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AttilaTheFun

Ruby Princess Jun 11-23 Grand Mediterranean review/tips with pictures

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It’s been a week since we returned from the Ruby Princess Grand Mediterranean sailing from Venice to Barcelona from June 11-23 and I still miss it! Long story short – amazing itinerary, fantastic ship, and wonderful people! It was definitely my favorite cruise so far and if you can deal with the crazy Europe flight prices and everything else – it’s the trip of a lifetime!

 

My sister and I took a ton of pictures, so I’ll try to sprinkle those through my posts to give you some visuals. I think I’ll also go with a bullet list format as there’s so much to cover and I mainly wanted to share tips from the places we visited.

 

Preparation:

I did a lot of research before the cruise, as I wanted to minimize cost and do nearly all the ports on our own. The 3 most helpful resources I found were:

 

  • Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports: A book the size and weight of a brick, but very comprehensive and written with DIY in mind. Although almost all the information could be found for free online, this book did a good job of compiling it all in one great resource along with maps and general advice. Because of the weight of the book, I copied out the helpful info I wanted to remember into a Word document and printed that for each port, but saw some passengers who had torn out the pages. There’s also a Kindle version available which would be nice if you have one of those. My caveat is that the information quickly becomes outdated, so be sure to check online for any changes to prices, admission, etc. I also was not impressed by some of his restaurant recommendations in Venice, so take it with a grain of salt.
  • Cruise Critic Europe boards (http://boards.cruisecritic.com/forumdisplay.php?f=19): There are so many experienced cruisers and experts who gladly provide advice and answer questions on this board. However, be sure to search for the topic first as it’s probably come up before already (trains, where do I get Euros, etc.)
  • Tom’s Port Guides: This is a site that someone on the roll call shared and it has some PDF port guides with maps, pictures, instructions, etc. geared towards DIY as well. Not every port was covered, but it was still helpful and you can’t beat the price – free! It was especially helpful for Monte Carlo!
  • Side note: We took a Western Mediterranean cruise in May on NCL Epic, which covered some of the same ports in Italy (Naples/Pompeii, Civitavecchia/Rome, Livorno/Florence/Pisa). If you’re interested in that review, it’s here: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1638422

 

Ruby Princess:

 

  • The ship is in fantastic condition and still looks new! I really love the design of the ship and appreciate the number of pools onboard (especially when compared to NCL Epic). Our favorite place to lounge around outside was the Lotus Pool at the front of the ship and the deck area right above it, where loungers were always easy to find – even on sea days!
  • Room: We were on Emerald Deck 8 mid-ship in an unobstructed Oceanview room. I gladly paid the extra to wake up to sunlight instead of darkness in an Inside. The location worked really well for us – easy to use the stairs to get to the main dining rooms (MDR) and Piazza. We didn’t have any issues with motion or noise. The room layout made it feel much bigger than our Inside on the Crown, with the 2 beds parallel to the window. We really appreciate the fridge in every room to come back to a cold soda or water after a long port day!
  • Food: With the exception of the buffets sometimes, Princess really shines on food. We were very impressed by the quality and taste of most dishes on this cruise in the MDRs, International Café, and Vines.
    • I felt like the buffets could use some improvement though in the quality and variety of dishes offered.
    • The soups in the MDR and buffet were consistently bad – the only exception was a mushroom soup in the MDR for the Chef’s Dinner.
    • The menu options in the MDR were sometimes a bit too strange for our tastes, but we never had issues mixing-and-matching from the “always available” side of the menu. I discovered that the pasta on that side changes daily too (always listed with the Fettuccine Alfredo)
    • Our experience is to always order your meat cooked one under what you want. Ex: If you want it cooked medium, order rare. If you want it well-done, order it medium. If you want it rare, then you’re kind of out of luck. This worked like clockwork. If you don't like shoe-leather pork chops, don't bother ordering them.
    • The second formal night (formal nights all matched up to sea days) was when they served lobster. We really enjoyed it!
    • Afternoon Tea was one of our favorite almost-daily events. The scones and other desserts are always delicious and it’s a nice afternoon break.
    • Pub Lunch happened on both sea days and we loved it – the Fish & Chips and Prawns & Chips are both excellent options. They also get you in and out very quickly.
    • The International Café is a wonderful concept for a 24-hour venue and I’m surprised more cruise lines don’t copy it. NCL still does a sit-down restaurant that requires more staff and waiting – I’d much rather look at the case and get my food right away than order and all that jazz. Great job, Princess! The white and dark chocolate mousse was excellent and we also enjoyed the shrimp salad, tomato and mozzarella panini, and the chicken panini.
    • After having missed Vines on our Crown cruise, we made up for lost time! We ate at Vines as a pre-dinner snack at least 4-5 times on this cruise and really enjoyed it. Ordering a glass of wine or soda (really any paid beverage) entitles you to as many plates of sushi and tapas as you’d like. The sushi plate is always the same each night – one piece of California roll, 1 tuna nigiri, 1 yellowtail nigiri, and some marinated fish (can’t remember what type) served with seaweed salad – the red seaweed salad was spicy and delicious. The tapas plate changes among 3-4 different combinations they run during the cruise. The staff were very accommodating when my sister wanted only additional tuna nigiri so that we wouldn’t waste the other types of sushi she doesn’t eat. The sushi was good and a definite step up from supermarket sushi!
    • We had Anytime Dining, which seems to be a popular choice on this cruise. The nice part is that the 2 mid-ship MDRs are completely devoted to Anytime Dining – none of this early seating junk in one of them like they did on Crown, which just creates long waits. We didn't encounter any waits for dinner and minimal lines - what a welcome change from the Crown! We much prefer Anytime Dining as it gets us in and out faster and we can choose who to dine with. We made some great friends on the cruise and it was nice being able to dine with them when we wanted.

