This was my ninth cruise, and my Mother's first. Seeing a cruise ship through the eyes of a first time cruiser helped with a few of the disappointments that were based on prior cruising experience, such as long waits for a table for two in the main dining room, and one very poorly run shore excursion. Overall, the minor inconveniences were just that, minor, and I had a fantastic time.
We stayed in Venice for two nights pre-cruise and with a 48 hour Vaporetto pass managed to see quite a bit. The overnight on the ship gave us that third day to finish exploring and even though we didn't depart until 2pm, we opted to not go ashore that last morning and just relax on board.
Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived at the port quite early but that allowed us to be in group #5 to board and once they called our number we were on the ship in just a few minutes time.
We had a mini suite and it was very nice. Plenty of closet space and room to spread out. The beds were hard as rocks, but the addition of an "egg-crate" mattress topper helped immensely.
We did laundry several times on the cruise. Our cabin (D726) was just steps away from the laundry room. We only had to wait for a machine once and it was nice to have been able to pack less.
Our first port was Dubrovnik. Mom and I opted to just explore on our own and didn't take a ship's tour. We docked a few miles from the old town and took the Princess shuttle bus ($15 or 10 Euro round trip). We were off the ship early, so we were one of the early birds on the walls. We walked half way round, and then wandered back through the old town. We found our way to the cable car and went to the top of a hill to get fabulous views of the old town and the ships in the bay. We were back on the ship by lunch time. I'm glad we got into town early, because I heard the crowds later on were awful. There were a lot of ships in port with us that day.
We did a tour with the ship and visited a church and had a tour of the old town. It was a decent tour, but naturally the sites were all crowded. Once again, we were back on the ship by lunch time.
The next stop was Katakalon where we took a tour to Olympia. This was an excellent tour, plenty of people there, but lots of room to spread out so it didn't feel as crowded. It was hot though, about 104 degrees that day.
Based on advice on CC, we decided to do this port on our own. Things didn't work exactly as planned and that turned out to be a good thing. We had planned to take the Metro into Athens, but due to maintenance the line to Piraeus was closed. Instead we took a taxi into town. The fare would have been 20 Euros to the Acropolis but our taxi driver talked us into letting him take us on a tour. We spent about four and a half hours with him and it cost us 100 Euros total. He took us to the Acropolis first; we were there before it opened, were almost first to the top and got to see the Parthenon without a crowd. By the time we were leaving, the ship's tours were there and we were happy to be on our way down instead of up.
Mykonos was my favorite port by far. We took a ship's tour to Delos and after a rather rockin' & rollin' ferry ride we arrived on the island. There were some interesting ruins and it was worth a visit, but the best part of the day was just wandering around the town on Mykonos. After the tour was over, the ferry brought us back to the ship, we ate lunch and then headed out to explore. I just loved the white buildings, the waterfront, all of it. I'd go back in a heartbeat and spend a few days there.
In Kusadasi we took the ship's tour to Ephesus, with the Terrace Houses. It was really crowded, but still it was an interesting tour. At the end we had to sit through a silly carpet making demonstration back in Kusadasi, but we left there as soon as we could, did a little shopping and headed back to the ship.
We explored Rhodes on our own, were in town before most of the shops opened, and after a little shopping and exploring we were back on the ship by lunch time.
Santorini -- Ugh. There were eight ships in port -- way too many. We did a ship's tour to Oia, Fira, a winery, and a church. It was a disaster. Our first stop was to the highest point on the island to see the views, very nice. Next stop was the church which was interesting and in a pretty setting but we were crammed into the building like sardines and there was a rather angry gentleman working there who yelled (yes, yelled loudly) at our tour guide every time someone took a flash photo. You'd think that passengers would know better and I think they probably deserved to get yelled at, but still it was a bit off-putting when I wasn't taking flash photos, but still got an earful of the angry tirade. Next we headed to the other end of the island to Oia where we had an hour to look around. I got some fabulous photos here, but it was really too crowded to do much else. Traffic was awful getting to and from Oia. After this, we drove back through Fira to the winery and our lunch location. By this time it was after 3pm, we were starving, hot, and grumpy. Finally we were taken back to Fira where we should have had 40 minutes to explore but instead had to hustle back to the cable car, wait in an hour long line with people from Celebrity and Aida cruises, and caught the very last tender to the ship. The last tender should have left Santorini at 5:30, but ours left at 6pm thanks to the cable car line, and poorly organized tour that got us back to Fira too late.