Princess's "Grand Mediterranean" cruise truly is a fantastic itinerary with something for everybody. I visited all of the same ports of call last year aboard MV Grand Princess, albeit in a slightly different order, and would go back to any of them in a heartbeat! Here's a rundown of tours that I found particularly worthwhile, so I'm sure that the CruiseMates cruise aboard MV Golden Princess will not disappoint.
***** NOTE: Princess offers an "Easy Tour of..." in most of the ports of call on this itinerary. Most other tours involve walking significant distances at a moderate pace, often over uneven ground, anybody who has any difficulty walking and wishes to take a tour should choose the "Easy Tour of..." wherever such a tour exists. *****
>> Istanbul: I highly recommend the "Imperial Istanbul" walking tour which visits the Hippodrome, Haggia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace. The art and architecture in these places is incredible. Never mind the Grand Bazaar, as there's another bazaar right at the end of the pier in Kusadasi.
>> Kusadasi: I opted for the full tour of Ephesus, which included Mary's House, the archeological site (lots of walking on uneven ground, albeit mostly downhill), and the ruins of the Basilica of St. John. There's plenty of time to take this tour and to go shopping at the bazaar in Kusadasi. There are alternate tours of Ephesus if any of these sites are not of interest or who have difficulty walking.
>> Pireaus: We hit Pireaus on Sunday, so I opted to find a church service rather than taking a tour. The church that I found was absolutely magnificent, but I would take the tour of the Acropolis on any other day of the week.
>> Venice: I opted for the gondola ride and tour of Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), which also visits the Doge's Palace and a nearby glass factory. The glass factory has absolutely magnificent pieces on display. The Basilica (not included in the tour, but plenty of time to visit on your own) and the Doge's Palace have magnificent art and architecture. The gondola ride is a "must" if you have not done it before. In the Basilica, there's a nominal charge for entry into the area behind the altar to view the gold altarpiece -- and it's well worth the price.
>> Naples: I highly recommend the full day tour of the Isle of Capri. The art and architecture are quite impressive. In the town of Anacapri, the tour includes an optional demonstration of gorgeous wood inlay products in "the department store" that is well worth the 15 minutes of your time. The pieces are priced very attractively, and they are unique souveniers.
>> Livorno: I opted for the tour of Florence and Pisa, and concluded after the fact that it was much too ambitious and rushed. After seeing the magnificent art, architecture, and gardens in several of the other ports of call, Florence seemed very anticlimactic. Nonetheless, shop-aholics might want to go to Florence to purchase leather goods -- for which the "Florence on your own" tour would be a good choice if you are primarily going shopping. If I had to do it over, I would opt either for the half day tour of Pisa or the tour which visits a Tuscan winery for a wine tasting.
>> Monte Carlo: Be sure to take the "Walking Tour of Old Monaco." The art in the Royal Palace and in the Cathedral are positively magnificent. You will have plenty of time to explolre on your own. Prices in Monaco are very expensive, so this is not a good destination for shopping.
>> Barcelona: I was really torn between the tour of the old quarter and the Cathedral, the visit to Eglesia Familia Sagrada (which Gaudi was building at the time of his death), and the tour of the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat. I opted for the tour of the Benedictine monastery, and was not disappointed. The art and the views are magnificent, and you get to ride through some of the Catalonian countryside. My parents subsequently opted for the old quarter and the Cathedral, and were equally impressed.
Monte Carlo is the only port where passengers must go ashore by tender. All of the other ports have excellent pier facilities.
For you to say that this is one of your best cruises ever is a very stong statement, though it's one with which I certainly won't disagree. Unfortunately, I have a standing commitment for the third Sunday of each month so the CruiseMates cruise on MV Golden Princess does not fit into my schedule as of right now, but I would jump at the chance if it did.
Thanks again for a great site. The new message boards are fantastic!
Thanks, Norm for all the info about the ports in the Med. This will be my third visit to that part of the world but I am going with my grown children this time and they have never been there. It is still one of my favorite places. We did Alaska the last two years once on the Regal and once on the dawn. Thanks again. Helen
Norm, thanks so much for the review of the ports for the Med. I am one of Helen's lucky grown children who is going on the Golden next June. My husband and I have never been to some of the ports, so I can't wait......I printed out your recommendations and I am going to save them as reference. It really helps to hear from someone who has actually "been there and done that" Any other advice will be appreciated. jld
Thanks Norm, 8 months away but I love the anticipation of a cruise as much as anything. Got our Airline seat reservations yesterday, was surprised we could make them so early. Hope all thie terrorist mess is cleaned up soon. It is a concern. Helen.
Airlines will accept reservations up to 330 days (just about eleven months) before departure.
The terrorist mess should not be a problem on this trip. Although Turkey is a Moslem country (about 97% of the population are Moslem), it is NOT an Arab country. The Turks are not Arabs (it may surprise you to learn that the only language with the same gramatical structure as Turkish is Japanese), and in fact are very Western in their sentiments. In fact, Turkey has been a member of NATO for many years and is now seeking full membership in the European Union.
In addition to no tolerance whatsover (and very severe punishment) for crime of any sort, and especially for terrorist activity, the Turks have a very powerful lever over the Arab world, thanks to a major export. You see, Turkey has no oil, but it has a resource that sells for about three times the price of oil on the world market -- and without which, in the desert, you die. The resource in question is called water.
Last year, I was quite apprehensive about flying into Istanbul to board MV Grand Princess. The Turkish people were very friendly and non-threatening, so I very quickly felt quite at ease as I began to understand the culture. Now, I'm ready to go back!
Norm The last time I was in Istanbul was about 10 yrs. ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it except at that time there were soldiers with rifles on every corner, why I don't know, prhaps they were having some internal problems then. Any way I am looking forward to going back next June. Have they improved the Airport any? I was apalled at the lack of cleanliness at that time. Helen
When I visited Istanbul just over a year ago, everything was immaculate -- the airport included -- and there were no soldiers visibly standing guard anywhere. Also, the gardens were obviously very well maintained. It sounds like it has changed quite a bit -- for the better -- since your last visit. Do enjoy!
Thanks for the detailed descriptions of your trip. My family is also reserved on the Golden Princess next year (Sept. 13th). I was wondering if you arrived a few days before boarding? If yes, where did you stay? Was it expensive? We are planning to arrive a few days in advance and enjoy istanbul. Thanks for any tips.
No, I did not bother to go early since the cruise includes an overnight stay in Istanbul (which means that you have time for sightseeing on the next day) anyway. Hotels in Europe are generally expensive and ordinarily do not conform to American standards (obviously with the exception of those connected to the major American chains).
If you do want to stay over in Istanbul, my recommendation is to book a "Cruise Plus" package through Princess in conjunction with your cruise. The "Cruise Plus" packages ordinarily include all transfers (airport-hotel and hotel-pier) and baggage handling services in conjunction with your stay. Many of the "Cruise Plus" packages also offer optional tours of nearby attractions.
If you are really looking more for a longer vacation than specifically for additional time in Istanbul, Princess's "Cruise Tour" offerings would be another option. The cruise tour program offers several land tours can connect to the "Grand Mediterranean" itinerary, both at Istanbul and at Barcelona.
Cynthia, my sister & I are sailing on the Golden, may 28th. We are leaving early & staying in Barcelona at the Le Meridien 2 days pre-cruise & 2 days post at the Ciragan Palace Istanbul. This gives us a chance to really explore & get the feel of these exotic cities. since you are traveling so-o-o far - why not? Princess has the best cruise-Plus pkgs. & their choice of hotels are 4 star! Suzie