****When everything is settled in Egypt, I would recommend this cruise or any cruise for that matter that will take you to Egypt and Israel.
Left Toronto on time. After checking in at the new terminal we were able to use the Maple Leaf Lounge of Air Canada as we were flying first class. What a way to get spoilt. Beautiful area – free bar of anything you wanted, food, snacks, comfy chairs. Going back with the masses to economy is going to be a real chore. (In case anyone doesn’t realize it, I’m just kidding.) Because we arrived early, we zipped though the security in 2 minutes – nothing like I was expecting.
The plane was excellent. In business class you get a pod in which you can stretch right out more like a bed. The food was typical of airlines. It was supposed to be chef designed but it was ABSOLUTELY no different from any other airline food we have eaten before – yucky.
The Frankfurt airport is terrible. We Had to get off the plane on the tarmac into an extremely crowded airport shuttle bus and be taken to the terminal. There we went through Eu immigration which was very quick and easy. Once we found where we had to go to catch our second flight we had to go through security a second time.
We asked directions to the first class lounge. Following those directions we headed there only to find it was closed for renovations. We were sent to the Sports Bar which was nothing more than a half walled whatever you want to call it where you could pick up a paper cup of coffee a couple of stand up tables to drink it. A couple of kitchen type chairs on the outside were to sit. Just awful. We walked down to the gate which was then changed for the second time and finally ended up at the end of the game.
The second plane was definitely not much for first class. Instead of 3 across there were 2 seats only. We were fed using proper silverware rather than plastic – not much else different. We were not offered a drink either.
So, overseas flights great – internal flights not so good. Our luggage was first out – all of it – the check-in clerk in Toronto had put priority tags on it when we checked in. Another perk of business class.
I had ordered a driver to meet us at the airport on our arrival in Athens. He was right on time. He took our luggage immediately and led us to his cab. He packed it away nicely and we were on our way into Athens. The driver was excellent, his English excellent. He gave us some information on the way into the city. The traffic is unbelievably bad. It took about 45 – 60 minutes to arrive at the Plaka Hotel where we had a 2 night reservation. The hotel is quite adequate. Very clean and the bed is comfortable. The shower leaves a bit to be desired as too much water ends up on the floor. There was a small balcony. We were extremely tired the first night but we did take the time to go up to the roof Bar for a drink. The scenery is gorgeous. We could look directly at the Acropolis which is lit up in the evening. Beautiful site. We called it an early night as we were suffering from jet lag. However, I could not really sleep as the room was terribly hot. Finally, around 5 I fell asleep.
We finally got up around 8 am, showered and readied ourselves for the day. The hotel supplied a breakfast buffet as part of the package. It was OK – juices, toasts, canned fruit, cold cuts, scrambled eggs, coffee.
We had looked out the balcony and noticed everyone was wearing winter clothes, coats etc. We figured we should be wearing at least sweaters which lasted about 10 minutes before we realized we were way too warm. We took a turn through a flea market area and returned to the hotel to ditch the sweaters. Greece does not get the winters we do so I suppose 68 degrees to cold to them. We wandered around the Plaka area for awhile grabbed a pastry and coke and sat in a square to watch the teeming humanity. There are 3.5 million people in Athens and another 2 million in the burbs. During the tourist season they are visited by 2.5 million visitors.
We decided we would do better if we jumped on the Hop on Hop Off bus. The cost is 18 euros each. A bit pricey but to be expected I guess. As we were driving around we did notice a group of police in full riot gear running down some steps. What we did not know at that time a couple of bombs had been sent to some embassies in Athens. We only found out later that evening when watching the news on TV. We had also commented on the numbers of both police and army on the streets. Now I understand.
When we were driving in from the airport I asked our driver about picking us up at the hotel to take us to the ship. He said he could not himself but made a couple of phone calls and said we would we picked up. As it turns out, he did pick us up himself and not only that, we were now 4 and he took it all in stride. He put 4 people’s luggage into his little cab and 4 of us into the cab and without any hesitation at all took us all to the port. I cannot recommend this man more. His prices were better than any other we had been given and his service was impeccable.
