To begin with there were five cities, four countries, three historical eras, two continents, and one ship - the Grand Princess. This cruise began Venice, a leading renaissance era city, visited the heartlands of Greek history, and concluded in Naples and Rome - central to Roman culture. Included in the tour were Italy, Croatia, Greece, and Turkey, located in Europe and Asia. Ports of call included Venice, Dubrovnik, Athens, and Naples. This review describes both the Grand Princess itself and the ports that we visited on this cruise and is written from the perspective of a single, 60-something male cruising as a solo traveler. I am an experienced traveler who has visited nearly 30 countries. The Grand was my third cruise. I have organized my comments under several general headings to facilitate finding areas of interest to individual readers (and to maintain my own sanity).
I flew United Airlines and Lufthansa from Washington, DC to Venice to begin this vacation. United has implemented an Economy Plus program that provides a bit more leg room than the standard cattle car economy class passage. The difference was amazing and allowed me to actually sleep for several hours on the flight, which was an important benefit. I noticed that, for the first time in several flights this year, that there were a significant number of vacant seats. The recession and decline in air travel was very apparent.
United and Lufthansa were efficient, effective, and timely. I arrived at my hotel with minimal delay and discomfort and checked in without any problems. I elected to stay at the Hotel Centrale in Mestra as a cost containment strategy. The hotel was very economically priced and offers the standard business class amenities of an European hotel. My rate of 103 Euros included a very basic breakfast that consisted mostly of coffee and rolls. This was fine as far as I was concerned. There was a more elaborate buffet available for 10 Euros additional. The hotel staff was very helpful and all spoke excellent English. The Centrale is in a business area within Mestra and there are numerous restaurants and shopping opportunities in easy walking distance.
I am by nature a warm-blooded person and appreciate a warm hotel room more than most, but this was over the top even for me. Leaving the window open did not seem to help and I spent a rather uncomfortable night.
The hotel was very centrally located on a bus line that was approximately 20 minutes from Piazza Roma in Venice (the juncture with the Vaporetto lines and a most desirable location). I bought a combination Vaporetto and bus ticket at the airport on my way in for, I believe about 15 Euros for one day. This allowed me to use the bus (a stop is just around the corner from the hotel. Use the Number 7 bus or any bus with Venice on its placard to get to the Piazza Roma).
Despite the fact that it was rainy and a bit chilly I had an excellent time in Venice. The weather seemed to reduce the crowds. There was a minimal line for the Doges Palace and for the Basilica and I was able to see both on my free afternoon in the city. I also did some souvenir shopping near the Rialto Bridge. I found an excellent selection of small gift items for reasonable prices as well as very helpful sales people. I also was able to locate some fantastic gelato, which is a waist expanding hobby of mine.
The next morning I caught a cab to the airport (30 Euros) and met the Princess reception staff. I had purchased a Princess transfer and found that to be an really helpful choice. The Princess people at the airport were very helpful, welcoming, and efficient. Within minutes I was on a bus and on my way to the ship. The trip was uneventful and Princess took care of everything very efficiently.
Embarkation was very efficient. I had completed my embarkation documents online before meeting the ship and I highly recommend this approach as it greatly facilitates boarding. There are cafe facilities at the embarkation point in Venice and its possible to get a soft drink or something stronger (if you desire) while waiting to board. Princess uses a numbered group system and the gang way posts the group number, making it very easy to see when your group is up.
The security process was very smooth and processing was rapid. I will never become totally comfortable with the requirement - found in many European countries - of surrendering your passport to inn keepers (including the Princess staff) but everything turned out okay. Within an hour of arriving at the terminal I was in my cabin and unpacking my carry on luggage (my bag arrived a bit later. There were stories about people whose luggage never did show up, but that didn't happen to me).
Princess really seems to skimp on its disaster drill, held as required shortly after embarkation. Passengers are given minimal direction on getting to their muster station, which is not collocated with the life boats. There was a demonstration of how to put on a life jacket, but passengers were not required to attempt to don their own life jackets and the group was quite large, which means that some people were fairly distant from the demonstration and probably couldn't see very well. Cruise ship life jackets can be fairly complicated to put on correctly and trying to do so in a situation in which they are actually needed could be chaotic. I know that life jacket drills are onerous and I certainly don't enjoy or look forward to them myself, but they really are necessary and Princess ought to think more carefully about how they approach them.
