Warning and apologies in advance for how ridiculously long this is going to be! Feel free to pass on by. :)
My husband and I met our 23-year-old daughter in Venice (she lives in Germany) to embark on the NCL Star 7-day Greek Isles cruise August 18-25, 2019. Planned stops were Kotor (Montenegro), Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, and Argostoli (all Greece), and Dubrovnik (Croatia). At check-in we found that the Venice Portmaster had, for some reason, mandated that the ship leave about 4 hours later, which meant we wouldn’t be able to stop in Kotor the next day. It was disappointing, but since there was clearly nothing we could do about it we just decided to enjoy having a day at sea.
CABIN: For our first time ever, we upgraded from our usual balcony to a suite. The Star doesn’t have a Haven, but has the “Family Suite” (plus other suites), which was awesome, and great value for the money! The bed was one of the most comfortable we’ve ever slept in. We were in 12026, which had plenty of space for the 3 of us. There’s no balcony, but (almost) floor to ceiling windows. Not gonna lie, I did miss having a balcony, but I would still book that type of suite again over a smaller balcony cabin. Plus, we were very close to the pool area so could easily go outside there. Our daughter had the choice of a murphy bed or a fold-out couch. She chose the murphy bed, and the steward got it out for her each evening and put it away each day. It had a curtain that went all the way around it for plenty of privacy, which was nice. The bathroom was amazing compared to regular balcony cabin bathrooms!! There was actually room to move, plus two sinks and a separate tub and shower. You have to go through the walk-in closet, which is a bit small, to get to the bathroom, but that wasn’t a big deal to us.
For our first time ever, we upgraded from our usual balcony to a suite. The Star doesn’t have a Haven, but has the “Family Suite” (plus other suites), which was awesome, and great value for the money! The bed was one of the most comfortable we’ve ever slept in. We were in 12026, which had plenty of space for the 3 of us. There’s no balcony, but (almost) floor to ceiling windows. Not gonna lie, I did miss having a balcony, but I would still book that type of suite again over a smaller balcony cabin. Plus, we were very close to the pool area so could easily go outside there. Our daughter had the choice of a murphy bed or a fold-out couch. She chose the murphy bed, and the steward got it out for her each evening and put it away each day. It had a curtain that went all the way around it for plenty of privacy, which was nice. The bathroom was amazing compared to regular balcony cabin bathrooms!! There was actually room to move, plus two sinks and a separate tub and shower. You have to go through the walk-in closet, which is a bit small, to get to the bathroom, but that wasn’t a big deal to us.
NEED TO KNOW: This cabin had no USB ports near the bed, and only one European outlet on each side of bed, which had lamps plugged in. My husband had to unplug his lamp and use a converter to use his CPAP machine, and I had to plug my phone in across the room, which made it hard to hear my alarm. Also, there is no outlet in the bathroom except for shavers. However, there is a big mirror and counter space in the main room with plenty of outlets (U.S. and European), and there were 2 hair dryers in the room.
~ If you’re going to book a Family Suite on the Star, try to book 12030, 12032, 12530, or 12532. They’re a bit bigger due to angling of the ship.
~ Definitely bring converters and power strips for more plug-in options, and if you’re bringing a curling iron, curling wand, or hair straightener make sure they’re dual-voltage so you’ll have a choice of either U.S. or European outlets.
~ Suites get snacks & treats delivered to the room each afternoon. If you want to keep something (like chocolate-covered strawberries), put it in your mini fridge, otherwise they’ll take it away later.
(Pre-cruise) We arrived in Venice the day before the cruise around 9:00 a.m. After taking our luggage to our hotel, we purchased a 24-hour ACTV (public transportation) pass for 20 euro. This was good for all buses, local trains, and vaporettos (public water taxis), and was really easy to use. I recommend downloading the MyPass Venezia app before you go, and then just purchasing from there. (You can also purchase the cruise port People Mover ticket from there for 1.50 euro.) We just showed it to the driver on the bus, and then when we got to the water taxi stop, we had to go to the machine, hold it up to a scanner, and have it print us a paper ticket to use for the rest of the day. We didn’t spend time on actual Venice that day; we used the pass to boat-hop to Murano (famous for glass-blowing), Burano (famous for lace-making), and Torcello (first place Venetians settled in the 5th century, and has a church dating back to the 600’s, plus a 12th-century bell tower that you can climb for 5 euro). We loved all of them, but especially Burano and Torcello, because they weren’t very crowded. Highly recommend visiting these places if you have time, and it was a good way to stay awake after traveling all night. You can also take a more formal tour to all 3 islands for around 20 euro, but you’ll have to pay to get to wherever that leaves from, and our passes included that transportation, plus gave us more flexibility on time. We used Google Maps to figure out where to go, and it told us exactly which boats and buses to take.
