We are an American couple in our 60s, experienced travelers who have recently discovered cruises. The Star Princess Italy-Greece tour was our fifth cruise overall and our fifth with Princess. Previous cruises were to Alaska, Baltic, Black Sea and Panama Canal. Here are our thoughts about the Italy-Greece cruise.
Rome (Civitavecchia) (Embarkation), June 23: We spent three days in Rome before the cruise and took a car service to the port for €150. The alternative would have been the train - cheaper but with baggage-schlepping. The driver, arranged by our hotel, took us directly to the ship, where we embarked almost without stopping. Left our Rome hotel at 11:30 & were onboard and in our cabin by 1:00. Wheeled our own baggage aboard, so there was no waiting for it to be delivered.
Unpacked, hung everything up, toured the ship, got lunch in Horizon Court, reported for lifeboat drill at 4:45 and were prepared for sailaway, when the captain announced that a Princess charter plane from Manchester, England, with 186 people, was delayed indefinitely & we wouldn't sail till they were onboard. So we watched Civitavecchia's container cranes from our balcony, had dinner, watched some more from the balcony, cheered the late arrivals around 11:30 PM and set sail round midnight.
Monaco, June 24: Because of the sailaway delay we were late getting to Monaco (which we'd visited before). Arrived mid-morning, but couldn't debark immediately, as it is a tender port & we had to await the boats. Princess organized this efficiently. Got ashore about noon, wandered the port, ascended to Old Monaco, had a drink with a hilarious Irish (!) family, walked back down the hill through the gardens to the port & ship. Many who took ship's tours found them shortened by last night's delay, and the palace and cathedral (two of the major attractions) closed for a royal wedding rehearsal. Nothing Princess could do about the delay, but the closings might have been announced in advance, giving people a chance to cancel and get a refund.
Livorno (Cinque Terre), June 25: The ship made up all the lost time & we arrived on time at Livorno. Room service breakfast arrived promptly at 6:30AM & was just fine. Having been to Pisa and Florence before, we took the Princess Cinque Terre tour and were delighted. Five little towns within five kilometers on the peninsula between La Spezia and Portofino. Our guide Andreas, from the area, was well-informed and entertaining. The bus let us off at the top of Manarola, whence we walked downhill to the cliffside footpath (about 1 km.) to Riomaggiore, then a boat ride past perched Corniglia to Vernazza, for a noontime refresher, then another boat to the fifth town, Monterosso, where we lunched on pesto and stuffed anchovies at a place Andreas recommended. The group reassembled and walked along the beach, where we saw that Monterosso is the most Riviera-resortish of the five towns. From the far end, all five towns were visible to the south, each on its own peninsula. While we waited for the bus, two members of our group wandered off, never to return. Andreas walked all the way back to town looking for them, made phone calls to restaurants, shops, other tour operators and the police. After we all waited for them for over an hour, Andreas ordered the bus to return to the ship, to all our great delights. The police ultimately tracked the vagrants down in another town, where they blamed Andreas for abandoning them. We on the bus agreed to testify on his behalf should anyone blame him for their truancy.
Although we shuddered for our shipmates who took ship's tours to the crowded places of Pisa AND Florence in one day, most of them came back happy. It was Saturday, so, although the towns were thronged as usual, most of the locals were off the streets, which made getting around much easier!
Naples (Amalfi Coast), June 26: The ship was slightly late getting into Naples, because of headwinds overnight. Having already visited Sorrento, Capri and Pompeii, we took the Princess excursion to the Amalfi Coast, which we'd looked forward to for years. It was great. Tour guide Sebastiano was superb, but the real star was bus driver Pino, who found detours around Sunday traffic jams and negotiated the thousand hairpins on the Amalfi Coast with aplomb, while the rest of us alternately gasped at the vertiginous view down the cliffs and grasped our neighbors with white knuckles as the bus lurched round yet another curve and plunged into yet another tunnel. We teetered past Positano and Praiano, then fetched up at a cliffside hotel for lunch, which was standard Italian tourist fare, but with a view over the bay that made the food irrelevant. Back on the bus, then to the town of Amalfi, where we had about an hour on our own. Couldn't get lost - the town has a single street. Then back to Naples on the only straight road of the day. Whew!