The sailing schedule was such that passengers had the option to go into Venice from the ship on the afternoon before we left port. I'm not sure that many took advantage of this opportunity since the trip was advertised as being about a half hour each way and the need to be back on board for the muster drill and dinner caused a time squeeze. Never the less Princess automatically added - and charged for - a vaporetto ticket. I heard that refunds were being given at the Pursers Desk for unused tickets, but this was not advertised and I did not have time to check for myself.
The Grand Princess is a Bermuda - registered vessel that is 951 feet long, carries a crew of 1150 and has the capacity to house and transport 2600 passengers. As you can see, the Grand Princess is a large cruise ship, significantly larger than any I have cruised on in the past I found the Grand Princess exceedingly confusing and difficult to navigate.
There are several reasons for this. For one, all vertical access points do NOT include both stairwells and elevators. If you like to walk the stairs for single or two deck movements you have to be very careful in finding the proper exit point. Second, directional signs are exceedingly poor. The deck schema diagrams are tiny and very hard to read. There are no fore an aft signs, making it nearly impossible to tell whether you are going forward or aft. Third, some decks are inaccessible from some elevators and stairs. You literally can't get there from there. I was on the ship for 12 days and got lost (again) on the final day going to the disembarkation point. Princess should do a much better job with signage. I hate to think about the results of an emergency, with people careening around the ship trying to get to their muster points and unable to tell which direction in which they are going.
There are many comments and complaints about the elevators on the Grand both in reviews and among passengers frustrated with their slowness. My only suggestion is: "leave plenty of time to get from one point to another". I always allowed 20 minutes, for example to get from my cabin on Deck 11 to the dining room (deck 5, I believe) or to the gangways (decks 4 and 5, depending).
Overall the ship is in excellent condition and in better shape than newer vessels on which I have cruised. The dEcor is a modernistic one that uses light wood trim both in the cabins and in the passageways. Art and decoration is minimal, which is fine with me. I don't go on cruises to behold great renderings in velvet portraits. I chose an interior cabin (I am seldom in it other than to sleep and I appreciate the blackout conditions, which are great for naps!). The cabin was big enough for one person and the storage was excellent (drawers as well as shelves, lots of hangers). The television is on a shelf rather than on the desk (not so on some other ships) and there was lots of room to place things if you were organized and neat.
The shower worked very well and there was lots of room to store things in the bathroom. Princess uses single serving packets of shampoo and conditioner that nearly defy opening by anyone who doesn't have talons for nails. I learned to open them BEFORE getting my hands wet; otherwise the result is a wet, frustrated cruiser trapped in the shower and ripping futilely at the packages, hoping that eventually they will yield.
Princess provides excellent television coverage including very helpful port information. Our port information authority was Rusty Wilson who was knowledgeable, well organized, and personable. He consistently provided useful information in a format that was helpful.
Life aboard the Grand was more informal than I expected and so I miss packed for this trip by bringing along a couple of dress shirts, a sport coat, and ties. I never wore the ties and would have been very comfortable without either the coat or the dress shirts. Few passengers dressed up at all for dinner (other than formal night). Dress for men was generally sport or polo shirts and casual trousers. Women primarily wore casual pants and blouses or knit tops as well. There were a significant number of jeans wearers (of both sexes) at dinner.
As usual I rented a tuxedo, including shoes for formal nights, of which there were two on this 12 day cruise. There were a significant number of tuxedos and more formal dresses at these events, but there were many men in suits and some in sports coats as well.
The Grand has some significant amenities for its passengers. There are several pools, both indoor and outside on the decks. Hot tubs accompany the pools. Passengers also have access to a spa area that provides a range of services. The indoor pool area is quite nice and includes a fairly large number of tables that are frequently used as overflow for the dining room. There are bars located in all pool areas for refreshments. As mentioned elsewhere, the ice cream parlor is located just off of the indoor pool area. The grill (which was commented on favorably by several passengers with whom I spoke) is also located in this area.