     

 

  • Entertainment: This is the one low area of our cruise – we were not fans of the way our Cruise Director, Ron Goodman, or his staff, ran activities.

 


    • Some of the “game shows” and activities were run poorly – the poor hostess didn’t know how Family Feud works and one of the staff members waited 20 minutes to start trivia because there was no microphone in Adagio. Never mind that there were only 6 teams present and he could have just spoken loudly instead. If these were volunteers, I’d understand, but these people are paid to run these sorts of activities.
    • Suffice it to say that Kez’s style of hosting was not our favorite. The Millionaire game show was torture to sit through as she dragged the whole thing out as her personal stand-up routine.
    • I don’t know why this was, but the game shows were a strictly G-rated affair. I’m not saying that things need to be dirty to be fun, but in certain cases, it really sucked the air out of the room. Example: For the Match Game, the question was something like “Bob and Mary were enjoying their time in the hot tub until a _____ floated to the surface.” Each team writes down an answer and submits it to the host, Jorge. He refused to read the word “turd” and acted like it was a filthy swear word or something – even though no children were present. Similarly, for a different question, he refused to say the word “knob” because it could have been suggestive, even though all the questions themselves were meant to be suggestive! We’re all adults – we can handle the word “turd” or “knob” – stop acting like this is Vacation Bible School. Similarly, the panelists acted juvenile and wrote random answers down so that no one could match – their favorite one was “monkey” and they would giggle like 3rd graders about it. Maybe they would be better off running the children’s programs?
    • The worst case of the G-rated boringness was the Newlywed Game: this is usually a consistently entertaining and funny game show on all other cruises we’ve been on (including Crown Princess), but when the dirtiest questions are “What is your husband’s favorite condiment?” and “What is your wife’s favorite comfort food?” – that is one BORING Newlywed Game! I actually walked out of this event it was so terrible.
    • As we don’t attend the production shows, the game shows and activities were our main source of organized entertainment, so this had an impact on our enjoyment of the cruise. It didn’t ruin it by any means, but we were very disappointed.

     

 

  • Service: As always, the Princess staff was friendly, welcoming, and accommodating. Even in the MDR for Anytime Dining, you could tell the staff really wanted to please you. The only issue we had was being served drinks promptly in the buffet and being served anything at the Captain’s Circle event. The servers at that event ran past waiting guests as quickly as possible and we were never offered any hors d’oeuvres at all. We had to literally stop one of the servers to actually give us drinks – very strange. Otherwise, the staff were a delight, especially the servers in Crooners, where they’d dance and shake your martinis.

 

Jeez, that was a lot without even getting to the ports, sorry! I’ll continue with Venice tips in the next post and here’s some pictures of Venice to get things started!

 

 

View from the Rialto Bridge

 

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St. Mark's Square from our sailaway

 

IMG_1493.JPG

 

 

 

 

Santa Maria Della Salute

 

IMG_1243.JPG

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I know from your review on the Crown Princess that you were frustrated by Anytime Dining, enough that you were wondering if you'd go back to Princess. Did you find it better this time around, or did you decide to go the Traditional Dining route instead?

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Wow.. Great start !!

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks and looking forward to more :)

Srpilo

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I know from your review on the Crown Princess that you were frustrated by Anytime Dining, enough that you were wondering if you'd go back to Princess. Did you find it better this time around, or did you decide to go the Traditional Dining route instead?

