My Reflection on Cruising the Mediterranean on the Island Princess
We flew from Vancouver to Rome via London on British Airways. We booked it ourselves as we could get a better price than what Princess was offering at the time. But it is worth looking at both options.
It is a long flight, but the biggest issue for us was the time change and jet lag. Be prepared to be tired and make sure to give yourself enough time to rest when you arrive.
Make sure you arrive a few days before your cruise. The cruise is going to be exhausting so having a few days in the embarkation port to rest and adjust to the time is key.
Take a shuttle service from airport to city for quick, efficient and very cost effective service. It was just a bit more than taking the train and after a long flight it was much appreciated. Plus no worries on trying to find hotel as driver dropped us off right in front.
Accommodations in Rome:
We really were happy with our apartment we rented from Green Apartments. The building had four apartments with a lovely terrace for us to enjoy. Cost was less than many of the hotels we looked into. Plus it was very large and so nice to have a small kitchen.
Check out Airbnb, or other apartment rental sites. Our place was within walking distance to two different metro line stations. Right on a tram route. And a few blocks from the Coliseum.
Time of year:
We can't easily get time off in the summer so we planned it for the fall. We wanted to do a transatlantic, so we had to go with the schedule from Princess. We left late October from Rome and we were often one of the last ships to visit a port for the season.
Weather was wonderful, actually better than I had expected. We dressed in layers. Often first thing in the morning it was cooler and by the afternoon we were in short sleeve shirts. Again when the sun went down it got cool again. Many Mediterranean ports like Ephesus, Mykonos, Santorini, Dubrovnik were very warm. It was even nice enough to swim in the pool on the ship on a few occasions.
The crowds were a heck of a lot less than what you find in the summer. We were very fortunate to visit sites quite easily with very short or no lines to enter at all. Everywhere we went people commented that boy it is sure quiet here compared to the last time they were there in the prime time.
One downfall of this time of year is that we encountered two ports where things were shutting down or were closed for the season -- Mykonos and Santorini, but we still managed to see a lot.
I would not hesitate to visit again at either the beginning of the season or in the Fall again.
We brought Euros with us to help us get started. In every port - except Dubrovnik, they took Euros, including Turkey. When we required more money we easily withdrew money from ATMs. We had no problem finding machines that would accommodate our card. Make sure to let your bank or credit union know you are travelling.
In Croatia we exchanged some Euros near the port with no problem - of course there was a transaction fee. When we dined there, and paid for our entry to the walking on the wall, we were able to pay with our credit card.
We usually used our credit card to pay for all larger things, like meals, entrance fees to attractions and purchases from stores. We have a pin credit card and we never had an issue.
Be prepared - things here cost a lot more than what we are use to at home, especially with our low Canadian Dollar. We made a point of not thinking about the exchange but to just go with it and enjoy. But if you need to pick up items be prepared it will probably cost you twice what you would pay at home.
We tried to have a meal in every port. For us we loved the time to sit and reflect and rest and try some of the local foods.
I highly recommend picking a restaurant that is further away from major tourist sites. Look for restaurants that don't have a sign in English with menu items. Look for a chalk board or sign that states in their native language the menu. Look for a restaurant that doesn't particularly cater to tourists but to serving good, authentic food.
|we walk down this street and found the most amazing restaurant|
Our game plan was always to walk away from the major street down a side road and then to look for a restaurant that had daily features with many locals inside.
Every meal we attempted something new - and sometimes we had no idea what the item was - we just pointed to it on the menu and often we were surprised and happy. Later in the trip we would just state to the server "what do you recommend today" and again we were never disappointed.
We often would order one dish and share it, so one pasta and then one main dish and share. Meals were large and this gave us the opportunity to try a few things. We also would let one person pick the food one time and then the other would pick the food the next time. It was fun trying to figure out items and surprising Bernie with special things.
Ask for the house or table wine, which is sold by the glass, half litre or full litre. Certainly a more economical way to go and very very good. Note red wines are often served a little chilled.
In fact if you can stop into the wine stores that sell the wines in refillable bottles. We were able to buy empty plastic bottles and have them fill them for a few Euros. We then would just enjoy this wine in the cabin before dinner.
Try some of the local customs. For us it was getting our espresso every morning at the coffee shops that the locals went to. Standing at the bar and drinking it is a great way to blend in and fit in. Plus it usually a lot cheaper than taking a table to enjoy. Stop by the sandwich deli type stores and have them make you a sandwich. Take it with you and sit on a bench or grassy area and enjoy.
In the evening after enjoying a great meal, go for a stroll and get some gelato and watch the people.
In Venice we really enjoyed visiting the wine bars where we sat and had a reasonably priced glass of house wines and some small finger foods (sort of like tapas).
