My husband and I were travelers on the Navigator. I'll apologize up front because this will be really long, and I have tons of facts and stories . Yikes. We average about one cruise every 3 years and had this trip in the planning phase for more than 2 years. I'd been dreaming of Greece since High School and decided in early 2004 that this was going to happen in 2006.
I gathered the brochures from my travel agent and searched out any cruise line that had significant itineraries in Greece. I didn't really want Italy, didn't really want Turkey, just wanted port after port in Greece. Well, most of the lines have a combination of the two extra countries and in 2004 the itinerary that I wanted was on either Crystal or Radisson Seven Seas (rebranded to Regent SS in early 2006). At that time, the itineraries that interested me began in Venice (a concession) and hit Corfu, then all the regular Greek islands. With my travel agent's assistance we narrowed down our line to RSSC. Regent doesn't get their cruise catalogs out as early as other cruise lines, so I didn't see the itineraries for 2006 until July 2005, and they'd changed. I decided to accept the removal of Corfu for Dubrovnik and one day in Kusadasi, and made my deposit. I'm a little obsessive with my planning and research and had folders for each port all ready when our dates finally rolled around. We arrived in Venice 2 days early. We wanted to enjoy the city, not take any chances on flight delays and battle jet lag before boarding the ship. We made our own flight and hotel arrangements and had a terrific time exploring Venice, walking enormous amounts and sampling the yummy restaurants. Be warned, restrooms in Venice are non-existent and if you are lucky enough to find one, it'll cost you about Euro 1 to use. We watched a guy get chewed out by the bathroom attendant when he used the sinks to wash his hands but didn't pay.
Our ship, the Navigator, arrived on Saturday morning and we were able to board around 1pm. It's a smaller ship, only a 490 passenger capacity, and like the rest of Regent, mostly balconies. We booked the cheapest category, down on deck 5 and forward, no balcony, but it still was complete luxury! In coming directly from our hotel to board, we ran into problems dropping off our large luggage. We booked our hotel near Piazzale Roma in Venice, which is close to the ship terminal. I'd read something on a message board about being able to take a shortcut to the pier from our hotel which would make transportation to the ship unnecessary. This route includes a wonderful pedestrian sidewalk and a bridge over a canal, but alas, the bridge over the railway lines was blocked off with huge sheets of plywood. I gather that this blockage is permanent and has something to do with port security. So, we'd done a test run the day before boarding the ship, and knew that we'd be dragging the luggage on the alternate route: up a sidewalk to the highway from the mainland, then back down through the port entryway, which isn't really made for foot traffic.
We got an early start hauling our bags on the route, stopping frequently to let others by, or resting (too many resort casual clothes and shoes?) But when we got down to the passenger drop offs, it was still only 12:10, and the Regent literature says 1pm to board, we crossed our fingers and proceeded. One of the big signs next to the parking lot electronically lists all the ships in port and which pier was their entry. RSSC was sharing a pier with the MSC line (mostly Italian passengers). The signs on the sidewalk point the MSC cruisers one direction and the Regent cruisers another. There was no indication that we were to drop off our bags anywhere, so we entered and while the foot traffic went up an escalator, we took the elevator with our luggage. When we entered the RSSC-marked entrance an employee hustled up to us to say that we couldn't bring our large luggage through this way! I asked where they went and she told me that it was to be dropped off outside at the big white tent. So we went back down the elevator and across the street and parking lot to a small white tent. But that wasn't it either, wrong cruise line. They sent us back even further toward the entrance to a larger, dingy white tent. There were signs for Princess and MSC for the luggage drop, but no indication that this was the right place for Regent. I left a sweaty husband standing there, while I walked to the guard station to ask where the luggage for Regent went - they didn't understand me and were of no assistance. I went back to my husband completely exasperated - where did our luggage get dropped off?! I was weighing my options of going back into the pier building and re-asking the employee when someone in Regent uniform walked into the crowds and opened one of the garage doors and hung a Regent sign.
