My DH & I arrived in Venice 2 nights prior to our departure on April 25, 2009. As first-time cruisers, we were interested in visiting Venice and still allowing sufficient time to check in on the Splendour. We flew via Lufthansa from Denver, Colorado to Frankfurt, Germany and connected onto Venice, arriving at 5:15 pm. Lufthansa service in Business Class was excellent! We followed the lead of some seasoned Venice visitors, and opted to take the Blue Line Alilaguna boat from Marco Polo Airport over to St. Marks Square. Cost was 13 E per person, as compared to the Gold (Express) Line that was 26 E. Enjoyed the lovely views along the water during the 45 minute ride over. We booked 2 nights at the Locanda Correr, a small guest house about 5 minutes from St. Marks, based on recommendations from Rick Steves and TripAdvisor. Our room, #101, was the cheapest, at 135E/night, due to the hazardous spiral staircase connecting the bathroom level to the sleeping loft. But, quite comfortable and clean, and located in a great neighborhood with lots of restaurants and shops. We were going to buy a multi-day water bus pass, but decided that walking was much more interesting.Saturday morning, we took the "slow boat" water bus line #1 up the Grand Canal to the Bus Station stop (Plz. Roma). We had read in previous reviews that the free shuttle bus to the cruise dock was hard to find, but asked directions using "travel Italian" from a street vendor and found them at the southern end of the bus depot, at the end of the sidewalk. There were several busses there, with one having a small "Splendour of the Seas" card in the front window, and we hopped on. Within 10 minutes, we were on our way. At no time did anyone announce that this was the bus to the cruise port, which I found a bit strange, but when in Venice... We arrived at the dock at 12:30, hauled our luggage to the loading area, and followed the crowd through the terminal. We by-passed several lines until we came to a short line for "Set Sail" pass holders. Within 5 minutes we had our ID cards in hand and passed through security to board the ship. Totally painless! Only one stop for the boarding photo and no delays at all.We had lunch at the Windjammer buffet and set out to explore the ship. This being our first cruise, we started at the top and worked our way downward. Were quite impressed with everything we saw. We learned from other reviewers that the "Welcome Aboard" cocktails were NOT complimentary! Found our cabin on Deck 6, and were pleasantly surprised with our ocean-view room. It was immaculate and had plenty of storage space for our needs. Our travel agent was able to get us a complimentary upgrade from Deck 2 to Deck 6. Sail away was promptly at 5:00 pm and was lovely, cruising through the lagoon past Venice's landmarks.We had the early dinner seating at 6:30 in the King & I restaurant and were seated with 2 other couples. We were soon fast friends. Service was excellent, as was the food. Our waiters were Turkish and were happy to teach me some Turkish words for use in Kusadasi. A simple "Merhaba" (Hello) or "Techekur edirem" (Thank you very much), goes a long way when communicating with the locals. The show that evening was a pantomime performer which was very entertaining.We quickly learned the routine on-board ship. Breakfast most mornings at the Windjammer, by-passing the fresh-squeezed orange juice (yes, they charge for it!), lunch most days in port, and dinner in the dining room. We usually hit the snack bar at the Solarium for crepes and had our soft-serve ice cream by the pool for afternoon snacks. We turned down the soda package, water package, and had nary a cocktail or beer during our voyage. We did bring some travel packets of Crystal Light if we wanted something different from iced tea or lemonade. If I had to complain about something, it might be that the lemonade was pretty weak-tasting. The pool-side BBQ lunch during our sea day was great. And, my husband entered the "Men's Sexy Leg Contest". Although he had the best legs, other "young pups" had more of the moves that the lady judges were using to cast their votes. However, Jerry was recognized in several places in Italy as the "guy with the best legs" by some of our ship-mates, post-cruise!We opted to skip some of the evening shows, but the ones we did see, a 50's Motown performing group, and a dancing & singing production, were very good. We fell for the Bingo jackpot game during our last sea day, and of course, didn't win! We played shuffleboard, hung out by the pool, and found the best sunbathing was at the back of the spa on Deck 9, nice and quiet, and not too crowded most days. On our one rainy day, the Viking Crown Lounge was a nice place to read.Since we're the adventurous types, we opted to do our own thing at all the ports, rather than take the ship's excursions. More on this below in the port section. I'd definitely say this is the way to go if you don't like crowds, and less expensive too.On our departure day back in Venice, we chose the Express Check Out and reviewed our bill ($220 US, not too bad, considering, for some shuttle tickets, tips, one photo, and Bingo games). We were off the ship by 7:10, and walked to the bus station with our luggage, about 15 minutes away. Just followed the striped walkways to the bridge into Venice past the Police Station. Stashed our luggage