 

Anytime Dining worked like a charm on this cruise, but I think it's due to a variety of factors:

1) Port-intensive days means more people will go to the buffet than the MDR some nights

2) Getting rid of the early seating in one of the AD dining rooms. I feel strongly this caused issues on the Crown

3) A better mix of passengers - US and international - meaning the preferred dining time is more spread out

4) I noticed on this cruise that they actually publicized the fact that AD can make reservations each day, but not sure if that helps or hurts the process

 

I would still stick with Anytime Dining as we prefer to choose who we dine with and have anecdotally heard that it takes much less time to get through dinner.

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Anytime Dining worked like a charm on this cruise, but I think it's due to a variety of factors:

1) Port-intensive days means more people will go to the buffet than the MDR some nights

2) Getting rid of the early seating in one of the AD dining rooms. I feel strongly this caused issues on the Crown

3) A better mix of passengers - US and international - meaning the preferred dining time is more spread out

4) I noticed on this cruise that they actually publicized the fact that AD can make reservations each day, but not sure if that helps or hurts the process

 

I would still stick with Anytime Dining as we prefer to choose who we dine with and have anecdotally heard that it takes much less time to get through dinner.

Thanks. BTW, great review. We were on the same cruise (May 18th sailing) and had a great time. Fortunately we were able to go to all the ports and the weather wasn't as hot as it was for you, although we did get a bit drenched in Rome when it rained there for a couple of hours. We had Traditional Dining (early seating) and that worked well for us since we were traveling with my MIL (mobility challenged) and I wanted to make sure she got back to the ship early enough to eat rest up for the next day.

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Thank you very much for the review with pics :D looking forward to seeing more.

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2) Getting rid of the early seating in one of the AD dining rooms. I feel strongly this caused issues on the Crown.

Great review so far looking forward to reading the rest.

 

Good to hear that there was no third Traditional Dining time on your cruise. It has definitely affected wait times for Anytime Dining if you eat early.

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Thanks for the kind words – glad people are following! Apologies for the delay – trying to take notes on all my thoughts and it’s tough remembering things 3+ weeks later.

 

Before I jump into Venice, I forgot some random items in my last post:

 

  • As others have noted before, Princess takes your passports on the second day in preparation for sailing to Turkey. Your room steward will collect them and you won’t get it back until about Naples, so be sure to have a photocopy with you and another form of photo ID.
  • We highly recommend a neck pouch/wallet to be worn under clothing with your money, credit cards, and ID. We also really liked the PacSafe messenger bag we purchased – it has all sorts of bells and whistles to make it harder to pickpocket you, but we still kept a very close eye on it. It was big enough to hold a bottle of water, camera, papers, etc without being too bulky.
  • From the onboard entertainment, we really like Kory Simon, who plays piano nightly in Crooners and has a stage show one night. He is a decidedly “PG-13 or more” performer and we found him hilarious. Don’t miss his Name That Tune trivia! Very talented guy and he actually remembered us from the Crown Princess cruise we took earlier this year.
  • Europe is already hot and crowded in June – if I ever suggest taking a trip there in July or August, please commit me to an asylum! The weather we had in May was perfect, but we encountered some heat waves in June, so I’d recommend going in late Spring/early Summer or early Fall if you can.

 

Venice

What an absolutely amazing city. Venice was our favorite port on this trip, with Istanbul coming in second. We arrived 2 days before embarkation and felt like this was plenty of time to see Venice, especially since embarkation is an overnight stay, leaving you with most of the day to continue sight-seeing.

 

Here are some tips/advice:

 

Getting to Venice from the airport:

 

  • I purchased our tickets to get from the Marco Polo airport to Saint Mark’s Square (San Marco) in advance from VeniceConnected.com, which is operated by the city of Venice. I bought one-way transfers from the airport on Alilaguna for 14 euros per person. They are normally 15 euros, but the site discounts certain tickets when you buy in advance. The trip took 1.5 hours on the Blue line and the boats ran about each half hour. When you exit the airport, take a left and walk a very LONG ways under the covered walkway until you see signs for water taxis.
  • You can take buses from the airport to Piazzale Roma for cheaper, but I figured arriving by boat was more entertaining and if we took the bus, we’d also have to find additional transportation from Piazzale Roma to San Marco, so the Alilaguna boat worked perfectly.
  • The Alilaguna boat was not air-conditioned and had minimal air circulation – this would be gross in hotter weather.
  • Note that even if certain routes are shown on the Alilaguna website (http://www.alilaguna.it), they may not be running while you’re in Venice. For example, their site shows that the Orange line should go from the airport to San Marco, but it wasn’t running that route when we arrived, so the only option was the Blue line. Just tell the ticket person where you’re going and they’ll let you know which boat to take.
  • As mentioned, Venice Connected discounts certain tickets and sells transportation, museum/cultural, bathroom, and wifi tickets. The discount (if any) depends on the time of year and you must book at least 7 days in advance. Even if you don’t get a discount for your dates, it’s still better than waiting in line for tickets! Just print your tickets and either trade them in (Alilaguna) or have them scanned at entrance (museums).