Hallelujah!! There we go! Evidently our only mistake was to arrive too early, before Regent was ready to receive us. We dumped our luggage probably before they were ready, and went back to our pier building. We went through the metal detectors on the 2nd floor and then were directed down a back stairwell to the pier-side sidewalk. Part of the Marittima cruise terminal is under construction, so some of the ship parking is moved further out. 2 nice Regent employees directed us to load into a shuttle bus, with another 8 passengers, and we drove a whopping 200 yards down the pier, past the MSC ship to the Navigator on the end. We were greeted by the ship's staff, and walked up the gangway. With a flute of champagne, we went through the check-in process in the Compass Rose dining room and then a porter took us up to the pool deck. There was a full buffet in Portofino and another entirely different buffet at the pool grill. After getting served from the bar staff and getting a little something to eat, we heaved a sigh of relief and knew that all the details are now taken care of! At about 2:30, the cruise director came over the public address system to say that all suites were now ready. Our suite was phenomenal!! The closet, the bathroom, ahh, fit for royalty. We met our housekeeper Hershey, a tall and exceptionally beautiful Pilipino girl, she had a bottle of champagne on ice for us, gave us the tour and took the slip of paper that indicated what bottles of alcohol that we wanted for our stateroom.
The ship had one more day in port, we were scheduled to embark at 1pm on Sunday for Croatia. So for the remainder of Saturday, and Sunday beginning at 7am, Regent provided complimentary shuttles to complimentary vaporetto into Venice's St. Mark's Square. The Navigator cast off and left our pier at 1pm, and cruised down the Guidecca Canal along the Zattere and in front of St. Mark's. There is truly no better way to see Venice than from this vantage point! We had a terrific commentary from the ship's lecturer about what we were seeing as we glided down the canal. One of the enormous Princess ships was just behind us, so it was like a ship parade.
The Compass Rose meals were absolutely tremendous! We chose to sit with a large group the first night and met some terrific couples and one of the performers, then the second night we met even more new people. There were 2 large groups on this itinerary - an enormous group from Yamaha and then one from some sort of medical supply company. So, these people mostly sat within their own groups and we were able to meet a cross section of the non-affiliated people during meals. Portofino, the reservation only restaurant was also amazing, but oh my goodness, the sheer amount of food was astonishing!
I don't know if the Mediterranean is normally a rough crossing, but that second night on our way to Croatia the ship was bouncing, it didn't bother me, but my poor husband was caught a little green. Maybe because the Navigator is a smaller ship it has a little more motion? We had several evenings and nights which were rough. On of the perks of being a cruiser on this line is that Regent brings a local tour guide on board to answer questions at each port. This person will sit at a desk in the reception foyer area and they usually have maps of the port cities and areas and can answer local questions.
In the morning we reached Dubrovnik, Croatia. This is a wonderful port, we were there with the Rotterdam and it's a port that requires tendering. The Croatian people are absolutely gorgeous and they speak flawless English, the money is Croatian Kunars which you can change on the ship. The old wall around the city is a great way to spend some time, it cost Euro 6 per person and the entrance (the Pile Gate) was a little hard to find. From the tender dock, walk through the big wall and around left up a narrow alley. We'd worn our swimsuits under our regular clothes in the hopes that we could find a beach to play on. One of the bartenders from the ship suggested the public beach on the back side of the Old Town, we could see it from the wall. And we could also see on the ocean-side falling dramatically from the wall to the Adriatic, several little café-bars with chairs and tables on the terracing. We came down from the wall after a complete loop, and walked through town, unlike Venice, the streets are straight and it's easy to walk all the way through. We went out the "back gate" which is actually a drawbridge over what used to be a moat. They've added park area in the moat and you can walk down it to the back harbor, and the beach. The beach is beautiful but very rocky, so we did some wading in our water sandals. The rocks are dark colored and then there's bunches of pretty little white shells, and as I looked, the little shells moved. Because they are hermit crabs, Yay, and very cute they are! We sat on the rocks and then sat along the wall, got a little sun. We walked up through the new town, and found another beach further along the coast to the north. Then we walked back through Old Town and tried to find the gate through the wall to one of the terraces, and Voila! We walked directly to the door to one of the bars. We were served cold drinks from the bar, we sat in the sun and when we got too hot, our bartender, Barbara, suggested that we jump off of the rocks into the ocean and enjoy a refreshing swim. It's such a treat, they've poured concrete steps down to the edge, and then the rocks drop off into deep water. The water is chilly, but still perfect. One of the nice European ladies that is a regular let me borrow her swim goggles to look at the fish. I love these little accidents that happen when you explore on your own. We stayed for maybe 90 minutes then made our way back to the tender.
