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My wife (Sarah) and I just returned from a Western Mediterranean Cruise on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Navigator of the Seas. Just a little about us, I'm 36 and Sarah is 29 (as of September 2010) and we live in Orlando, Florida, USA. I'm a Vice President in the field of healthcare and Sarah is an Audiologist. I include that information so you know what perspective we have. If you're reading this and you're 80 years old and have lots of money to burn then you may not share my viewpoints and that's okay. Hopefully you will still find some of my thoughts helpful to you. We found the cruise tickets by subscribing to weekly e-mail alerts. This was my 9th cruise and Sarah's 6th cruise. We booked this cruise for $1,299 per person in an inside cabin with $250 onboard credit. They had a few weeks for $1,199 per person, but the week we chose caused us to burn less vacation time because Labor Day is already a holiday in the US. I normally don't like to book through a travel agency because you lose flexibility and their hours of operation are not as good as going directly through the cruise line. For example, one weekend we wanted to see how much it would be to upgrade to a balcony and the agency either wasn't open or had very limited hours; I can't remember which. But in this day of instant information and a heightened demand for customer service, consumers want what they want and when they want it. Travel agents are perfectly fine for most people but I like to book directly through the cruise line. But in this case even the last minute prices through RCCL were something like $400 more expensive so, for us, price almost always wins! And to finish my earlier thought, the TA wanted an extra $800 per person for a balcony stateroom, so we decided to stay with our inside cabin. I can think of better things to do with $1,600. We booked our airline tickets through RCCL's ChoiceAir. I wasn't going to use ChoiceAir at first because it was a couple hundred dollars more expensive per ticket but I liked the idea that we were guaranteed to make the cruise if we booked through them even if the plane was delayed, which is something that can easily happen on international flights. In spite of that guarantee, that wasn't enough for me to book through them because my wife and I are frugal and savvy travelers! So I checked ChoiceAir's prices once per week and set up daily price alerts through Kayak.com. After a month or so the ChoiceAir was even a little bit cheaper than booking on my own so it was a no-brainer to book through them. The cruise departed from Rome and RCCL wanted $91 per person to transfer from FCO (Leonardo DaVinci Airport) to the port in Civitaveccia. Heck no, I wasn't paying $182 for a 1-hour bus ride. That price was EACH WAY. So Sarah (my better half) searched the Internet and this website and found a company who would have a private driver waiting for us at the airport with a Mercedes E-Class to drive just the two of us to the port. The cost of this was 120 Euros. Even if you factor in an exchange rate of 1.33 or so, our private driver, in a very nice and new Mercedes, was still less expensive than the bus ride through RCCL! But it gets better. We have plans to do a land tour of Italy sometime in the next few years because there is just so much to see. But I just couldn't wait to see the big sites of Rome. Our plane landed at 9:20 AM and we had to be on the ship by 4:30 PM or so and I figured I would ask the company who provided the driver if he could do a quick tour of the highlights of Rome and of course they were more than happy to help! The driver, Daniele Romagnoli, was right outside the airport waiting for us once we got our luggage and he was holding a sign with our names on it. He was dressed professionally in a black suit and we felt like big wigs! He was very friendly and the Mercedes was super clean and very new looking. We went to Circus Maximus, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican/St. Peter's Basilica, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, we watched the daily noon canon shoot (we were standing 20 feet away!) and we stopped at a cafe and had Roman pizza and Nutella covered pizza for dessert. It was excellent and I'm still trying to figure out why we didn't pay a thing for the food. When I pulled out my wallet to pay at the end of lunch Daniele told me to put it away. We then drove to the port and boarded the ship. The whole day was 230 Euros and that included driving us to the port. Let me just say that we didn't go into the Vatican as the lines were very long and we didn't go into the Coliseum. We walked into the square in front of St. Peter's Basilica and we walked around the Colisuem. It was just a quick sample of Rome, but it was just enough to ensure that we will be back someday! But with that being said, Daniele brought us to within feet of each location. It was absolutely amazing. He dropped us off as close as a car can possibly get. I'm still amazed by the level of customer service he provided. Even when he dropped us off at the port, we were dropped immediately in front of the doorway. We got out, the guys took out luggage, I