 

Venice attractions:

 

  • Be sure to check out some bars in the evening for ciccetti – small bites of food to have with some wine. We found some good places after you cross the Rialto Bridge and the ciccetti were fairly cheap – around 1 euro per item – and glasses of wine were very cheap too.
  • For the Doge’s Palace, I pre-purchased our tickets on Venice Connected – the Museums of St. Mark’s Square pass for 16 euros per person. Because my sister just graduated, I got her the student rate of 8 euros, which applies to students under 25 or people over 65. No proof was required at entrance. We simply printed out the vouchers and they were scanned at the entrance – easy!
  • On Venice Connected, there are also afternoon-only passes for the Museums of St. Mark’s Square that are slightly cheaper – 12 euros per person or 6.5 euros for students/seniors. Your entry time is limited to the afternoon with this pass.
  • The Doge’s Palace is a definite do-not-miss attraction and well worth the money. Photography is not allowed in many parts, but you get to cross the Bridge of Sighs and see the prisons. Plus, the Doge’s apartments and Senate Chamber are stunning from all the woodwork, carvings, and paintings. We appreciated the many signs around the place, describing what you are looking at, which adds to the experience. Here's a picture of the Senate Chamber:

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And the Bridge of Sighs:

 

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  • The museum pass includes entry to the Correr Museum and 2 others. If you don’t buy your museum pass ahead of time and the line is long at the Doge’s Palace, walk across St. Mark’s Square to the Correr Museum where you can buy the same pass with a shorter line.
  • We stopped by the Correr Museum with our museum pass and found out that admission to the much-advertised Klimt exhibit was not included with our pass. We looked around some of the other exhibits, but it didn’t seemed air-conditioned and we are weaklings in the heat, so we left pretty quickly.
  • If it’s nice outside and you want to take a walk, try crossing the Accademia Bridge, which was much less crowded than the main parts of Venice, with cute waterfront restaurants and shops. The Peggy Guggenheim Museum is also over there and the Santa Maria della Salute. We didn’t get a chance to go inside the Santa Maria, but it was still amazing from the outside. At the tip of this island is a strange statue of a boy holding a frog:

IMG_1286.JPG

 

  • Our favorite site in Venice was St. Mark’s Basilica, which has a fascinating history and is the second-most impressive church we saw in Europe, after St. Peter’s of course. Entry is free and the line moves pretty quickly, but they enforce no bare shoulders or knees, so cover up! Here's a picture of the outside - unlike any other church in Europe!

IMG_1226.JPG

 

  • They also don’t allow you to take large backpacks in the basilica (purses & small messenger bags are fine) and there’s a free bag check just around the corner from the basilica. If the line is long, you can go directly to the bag check and get a pass that let’s you “skip the line” and proceed to the front, supposedly.
  • We used the free Rick Steve’s audio tour for the basilica and found it very helpful and interesting.
  • We paid the extra 5 euros per person to visit the basilica museum, which has the steepest, most treacherous staircase we’ve ever encountered! Not for the faint of heart or mobility-impaired! The museum, however, is well worth it, as it houses the original 4 bronze horses and you get fantastic views of the basilica from the second floor as well as great views of Saint Mark’s Square from the balcony outside. Here’s an example:

IMG_1367.JPG

 

  • For cruising the Grand Canal, we took the People Mover from the cruise port one stop to Piazzale Roma. It cost 1 euro per person. From there, we purchased tickets for 7 euros per person and boarded the #1 or #2 ACTV water bus and rode it all the way to San Marco, then rode it back. There’s a Rick Steve’s audio tour for the Grand Canal as well, but we found it very difficult to follow along and know which building he’s referring to. It’s definitely a fun experience to ride down the canal though if you have time!

 

Navigating Venice

 

  • For a very helpful and FREE map, ask for one at the Alilaguna ticket counter. Not only does it have a very detailed map of Venice, it also has the timetable. This was a money-saver as most guidebooks recommend purchasing a map in Venice to help get around.
  • The best way to get around Venice is to orient yourself to certain landmarks – the Rialto Bridge, Saint Mark’s Square, Accademia Bridge, etc. You’ll see signs that say “Per Rialto” with arrows, which will lead you in the direction of the Rialto Bridge or any other landmark. Even if you get lost, there are many cool statues, fountains, and shops to discover, even if that wasn’t where to originally meant to go.