Hit the ground running. Do lots of research before you leave home about each port. Find out what you might like to do and take note of that. Each port we had a rough idea of what we were doing and we worked at accomplishing that. But I quickly learned that often I had too much planned in the ports and we soon realized we could really only accomplish half of what we wanted to and realized we would just have to come back.
Watch the port lecturer's show - either live or in your cabin (it was replayed in the cabins) to learn key bits of information about each port. Transportation, sites, restaurants, and history.
Don't be afraid to take local transportation in each port. Often Princess offered shuttles from the ship to the town at a cost. But frankly the cost was so high per person that it forced us to look for other options. Example is Venice - ship's shuttle was only one water taxi from port to St. Mark's Sq (ended at 11:30 pm) for 24 hours at a cost of $20 each - so it would of been $40 each for the 48 hours we were there. Venice's ACTV vaporetto service is 30E each for 48 hours and we could take any of the lines at any time of the day. Often taxis were the same cost as the ship's shuttle. But we easily found local buses, trains, private shuttles or taxis to be a better value and gave us much more flexibility.
Another example is our day in Florence - the shuttle from Livorno to Florence was 360E and it could take 8 people. The ship offered a bus transfer at a cost of $99 US each and it was a set time with a full bus.
Taking the train to many cities is easy and efficient. We used the train to Pisa and Rome very easily.
Using local buses can also save you time and it gives you the opportunity to connect with the locals too. Drivers were very helpful and patient and locals were very open to assisting us on directions too.
Don't be too afraid of getting lost, or wandering - this is the time when I often found a hidden gem.
Highly recommend that you download a Map App to your phone that you can use offline. I used Maps2Go which is free and I could easily locate myself on the map and then figure out how to get to where I needed to go. Another great app is a translator app. We used this often especially when getting directions, ordering or buying personal items (saved us when we needed to buy conditioner in Italy).
When researching take note of sites that you can pre book. This saved us numerous times. We pre reserved the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Necropolis tour, Museum in Florence, Doge's Palace and a few others. It is very easy to pre reserve many of these places by going directly to their websites. Read each blog for each port where I have links to the sites we used. Having pre reserved tickets allowed us to skip the line and saved us valuable time.
Wear appropriate clothing and shoes! We witnessed numerous people being turned away from certain sites because they were not dressed modestly to enter. Cover the shoulders and no shorts are the rule in many churches. A good pair of shoes that you can wear, cause trust me you will log a lot of steps. Also be aware of the terrain. Often the streets/sidewalks are uneven and comprise of cobblestones.
Carry some small bills and coins as most public washrooms require you to pay (usually a Euro). Take advantage of washrooms at the sites you visit - like museums, or restaurants.
When dining ashore note that tipping is not the norm here and often an automatic tip or service fee is added to the bill and is clearly marked.
Each port had very good tourist information booths that provided excellent maps and ideas and many allowed people to reserve tickets too.
We found that we were able to communicate quite easily in every port. Although English is often spoken in many of the tourist areas a few words in the native language can help.
Petty Crime was an issue for many people that we encountered. Seemed like every port we heard of someone who had some kind of issue. Don't risk it... carry your items in a safe spot that is difficult to access. If you need quick access to some money, just carry a small amount in your pocket and keep the rest in a secure spot. We carried our pacsafe bag and had no issues at all. Pacsafe is a great brand with all types of bags to suit your needs but there are other brands that also provide theft resistant bags.
No matter what you do, don't carry all your money, credit cards, passport with you. At times we were requested to bring our passport ashore. When we did we put it in a separate bag that was secure. We always leave another credit card in the safe in the cabin. This way if the main card gets stolen we have a second credit card to use after we cancel the one we lost.
Keep your wits about you when you are ashore. We witnessed thieves trying to distract tourists at ticket machines - often they offer assistance while their friend helps themselves to your possessions. Don't carry your wallet in your pocket in your pants, not your front or back pocket! Three different guys we spoke to had their wallets taken exactly this way.
We sailed on the Island Princess. I really loved the size of ship and really liked that it was easy to get around.
This ship recently went thru an extensive dry dock where the Universe Lounge was removed and cabins were added to the aft area on decks 6,7 and lido. Also the casino was made more narrow and cabins added to the port side. Of course this impacted the cruise because more cabins equals more people.
Unfortunately no more public spaces were added, including no more dining areas. This did cause some issues with waits for the dining rooms. Also this ship does not have an International Cafe and we really missed that. Having an International Cafe provides us with an alternative place to get something to eat. Often a quick item from there filled us for breakfast or lunch. But because it was not there it only impacted the already over crowded venues.
For this very port intensive itinerary this ship worked. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles that the big ships have but it felt just right. In the evenings we were often too tired to partake in too much so the lack of the missing venue didn't impact us too much. The few times we did see a production show we had no real problem getting a seat, especially if we went to the late show (note this itinerary had two longer shows, instead of the three shorter shows we often see when sailing other itineraries).