The mezzanine area of the indoor pool has been named the Conservatory and has sliding doors to a deck area. On this cruise the Conservatory was fairly lightly used. It provides a great location for reading or (as used by many of the people I saw) a quick nap.
The Grand's exercise suite is small and crowded. It includes about a dozen Cybex treadmill machines as well as ellipticals and some weight equipment. A separate room provides space for classes, including spinner classes. The work out area does not appear to be monitored by staff. The cruise staff offers a number of basic yoga and stretching classes.
Most of the Grand Princess' officers are Italian. The crew is more diverse than others with whom I have sailed. Princess seems to do a better job providing opportunities to women and there was at least one female senior officer (this is relatively speaking. Women are still vastly under represented among management on the Grand. There also seemed to be more women performing a wider range of duties than on other cruise ships.
Without any doubt the Grand's strongest asset is its crew and staff. I can think of only one instance when I met a Princess employee who was not helpful, courteous, friendly, and welcoming. No group of over a thousand people is wholly exceptional and the Princess staff on board the Grand certainly made mistakes (who among us does not?); however, all of them made passengers feel that they were individuals and important. If I were to take another Princess cruise it would be because of the quality of their on ship personnel (such is definitely not true of the Princess customer service staff at their corporate office, some of whom seem to feel that their life would be perfect if it were not for those pesky customers).
On board staff were exceptional in remembering my name. Those who realized I was a solo cruiser went out of their way to make me feel included and at home, which is so extremely important when you are traveling alone. My steward -Leonila - as well as the bar staff at the Promenade bar and the dining room staff in the Botticelli were very efficient, personable, and (in addition) kind. I will always remember them fondly.
The demographic on this cruise seemed to fall in the 50 to 55 range and was clustered close to the mean. There were few older and very few younger cruisers. I saw a handful of small children, including one couple with a toddler and a new born. While the Grand offers facilities for teens and preteens I saw none on this cruise and the areas set aside for these passengers were empty any time I walked past them (the time of year and its conflicts with the school year very likely could be the cause of this).
It seems to be a characteristic of the Grand at least on this cruise that there were very few solo and/or single cruisers. There is a significant difference between the two categories. Solo cruisers (for purposes of this review, anyway) are persons traveling alone. Single cruisers are unattached cruisers. There were a significant number of "single" cruisers on this cruise but few were traveling alone. Princess does little or nothing to create opportunities for solo cruisers to connect. Other lines make an effort to seat solo cruisers together at dinner, which creates a venue for conversation and at least lets people get to know each other. Princess does not. There was one event for solo cruisers; three people showed up (this is not the line's fault. It is an outcome of passenger demographics I think, but something to be aware of if you are traveling alone). There were two singles events. I went to the first one. No one else showed up. I didn't attend the second one, which was held in Skywalker's lounge, the retro disco venue that no one ever visited for any reason as far as I could tell.
None of this is meant to denigrate the Grand passengers. As a group the Grand passengers were a jolly group and pleasant at all turns. On other cruises I have occasionally met people or groups of people who were downright obnoxious (the Holland America Westerdam entertainment staff, for example, does a song poking fun at their passengers sense of entitlement called "get out of my way" sung to the tune of "I did it my way"). I met no one on the Grand Princess who was unpleasant or rude. It's also important to remember that each cruise is different in terms of it's passenger social network. On this particular cruise passengers tended to be less social. That may not be true of all cruises.
Sadly, the Grand's food is not the equal of its staff and crew. The food is considerably better than the wormy biscuits and stale water served to ships crews in the 18th century, but the difference is not sufficiently great to make a remarkable difference. I chose the traditional seating because the consistence of dinner partners offered by this approach is often more comfortable for those traveling alone. Dinner offerings were very uninspired and were obscurely described. The wine list was economical, but (on the other hand) there were no really interesting wines available. There was minimal recognition given for those who were more calorie aware. Other lines that I have cruised have made significant efforts to offer lower calorie choices. Princess is unaware of this alternative and could easily be dubbed the "lard line" for their lack of awareness of healthy eating.