The next day was Katakolon, it's the port city on the Greek Peloponnesus, the entry to the ruins of Olympia. I kinda felt bad for this village. I'm sure that for generations they were a quiet town who relied on fishing, and then when the pier was built and the cruise ships added them to the itinerary, that they expanded fast. There's one main street, and the shop owners were really nice, spoke fairly good English. We were one of the first cruisers into town, and a shopowner greeted us kindly and asked how many passengers on our ship, and when we were embarking. When she got the information she shouted it down the street to all the other interested shopowners. I found the tourist items to be a little cheaper here than on the other islands and in Athens. They had the usual kitsch, and some really nice leather items. We walked past town and down the length of the harbor along the water, it wasn't very nice beach, kinda dirty and there were dead jelly fish here and there. It was a good walk, but we didn't do anything exciting. I suppose that we could have walked the opposite direction to the lighthouse on the headland, and there might have been a nicer beach that direction, but we didn't. Evidently there is an Air Force base somewhere close, because we were buzzed by fighter craft over and over. Our shipmates said that Olympia was nice.
Next day was Santorini, the quintessential Greek Island! We arrived at sunrise and I was out on the upper deck taking photos and getting seriously windblown. Unfortunately, we were anchored in the harbor along with 4 other ships, and I'm not sure if it's cheaper, if it's mandated or what, but all the ships are using a Santorini company for tendering. When we reached the pier with hundreds of other ship people, the line for the cable cars was the length of the pier. And the walkway up to the donkey path was equally as packed. We pushed our way through the donkey line, because we wanted to walk. Now, if I'd put any thought into it at all, I would have known that where there's donkeys, there's manure. However, when you start climbing stairs in donkey poo, it's a festive experience.
It was a brutal climb, the donkeys with passengers passing on the way up, and then because it was still early in the day, the donkey herders wanted to take advantage of the crowd at the bottom and didn't yet have riders to come down. So they'd run the herds of donkeys back down the path, which is alarming as a walker to look up and see 10 donkeys running down the stairs at you. However, the donkeys never even grazed me and my husband. I am very proud to say that we made it all the way up the steps, it was hard, I was sweating torrents, but I earned an extra dessert at dinner!
One of the perks of being a cruiser on this line is that Regent brings a local tour guide on board to answer questions at each port. This person will sit at a desk in the reception foyer area and they usually have maps of the port cities and areas and can answer local questions. So before leaving the ship, we asked the guide about local buses. We didn't want to have to pay for a taxi, and then arrange for them either to wait while we finished our tasks or to come back at a certain time. The bus stop is down from the cable car building at the top, it's actually back south a bit. The best way to find it is to walk south along "Gold Street" until you get to the hotel Atlantis, then you make your way down the non-cliff side of the incline. There's a food stand and in the back corner is the bus kiosk, although you buy and pay for your bus ride while on the bus, the kiosk has the schedules. We didn't find this bus station that first time, however, we found 2 bus stops, one across the street from the other, and since we wanted to ride to Oia on the north end of the island and then go to one of the beaches on the south end, we figured that whatever bus arrived first would be our way of knowing which way to go first. And the first bus went to Oia, it was very full, cost Euro 1.10 per person, we braced ourselves in the back doorwell, and rode standing up the whole way. I don't know if the route is always the same but from Fira to Oia, the bus goes on the high road (west), skirting the cliff caused by the volcano, it's winding with steep dropoffs, and then coming back to Fira from Oia, the bus goes along the coast on the east side.
