Festival Cruises European Vision by Rick Stevens Greece/Greek Isles November 23, 2003
European Vision is a wonderful ship and competes well with the ships of the other major cruise lines. The ship was built in 2002 and is really first rate. All of the amenities you find on most major lines are available. The ship was impeccably maintained and was one the cleanest ships we have been on. One thing to note is that smoking is permitted in all areas of the ship except the dining rooms. This is something that Americans may not be used to. It got annoying at times but we were amazed at how the ship did not smell like stale smoke.
The ship has most of the normal areas that you expect on a cruise ship: two very large pools and two whirlpools, spa and salon, rock climbing wall, casino, etc. We don't gamble so the casino was really no issue to us but we did note that it was much smaller than on other major lines. There is a coffee bar (Café San Marco) as well as several other bars and the White Lion Pub (an English themed pub). There is a card room, cigar room selling wonderful cigars (including Cubans) rock climbing wall, and duty free shopping. If you are going for the shipboard shopping you will be disappointed. While there are some shops there is not nearly the offering that you find on other lines. There is also a very large theater (La Gondola) that offered some entertaining shows. The disco is very nice as well and offers a blend of European and American music. There is also an Internet café and a fitness center.
Staff - the staff on this ship was wonderful. Catering to a mostly European crowd they were very adept at handling the myriad issues that arise with such a diverse passenger population. One nice touch is that all staff members wear pins on their uniforms which signify the languages that they speak. We did not encounter any staff member who did not speak English. Announcements and the ship's daily paper are all done in five languages. English is used as the common "bridge" language between the passengers.
We found the staff to be very attentive to all of our needs. The cabin steward was fantastic and kept our cabin well maintained. Our dining room waiters were equally talented and provided excellent service. We purchased the wine package (for 120 Euros you get a bottle of wine with dinner each night and a bottle of water) and the cellar master stopped by our table every night to check to see that we were satisfied with the bottles we had chosen (we were!).
Since we were on the ship for Thanksgiving and the passengers were mostly European we did not expect anything special since this is only an American holiday (and of the 1500 or so passengers there were only about 30 Americans). We were surprised when the captain held a Thanksgiving cocktail party (with complimentary cocktails and hors d'ouvres) for us and they included turkey and dressing on the menu that night for us. It was a very nice touch and showed the level of detail and attention that the staff pays to all of its passengers.
Dining - there are two dining rooms on European Vision - Marco Polo and La Pergola. They follow the traditional 2 seating format for dinner that most major cruise lines have. Marco Polo is the large restaurant where most of the passengers eat. La Pergola is the upscale restaurant that is reserved for guests staying in suites. Non-suite passengers can pay an up-charge if they wish to eat in la Pergola for lunch or dinner. Since we were staying in a suite we ate in La Pergola for the cruise. The food was very well prepared and offered a great variety every night. Passengers are seated at tables with other passengers that speak the same language. That way you aren't sitting with a group of people with whom you can not communicate.
For breakfast you have an open seating in Marco Polo for all guests or a buffet style in La Brasserie which is the lido type (like Royal Caribbean's Windjammer) restaurant. For lunch you can choose to eat in Marco Polo for open seating, La Brasserie, or for suite guests La Pergola. They do check your cruise card at the door of La Pergola at all meals and passengers not in suites are not allowed in. On one day of our cruise they did a champagne brunch in La Pergola for the suite guests that was fantastic. The food was incredible and the service as well.
Room service is available 24 hours but the menu is very limited. There is also a pizza place and Chez George that are available most of the time as well. There are several drink packages available (see wine package above) including a beer package which provides unlimited beer for 150 Euros per person for the cruise. The featured beer on our cruise was Heineken.
Cabins - there are just three types of cabin on this ship - suite, standard outside and standard inside. The suites are about the same size as a balcony cabin on most other lines. Each has a small sitting area with love seat and bathrooms have bathtubs. Standard cabins are just a tiny bit smaller than the usual but are adequately outfitted in a blonde wood with colorful furnishings. Bathrooms have showers only. All cabins have color televisions (with Pay TV movies) and mini-bars. Suites are the only category of cabin with balconies. Some of the amenities that come with being in a suite are the upscale dining room, first grab at shore excursions, and advance tender tickets.
Dubrovnik, Croatia - a very nice medieval walled city. There are several tours available but we chose to just take the bus into the city. The ship contracts with a bus line and for 6 Euros per person round trip you can just go into the city and do your own thing. The people of this town were very friendly and really like Americans. The town was extensively damaged in the early 1990's by war and has been carefully restored. This is the only town on our itinerary where the Euro was not the currency - here you use the Croatian Kuna. There are several change shops just inside the city gates though. Take a walk around the town walls and you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of both the city and the harbor. The monastery just inside the walls is also a beautiful place to go as well. Plenty of reasonable shopping. Make time to have a nice lunch at one of the small cafes in town - it was an incredible experience for us.
Corfu, Greece - Again, there are several excursions available but we chose to do our own thing. As soon as you get off of the ship there are many taxi drivers and you can negotiate a tour of the island with them. We paid 120 Euros for a 5 hour tour of the island which hit all of the major sites. Our driver spoke perfect English and was very amenable to changing the "normal" itinerary he followed to accommodate our interests. Don't miss the monastery or the Achilleon Palace. Shopping in the old town is a lot of fun and there are some good bargains to be had. Again, take the time for a nice lunch at one of the many sidewalk cafes.
Santorini, Greece - this was by far our favorite port. You must tender off the ship here. All of the shore excursion passengers are tendered off first and then those passengers not on an excursion go next. You must get a tender ticket from the shore excursions desk and then you can go off when your number is called. The tender tickets are free and are used to control the times people depart. Being in a suite we did not have to get a ticket, we were given them at the start of our cruise in our cabin and were the first group allowed to go ashore after the shore excursions left. In order to get into town after you reach the island you must either take the cable car up or ride a donkey up. The cable car costs 3 Euros (don't know what a donkey costs). If you don't mind smelling like a donkey all day ride it up - otherwise take the cable car. We just walked around the town looking at churches and buildings etc. Again, tons of good shopping (especially for jewelry) and great food and the views are spectacular.
Athens, Greece - we chose to hire a taxi driver here as well with another American couple. For 30 Euros each we were treated to a personal tour of the city. We started at the Acropolis. What an incredible place - words can not adequately describe this site. We then went to the Olympic stadium and saw the site of the first modern games. Our driver then took us to the Presidential palace and we watched the ceremonial changing of the guards. This was something that the shore excursions did not offer and was a really cool thing to see. We then went to a couple of other temples and then he dropped us off at the Plaka for shopping. Last but not least he took us to a small taverna for a great meal. A great time and much better than any excursion (and cheaper).
Katakolon (Olympia), Greece - this is just a small fishing village but is the gateway to the incredible ruins at Olympia. Once again we just hired a taxi (80 Euros) and he drove us out to the site. The wonderful part of it was that we arrived about 45 minutes before any of the tour buses and had the entire place to ourselves. Well worth the money and again it was comparable to the prices for the excursions. The town is small but there is some good shopping and a great little wine store. We ate lunch along the seaside and had a great time.
All in all - this was a great cruise and probably the best way to see Greece and the islands. There were very few children on the ship and the diverse passenger population made things really interesting. Americans who enjoy European travel should not hesitate to take this cruise.