We are back from our first cruise - the Mediterranean Cruise from Barcelona to Istanbul on the Golden Princess (5 August - 20 August). My wife and I had a superb time and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I will go into more details below but our overall feeling on the cruise was just brilliant. All views and opinions expressed below are just that and you may agree or not. I pass them on because reading the views and opinions of others on this board before our cruise was so very useful and illuminating. We are in our Mid 40s (left the kids at home hehehe) and from the UK, experiencing our first cruise.
We were on the Portside Caribe Deck and yes the balconies were large. I measured them to be 11of my feet square (and I have big feet!). Our balcony was a real pleasure to stand on when we arrived and left port. The furniture was 2 sit up loungers type chairs, 2 table chairs and a table. The cabin was fine. I was surprised at how small the bathroom was but being on our first cruise I guess this is fairly normal. The design was very good and the shower had decent pressure. Plenty of hanging space and the safe is very useful. Met our room steward early on when my wife’s luggage failed to appear by 7.30pm. Even though you know that your cases don’t travel side by side, because you check them in together you expect them to arrive more or less at the same time - Not so! Mine was there by about 4pm but no sign of my wife’s. We went to the purser’s office who filled out a search form but by the time we got back to the cabin it had appeared! Thank God! Our steward was very good (we requested robes - thanks to this board) and kept the room tidy and spotless. We used room service for breakfast each morning and found them very efficient.
The ship was 40 over normal capacity but we never felt we were climbing over people. We could always get a lounger on deck, always find a quiet spot for a drink and even turn up as the curtain was going up in the Princess Theatre and get seats, (at the back if you choose, useful if the show is not to your taste and you decide to leave early). The ship is catering for a lot of people but we didn’t feel we were buying a mass-market product. This was very much due to the design of the ship where it always seemed possible to find a quiet nook to relax alone. I found the ship very stable and as I can quite easily become travel sick I was armed with travel bands, ginger tablets and stugeron - all were unnecessary for me - even when there was some ‘movement’ near Greece.
We were very pleased with the food and found it had more European influences than we had expected on a ship catering for American tastes. There were plenty of choices offered and we left the dining room more than happy. We did Personal Choice and most nights ate in the Bernini Dining Room run by ‘Eduardo’ who is a man with a mission. His mission is to please his customers. Table for 10 or table for 2 he will arrange it. We always had a table for two and after a few nights when we really enjoyed the service provided by Carmen and George (Brother and Sister from Romania) Eduardo had us down as a permanent reservation at 8.30pm.
We tried out Sabatinnis and thought that it was impressive and enjoyable it is not an experience we would repeat. There was just too much. Initially it seemed like a delight not to have to choose from the menu as you effectively get the lot but as the food kept on coming the meal began to take on the form of a trek and I began using phrases like ‘I need to pace myself’. Inevitably we called a halt left most of our entrée and passed on dessert. It is not an authentic Italian dining experience where you choose from the menu and receive a number of small courses. We left musing on the fact that ‘having it all’ is not always the best option.
We felt the lounge musicians and Cruise Staff were very good. The cruise staff worked very hard and although we didn’t attend many of the set entertainment, a glance at the Princess Patter supported the fact that plenty was on offer. We were less than impressed by the ‘Headliner Acts’ and wished that Princess had a policy of using younger acts on their way up rather than some of the comedians that appeared to be on their way down. One thing we were very surprised at and that was the apparent willingness of some comedians to employ racial stereotypes as a way to getting laughs. Making fun out of the way that the Filipino room stewards speak and then making jokes about what it would be like to have a German as a room steward is not my idea of humour in fact it is my idea of racism. Also it is just lazy and unoriginal - Get some new material!
This is an intensive itinerary and by our first full day at sea we felt that we had earned a ‘Day Off’! Barcelona was very pleasant (we did it on our own - taxis are inexpensive) and if you go to the Sagrada Familia then bite the bullet and climb those towers (even though your calves will pay you back the next day) because the view is great.
We really liked Monte Carlo and didn’t really expect to be too impressed but it is very pretty and both I and my wife are Formula 1 fans so we were able to walk the Grand Prix track (sad isn’t it) and stop along the way to eat in the Café de Paris in Casino Square (not cheap but not a rip off). Tender operations were very well organised here. Tip - If you take your driving licence you can hire electric scooters/motorcycles just down from where the tender docks. This would be a great way to zip around the place.