We were dropped off in Oia, and this is definitely the place to be! Narrow alleys, many shops, great people, and amazing views! We did some wandering, shopping and ended out on the point overlooking the Oia harbor. There was a similar path from the harbor up to the edge of the village on the cliff as in Fira, but I didn't think that I was up to another climb, so we didn't make our way down. We spent maybe a couple hours in Oia, then went back to the bus area and waited for the next one back to Fira. Unlike Venice, at least there are available public restrooms on Santorini, and they're free, but they're filthy and the women's rooms don't have toilet seats. So, girls - be prepared to hover. We heard later that some of the people on the shore excursions were charged Euro 0.50 for a several squares of toilet paper and the toilet.
We caught the bus back to Fira, it looks like anyone on the coast road can just stand on the side of the road and flag down the bus at any time. There's quite a few little beaches, and if you don't need a snack bar or anything fancy, this might be a option. The bus returns to the bus station that I wish we'd found first. The station is completely surrounded by schools. You can hear the kids playing on the playgrounds and at lunch many were walking down the streets or hanging out on the corners. So we waited for the bus to Kamari beach to open it's doors for the 2pm, and got a seat in the back, away from the other tourists. What we didn't know is that the city buses get used for the school buses. So at 1:55 all of the sudden the station was overrun by the middle school and high school students who proceeded to board all 6 different buses. We were surrounded by teens, and like you would expect, they were ignoring us. It was exactly like teens in the US, felt like home with my 15 year old. So we rode to the next little town, let off some teens and picked up a few elementary students, and eventually made it to Kamari. We got off the bus and with a handful of other tourists, we walked down a main street that parallels the beach until we reached the retail district and a direct route to the beach.
Kamari is a black sand beach, pretty rocky, and the surf is a little rough. There a gobs of lounge chairs and umbrellas and little changing huts. The day was overcast, so I only went out to my shorts, but Randy went swimming and enjoyed it. The headland to the south is enormous and juts out into the ocean. I guess that if we'd taken a different bus, that the beach of Perissa is just on the other side of the "mountain". Perissa is supposed to have red sand beaches. We didn't stay very long, about an hour, and then headed back to our bus stop, where we loaded up and went back to Fira. It felt like a full day but it was still early in the afternoon. We did a little window shopping, there's some truly gifted artists that set up along Gold Street in the afternoon, and I kick myself for not picking up a couple of watercolors. We chose the cable car for the jaunt down to the pier, there was no line, it cost Euro 3.50 per person and was quick and easy. Back on the ship I wasn't able to get my sunset picture from Santorini as we were sailing away, the fog was rolling in from the ocean and the sun disappeared well above the horizon.
We never ate breakfast in the dining room or anywhere really but the buffet. The servers learn what you like pretty quickly and had my hot tea without asking most mornings. They'll make any egg dish or omelet that you'd like and this request comes after being seated. You can have the coffee in the pots or request something special like a latte or cappuccino. I'd heard on the message boards that if you gave the kitchen one days notice that they'd pack a lunch for you to take with you on any of your excursions. We intended to try it, but either forgot to give notice or felt uneasy requesting such a special service. Twice we made bagel sandwiches out of the breakfast buffet and carried them to the beach and that worked really well with a couple of bottles of water and sodas from our suite. We missed quite a few lunches while in port, so several times we'd come back about in time for the afternoon tea - it was really terrific and decadent. Then if you weren't stuffed enough from all that food, cocktail snacks are always available either by the pool or in one of the lounges at 6pm before dinner.
Be warned, that if you want to do any laundry, starting about 3 days into the cruise, the machines start to have lines of people waiting for them. And if a passenger cannot find an empty machine on their own deck, they slum down to the other decks. I set the alarm on Thursday morning at 6, and was easily able to get one load in, and with the high powered machines, it only took 45 minutes to both wash and dry my clothes. They are free and the detergent is also free because it's pumped into the machines automatically during a cycle.