(Post-cruise) We had saved St. Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal for the end of the trip, so after we left our luggage at our hotel, we took the hotel transportation back into Venice and bought vaporetto tickets (7.5 euro each way) for the Grand Canal. Those are crowded (as is the whole St. Mark’s area), but a nice inexpensive way to see a lot in a short time. At St. Mark’s Square we first went to Hard Rock Café for lunch, and then went to St. Mark’s Basilica, which is free if you don’t mind standing in line (it looked long but moved quickly so we only waited about 20 minutes), and then the campanile (bell tower), which has an elevator and cost 8 euro to go up. It was well worth that for the amazing views, and there was no line when we were there. After that we went to the Rialto Bridge, and on the other side was more tourist shopping. Then the others wanted to sit and have a beer, so I walked on my own to the Jewish Ghetto, which I’d been wanting to see. This was the area of Venice in which Jewish people were forced to live by the government of the Venetian Republic starting in 1516. (The English word ghetto is derived from the Jewish ghetto in Venice.) It starts at the Ponte delle Guglie (bridge), and actually had locked gates back then. In 1797 the Venetian Republic was dissolved by the French army of Italy, ending the ghetto's separation from the city. Today, the ghetto is still a culturally active center of Jewish life in Venice, although only a few members live in the ghetto. It was really interesting to see, and nice to get away from the crowded tourist areas, but sad to think about the history. If I’d had time, a tour would have been helpful to get even more out of it, but it was still interesting to see the buildings, people, and stores with Menorahs and related artwork. It should have been about a 20-minute walk, but I stopped to take quite a few photos, so it was longer, but I enjoyed getting out of the crowds and seeing a different area of Venice. On my way to the Ghetto, I’d seen a really cute restaurant with red checkered tablecloths both inside and out called “Al56zerootto,” so we all decided to eat dinner there. It was very good, with lots of culinary options and great service, and seemed “authentic.” The address is 30131 Venezia – Cannaregio 5608 Campiello Riccardo Selvatico, in case anybody is interested in trying it.
We didn’t book anything ahead, because everything I’d read made it sound like we could just wing it. My husband stayed on the ship so it was just my daughter and me. I had read about “Mykonos Farmers,” a local creamery that supposedly made fantastic cheese and Greek yogurt, so we looked on a map and found it. We were going to get a taxi or bus, but decided to walk to Starbucks first (my daughter’s town in Germany doesn’t have one so she was quite excited). It was about a 20-minute walk through some really cute areas, but also included SUPER long and high hills, and (worse than that), walking on a very busy road with no sidewalks or shoulders. But we made it without a problem. By then we were only a 30-minute walk from Mykonos Farmers, so we set off to do that, with similar hills and unsafe roads, so when we saw a car rental place we decided to give that a try. The first one quoted 80 euro, so I said no (we only needed it for about 4 hours). The second one quoted 60 euro, plus said we could return it at the port (which we were somewhat far from by then), so we went for that. I didn’t need an international driver’s license; she just took down info from my license and CC number. She said she only needed the CC number “just in case,” but actually wanted us to pay in cash. I told her I needed to go to an ATM, and she said I could do that while we had the car and just bring her the money when we return it, which was really nice. So we took the car (a 2-seater SmartCar) and were thrilled that we had done that! I’d read horror stories about driving in Mykonos, but it wasn’t bad at all, especially in such a small car, and we were able to accomplish so much more than we would have. We drove to Mykonos Farmers and LOVED IT!! The owner, Yiorgos Syrianos, was gracious enough to give us a spontaneous tour (12 euro each) and was extremely proud when telling us about the generations-old techniques they use, with very little modern technology, to create their very creamy yogurt and flavorful cheese (both of which we got to sample!). He learned everything from his grandmother, and has passed it down to his son. We got to sample quite a bit of the amazing yogurt, plus 3 different cheeses, and little toast things with cheese spread, all included in the price of the tour. We purchased cheese, because he said certain types could stay unrefrigerated for up to a week. It was seriously fantastic, and we were the only guests there so it felt very personal and local. Apparently you can also book cooking classes there. After that we drove to a beach to take some photos, and then went to the Little Venice area, which is by the windmills. We had to pay 12 euro to park there (not a big deal, but good to know). Little Venice had the typical Greek tourist shopping we’d come to expect, but it was still fun to walk around. When we were ready, we called the car rental lady and told her we were heading to the port, where she met us and we paid her cash. Getting a car there made a huge difference in what we were able to see and do in a short time.
We booked NCL’s “Melissani, Meze & Ouzo” tour. It was okay, but not what I expected (which was my own fault after reading the description again), and now that I’ve been there I would rather rent a car and just do things on our own. For some reason I thought this tour involved a lot more time on a boat (again, I see now that the description never says that). It consisted of a 45-minute bus ride across the island (with an outstanding guide!), then a 30-45 minute wait in line, then a 15-minute ride in a small boat around the underground lake, then a short ride to the village of Sami where we enjoyed ouzo, wine, and meze (small Greek dishes) in a really pretty setting by the water, and then a 45-minute ride back to the port. The underground lake is beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s worth the hassle and wait. Like I said, our line was 30-45 minutes, and when we got out it looked twice as long. If you’re set on going to this lake, you could rent a car and try to go as early as possible to beat the crowds. We loved the village of Sami, and enjoyed about an hour of walking around there after our meze. It was touristy, but not too crowded and very cute, with friendly people. But again, we could get there on our own in a car, and some other sort of boat tour would have been fun. We did enjoy the island overall though, and wouldn’t mind going back. It was interesting to see such different topography and architecture from the other Greek islands we’d just visited.