When we arrived at the ship check in was smooth – we filled out the health questionnaire and on to priority check in which was quick. Of course I would not give my cc at that point as I explained we do not want RCL to convert our charges to Canadian dollars. From there we moved over to security, not realizing there were more than one ship waiting to go through it. There were some very rude pushy people and I was almost regretting the cruise at that point. Once we got through security the rude pushy people veered off to the right and I realized they were heading for the Costa ship. Thank goodness.
We turned to our left and walked only a short distance when we saw the Azamara Journey. It is a small ship but beautiful. We strolled onboard. There were no crowds, no pushing just warm welcoming staff as we boarded.
We wandered the ship for a while. As we had been on the Tahitian Princess previously we knew what to expect as to size etc. I really do like the smaller ships better. We had lunch in the buffet, then found out way to our cabin. We found the cabin to be quite adequate with enough room and storage to do us. The flat screen TV was definitely a plus. First time we’ve had one. We usually do get a balcony so we can enjoy our breakfast and just sitting outside. There were dressing gowns hanging ready of use. The towels were in excellent condition, soft and fluffy.
One of the nicest things, I could reach into the mini-fridge and grab a pop not having to worry about the nickel and diming starting. There was a large bottle of water sitting on the desk. There was no charge for that either.
The absolute best thing about Azamara is the lack of extra charges. Wine by the glass was available at lunch and dinner as was pop and speciality coffees included. Gratuities were also included.
One of the best things about this particular cruise was the people we met. We are not big on using cruise lines tours therefore whenever possible I book privately. This cruise was no different. I had booked a private tour through http://www.guidedtoursisrael.com/ for the Israel component of our cruise. I therefore was looking for at least another couple to share the cost with us. As it happened we had two couples who were travelling together share with us. We were extremely lucky with this as both couples were extremely nice and we had a wonderful time with them, both on and off the ship.
Our first stop was Mykonos, Greece. As this was our second time and, as it was already off-season, we only left the ship long enough to take a walk around the beach area and have an ice-cream. A large number of the shops were closed therefore there wasn’t a lot to do. I know some of the passengers took another ferry over to Delphi where I’m told they had a great time exploring the ruins.
Our next stop was Rhodes. We hadn’t been there before. We enjoyed it but probably not as much as we would have had we not been so looking forward to our stops in Israel and Egypt.
Our next stop was my personal favourite – Israel. The ship was to stay two days in Israel. As stated earlier, I had hired a guide who picked us up at the port and after a day of touring dropped us back off at the ship and picked us up again the next day for our second day of touring.
As there were six of us on the tour we found it much more informative and were able to have the tour more personally designed than had we taken a ships tour which normally consists of about 40 or more people.
We were picked up in a van with a driver/guide who was extremely knowledgable and was able to show us so much while providing a running commentary. In no particular order we covered pretty well everything from the Sea of Galilee near where we had lunch on a kibbutz to the wailing wall to Bethlehem. We were not able to go into Tel Aviv as time just wouldn’t allow it.
To be honest, I’m not sure I’m doing this in the order we travelled but it really doesn’t matter. I’m sure my readers will understand.
We drove out to the Sea of Galilee. What a beautiful site. As we drove our guide pointed out we were travelling along the Golan Heights where the Syrians used to fire down on the Israelis until the Israelis finally drove them back. There is no climbing the beautiful hills though as there are still mines there. We then headed for lunch at a kibbutz – for those who don’t know a kibbutz is similar to a co-operative farm.
Bethlehem was a special treat at least to me. As it is in the Palestinian territories our guide had made arrangements for us to cross through the border and be met on the other side by a Christian Palestinian to do that part of our tour. It was a bit disconcerting to go through the no-man’s land of the barrier between the two was well worth it. Both guides were very concerned for our safety and while one stood on one side watching us cross with a phone at his ear talking to the other guide who was waiting for us on the other side to be sure we all crossed safely.