Coming into Mykonos, early in the morning, we had a spectacular thunderstorm! So much lightning! It must have sounded amazing from outside, but I only viewed it from the cabin. When daylight came, I thought that we were going to be disappointed with our planned beach day. It was kinda gray, but the weather report on the BBC said that the front was supposed to clear over the Aegean. Hoping for the best, we dressed for a beach day and packed our beach bag. Again, we stopped by the port desk in the reception area and spoke to the local man there. He wasn't particularly helpful as his family owned a series of jewelry stores, and he'd rather that we shopped than take a bus to the beach. But he grudgingly gave us directions to the town bus station, and then suggested that we shop at his stores. The station is almost all the way up the hill, and I cannot be more specific because we kinda lucked onto it. For Mykonos buses you have to purchase your ticket from the mini marts or a tobacco shop in order to ride, and you'd better purchase 2 per person, because you'll need the second for the return trip. Priced the same as Santorini, Euro 1.10 per trip/per person= Euro 4.40 altogether for both of us. We looked at the bus schedule and since it's October, it's end of season, and the weather isn't scorching, so they run the buses less frequently and not to the further beaches. We could wait 15 minutes and catch the bus to Platas Gialos, the closest beach to town, or wait 45 minutes for the bus to Paradise Beach. We didn't want to wait, so we caught the first one. Boy, bus drivers on both islands are very territorial! They don't get over for NO ONE, and they swear and gesture to any other vehicle on the road that doesn't yield to the bus. We were left off with the other passengers at the end of the road and bus route at Platas Gialos. We liked the look of it, but a group from the ship was there before us. We'd seen them zooming around on 4-wheelers back at the bus stop. They didn't know where they were and didn't have maps, we answered their questions from our map and they were back on their way.
The beach is beautiful, quite a few people, the sand and water are terrific and there's a platform out in the water, so you can go out and claim it and hang out in the middle of the bay. Further down the beach, past a large area of rocks and out on the tip of the headland was another beach, with no people and several boats anchored. I was happy with our destination, and then Randy decided he really wanted to go to Paradise Beach. After grumbling under my breath that if he'd spoken up we could have just taken that bus, we looked at the map and decided that Paradise should just be on the other side of the headland. So we splashed down the length of the beach in our water sandals, and walked up a road at the end past all of the snackbars and bars. We ended up in a residential section with dead end roads and long driveways, basically in people's back yards, which isn't good. We couldn't find our way through, so had to back track down some driveways and came out to the main road and walked to Paraga Beach, the next beach on the coast. Initially Paraga looked deserted and possibly closed for the season. We had to wind our way through closed gates and sidewalks and ended up on the beach with a tiny scattering of people. We thought that we'd be at Paradise, but this was just on the other side of the headland beach that we saw from Platas Gialos. The walk down the beach and over the headland was a little more difficult this time, climbing up boulders until we found a path along a chain link fence. We walked way out on the point to get to the corner of the property owners fence, then came back down the other side with Paradise Beach in sight. Hallelujah!
We paid for 2 lounge chairs and an umbrella and made ourselves at home. There's a reef, possibly man-made, out from the shoreline about 75 yards, and it makes the water against the beach really calm, and then it's really fun to swim out and then stand on the shelf way out in the water. My husband was enjoying himself out there and had a conversation with a nice man from France who was reaching into the nooks and crannies of this shelf and pulling out sea anemones, the giant black long-spiked ones. This man was going to take them back to his hotel and have them prepared to eat. After seeing that, when we walked on the reef, we wore our water sandals.
The weather was nice, we had high clouds that sometimes blocked the sun, but it was still pleasantly hot, about 80` F. Going back to town at the end of the afternoon, we just walked out to the road and look for the bus stop sign, it's in front of the little convenience store. The bus was on time and swept us back to the bus station, and then we walked through town. Most of the shops had closed for the day, but we managed to find Petra, the mascot Pelican. He was sleeping and I didn't want to poke at him as he has a reputation for biting, but still I got a great picture. The wind had kicked up quite a bit, so we were glad to catch the Regent shuttle from town back to the pier (a distance of maybe 1 mile?).
