GOOD The service was as great as we expected! Our attendant Germano was very friendly, he engaged us in small conversation and gave recommendations when we asked and never made us feel that he was too busy. The man sitting beside me at dinner was allergic to gluten, and he and I both were pleasantly surprised at how well the dining staff was able to accommodate his needs.
Languages: I was impressed that this American cruise company accommodated so many of the European languages for every announcement. I speak enough of a few languages to know that they were quite competent in their announcements, and all of the staff I met was multi-lingual.
Embarkation/Disembarkation: Getting on and off the ship was quick and easy. We had checked in online (highly recommended!), so check-in at the ship was quick with very little wait. We boarded the ship around 2:30, had lunch, and received our luggage around 4:30. Since we were staying in Venice a few days after the cruise, we wanted to disembark as late as possible to sleep in a bit and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, but disembarkation went quicker than expected and we were asked to leave the ship at 9:00. Since we had only one suitcase each in addition to my laptop backpack and camera bag, we asked and the staff allowed us to carry off our luggage ourselves on disembarkation day.
Quiet, we liked 2nd level since there are no public rooms
We have now taken two cruises, and we have had difficulties with the air travel getting to both of them: a thunderstorm in another city caused us to miss our international flight getting to our first cruise, and another passenger mistakenly took my wife's suitcase for this cruise. It was the next day before the airport was able to contact the other passenger; fortunately she was able to return the bag to the airport in time for us to make the cruise (although we lost some sight-seeing time in Venice). Moral of this story: arrive at least one day in advance of the cruise or you could miss the boat!
We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Marghera, which is the mainland community closest to Venice. Every day we took a city bus to and from Venice. Since we had purchased a transportation pass, the bus fare was included; otherwise the bus is 1.10 euros per person each way. The main reason we chose the Holiday Inn was to use frequent traveler points to pay for the hotel, but we liked staying on the mainland because we experienced a different side of Venice. There is an extensive market in Marghera on Saturdays, there is the feel of a typical working-class European village (not so touristy), and the town is more reasonably-priced than Venice.
From the airport, city bus 15 "Panorama" took us to within a 10-minute walk to the hotel for 1.10 euros per person. Although the ride was approximately 45 minutes with lots of stops, we informed the driver of our destination and he alerted us at our stop. The information desk at the airport had given us a good detailed map of Venice and surrounding areas, on which they had marked the bus stop and the hotel, so we walked directly to it.
It was a 20-minute walk to the stop for city bus 6, which took us into Piazzale Roma every morning. The bus runs every 20 minutes until after midnight, so there was no danger of being stranded on the island. Coming back to the hotel in the evenings, we did have to pay attention to the direction of the bus: 6 "Spinea" brought us back to the same stop we used in the mornings, but 6 "Panorama" took a different route in Marghera and we had to walk a little further, but with the map we had no trouble to find our way.
Although in general we found the dining in Venice to be expensive and not as good as we have had in other Italian cities, the gelatos did not disappoint! I'm sure they're not as healthy as the lite ice creams and frozen yogurts we personally frequent at home, but when you're in Italy the local gelato is to die for!
We spent 3 days in Venice and would recommend this stay if you are able. While many folks stay 1 or 2 days, we were able to see the main sights without being rushed. Walking on the stone streets and climbing the steps at the bridges was somewhat hard on our feet, so we bought a 3-day pass for 33 euros per person to be able to take the waterbuses as often as we liked.
A wonderful medieval city, we enjoyed it on our own. The city is relatively small and very walkable. The views from walking the walls are beautiful, and the churches, alleys, and architecture are interesting.
To get from the ship to the old town, we took a city bus. Just outside the port security gate is the bus terminal, and there is an ATM machine there. We withdrew some local currency and paid for the bus tickets, which were around 2 dollars per person each way. After about 5 minutes a bus arrived; it only made 3-4 stops before arriving at the old city gate. Returning to the ship was just as easy – we waited at the same stop.
A ticket to walk the old city walls was 10 euros per person, but we recommend that it was well worth it. There are a lot of stairs along the walls, but the views of the city, the sea, and of the walls themselves are very interesting. We only walked half-way around the city, taking about 2 hours at a very slow pace, stopping often for photos and to rest.
Descending from the walls on the back-side of the city (opposite the main “Pile” gate), we visited two churches and the old pharmacy on the way back. Our visit was cut short by rain, so we headed back for the city bus stop and returned to the ship.
We arranged a private tour primarily for flexibility: we were able to specify the places we wanted to see and the length of time to spend there. We engaged HelloEphesus, and our guide Bulent (“Bill”) was excellent! For less than the cost of the ship tour, we enjoyed more places and spent as long as we wanted at each. There was only my wife and I, so we felt very fortunate to have Bulent to ourselves! Bulent directed us in a sequence which helped us to avoid the crowds from the other tours: we started at the Basilica of St. John, then asked to tour the local mosque just beside it, then went to Sirince. When an intense rain made it impossible to enjoy Sirince, Bulent recommended and we agreed to tour a ceramic factory and a government-run carpet school in Selcuk. We did not feel the sales pitch was inappropriately strong, the tour guides made it very clear that we were under no pressure to buy. However, we learned a lot and enjoyed seeing the beautiful ceramic pieces and carpets. Bulent then treated us at a local restaurant where we enjoyed typical fare in on an uncrowded terrace. We then went to Ephesus where Bulent gave an excellent tour of the ruins. I asked lots of questions and was impressed that Bulent really knew the subjects; he hadn’t simply memorized a script! Our tour included the Terrace Houses – a definite must-see.
One concern we had with using a private tour was the risk of returning late to the ship. Bulent respected our concern and returned us with 30 minutes to spare, so we were not rushed and yet felt we had definitely received a full day tour for our money.
I had been somewhat concerned about the confusion around HelloEphesus and EphesusDeluxe, and I was very impressed with the integrity of HelloEphesus and the commitment to quality by their company. I would not hesitate at all to recommend HelloEphesus, especially if you are fortunate to have Bulent for your guide.
Although our itinerary said we would arrive at Santorini at 7:30, the tender process was slow and it was after 9:00 before we arrived on shore to take the cable car up. Before the cruise, we didn’t appreciate how tendering makes arrival time on shore so unpredictable – we lost another hour at the end of the day making sure we didn’t take the last tender back to the ship.
For flexibility, we chose to rent a car on our own in Santorini. This was quite easy to arrange, but because the long tender process made the arrival time unpredictable, we needed a local shop to call the rental agency to meet us at the cable car exit. We used Emver (www.santorinicarhire.com), but the office is not in Fira and you need to phone them when you arrive. I would prefer to use an agency with an office close to the cable car exit to avoid the need for a phone call. We used 10 euros gasoline all day, traveling to Oia at one end of the island to red and white beaches at the other end. For such a small island, we were amazed at the variety of scenery and views. We enjoyed the flexibility of having the rental car; there are only a few roads and enough signs that it is impossible to get lost. We enjoyed a traditional, reasonably-priced lunch in Fira at mid-day.