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Eastern Mediterranean Cruising --- a Review

4 Jul 2010 Nelle_1234 said

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Day 1 -- Fly to Athens

Day 2 -- Arrive Athens

The President Hotel is a very basic out of the way hotel. For any American's reading this think Motel 6 or Best Western. I found it difficult to find a willing taxi driver to take me from the City to the Hotel so I ended up going into a hotel in the city and asking the doorman to call me a taxi.

Taxis in Athens have weird rules. They can charge you for picking you up at a hotel, for you calling and requesting them, for each bag and each person on top of the meter amount. So don't be surprised if this happens to you. Also, taxis will stop and pick up other people while they are taking you from point A to point B. So don't be taken aback if someone jumps in the taxi with you... just make sure they pay their portion before they jump out again.

The Contiki rep that meets you at the hotel is not the same one who will be on the cruise with you but she (or he) will get you to fill out all the information they need before you get on the ship. So don't loose the packet they give you when you check-in and bring a pen and your passport to the meeting on the first night.

As to the dinner, I thought the food was blah and the show was mediocre but it's a good way to get to know some of your fellow travelers. This is the only real 'group' event other than the optionals so take advantage of it.

Day 3 -- Getting on the Ship and Cruising to Istanbul

We all got on the bus together at 8AM and travelled to the port. Upon arrival at the port the Contiki TM, that would be with us on the cruise, got on the bus and introduced herself and explained how we had to go thru customs, security and check-in. You do have to give the ship personnel your passport -- don't worry it's safe. This was a hectic situation as there were a few boats boarding that morning and some people did not want to be in a queue and thought they could just cut everyone off so just be patient and realize we're all getting on the ship (eventually). You do have to manage your own luggage -- from your hotel room to the bus and again from the bus to security so keep that in mind.

The Ship: The ship is not one of the big American type of Cruise ships so if that is what you are expecting you will be disappointed. It has 10 decks --> decks 2-7 were mostly for cabins, deck 5 was the 'front desk', the duty free shop and Caruso's restaurant (this is where we were seated for some of our meals), 8 had a very small casino (3 tables and about 15 slot machines), the metropolitan lounge where the nightly shows are and another lounge area and La Scala Restaurant (I liked this restaurant better than Caruso's), 9 had the spa, fitness room, the pool (which can fit about 10 people and is situated in the middle of a lounge area where people eat and hang out) and deck 10 had the sun deck for those wishing to lay out in the sun

The Cabin: The cabin is small but clean. The cabin can accommodate four people/beds (2 twin beds and there are 2 pull down bunk beds). There is not alot of closet room (I think I had 10 hangers on the three closet rods. The bathroom is small and you are not allowed to flush anything -- everything has to go in the trash can. So if you think of it some air freshener would be good (I had some Febreze and it helped with the bathroom and the cabin in general). The shower is just a corner of the bathroom and if you are tall you may have to hunch over a bit to fit. I just ended up taking the shower curtain and pushing it out of the way and thus giving myself more room as its small and tight. Definitely bring some flip flops (thongs) to wear in the shower. There are no facecloths so if you like/need facecloths you may want to take one with you.

The food: There is no shortage of food and if you don't like what is on the menu (within reason) they will make you something else. Such as grilled cheese, pasta, hamburgers and I forget what the other option was.

The drink plan: I signed up for the all inclusive drink plan and I shouldn't have. The drink plan only works from 10am to 2 am. So if you wanted a drink in the morning you had to pay for it and not everything was included in the drink plan (I like Corona... not included). I also did not drink enough to warrant spending the money on the drink plan -- so bottom line really consider if it is worth it.

Once we were all on board the rest of the day was spent cruising to Istanbul. The ship had activities but they were not to interesting to me (i.e. Bingo, towel folding, cooking demonstrations, etc.) So make sure you bring some books or something to occupy your time, especially if you don't want to sit on the sun deck for hours at end. We did have a Contiki meetings so the TM could explain the optionals (which you pay for at this meeting in cash (us or euro) or credit card).

Day 4 -- Istanbul (9:00 -18:30)

You are put on a bus with just the other Contiki travelers and are assigned a local guide. There is no free time at all and the local guides have an agenda so they can seem rushed at points.

We drove from the port to the square by the Blue Mosque. The local guide explained some of the sites in the square and then brought us into the Mosque where he gave a detailed explanation of the Mosque and gave us about 10 minutes to wander around take some pictures on our own.