paid Daniele in cash, and we then walked 10 feet to the doorway to the registration center. His e-mail address is daniele.romagnoli@fastwebnet.it www.romeairportransfers.com Registration was fine. We were there about 3:30 and there were only a handful of people and of course, I always forget to sign something so the gatekeeper lady reviewed everything before she would let me go to the desk to get our key. I had to sign my Seapass form and then we were on our way to the ship. This was our first cruise that didn't originate somewhere in Florida and the embarkation process was very pleasant. You need to know one thing about us. We are not big complainers. Stop reading now if you want to know every flaw of every meal we had on the ship. We are both on the low end of our ideal BMI weight and we use food to stay alive. We don't expect every meal on a cruise to be the most fantastic culinary experience we've ever had. So if you want a critique of the green beans then hit the "back" button and read someone else's posting. It's cruise food. On the other hand, I do like to point out the highlights; we ate at Chops and it was great. It was well worth the money. We ate at Portofino's on Adventure of the Seas two years ago and I definitely recommend Chops if you don't want to spend the money on both restaurants. Portofino's was good, but if you have to choose then go with Chops. It's hard for me to spend extra money for pasta dishes. Sarah and I are both RCCL Gold members now. Every time I say that I think of Austin Powers! So we each received a Crown and Anchor savings booklet. We also received a "Passport to Savings" book that was an extra "benefit" for booking through an agent. I'm going to break from the mold and complain here. These rip-off books are clearly nothing more than marketing gimmicks. These are not rewards for being a loyal RCCL cruiser. These are designed to extract as much money from you as possible. I get it. Most consumers are idiots. I know that's a mean thing to say, but it's true. People get a "coupon book" and they automatically think it's a good thing. Here are some examples: • Passport to Savings booklet examples: o Big print: "10% Off Royal Caribbean Logo Item" ? Small print "Purchase 2 Royal Caribbean Logo Items and Receive 10% Off a 3rd Logo Item o Big print: "20 minutes of Free Internet" ? Small print "With the purchase of a 150 Minute time plan" ? The 150 minute time plan is $75 or $0.50 per minute o And there were lots more coupons designed to get people to gamble, all of them similar to the above. So for them to advertise this as a benefit to the consumer is not entirely accurate. • Crown and Anchor Society Gold Member Ultimate Value Booklet examples: o Spend $1,000 or more on fine jewelry and receive a 10% discount o Internet Discount - $5 credit or 10% off any Internet package o Johnny Rockets 2 for 1 milkshake - this was a BOGO offer o Buy one photo and receive a 50% discount on a second photo Some of these are not bad, but just once I'd like to have something free with no strings attached. As a loyal RCCL brand cruiser, even just a free drink would be nice. I understand that RCCL would have some response to my sentiments to the effect of: We value our repeat customers and cruising offers the best value in the travel industry and we do our best to maximize this value and whatever. But still, a good rewards program should give you something for free. Period. Just give me a photo for free. They print them off on photo paper, wasting who knows how much paper and ink, only to throw away the vast majority that they don't sell. And then they want to tell me to re-use my dirty washcloth so they can "Save the Waves." I can feel the Libertarian bubbling up inside me so I'll move on to our ports of call. Our first port of call was Messina on the island of Sicily. We just walked around the town and enjoyed the churches and what not. Day 3 was cruising and day 4 was in Athens. We hired another private driver in Athens and we were so glad we did. Again, I have a very resourceful wife. Fotis Kolliris made us feel like we were a part of his family. He's 59 and the safest international driver I've ever met! www.taxitours.gr fotis@taxitours.gr He was so friendly and customer service oriented. We saw the changing of the guards, ate at a great restaurant, visited the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis, visited the Temple of Zeus and the modern Olympic stadium (the 1896 version,) and drove to the top of Lykavittos Hill for the best views in Athens. We did all of this in spite of a transportation strike that stranded others. Fotis owns the company and he was awesome. He charged us 230 Euros for all of this (payable at the end of the tour) and we drove in a new Mercedes. It wasn't an E-class, but it looked very similar—maybe the Greek version of an E-class. And again, we drove right up to all of these sites as close as a car can get. He also does multiple day tours for people who come to Greece for a vacation. I highly, highly recommend him. We really felt like part of his family as he is one of the friendliest and most hospitable people I've ever met. Day 5 was on the island of Rhodes, Greece. We just walked around the Old Town