We were celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary, and we decided we wanted to do a big cruise for the occasion. We'd sailed with Princess for 6 consecutive cruises, but as we evaluated itineraries, we didn't like any of their Europe/Med options for 2011. We had some specific requirements: Santorini was a must have port, an overnight in Istanbul was very appealing, and we wanted a min of 2 sea days on a 10+ night itinerary. We were also interested in trying either Celebrity or HAL, having heard great things about their newest ships. HAL was a bit pricier for both the cruise itself as well as the airfare to the embark/debark port Venice (compared to Rome). So we chose the 11 night E Med r/t Rome on Equinox with 3 sea days.
Hotel Info (if any)
Concierge Class Sky Deck 1245
Hands down the best one we've ever had on a cruise (and we've stayed up to a mini-suite on Princess). The bed was definitely the most comfortable we've had with a pillow-top mattress. The bath shower was fantastic - floor to ceiling glass enclosure meant no fussing with a stupid curtain and getting water on the floor, a spa quality shower head, and enough room to fully stretch your arms out. Strangely enough though, no built-in clothesline for hanging swimsuits, etc. but I have a travel clothesline so it wasn't a problem for us. Plenty of storage cabinets in the bathroom which helped compensate for a slightly cramped amount of counter space. The flat screen TV and the interactive media system was definitely a notch above what we'd had with Princess. The ability to pull up your shipboard account from your room TV - priceless! The remaining storage areas throughout the cabin were more than sufficient. Our cabin was on the Sky Deck bump-out (port side) so we had an extra deep balcony. The patio furniture was superior to what we'd had with Princess - lounge chairs with separate footstools were wonderful for relaxing.
As for the Concierge Class perks, we enjoyed the premium linens/towels, fresh flowers, and plush bathrobes.
Mykonos is small enough that we just opted to DIY. We had hoped to get some beach time at one of their legendary beaches, but it was far too windy and cool for that. Instead, we just wandered up, down, and around the twisty streets, visited the famous windmills, and found a nice taverna for an early dinner.
Had a full day tour arranged on our CC roll call using About Ephesus. Our tour included the House of the Virgin Mary, a drive-by of Temple of Artemis and St. John's, Ephesus including the Terrace Houses (do not miss the Terrace Houses which are an additional admission cost but well worth it), lunch (delicious addictive cheese rolls!), and a demo/tour at a Turkish carpet weaving center. Our tour guide was excellent and we were all very pleased with this tour.
Did a complete DIY because my husband's cousin was on sabbatical in Istanbul at the time. He met up with us on Day 1 and we toured the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Hippodrome, Underground Cistern, and Galata Tower. Had a fantastic dinner with his family (wife is Turkish so she interacted with the wait staff, ordering everything for us). On Day 2, we took the ship shuttle service into town and then walked to Topkapi Palace. Way too crowded and we spent too much time in the ticket line. Kind of did a speed tour through. Would have been nice to spend more time there.
Also did DIY. Along with a couple other couples from our CC roll call, we set out for the closest Metro station - probably took us about a mile to walk. Metro was very easy to do. We then went first to the New Acropolis Museum and spent a few hours plus lunch there. Do not miss this museum! Then, we headed up to the Acropolis itself. Amazing views of the city in addition to just seeing the impressive ruins. History come to life!
As I mentioned in the Background Information section, Santorini was a must do port, and it was simply breathtaking, especially Oia. We wanted to maximize our time on the island, so we opted to book a ship excursion just so we could avoid the tender. Would have liked to spend more time in Oia of course, but the excursion only allowed 1 hr. Enough time for photos but nothing else. Then we went to Santo Wines for a wine tasting. None of the wines particularly appealed to us so we didn't buy any. Then, after more scenic driving across the island, we were left off in Fira for the rest of the day. We ate at a rooftop taverna for lunch, having the traditional Santorini salad. Then, I spent a few hours wandering the streets doing some power shopping, while husband nabbed some wi-fi access for photo uploads/blogging. Took the cable car ride down to the pier for the tender. A spectacular day in a spectacular place!
Naples is a place I'd pretty much only visit again as a gateway to the Amalfi Coast. It's a dirty gritty city. We figured by the end of the cruise, we'd be tired of logistics, so we opted for a ship excursion to Pompeii. While it was nice having the transportation, we really should have done this DIY. The headset I was using to hear the tour guide didn't work, so I missed most of what she was pointing out. Instead, I was trying to use my Rick Steves audio tour but we weren't going the same route, so I felt like my Pompeii experience was mediocre. After returning to the ship from our half-day excursion, we did venture into the city to find one of the two pizza places recommended in the Rick Steves Rome 2011 guidebook - Pizzeria Trianon. It was good, but I don't think as good as the pizza we had in Rome.