Well we started our big family vacation in Rome a few days before the sailing so that we can show our kids (teenagers ages 18,15, 12 and younger daughter age 8) .the sights, smells and wonders of Rome. We stayed at the Hotel Ponte Sisto which was a great place to stay for an American family . the rooms were modern and very clean and the front desk personnel all spoke English and were very helpful with taxis and restaurant recommendations. Also, the hotel has a beautiful courtyard in which they serve a lovely breakfast including eggs, bacon, etc.. Onto the cruise...
We took a car service to the port which in retrospect was a good idea because the town of Civitavecchia was a bit confusing and I heard from other people on the boat that some of the car rental agencies were closed for lunch and taxis were not easy to find...The check-in process was smooth and were were able to get on the boat by 12:30 for lunch...the rooms were then ready a short while later. We had two conceirge class rooms on deck 10 which worked out very nicely. We had 3 people in each room, and though i was concerned about space and storage, it all worked out fine as the rooms had good places to store clothes and the bathrooms were terrific also had storage space for toiletries.
The ship is beautiful, every where you go there is an interesting architectural detail and a comfortable chair to sit in. The staff on the ship work very hard and kept al of the public areas very clean. I was impressed by the cleanliness of the Oceanview Cafe ( Buffet dining room) .you did not see empty trays, or glasses for more than 2-3 minutes before they were picked up, and the presentation of all of the food at the buffet was always clean and fresh.
Cabins 1054 & 1058 nice cabins in mid of the ship closer ï¿½to the front of the ship..nice and quiet, near the library ..can both fit a third person.ï¿½
We took the cable car up to the town of Fira then walked to find a taxi to the town of Oia..Getting a taxi takes a bit of effort and after some time a person in our group flagged down a van tour company that was willing to take us..Oia was beautiful and well worth the effort to get there. The shops are quaint and the scenery is spectacular. You will need a hat to walk around all of the Greek Islands at this time of year so go ahead and invest in one at this port as you will need it for each port. Had a great dinner at a restaurant called the Red Bicycle..
The cruise provides a shuttle to take you to the town..from there you can shop, walk or look for a bus to take you to the beach. There are hardly any ship excursions at this port so you are basically on your own. To get to the bus to take you to Paradise Beach you have to walk maybe a 3/4 mile to get to the bus station. Again a bit of trek, and very hot, but once there you realize it is worth the effort. There are other beaches you can go to but this seemed to be the most popular and the water was gorgeous.
Very interesting city. We took the ship's tour : Istanbul Classic tour with lunch. Many people on the boat took ship tours at this port. We had a very good our guide who took us to the sights including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the first day. The only downside being the tour included a trip to the grand Bazaar which we found exhausting to be approached constantly and having to haggle for every price. The second day we went to the Blue Mosque and the HIppodrome, and as I had expected the carpet demonstration which was not as bad as i had anticipated as it was an nice air-conditioned building where they serve you tea and coffee..Just know your prices before you go if you are interested. Lunch was very good and a nice ending to an historical two days.
We took a private tour to Ephesus, House of the Virgin Mary and the St. john's tomb..In retrospect we probably could have taken a ship's tour for this port, since we visited most of the same sites, but perhaps we moved a little quicker since we were a smaller group. The house of the Virgin Mary was not impressive in itself but was a nice place to visit as you can get a drink and some souveniers s and a say a littlle prayer. We did see the Terrace Houses at Ephesus which was fascinating and more importantly actually has some shade cover from the sun. Most of the sigh seeing you will do on this ship are in the midday sun so dress accordingly. The port itself was very nice a great shopping port as you can walk right to the boat. The merchants accepted Euros and USD so don't worry about getting Turkish lira.
Here we followed the advice of other postings on Cruise Critic and hired a private taxi to take us to the Acropolis and around Athens. We hired Nikos Loukas from www.privategreecetours.com and he was terrific. He was very professional and his van was nice, clean and well- air-conditioned. He met us at the port at 8am and we went right to the Acropolis before all of the bus tours arrived. He explained everything we were going to see and was there waiting for us when we were done. We then went on a half day tour of Athens including the Temple of Zeus, a hill overlooking the city, the Olympic stadium , changing of the guards at the Parliament and a few other sights. Nikos had it all timed perfectly. We saw the city, took some great pictures and we were back at the boat by 1pm, well before any of the other tour groups.
Naples, here again we hired a private tour guide to take us to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. My first recommendation is to consider where you on on your cruise ship journey. For the Solstice this was our last cruise day and we had done a fair amount of touring before this. Most of the group wanted to see Pompeii as they had never been, so the guide ( we used tour of Italy- guide Salvatore)..The drive from Naples to Pompeii is about 40 minutes and could vary depending on traffic. Once again you will be touring in open sight so hats are definitely recommended. We hired another guide to take us around the Pompeii sight and asked him to limit the tour to one hour which was a good decision because some of these guides can go on forever as you stand there in the blistering sun. We then got a quick drink and some gelato and them headed for Sorrento. As pretty as this town is it is very crowded and the streets are jammed ..we needed to do some shopping and wanted a real Italian lunch so we had opted for this. In retrospect we should have gone straight to Positano or Amalfi while the group was still enthusiastic and the day was young. After a nice lunch on the sea we headed for Positano a beautiful drive, but by this time the kids in the group were getting a bit tired and slightly car sick. The van's a/c system worked but was not very strong. We also had to keep an eye on the time to make sure we made it back to the ship,, so we just left Positano and headed back ( about 1 hour and 15 minute drive.) If I were to do this port again I would look into taking a hydrofoil to Sorrento or Capri and forget about doing all that car time so you can enjoy the water a bit more. It is a shame the Solstice doesn't dock here overnight, I felt like there was some much to see.