inside the city walls. You don't really need a shore excursion here unless you want to travel down the island to the beaches. Sarah and I are not beach people, even though we live in Florida, so keep that in mind, too. If you're a beach person then just know we tend to avoid those types of shore excursions. Day 6 was Ephesus, pronounced EFF-uh-sis with the first syllable stressed. I was pronouncing it Uh-FEE-sus as in the Book of Ephesians. Again, thanks to Sarah and Cruise Critic, I booked another private tour, this time with Ekol Travel. www.ekoltravel.com This was a half day tour to the ruins in Ephesus including the Terrace Houses. We paid $174 total for the both of us and I paid via credit card a couple of weeks before we left home. I was a little nervous about paying before the tour because everyone else didn't want you to pay until after the tour was over, but I went ahead and paid anyway based on the positive feedback we found on this website. I'm glad I did because we had a very nice time. Emre was the name of our tour guide and he was awesome. He was 26 years old and he went to college to be a history teacher so he really seemed to know his stuff when we were at the ruins. DO NOT under any circumstances miss the Terrace Houses. That would be a real shame. These houses are amazing to see the frescos and mosaics and to see how these ancient citizens really lived. Whenever I see ruins I think they are cool but boringly decorated, but then you see these houses and realize they were just like ours today. The techniques of decorating are a little different, yet very much the same. We paid Ekol just a few extra bucks per person for the Terrace Houses and I was amazed that we had the whole place to ourselves. The terrace houses are located inside the ruins of Ephesus but they require a separate entrance fee. There were a few thousand people at the ruins and only 8 of us inside the terrace houses. They are covered by a large plastic-looking building to protect the archaeologists still excavating the inside and I guess people didn't realize what was inside. It was a real shame that only a handful of us went inside. It took us about 30 minutes to go through the houses. Emre said there are two spots in the world that are the best preserved Roman cities—Ephesus and Pompeii. Pompeii is the biggest and most famous because of its fate, but Ephesus was a much wealthier city so the houses are nicer. Ask for Emre by name and you won't regret it! Day 7 (9/11) we were cruising to Egypt. At the time, I was typing this from a deck chair on the back of the ship, just under the mini golf course and I was surrounded by a bunch of Speedo-wearing octogenarians. The average age on this ship is certainly higher than anything I've sailed on before, but that's okay. We joked that this was a nursing home cruise, but I probably shouldn't have said that. I apologize to old people everywhere. I hope to grow old, too, because the alternative is dying young! Wow, this review is already five pages long and if you're still reading my drivel then you must really want to take this cruise. I highly recommend it. Today, I'm back on the same deck chairs in the same spot of the ship sailing to Naples, having just spent two days in Egypt. I'm slaving away on this review just so you can be an informed traveler and Sarah is sitting beside me playing Angry Birds on her iPod Touch and listening to the comedian Mitch Hedberg. We are quite the sight. Sarah has her Kindle on her lap open to Good Grief: A Novel and her iPod Touch in her hands and I am hammering away on my laptop with my iPod Classic on "Shuffle." At any moment I could be listening to Chopin or Lady Gaga, because that's how I roll. Stephen King's Under the Dome is beside me. Yes, a real book with real paper. But I digress. . . What can I tell you about Egypt? Here's a quick tidbit that I couldn't find the answer to before we left home. When you check in for the cruise, the cruise line keeps your passport. They put a sticker on the front of it with your cabin number. Then, sometime between Turkey and Egypt, an Egyptian official gives your passport a visa stamp and you pick up your passport in the dining room the day before you get to Egypt. There was no additional cost for this. We booked another private tour, this time through Ramses Tours. www.ramsestours.com We were picked up at the port in Alexandria by a very nice young Egyptian lady named Nora. That was her Westernized name. She walked us over to a mini-van with a separate driver named Ahmed, who was also very friendly. We drove three hours to Cairo with a rest stop in the middle. Nora kept us entertained the whole way with mini lectures on Egyptology. She is studying for her Masters degree and I found her to be quite credible and very intelligent. She helped us every step of the way including local customs such as tipping the person who hands you toilet paper at the door to every single bathroom! We went to the pyramids of Giza first and Nora was very informative. We went inside the great pyramid of Cheops, the one with limestone still at the top of it. We opted for the complimentary camel ride, which was way more fun than it sounds. And Nora was an excellent photographer, taking