We are a professional couple, no kids, early forties. We had never been on a cruise before and had no experience in this area of Europe so took the advice of friends who had done this exact cruise before and booked in March 2016. We dove into research on the countries, ports, languages, attractions, and cruising in general, which made for a fun six-month wait. The anticipation was a big part of this vacation! Rick Steves' books were a staple of our reading and came with us on the trip.
We flew from Toronto to Rome, arriving early in the morning on embarkation day. We had seriously considered taking the train from the airport to the port, but decided that it was just too important piece of the trip (i.e. do we risk screwing up the train schedule in a foreign city and missing our ship?) to leave to chance, so we booked NCC shared transfer. They met us in the airport and we were in the van very quickly. As it turned out, Rome airport is HUGE and we had been up for about 36 hours by that time - we were glad to not be trying to sort out the train and our bags at that point. It was about E70 which was money well spent. We got to Civitavecchia in 45 minutes and again were glad of the transfer. The port is also very large, and not pedestrian friendly at all. NCC transfers dropped us off right at the ship at around 1030 in the morning. We got a look at the ship - spectacular! - before heading into the dark and smelly tents that were the Celebrity port terminal. There is nothing nice about the port or the terminal. We showed our printed-off tickets, completed the medical form, and waited in the holding area for about 20 minutes before being waved over to check-in. We were on-board quickly and easily by 1100 hours or so.
First impressions were - well - let's just say that the deck 2 loading area is not a nice part of the ship. It's dark and utilitarian with x-ray machines and beeping scanners. But up one flight of stairs we found the Guest Relations area, with a cello/viola duo playing in the lobby. This was very nice. We found our cabin #6221 still being cleaned, but met our room attendant Jose who was very friendly and personable. He let us dump our carry-ons and we headed up to deck 14 to enjoy some fresh air. We found the Sunset Bar staffed with jolly Jamaicans (one wearing a Santa hat and singing bits of Christmas songs....go figure) and settled down with a drink in the sunshine.
6221 is a veranda cabin, port side on the flat side of the 'hump'. We had a great view from the veranda and looking straight down was deck 5. The cabin could have accommadated four people as there was a trundle bed under the couch and a berth that could have swung down from the ceiling but I really can't imagine four people in there. It was a decent size for two and I was pleasantly surprised at the bathroom - there was lots of storage in there and a good shower. There was zero room for two so brushing teeth was a 'my turn - your turn' affair. The cabin was very clean and storage was OK, after we got our suitcases under the bed out of the way. Jose brought us extra hangers, a body pillow, and anything else we needed. The cabin was very quiet, even being next to the elevators and the iLounge. We quickly found this cabin was perfect for us as it was steps from the elevators and stairs, one deck from lounges and restaurants, two decks to the Martini bar and shopping, and very close to the Grand Foyer where most of the nighttime activity was. My only complaint was people who insisted on letting their cabin doors slam. They are steel safety doors and if you let them close, they slam with a "thunk", which can be a drag at 0630 hours. CLOSE YOUR DOOR GENTLY, PEOPLE, PLEASE!!
Stayed in Rome for two nights after the cruise. Rome is incredible but we barely scratched the surface. The crowds and lines were unbelievable. We booked a tour of the Vatican beforehand which is the only way to get past the HUGE lineup. The place was absolutely jammed with people beginning to end. We had also booked Colosseum tickets which got us in a little quicker, but again huge lines and pushing past hustlers the whole time. We never got into the Forum. I'd hate to see it in high season. Beware of North Americanized "Italian" restaurants that serve terrible food that make East Side Marios seem authentic. We learned some basic Italian and found it very useful.
The seas were rough and the tender unpleasant (nobody's fault). Options were to stand in a HUGE line for the gondola or climb the donkey trail. We opted for a water taxi to Oia which was one of the worst experiences I've had on vacation. The taxi was very rough (again not their fault) but the sea was so rough it actually couldn't dock propertly at Oia, so they basically backed the boat into the pier and tried to hold it there, engine roaring, and tried to get people out with the boat bucking up and down. It took probably 30 minutes to get everyone off and many were seasick by that point, including me. I was seriously thinking about jumping into the water just to get off that bloody boat. Then we had to be jammed into a bus to get up to Oia, after which we had 40 minutes left to "explore" before we had to get on the bus back to the main town. The town consisted of a main street jammed with people waiting to get on the gondola to get back down. We opted to walk down the donkey path, which was unpleasant even though we are fit. The donkey owners were herding the poor beasts up to the top in anticipation of selling rides back down so people were having to get out of the way of the herd of donkeys.....not fun. We finally got down and sat for some Greek food and wine in a little tavern on the pier, which was nice. I understand that Celebrity tours got tendered to another pier and got to skip the donkeys and the gondola line, which is a cruel joke if it's true. The island is not set up to handle 3,000 cruise passengers showing up at once - again, nobody's fault but I wouldn't go again.
Mykonos is a maze and we spent a lot of time wandering around. Lots of nice shops, all of whom had end of season sales. Nice people and a beautiful town. Figured out the bus and went to a local beach, which was nearly deserted. Had a swim in the ocean and a nice lunch. Lots of photos and thankfully no tender.
St. Peter's castle was really neat. To get there you have to walk a mile through a bazaar, however. See comments for Ephesus, above. We finally caved and did some shopping (the first time I've been served tea while haggling over the price for a belt) but mostly we were glad to get back to the ship.
We figured out the train to Herculaneum, which was an incredible historic experience. We found a pizza place and had some of the best pizza I've ever had, and it was the place across the street from the famous pizza place we were looking for! Some basic Italian was very useful here.