Last port before disembarkment - Kusadasi, Turkey. We'd initially wanted to do an elaborate Ephesus tour here, but my husband wanted to save our ruin-viewing until Athens instead. So, we were slow to leave the ship, checked with the port lady and got directions to the nearest beach - Ladies Beach just south of the main town and pier. We exited the ship and went through our first port building, similar to each stop in the Caribbean, with the duty free shopping and the security guards. There's a starbucks in the ship-only shopping and the vendors are exceptionally courteous. We walked out of the cordoned off area and walked across the street to the bazaar. Wow, this is a different experience in shopping! Always greeted with shouts of, "My friend! My friend! You come to my shop!" And it's a little amusing, we know that the shop owners have been asked by their own city to calm down the browbeating because the tourists don't like it, so we heard again and again, "No, high pressure, you come my shop!" My husband could handle only one street, so he camped out at the end of the block while I did some more serious looking. We didn't buy much, mostly stuff from the little grocery store. The pistachios are amazing!! Then we found a cab to take us to the beach, $6. Most of Kusadasi will take American money as well as euros, although their money is the Turkish lira.
The beach is down the road, around the hill with the large statue, and then through a residential area, our cab driver tried to talk us into going to a much better beach further down the coast, but we were firm. He dropped us off right at the beach, it's long with a huge section of hotels and restaurants and bars along the back. We walked down and back to determine the best position, and since it was fairly early in the day, we chose the furthest north end because the sun was behind many of the hotels so the beach was in the shade further down. We paid for our lounge chairs, declined an umbrella and went swimming. The breakers are constant, but the water is only knee high for about 100 yards out. You can rent snorkeling equipment as well as kayaks and other equipment, from several shacks. It was a beautiful day, the hottest that we'd seen, we got some good sunshine, spent a little time in the shops and ate our sandwiches from the ship's breakfast buffet. It was a good day. We decided to walk back, it wasn't that far and the biggest hurdle had been to find the beach in the first place, but the cab driver had done that for us. It was good to walk some more, the sidewalk along the water at times was crumbly and incomplete, but worked just fine. We passed a nice resort that had it's own little peninsula, and then we could see in the distance another island, just off of the mainland that had a pier built to it. It had what looked to be an ancient fort on it. We walked down the pier which was home to many fishing vessels and probably tourist boats, and entered the fort. It was free and really nice, the dwelling is really old and the pathways and gardens are beautiful. We had to pay Euro 0.30 to use the restrooms, but they were incredibly clean and worth it. We sat down and enjoyed the scenery for a moment before continuing to the port. After finishing the shopping, we walked through the security zone and reboarded the ship. The people who visited Ephesus and especially the terraced houses absolutely loved the expedition.
Embarkation in Athens - It's always hard to leave a magnificent ship, but we needed to be out of our rooms by 8am, so had breakfast, grabbed our carry-offs and found a table in the seven seas lounge. Since we had several more days in Athens and our own hotel, we were one of the last groups to be called, and that's fine. The luggage was lined up inside the port building by color and easy to find. We just rolled it out and asked a taxi to take us to our hotel near Monastiraki Square.
Some observations, it's odd that the hot tubs are drained each evening, and unusable at bedtime. They are re-filled in the mornings and aren't yet hot in the afternoons. It seems counterintuitive that you begin the warming process each morning just to empty them. The pool gets closed off at the same time in the evenings as the hot tubs. The much discussed vibration on the Navigator is noticeable. We purposely chose a suite at the front of the ship (yeah, I know, not "ship speak") and never felt anything. But in the seven seas showroom, it was horribly noticeable when we were at sea, and very noisy during the movies or shows. I know that there are a lot of Navigator-haters out there on the message boards, but it's a beautiful, intimate ship and if you do your homework, you won't be caught in a poor cabin. I hate to take a life changing vacation and come out of it with only complaints.
We had terrific service on the Navigator, the reception desk was always manned, the employees were welcoming and helpful. I love having the plush robes in the rooms, it made for the best nap in the afternoon, to put on a heavy robe, not disturbing the beautifully made bed, and toss on the wool throw also provided and doze off. I know that the Navigator is going in this December for refurbishing, but our beds and bedding were sumptuous. The bathroom was a dream, we used the shower stall most of the time, but I had a fully immersed bath one day. We loved the thoughtful additions like complimentary shuttles into town, complimentary vaporettos into downtown Venice. As already expressed, the local tour desk in each port onboard was terrific. I loved choosing whether to dine alone or with others each evening in the Compass Rose. We used room service several times and it was fabulous. I sat in an afternoon lecture on how to navigate a ship and that was completely engaging. We would definitely chose Regent again, and Navigator if we have the opportunity.