Next, we went to Agia Sophia. I wish we had more time here to go up to the second floor and really look around. Again, the local guide gave a very detailed commentary about the site. We were given 10 minutes to wander around and take some pictures of our own.

Next, we made our way to Topkapi Palace. At this point I was bit annoyed with the local guide, he had us stand in front of a map for about 10 minutes so he could give us a geography lesson. He also droned on about the most insignificant information. I felt that had he talked less we could have had some free time to go into the harem and other sections of the Palace that we 'just don't have time for'. The lunch at the Palace was good. You are on a balcony off the cliff that gives some great views of the harbor.

Once back on board we had the World Cup to watch. The other activities available was the magic show, the nightly musical show and happy hour from 9:30 to 10:30.

Day 5 -- Cruise to Mykonos (15:00 -21:30)

We arrived at Mykonos late in the day. The TM will give you some suggestions on places to go (the beach, windmills, etc), places to eat or drink and things to look out for the (pelican). This area was very laid back and it was fun to just walk around and get 'lost' in the streets.

Day 6 -- Cruising to Israel

This was another full day at sea. There was also the Captain's Cocktail Party today --- you meet the Captain, get your pick taken and then sit in the lounge and get as many of the free finger foods and/or drinks being passed around before going to do dinner as usual.

Some of the activities on board today included: sun bathing, ping pong, country line dancing, Cooking lessons/demonstrations, Bingo and other dance classes.

Day 7 -- Arrive Ashdod for Jerusalem (7:00 to 19:30)

Everyone has to go thru Israeli Immigration Control. They board the boat and in groups you are sent down to either be passed right thru or taken to the side and questioned at length. If you are interested, I was able to get them to stamp my passport. (*Many folks don't want an Israeli stamp in their passport as it can be a deterrence into other countries. But my passport is expiring soon so it won't affect any future travels for me).

We started with a drive from the port to Mt Olives, followed by a visit to the Sanctuary of Gethsemane (aka the Garden of Gethsemane) which is adjacent to the Church of All Nations. Right next to the Garden is the alleged Tomb of Mary but we did not have time to go in so we just got to see the entrance.

Next you drive to the Old City and arrive at Jaffa Gate. We then went to The Holy Sepulchre. We were rushed this church and many of the key features were never mentioned or pointed out (again the local guide had an agenda and we were not given the time to spend here and go into the tomb of ***** or view the rock upon which he was crucified -- we did see both but we could not go in or touch either, which many thought defeated the purpose for visiting).

We then walked a portion of the Via Dolorosa before arriving at the Western Wall. We were given time here to do what you wanted. Be careful of taking pictures here as some of the devout worshippers can get very upset.

We left the Wailing Wall and the local guide took us to one of his friend's souvenir stores. It was mediocre at best. We then traveled into Palestine where we picked up our new guide and ate lunch at a hotel before heading over to the Church of the Nativity. Here you get to downstairs and see where ***** was allegedly born and where his manager was located. While driving to this church the guide points out the field where the Wise Men and Shepherds saw the star. You are then put back on the bus and sent back to Israel for a drive around the 'new town' before being brought back to the ship.

Note, there is a duty free shop at the port so before you get on the boat you may want to visit the duty free shop as I thought it had the best souvenirs ~ I also wish I knew about the duty free shop as I would not have bought all the junk at the store we stopped at earlier in the day.

Day 8 -- Arrive Port Said for Cairo (6:00 to 18:00)

Egypt. Yes it is an early day but so worth it! You drive from the port (about 3 hours) to Cairo. Upon arrival we went right to the Egyptian Museum -- I didn't like the local guide so I split off and did the Museum myself and got to go into the Mummy room and the gift shop. Just make sure you know what time and the location of the meeting point.

Next we went to lunch on this boat on the Nile. This was stupid. The boat was too small to fit all the people and you could not see anything out the windows.

Next we went to the Pyramids at Giza (here you can do your camel ride/pictures -- don't pay more than $5). We had about 30 minutes here and then off to the Sphinx. We were suppose to have a group photo here but the photographer did not show up or something. Take the time to go back thru the Sphinx's building so you can get some good up close photos (i.e. kissing the Sphinx or the classic picking up the Pyramid while patting the Sphinx on the head... don't worry there are a ton of local kids up there who will gladly give you suggestions for a $1).

Finally, the Papyrus/Souvenir store. This is where you pick up the jewelry if you ordered it (make sure you check it before getting on the bus ~ a few folks had errors etc but didn't check until they were on the bus and then it was too late).

