Another great cruise with Princess (our fourth).
We stayed at the Best Western Oceanside in Ft. Lauderdale 2 nights before and 2 nights after the cruise. The hotel is adequate for a pre-/post-cruise stay. It was very close to the beach and a short cab ride to Port Everglades and Ft. Lauderdale airport. But, next time welll choose a place a shorter walking distance to more restaurants/stores/activity.
Embarkation was smooth. After a short wait in line, we were given a colored numbered card, went through their security/scanning process and a took a seat. Since we were there early, we had about an hour wait before they began the check-in/boarding process. But, the time passed quickly, as we struck up a conversation with the folks sitting across from us. The Platinum & Elite passengers were moved through first then they called each colored numbered card. Smoothest process so far out of Port Everglades.
The ship was the largest we've sailed so far. With approximately 3,000 passengers we never found the public areas too crowded, with a couple of exceptions: when the shops set up their table full of wares out in the walk-way areaand couldnlt get a lounger by the pool except for the days in port. "Chair hogs" strike again! A sea of loungers as far as the eye can see, occupied only by a towel and a book, flip-flop or hat. I've vowed to myself that on our next cruise I will occupy any chair of my liking that is "saved" and inform the passenger, if/when they return, that there is no saving chairs. Well, enough about that!
There was just so much to do on the ship that you couldn't possibly do everything!
Princess Theater We attended the Welcome Aboard, Motown & Boogie Shoes shows. The Welcome Aboard show featured comedian Billy Vader, the cast & showband, with Cruise Director Lisa Ball. An ok show. We saw Billy Vader on the Coral Princess Feb. 2007 and he was hilarious -- not so much this first show on the Emerald. I'm sure if he was just getting warmed up. Unfortunately, never connected with another of his shows this cruise. Both DH & I loved the Motown show. I loved the Boogie Shoes show, DH not so much.
Crooners We gravitated here most nights for cocktails before dinner and had the wonderful company of other couples who enjoyed the same before-dinner routine. It was here I was introduced to a yummy concoction called the "Jammy Donut". If you like Chambord, try this. Also, I tried many different martinis over the course of the cruise. My favorite is the Lemontini.
Skywalkers Nightclub Nice club, very comfortable seating, with DJ, located Aft, deck 18. It was not crowded at all the night we went.
Explorers Lounge Saw some of the comedy show starring Al Katz. He was very entertaining.
Wheelhouse Bar We stopped in one evening after dinner to enjoy nice music, nice ambiance, comfortable seating.
Street Performers Performances were held on Deck 5 in the Midship Plaza -- various performers with different acts. Always drew a crowd.
Fitness Center Very well equipped and wasn't crowded the one time I used it! I enjoyed walking the Promenade Deck 7. 2.7 laps = 1 mile.
On Deck for the Cure This was held for the Susan G. Komen charity foundation and the walk raised $1,213.
Formal Nights These were held on the first and last sea days.
Dining We chose late Traditional. We ate in the dining room every night and there were a few tables within our view that were empty the entire duration of the cruise. Other tables were occupied less than half the time. Seeing so many empty tables in Traditional dining was the oddest experience, especially since it is usually difficult to be assigned a table in Traditional dining. We had a table for six. One couple never showed up and our other dinner companions said they had been waitlisted for a table of 10 and were assigned to our table of 6. Food was good with a good selection. Our waiter, Ronaldo, and assistant waiter, Juan, were pleasant and attentive. We had breakfast at the Horizon Buffet each morning and some lunches. Tried the Caribe Café (similar to the Horizon) and the International Café. Some different yummy free food fare at the International Café, of course, along with some even yummier desserts, for which they charge a nominal fee. The grill on the Lido deck had great hamburgers and hotdogs. We didn't enjoy the pizza. We tried it several times and it never quite seemed cooked enough in the middle of the pie. I don't know what else I was doing, but I missed the Seafood Extravaganza Buffet in the Horizon & Café Caribe! Well, I heard it was wonderful. We didn't eat in the Crown Grill or Sabatinis.
Ports Antigua: We took a taxi to Dickenson Bay and spent a few hours on the beach. We rented two lounge chairs for $5 each. Beautiful beach. There were water sports available and a beach bar called Tony's. Enjoyed talking to a Canadian couple from our ship and a lady from Livorno, Italy, who was visiting her brother who lived on the island. The taxi driver, Glenroy Burton, Burtonls Taxi Service, was all that his business card stated -- Friendly, Efficient, Courteous and Reliable. He was very pleasant, interesting & talkative. Charged $3.00 per person each way when 4 or more people in the cab ($6 per person when only two people in cab). He was right on time to pick us up for our return trip to the ship. We shared the cab with the other couple we met on the beach. (email@example.com) Another cab driver wanted our fare, but we said we were waiting for Glenroy. The next trip to Antigua we hope Glenroy is still operating his taxi. We'll be sure to seek him out again. After leaving Glenroy, we shopped for a couple of things for the grandkids and headed back to the ship. Sky at noon was partly cloudy, temp 26.5C/79.7F.
