As a little background, we are a couple in our 40s with three children and we live in the mid-Atlantic. We also brought along grandma, who is 70 years young. We have been on all four Solstice class ships, and are seasoned cruisers.
We ventured onto the Celebrity Silhouette after spending three and a half days in Rome; and had a lovely time visiting all the sites, with the highlight of our pre-cruise trip being Chef Fabio's Cooking Day in Rome. We stayed at the InterContinental Hotel de la Ville - a perfect location, adjacent to the Spanish steps. For our transfer, we used Rome Cabs from the airport to our hotel and had a private driver take us on a half day of sightseeing and then to the port of Civitavecchia. We arrived at the port a little after 1 pm and were on the ship 45 minutes later. We went straight to our cabins, freshened up and enjoyed a lunch at the Oceanview Cafe.
The Silhouette felt like coming home for us. We had been on the Eclipse last summer during our Baltic cruise and the ships are nearly identical: from the magnificent design and layout to the same cruise director, many of the same featured entertainers on board, and some of the friendly staff that were on our previous sailings. The only changes we saw between the Silhouette and previous ships were the color scheme and the substitution of the Corning Glass Museum for the Lawn Club grill. Speaking of the grill, we ate there twice during the cruise. The kids loved the make-your-own flatbread and the staff was the best we have ever experienced on a ship. It was an outstanding meal. We also enjoyed Tuscan Grille and Qsine, which we had dined in previously on our last two trips on the Eclipse and Equinox. We do miss Silk Harvest and hope Celebrity considers putting it back in future ships. We chose select dining the rest of the trip and found the food good but not great. We rarely had to wait for our private table for six except the few nights when we arrived after eight. The brunch was by far the best part of the non-specialty meals. Additionally, the chicken soup ordered for room service was delicious.
My husband and I have been to Santorini before and we decided to book a private tour for our family with Ocean Wave Tours. Dimitris was originally suppose to meet us in Fira, but we were delayed by high winds and the tendering process for two hours, and instead his German wife, Patricia, waited patiently for us at the top of the cable car station. Celebrity's continued rudimentary approach to the tendering process created unnecessary delays - it remains a shame that a cruise line with such creativity cannot evolve a better solution to its old-school tender process. Patricia waited for us and showed us a nice time in Santorini. First, she drove us to Oia, and described the highlights of each village. In Oia, we stopped in a fast food shop for some surprisingly delicious gyros and then hit the black sand beach, and then back to the ship in plenty of time. I would recommend Ocean Wave Tours for larger groups. As for a smaller group, the area can easily be done on one's own, as my husband and I did previously.
As I mentioned, we are experienced cruisers, who have done nearly 60 excursions. Some have been over the top great, most good, and a few very poor. Guided Tours Israel would fall into the last category.
Zamir, our guide seemed like a nice individual, but someone missing the basics of providing a professional tour. Yes, he could tell you the plants with the white stuff on top were cotton, and trees were almond, avocado or orange and some basic stories from ancient history, but he generally waited until we had questions to point anything out. Most of the time, he was listening to the Israeli news station on the radio or taking calls, which he always put on speakerphone as he and the party conversed in Hebrew. Ironically, although he was taking many calls, he refused to provide me with his cell phone number. For obvious logistical and for potentially unexpected situations, having the guide’s cell number, even if never used, is something I consider basic protocol. Even if his phone blocked international calls, not giving your clients your cell phone number is an odd decision for someone whose clients only have international lines.
As our travels continued, it was also clear that our guide had a touring agenda. We had expressed a preference for certain places and sites. No matter, we were seeing sites he wanted to take us to -- even when we affirmatively identified a disinterest in the place. When we got to our preferred attractions, it appears that such was no more than a coincidence with his agenda. For example, we expressed a desire to ride a camel and he said he knew of no place where we could find a camel. However, when we stopped at one of Zamir’s designated sites, a gentleman was offering camel rides. We spoke to the gentleman and rode his camel – an individual that Zamir says has been offering such rides in that location for more than a dozen years.
At times, we felt hostage to this driver and his own personal plan. Day 3 in Haifa was the worst. The day prior and at the start of day three, we expressed a desire to go to the beach, even if it was for a short time. He told us that the kids would better like Rosh Hanikra grottos, where a cable car takes visitors to see grottos formed by the sea. Therefore, he took us there, despite a continued press for time at the beach. The cable car ride experience: 1 hour drive there, 45 minutes in line outdoors in the heat with some shade produced a grand total of 75 seconds in the cable car, and the grottos themselves are interesting, but nothing worth spending a half day getting to for a short time of exploration.
There was no plan B. We had scheduled these days way in advance. At that moment, we tried to look for the positive and conclude that the driver was having an off day.
The final insult was the repeated denial of our request to go to a grocery store. The driver continued to identify that he did not know where one was, despite our passing some on main roads. At the very end of our tour, he took us to some trashed out bodega a few blocks from the ship -- and when the bodega did not have what we needed, our guide was out of solutions. Therefore, we asked to return to the ship, a few hours before our time was to expire, paying him for the unused time.
Toward the end, the guide kept hounding us to send an email to his bosses letting them know what a great job he was doing. He wanted us to do it from his van on our smart phone - an interesting request from a guide who never gave us his cell phone number.
In sum, this may be one of the worst excursions we have ever taken, and certainly the most expensive bad excursion we have ever taken.
Our tour guide in Athens, Paul Kalomiris, was a sharp contrast to our horrible experience in Israel. We booked a half-day Athens tour. Paul picked us up in his large air-conditioned van and was extremely friendly and accommodating to our requests. He dropped us off at the Parthenon, armed with refrigerated water from Paul’s cooler, and we spent about an hour touring the monuments. He then drove us around the city pointing out various sites and dropped us just before noon at the changing of the guards. He picked us up 15 minutes later and we headed to a locals restaurant with delicious Greek specialties. After lunch, we stopped and walked around La Plaka, bought a few trinkets, then asked Paul if he knew of a good bakery. Paul took us to a recently opened bakery named Konstandinidis that was magnificent. It almost reminded me of the ship. There was a pianist playing music in this beautifully decorated bakery with shelves filled with baklava, almond cookies, cakes and an assortment of delicious treats. We bought a few items and then Paul took us back to the ship. My husband and I had been to Athens before, so we had a good understanding of what the larger group would be able to achieve, and Paul helped make this happen.
Unfortunately, this was another sub-par tour experience. We chose tourofitaly as our tour guide, a father/son tour group. We wound up with the father, Giovanni, instead of the son, Giancarlo, with whom I had been trading emails with when planning this trip - bait and switch. At first, we thought, Giovanni’s cranky personality was humorous and playful, but as the trip wore on, we found out that his abrasive manner was not playful, but rather hostile and unrefined. For example, he kept inviting the women of our group to sit in front, and then promised not to touch them. The first time he said this, it seemed playful, the second, third, and fourth time, it was simply creepy. Giovanni’s driving was as enjoyable as the man himself was. His driving was beyond even the acceptability of the local driving style -- all three complained of motion sickness during the ride, and al three kids threw up due to motion sickness at different times during his ride. As expected, Cranky Giovanni went nuts -- I will not provide detail into the carsick events, but the kids gave plenty of indication of the motion sickness they were experiencing. We ended this one early too. My husband and I had shared a tour (via cruisecritic) a few years prior and had a lovely time. Unfortunately, that company was not available. On a good note, the Amalfi Coast is still one of the most beautiful places on the planet.