This cruise visited five ports in Turkey and five in Greece, a number of which were ports that are not visited by the larger cruise ships and all of which were interesting ports.
Our flights, from Manchester, were arranged by the cruise company and were both on scheduled airlines - Turkish airlines to Istanbul and Aegean Airlines back to Manchester. Both were excellent with far more leg room than is provided on charter flights and a full meal service was provided with complimentary drinks. We were able to check in online prior to the flight out and were able to use the self service check in machines at Piraeus airport which had the facility to confirm our allocated seats, or to change them for any available seat on the plane using the seat plan (which we did). Unfortunately there was quite a bit of delay at Istanbul airport as we were kept waiting a long time for the transfer coach to arrive, but disembarkation and that transfer were fine. As we were not flying out until 7.30pm, we were allowed to stay on the ship until our transfer was due, so we had lunch and extra time sitting in the sun prior to departure and those who wished to leave the ship to sightsee during that time could do so and others chose to go on an excursion which delivered them to the airport on completion.
The ship's public rooms were in very good condition and we especially liked Scott's lounge which had very comfortable and rather classy chairs. Individual chairs were used in most of the Darwin lounge and there was space between each chair so it did not feel cramped. There were raised areas at the side which allowed better view. The one lounge we did not like was the lookout lounge as the chairs there were particularly uncomfortable, having very straight backs with no scatter cushions. Our cabin and all others that we saw in passing, were all in good condition, but the showers were particularly small and this was compounded by the fact that the shower was controlled by a lever style tap which lifted up for the water to flow and moved from side to side to adjust the temperature. As previously mentioned this was a problem as it was difficult not to knock it when in the shower which affected the flow or temperature o the water. A simple older style tap control which turned could vastly improve that situation. Our cabin was extremely small and I will return to this under the 'cabin' heading. There was also quite a lot of noise and vibration when the ship was moving at the rear of the ship and also in our cabin (at the front) when the thrusters were used prior to docking. However we booked this cruise on a late offer price so we did not expect a well placed cabin and we feel it was quite acceptable on that basis.
The speakers were very interesting and the port lecturer covered details of the port for people who were going ashore independently, rather than just concentrating on the trips. We only saw the show on one occasion, but were surprised just how good the show company were - one of the best we have seen. There were not the usual Butlin's type entertainments that pervade most cruise ships and it was really nice to be able to use the lounges for relaxation and conversation, either between ourselves or with other passengers who were very sociable, but did not intrude on privacy if someone was sitting quietly. The vast majority of passengers preferred this as the cruise line is known for this style of cruise and that is the niche it fulfils. People do need to look into the style of any cruise line and book one that fulfils what they want. This ship does not have photographers, so there was not the usual queues to get into the cocktail parties, embark the ship or leave the gangway in ports and people are not pestered during meals and around the ship to have their photos taken. Bliss from our point of view.
Food was never short of excellent in variety or quality of food and was always cooked to perfection. The mealtimes are limited to specific slots rather than the 24 hour eating on the larger ships and the late night snacks are that, rather than a full on buffet, but we did not see the need for anything more, given that very substantial meals were served. There were more vegatables than are normally served in waiter service restaurants on other cruise lines and quite substantial crunchy salads which we really liked. The open dining was a great plus for us as we hate being told when we should eat and having the same people as dining companions for an entire cruise. Most of the tables were larger so it was normal to share a table with others which made the meal into a social occasion. Service could be slow at times, but we never felt that a problem because we always had good company at the table. The self service restauant could be used if a quick meal was preferred and is what we mainly used for breakfast and at lunch times. The outdoor dining area was also a plus.
Room service is also available and can be used if food is wanted outside meal times. We used the room service breakfast a number of times, (on one occasion to put it to one side after delivery and have a later breakfast than could have been obtained in the restaurants). It was also a good way to obtain early morning drinks and fruit in the cabin.
There were some sunbeds at the rear of deck six and there were smuts deposited on that area some times, but there was also an extensive sun deck on deck eight where there were plenty of sun beds and where there was plenty of space to set them out. As this area was forward of the funnel it was not affected by smuts. The sun beds were very clean and in good condition.