St. Lucia: We took the Catamaran to the Pitons, booked through Princess. A nice day for a catamaran ride. Plenty to drink, lots of music, chatted with Stephania, from Italy, who married a St. Lucian. We stopped for a swim which was a welcome refreshing dip into the beautiful St. Lucia waters. Great crew who really knew how to dance! The Captain loved to sing along to the music. We enjoyed the trip very much. Sky at noon was scattered clouds, temp 28.0C/82.4F.
Barbados: We took a shuttle into Bridgetown and poked around in the shops a bit. ($2 per person each way -- they make sure the shuttles are full going out. On the way back, we shared a cab with another couple and the fare was the same.) You can also walk to town. It is roughly about a mile from the pier. We stopped for some refreshment in a food court in one of the indoor mall areas and chatted with a couple from England who were there for an extended stay. We were able to mail postcards from the post office located in the cruise ship terminal. Also, bought some wine for our cabin. Not a huge selection of wine from which to choose, but I did find two bottles of tasty vino. After making my last purchase in the terminal, a sun hat that caught my eye, we headed back to the beach. Sky at noon was fine & sunny, temp 28.0C/82.4F.
St. Kitts: Due to a strong, adverse, force 7 wind, the Captain made the decision to abort this port. We were disappointed, but safety first. Next time we go to St. Kitts, we'll reschedule our "St. Kitts Scenic Railway" shore excursion.
St. Thomas: We took a full van from the pier into Charlotte Amalie. We tried to call friends due on the island, but telephone service was "on the fritz" for a few hours that morning -- pay phones, cell phones and land lines. We finally made a connection and were told our friends weren't arriving until after we were due back onboard the ship. Oh, well, maybe next time. We enjoyed Charlotte Amalie. Shopped, sent postcards to the grandkids and when we stopped for a drink in one of the establishments located in a side walkway, we chatted with many people from various ships. Sky at noon was sunny, temp 25.0C/77.0F. Went back to the ship and sat on our balcony and admired all the beautiful yachts in port.
Princess Cays: We didn't tender to the island since we had been there many times. Chose to stay onboard and enjoy the serenity of a sparsely populated ship. There were plenty of lounge chairs by the pool!
Disembarkation Getting off the ship was smooth. We had plenty of time to have a leisurely breakfast. We were instructed to meet in the Casino and while there was a bit of a delay being called from the Casino to disembark, no matter -- everything was orderly with no crowding near the exit. One of the best disembarkations we've experienced. Found our bags without too much trouble and exited the building to grab a cab. Now the "fun" began! The Emerald Princess and Caribbean Princess passengers were disembarking at the same time in the same section of the port. The cab line was long. We waited about an hour for a cab to our hotel. Thank goodness it wasn't raining, as we were out in the middle of the blacktop with no protective covering. It was hot and you could tell everyone was trying to keep their tempers from flaring, especially when a bus "needed" to drive through the line of people waiting for cabs. I must say, despite this bit of unpleasantness, people in line were talking of their cruise experience to each other and we all got through the wait.
Flight Home We were fortunate that the power blackout from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami didn't affect those traveling from Ft. Lauderdale Airport. Our flight out of Ft. Lauderdale was only delayed a few minutes and we made our connecting flight home with time to spare. All our luggage was retrieved from the carousel and our wonderful neighbor was waiting for us at the airport to deliver us home.
We thoroughly enjoyed our 3,131 nautical miles sailing on the Emerald Princess and would sail her again if the itinerary suited us.
The Emerald Princess is a stunning ship. However the spa staff ruined our vacation. My husband & I bought the thermal suite package. RIP OFF! There is no aromatherapy and people who didn't pay for it were constantly sneaking in. There is no one to check on the clients, so my advice is to take a chance and sneak down and don't pay!
I had a hair appointment at the spa just for a wash and blowdry. The hairdersser told me I had a horrible haircut and asked if he could fix it. I said sure. He started and only cut one side of my head and then said he couldn't concentrate and had to finish it 3 nights later at his next available appointment! I thought he was joking but when he started drying I realized he wasn't. After he was done he handed me a $30 discount coupon for a fat and cellulite treatment program since in his words "You need it for your fat!" I was horrified and ashamed!