Livorno - we had decided to do the Florence on your Own trip and this was our first experience of being on a Princess ‘tour’. Really impressed by the level of organisation. Arrived at the Princess theatre with our tour tickets and directed to sit in a particular part of the theatre. Sat there literally 30 seconds and we were up and told to board our bus. Sat there for all of 1 minute and the bus was on the move. We only did 4 organised tours but they seem to have this down to a fine art as they have embarkation, which was also plain sailing!
Florence was great and we managed to pack a lot in - Ponte Vechio (Nice bridge full of Jewellers shops - keep a good brisk pace to avoid excess Credit Card bills!) - David Statue at the Academy of Arts (notice the veins in his foot, did I see a pulse?) - The Cathedral PLUS a nice Italian Lunch with a nice bottle of wine (very important)!!!
At Naples we did the Tour of Pompeii which was a childhood dream of my wife’s. We had a very good Italian guide called Vito who was both humorous and informative - a great morning. We planned to walk into Naples but instead got sidetracked by lazing next to the pool drinking cocktails (I’m going to complain to Princess :-) ).
Venice was just amazing and it is one hell of a way to enter and leave the city. You sail right past St Mark’s Square and notice that most of the belltowers are on the tilt! We did Venice on our own and as long as you have got a decent map then this is fine. You will still get lost but at least you will be able to extricate yourself from the maze. It is a safe city so wander and enjoy. We had a great meal in Venice (not in St Marks!) (Food and wine is becoming a bit of a recurring theme here I notice) and then went and explored the Pallazzo Ducalle (Bridge of Sighs etc). We got up early the next day planning to be in line for St Mark’s Basilica opening at 9.45am only to discover that due to a religious festival it wouldn’t open until 2pm. Personally I thought this was a bit much for a religious building to hold religious festivals that interfered with my holiday arrangements :-). Anyway it gave us an excuse to return sometime. Leaving Venice was again beautiful and my wife had a tear in her eye (possibly because I had made it back to the ship in time.)
Athens - we awoke to discover that we were not in the port of Pireaus but anchored further up the coast at Faliron (some problem with wind stated the captain). This meant tender operations that were all handled very efficiently. We had decided to do the Acropolis on our own (following suggestions from a contributor to this board). We were directed to the shuttle bus and I noticed the crowd of taxi drivers hovering waiting for fares. Great I thought, and when one offered his ‘taxi’ I asked the price to the local station. $30 came the reply. I smiled and climbed the steps to the shuttle bus. The shuttle bus dropped us off at the local metro station (Faliron) which is one stop up from the end of the line, Pireaus. The more adventurous crew from the ship who were doing Athens on their own followed each other to the ticket office, stifling a desire to baa like sheep. We bought our ticket to get to Thission (we knew this because the Shuttle bus guide had handed out photocopied sheets of necessary info, even down to “take me to the Faliron port” in Greek for our return if we chose a taxi). We got off at Thission and used the map supplied to walk up to the Acropolis (10 minutes). We were impressed with the Acropolis, agreed that it must have been murder to pull the stones up the hill, declared that it was damn hot and headed down to the Plaka and a shaded restaurant.
Pleasures of Cruising number 48: One can be impressed with archaeological sights, nod sagely and secretly relish the fact that by tonight we will be on our way with a cocktail in hand and the prospect of a fine meal ahead.
Getting back to Faliron train station was fun as we asked a variety of people for the ‘metro’ then to be directed in a variety of different directions. I suspect we were close to a number of metro stations and kept missing them. Tip: The signs for the metro in Athens are like small green litterbins. I hail from London and so are used to LARGE signs for the Underground - not so in Athens, keep a look out for them. The Metro is very cheap by the way.
Got back to Faliron station and while waiting for the Shuttle bus in 100 degree heat a taxi driver pulled up - we negotiated a deal and he took us back to the port along with two others we had met - Total fare about $4 with a big tip.
Kusadassi - Pretty little coastal town. Did the tour of Ephesus with a reputable local tour operator called "Ephesus Tours", which was amazing. They were first class and the guides were helpful, informative and very flexible. Could not have been more pleased from the services. They took us to many spots and treated us like treasured friends. It is done really well as you are dropped of at the top of the hill, walk down the streets and finish off with the huge amphitheatre. The car takes you back into Kusadassi
Istanbul - It was raining, yes I didn’t expect it either (complaint to Princess about weather!). We used "Ephesus Tours" again. Saw St Sophia and The Blue Mosque which are effectively across the street from one another. Both are amazing.
Well that’s about it folks, I hope I haven’t droned on too much. All in all we thought the holiday was great. Yes we will cruise again and I suspect it is likely to be with Princess. If you would like further info or would like to ask me a question do feel free. And thanks to all the previous contributors who helped us out.
If you need any more info please do not hesitate to email me at