at the "Held Luggage" office at the San Lucia train station so we could go exploring before our train departed at 10:50. The "Held Luggage" office is just past the bathrooms, and cost 8E for 2 bags left 3 hours. They make a copy of your passport to secure your bags. We didn't realize that it was a holiday in Venice (St. Mark's Day AND the long May Day weekend), and when we returned to pick up our bags at 10:30, there was a huge long line of folks waiting to store their luggage. Before my husband had a meltdown, I walked into the Exit door and politely handed over our claim tickets and money and retrieved the bags. Not sure if that was the proper protocol, but heck, it worked!We extended our vacation with 2 nights in the Cinque Terre region of Italy along the Med. Coast. We booked 1st class train tickets in advance before the cruise departed, and that was a good idea, because we didn't know we'd be travelling during a holiday weekend. The Cinque Terre was awesome! We hiked between the 5 hill towns all in one day, and still had time for a leisurely lunch, the obligatory gelato in each town, and some beach time. Sore at day's end, but definitely worth it. We can highly recommend our lodging in Vernazza at Camere Guiliano, a small guest house perched above the train tracks. In fact, the train tunnels right below the property! Cost was 75E/night.We trained back to Venice via Pisa (flagged a taxi driver to take us to the leaning tower, wait for 5 minutes for some photos, and take us back to the station, all in 20 minutes) and Florence, and had one more night in Venice before flying back to the states. We took the City bus from the Pze. Roma station to the airport for a few Euros, and it only took 20 minutes. The trip was perfect with the one glitch that my husband left our camera with the full 4-GB chip with over 600 photos on the plane back to Denver. So far it hasn't been recovered, but we are hopeful that karma will circle back around for us. We had a reward sticker on the camera with our phone numbers, so maybe someone will return it one day.To summarize, we loved our first cruise, and would recommend this itinerary to anyone who is adventuresome. Cruising was a convenient way to travel, and while I would have prefered some more time in each port, the advantages outweighed that part. The Splendour of the Seas will be "retired" soon, with most of the crew transferring over to the Oasis of the Seas, but we thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
Cabin was great! Quiet, nice window, conveniently located between the fore and mid-ship elevators. Bathroom was perfectly spacious for our needs.
We took the ship's shuttle bus ($5/pp each way)to the old Walled City at 10:15am. Some folks walked, but I wouldn't recommend that, as there are lots of hills in between, and you should save your energy for walking the walls and all the associated steps. The bus drops you off right in front of the Pile Gate. There is an admission charge for the walls (I think it was 8E/person) and they DID accept Euros. It was not necessary to convert money to the local currency, as I've read you had to do in the past. Bring water and sunscreen, it gets hot. We started off early in the morning, and walked the entire wall, snapping photos along the way. Keep your tickets, as there are check points by the various gates. Took about 1.25 hours, without the audio commentary that you can rent. We had read about the restaurant BUZA, with views over the ocean outside the wall, and spent some time finding it. Unfortunately, they don't serve lunch, only cold drinks (Follow the "COLD DRINKS" signs when wandering through the alleys to the gap in the wall and you're there!) The Stradun is the main street in the walled city, with lots of gelato shops and restaurants. The less expensive places are off the main street. We found the bargain of the week, a take-away tuna fish sandwich AND a piece of baklava for 4 Euros at Nico's Bakery. They also sell gelato, so we went back later for that! There wasn't much that interested us in way of shopping, so we left the old town and wandered up the main street and accessed the walking paths along the top of the cliff overlooking the ocean. Good place to sit and write postcards. Hopped back on the shuttle bus and were back on the ship by 3:10 pm.
Kusadasi & Ephesus were awesome! We had booked a private tour in advance with Celsus Travel, and through CruiseCritic, got 2 other couples onboard ship to join our tour. Cost for the full-day tour for 6 folks was $70 US/pp. We were met at the dock at 8:15am by Tan, our guide, holding up a sign for our group. Our shuttle bus was waiting for us. We spent about 3.5 hours at Ephesus and specifically asked for the Terrace Houses to be included in our itinerary. That was the highlight of our tour. Totally amazing! Do NOT miss the Terrace Houses. It is worth the separate admission charge. You walk through the excavations on top of glass walkways to view the mosaic floors and painted frescoes that are the hallmarks of the "rich people's houses". This whole area has only been excavated since the 70's, prior to that it was totally buried. There are lots of friendly feral cats wandering around Ephesus. If you are a cat lover, bring a few treats for them. One cat heard the crinkle of cellophane from our trail mix and ran right over, and ate a peanut and a raisin!