At our massages the next day the massage therapist tried to sell me a $170 detox program because Iwas fat and had cellulite! I approached the purser's desk devastated by these occurrences and he said that his hands were tied since the spas are contracted by an outside company. I contacted Princess customer service and they gave me an unempathetic apology! A piece of advice if you are even slightly overweight -- stay out of the spa. You will only face ridicule!!
My voyage on the Emerald Princess was my sixth cruise, my past history consisting of trips on Carnival's Imagination, Paradise, Triumph, and Glory as well as the Emerald's sister ship the Crown Princess. While my overall vacation was a blast, I feel that the Emerald itself provides just an average value for the money at this time and I don't think I would choose Princess for Europe again any time in the near future.
Embarkation The Emerald Princess Mediterranean itinerary runs between Venice and Barcelona. We embarked in Venice, which I was pleased about as I had a basic familiarity with the city after spending four days there previously. Most passengers fly in a night before boarding is permitted, which I highly recommend. Embarkation was scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. Saturday and run as late as one the next day, when the ship would finally depart. We boarded at around 3:00 p.m. Saturday and faced a very short wait at check-in. The embarkation process was particularly easy for Mr. Chelledun and I since the Venice airport lost all of our luggage, leaving us with nothing but a small carry on-bag containingtoiletries and medications and my laptop. My parents did have luggage to check in with the ship, and received it in time for our 8:30 p.m. dinner time. After two Princess cruises, I have to say the line does an above average job with making the embarkation process as smooth as possible.
Our Room Per usual, Mr. Chelledun and I booked one of the cheapest, smallest rooms on the ship. This time our room, E310 was literally in the lowest class, due to the astronomical costs associated with going up even the tiniest category on a twelve-day Mediterranean cruise. Despite this, we actually ended up in better shape this time than on our previous Princess cruise since we had a room intended only as a double rather than as a quad. This meant no fold-out beds overhead and no bumping my head every morning. The room was bland but clean, with beige walls and a couple of Greek-inspired paintings hanging on either side. The bathroom was correspondingly tiny, with space for a shower, toilet, and little else.
While people often complain that Princess gives less room space for the buck than other mass market cruise lines, and it does, in my opinion the poor layout is to blame for the cramped feel of the rooms. In both my small room and my parents' much larger junior suite, it was a regular occurrence to open the bathroom door and smack someone in the head who was trying to get clothing out of the closet. The hairdryer, for some reason, is firmly mounted over the desk, making it necessary to primp in the main room instead of the bathroom. Larger, more expensive rooms are still far too narrow in terms of space between the bed and the wall. Mr. Chelledun and I don't typically care that much about our room, especially on a port-intensive itinerary, but twelve days of bumping into each other did get a bit old.
Public Spaces The Emerald Princess is in very good repair as a result of being nearly brand new. The public areas are tastefully decorated. Some are very attractive, others are a bit boring. Our very favorite space was Crooner's Martini Bar, a well-staffed lounge overlooking the ship's central atrium. The Crooner's bartenders knew us all by name at the cruise's end, and contributed greatly to our cruise experience with their daily jokes and card tricks. I also enjoyed watching shows in the plush chairs of the intimate Explorer's Lounge, and dancing in the top-floor Skywalker's Disco which overlooks the ocean.
Other public rooms left my group saying "why?" The main showroom, Princess Theater, is simply too small for the popular shows that play there. I complained about this after sailing on the Crown Princess and the poor design is echoed on the Emerald. During the first two out of four production shows, the theater was completely packed, with some patrons sitting on the steps and standing in the back of the theater. I just can't understand why Princess doesn't duplicate the grand theaters found on most other large cruise ships. Club Fusion, a dance club which turns to showroom for the popular Princess Idol event, suffers from many seats with blocked views thanks to GIANT pillars situated throughout it. My dislike of these small showrooms is symptomatic of my major complaint about Princess -- after two voyages, I still don't care for the layout. The ships' public spaces are too sectioned off, slightly claustrophobic, and lack a sense of awe. Why design a huge ship to feel like it isn't a huge ship? Princess fails to take advantage of the height and girth of its ship by limiting what could have been an amazing atrium to a three-story one, and breaking up its formal dining areas into three low-ceilinged rooms. Members of our group have sailed on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and NCL, and all of us ranked Princess last in terms of interior ship layout.
The ship's exterior areas fare better in my evaluation. None of the pool areas were ever terribly crowded during our journey, perhaps because everyone had more than enough sun during our lengthy times in port. Fresh water in the two main pools makes for a more pleasant swimming experience than on other lines. I also like the readily available pool bars, and everything outside was always neat and clean. It is also possible to walk laps around one of the ship's lower decks. All five of us participated in an on-ship Walk on Deck for the Cure 5K event for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and in doing so learned that 7.5 times around the ship equals 3.1 miles.