The only thing that made Amalfi slightly anticlimactic was Cinque Terre the day before, which was like a miniature Amalfi Drive, but with a footpath and boat ride thrown in.
Ambitious shipmates who took the Capri-Sorrento-Pompeii tour (or any other Capri-plus tour) were disappointed at the short amount of time spent on Capri. An hour there by boat, a half-hour wait for the funicular to Capri town, 45 minutes in town, then another wait for the funicular down, then another boat ride to the mainland. This wasn't really Princess's fault. Anybody trying to hit so many spots in one day could have done the research to see how perfunctory each stop would be (though Princess might have advised that combining Capri with anything else would short-change Capri). For Capri, a Capri-only tour is the best.
The Captain, exasperated with late returnees, set sail leaving some behind, to general applause.
At Sea, June 27: To nobody's surprise, on this only at-sea day, many staterooms posted signs requesting "Privacy Please" till well after noon. It was formal night, with a Champagne waterfall in the Atrium. Star Princess Atrium is not as big as those on newer Princess ships, so crowd-smarts dictated staying in one place and grabbing Champagne from passing trays.
Joe May is the shipboard tour guide. Most of his tour lectures are taped and televised, but today he was able to speak to us live in the Princess Theater. He's much more fun and engaging in person than on TV, where his slow delivery and random pauses are soporific. Unlike most Princess guides, who combine practical advice with a travelogue, Joe spends most of his time telling us how to get from place to place (ship-to-shore-to-town, for instance). For Santorini, his advice boiled down to: "Going ashore in the tenders can be difficult in high seas, so hang on and be careful. Once ashore, you can take the funicular up to town, but each car holds only six passengers, so be prepared for long lines going up and, particularly, going down. There is a road up, which is very steep and you shouldn't really walk up it. You can walk down it, but it can get slippery from all the horse and donkey dung. Oh, yes. You can take a horse or donkey up the road, but the horses are dangerous and several passengers have fallen off and been hospitalized. The donkeys are better, but they go where they want to go, not where you want to go."
Santorini, June 28: After Joe May's dispiriting advice, we almost stayed on the ship. Instead, we took the tender ashore, found no line at the funicular, got whisked up to the main town, walked quickly north out of the souvenir and souvlaki area, and soon found ourselves on a sparsely traveled path past whitewashed churches with blue domes and heart-stopping views of the semi-circular harbor (Santorini is a submerged volcano). Watched some birds, watched some people, had early drinks, found a restaurant with a view of all three moored cruise ships, dodged some donkeys meandering through town with children aboard, found a slightly longer line for the down funicular, got on board in plenty of time, watched a brilliant sailaway past neighboring islands (the dawn arrival wasn't too shabby either).
Mykonos, June 29: The ship docks an easy walk from town. Mykonos village is at sea level, as opposed to the Santorini towns, which are on the crest. Joe May, at his desk in the Tour Office, sketched out a good walking tour for us, along the beach, then the harbor, then a coastal walk to Little Venice and the famous windmills. Walked back through the maze of streets to a beach taverna, where we had earlier seen octopus drying in the sun. Ordered some. Ate it, joined by some shipmates. Ordered more. Drank ouzo. Delicious.
Athens, June 30: The most exciting stop, for many reasons. We arrived the day after a 48-hour strike halted all municipal services, and the morning after police and demonstrators clashed in Syntagma Square, breaking shop windows and firing tear gas. (This was part of a month-long peaceful demonstration against the government's austerity budget.) We took Joe May's advice and avoided the train from Piraeus harbor to town, opting instead for the Princess bus-shuttle. To our guide's surprise, the road was clear all the way to Syntagma Square, and we were able to alight at the entrance to the Plaka and Acropolis. We had visited the Acropolis recently, so instead walked through modern Athens, starting with Syntagma Square, right in front of Parliament. All was peaceful, demonstrators camped in tent villages with signs in many languages. Police and civilians were collaborating in sweeping up broken glass. We poked around taking pictures until the lingering tear-gas fumes drove us away. Walked up to Kolonaki Square and the foot of Lycabettis Hill, then back down to the Plaka for late lunch. The bus group rendezvoused at 4PM for the drive back to the ship.
