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!