Food Food is always available in mass quantities of varying quality on any cruise. We weren't really as concerned about the ship's food on this particular trip, since we ate many meals in port to sample local cuisine. Still, we definitely ate enough meals on the ship to get a good feel for the available options. The main dining room food was a big notch above average in terms of quality. One night I enjoyed the best rack of lamb of my life. Other recommendations include most pastas, the beef Wellington, baked spinach, and the neopolitan ice cream dessert. Really, I would love to have dining room food this good on a less port-intensive cruise. While we generally enjoyed our server team and food in our 8:30 traditional seating, my family commented repeatedly that Princess seems to understaff its dining rooms. Whereas other cruise lines offer a cocktail server/wine steward in addition to wait staff, the Princess setup requires the assistant waiter to disappear into the wine cellar for long periods of time, leaving the main waiter alone and stressed out for much of the meal. As a result, occasionally we had a wait of as much as an hour between appetizers and the main course or a half hour between receiving our dessert and our coffee.
While the formal dining room food was great, the more casual venues definitely disappointed on this trip. I complained about the layout of the casual Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe buffets on my last cruise, as the lack of a defined line going one way results in traffic jams in every direction. This problem was dramatically amplified on the Emerald as so many passengers skipped formal meals in favor of an attempt to grab something quick. Even once we were able to get our food from the buffet, it wasn't very good. I tried flavorless pastas, oddly mushy desserts, and bland omelets before swearing off the buffet altogether. Mr. Chelledun and I took to ordering a breakfast of fruit and bagels from room service each morning in an effort to avoid the whole zoo. We weren't thrilled with the grill food either, which consisted of overcooked hamburgers and hot dogs which had sat too long. The one bright spot for casual dining is the International Cafe and its fresh sandwiches, salads, and cookies.
Entertainment After receiving amazing entertainment on the Crown Princess this January, Mr. Chelledun and I were psyched to enjoy some excellent shows and movies during our trip. While the itinerary is port-intensive, a couple of sea days (one unexpected) and a couple of short port times make it so the on-ship entertainment experience does still matter somewhat. Unfortunately, we were very disappointed with the shows and activities on the Emerald. It seemed that fewer activities were being offered than on a typical cruise, perhaps because a week's worth of events was being spread over a twelve day period. Worse, any time interesting events were made available, they were scheduled in competition with each other.
Several of the comedians we saw were absolutely terrible. One was so bad I walked out of a show for the first time ever on a cruise ship. We aren't easily offended folks or anything, this was just a matter of him being incredibly unfunny. Each Princess ship also advertises at least two different Las Vegas style shows spread throughout the duration of the cruise. This twelve-day trip actually had four. The newest of these production shows, Groovy Shoes, has some potential but also some parts that are just…odd, cheesy, or boring. This show feels like several different music videos have been stuck together, and a few of them seem to be from a much earlier decade. Also, there are only so many songs which can be twisted to be about "shoes" or "feet" without sounding completely stupid. We didn't use Movies Under the Stars, the on-deck, open air theater facility, at all on this trip. This was mainly because many evenings the facility was designated for a child or teen gathering. Very, very little on-deck music was played in the pool area. On our Ephesus port day, everyone had to be back on ship by around 12:30, so the afternoon was for all practical purposes a sea day. Still, the band performed only from 3:45 to 4:45.
To be fair, there were some entertainment highlights. We enjoyed the production show Motor City, which had a great set of songs performed by talented vocal artists. One very funny comedian had the entire Explorer's Lounge in an uproar with his physical stunts. Princess Pop Star, an American Idol-style competition, is always entertaining. My sister participated this year, which made for a good time for the family. We also had a good time enjoying free cocktails at both the Captain's Welcome Party and the Past Guest party. On the whole, though, entertainment this trip seemed to be lacking.
The Ports The real reason we booked this cruise was for the amazing itinerary. It did not disappoint. We saw a tremendous variety of unique places and things. Emerald Princess calls at Venice, Athens, Kusadasi (gateway to Ephesus), Istanbul, Mykonos, Naples (gateway to Pompeii/Amalfi Coast), Civatavechia (gateway to Rome), Livorno (gateway to Florence/Pisa), Marseille, and Barcelona. Two sea days are scheduled, which provide for forced relaxation. We wanted an itinerary with a little bit of everything, but heavy on the Italy ports. In the end, I was surprised that my favorite stops were, far and away, the Turkey ports. Istanbul may be the most amazing city I've ever been to and the Ephesus ruins are breathtaking. Other particular favorites were our Pompeii/Amalfi Coast stop, Athens, and Barcelona, where we spent two and a half days post-cruise. We came away from the trip with stunning pictures and happy memories of everything from touring Istanbul's spice market and Blue Mosque to sipping Lemoncello in Sorrento to time spent admiring Gaudi's art and architecture.