Because the port had been closed for two days by the strike, at least two other cruise ships detoured and arrived today, with many passengers heading for the Acropolis all at once. The extra ships meant crowds of unusual proportions climbing up and down, shoving and jockeying, and order was hard to maintain. Those who took Acropolis tours had lots of complaints about the crowds, the waiting and the heat, but it's hard to know what the tour operators could have done about it. Skipping it was one option, but can anyone really go to Athens and NOT climb the Acropolis?
The only significant remaining strike was by ferryboat operators, which left many ferryboats stuck in port. This made for a spectacularly crowded harbor and some exquisite maneuvering by the Captain to get us out. We and many others watched the drama from the Outrigger Bar and pool aft, which proved a great place to watch subsequent sailaways as well. Greek music played. People danced.
Katakolon (Olympia), July 1: Canada Day, the ship draped with maple leaves. Although the ruins of Olympia were in easy reach, research had shown us there wasn't much there, so we just went for a walk through town. A really pleasant village, with horse-drawn carriages, shops and piney hills. Pretty much an at-sea day with a walk ashore.
Corfu, July 2: The ship docks a little ways from town, but Joe May recommended the No. 16 bus, which plies the two miles from dock to town. Corfu town is a real municipality, capital of a former city-state, more substantial than the earlier island villages. At the esplanade, we took a little tourist train (which we're suckers for) out to the New Fortress on the point, past villas and swank hotels. Then lunch in Town Hall Square, where the proprietor picked fresh basil from the restaurant garden and made us penne al pesto! Of all the Greek towns and islands, we would return to Corfu first.
Split, Croatia, July 3: Another tender port, but getting ashore was easy, and the boats landed right on the town waterfront. We who stuck to the old town center had no trouble touring on our own. The Roman emperor Diocletian laid the place out in a North-South-East-West square, with towers on each corner and a gate at the center of each wall. The streets are a grid. It's a delightful new town laid over an ancient one. Next door to a crumbling ruin is a glass-and-steel techno-bar advertising "Jack & Coke". People who took morning walking tours (offered both by the ship and local guides) were happy with the in-depth look at the city. This was the only non-Euro port, but despite Joe May's warnings that "only local currency" was acceptable, every shop and restaurant we encountered took "whatever you have - dollars, Euros, drachmas, dinars."
Venice, July 4: Up at 7AM for the approach to the Lagoon and Venice. Our starboard cabin balcony was the perfect viewing spot for Piazza San Marco and other sights, so we ordered the Champagne brunch and just sat back and enjoyed it (actually, we were jumping up and down a lot too). Took the ship's shuttle into town & spent the day on our own, hitting the crowds only at the Rialto Bridge and San Marco. Those who took the ship's tours through the Basilica and Doge's Palace were wise, as the lines for both stretched endlessly. Venice isn't getting bigger, but the crowds are, and there is talk of limiting the number of cruise ships (two sailed in behind us and three left during the day).
Venice (Debarkation), July 5: We had a 1PM flight, so exited our stateroom at 8AM, had a long breakfast in the Portofino room, then waited in the Wheelhouse Bar until our group was called at 10. Easy off the ship, easy onto bus, easy drive to Marco Polo Airport, where Princess had delivered our bags and sorted them by tag-colors, checked in easily for our return flight to NYC.
We were lucky. Last night, after luggage had been collected from people's cabins for transport to the airport, came an announcement that, because of a strike, no flights to or through Germany (including many flights to the US) would depart from Marco Polo. This left people scrambling much of the night to make alternate arrangements. Princess staff were as helpful as possible, but the problem was not in their hands. In the morning, Princess staff were all-hands-on-deck for departure, both on the ship and at the airport. Shipmates we talked to whose flights were canceled had nothing but praise for Princess' efforts on their behalf.
So, to tally it up, in the course of this cruise, the ship had to contend with:
• Almost 200 passengers six hours late for departure
• Delays getting ashore in Monaco and Naples
• Late passengers at several ports making the whole ship wait for them.
• Strikes in Athens
• Flight cancellations from Venice
The staff coped so well that all these potential catastrophes were just blips on an otherwise perfect cruise. But . . . a plea to fellow passengers: Get back to the ship on time! There is no excuse for making 4000 passengers and crew wait for you to straggle on board!