We visited a rug weaving school for girls. It was very interesting and the owner was very hospitable. We were offered apple tea, or Turkish coffee, and cheese sticks. They explained the different kinds of rugs and showed us how silk thread is spun from the silk cocoons. Although all 6 of us said we weren't in the market for getting a rug, 2 of the 3 couples ending up buying one (including us!). We bought a kilim rug (not a knotted rug), 4 x 6' for $300 which included shipping it home. It will be a nice reminder of our trip.
We next drove to the village of Sirince for lunch. It is up in the hills amidst the grape vines and orchards. We had lunch at a nice outdoor restaurant and had some traditional dishes, including something like a chicken stew. Sirince is more Greek than Turkish, and there were nice shops for souvenirs, with a lot less pressure to buy than in Kusadasi. The village is known for its fruit wines.
Our guide than made a special stop for some of our group who were shopping for gold jewelry, and dropped us off at the Turkish Delight factory. The prices for both items were cheaper in the Bazaar area of Kusadasi down near the dock. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour, which ended at about 3:30, so we had time for some shopping. I'd definitely recommend our tour guide, he was very accommodating and knowledgable, and the price was great.
There are LOTS of shops in Kusadasi. Good deals on leather and jewelry. The shop owners can be very aggressive, but just smile and say "no thanks". We bought a lot of different flavors of Turkish delight for gifts back home. It is very tasty!
The shops are easy walking distance from the cruise dock. We were back on board by 5:10 pm.
Our favorite port by far! We got our tender tickets on Deck 4 for tender #2 so we could leave the ship early. We hustled over to the cable car and had a 5-minute wait. No problem. Cost was 4E/pp. I had printed out directions to the bus station in Fira so we could head over to Oia first thing. To get to the bus stop, walk past the small museum at the top of the gondola to the first road with cars, turn right and walk about 5 blocks. There is a taxi stand on the left, and the bus stop is down some steps just below the taxi stand. The bus for Oia cost 1.40E but the next bus wasn't coming for 45 minutes, so we ended up splitting a taxi ride with another cruise ship couple from Mexico City. Cost for the cab was 15E total.
We spent the whole day in Oia, wandering through the alleys, shopping, taking photos of the caldera and jumbled houses and blue-domed churches. It was magical. The weather was perfect. In late April, it was still not "tourist season" so some items on the menu at the restaurants weren't available. Not too crowded, although there was at least one other cruise ship in port that day. What a great place to sip a cup of coffee or enjoy a meal while gazing at the spectacular scenery.
One little mishap at the end of our day: we planned on taking the public bus back to Fira that afternoon. The bus was supposed to come at 2:20, but was over 45 minutes late! The cruise-ship crowd was growing and getting more impatient with the delays, and it was becoming a mob scene. It was obvious that not everyone was going to fit on the bus when it did arrive, so folks started looking for a taxi back to Fira, except there weren't any! People were talking about hitchhiking back to port. We walked away from the bus stop in hopes of flagging down a taxi before the rest of the crowd, but no luck. Finally, by pure chance, an off-duty" mini shuttle bus pulls into a parking lot and I asked the driver if he could take us back to town, and he said sure, 5E/pp but I need 15 more people! So, I ran up to the bus stop and easily filled our little bus with happy, grateful passengers. I was delegated the task of collecting the fare, so with a mix of English, Italian, Hebrew, Norwegian, and French, everyone passed their money up front. This was the MOST memorable experience of our whole trip!
It all turned out just fine in the end, and we made it back to the cable cars in between tour groups, so once again, no line.
There is a free shuttle bus from the cruise dock to the port exit, which no one told us about. This will save you a 5-10 minute walk if you're lazy... We rented a car in Corfu for 40E. They met us outside the port gates and gave us a map. We headed over to Paleokastritsas, but it wasn't a very nice "beach day", so we strolled around a bit, drove up the monastery (which was closed between 1-3 pm), and then drove through Lakones. Stopped to take some photos overlooking the coast. Horribly tacky souvenir shops up there, don't bother. Continued driving to the abandoned castle. There is a nice restaurant there. We walked up the hill to the castle and enjoyed the views.
Headed back towards Old Town Corfu, but got held up in Lakones for a funeral procession! We thought it was a parade, and started taking pictures before realizing our error! (Yes, we're tacky tourists for sure!). Had about 1 hour to walk around the Old Town, with not much to tempt us from parting with our money. It was picturesque, though.
We weren't that impressed with Corfu, but the weather was a bit drizzly, so that might have influenced our opinion.