 

Venice embarkation:

 

  • Once again, I purchased Alilaguna tickets in advance – one-way from San Marco to the cruise port for 7 euros per person (a discount of 1 euro). We traded in the vouchers and waited around for a boat headed towards the cruise port. The ride only took about a half hour and it’s amazing to see how gigantic the cruise ships are when you’re in the water right next to them!
  • Once we got off the Alilaguna boat, there was a Princess rep directing us to the right to drop off our luggage at some tent. After some confusion, we figured out that you dropped off the luggage at the port/sea level and they tossed it on a conveyer belt up. Several ships were sharing this common drop-off spot.
  • After dropping off the luggage, we were directed to wait in a parking lot for a shuttle to take us to the boat. We weren’t sure we were standing at the right place as there was no signage, but eventually a shuttle turned up. You could also walk to the terminal, but it would be a good 15 minutes.
  • Check-in was a breeze around 2pm, especially as people are more staggered checking in with an overnight in Venice – no rush to be the first people on board necessarily.
  • After the overnight, it was time to leave Venice the next morning and Princess did a nice job, playing Botticelli and Celine Dion as we sailed past Saint Mark’s Square. Jeana Rogers, the port lecturer onboard, delivered some Venice history when we were pretty much past the island. She had recorded port talks on the TV each day and held office hours most days. It must be a very easy job – deliver a port talk once that’s broadcast the rest of the time and then hold office hours for 2 hours a day! The only time she delivered a port talk live was when we had to skip Mykonos.

 

That’s it for Venice, next up will be Athens and Kusadasai/Ephesus! Let me know if you have any questions about Venice in the meantime...

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Great review so far and wonderful pictures! What kind of camera are you using? We are doing the Grand Mediterranean next year on the Royal and can't wait to go back to Venice, Rome, Florence and the other spots.

 

Never been to Istanbul, so looking forward to hearing your comments about your experience there! Thanks again for the great tips and sharing your experiences..

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Great review so far and wonderful pictures! What kind of camera are you using? We are doing the Grand Mediterranean next year on the Royal and can't wait to go back to Venice, Rome, Florence and the other spots.

 

Never been to Istanbul, so looking forward to hearing your comments about your experience there! Thanks again for the great tips and sharing your experiences..

 

We used my sister's camera and I think it's just a Canon Powershot - pretty small and lightweight with decent zoom. The pictures I'm posting are lower resolution than the camera takes because I'm pulling them from an image-hosting site. Hope that helps!

 

Istanbul is a fantastic city and I'm surprised more ships aren't stopping there. It was very clean and easy to get around.

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WONDERFUL review! :D

 

We leave on the Ruby on Sept. 15th and we are very much looking forward to it! One question I have is, ya'll obviously did not use the Princess transfers provided from the cruise ship to San Marco, correct? (You used the People Mover to Piazzale Roma and then the ACTV (#1 or #2) to San Marco). Did you find this easy to navigate? Was it an extremely long walk to the People Mover (is there a Princess shuttle?)? Also--did you use the headphones (at my last visit there were headphones) at the Doge's Palace? Were they included in the price? I can't remember.... Thank you in advance for any information! :)

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WONDERFUL review! :D

 

We leave on the Ruby on Sept. 15th and we are very much looking forward to it! One question I have is, ya'll obviously did not use the Princess transfers provided from the cruise ship to San Marco, correct? (You used the People Mover to Piazzale Roma and then the ACTV (#1 or #2) to San Marco). Did you find this easy to navigate? Was it an extremely long walk to the People Mover (is there a Princess shuttle?)? Also--did you use the headphones (at my last visit there were headphones) at the Doge's Palace? Were they included in the price? I can't remember.... Thank you in advance for any information! :)

 

Thanks!! We did not use the Princess shuttle boat, mainly because they don't go down the Grand Canal and we had done enough sightseeing near St. Mark's Square. We returned the shuttle tickets to Passenger Services and were credited back the $15 per person they auto-charge you.

 

On the way to the People Mover, we hopped in one of the shuttles that was going back to the luggage drop-off location and he offered to drop us off at the People Mover, so that was easy. If you have to walk, it's very easy to see - it's a gigantic structure - but it's probably a 10-minute walk from the ship. Coming back from the People Mover, we had to walk back to the ship - no shuttle.

 

At the Doge's Palace, we didn't use the AudioGuide, which leads me to believe it's NOT included in the price as we normally take advantage of anything free! I couldn't find a definitive answer online, but one of those pre-sale sites looks like they charge 6.75 euros additional for using an audio guide. We thought the signs were enough description, but if you are a big art fan, there is probably plenty to learn!

Edited by AttilaTheFun

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Thank you so much for your quick reply! :D

 

One more question though....Am I correct in understanding you can take the blue line all the way to the cruise terminal from the airport? I know it will take appox. 1 1/2 to 2 hours, but this would be a great introduction to Venice (much better than waiting for Princess to load the 60 passenger bus IMHO). And then at the cruise terminal, the luggage "drop" area is not far from where the Alilaguna lets you out, correct?

