient & Old Rome Walking Tour (3 hours). It cost 73 per person and they only accepted cash.
August 4, 2012 (Day 20) -- Rome, Italy
We arrived at the "Enjoy Rome" office at around 9:45 a.m. The Catacombs tour started promptly at 10 a.m. Georgia was our guide and she was very knowledgeable with good explanation of what the catacombs were and pointed out lots of easy-to-understand facts about underground Christian burials. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures underground. We were able to spend some time at the gift shop before we boarded the van to the Appian Way which was the oldest Roman road. On the Appian Way, there was the Tomb of Cecilia Metella. Opposite the tomb, there were remains of the Church of San Nicola di Bari. As a structural and civil engineer, DH loved the trip and loved it even more when we concluded the tour with a visit to the Ancient Aquaduct. We had a quick lunch at Termini Station before taking the Metro to Colosseum where the walking tour started in the afternoon.
Our walking tour guide Priscilla met us outside the Colosseum Metro Station at the green newspaper booth. There were about 20 of us and we could use our Roma Pass for a free entry. Other group members had to pay the entrance fees but we all got to skip the line. When using the Roma Pass, only the 1st two attractions were free and the others would only be at a discounted price, so it's better to use it for the most expensive attractions. We went to different levels inside the Colosseum and took many pictures. Then we walked to the Roman Forum and other famous Rome attractions like Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon before the tour finished at Navona Square.
August 5, 2012 (Day 21) -- Rome, Italy
In the morning we took 2 buses to get to Gianicolo Hill for a panoramic view of Rome. Then we took the bus to go to Capitoline Museum and used the Roma Pass again for a free entry (our 2nd attraction). There was the famous symbol of Rome, the Capitoline Wolf. The courtyard with lots of sculpture was also worth visiting.
August 6, 2012 (Day 22) -- Rome, Italy
Our flight to Canada was in the late afternoon so we used the morning to visit St. Peter's Basilica. There was a long line-up to enter the church. Lots of people were inside the Basilica. Then it's time to say bye to Rome! Arrivederci, Italy!
Both DH & I LOVED our super amazing Silver Anniversary trip!
We chose our room with great care and made sure that they were not directly below the pool with deck chairs scratching the ground or below the fitness centre with people dropping weights. Our room #1535 was on the port side below the acupuncture rooms and my colleague's #1540 was on the starboard side below the hair salon. We thought it was very important to get quiet rooms for good night sleeps when we had a port intensive cruise. Both rooms proved to be very quiet throughout the day and at night.
Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
IstanbulThe Suleymaniye Mosque was well-kept with the most beautiful view of Istanbul. We could see Equinox and the Bosphorus Bridge connecting Europe and Asia. The courtyard was spacious and beautiful and there were way less visitors so less crowded than the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sofia.View All 403 Istanbul Cruise Port Reviews
View Cruise Critic's Istanbul Cruise Port Review
Blue MosqueWhile visiting the Blue Mosque, we had to cover our hair and shoulders using our scarves. The mosque provided big squares of covering for those who didn't bring their own. We had to take our shoes off and put them in a plastic bag at the entrance. We had to carry the shoes ourselves while we're in the mosque. The Blue Mosque has 6 minarets and inside the Mosque one could see beautiful Iznik tiles in different shades of blue.View All 76 Blue Mosque Reviews
City TourI booked Tour #4 (1.5 days Private Istanbul Tour) for 10 people with Ephesus Shuttle. Each paid US$116. I communicated with Fevzi from Ephesus Shuttle and his responses were always prompt and helpful. I highly recommended Ephesus Shuttle for private tours in Istanbul and Ephesus. The pace of the tour was good in general with a few exceptions. We were not happy with the driver for not showing up to take us to lunch on the 1st day. We ended up walking uphill to the restaurant and that took us over 15 minutes.View All 52 City Tour Reviews
Grand BazaarWe were given over 2 hours to spend at the Grand Bazaar which is one of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the world. There were close to 60 covered streets. We spent a lot of time at one store to buy many of those ceramic Turkish dishes, kept bargaining until we got 8 small (2") ones for US$10. Then I bought some silk book marks with Turkish patterns or attractions on for US$1 each. There were lots of stores that sold Turkish costumes like bra and belt sets. My friends bought 2 leather jackets there with instant alterations while they waited.View All 63 Grand Bazaar Reviews
Hagia SofiaHagia Sophia was built in 532 AD which, IMO, was more elegant and well-decorated than Blue Mosque. It used to be a Christian Church but now it's a museum with Muslim calligraphy.View All 62 Hagia Sofia Reviews
Kervansaray NightclubOne of the cruise highlights for my husband was the Turkish Night Out where he could watch different belly dancers dance. I paid US$80 per person for Ephesus Shuttle to pick us up at 8 p.m. from the ship for a Turkish Night Out and they took us to Kervansaray Restaurant & Night Club. The food was below average from a fixed menu (everyone there attending the show had the same food). The female singer was not up to par, but the belly dancers were very good and they even claimed to have the #1 belly dancer in Istanbul. The show with knives was good!View All 2 Kervansaray Nightclub Reviews
Spice MarketThere were lots of spices, teas and other souvenirs on sale in the Spice Market. The best was its location which was close to Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn with the floating restaurants. Lots of picture opportunities nearby even if you are not interested in shopping at the Spice Market.View All 25 Spice Market Reviews