pictures of Sarah and me on the camel in front of the pyramids. It made a great Facebook picture! Then we visited the Sphinx, went to Memphis, and ended up at Sakkara where the stepped pyramid is located. Then we had a late lunch at the Carvery, a nicer Egyptian restaurant. We ended the day in Cairo at the Fairmont Nile City Hotel. The website does not do this hotel justice. It opened in December 2009 and it was incredible. It reminded me of the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Florida. Sign up for the free President's Club before you leave home and you'll get free wifi Internet! We didn't eat dinner because we were so full from our late lunch, but breakfast was included in the price of the tour. It was delicious. Nora and Ahmed picked us up at 7:30 AM and we drove to the Alabaster Mosque, which was spectacular. We've seen a lot of cathedrals in our travels so we were prepared for ABC (another beautiful church) but this was our very first mosque and we were very impressed. Then we headed to the Egyptian Museum and saw many great artifacts, including King Tut and his headdress that we all saw in our history books in school. That was a highlight for me. We then ate a buffet lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and then drove back to Alexandria with a rest stop halfway there. Once in Alexandria we went inside the Library of Alexandria, the new one obviously. Then we were dropped off right at the front door to the port. We paid $300 per person for the tour plus we upgraded to the Fairmont for an extra $50 per person. We felt we got a good value even at a $700 total package price. If we would have booked a similar package through the cruise line it would have been $990 and the hotel would not have been anywhere near as nice and it would not have been a private tour. I believe we got a great deal booking it ourselves. All of this brings us to right now, Tuesday September 14, 2010. We're cruising two days to Naples and then we finish back at Rome. I booked a shore excursion in Naples through the cruise line because of two reasons. First, I couldn't find a private tour that was reasonable. And second, Cruise Critic's port information and Rick Steves both say that traffic is completely unpredictable coming back from Pompeii. If we're on a cruise line shore excursion then the ship will wait for us if we're late. I realize this review had a lot of superfluous information that was quite useless to you, but I hope you found it helpful nonetheless.

Dream Cruise to the Western Mediterranean - Great Port info!

Navigator of the Seas Cruise Review by jmstover

1 person found this helpful
Trip Details
My wife (Sarah) and I just returned from a Western Mediterranean Cruise on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Navigator of the Seas. Just a little about us, I'm 36 and Sarah is 29 (as of September 2010) and we live in Orlando, Florida, USA. I'm a Vice President in the field of healthcare and Sarah is an Audiologist. I include that information so you know what perspective we have. If you're reading this and you're 80 years old and have lots of money to burn then you may not share my viewpoints and that's okay. Hopefully you will still find some of my thoughts helpful to you.
We found the cruise tickets by subscribing to weekly e-mail alerts. This was my 9th cruise and Sarah's 6th cruise. We booked this cruise for $1,299 per person in an inside cabin with $250 onboard credit. They had a few weeks for $1,199 per person, but the week we chose caused us to burn less vacation time because Labor Day is already a holiday in the US.
I normally don't like to book through a travel agency because you lose flexibility and their hours of operation are not as good as going directly through the cruise line. For example, one weekend we wanted to see how much it would be to upgrade to a balcony and the agency either wasn't open or had very limited hours; I can't remember which. But in this day of instant information and a heightened demand for customer service, consumers want what they want and when they want it. Travel agents are perfectly fine for most people but I like to book directly through the cruise line. But in this case even the last minute prices through RCCL were something like $400 more expensive so, for us, price almost always wins! And to finish my earlier thought, the TA wanted an extra $800 per person for a balcony stateroom, so we decided to stay with our inside cabin. I can think of better things to do with $1,600.
We booked our airline tickets through RCCL's ChoiceAir. I wasn't going to use ChoiceAir at first because it was a couple hundred dollars more expensive per ticket but I liked the idea that we were guaranteed to make the cruise if we booked through them even if the plane was delayed, which is something that can easily happen on international flights. In spite of that guarantee, that wasn't enough for me to book through them because my wife and I are frugal and savvy travelers! So I checked ChoiceAir's prices once per week and set up daily price alerts through Kayak.com. After a month or so the ChoiceAir was even a little bit cheaper than booking on my own so it was a no-brainer to book through them.
