Date of Trip: May 2010
Tips for 2010 Mediterranean Cruise, Celebrity Equinox PLUS 6 days in Rome
General cruise notes •We’re Canadian; late 40’s couple, plus our mom and an 18 yr old. Frequent travelers
•If you (like us) do your own sight seeing not joining the hordes on pricey, generic bus excursions, these ports (except Naples) are great. If you do some homework, are ok with some walking, and use common sense you’ll have a great time on your own. (Cruise companies hate people like us who spend so little on excursions).
•Advance booked www.airportshuttle.it from Fumincino airport to Civitavecchia port. Just go to the ground transport area, they have a board with names on it. A shared small bus for the 45 minute trip on fast toll highway
•Lots of transport options at FCO was no need to book in advance except peace of mind for our Mom
•Embark area not as modern as North American terminals, but staff was plentiful, checked in quickly, cabin ready sooner than we expected
•Equinox food was outstanding, including amazing variety and quality on the buffet. The best any of us has had on a ship. With late nights in many ports, did not try any specialty restaurants
•Ship often arrived early, disembark was quick, no customs, so you can plan to get an early start before the many tour busses overrun the sites
•Found that photographers, shops staff, etc were not as pushy as on other lines
•After 16 cruises on 5 cruise lines between us Celebrity is our favorite line: classier with fewer kids than Carnival, Princess or NCL but clientele not as elderly as Holland America.
•We’ve always had great wait staff, cabin stewards etc on cruises, but all Celebrity staff: front desk, embarkation, excursion people etc, were plentiful, helpful, professional.
•Don’t bother with in room internet, the supplied keyboard is tough to use. Free in cabin movies on demand is nice •If your phone is international capable, you’ll get 3G in most ports but roaming can get expensive
•Disembark was smoother than some other ships, luggage easy to find. They discouraged the “walk off with your luggage” option •Crew work crazy hours, for low pay, supporting families at home: don’t cheap out on the tips. If you can afford a cruise you can afford a few $100 to look after everyone who made your vacation great
•Take the donkeys up the cliff $4EU. It’s fun, easy and a great story. At 67, Mom opted for cable car (long lines!) •$15EU cab ride took us to Oia first thing, ahead of tours •A relaxed day on our own, small island don’t think renting a car makes sense •Try the yoghurt, it’s not what North Americans expect, thick & creamy, almost a dessert. Get the honey & walnuts if offered
•Just wander around the town, make sure you get all the way to Little Venice, view of the windmills •Not much to do (even ship had only 1 excursion), but lots of nice little shops with jewelry, trinkets etc •Greek coffee in a cafe on water front a nice choice •cold local beer from small shop was good deal 500ml for $3EU
•Great destination. Turkish people were very nice, helpful, friendly. We’ll go back again
•DAY 1: Nice start is the Bosporus cruise to see the city, then on to Aya Magia. No need to book a tour co. as the boats are a short walk from the ship. Leave the pier, turn right on the main street, walk along the park / water front for about 10 minutes. •DO NOT recommend the half day tour cruise through http://www.istanbultoursguide.com/. Picked us up on time at 11:40am, but didn’t realize tour wouldn’t start until 2pm. Guide was not on yet, just the driver who spoke no English. Spent next 3 hours driving around, waiting at hotels as they picked up others who had booked the tour. We weren’t even sure of this was part of the tour, as not a word from driver. Started late, only had 20 minutes at Spice Bazaar (a great place) and then onto the river tour, we now realized were back near cruise dock. Also was to include lunch, which WAS NOT provided •From here a $20-25TYL cab to Sutanahmet Park, where major sights are •Traffic is insane in Istanbul, it may take longer to get somewhere than you think •Aya Sophia: do a little research before you go, you’ll appreciate this marvel even more. •Do hire a guide, found ours out front, should have Tursab ID. Ours was great. We arrived only 1 hour before 7pm closing, he charged us $20USD, we tipped him $10TYL and asked him to guide us at Topkapi Palace the next day. His name was Gokhan Kaya, his email is firstname.lastname@example.org •Arriving later in the day meant Aya Sophia wasn’t crowded but we did miss the Blue Mosque. Hung out in Sultanahmet Park, enjoyed a pretzel. Cab back to ship was $20TYL, though one guy tried to charge $200. We don’t negotiate very hard, so probably pay a little too much for cabs and trinkets everywhere