After branching out some on our last cruise, I've come to conclude that Princess tours are vastly overpriced and of questionable quality, as they take place on busses in groups too large to maneuver easily around a busy city. Most use the same vendors one can book privately, keeping the markup margin as profit. As such, our group of five used private tour guides, prebooked a taxi, or got around on our own in all the ports. In doing so, we saved a ton of money while receiving more personalized tours. I won't go into too much detail about our particular experiences, but I will specifically recommend Shorex Turkey (http://www.shorexturkey.co.nr/) out of Turkey, which we used for both Istanbul and Kusadasi. This company is probably the most well-run tour operator I've ever had the pleasure of dealing with and our guides dramatically enhanced the overall quality of our experience in Turkey. In Athens, we had an extremely memorable experience with Spiros (firstname.lastname@example.org) which included one of the best meals I've ever enjoyed in any country. In Naples we arranged for a private tour through DriveAmalfi with Salvatore (email@example.com) to tour the Amalfi Coast. Unfortunately our ship was late docking in Naples due to some shipping traffic and so we did not get off the ship and start our tour for several hours. The positive side to a late docking was our ship delayed leaving the port for 1 hour so we did get to see all that we had planned for the day. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant called S. Giovanni. Great spot and the food was good. Had a sample taste of lemoncello and meloncello as well. Purchased a bottle of lemoncello in Amalfi and had no problems with it in the checked luggage back home. In Santorini we decided to do a day on our own for this port stop.
Tendering ashore was quite a thrill as the tender boat and the docking areas (off the ship and also on the island) were not always in sync. Quite a few times they had to stop people from boarding or disembarking the tender since the boat was moving too far away from the step off point. We took the tram up to the top -- 4 euros each one way. Spectacular view when you're going up or down. Lots of donkey poo on the streets. Ventured out through the narrow streets and donkey poo to find the famous blue doom church. Spent time at the archeological museum, did some shopping/browsing and then headed back to the ship around 1:00pm and had lunch onboard the ship for a change.
Overall I should finish by noting that the three star rating is for my Emerald Princess experience only, not my overall fabulous vacation. Fortunately, we spent the majority of our days in fabulous ports, nearly all of which receive five stars from me. In the end, I'm not sorry I picked this ship and its diverse itinerary. Had I opted for a land trip instead, most of the trip would have been spent in Italy, and the Turkey ports that turned out to be my very favorites wouldn't have even been on the radar. Still, the ship itself had a few kinks that brought it down to an average rating for me. While food is very good, entertainment is somewhat lacking at this time, and the layout is just not my cup of tea. Given the very, very high price per person, I'm not convinced the Emerald Princess is the best value for Europe at this time.
Emerald Princess: Brand new ship, lots of hype and a huge disappointment!
This was our fourth cruise and we thought a switch to this "elite" cruise line would be a nice change. Big mistake. The ship itself was nice although it had none of the "wow" factor of Royal Caribbean. Rooms were just barely adequate for four people. Promenade very small; nice but not impressive. Very few shops. Nice library and bars. Outdoor movie screen fun. Pools small and not fun for kids-no slide, shallow areas, etc.
Food service and the buffet lunches and dinners were extremely mediocre. We travelled with some vegetarians and the menu selection in this department was extremely poor. Veteran cruisers would especially notice the meager fare at the midnight buffet! Anytime dining was the one feature we did appreciate as regards dining-nice not to be locked down to a particular time.
The shipboard entertainment and activities also fell short. Very few dancing classes-just ballroom and country. No huge outdoor party by poolside. Music and bands were definitely geared towards the taste of the older crowd. Dance revues fair, again old time artists like Tom Jones don't really do itfor the under 40 crowd. At least two nights the main entertainment was orchestra or piano-again not for most of the young people in our group. One of the comedian acts was excellent but the cruise director needs to bring in a lot more high caliber performers to even compete with other cruiselines.
The worse part of this 12 day Mediterranean cruise was by far the shore excursions. The tours were extremely expensive and gave very little value for the fees charged. We had several guides who spoke such poor English it was impossible to understand them. The temperature during our time in Europe was well over 100F almost every day, and reached a high of 113F when we visited the Acropolis. The guides just raced us through making no concessions for the fact that it was hot. There were small children and some of us had difficulty keeping up under these conditions. Imagine 40 people racing through the busy streets of Florence chasing after the tour guide and stressing about being left behind. Arranging a meeting point up front would have allowed the weaker of our group some respite and maybe we could have actually enjoyed the excursion! Smaller groups would also have helped.