The cruise departed from Rome and RCCL wanted $91 per person to transfer from FCO (Leonardo DaVinci Airport) to the port in Civitaveccia. Heck no, I wasn't paying $182 for a 1-hour bus ride. That price was EACH WAY. So Sarah (my better half) searched the Internet and this website and found a company who would have a private driver waiting for us at the airport with a Mercedes E-Class to drive just the two of us to the port. The cost of this was 120 Euros. Even if you factor in an exchange rate of 1.33 or so, our private driver, in a very nice and new Mercedes, was still less expensive than the bus ride through RCCL!
But it gets better. We have plans to do a land tour of Italy sometime in the next few years because there is just so much to see. But I just couldn't wait to see the big sites of Rome. Our plane landed at 9:20 AM and we had to be on the ship by 4:30 PM or so and I figured I would ask the company who provided the driver if he could do a quick tour of the highlights of Rome and of course they were more than happy to help! The driver, Daniele Romagnoli, was right outside the airport waiting for us once we got our luggage and he was holding a sign with our names on it. He was dressed professionally in a black suit and we felt like big wigs! He was very friendly and the Mercedes was super clean and very new looking. We went to Circus Maximus, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican/St. Peter's Basilica, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, we watched the daily noon canon shoot (we were standing 20 feet away!) and we stopped at a cafe and had Roman pizza and Nutella covered pizza for dessert. It was excellent and I'm still trying to figure out why we didn't pay a thing for the food. When I pulled out my wallet to pay at the end of lunch Daniele told me to put it away. We then drove to the port and boarded the ship. The whole day was 230 Euros and that included driving us to the port.
Let me just say that we didn't go into the Vatican as the lines were very long and we didn't go into the Coliseum. We walked into the square in front of St. Peter's Basilica and we walked around the Colisuem. It was just a quick sample of Rome, but it was just enough to ensure that we will be back someday! But with that being said, Daniele brought us to within feet of each location. It was absolutely amazing. He dropped us off as close as a car can possibly get. I'm still amazed by the level of customer service he provided. Even when he dropped us off at the port, we were dropped immediately in front of the doorway. We got out, the guys took out luggage, I paid Daniele in cash, and we then walked 10 feet to the doorway to the registration center. His e-mail address is daniele.romagnoli@fastwebnet.it www.romeairportransfers.com
Registration was fine. We were there about 3:30 and there were only a handful of people and of course, I always forget to sign something so the gatekeeper lady reviewed everything before she would let me go to the desk to get our key. I had to sign my Seapass form and then we were on our way to the ship. This was our first cruise that didn't originate somewhere in Florida and the embarkation process was very pleasant.
You need to know one thing about us. We are not big complainers. Stop reading now if you want to know every flaw of every meal we had on the ship. We are both on the low end of our ideal BMI weight and we use food to stay alive. We don't expect every meal on a cruise to be the most fantastic culinary experience we've ever had.
So if you want a critique of the green beans then hit the "back" button and read someone else's posting. It's cruise food.
On the other hand, I do like to point out the highlights; we ate at Chops and it was great. It was well worth the money. We ate at Portofino's on Adventure of the Seas two years ago and I definitely recommend Chops if you don't want to spend the money on both restaurants. Portofino's was good, but if you have to choose then go with Chops. It's hard for me to spend extra money for pasta dishes.
Sarah and I are both RCCL Gold members now. Every time I say that I think of Austin Powers! So we each received a Crown and Anchor savings booklet. We also received a "Passport to Savings" book that was an extra "benefit" for booking through an agent. I'm going to break from the mold and complain here. These rip-off books are clearly nothing more than marketing gimmicks. These are not rewards for being a loyal RCCL cruiser. These are designed to extract as much money from you as possible. I get it. Most consumers are idiots. I know that's a mean thing to say, but it's true. People get a "coupon book" and they automatically think it's a good thing. Here are some examples:
• Passport to Savings booklet examples:
o Big print: "10% Off Royal Caribbean Logo Item" ? Small print "Purchase 2 Royal Caribbean Logo Items and Receive 10% Off a 3rd Logo Item
o Big print: "20 minutes of Free Internet" ? Small print "With the purchase of a 150 Minute time plan" ? The 150 minute time plan is $75 or $0.50 per minute
o And there were lots more coupons designed to get people to gamble, all of them similar to the above. So for them to advertise this as a benefit to the consumer is not entirely accurate.
