CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews


Princess Cruises Emerald Princess by Nanatravel Western Mediterranean May 29, 2007

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.

Ports:

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!

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