The included meals were terrible and not at all reflective of the nice food available in the countries we visited. These all day excursions cost from $150-$200 a person. The cruise operators and ship made a lot of money at the expense of us poor naive tourists who were too afraid to make arrangements of our own to tour the ports. When we tried to complain the staff at the tour desk were extremely rude-to them it was all about money, not customer satisfaction or improving the tours so we would actually have fun. We paid $7600 for an inside cabin with 4 people, another $6000 for airfare and another $4000 onboard the ship for shore excursions, and bar tab, so yes our expectations were definitely high. Bottom line: I would NOT recommend this cruiseline. Very expensive and very mediocre!!!
Where do I begin? This was our BEST Cruise Vacation ever! The ship was perfect, the service and Food were A-1. The itinerary and tours (mostly private) were excellent. The people we met onboard helped make this such a memorable experience for our 18th cruise.
We stayed at the Hotel Continental Palacete in Barcelona for 2 nights pre-cruise. It was 2 blocks from the Plaza Catalonia on the North of LaRambla Catalonia (quieter section). The main shopping street lined with trees, restaurants and stores were really close by. We utilized the Hop On Hop Off bus to see all of Barcelona. We did not get off, unless we had to change buses. We arrived on a Sunday and the lines were tremendous at each major stop. Although we bought a 2 day pass, we only used it one day. Our special treat was attending a concert performance of the London Symphony Orchestra performed at the Palace de la Musica. What a beautiful historic concert hall and wonderful show.
Embarkation Day:When we got out of the taxi at the Terminal B in Barcelona, we proceeded to check-in and were on-board before noon. Our stateroom C 743, last starboard aft cabin, had a "larger balcony" as it continued to the side. Even the Room Service Waiter mentioned how large it was with table & chairs plus 2 semi-lounge chairs! Our steward, Dante greeted us shortly after arrival and he was the most efficient steward that we have ever had. He always seemed to be available. We utilized Room Service Breakfast on many mornings as our private tours were booked for full day excursions. We were off ship very early (about 15 minutes after docking in each port) to take advantage of many sites without traffic and lines.
Ship:Spacious, obviously clean although I was surprised that they manually clean the balcony glass! Doors between balconies could be opened upon request for adjoining cabins. Entertainment was great. We took in at least 5 shows including Tony Pace and Tommy Tilman from Las Vegas. Both were excellent, plus the Princess Dancers and Singers performances were great. Crooners had Brett Cove, pianist, who was a real hit with all ages. What a performer – he packed them in every night! Anytime dining is a perfect option for this port intensive itinerary. (This was our first experience with an alternate dining program.) We never had a problem waiting for seating in either the DaVinci or Michelangeo dining rooms. We joined others or were invited to join a table each evening with fabulous service 99% of the time. Hector in Michelangelo's was our favorite waiter, who we did request a few evenings. Buffets were good with lots of variety including fresh cooked eggs and omelets. It was a little congested at breakfast times, but finding a table was not a problem. Servers helped carry your tray plate and find a table plus they brought you coffee, juice and water. Please note the Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice served from a strolling cart is not FREE. Many people were taken, as this is not announced but there is a placard on the cart with the charge noted. The Cafe Caribe area is the best place to sit IMHO. Self-serve Laundry is a definite plus for this itinerary also. I used it twice at 5 PM which worked out great. Bring quarters.
To access the aft adult pool area, you must walk through the Cafe Caribe. When it is closed, this is confusing as they have gates and a sign which says Closed. You just walk through the gates and exit the aft door! We never tried the ice cream but the pizza was great – large slices. I understand the Room Service Pizza was well worth the $3. We did try a snack at the International Cafe and enjoyed Cappuccino there on many relaxing occasions. We did not have an opportunity to enjoy MUTS. It was quite cool in the evenings. However, the volume is very loud, even in the daytime. Not a relaxing pool side area.
Marseille: Catherine, owner of Provence Tour Designer, took 8 of us to Aix en Provence where she detailed the historic value of this capitol town during our extensive walk. We shopped at a street side marketplace for lavender, herbs and I bought local French wine. After a refreshment break, we walked on to a main broad street lined with trees and settled in at a local restaurant which was glass enclosed but in a garden area. This was a perfect French bistro with wonderful food and wine. Our tour continued onto the Lourmarin mountain area. We walked the narrow streets and had time on our own for shopping or stopping for refreshments. Some climbed the Castle fortress.