 

Again, thank you so much for this review...you are saving me hours of research! :)

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Thank you so much for your quick reply! :D

 

One more question though....Am I correct in understanding you can take the blue line all the way to the cruise terminal from the airport? I know it will take appox. 1 1/2 to 2 hours, but this would be a great introduction to Venice (much better than waiting for Princess to load the 60 passenger bus IMHO). And then at the cruise terminal, the luggage "drop" area is not far from where the Alilaguna lets you out, correct?

 

Again, thank you so much for this review...you are saving me hours of research! :)

 

If you're going directly from the airport to the cruise terminal, the Blue Line should take you all the way there, but it will be close to 2 hours. Double-check with the Alilaguna ticket person at the airport, but that should work.

 

The place where the Alilaguna boats drop you off so that you're very close to the luggage drop-off point to your right. I found this helpful map online. You can see

1) the Alilaguna vaporetto stop (luggage drop off would be near the box marked 103)

2) The People Mover stops (you would get on at Marittima and take to Piazzale Roma)

3) Where the Ruby Princess was docked for our trip - #117

 

venice-cruise-port-map-large.jpg

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Great information on this review !

 

We are doing the same cruise in 3 weeks. We were going to do the Alilaguna transfer from the airport but after your tip about the air con and heat we are now going by bus to Piazzale Roma ( hotel nearby ). Did not relish a 1.5 hrs uncomfortable boat ride in the July heat. Thanks.

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Thanks again for your very detailed review and lovely pictures. I will be embarking a cruise in Venice 10/13. I've copied all your information into a document I'm creating for my cruise. Were there any particular restaurants or wine bars that you liked?

 

I'm looking forward to reading about Istanbul. After I do my cruise in 10/13 I really want to find a cruise that includes Istanbul and perhaps Croatia and Greece.

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Thanks again for your very detailed review and lovely pictures. I will be embarking a cruise in Venice 10/13. I've copied all your information into a document I'm creating for my cruise. Were there any particular restaurants or wine bars that you liked?

 

I really enjoyed Trattoria alla Madonna, which is near the Rialto Bridge. The prices were very reasonable - around 10 euros for pasta dishes - they had menus in English, nice service, and a good mix of locals and tourists. They specialize in seafood and I tried the squid ink spaghetti and loved it! My sister was grossed out by the black color though :rolleyes:

 

Here are some pictures - their sign is lit up at night, making it easier to find down a narrow street:

 

IMG_1307.JPG

 

 

Remains of my squid ink spaghetti

 

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Some of my sister's ravioli (she didn't like that they added a bit of cinnamon to the filling, but I thought it was declicious)

 

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If you're looking for good, affordable gelato, we liked La Boutique del Gelato, which is a tiny store, but sells a giant scoop of gelato for about 1.5 euros. There's no semblance of a line, so once you've made up your mind on flavor, just go ahead and order it. We split a 2-scoop cone and it was gigantic - wish we had taken a picture!

 

We tried a sandwich place near the Bridge of Sighs that Rick Steves recommends, but were not impressed at all - surly workers and nothing special whatsoever. The other meals we had at the hotel, so our food adventures in Venice were pretty limited. Hope that helps!

Edited by AttilaTheFun
Added pictures

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Hi Attila!

 

More questions....did you find Piazzale Roma confusing or extremely crowded? I saw on another reviewer's post that they thought it was extremely hard to navigate??? Is it fairly self explanatory (on the self service kiosk) to purchase the ACTV tickets? Did you use your credit card or euros? Your help is invaluable! Thank you again!

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Hi Attila!

 

More questions....did you find Piazzale Roma confusing or extremely crowded? I saw on another reviewer's post that they thought it was extremely hard to navigate??? Is it fairly self explanatory (on the self service kiosk) to purchase the ACTV tickets? Did you use your credit card or euros? Your help is invaluable! Thank you again!

 

Not at all! Once you get off the people mover, you're very close to the Grand Canal and can see the ACTV boats (or just ask someone for help if needed). When we exited the People Mover stop, I believe we took a left and could see the boats to our left and the ticket counter was right by them. We waited at the line for the window, to ensure we were buying the right kind of tickets and used a credit card to pay. Hope that helps!

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wonderful! that's what I was thinking, but wanted to verify. can't wait for the next installment of your review! :D

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Next up is Piraeus/Athens. For both Athens and Kusadasai/Ephesus, we joined private tours from the roll call board. To me, the tours were very reasonably priced and it meant 2 less ports for me to research and worry about!

