My husband and I have cruised before but this was our first time on Celebrity. We loved it would rate it as one of our favorite ships. We were pleasantly surprised to find a good age range of people on this ship as well as people from all over the world. We met so many interesting friendly people and enjoyed our experience on the ship very much.
Pre Hotel - I traded in Hilton Honors points to stay for free at the Hilton Cavalieri located on a hill overlooking St. Peter's Basilica and the city of Rome. It is a wonderful hotel in a beautiful, peaceful location. If you had to pay I am not sure I would recommend it, because the cost per night is ridiculously high, but if you are a Hilton member it's worth trading in points. They will even upgrade members to a floor where there was complimentary food, drinks and cocktails offered from 7AM - 11 PM. The hotel offers a free shuttle that runs all day to the heart of the city.
Embark/Debark - A breeze both ways. We took Rome Cabs and were dropped off right at the ship about noon. They were on time, professional and friendly. The debarkation process was very efficient, quick, and well organized. We took the ship transfer to the airport and although I had no complaints, the next time around I would stick with Rome Cabs since they were cheaper.
Public Rooms - Beautiful ship! Compared to previous ships we have been on, this was the most sophisticated and elegant. At times, it felt more like a luxury hotel. I thought the layout was very nice, the grassy area was wonderful, the big comfy chairs and beds on the sun deck were great, and the lack of smoke in the casino was a nice benefit.
Fitness/Recreation - Wonderful exercise facility and pools. We found ourselves loving the grassy area and we got addicted to Bocci. It was especially nice with a cocktail at sail aways. It was nice to have such a unique entertaining space on a ship.
Dining - Admittedly we didn't eat in the main dining room very much. While I had no complaints, there were just so many other great options and fun things to do that having a 2 hour meal every night did not appeal to me. We both loved Murano, Tuscan Grille and Silk Harvest and I felt they were more than worth the extra charge. Another great place was Bistro on Five which had delicious crepes. One suggestion to people on a similar itinerary is to take advantage of the nights you are in ports late and enjoy the local cuisine. As fabulous as the food was on board, some of our most memorable meals we had were on shore having wonderful local Greek and Turkish Food. That being said, we had no complaints about the food in any of the venues.
Entertainment - We only saw a couple of shows, mostly because there were so many other things we wanted to do. There was just not enough time to enjoy everything. The dance club and upper lounge were popular places and the band was quite good. One of my surprise favorites was watching the Hot Glass Show. It was very interesting and strangely therapeutic to watch. A tip if you want to win a piece in the drawings is to go the last night because there is hardly anyone that night and your odds are better. Otherwise, it was always popular. Also, although not officially "entertainment" the bartenders at the Martini Bar were great fun. They put on quite a show and kept the crowd entertained every night.
Service - Outstanding! I never met a rude crew member and found them all to be outgoing, helpful and friendly. I saw a disgruntled guest yelling at a crew member who remained calm and smiled while trying his best to be helpful. I have the utmost respect for the crew who sees thousands of new people every week and has to handle less than kind people every day but manages to do it with such calm. The Greek captain was very entertaining and it was refreshing to have a captain who had such a good sense of humor. We found if you greeted the crew back in their native language (it's not that hard to learn a few "good morning's" or "thank you's" in a few different languages), that they really appreciated it.
Ports - For more detail and good tips see my port reviews below, this is a brief summary. For the most part we tackled the ports on our own which was very easy to do with a little research. In Rome make sure to pre-book a tour if you plan to visit the Vatican Museum and buy a Roma Pass if you visit sites. You will save hours of time not waiting in long lines. Santorini was beautiful, be sure to get off early to beat crowds up the funicular and visit Ia which was the highlight of the island. If you are a history buff go to Delos while stopped in Mykonos. The ship's tour was convenient and gave you enough time to enjoy Mykonos as well. Istanbul was crazy but worth the experience. We ultimately decided on the ship's tour which turned out to be a good decision because the traffic was horrendous and the guide we had was a professor who knew so much about the history and culture that it really added to the experience. For those hesitant because you don't want to go to a rug demonstration keep in mind you are not held captive, you can skip the demonstration and look around other places then meet back up with the group. Several people did that with no problems. I found it humorous that people complained about the rug demo when all you had to do was walk away and join up later. In Ephesus we did a private tour with Ekol Travel. I highly recommend this to get the most out of that incredible port. In Athens I heard comments on the ship about the crowds at the Acropolis. The best advice I can give anyone reading this is to get off the ship the second you are cleared and take a taxi directly to the Acropolis first thing in the morning. This is what we did and were able to experience the Acropolis almost by ourselves. There was only 3 other people on the top. In Naples we went to the Naples Archeological Museum which houses wonderful things that have been recovered from Pompeii and the Roman Baths of Caracalla. If like us, you have already been to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast I highly recommend this coupled with some Napoli Pizza and a walk through the city. It is an experience you won't soon forget. I went into more detail in the port review with a few more tips I discovered.