Topkapi Walking TourThe Topkapi Palace used to be the residence of the Ottoman Sultans. We moved from room to room to view the Treasury and particularly enjoyed the view of Istanbul from the terrace.View All 38 Topkapi Walking Tour Reviews
Underground CisternThis was the place I felt we were really rushed. With lots of visitors we didn't have enough time to take decent pictures. The Underground Cistern was the largest underground water reservoir in Istanbul built by Justinian I. Special lighting made the cistern even more beautiful. I loved listening to the legends associated with the cistern.View All 29 Underground Cistern Reviews
Basilica of St. JohnIt's believed that Jesus' disciple, John, spent his last years in the region around Ephesus and was buried in the southern slope of Ayosolug Hill where the basilica was located. Nothing much special to see.View All 26 Basilica of St. John Reviews
Celsus LibraryIt was like the landmark of Ancient Ephesus, with the Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates next to it. It was really amazing to see just the facade of the whole library.View All 21 Celsus Library Reviews
EphesusAs soon as we entered Ancient Ephesus, we saw the Baths of the "State Agora". Then we passed by "The Bouleuterion" which housed the meetings of the Council as well as musical performances and contests built around 100 A.D. The Market Basilica was a 160-m long arcade, also built in the 1st century. We continued to walk in the heat and finally arrived at Terrace Houses. Our guide gave us the ticket to enter the site and it was amazing. The extra cost of $10 was so worth it. It was great to see the 5-minute live presentation next to the Great Theatre.View All 232 Ephesus Reviews
House of the Virgin MaryThe ground was extensive but the house itself was small. It was claimed that Mary went to Ephesus with St. John in 37 A.D. and lived there until her death in 48 A.D. IMO, the "Wishing Wall" outside the House of Virgin Mary was even more striking than the house itself.View All 77 House of the Virgin Mary Reviews
Temple of ArtemisWhen we stopped at the Temple of Artemis, it was so sad to see what used to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World had only 1Â½ columns left. DH stood in front of the half column to show how big the column base was.View All 23 Temple of Artemis Reviews
Terrace HousesCompare to the rest of Ancient Ephesus, these houses were way better preserved and the excavation only started in 1960's. The Terrace Houses were located on the hill opposite the Temple of Hadrian and were also called "The Houses of the Rich". There were 6 residential units on three terraces and now they're covered with protective roofing. The mosaics on the floor were clearly visible and the frescos have been consolidated. We visited 2 of those 6 houses. It's incredible to see what was excavated but it was very dusty and stuffy inside the enclosed space.View All 45 Terrace Houses Reviews
Rome (Civitavecchia)We wanted to be adventurous so instead of getting a taxi, we boarded the Celebrity free shuttle to take us to the port entrance and we walked for 10 minutes to the Civitavecchia train station. It was just 1 straight road if you keep walking by the water and as soon as you see the Hotel della Ville you need to cross the street and walk up the ramp, otherwise you'll have to take your bags up the stairs right in front of the station. Train fare was 5 to Roma Termini (fast train 9). We got on the regional train and the journey was 1 hour 10 minutes long (fast train took only 45 minutes).View All 1,881 Rome (Civitavecchia) Cruise Port Reviews
We bought a 3-day Roma Pass with unlimited use of public transport. We visited many famous attractions: Navona Square, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Colosseum, Roman Forum, Piazza Venezia, Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, Capitoline Museum and St. Peter's Basilica.
The panoramic view of Rome from Gianicolo Hill & the local tours with "Enjoy Rome" - the Catacombs and Roman Countryside (3 hours) and the Ancient & Old Rome Walking Tour (3 hours)- were amazing.
View Cruise Critic's Rome (Civitavecchia) Cruise Port Review
Fira Walking TourThe best part was that they gave us time to walk on our own, then offered us cable car tickets to go back to the shore where the ship docked. Sometimes the line-up for the cable car could be as long as an hour, so allow ample time to get to the port before the last tender departs.View All 22 Fira Walking Tour Reviews
Island TourAs we checked http://www.cruisetimetables.com (a very important & useful site, check and plan accordingly!!) and knew that there were 3 other cruise ships docking there on the same day, we decided to join the ship excursion SO01 (CA$79.75 per person) - Village of Oia and Santorini Island - to take advantage of visiting Oia first, instead of taking the cable car or donkey to Fira with the crowds. Besides, there was no need to queue up early for the tendering tickets. The wine tasting was good and the view was incredible! IMO, Oia was more beautiful than the well-known capital, Fira. Both thumbs up for this tour!View All 80 Island Tour Reviews
Oia VillageWe drove from the winery to the town and went past lots of beautiful sights. After dropping us off at a parking lot, we were allowed to explore on our own in the Village of Oia and had ample time to take pictures and walk around. It's unfortunate that we had to leave the village before sunset, as I heard that Oia has the most beautiful sunset in the world!View All 161 Oia Village Reviews
Oia Wine TastingWe were taken to Oia's Santo Winery to enjoy a few glasses of wine and the beautiful scenery. We were given about 30 minutes to spend there, plenty of time to sample the red and white wines and enjoy the incredible scenery of Oia.View All 69 Oia Wine Tasting Reviews