Florence: We took the Princess On Your Own Transportation to Santa Croce Church Square. The guide was very knowledgeable talking all the way, but only spoke about Florence moments before we arrived. She loved Pisa! The only negative comment on this mode of transfer is that the return time is 3:15 PM not 5:15 PM as posted on the tour forms. We had made advanced reservations at the Accademia to see David. Once finding the que, it was about a half hour wait in the reservations line. You could definitely see that there was local favoritism for tour guides, as others would be allowed in not having stood in the long line. No Pictures were allowed in the gallery. We walked and saw the Duomo, Bapistry, Giotti’s Bell Tower, and strolled through the Marketplace for leather and souvenir bargains. Note: Knock Off leather pocketbooks are sold everywhere, especially outside the Real stores. However, it is illegal to buy them. YOU can get arrested and fined heavily! We lunched at a sidewalk cafe near the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio Bridge (Frommer's recommended spot). We walked over the Ponte Vecchio bridge and went into many jewelry shops. Our final enjoyment was our first delicious Gelato bought on the bridge. Our last stop before leaving was to Piazza Michelangelo on the hill overlooking this beautiful renaissance city.
Rome: We took the Princess On Your Own Transportation to the garage under St. Peter's Square. Again, this tour left Rome at 3:45 not 5:15 as noted. The que to clear security to enter St. Peter's Basilica took about a half hour. They were preparing the church for a Republic Celebration on Saturday, thus the center was cordoned off for workers setting up chairs. We walked all the way up to the Naive and had a wonderful experience absorbing all the art and statues of this opulent Basilica. We continued to walk to the San Angelo Castle and over the bridge to find Piazza Navona. Well this proved to be very frustrating as the map we were given from the bus tour was in English and not very helpful! We encountered more narrow streets and ally ways, but not our destination. After going around in circles, we returned to the main street and I found a HOHO bus stop! There was a sign for the Piazza. We followed the crowds and found the square. From there it was more of the same getting lost. Finally at San Lorenzo square and marketplace, I found a taxi and he took us to the Spanish Steps. We passed the Victor Emmanuel Monument (which I would never have been able to walk to nor to the Spanish Steps). From there we walked and stopped for a local lunch in a neighborhood cafe. Asking directions from American tourists, we found our way to the Trevi Fountain. After walking many blocks back towards our meeting point, I gave up and took a taxi back to the St. Peter's Square area. We shopped for religious and Italian souvenirs plus stopped for another delicious Gelato.
Naples: Our wonderful Italian tour guide and driver was Francesco Marrapese who now is like family to all six of us! We headed out of Naples to the Amalfi Coast including Sorrento, Amalfi, Positano and Ravello. We made stops for photo opportunities; walked down the stairs (no cars allowed) to the beach at Positano; saw a wedding procession; sampled Limoncello in a quaint boutique shop and dined on the hillside overlooking the bay at Ravello. This was my favorite day as we celebrated my birthday with new friends in the most picturesque setting. We drove onto Pompeii where our private guide was waiting for us. His narration of this historic site was perfect. Although it does entail lots of walking on uneven marble stones and uphill on occasion, the weather was perfect and not too hot.
Days at Sea: We enjoyed the Champagne Balcony Breakfast. My dear friend ordered this for me to help celebrate my birthday. What a great present. Later we meet with about 50 of our CC new friends in Skywalkers for our Meet & Mingle. This was a great place and an unforgettable occasion. Organizers please be aware, Princess waiters started serving drinks, what looked like complementary drinks, on platters. However, they were "going" to be charged to our Organizer's account! This was quickly stopped as a cash bar had been requested. The Future Sales hostess did attend and mingled with the crowd. Second sea day it rained, so we were forced to pack!
Mykonos: We took the Princess free shuttle into town and walked, and walked and walked. Going Up stairs (streets) to the windmills and picturesque vistas was challenging, it was well worth it for the views and experience. The narrow streets are lined with shops and a few cafes. We stopped for great Baklava and drinks before returning to the ship nearby the shuttle bus stop on the bay. It was a fantastic and relaxing way to spend this short time in port.
Istanbul: EKOL Travel sent a wonderful and knowledgeable guide to greet us. She took us to the Dolmabache Palace which we toured along the Bosporus Sea. We then drove to Hippodrome where the Obelisks and statues, which were centuries old, were explained in detail. Next we walked to and toured the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. We enjoyed a local lunch at the Pudding Shop where we dined on the 2nd Floor overlooking the pedestrian street. One couple continued on to visit an Underground Cistern. After lunch, we drove to the Grand Bazaar area where we had free time for shopping. This was over whelming to say the least. Haggling is difficult at times but I was able to buy leather handbags, gold charm, plus just outside the bazaar are more street vendors with better bargain prices and more Knock Offs. Colorful stalls with fruits, vegetables, spices and fish & meats were great photo opportunities.