This is where a private tour wins hands down over a ship/bus tour. When we arrived at the church in Bethlehem, the line up was at least 2 hours long and probably longer. Although we had to “tip” we were able to by-pass the line and go in immediately. Saved hours of our time which allowed us to visit more places.
After a quick stop at a souvenir shop we headed back to the border where once again our guide handed us off to our Israeli guide. We made sure we gave a gratuity to both our guide and driver on the Palestinian side.
We continued on our way with our guide. He took us up to the Mount of Olives where he explained why the graves were where they were and the hierarchy even in death.
The highlight of my day was our visit to the wailing wall in the walled city of Jerusalem. It is in two sections, one for the men and one for the women. What surprised me the most – way more women than men. Women were sitting, it appears they sit there for hours reading the bible. I had no idea of this before we went.
We walked through a lot of alleys with many shops to work our way in and out of the wailing wall area. I stopped in a small shop as were going thru to buy a minora. The alleyways are probably a bit intimidating – very glad we had our guide with us.
After two days in Israel, we sailed over to Egypt. We were 2 days there. We booked a private tour with http://www.nileblueexcursions.com/. They picked us up at the ship, we toured all day and then went to the Meni House Oberoi Hotel for the night. The picked us up there the next day, we toured again and then they drove us back to the ship.
That was the bare bones. A bit about what we discovered in Egypt. Cairo is a city of 20 million people with another 5 million entering every day. There are no traffic lights and, although there are stop signs they appear to be a suggestion rather than an order. A 2 lane road with markings are usually used as a 3 or 4 lane road. Hence, I would never suggest driving in Egypt.
The tour company worked with us to take us wherever we wanted to go. We did a mosque, the pyramids where we saw the light show in the evening and the next morning went back to. (I rode a camel – I highly recommend it). He took us to the Egyptian Museum were we saw King Tut’s artifacts in addition to everything else, we drove down to Memphis. We also took a falluja ride on the Nile.
Just a note about the mosque: our guide took us in and asked us to take off our shoes. Of course we did then sat in a circle while he explained a bit about his religion. I did find it interesting and again, something I would recommend as part of any tour.
We were given a very skilled driver and a guide whose knowledge was excellent and English was perfect. They will design your tour to suit.
As for pricing, there were 6 of us and the price we paid included the hotel and lunch as well as entries into everything except the cost of the camel ride.
Also, you need to have a lot of U.S. dollars. They want a “dollah” to use the facilities, although our guide would always give us a coin when needed. There are all sorts of vendors wherever you do. They are constantly trying to sell you their wares for a “dollah”. We did buy a few trinkets. When we were at the pyramids we were surrounded by a numbr of teens. We were a bit concerned and I asked our guide if there was a problem. He said they just wanted their picture take with us and to practice their English. We were happy to oblige.
While In Egypt I have to say – don’t eat anything that isn’t cooked. Don’t have ice. The standards there are just different than ours and it’s easy to have a stomach problem. We had taken a sandwich and some fruit along with water from the ship. I would always suggest this. For breakfast the next morning we ate at the buffet in the hotel and it was excellent. The hotel itself was gorgeous. There were guards on the gate and if you didn’t belong you didn’t get it. We felt perfectly safe. The room – I’ve never had such a beautiful room. Absolutely huge with the most comfortable bed.
On the second day we went to Memphis. Very interesting but rather small site with artifacts outside. I don’t know how well thing will hold up with the pollution or how long they will last. We went back to Cairo so David and I (the others chickened out) could have our camel ride. Very interesting!!!!
I am so glad I did this, as scared as I was getting on the creature. I have to recommend it to anyone who goes to Egypt – make sure you give it a try. It’s something you”ll only get to do once.
Returning to the ship was a treat – she says sarcastically. The 2.5 hour drive is a long one at the end of the day. Thank goodness we had such a competent driver. It was dark by the time we reached Alexandria. Our driver took us through the back alleys to return to the ship and I must say, it did make me nervous. Once we reached the dock area, the driver and guide had to leave us. They apparently are not allowed into the restricted area. We walked from this point back to the ship. There is a large port area with a lot of empty shops. It looked rather new so I’m not sure if they were waiting for renters or if there was/is an issue with security.