• Crown and Anchor Society Gold Member Ultimate Value Booklet examples:
o Spend $1,000 or more on fine jewelry and receive a 10% discount
o Internet Discount - $5 credit or 10% off any Internet package
o Johnny Rockets 2 for 1 milkshake - this was a BOGO offer
o Buy one photo and receive a 50% discount on a second photo
Some of these are not bad, but just once I'd like to have something free with no strings attached. As a loyal RCCL brand cruiser, even just a free drink would be nice. I understand that RCCL would have some response to my sentiments to the effect of: We value our repeat customers and cruising offers the best value in the travel industry and we do our best to maximize this value and whatever.
But still, a good rewards program should give you something for free. Period. Just give me a photo for free. They print them off on photo paper, wasting who knows how much paper and ink, only to throw away the vast majority that they don't sell. And then they want to tell me to re-use my dirty washcloth so they can "Save the Waves." I can feel the Libertarian bubbling up inside me so I'll move on to our ports of call.
Our first port of call was Messina on the island of Sicily. We just walked around the town and enjoyed the churches and what not.
Day 3 was cruising and day 4 was in Athens. We hired another private driver in Athens and we were so glad we did. Again, I have a very resourceful wife. Fotis Kolliris made us feel like we were a part of his family. He's 59 and the safest international driver I've ever met! www.taxitours.gr fotis@taxitours.gr He was so friendly and customer service oriented. We saw the changing of the guards, ate at a great restaurant, visited the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis, visited the Temple of Zeus and the modern Olympic stadium (the 1896 version,) and drove to the top of Lykavittos Hill for the best views in Athens. We did all of this in spite of a transportation strike that stranded others.
Fotis owns the company and he was awesome. He charged us 230 Euros for all of this (payable at the end of the tour) and we drove in a new Mercedes. It wasn't an E-class, but it looked very similar—maybe the Greek version of an E-class. And again, we drove right up to all of these sites as close as a car can get. He also does multiple day tours for people who come to Greece for a vacation. I highly, highly recommend him. We really felt like part of his family as he is one of the friendliest and most hospitable people I've ever met.
Day 5 was on the island of Rhodes, Greece. We just walked around the Old Town inside the city walls. You don't really need a shore excursion here unless you want to travel down the island to the beaches. Sarah and I are not beach people, even though we live in Florida, so keep that in mind, too. If you're a beach person then just know we tend to avoid those types of shore excursions.
Day 6 was Ephesus, pronounced EFF-uh-sis with the first syllable stressed. I was pronouncing it Uh-FEE-sus as in the Book of Ephesians. Again, thanks to Sarah and Cruise Critic, I booked another private tour, this time with Ekol Travel. www.ekoltravel.com This was a half day tour to the ruins in Ephesus including the Terrace Houses. We paid $174 total for the both of us and I paid via credit card a couple of weeks before we left home. I was a little nervous about paying before the tour because everyone else didn't want you to pay until after the tour was over, but I went ahead and paid anyway based on the positive feedback we found on this website. I'm glad I did because we had a very nice time.
Emre was the name of our tour guide and he was awesome. He was 26 years old and he went to college to be a history teacher so he really seemed to know his stuff when we were at the ruins. DO NOT under any circumstances miss the Terrace Houses. That would be a real shame. These houses are amazing to see the frescos and mosaics and to see how these ancient citizens really lived.
Whenever I see ruins I think they are cool but boringly decorated, but then you see these houses and realize they were just like ours today. The techniques of decorating are a little different, yet very much the same. We paid Ekol just a few extra bucks per person for the Terrace Houses and I was amazed that we had the whole place to ourselves. The terrace houses are located inside the ruins of Ephesus but they require a separate entrance fee. There were a few thousand people at the ruins and only 8 of us inside the terrace houses. They are covered by a large plastic-looking building to protect the archaeologists still excavating the inside and I guess people didn't realize what was inside. It was a real shame that only a handful of us went inside. It took us about 30 minutes to go through the houses. Emre said there are two spots in the world that are the best preserved Roman cities—Ephesus and Pompeii. Pompeii is the biggest and most famous because of its fate, but Ephesus was a much wealthier city so the houses are nicer. Ask for Emre by name and you won't regret it!