Food at the Horizon Court was significantly more interesting and at least as good as the main dining room's fare. As a result we had significant defections from traditional seating and at least one night only one person showed up for our table of eight. The Horizon Court offers 24 hour service. The dinner buffet is available until quite late, followed by a late service and then by a limited service until six in the morning. The food during the day is consistently good. Over all the food served on the Grand seemed bland and repetitive. There were a significant number of complaints among passengers about the quality of the food.
The layout of the facility, however, detracts from the food. Rather than configured as an outward facing service that keeps diners in the dining room itself, the Grand's configuration is contained between steam and service tables. This creates incredible crowding with diners trying to use service counters that are facing each other and then twining around each other to reach the alternate counters. The result is chaotic, especially at breakfast when many people are not totally aware, for one reason or another.
Seating is also a problem. There was seldom room in the dining rooms and finding a seat was always a problem. I am not entirely sure why and I spent some time trying to determine the source of this problem. The wait staff is diligent in clearing empty tables and there seem to be a fair number of tables available.
All cruise lines find corners to edge in extracting the greatest possible revenue from their passengers. Princess is no exception. Their practice of charging for ice cream is one of these corners. It appears that ice cream was available for free at certain times (when the seas run high; when the albatross sings in the mainstays, something like that I suspect Har! Har! Har!). I never found it. There is an ice cream parlor located prominently in the pool area that sells ice cream for a very reasonable price ($1.50 for two scoops, generously served). There are also many different toppings. The Grand offered sugar free ice cream; however, over the course of the cruise there were two flavors: vanilla and chocolate. A bit of imagination in the flavor department for those of us who are sugar impaired would be appreciated.
The Grand offers two specialty restaurants: Sabatini's and the Painted Desert - a steak and chop house. Other passengers reported enthusiastically about these venues and in fact much of our defection at dinner resulted from passengers skulking away to these restaurants for improved sustenance. I cannot and do not blame them.
I also did not make use of room service and did not talk to anyone who did. The menu seemed very limited and seemed to consist only of continental breakfast types of things. The Grand makes room service available 24/7. I rarely saw dishes sitting outside of cabins, which suggests either that the service staff was very efficient in picking them up or that no one used room service.
Coffee and tea are available from refreshment stations located in the corners of the dining rooms. The layout for these stations makes it easy for passengers to bunch up and crowding can occur. The crew serves coffee on request and is fairly prompt with this service. I take along a thermal cup that I can fill up when entering the dining room. Mine has a hook-like handle that allows me to hang it on my belt, leaving my hands free to carry plates, books, and other things useful at meals.
The Grand offers the typical services available on any cruise ship and they are - in all instances - unexceptional. There are numerous boutiques offering items for sale. I have been on other ships where the diversity of interesting products was significantly greater and where there were better price points on products. Princess attempts to offer special sales and offerings, but these are generally clustered in the Atrium and just make it harder to get through that area. There were no bargains. Toward the end of the cruise there was a "special sale" in one of the dining rooms. The offerings were mostly tee shirts from ports not visited on this cruise and that were, therefore, left overs.
Like all cruise ships the Grand has a complete photography service and takes lots and lots of pictures of passengers, hoping they can be sold. Princess seems to offer more formal portrait opportunities than some other lines; however, I found their photographers to be less proficient than others I have encountered, both in terms of creating interesting photos and from a technical stand point. As an example, my eyes were closed in some of the pictures they took and posted. These formal sitting portraits should have just been discarded.
Also, Princess' photo vendor has implemented a truly outrageous photo reproduction policy. My experience has been that photo vendors generally provide a blanket copyright waiver for physical photos taken by shipboard photographers, permitting passengers to take the physical copies of their shipboard photos to a commercial photo scanner back home. The vendor on the Grand was charging $50 per print for a copyright waiver.
