Bear in mind these ports were visited in the off season, which I highly recommend. I cannot imagine what was described by all locals and tour guides as the overwhelming heat, delays and crowds of the summer. Plan to visit in the Spring or Fall. The Ã¢â‚¬Å“seasonÃ¢â‚¬Â has now been extended through November, due to the strong Euro and cruise line demand. You will find 98% of all shops, restaurants and exhibits now open April through November. The temperatures couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have been more perfect for sightseeing. It was mostly sunny and in the mid 60Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s F. By December, they begin the Ã¢â‚¬Å“rainy seasonÃ¢â‚¬Â, which should be avoided.
All of these ports have cobblestone or marble steps and very narrow streets. They can very slippery when wet. I would recommend wearing rubber soled shoes if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s raining, otherwise stick to dressing like the locals in muted tones, black, leather loafers for men, and boots for women. It can go from quite warm in the afternoon to chilly at night, so dress in layers.
YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll also want to pace yourself. These port intensive cruises can be exhausting if you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Ã¢â‚¬Å“build inÃ¢â‚¬Â rest time. We only had two Ã¢â‚¬Å“at seaÃ¢â‚¬Â days, and in between jet lag and touring, it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t enough time to rest. So, if you want to book a long excursion for your favorite port(s), make the next day a short tour. Yes, your feet are going to hurt. But please, skip the screaming American look of jeans and sneaks with a matching belly pack. I chose low heeled black and brown boots and fit right in with the locals, which garnered me better service and treatment in shops and restaurants.
Venice, Italy - Our ship was overnighting in Venice, which is a beautiful thing. Since most people arrive quite exhausted from their travels, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s delightful to have an entire afternoon, evening and all the next morning to see what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like. I had originally booked a tour for Verona. However, I was simply too exhausted to do a thing. I might have had regrets, but it turned out, all cruise ships must exit via The Grand Canal, which afford endless opportunity to see all the highlights of Venice. Most ships will narrate the view as you pass by Doge Palace, St.MarkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Square, the Bridge of Sighs, etc. This passage out of the Grand Canal took over a half hour, and I felt that I had been on a land tour (minus the smells) and was quite satisfied with the views and historical information provided as we sailed along. I was also fortunate enough to see the remaining full moon over Venice the night I arrived, which was quite memorable.
Dubrovnik, Croatia Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I took the Easy Dubrovnik and Cavtat tour. This is not a port I would have any interest in visiting again. Dubrovnik is a larger, sprawling city with some interesting sights. Cavtat is a small seaside fishing village, which is reminiscent of Portofino. Overall, I found the country and my tour guide quite depressing. She spoke of nothing but how many times were the Ã¢â‚¬Å“bombedÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“shot atÃ¢â‚¬Â for over 4 hours non stop. The tour bus was silent. Mouths hung open. Eyes glazed over. It actually became quite comical, as I wondered how many more times she would attempt to perfect her martyrism. It turned out it was many, many, more times. Cavtat was pretty, and the sun came up just in time for a few pretty pictures, but I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t go back.
Corfu, Greece Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Finally, a port with civilization and beautiful scenery. Took a tour high into the mountains which visited several gorgeous scenic spots and visited an ancient monastery as well. Even off season, this was crowded, as everyone basically goes to the same Ã¢â‚¬Å“hot spotsÃ¢â‚¬Â. I found out the hard way, do not look out the window of the bus Ã¢â‚¬â€œ there is a few inches between the bus tires and endless cliffs. Same for all of the other ports. If you rent a car, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re braver than I. Thankfully, all tours I took had excellent drivers and new buses. After we returned and drove back down the mountains to Corfu, the tour guide was going to do a Ã¢â‚¬Å“walking tourÃ¢â‚¬Â around the downtown. It was raining, and I had no desire to follow. Instead, I went my own way and stumbled upon a marvelous restaurant and lounge called the EY CafÃƒÂ© and had a magnificent lunch with two Canadians I met along the walk, who were also looking to get out of the rain. We had hot cocoa, and my first taste of amazing Greek cuisine, which featured warm, fresh feta and fresh olives over penne and fresh baby tomatoes. It was a meal to remember. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m quite sure that sadly, I will never have feta or olives that good in the States. I was very glad I skipped the walking tour. I liked Corfu very much and would definitely return.
Olympia, GreeceÃ¢â‚¬â€œ Missed to due to storm, but wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t on my high points list, and frankly, I was STILL wiped out and needed the extra Ã¢â‚¬Ëœat seaÃ¢â‚¬Â day.
