May 2015 - Norwegian Spirit to Europe - Mediterranean
At first we were reluctant to book such a long cruise in such faraway lands, but we are so glad we did! I must say that what really made this trip a breeze was purchasing and reading the book "Rick Steves' Mediterranean Cruise Ports" prior to departure, and having it on the cruise. This book seems custom made just for this particular sailing, and is a MUST read! Here was how we did our trip:
It all starts in Venice, Italy, where the central square (Piazzale Roma) is a short bus ride away from the Marco Polo airport in which we landed. Once at Piazzale Roma, there is a "People Mover" that whisks you from this central plaza to the cruise ship in 5 minutes. We got to the cruise ship and dropped off our bags, then took the People Mover back to Piazzale Roma, where we boarded the slower Vaporetto #1 for a low-cost cruise of the Grand Canal and introduction to the beauty of Venice. We then explored Venice on our own, checking out several amazing churches and buildings (including the famed St. Marks). We didn't take a gondola ride choosing instead for the way cheaper Traghetto ride across the canal. We had a truly awesome experience and loved Venice!
The next two days are spent at sea, which was actually nice as you are able to familiarize yourself with the ship and get some R&R. We spent one day just lounging in the pool with fruity drinks in hand.
Next stop was Athens, Greece. We did this our own taking the local bus to the Ancient sites and the Acropolis. I do not believe you need an excursion to do this, as we saw everything we wanted and even had an awesome chicken souvlaki lunch at a restaurant before heading back the ship. The hard part is finding the public bus line needed. Just leave the cruise port and walk left until street ends, then walk up one block and make sure to cross the street to get to the bus stop that is heading the right direction. The Parthenon and its views will leave you breathless.
Then came Ephesus, Turkey. We paid for an excursion here which was well worth it. It took us up to the House of the Virgin Mary (where we had a miraculous experience), then to the captivating ruins of Ancient Ephesus.
Next was Istanbul, Turkey. A very different and worldly experience. We easily did this on our own just following the tracks of the Tramway to the historic square which includes Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and the not-to-be-missed Underground Cistern. We then walked to the Grand Bizarre and from there we hiked back to the ship.
Then came Mykonos, Greece... a fanciful little island filled with 400 tiny churches, a few windmills, and some very nice people. Here we rented a car for 35 Euros (much better in my opinion than an ATV), and purposefully got lost visiting random beaches and passing old Yia Yia's tendering their gardens. it was a beautiful day.
Following Mykonos was a chill at-sea day, which was a nice break from all the walking around and a nice mental break from all the historic and fascinating experiences we just had. A mental and physical re-charge!
The next stop was Naples, Italy... a quite honestly underwhelming seedy port town filled with graffiti and low-income residences. We took an easy train ride (as explained in Rick Steves' book) to the ancient, almost forgotten town of Pompeii, where you learn that people 2000 years ago didn't live much differently than we do today. The pizza in Naples is not to be missed!
For the next port, Rome, we took a highly anticipated excursion to the Vatican via NCL. It was $250 per person... but boy was it worth it! The tour started a bit drab, but we finally hit the historic sites like the wonderful Colosseum and Forum. We then had an authentic Italian lunch, complete with wine, at a quaint restaurant. Then came the most mind-blowing and altering experience... the amazement of the Vatican. Words cannot express the beauty of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peters, so I wont even try. You definitely need an excursion to experience this, as otherwise the line to get in was several blocks long, and our tour guide's emotional explanations set the stage for a truly breathtaking experience.
The next morning, we woke up to Livorno, where Pisa (and its truly better-then-expected Leaning Tower) are a very short and easy train ride. We also did a spin tour of Florence (another 1 hour, 20 min train ride from Pisa). Florence was beauty beyond words (especially the Duomo, which pictures cannot do justice), but trying to fit both Pisa and Florence in one day proved to be a rather difficult if not fun adventure that warrants a long fascinating explanation we don't have time for. We almost missed the boat, but it was a day I will never forget!
We next docked in Toulon, France. Despite what people (including Rick Steves) may say, I don't thick you need an excursion here at all. It is such a cute town full of life and amazing things to see you will not be bored! A short walk from the cruise ship, we took the tiny tourist train around town, stopping at a beautiful (topless) beach where you can get some sun, and learn several WWII facts. We also walked around on our own, checking out the shopping area and went inside the absolutely beautiful and recommended Toulon Cathedral.
Our final destination was Barcelona, Spain. It was rather cold and rainy here, but we simply jumped on the Hop On, Hop Off bus and got a spin tour of this amazing city. The architecture of Gaudi here is inspiring... but nothing beats the Sagrada Familia church. We stayed one night in a hotel before heading home, which offered us the ability to soak in the day walking up and down Las Ramblas eating tapas and drinking wine. A beautiful end to even more beautiful trip.
If you are on the fence about booking this cruise, I say JUST DO IT now! You will never regret it, and you will never forget the memories of places and people that will be imprinted in your mind for the rest of your life.