The Grand offers a very efficient Internet access program that is available 24/7. Service seems quite fast. Printing services are very reliable and there is onsite help portions of the day. The technical support staff seems very knowledgeable and friendly. There are plenty of workstations and I never had a difficult time finding a computer from which to check email or print boarding passes. There is also WiFi service available on the ship, at least in the computer center, which serves as a hot spot. Access may be more widely available than that.
There was the usual raft (pun intended) of jugglers, magicians, singers and dancers and their skill was about on a par with other cruise lines. There are two performance venues. The Vista Lounge is a club sort of venue where smaller shows are held, while the Princess Theater is larger and seats more people (all pretty standard). There were several entertainment groups imported for the cruise, which ranged from wretched to excellent. Princess often deploys piano players and small groups around the ship for musical entertainment in the bars. These groups and individuals were probably the best entertainment offered on the cruise.
Lectures and Classes
Princess is known for its educational programs and during sea days there were many and varied offerings. The programs on offer included lectures (Rusty Wilson was good; the other guy was a bit less so. His presentations didn't always fit with their titles and his Power Point slides were far, far too full); computer classes (ranging from Photoshop to Microsoft office products); dance (I took rhumba and line dancing classes and no one got hurt!); and a wide range of crafts and arts. The classes that I took part in were excellent. I did not hear any comment one way or the other from my fellow passengers.
There was also a cooking demonstration and a galley tour on the second sea day. The tour was cursory and the cooking demonstration was interesting, although judging on the quality of what came out of the kitchen possibly inedible.
This cruise offered access to a range of interesting ports (which was my reason for scheduling the itinerary in the first place). The large number of ports resulted in a different stop nearly every day with sea days both on the first day and the next to last day. A number of passengers commented that they would have been happier with an additional sea day and perhaps one less port. We were fortunate in having good weather throughout the trip (with the exception of my rainy pre-cruise day in Venice) and so did not miss any ports do to unsafe conditions. Given the lateness of the cruise (late October and early November) this could have been a problem. The following paragraphs briefly summarize my experiences in each of the ports
Dubrovnik - This is a lovely and friendly city, the old part largely surrounded by medieval walls. Because Croatia isn't part of the EU prices were reasonable while the merchandise selection was surprisingly good.
The old city is relatively small and shopping is primarily on a single main street with short excursions up narrow side streets available. While there were numerous restaurants in the area I spoke with no one who visited any of them and ordered no Croatian food myself while in Dubrovnik. There are several very nice gelato shops on the main street and the gelato, while not as creamy and flavorful as that found in Rome, was quite good.
I took the Walk the Walls shore excursion which was interesting but moderately physically challenging (there are many steps on this walking tour, some of which are very uneven). Other tours visited nearby sections of Croatia, but I didn't speak with anyone who took them and cannot comment.
Corfu - I visited Corfu town only. The ship docks about a mile and a half from the old town and walking to it is very easy on flat streets with good directions from the Port Consultant. Old town Corfu consists of narrow streets - many accessible by foot only - with lots of small shops and what I have been told are excellent restaurants. Some passengers with whom I spoke visited the Monastery on a tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. I visited the old fortress (there is also a new fortress, but it appears to be an active military installation). The old fortress includes lots of steps and little explanatory information. It sits on a headland and when I was there the wind was both terrific and cold. Corfu is a definite return visit for me as soon as I get the chance.
Katakolon - This small town is the gateway to the ancient Olympic site, which is a drive of roughly half an hour away. Katakolon is a very small town with a population of two or three thousand. There are few cabs and - other several blocks of shopping along the main street - little to do in town without having booked an excursion. The Olympic site is well marked but the ancient buildings are largely gone and the crowds were significant. There is a small museum at the site which is a worthwhile visit. Excavation at the site has been performed for many years by German archeologists and the museum appears to be staffed by Germans as well. They bring their usual Teutonic efficiency and lack of good cheer to this job. We visited the site on a Sunday and it was crowded, even in the morning. Fortunately the ancient site is quite large and tourists tend to congregate in the most popular areas (the running stadium and a couple of the more famous temple sites), leaving significant areas where its possible to get away and get a sense of the past.