Service was also excellent throughout the ship, from our cabin steward, to the restaurant and bar staff. The reception staff were particularly helpful at all times. The only staff who could have been better were the shore tours people who were not at all helpful and quite disorganised at times. For instance, they were responsible for arranging shuttle buses and at one port, Canakkale, shuttles were the only way to get to the town, but they only ran once an hour and not even to a pre determined timetable. We did not know about this until 10.00pm the night before, when we got the daily sheet for the next day. Advance notice of that would have been helpful as it would have been possible to arrange a trip as an alternative.
The only trip I went on was the one to Ephesus and our guide could have been better as she did a lot of talking about history rather than letting us see the site, although this often happens on ship's trips. My husband also went to Troy on a trip and he said the guide was very good for that one.
Overall, the ports were very good, weather was good most of the time and the ship was ideal from our point of view, despite the downfalls I have mentioned. We prefer the smaller ships which visit the more unusual ports which is why we cruise. Someone who wants a ship which is a destination in its own right, would not like this ship, so be better looking elsewhere. Unfortunately it is an older ship, so there is noise and vibration in some cabins, but our alternative would be to choose one of the smaller modern ships which are marketed as luxury brands and they would cost considerably more than this. We are already booked on a back to back cruise for early 2017, but by booking ahead we have been able to choose good cabin locations.
This cabin is much smaller than the other cabins of this grade. It is at the very front of the ship and is shorter because the ship is narrower there. This meant that we had considerably less storage and wardrobe space. Other cabins have two wardrobes, although the hangers still have to go in flat, rather than sideways, as the wardrobes are not deep enough for the width of a hanger, so the rail runs front to back in the wardrobe. One of our wardrobes was obstructed by the safe so all we could use that wardrobe for was about three hangers with trousers placed diagonally across the wardrobe. We also did not have the small shelves at the side of the wardrobes or the large drawer unit, (the size of a three drawer filing cabinet), that was present in the other cabins. There was a large shelf in front of the portholes though, so many of our clothes were placed on there in piles and we managed. There is still not a lot of hanging space in the other cabins, so it would be a good idea to take some plastic or metal coat hangers as the ones supplied are the bulky, curved, wooden ones which take up a lot of space.
Being at the front we were very near the thrusters and were woken about an hour before we docked by a whining noise that was made by the hydraulic system for the thrusters, (it had to be warmed up before they were used). The thrusters were more noisy when they were used and when the anchor was being lowered, that was heard loudly in our cabin as well. At other times the cabin was quiet though, so it was much better than at the back of the ship.
It was a pubic holiday and all buildings and museums were closed until about 1pm so we strolled round the Sultanhamet area and went into the court yard of the Blue Mosque. When the Mosque and other places opened large queues had built up so we decided not to waste time in the queue and had lunch in a restaurant before returning to the ship.
We got the shuttle bus into the town, then took the tram to the Archaeological Museum which had some really good statues and other things from the sites in that area of Turkey. We then returned to the centre of town, had lunch and walked around the sites and into the lower town.
The guide could have been better - normal story, guide kept us in a group being talked at a lot of the time, rather than letting us go off and see things. There are placards in the site written in both Greek and English so going on our own would have worked well, but reliable transport may have been more difficult.View All 257 Ephesus Reviews
Well worth seeing these as they are by far the best part of the Ephesus site. Even the other guides were getting frustrated with our guide here as she kept us in a group in a number of places and talked at length, so they had to get their group to squeeze past us. They complained to our guide, but she was undeterred!View All 48 Terrace Houses Reviews
We just walked into the town. It was Sunday and the shops were closed, but we followed a walking route marked on a map, which we got from the port, along the shopping area. We went into the Cathedral and saw a number of other things marked on the map. We then went down to the seafront that was very busy and touristy, we headed back into the town and walked back that way. We found a lovely bar were we had a large latte in the morning, so went back for a couple of beers on the way back. I think it was called 'Cafe de Paris'.
There were shuttle buses, but it was not far and we would have to have paid more for the tickets than a taxi would have cost so we did not get tickets. We were quite happy walking anyway as we saw things on the way there and on the way back.
We have been to Athens previously, so we just went on a short walk into Piraeus, had a drink by a harbour and returned to the ship to make the most of our last sun before returning home. Piraeus has a lot of traffic and even the harbour was not a particularly pleasant place to be. There are churches and I think a museum, but we had seen a number of those on this very busy, interesting cruise so decided lying in the sun was more important at that time.