Overall - We could not have asked for a better experience. We honestly loved every minute. We like adventure but also enjoy a little class so it was a perfect vacation for us. We were able to go out on our own and experience some wonderful sites and come back to an elegant ship. I missed getting information from some of the great people we met so I hope we see you sometime on the Equinox.
Absolutely Beautiful! To avoid long lines at the funicular get off the ship early to beat the crowds. I heard the funicular line got quite long however, when we got off immediately after clearance there was no wait. We had planned to do the 7 mile hike along the crater from Fira to Oia. Unless you have some desire for punishment - avoid this! My husband and I are very fit but we only made it about 4 miles and that took about 2 hours. It is mostly uphill and exposed to the sun the entire way. The "trail" becomes a 3 foot wide exposed path on the side of a cliff with a sheer drop-off and high winds. We are not wimps, both of are in great shape and would probably take us about 3 hours. It is not wise for those afraid of heights. Unfortunately, if you start out on this path and change your minds you are forced to flag a taxi on the side of a very dangerous road with no walking space. Just leave the exercise for another day and take the bus or taxi to Oia. Fortunately, we are pretty easy going and laughed about it but that didn't stop us from having a few glasses of Uzo once we hit Oia. It would be ridiculous to visit Santorini and not go to Oia. It is simply breathtaking. Find a wonderful cafe overlooking the caldera and have some good Greek Food. We went back to Fira to watch the sunset at another restaurant overlooking the caldera. If you are tempted to return to the ship prior to sunset - don't. The views from the island are spectacular. Unless you have difficulty walking then skip the funicular on the way down and walk instead, it is much more fun.
Based on posts from other members we took the ship's excursion to Delos in the morning and spent the afternoon in Mykonos. If you are interested in history Delos is a must. Do not miss the small but interesting museum on the island. We rarely take ship excursions but the times offered by the local boats were not convenient. I highly recommend a ship tour in this instance. We were on Delos quite early and beat the crowds from the local boats. By the time we were done touring and ready to leave at noon the island had gotten quite crowded. Also, I felt like our guide was quite knowledgeable. The timing allowed us plenty of time to explore Mykonos. Definitely have the local cuisine, it is wonderful. You can have a beverage to enjoy the view from Little Venice but I wouldn't recommend eating over there by the water. Find a place in town for 1/3 of the price and probably better food. Take the ship's shuttle back to the ship, do not try to walk - it is a short but very dangerous walk.
We had planned to do Istanbul on our own but changed our minds at the last minute and did a 2 day ship excursion. I was glad we did because I think we got a lot out of the experience. Had we not waited until the last minute I would recommend Ekol Tours who we used in Ephesus. However, our tour guide provided by the ship was excellent. She was a local professor who gave us a lot of information about the history, culture and the direction Turkey is heading. We visited the Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Istanbul Museum, the Asia side of Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar and had time for some shopping. A tip for those considering this tour but are wary of the rug demo, don't let that stop you. You are not captive, and can politely ask when to meet back at the store and venture out on your own and meet back up. Several people did this with no problem. Everything is walking distance around that area so there is plenty to see. In retrospect, I would have skipped the shopping at the end of the tour and went to see the Cistern instead. Each day there were those who parted with the tour at the end and went off on their own rather than go back with the bus. A tip about money exchange - the ship will tell you that they accept Euros and US dollars everywhere so there is no need to change in money. This is not entirely true. There are places where you need Turkish Lira. If you plan to visit the Harem Rooms (which there was time during our free time at Topkapi Palace.) you had to pay with Turkish Lira. At least have enough for the few instances it is requied. It sad but the best way to avoid being harassed by all the street vendors is to simply ignore them. I hate doing that but really it is the only way, unless you speak some Turkish or Arabic which many of them do. Overall Istanbul was an incredibly fascinating place. Go there expecting it to be crowded, crazy and full of life and you will do fine. I do believe with a little research it can be done easily on your own but make sure to plan your transportation because of all the traffic. The best is to walk about 1/2 mile past where the ship is docked and catch the metro which will drop you off in the heart of the historic area where it is easy to walk to everything. Avoid buses or taxis because you will spend you time stuck in traffic. Don't sit on the ship when you are docked overnight. Go out and experience the city at night. We never felt unsafe - ever. And lastly be sure to be up on deck to watch sailing into and out of Istanbul. It is quite a site and if you are lucky you will hear their prayer time which is quite a special experience to hear.