Athens - I took a long, day long tour in Athens that visited the Acropolis and Parthenon (of course) as well as several other local sites (which were drive bys), including the Archeological Museum, the temple of Zeus, Hadrian's arch, and the stadium built for the first modern Olympics. The tour included lunch at a hotel that was reputed to consist of "authentic Greek foods". Wine was also served.
Following the tours our group (along with many other Grand groups) were set loose in the Plaka. This is reputed to be a restored 19th century shopping district and sounds very quaint. In practice it appears largely to be a fairly large cluster of shops that cater to tourists.
In terms of visiting Athens it is worth noting that the hike up to the Acropolis is fairly steep and (again) includes worn steps where the footing can be tenuous. Also note that the Parthenon is being restored (this is a long term project and has been underway for many years). As a result large parts of the building are covered with scaffolding. There are, however, excellent views from the Acropolis that cannot be equaled anywhere in the world
Mykonos - Mykonos is a small island with reputedly wonderful beaches (I did not visit them). Mykonos town is picturesque and is made up of narrow winding streets, many of which bear no name. It is almost impossible to find your way around the town. I spent some time looking for the maritime museum only to find that I had walked past it several times. Its sign is very small and obscured by a tree. It didn't matter anyway; the museum wasn't open (despite its advertised hours of operation). Mykonos is very much a beach and recreation place and hours are arranged in recognition of the fact that many people spend a lot of their daylight hours doing things other than shopping or visiting museums. Accordingly, shops open somewhat later and some sites are open only during evening hours.
Mykonos is reputed to be an early jet setter destination, although I saw neither jets nor jet setters while visiting it. The folks running the stores, however, definitely had the "I've seen one too many tourists" attitude. There was little friendliness or courtesy in the shops, where the primary attitude seemed to be "give me your money and get out of my way". Attitudes may have been different outside of Mykonos town, as they were almost everywhere else that we visited in Greece with perhaps the exception of some people in Santorini.
Kusadasi - Kusadasi Turkey is the gateway to Ephesus, which is an incredible ruin well worth seeing. Our tour included a stone house reconstructed on what was believed to be the site of the last home lived in by the Virgin Mary and the tomb of the apostle John. The later is in the ruins of a basilica and offers little to see. The ruins are however, in a small town a bit off the path and offer a chance to get a little better look at Turkey. Nearly all the tours included in their itineraries a stop at a carpet factory. This was not listed in the formal itinerary as far as I can remember and was not elective. Our stop occurred at the end of the tour when we were rather tired and generally hot and thirsty. The carpet merchants offered refreshments (as is customary in Middle East) and the sales pressure was gentle but continuing. Fortunately the shops are within walking distance of the port.
The walk, however, is through the bazaar. While there are some good buys there (I bought quite a nice belt) the shop keepers work very hard to snag tourists. Browsing is not an understood concept there and bargaining is fierce (and useful). If you don't intend to buy it is probably best to keep walking because - once inside - it can be quite hard to get free again without a purchase.
Rhodes - Rhodes was one of my favorite ports of call and definitely one that I wish to visit again. Once again I elected not to schedule a tour and instead just walked into old town, which is a very easy walk from the port. The Palace of the Knights of St John is a very worthwhile visit and includes an excellent museum. It is possible to gain access to the city walls near the Palace for a small fee (I believe 4 Euros) and the walk around the walls is a unique experience, allowing views of small side streets and gardens that are not otherwise available. The Palace also has public water closets (marked as "WC" in Greece). It's worth noting, however, that in men's WCs the commodes do NOT always come equipped with seats.
Directly outside the Palace is the street known as Knights Way (or also by the name "The Street of Tongues). Old buildings used as headquarters by various groups of knights with lovely little courtyards line this street and the cobblestones appear to be original. It is well worth a look.
The people of Rhodes are terrific, despite the fact that the old town is a booming tourist market. There are numerous small squares lined with little cafes where it is possible to sit in the sun, have a drink of cola or wine, and watch life go by. If non-tourist purchases are on your agenda its my understanding (based on discussions with the crew) that you can obtain better selection and prices in the new market area. This appears to be just outside the old city walls and can be reached by walking left out of the port area rather than right (which takes you in short order to a gate into the old city).