Shipboard: We chose this cruise for the ports, not for the ship, and we tend to treat ships as floating hotels rather than destinations. That was particularly true for this port-intensive cruise. That said, we have a few observations about shipboard experiences.
Fellow passengers: 2700 passengers, 1500 from US, about 700 from other Anglophone countries (UK, Canada, Australia, NZ), the others from 30 other countries. Many fit the typical cruise demographic (white people over 60), but there was a healthy selection of younger people, many with families. I think there were 300 "children" onboard, from toddlers to teenagers. Parents we talked to were happy with the Princess kids' programs, which let parents go ashore alone. Our 6-year-old neighbor Hannah pronounced the kids' program the best part of the cruise.
Pools. Star Princess has two main pools on Deck 14, one roofed and one open. There is a smaller pool on the same deck aft, served by the Outrigger Bar, where we often ended the afternoon. This aft complex actually extends three decks high, with a couple of hot tubs as well. The small pool was posted "Adults Only," which generally discouraged children from using the whole area. It was a great place to watch sailaway (particularly from ferry-clogged Piraeus) and sunsets, with stools not only at the bar, but at railings further aft overlooking the pool.
The only people who ignored the "Adults Only" designation appeared to be one family, who arrived daily with their children, who were daily kicked out of the pool by staff, only to return the next day to be kicked out again. This same family also arrived late for departure from Katakolon, earning jeers and catcalls from the balconies. They didn't seem to care much.
Dining. Except for embarkation and the single at-sea day we skipped the Horizon Court buffet in favor of sit-down breakfast and lunch in the Portofino room. No lines, wait staff at the ready, good views from both sides. We chose late-seating dinner in the Capri room & were seated with six other people, who became our permanent tablemates. We got along pretty well, and it became fun to encounter each other on shore. Our waiters, both improbably named Joe, were attentive and efficient, remembering everyone's preferences from day to day (I asked for Tabasco on day #1 and it appeared at my place every day after.)
Entertainment. We don't expect much of cruise entertainment and were not disappointed. The one show we dared to try, in the Princess Theater, was titled "Stardust," which led us to expect selections from Hoagy Carmichael, the Gershwins, Rogers & Hart, Cole Porter, etc. Instead we got what the cast described as "songs our parents and grandparents loved," which turned out to be non-rock 'n roll 50s schlock, such as "Que sera sera" and "Come-onna My House." We fled after ten minutes, followed by many other parents and grandparents.
Bars and Lounges. The Wheelhouse Bar, Explorers Lounge and Promenade Bar are all on deck 7, close to each other. The Wheelhouse seemed most promising, with a combo and singer every night that played good dance music. But most nights nobody was there. We and one other couple danced a rumba and a foxtrot one night, then shrugged and quit. The Explorers Lounge seemed dedicated to nightly art auctions and versions of the Newlywed Game. The Promenade Bar in the Atrium, which is the after-dinner center of gravity on most Princess ships, was not so on this one. It was jammed in a corner, with a pianist-singer up against a wall in the dark. She sang and played fine, but wasn't much of an entertainer. There was no byplay with the audience, nothing to get folks up and singing and dancing. Most listened politely to a few numbers then drifted off.
Captain and Crew. It may be that Star Princess's crew is a mirror of its Captain William Kent. The first few times we heard from Captain Kent, over the PA, he was all business, announcing departure delays, giving course headings, describing what the ship was doing and why. After a few days glints of humor emerged, as he described dropping anchor as "rattle-rattle-splash" and gave increasingly colorful descriptions of the fate awaiting those returning late to the ship. By the end of the cruise he was a laugh riot. Far better to begin the cruise with a no-nonsense Captain who turns out later to be a card, than to begin with a skipper who tells too many jokes before he gains your confidence. Same with the crew and staff - their jobs were their first priority - whether it was taking drink orders, responding to cabin requests, answering questions about money and postage, arranging shore excursions. Always business first, then time enough for jokes and good fellowship. We have tremendous admiration for the entire Princess staff. When emergencies arose, their professionalism from day #1 gave us all confidence they'd handle things fine.
A complicated, port-intensive voyage with exciting landfalls and an enthusiastic, professional staff. Read Less