While Egypt has some cleanliness issues, I would never try to discourage anyone from visiting. You have to be careful and be willing to overlook how dirty some of the areas are and be super careful with the food. As long as you don’t eat any dairy, raw vegetables or drink any water you should be alright.
Our next two days were spent at sea. It was nice to have a rest after four very hectic days. It gave us an opportunity to explore the ship more. We were invited to brunch with an officer who, it turned out, was the Human Resource Manager. We had an extremely pleasant time with this informative lady. The brunch was outstanding!! Everything from shrimp to eggs Benedict. Delicious.
We met our new friends for dinner in the Prime C Steakhouse one evening. The food was excellent. We had also had dinner in Aquilina Dining Room on our first evening. There is just no where on that ship we did not enjoy the food.
We spent a couple of days at sea enjoying the ship. Even though it is a small ship of 640 passengers, it is a wonderful ship to enjoy.
Our last stop was an overnight in Sorrento. Our original plans for a private tour did not happen. We weren’t unhappy about that but that was for personal reasons. We had found we had hit it off with those who took the Israeli tour with us and they invited us to join them on their private tour to Naples. We were happy to do so. The guide picked us up at the ship and away we went. He took us to Herculaneum Archaeological Ruins in Naples. This was definitely new to us. It was extremely interesting and not crowded. We have been to Pompeii on a previous cruise and hadn’t wanted to return but this was great and extremely interesting.
Our guide took us to a restaurant for pizza. It was OK but the others were disappointed somewhat as they had wanted to go to a particular place but we were taken to where the guide wanted to go. From there he dropped us off at the train station – he did walk in with us so we would get the right track. I think this part came as a surprise to everyone as we had expected to be taken back to the ship. Nevertheless, it worked. It was called a train but actually was a subway. He had said it was only a few stops – it was 22. When we arrived we found our way over to the area the ship was in but the shuttles weren’t operating and we had to walk down steps that were not very good. One of our party twisted her ankle on the way down. I do feel if our guide had returned us to the ship this would not have happened.
The next day we shuttled back up to the town. Sorrento is a gorgeous little village. We wandered up and down the little streets, I did a bit of shopping and we headed back to the ship.
Our last stop, where we disembarked, was Civitavecchia which is the port for Rome. The Rome airport is about an hour from the port. Since we were staying overnight and the cost of a cab is extremely expensive in Rome, I decided to hire a guide for the day. Once again I was lucky enough to hook up with another couple who were from Texas and hadn’t been to Rome before to share costs. The driver/guide picked us up at the ship at 8 am, drive us into Rome where we covered a lot of sites, including the collusieum and Trevi Fountain among them. We could have done with another full day just to see the Vatican. We had been there before but still wanted to see it again. There just isn’t enough time in half a day. Our guide took us to a restaurant of his choice for lunch. It was fantastic!!! And the price was excellent. From there he dropped us off at the Vatican Museum to see the Sisten Chapel. I’m afraid we rushed as we wanted to get over to the Vatican as well and it is quite a walk to get around. We were only able to spend an hour or so in the Vatican. The line ups are huge as you have to go through security prior to entering and that takes quite a bit of time.
We were lucky as we had been to Rome before but for the other couple I wish it could have been longer. I would always suggest two days in Rome with one dedicated to the Vatican.
All four of us were staying at the same hotel out by the airport so our driver/guide dropped us off there. The hotel was excellent but the food not so good and very expensive. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the evening. We had an early flight back to Frankfurt/Toronto the next day, therefore calling it a night early.
I would recommend this cruise to anyone. We say so much in the couple of weeks between Greece, Israel, Egypt and Italy. I would just like to have spent more time in Israel Egypt and Italy. Hopefully one day we can get back there.
I will also say, the people we met on this cruise were some of the nicest we have ever met and would cruise with them again in a minute. (You all know who you are.)