Some passengers from the Grand booked a tour to the Rhodes Acropolis. Word of mouth about this site was that it was a pretty strenuous climb and offered little of note. I heard no comments about other shore excursions.
Santorini - I am not sure whether it was because I was tired by this point in the cruise or whether it just doesn't offer much of interest, but I could have skipped my visit to Santorini and been very happy. I scheduled a shore excursion to Oia (pronounced Ea with the emphasis on the E), which was basically a drive through the country (on high mountain roads with very sharp drop offs; Santorini is an island of very high cliffs and very sharp drop offs) and a stop at a winery (at 8:30 in the morning, where we were offered wine tastings). We were dropped off in Oia and given half an hour or so on our own to walk the town. Oia is a lovely little town, much nicer than Fira, the capital. Following our visit to Oia we were loaded back on the bus and driven into Fira, where the guide led us to the center of town, given cursory directions on how to get back to the ship, and then released the group.
Fira offers what appears to be very nice and creative shopping, particularly - it seems for jewelry. There are two methods of getting back to the ship, which docks at the foot of the cliffs on which Fira sits. The cable cars are the more comfortable way down, although the line for the cars can be quite long. I caught the cars back in the middle of the day, long before the Grand or the other ships at dock were to sail) and waited approximately 40 minutes. Others who waited until later in the afternoon reported that they waited well over an hour.
There are also stairs that lead to the port and its possible to walk down them. The stairs appear to be very shallow steps with long platforms, which could make for a very uneven and tiring stride (it's a LONG way down to the bottom). In addition, the stairs are used by donkeys carrying passengers UP to Fira, so you must share the steps with the donkeys and their by products as well. Given the alternative, my first thought was "bring on the cable cars" and I never regretted it for an instant.
The ride up the cliff via donkey appeared to be an interesting trip. I spoke with one passenger who said she was a life-long rider. She said that the ride up was the most interesting thing that she and her husband had done on the cruise and that it was absolutely terrifying.
Naples - I scheduled a tour of Pompeii that also included a visit to the Archeological Museum (I was getting pretty tired of archeological museums by this point, but what the heck) and lunch at a pizzeria. There was also a stop at a cameo factory where we got a very brief demonstration of the cameo making process and a chance to buy (big surprise there) cameos.
The two hour tour of Pompeii covered only a fraction of this very large site and only a portion of the most significant buildings. Were I to go again I would most likely just walk to the station, catch a train to Pompeii and do the tour alone. It is possible to rent audio tour guides that would make the visit more meaningful.
There is a bookstore at the site, which was not open during our Sunday visit, as well as many vendors who have tents set up near the exit. Vendor prices are outrageous. Tour books sold by the vendors, for example cost 18 Euros; the same book was for sale at the Archeological Museum for 8 Euros.
Lunch at the pizzeria was excellent and the wait staff was hilarious. We were served small traditional pizzas, a salad and bottles of wine. Dessert was a sort of rum cake and a chocolate confection that was exceptional.
The Archeological Museum was definitely worth the trip because it contains many of the artifacts removed from Pompeii, including many of the mosaics. There is a nice museum shop; however it had little material available in English.
I had an early flight and was a bit worried about Princess' ability to get me to it on time (it helped that Princess had booked the flight and that I had a Princess transfer. In instances where travel has to be integrated I am a big proponent of using a single vendor so that responsibility can be easily determined in the event something goes wrong). I need not have worried, although I did have to get up at a quarter of four in the morning. The transfer off ship was seamless and quick and I was at the airport in Rome with time to spare. My flight home on United was excellent and on time, although very long (about 10 hours to Dulles, outside of Washington).
I book cruises on an itinerary basis rather than based on the cruise line providing the service. On that basis I had an exceptional time. Would I book another cruise on Princess? You betcha (whoops; the election is over) if they were going where I wanted to go and especially if it were one of the smaller ships. Otherwise, I wouldn't book a Princess cruise for the cruise experience myself. I know this is a rather long review and may contain details irrelevant to some. I hope that it is useful reading and enhances your cruise or assists you in making an informed choice. Read Less