 

Athens

 

  • We were scheduled to dock in Piraeus at 9am, but the Patter published an arrival time of 8am the night before.
  • Someone on our roll call organized a private tour with Athens by Taxi. There were 10 of us and it cost 50 euros per person, plus entrance fees of 12 euros for archaeological sites (Acropolis, Temple of Zeus) and 5 euros for the Acropolis Museum – total of 67 euros not including lunch/tip. The tour did include a licensed guide (not the driver), which was well worth it as he added a lot of helpful information and color to the places we visited.
  • There was a heat wave sweeping Greece when we visited, so temperatures climbed past 100 degrees! Luckily, our guide was mindful of this and tried to find shade for us when speaking about the various sights. Definitely bring water and a hat. We weren’t visiting any places of worship, so shorts and bare shoulders were fine and welcomed.
  • On our tour, we visited the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, Panathenic Olympic Stadium, Plaka district (for lunch only, no time for shopping/wandering), Parliament, and Acropolis Museum. There is a train from Piraeus into Athens and some of the sites are close enough that you can walk to themif you wanted to DIY, but I was so thankful for an air-conditioned van to drive us around.
  • The Acropolis is incredibly busy, has very little shade, and is terribly slippery. Our guide was able to skip the normal ticket line for us, which was fantastic as the line was quite long and in direct sun the whole time. Be VERY careful when walking around the Acropolis as it’s definitely treacherous terrain – I guess they have no fear of lawsuits like in the US! As two 20-somethings, my sister and I still almost fell multiple times as the ground is uneven and the limestone in the ground is VERY slippery – avoid walking on it at all costs! Wear your best traction shoes and pay very close attention to where you’re stepping. I’m surprised more people aren’t hurt at this place. The various ruins and Parthenon are very impressive though and worth the hike.

Here's a view of the Parthenon, currently undergoing restoration:

 

IMG_1544.JPG

 

 

Fantastic views of Athens (Temple of Zeus in the middle)

 

IMG_1570.JPG

 

 

Tourists obviously following posted signs ;)

 

IMG_1569.JPG

 

 

Entrance gate to the Acropolis area (after an uphill hike)

 

IMG_1583.JPG

 

 

  • After the Acropolis, we stopped for a short bit at the Temple of Zeus, which shares the same ticket as the Acropolis, but it’s only a few columns left. I’m not sure we would recommend visiting this sight unless you really like columns.

All that remains of the 104 columns and the temple:

 

IMG_1585.JPG

 

(Due to limitation on number of pictures per post, I'll finish Athens in the next post)

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Athens (cont.)

 

 

  • The Panathenic Olympic Stadium requires an additional ticket to enter, but you can see most of it very well from the sidewalk, so it’s probably not worth paying for a ticket.

IMG_1608.JPG

 

 

  • We stopped for lunch in the Plaka, but I didn’t write down the name of the restaurant, sorry. They had a prix-fixe menu of around 12 euros for bread, Greek salad, mousakka, and a beer or wine. The portions were very generous and everything was delicious. Our tour guide suggested the cheese-stuffed zucchini fritters and those were fantastic too, but they weren’t the only stuffed things by the end of the meal!

Beautiful Greek salad:

 

IMG_1614.JPG

 

 

Gigantic stuffed zucchini fritters and my sister's chicken kebab:

 

IMG_1616.JPG

 

 

 

  • We missed the full changing of the guards at the Parliament building due to lunch taking longer, but still had a chance to take pictures.

IMG_1621.JPG

 

 

  • Our final stop was the Acropolis Museum, which only opened in 2006 and is very impressive. Having a guide point out information about the artifacts and building itself was very interesting. On the top floor, there’s a great video about the Parthenon that gives you a visual of what it once looked like, which is hard to imagine now. The air-conditioning was also a welcome respite from the heat. Pictures not allowed inside.

IMG_1627.JPG

 

 

 

  • We really enjoyed the tour and would recommend Athens by Taxi. We didn’t end up visiting all the sights mentioned in the itinerary (missed the Hill of Lycabettous and Greek Agora/Roman Agora/Tower of Winds, which I’m not sure was due to wanting to get back to the ship a bit early or scheduling issues), so if there are certain places that are must-sees, let your driver/guide know and they can probably accommodate your request. If we chose a quicker place for lunch, I think we could have seen more things too, but with the heat, it was nice to take a long break for lunch.

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Here's a view of the Parthenon, currently undergoing restoration:

 

Actually, perpetually undergoing restoration. Photo below is from 5 years ago.

 

2397133300016033894S600x600Q85.jpg

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Attila, another Venice question.