Topkapi Palace: met guide just before it opened and he whisked us ahead to treasure rooms (absolutely do this!) before they lined up (which they did!). He also jumped the line to get our entry tickets. A really great site, allow 2-3 hours. We didn’t pay extra to go into the harem apartments. Had seen so much already, we were a bit overloaded. We paid Gokhan $50USD including tip. No idea what going rate was, but he made the visit enjoyable and for 4 people it was great value •Nice to do Sophia Magia & Topkapi Palace on separate days, allows you to absorb them better •Should have done Blue Mosque, but opted only for Grand Bazaar, as time was short •From Topkapi a 10-15 minute walk to Grand Bazaar, didn’t have enough time here, had to be back at ship •Leaving the bazaar we headed down hill 4-6 blocks to waterfront, caught cab back to ship. Watch for pick pockets etc as you would in any crowded big city •Possibly do Bazaar on day 1 after boat cruise •If it’s Friday mosques may not be open as much, due to prayers
•Were very happy with private tour booked through www.aboutephesus.com •$140USD for 4, plus entrance fees to whatever we chose to see, we set the agenda, up to 7 hours with a new 12 seat bus to ourselves •Guide was very knowledgeable, great English •Virgin Mary’s house: was packed when we got there, a beautiful park setting. To a non-Christian the house itself was just a small shrine, but still worth the stop
•Ephesus: really great site. Smaller than Pompeii, but different, and we liked it more •Definitely pay to go in the terrace houses, which are in Ephesus (not a separate location as we thought) •It’s a little tough for anyone with mobility issues, but manageable. Our 67 year old Mom just skipped the Terrace Houses and walking up the amphitheatre •Take water, hats etc. No shade and the marble streets reflect a lot of extra sun •We’re then taken to the obligatory carpet stop. Had Turkish lunch with just few locals. •The carpet demonstration & sales pitch was interesting, low key, not too high pressure. A nice exposure to Turkish hospitality, culture and food, very glad we did it •Accept the offer of a beverage even just water; considered rude not to. Turkish people enjoy entertaining visitors. Apple tea is excellent, (like apple cider). Turkish coffee is also good, like an unfiltered espresso. Don’t drink the grounds sludge left in bottom 1/3 of cup. In the bazaar though, accepting the tea implies you should purchase something
•Kusadasi a very nice port. Walked along the waterfront, had affordable cold beverages in a nice cafe, shopped in the bazaar. Lots of sales pitches, but just keep walking, absorb the atmosphere •Boxes of apple tea & Turkish delight hawked by vendors at tourist sites not a good deal, big packaging, small contents. Apple tea box only contained small package of instant crystals •Buy Turkish delight from places that have it on sale bulk, you can sample different kinds
•Start early to get ahead of the crowds. •Guide books reference walking to metro station from ship, taking to Cyntanga square. Think the port has expanded, because it’s NOT walking distance from Celebrity Pier •Lot’s of cabs waiting when you disembark, $15EU to Acropolis (though posted sign says $13EU). Left mom behind, too much walking on this itinerary. •Be at Acropolis at 7:50, get ticket, opens at 8am, no crowds yet •Ticket gets you in to all the other archeological sites too •There is a lot of steps up, but it’s not as bad as the guide books led us to believe •From Acropolis, walk down hill to Roman Agora •Make sure you have a decent guide book, or map, otherwise ruins are just piles of “broken Roman stuff” particularly after Ephesus the previous day •From Agora walked up Apostolou Pavlou past Mars & Pynx hills (a decent uphill walk, but manageable) then wound down to Temple of Zeus. Temple is very impressive •From there through the national gardens, and on to the parliament building / Syntagma square •Finally shopping in the Plaka •Plaka was touristy, but not as bad as we expected. Certainly better than Caribbean ports we’ve visited •Planned lunch in Plaka, but by after 6 hours of walking, we’re exhausted. Cabbed back to the boat. Cab was tougher to find, apparently better to have a shop call one for you, but still only took 5 minutes to snag one
•Read horror stories about Naples and hadn’t researched enough in advance, so we did a ship tour to Pompeii •Pompeii is crowded. If you can book a reputable, affordable private tour, and could get there ahead of the 10’s of thousands of other tourists, likely worth it. Probably just a 20 minute cab ride as well. Ship tour guide was very good. Don’t pay more than $6EU for a guide book here •On return to ship we walked around Naples some. Use common sense, keep money etc secure, and enjoy the town. Grab some food, it’s great, although not as much English spoken here as in other ports •Did talk to someone on board who got ripped off by a bait & switch scam buying an iPhone on the street. We had no sympathy: in a city notorious for street crime, what did he expect (which is what his wife said!) •Our Mom did the Amalfi coast tour, great scenery but bumper to bumper tour busses all the way
This is a great cruise to see a lot of history and get an introduction to the Mediterranean. Do some research, so you have an idea what you’re seeing and be ready to walk a quite a bit. We continues with 6 days in Rome after the cruise, see separate report posting
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