Athens, Greece - Wow, what a city. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s massive and quite cosmopolitan and sophisticated. I could see myself living there. I took the standard tour of the Acropolis, ruins, ruins, and more ruins, etc. Just getting through the city was gridlock. New YorkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got nothing on Athens. Our guide informed us that the tour takes twice as long during the crowded summer months. The tour buses themselves were astounding. They looked like $250K rock n roll band tour busesÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.nice. By now, you will have gotten used to every Greek you meet explaining to you the meaning of their name and itsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ origin, whether you care or not. You will also get a full explanation of the origin of the name of every single monument, town and place you visit. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a Greek thing. Suddenly the humor from the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding becomes much more apparent. Upon arriving at the Acropolis, with dozens of other tour buses, holding people from all over the world, you begin your trek. This is a true mountain hike experience. I saw Americans with limited mobility (who simply refused to believe there wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be handicapped ramps and elevators at the Acropolis) left behind. Now, please heed this warning. If you are unlucky enough to experience this climb in wet weather (fortunately for me, it was sunny) by all means break out the Nikes. The steps are very, very long and wide and pure marble. No, there is nothing to hang on to. You will be climbing 500 feet up, and you will need to rest a couple times. I could feel the altitude about half way up, as I looked down. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d read many previous reviews from summer visitors about the Ã¢â‚¬Å“complete lack of bathroom facilitiesÃ¢â‚¬Â. Not quite true, for off season, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fine, but they are not plentiful. I think many people expect ancient Europe to be Disneyworld. Sorry folks, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not a theme park. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the real thing. There were ruins simply everywhere you looked, dating before Christ. You will hear many, many times that apparently every city you visit was at one time or another invaded by the Venetians. I had no idea the Venetians attacked so many countries. Aggressive little buggers. You will definitely get your fill of history on these ports. After buying the prerequisite souvenirs in the Ã¢â‚¬Å“officialÃ¢â‚¬Â Parthenon store, I exited the site only to find far better quality items are far less prices just off the main entrance. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t buy anything in the Parthenon, wait until you leave and go into the main stores in the street just off the parking lot. While you can get there yourself and buy your own entry ticket for less money, I strongly advise taking the guided tour. I got quite a bit out of it, and loved asking tons of questions about all the sites I was seeing throughout Athens and about the lifestyle there. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be docked in the port town of Piraeus, a city unto itself and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a long drive to Athens and to get to the Acropolis. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit, but now that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen the tourist stuff, would focus my next visit on the city of Athens itself, unguided, as one would Ã¢â‚¬Å“doÃ¢â‚¬Â New York. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure the city holds many wonderful things to do to keep you busy for weeks.
Mykonos Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Greece Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Now this town was a surprise to me. I expected another Portofino, Cavtat-like fishing village where the rich hob-nob. Yawn. In fact, Mykonos is indeed quite beautiful and much larger than I had anticipated. It was reminiscent of Maui as far as the atmosphere. They were an endless labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets to explore, wonderful cafes and restaurants and beautiful views. I took the free bus from the ship to Ã¢â‚¬Å“downtownÃ¢â‚¬Â and walked around unguided, shopped and of course, ate. It was quite lovely and very high end and sophisticated. I found a great pair of shoes there, and everything was on sale as season was coming to a close. I would most definitely go back to Mykonos for a vacation. There were so many nightclubs to experience, and unfortunately we were only there for the day. We enjoyed picture perfect weather that day, sunny and mid 60Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s.
Kusadasi, Turkey Ã¢â‚¬â€œ What can one say about Turkey? It has much history, but I chose to walk about by myself in search of kabobs. Instead I was aggressively attacked by throngs of Turkish shop owners. It didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take long before I began to feel violated, and returned to the safety of the ship. There are several nice cafes and restaurants along the waterfront, but I would advise traveling in groups. The lions look for lone gazelleÃ¢â‚¬Â¦and I was it. The Turkish bazaars can be quite brutal.
Rhodes, Greece - One of my favorite ports. I knew it was a medieval city surrounded by the original walls and moats of old, but was shocked to enter through the cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s main gates to find the entire town was preserved as it was from the early 1300Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s. While tourist shops abounded, they are built inside of the original stonework from the castles and homes. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s truly a magnificent place to visit and transports you instantly to another time and place. I walked the entire town, hugging the outer walls and then working my way inside the main town center. Do not, by any means, waste your money on a tour here. The town is quite easy to walk by yourself and you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get lost Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the entire town is encased by an enormous wall with only 4 exits. I felt more history here than any other port we visited, and would recommend seeing it at least once to everyone.
Santorini, Greece Ã¢â‚¬â€œ This port was the sole reason I chose this sailing and I was not disappointed. When you enter the waters, you are astounded by the sheer beauty of the mile high cliffs, jagged rocks and caves created during the prehistoric earthquakes. Rumored to have been part of the original continent of Atlantis, it is clear you will never see more evidence of a bigger meteographic event. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s simply stunning. Most people choose to either take the cable car or mule up to the main town of Fira. There are no other methods of transport available to Fira. I opted to instead take a tour of the town of Oia and the local winery by bus, which then drops you off at Fira, where you can take the cable car down to the ship. Oia was a beautiful town, offering views you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t find in just Fira, so by all means, see both towns. After sightseeing and shopping in Oia, we made our way to Fira, where some new friends and I shopped, ate a magnificent lunch at a local taverina and enjoyed the dramatic views. You simply cannot capture the experience with a camera or a typed review. It must be seen to be appreciated. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll want to avoid the Ã¢â‚¬Å“touristÃ¢â‚¬Â restaurants, which are located at the very top of Fira, and instead, opt for the more authentic tavernas. The owner brought us course after course of amazing Greek cuisine, and we expressed our appreciation with groans of delight, as he spoke no English. You can easily spend the entire day in Fira quite happily, and we did. Finally, when my feet could take no more, I made my way to the cable car station and back to the ship. Santorini is a must see and I would love to spend more time there.
Naples, Italy Ã¢â‚¬â€œ The temperatures here rise dramatically. It was well into the 80Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s and I chose to spend me day swimming in the vacant pool and relaxing. I had originally planned on seeing the Isle of Capri, but by that time, was coming down with a cold, and needed rest. Naples itself is a bit seedy and a bustling city, with ancient ruins in between glass high rises. I would have only spent time in Naples to EAT. Otherwise, I would strongly recommend you see Capri, as everyone agreed it was magnificent. Capri is about an hour away by hydrofoil.
Rome, Italy Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I did not stay in Rome, as many did. I instead chose to catch a direct flight home. While IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure Rome was filled with wonderful things to see and do, I was ready to go home and collapse! The Rome airport (FCO) is really a destination you want to spend time in. With shops ranging from Bulgari to Nike to Ferrari, and authentic Italian cuisine, you wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mind waiting for your flight.