Here are port reviews and shore excursion information that we took on our Grand Princess Med Cruise - 6/9 - 6/21.
We did not book any tours of Venice through Princess. We did, however, book the Doge's Palace Secret Itenerary Tour. This is not the regular tour of the Palace, but a behind the scenes tour with only 25 people. It takes you through back rooms of the palace - the jail cell where Casanova stayed, the secret police room, etc. I highly recommend this tour. I booked it ahead of time through the internet.
We booked the Acroplis/Plaka Sampler shore excursion through Princess. It was very enjoyable and was just about the right amount of time. Showed us the highlights of Athens, important buildings, etc. Then on to the Acropolis. Tour guide was very informative. Included time on our own at the Acropolis for wandering around and pictures.
The tour dropped us off at the Plaka for a couple of hours on our own of shopping and eating. Many designers stores in this area. We ate a delicious greek lunch at a local cafe. It started raining so we were happy when it was time to be picked up by our bus.
We booked the Ephesus, Virgin Mary, St. John's shore excursion through Shorex Turkey (www.shorexturkey.co.nr) . Also very enjoyable. First stop was Virgin Mary home. Then Ephesus. Ephesus was beautiful but an absolute zoo! It was packed full of people! I wish that we would have stopped there first - maybe we would have been able to avoid some of the crowds.
Be prepared for the local vendors. They will bug you to buy stuff constantly.
We booked a full Day tour through Transbalkan. Istanbul was one of my favorite stops. It felt very exotic! In the morning, we visited the Blue Mosque, St. Sophia and Underground Cistern. They were all within walking distance of each other. Then lunch in a garden patio of a restaurant. Nice atmosphere - good food.
The school children taking tours of the local areas like to practice their English on the American tourists! They were very friendly and asked questions like "What is your name?" and "How are you?". When I answered them, they were so happy and excited!! I felt like I was a rock star or something, when they all were clamoring to say hello and give me high fives!! We joked about my "fan club" for the rest of the trip!
After lunch, we went to the Grand Bazaar (what a place that was!!) - with time on our own for shopping - and the Topkapi Palace - also time on our own. It was a long day and we were very tired at the end!
We booked a private tour with Marcello of seesorrento. It was the highlight of our entire trip! The first thing Marcello asked us when we started was what were our expectations. If we wanted to go shopping, he would take us shopping. If we wanted to go off the beaten path, we would go there. By this time, we were pretty tired of the buses/herds, so we wanted to see Marcello's Italy. He took us through Sorrento, Positano and along the Amalfi Coast. Many photo stops. He showed us beaufiful little villages that the buses don't stop at. He then ventured beyond where the buses can travel and totally beat the crowds. As I said before, by then we were very tired to the crowds, so we really loved this. We stopped at a village called Pontone and had a wonderful lunch in a garden patio with an awesome view. We did not order off a menu. Marcello brought us dishes upon dishes of food that he thought we would enjoy - food that the locals eat. The food includes the yummiest olives I've ever had, caprice salad, goat cheese, cheese cooked in lemon leaves, gnocchi, mussels with linguine, red and white wine carafes...I could go on and on.....then on to the dessert. We had an assortment of 4 different desserts on our plates! He also brought out bottles of liquers - Lemoncello, some sort of fennel liquer and cantalope liquer. We all had shots of these in chilled glasses. So much fun - what an experience he made this lunch for us.
After lunch, we went to Pompei. Since we went in the afternoon, it was less crowded, then if we had gone in the morning with all the bus tours. I can't even describe Pompei! It was huge! Street after street after street of ruins - and so well preserved!! We spent 2 hours there which just flew by. We definitely could have spent many more hours there. We were glad that Marcello had taken us to the farthest place first (Amalfi) and worked his way back to the closest place to the ship (Pompei) so we wouldn't worry about being late in arriving back to the port.
There were some tours that arrived back at port late, but they were Princess tours so the ship waited for them.
We did this on our own. We just wandered around, walked up to the windmills and ate lunch. This town is definitely doable on your own. It is the cutest, most beautiful place. Many back streets with shops and cafes. I loved this port!! We also got to see the pink pelican!! Took pictures - will post later.
We did not do a shore excursion into Rome, since we had visited Rome two years ago and it's a 1 1/2 hour drive into Rome. We thought we would just wander around Civetevechia and do some shopping, maybe eating. There wasn't much around this port at all. Minimal shops and restaurants - most closed since it was Sunday. We walked around and then just got back on the ship and relaxed. If you want to walk around, you will have to take the Princess shuttle as it is not possible to walk from the ship into town.
We booked the Medevil Lucca shore excursion since we had been to Florence a couple of years ago. The Lucca tour was a half day tour. We didn't really enjoy the town much. We had thought it would be a more charming town, like Siena or San Gigmanio, but it was more of a working class town. We were disappointed in this tour but maybe it was just our expectation of something different.
We booked the Arles/Le Baux all day exursion through Princess. We enjoyed this tour much. The drive to Arles was approx. 45 minutes. Guide was very informative. Van Gogh had spent time in this town. Walking tour of important sights, then time on our own for shopping. Lunch was at the Atrium Hotel in Arles included in the excursion. The buffet salad bar set up was very. I didn't enjoy the chicken lunch much, however. The lunch also included red and rose wine and also dessert.
We then went to Le Baux in the afternoon. Beautiful medevil town up on a hill. Very hilly area with many cute shops and cafes.
I hope you enjoyed this information regarding the tours and excursions we went on. If you have any questions, please let me know!