Have to say that the food on this ship was probably one of the best we have ever had on any Princess ship. Food had more flavour, much more variety (especially in Horizon Court) and food that was suppose to be hot was hot.
Then the next best thing about this ship are it's crew. Again they just blew us away on how they seemed to work so hard and do it with a smile on their faces. With being on for a whole month we made some great friends among them. Top notch crew who obviously care about what they are doing.
The few things that I found lacking about this ship that I wish they would work on are:
- improved television on demand service - since this was so port intensive we found many of our evenings were spent relaxing in the cabin after dinner and a good movie would of been nice. We missed the on demand tv that the Royal and Regal have.
- Internet on this ship was very poor. Now I know most people now hook up to the ship's wifi with their devices and those devices suck up a lot more data that ever before with auto updates, notifications and so on. But really it seems Princess is falling way behind in providing high speed internet that other lines are managing to provide - and at a much less cost to the passenger. I should also add that the routers are placed throughout the ship, but it seemed my cabin was just too far from a router to get a very good signal. Had to stand right by the cabin door to get a half decent signal, but if I wanted to use my laptop I had to take it to a public area.
- Dining rooms - this ship has one dining room on deck five that is for anytime dining and one dining room on deck six that is traditional. We always choose anytime. On the first leg we found that most people preferred to dine late, on the second leg the demographics changed and was a much older crowd and the dining rooms were packed early. It seemed that the Head Waiters had a hard time trying to accommodate everyone (remember all the added cabins) in the two dining rooms. I heard of many traditional diners that went to anytime dining whenever they couldn't make their assigned time - which was frustrating for those of us who don't have the option to go to traditional dining when we want. Also the dining room on the sixth floor is exactly the same as the one of five, but it is right below the Promenade deck and the Wheelhouse bar. So when the band starts up you can hear it in the dining room on deck six.
- On a positive note we dined probably 75% of our dinners up in the Horizon Court. We dined here more this cruise than we ever had. The service up here was amazing. Not only were the waiters attentive to any of our needs, the chef's serving us remembered us and would welcome us and chat and became a highlight to see them each night. Food here was plentiful, hot, and lots of variety. A hidden gem that many people pass up, but works very well on this very port intensive cruise. Plus it was nice to not have to dress for dinner in the dining room after a long day.
- Specialty Restaurants - this ship has two of them. The Bayou and Sabatinis. We dined at the Bayou twice and Sabatinis once. The meals were good, not spectacular, service was so so and certainly not as good as in the dining room or Horizon Court. We find the cost of $25 to be a decent price but find that the meal and service just don't make it special. Both of these venues were usually empty on this long voyage and there was very little promotion for them either. But then what is worse is you do go and you are disappointed because of the lack of service - waiters are cut to the bare minimum and just can't handle all the tables that do show up. Princess I hope you read this and work at improving this area.
Demographic on the Cruise
The first cruise that was 12 days from Rome to Venice the demographic was younger, I would guess the average age was late 40s, early 50s. Some families and even some kids. The second cruise which was Rome to Fort Lauderdale 19 nights was a much older crowd with the average age I am guessing to be around 65 and I think only two kids.
Final Thoughts from Us
We loved this trip! We loved Europe! We especially loved Italy and could see us spending a lot more time there. I know once we retire we have talked about spending months at a place before moving on to another town/city and now Italy is a place we want to spend more time in.
For us the bigger cities were the highlight, but that may of been because they offered so much to do. After a while I am sure the smaller places would have more appeal.
We found the locals to be very welcoming and friendly. Make a point to connect with them by asking them questions about themselves, their store/restaurant etc. I don't think we left a table without a free drink at the end of the meal provided by the owner.
We loved Rome, Naples, Venice, Pisa, Barcelona, Athens, Kusadasi and Porta Delgada. We kind of liked Florence, Toulon, Dubrovnik, Salerno, Corsica. We liked but they weren't on the top of our lists Mykonos, Santorini, Cannes.
I know we need to go back and explore some more. But we both agreed this trip was exhausting - until we starting the crossing. There is no way we could do this itinerary and come right back to work. We needed the sea days that the crossing provided to rest up before heading back to work.
Although we loved the Mediterranean we have agreed that we will put off future trips to it until after we retire (which is coming up soon - five years!).
Our biggest complaint on this trip was all the smokers in the ports. The smoking rules, although are stricter than they use to be, are much looser than they are in Canada/USA. We would of loved to have dined more often on terraces, but smoking is often allowed on the terrace which meant you inhaled smoke as you ate or drank your wine. Seems that all age groups smoke there too; whereas here at home, young people tend to smoke less and less.
I highly recommend that people take this voyage while you physically can. This itinerary is demanding and being able bodied helps.