For our pre cruise we stayed at the Ledra Marriott Hotel in Athens and I think for me the reality of the adventure we were about to embark on hit home the first night when we went up to the roof top cafĂ© for a glass of wine and something to eat, after traveling for 25 hours straight, and I looked over my wifeâ€™s shoulder and saw the Acropolis lit up in all its grandeur. What a view. We booked three days of tours with the HAL representative in the lobby and all three were extremely well done. We took the hotels shuttle to the Plaka the morning of the first day and then went to The Temple of Poseidon on a HAL tour that afternoon. The next day we took a full dayâ€™s tour to Delphi and the third day we toured the Acropolis on the way to the ship. Embarkation started at noon and we were on the ship in about thirty minutes. Our luggage was picked up at the hotel and was in our room when we boarded. This cruise was really port intensive and we enjoyed the relaxation offered by the three sea days. We took the full day tours whenever they were offered and the tour guides and lunches that were included were all outstanding. The tour guides were all very passionate about their countries and this added to the enjoyment and knowledge gained on the tours. In Istanbul we did the Full Day City Tour, Nessebur we did the Nessebur, Beach and Folkloric Show, â€śBeachâ€ť did not mean going to the beach, just driving along the beach resort area on the way to lunch and the Folkloric Show at a new restaurant on a hilltop over looking the sea. Nessebur was like stepping back in time, nothing has changed since 1947, but they are now evolving and 10 years from now I probably wonâ€™t be able to afford to go there. Odessa we did the Full Day Tour which included a fantastic locale lunch with two classical singers that could easily make it in any Opera Company in the World. Yalta we did the Best of Crimea, visited two palaces, and the summer home of the last Czar of Russia where the Yalta Conference was held. Again another great lunch with great local entertainment. Because we took two ships tours in the Ukraine, visas were not required. In Kusadasi we took the Ephesus Full Day Tour, well worth the price. In Santorini we took the Akrotiri Excavations & Oia Village. The excavations are shut down because Greece pulled all of the money to help support the Olympics but the tour was still worth while. After the tour we walked around the city, did some shopping and I rode the donkey back down the hill while my wife walked. Quite an experience. In Malta we visited Maltaâ€™s Mysterious Megaliths and the tour ended at the museum in the center of Valletta, so we elected not to ride with the tour back to the bus but instead explore a little on our own. We visited St Johnâ€™s Co Cathedral, extremely impressive, tagged along with a HAL tour in progress and then visited the Malta War Museum, a must for anyone interested in WWII. We were told that it was a 20 minute walk back to the ship but ended up taking us about 2 hours, we could see the ship but couldnâ€™t figure out how to get down the bastions to the ship. I was about ready to repel over the edge when we found the way. In Monte Carlo we did the Jewels of Cote dâ€™ Azur full day tour and then went to the Casino. In Livorno we did the Tuscan Landmarks: Florence and Pisa getting back to the ship about 7:00 pm and then having to pack to get off the ship the next day. I think HAL really outdid themselves on our three day post cruise stay in Rome. We were met at embarkation by our guide Umberto who spent the next three days with us even staying at the hotel. He truly went out of his way to make sure everyone was pleased, and I cannot say enough good things about him. There were only 5 couples on our post cruise tour and we really covered a lot in a short period of time. We stayed at the Hotel Villa Degli Angeli in Castle Gandolfo, the Pope,s summer residence. This is a suburb of Rome and it did upset some people that we were not down town. For our first visit to Rom, we really liked it. Our room had a balcony overlooking the lake and the Popes summer residence and we would sit out there each night with a bottle of wine and preview the digital pictures we had taken that day. The last night HAL had set up a dinner at a Counts Residence and Winery and we dined with the Count in his dining room, what a fantastic evening. We even got him to play the piano for us, quite an accomplished musician. His residence was used by the Germans to spot their big guns in the hills during the allied invasion at Anzio Beach. The residence was almost destroyed but rebuilt identical to the original construction in the 15th century. A fascinating individual and a very memorable evening.
Conclusion: This was probably the best cruise we have ever taken. We did meet a couple that was constantly complaining, so we started avoiding them .I am convinced that some people take cruises to intentionally look for things to complain about. I am sure that if we looked hard enough we could have found things to complain about, but this cruise really did exceed our expectations in all areas. We truly had no complaints at all. I brought my laptop and could get wireless reception in our stateroom, so each evening we would send e-mails and post pictures on a website that I established before we left so our friends and family could enjoy the cruise along with us. Because of the all day tours and the early morning departures, along with late dining, we ended up missing most of the entertainment. We figured we can always see entertainment but probably wonâ€™t be back to that part of the world again. Those that saw the entertainment said it was good. We booked another cruise for next year while on board, one that originates in Rome. Now that we feel comfortable with Rome we will probably stay at one of two hotels in Rome that we looked at while we were touring. This has gotten a lot longer than I had intended, so if anyone has any questions I would be happy to try and answer them. Bottom Line: Great Ship, Great Crew, Great Food, Great Itinerary, translated into a Great Time.