 

I have already pre-purchased tickets to the Church of San Marco (it was only 1Euro/pp to purchase ahead of time, and during my last visit in Venice it was SO crowded the line was not moving, and I didn't get inside, alas, I went ahead and purchased them)...but my question is...where did you purchase the Museum tickets to gain entry to the 2nd floor? Was this offered as you entered? I don't remember an option to add them to my pre-purchased tickets and this looks like a not to miss addition. Also--do you know which PacSafe bag you had (item name)? Looking for a new bag for Europe...my Kelly Moore camera bag might be a tad too big for an all day excursion....

 

P.S. I haven't even made it to your Greece review...too much to think about in Venice! :eek:

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Attila, another Venice question.

 

I have already pre-purchased tickets to the Church of San Marco (it was only 1Euro/pp to purchase ahead of time, and during my last visit in Venice it was SO crowded the line was not moving, and I didn't get inside, alas, I went ahead and purchased them)...but my question is...where did you purchase the Museum tickets to gain entry to the 2nd floor? Was this offered as you entered? I don't remember an option to add them to my pre-purchased tickets and this looks like a not to miss addition. Also--do you know which PacSafe bag you had (item name)? Looking for a new bag for Europe...my Kelly Moore camera bag might be a tad too big for an all day excursion....

 

P.S. I haven't even made it to your Greece review...too much to think about in Venice! :eek:

 

Hm, I've never heard about purchasing tickets in advance to St Mark's Basilica because entry is free. Does your ticket allow you to skip the line? The museum entrance is right next to, but separate from, the entrance to the basilica. The basilica forces you in a big loop so that you exit around the same place you entered. You walk up a giant steep and uneven staircase and pay at a small booth to gain entrance to the museum. It wasn't very busy at all in the morning, even when the basilica had a long line, so I don't think you need to pre-purchase anything for it.

 

The PacSafe bag we used was this one, but in black:

http://www.amazon.com/Pacsafe-MetroSafe-Shoulder-Grape-Wine/dp/B004JJ732Q/

 

It was the perfect size for us and we kept our money in the front pouch, which is covered by the flap and has a locking mechanism for the zipper. Hope that helps!

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Actually, perpetually undergoing restoration. Photo below is from 5 years ago.

 

Yes, they have been working on the Parthenon for quite some time now. Our guide said the work was supposed to be finished this year, but now they say sometime in 2013.

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awesome review!! Thank you so much for the info. I'm going on a cruise with a lot of your stops in August.

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Hm, I've never heard about purchasing tickets in advance to St Mark's Basilica because entry is free. Does your ticket allow you to skip the line? The museum entrance is right next to, but separate from, the entrance to the basilica. The basilica forces you in a big loop so that you exit around the same place you entered. You walk up a giant steep and uneven staircase and pay at a small booth to gain entrance to the museum. It wasn't very busy at all in the morning, even when the basilica had a long line, so I don't think you need to pre-purchase anything for it.

 

The PacSafe bag we used was this one, but in black:

http://www.amazon.com/Pacsafe-MetroSafe-Shoulder-Grape-Wine/dp/B004JJ732Q/

 

It was the perfect size for us and we kept our money in the front pouch, which is covered by the flap and has a locking mechanism for the zipper. Hope that helps!

 

Great! Yes, it is a timed voucher that allows you to enter at a different place (unsure as to where the actual door is right now, but I will figure it out before we leave) and skip the line. I just got nervous about spending all my time in line (since I tried before and gave up). Thanks for the bag information! And I just figured out that the blue Aliaguna line does not go down the Grand Canal, but around the island...don't know how I missed that...so re-thinking our transportation to the ship (and will probably just do the ACTV down the canal instead of Princess' tender)...talk about disappointment...:(

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I forgot to post a picture of the most bizarre restaurant we saw in Piraeus - American House Toast. Yes, their logo is a female graduate with a large burger.

 

IMG_1512.JPG

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Thanks. BTW, great review. We were on the same cruise (May 18th sailing) and had a great time. Fortunately we were able to go to all the ports and the weather wasn't as hot as it was for you, although we did get a bit drenched in Rome when it rained there for a couple of hours. We had Traditional Dining (early seating) and that worked well for us since we were traveling with my MIL (mobility challenged) and I wanted to make sure she got back to the ship early enough to eat rest up for the next day.

we were on that one as well did the any time dining with no problems

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Great review! So glad I discovered this thanks to your post on another thread :)

 

Venice question:

Just to clarify about the Alilaguna stop at the cruise port - is it close enough to be able to bring our luggage from the ship to the Alilaguna boat easily?

We're going on this cruise in Sept and our itinerary is BCN-VCE so we will be disembarking in Venice and taking the Alilaguna to our hotel. On disembarkation, do they bring out our your luggage to the same spot as the 'luggage drop of area' on the map you posted before?

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