I knew this was a place I was going to love so we booked a private tour through Ekol Tours. Our guide was great and I was 100% glad we did. We visited the Temple of Artemis, the House of the Virgin Mary, Ephesus, the Terrace Houses, St. John's Basilica and the Museum. Do not miss the Terrace Houses, they were amazing. Our guide even took us to a wonderful restaurant for some local cuisine which was delicious. Even with the additional cost of the Terrace Houses the cost per person was cheaper than the ship's tour and we saw more. After our long day we shopped in Kusadasi which was another experience. Do not enter a store unless you really want to buy because you will find it hard to leave. If you are in the market for a Tawula board (Backgammon) this is the city to buy in. Do not wait for Athens as the selection here is much better and cheaper. Be sure to bargain, bargain, bargain! Our ship was docked quite late so we walked around the town at night and enjoyed some beer along the water at sunset. Again, we felt incredibly safe here so don't feel like you need to scurry back to the ship.
If there is one tip that is extremely useful it's this - Get off the ship the second you are able and make your way by taxi immediately to the Acropolis. We were off the ship at 7:30 AM and were at the Acropolis when it opened at 8AM (We paid 20E). There were only 5 people, including us on the entire Acropolis. We walked around by ourselves and took pictures without a soul in them. I heard many people comment how crowded and unbearable it was later in the day. Afterwards we had plenty of time to walk through the city, tour the Temple of Zeus, the Roman Forum and Tower of Winds, the Agora, the museum, walk around Syntagma Square and the Plaka, take pictures throughout the city at historical sites, shop and have a wonderful Greek lunch. The point is this is one place you do not want to do a ship's tour. Get off early, walk and do the city on your own. You will be less frustrated, spend less and actually see a lot more. One good tip from our Port Shopping Guide was to go to the hospitality store the ship recommended to get a taxi called for you to return to the ship. That was great! You didn't even need to go inside, there were men outside calling taxi's for ship guests which saved the hassle and frustration of having to find one on the street. There were plenty of shipmates to share the fare with you so it worked out to about 5E a piece for the return trip. An alternative we had considered was the train which is fine in the afternoon but I don't recommend it in the morning due to the time importance in getting to the Acropolis as early as possible. The walk to the station from the ship is about 30 minutes and another 20 or so minutes from the station in Athens to the Acropolis. I am sorry to hear some people were frustrated in Athens, but I think done right it is fabulous. We really enjoyed our experience, so I would say don't be afraid to branch out on your own. One bad thing for those hoping to visit the New Acropolis Museum in the near future - Although, it was temporarily opened in March it is now closed again for some time. They are not done with construction so they decided to close it until they are completely done.
Naples - We have been to Naples before and have visited Pompeii and the Amalfi coast which to anyone who has not been there should rate those first on your list of things to do in my opinion. Since this is our second visit we decided to stay in Naples to visit the Naples Archeological Museum and experience a little of the Napoli life. The museum houses most of what was excavated from Pompeii including some spectacular mosaics which are alone worth the visit. It also houses sculptures from the Roman Baths of Caracalla. You do not need to make reservations to see the Secret Cabinet if there is just a couple of you. Just walk up to the closed gate where the guard is and ask if you can enter. Take a taxi from the port to the museum because it is all uphill and a little confusing. You can bargain for a good fare of 10E. Just walk back to the ship through the streets of Naples to experience a little of its craziness. It was actually quite fun and thrilling. After I saw an elderly man with a cane cross 4 lanes of traffic zooming around without the least bit of fear I felt like had to take up the challenge. For the most part if you cross with a local you are safe. Be sure to have the local pizza, the best in the world! A really good guide for a walk through the city can be found in Rick Steves' Italy Guide. Rome - There were not more available port entries so I thought I would put this here. While in Rome if you plan to visit the Vatican Museums make a reservation or pre-book a tour. The wait for people without them the day we went was 3 hours. We were able to walk right in with our reservation. Also, consider a Roma Pass if you plan to visit 2 sites. It pays for itself and you avoid the lines. This was great at the Colosseum because we were able to bypass a long line at the entry. You can buy the Roma Pass at any information booth or the Rome Airport when you arrive.