Day 7 (9/11) we were cruising to Egypt. At the time, I was typing this from a deck chair on the back of the ship, just under the mini golf course and I was surrounded by a bunch of Speedo-wearing octogenarians. The average age on this ship is certainly higher than anything I've sailed on before, but that's okay. We joked that this was a nursing home cruise, but I probably shouldn't have said that. I apologize to old people everywhere. I hope to grow old, too, because the alternative is dying young!
Wow, this review is already five pages long and if you're still reading my drivel then you must really want to take this cruise. I highly recommend it. Today, I'm back on the same deck chairs in the same spot of the ship sailing to Naples, having just spent two days in Egypt. I'm slaving away on this review just so you can be an informed traveler and Sarah is sitting beside me playing Angry Birds on her iPod Touch and listening to the comedian Mitch Hedberg. We are quite the sight. Sarah has her Kindle on her lap open to Good Grief: A Novel and her iPod Touch in her hands and I am hammering away on my laptop with my iPod Classic on "Shuffle." At any moment I could be listening to Chopin or Lady Gaga, because that's how I roll. Stephen King's Under the Dome is beside me. Yes, a real book with real paper. But I digress. . .
What can I tell you about Egypt? Here's a quick tidbit that I couldn't find the answer to before we left home. When you check in for the cruise, the cruise line keeps your passport. They put a sticker on the front of it with your cabin number. Then, sometime between Turkey and Egypt, an Egyptian official gives your passport a visa stamp and you pick up your passport in the dining room the day before you get to Egypt. There was no additional cost for this.
We booked another private tour, this time through Ramses Tours. www.ramsestours.com We were picked up at the port in Alexandria by a very nice young Egyptian lady named Nora. That was her Westernized name. She walked us over to a mini-van with a separate driver named Ahmed, who was also very friendly. We drove three hours to Cairo with a rest stop in the middle. Nora kept us entertained the whole way with mini lectures on Egyptology. She is studying for her Masters degree and I found her to be quite credible and very intelligent. She helped us every step of the way including local customs such as tipping the person who hands you toilet paper at the door to every single bathroom!
We went to the pyramids of Giza first and Nora was very informative. We went inside the great pyramid of Cheops, the one with limestone still at the top of it. We opted for the complimentary camel ride, which was way more fun than it sounds. And Nora was an excellent photographer, taking pictures of Sarah and me on the camel in front of the pyramids. It made a great Facebook picture! Then we visited the Sphinx, went to Memphis, and ended up at Sakkara where the stepped pyramid is located. Then we had a late lunch at the Carvery, a nicer Egyptian restaurant.
We ended the day in Cairo at the Fairmont Nile City Hotel. The website does not do this hotel justice. It opened in December 2009 and it was incredible. It reminded me of the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Florida. Sign up for the free President's Club before you leave home and you'll get free wifi Internet! We didn't eat dinner because we were so full from our late lunch, but breakfast was included in the price of the tour. It was delicious.
Nora and Ahmed picked us up at 7:30 AM and we drove to the Alabaster Mosque, which was spectacular. We've seen a lot of cathedrals in our travels so we were prepared for ABC (another beautiful church) but this was our very first mosque and we were very impressed. Then we headed to the Egyptian Museum and saw many great artifacts, including King Tut and his headdress that we all saw in our history books in school. That was a highlight for me. We then ate a buffet lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and then drove back to Alexandria with a rest stop halfway there. Once in Alexandria we went inside the Library of Alexandria, the new one obviously. Then we were dropped off right at the front door to the port.
We paid $300 per person for the tour plus we upgraded to the Fairmont for an extra $50 per person. We felt we got a good value even at a $700 total package price. If we would have booked a similar package through the cruise line it would have been $990 and the hotel would not have been anywhere near as nice and it would not have been a private tour. I believe we got a great deal booking it ourselves.
All of this brings us to right now, Tuesday September 14, 2010. We're cruising two days to Naples and then we finish back at Rome. I booked a shore excursion in Naples through the cruise line because of two reasons. First, I couldn't find a private tour that was reasonable. And second, Cruise Critic's port information and Rick Steves both say that traffic is completely unpredictable coming back from Pompeii. If we're on a cruise line shore excursion then the ship will wait for us if we're late.
I realize this review had a lot of superfluous information that was quite useless to you, but I hope you found it helpful nonetheless.
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