We originally looked at taking a bus tour through Europe, but if you only have a short time and want to see a lot of places, a port intensive cruise is the way to do it! Get waited on hand and foot, go to bed in the same room every night, ... Read More
We originally looked at taking a bus tour through Europe, but if you only have a short time and want to see a lot of places, a port intensive cruise is the way to do it! Get waited on hand and foot, go to bed in the same room every night, no packing and unpacking, and wake each morning with somewhere new to explore! It really was the best choice. We had two sea days, and we needed those to sleep in and recharge, ready for the next adventure. Embarkation was easy, we were told between 1pm and 5pm, turned up at 4pm and were on board with no delay. We had Anytime Dining which worked well. We noted some people had to wait for a table if they asked for a table for two, but we were happy to share and were usually seated straight away. The only time we had to wait was on a formal night, then we were given a buzzer and were called back after only about 15 minutes. Service in the Bordeaux dining room was good, with a nice menu choice each night. The food was generally quite good. We also ate in the Horizon Buffet a couple of times. They had a good choice and were open until midnight. You could have a full meal or just a salad, or just fruit, or a selection of cheese and crackers/bread or just go for the desserts, it was very easy. There was also no rush, you could stay there as long as you wanted. One day we met a nice couple at breakfast and were still there for lunch! For some reason they have the best cup of tea in there too, maybe the water was just the right temperature, I don't know exactly why, but it was good! I saw the Bayou show in the Princess Theatre, but that's the only show I saw in the evening. The other nights there were singers or a comedian or a musician, and none of them sounded very appealing. I may have been missing out on a really good show, but it was my first cruise and I was expecting more production shows like the Bayou one, not just a singer. That could be my error. We went ashore on all port days, and every time it was well organised with no delays. I hadn't been on a cruise before and was imagining 2000 people lined up for ages all wanting to get off the ship at the same time, but thankfully it wasn't like this at all! It was all quite quick and well organised to get off and then on again at the end of the tour. It was also lovely to be welcomed back on a hot sticky day with a glass of cold water and a cold wet cloth, a nice touch. Disembarkation - we had heavy bags and didn't relish the thought of getting them up and over the bridges in Venice, so paid the $44 fee for the Princess transfer. It was great for our bags - they showed up at our hotel later on, but not so great for us. We had to sit and wait quite a while before our water taxi took us, I'm not sure why but I think someone was late and we were waiting for them. Our transfer was to the train station, but we were dropped off on the other side of the canal and we had to walk and go over a couple of bridges to get to the station. It would have been quicker and easier for us to send us luggage that way and then go and take the $1.50 people mover. That's a minor complaint though.
Ports - Barcelona - we had three days there before the cruise, and I would encourage people to take four or five days. It is a beautiful city and there is so much to see, three days wasn't enough for us. Book ahead for attractions if you can or take advantage of the Skip the Line QR code signs where they have them. We used the HOHO bus while we were there, and also took an organised bus tour up to Montserrat, which was lovely.
Toulon - we took the Princess excursion to Saint Tropez. The bus trip wasn't bad but our guide was a bit annoying. We had the choice once we got there of going off on our own or sticking with the guide for a bit of a tour, and we decided to go off on our own. There was a market and lots of shops, and the shore to look at. There were also thousands of other tourists and it was stinking hot. It was nice to see and I'm glad we went, but that's one box ticked - I don't need to go there again.
Livorno - we took the Princess excursion to Florence with time on your own. This excursion was excellent, even though our bus broke down and we had to wait half an hour for another one! Our guide was excellent and knew her stuff. She guided us around the main attractions and told us lots of interesting information about each place, and then we had time on our own and met up with her later on to go back to the bus.
Civitavecchia - we booked a private tour here, from Drivers Guide Services. Claudio picked us up at the port at the appointed time and we were in Rome in one hour (not much traffic because August is apparently when they take holidays over there). He took us straight to the Colosseum so we were there before the crowds got too bad, and spent the rest of the day giving us a wonderful tour of the city and history lesson combined. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend tours from DGS.
Naples - we had another Princess excursion here - the Ultimate Bay of Naples - Pompeii, Positano, Sorrento. Again we had a very nice guide and driver in a small bus - maximum 16 on this excursion. Our guide was very informative and we had some time on our own in Positano (beautiful!), then more time on our own in Sorrento before we met up to go to a hotel for a nice five course lunch (included in the tour), then on to Pompeii. I was thinking it would have been better to go to Pompeii first before it got too hot, but later heard from other cruisers that Pompeii was much, much busier first thing in the morning, so I'm glad our tour went this way around. Pompeii was amazing, and also amazingly hot! Very hot and humid, you must take a hat and water with you on this tour, and the hand fans that the souvenir shops sell everywhere help too.
Mykonos - wow, so beautiful here! We docked and Princess had buses outside waiting to drop us closer to town. There were probably other ways of doing it, but it wasn't too expensive and it was easy. From there we just walked around on our own and found our way over to the windmills and had a look around the town. It wasn't a long stop here, so we didn't bother about trying to go and visit anywhere else, we just stayed in the town.
Istanbul - we had a private tour booked here too - through Ephesus Shuttle. Our guide met us and was very good, very informative. No payment until the end of the tour, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them. Unfortunately we were there on a Friday so missed out on the Blue Mosque, but there's still plenty of other things to see. The tour operators can change their itinerary a little for you too, if you wish to see something different. For instance we went to Topkapi Palace and wanted to include the Harem section, which they did for us at a small extra cost to cover the tickets. The Grand Bazaar wasn't anywhere near as busy as I expected, and things were quite expensive. I didn't buy very much there at all.
Kusadasi - we had another private tour booked here, again through Ephesus Shuttle. Ephesus is amazing, well worth going, and the drive out there is lovely too. Include the Terrace Houses if you go. Turkey is beautiful. Our guide was very informative again, and very nice. After the tour we stopped in Kusadasi and did a little bit of souvenir shopping. Expect the hard sell though.
Athens - we did the Princess excursion Acropolis and Time on your Own in the Plaka. Whatever you do, don't miss out on going to the Acropolis if you haven't been before. It is not at all like I expected, there is so much more to see than just some ruins! Our guide was lovely and once again, very informative. Climbing to the top wasn't too hard because there are several stops on the way up where the guide explains what you are seeing. Once you get to the top, the view is well worth it. Make sure your shoes have good grip, it is a bit slippery in some places. After we left there, we had a bit of a bus tour around Athens which I was not expecting. We went past a number of interesting sites and buildings, and had a short stop at the site of the first modern olympics so we could take photos. Then it was on to the Plaka. There we had a look around at the shops (lots of souvenir shops) and had some lunch at the restaurant recommended by the guide (Hermion/Epmeion). The restaurant was quite nice, but the food was pretty average.
Venice - we had an extra day in Venice so didn't do any organised tours here, we did our own thing which worked out fine. Princess had a $29 return water transfer to St Mark's Square, but we just took the people mover for $1.50 and walked from there, discovering things as we went. Read Less