Ephesus: EKOL Travel provided a wonderful guide for our day in this ancient and historic location. This was the biggest surprise historically and the most unexpected site for touring and religious experiences. We visited the House of the Virgin Mary where she died at about age 62 to 65. Next, we toured The Temple of Artemis, the ruins at Ephesus where an amphitheater is still utilized for concerts today, this including a Terrace House with tile floors. We drove to ancient ruins of St. John's Basilica where we climbed the hill to view the restoration of these historic buildings. As our day started shortly after noon, we did not stop for lunch and returned by 5:30 PM to our ship.
Athens: Our private tour guide and taxi/limo driver was Dennis Kokkotos, son of George the Great Greek Taxi Driver. A skilled driver was he on these crowded and traffic jammed city streets. We visited the Acropolis including the Propylaeae, Temple of Athena Nike, Parthenon, and Erechitheion. We drove past the Parliament, Prime Ministers residence where we got to watch the Changing of the Guard. We stopped for a photo opportunity at the old Olympic Stadium. Our tour took us out of the city to the Saronic Coast where we stopped for refreshments along the bay for a scenic vista and relaxing break.
Venice: Princess provided a $15 two day water bus shuttle ticket per passenger which is charged to your sign & sail card. This leaves you off at San Mark's Square and a schedule is provided. We choose to take off 2 large pieces of luggage since we would be staying in Venice for 2 additional days. This was confirmed possible at the purser's desk. However, once in the shuttle boat line, the Princess Representative said no luggage on the shuttle! Then she said to ask Security; I questioned the Police officer who said it was OK. Once back in Line, she marked our passes, but then proceeded to say NO LUGGAGE! Not wanting to argue, she instructed us to walk to the other end of the terminal building and take an Alliguna Water bus to St. Mark's, which cost us $18; $6 per passenger and $3 per piece of luggage. This wasn't too bad as the boat driver assisted with the luggage both getting on and off the boat. We walked to our hotel through San Marc's crowded square. Our directions to the Locanda Orseolo on the Orseolo Canal were perfect. We were warmly greeted by Francesco who helped store our luggage for the duration of our stay.
We chose to walk to the Rialto Bridge area and explore Venice on our own. The streets of Venice are narrow and meander everywhere. It is known that you will get lost. We found many interesting sites and enjoyed drinks on the rooftop at the Danelli Hotel cafe. After exploring further, we stopped for a late lunch at a canal side cafe. In the evening, we headed to the Gritti Palace area to join our pre-paid Sunset Grand Canal Gondola ride at $50US per person. We arrived early which was a good thing as I couldn't walk any more! The line grew long by 7PM. We were fortunate to get into the gondola with the Musician (an accordion player) and the soloist. There were at least 8 ornately decorated boats which hold 6 to 8 passengers each.
We returned to the ship for our last "great meal" and night onboard. Disembarkation was very smooth with passengers allowed off for early flights as early as 3 AM. You are given color coded tags and advised approximately what time you will leave the ship. They were about 15 minutes late, but it was easy to find the remaining luggage once you were shuttled by bus to the Luggage terminal. We found the Venizia Water Taxi booth within the terminal and a private taxi was called for 4 of us with 6 pieces of luggage for $90, which took us directly to the Locanda Orseolo. It was fun climbing in their Window door from the boat. We also used this service arranged by the wonderful Peruch family and staff to return to the airport. With luggage (8) bags, it was $120 for 4 of us. At the airport water taxis dock, which is quite a distance from the terminal, there is porter service or luggage carts. We opted for the porter which took us in a van to the check in area for $25.
The Locanda was a perfect location and a great way to end our fabulous European Vacation. We took the Secret Itinerary Tour in English which I had pre-reserved on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. which lasted about 2 hours. We saw and entered the Bridge of Sighs, prison chambers and the historic and well preserved chambers of the law officials and Dukes of Venice.
On Monday, we visited Murano Island by going on a private water taxi arranged by our hotel and experienced a tour of the Marco Polo Glass factory. On this island, I bought some beautiful pieces of glass and jewelry. We took the water bus to Burano Island and had lunch at a canal side cafe finally trying some local pizza. We enjoyed local wines at all of our lunch time stops as well. This is a very colorful and quaint island. We returned to the F. Noto vaparretto stop and proceeded to try to find our way back to the Orseolo but again, found ourselves often going in the wrong directions. Do bring comfortable walking shoes or sneakers. We dined each evening at local restaurants where our hosts were glad to make reservations for us.
Princess and the Mediterranean ports of call exceeded our every expectation. Grazia!