There are tons of souvenir stalls lining your path back to the boat so if you want to wait and buy your souvenirs you can and since you are getting on the boat you may be able to haggle for better prices. There was an Egyptian Party on the boat this night.

Day 9 -- Cruise to Crete (18:00 to 21:00)

This was another long day at sea before arriving at Crete late at night for a quick walk around. To be honest the main sites of Crete are found on 2 streets, you can see a lake and you can walk over to a beach. It is very very very touristy and not like Mykonos at all. Tonight was Greek night -- so wear your blue/white!

Day 10 -- Arrive Athens

You were suppose to put your luggage outside of your room by midnight last night. This morning we arrive back in Athens by 8:00 a.m. You are suppose to vacate your cabin by 8 and wait in one of the lounges until all of the luggage etc was taken off the ship and then by groups they disembarked you. If you have an early flight your TM will help you get off the ship first/early. The taxi from the Port to the Airport cost us 50 Euro.

In general, it was a good trip. I don't think I would do another small cruise again as I don't like to sunbathe and there wasn't alot to do. The ports were great, the tour manager was great and overall I thought it was money well spent.
  • 5 Jul 2010 YASMIN said

    YASMIN

    Nelle_1234
    Thanks for your detailed description! I’m taking this tour on Aug. 11 and was wondering how it was going to work. I’ve been on two other Contiki trips, but never on a cruise. I have a couple of questions if its okay with you. 1) What is the dress code for Turkey, Israel & Egypt? 2)Did you get to interact with the other people on the tour? 3)Do you leave your luggage on the cabin when you go to the day trips? 4) What is the weather like? On the boat? 5) When you arrived in Athens, How far was the airport to the hotel? Did you take a taxi?
    -I know it’s a lot of questions…Sorry Smiler

  • 6 Jul 2010 Nelle_1234 said

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    Ask away!! I wish someone had written a review/answered questions for me before I went! I was not sure what I was getting into and I over packed and didn’t bring enough books.

    1. You need to have your knees and shoulders covered in both Israel and Turkey. In Egypt you may want to follow this dress code too but it’s not as strick. Some of the girls had form fitting clothes on and they were forced to cover up and others had V necks or scoop neck t-shirts and they were made to cover up. It depended on the whim of the person doing the ‘checking’ so just wear some capri and a loose t-shirt.

    GUYS are not allowed to wear SHORTS in Israel so make sure you have pants.


    Sidenote: People didn’t dress up on the boat other than the Captain’s Party so don’t overpack!

    2. This tour is very different from the land tour. Other than the first night dinner in Athens there is no group activity. Everyone meets in the lounge to go on the optionals together but that’s it. You have to make the effort to get to know the others on the tour. We had about 53 people and I didn’t know half of the people by name or face.

    3. You only have to take a bag with you for the day trips—camera, sunscreen hat, water, money. Everything else stays on the boat and depending on where you get off the bus on the day trips you are told to leave stuff on the bus (i.e. big pick pocket problem in Cairo so they suggest you leave everything on the bus and just take your camera with you.)

    ** Side note: They do try to scare you in Egypt about safety. This is my 2x time in Egypt and you are SAFE so don’t get intimidated by the armed guards and all the warnings they give you.

    4. We had good hot weather for the whole trip. It was realllllly hot in Athens (they were having a heat wave) and everywhere else as well. I think Cairo was 103/40 degrees depending on whether you are C/F. On the boat you get a great breeze so even it its hot you don’t really feel it.

    5. I got to Athens early and stayed at another hotel before checking in to the President Hotel but I think it is about 30-40 minutes depending on the traffic.

  • 7 Jul 2010 Nelle_1234 said

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    Euros for Boat, Athens, Crete and Mykonos

    You can use US$ OR Euro in Israel, Turkey and Egypt—US seemed to be quoted more than Euro but they took either … just make sure you get the change back in whatever form you gave it to them (i.e. you give US so your change should be US)

  • 8 Jul 2010 Nelle_1234 said

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    There is no wifi on the boat at all. Internet is 15Euro for one hour.

    I was wishing for my portable DVD player a few times during the trip.

    They do have board games on board and there is TV but I think only the sports and BBC was in English.

  • 9 Jul 2010 Explorer1192655 said

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    Nelle-

    Thanks for your review…It helped a lot seeing as how I am leaving in 5 days!!! As a teacher, I am looking to bring some interesting things back to my classroom. Did you have enough time to do souvenier shopping?

  • 11 Jul 2010 Nelle_1234 said

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    Yes and No.

    You will have time to do shopping in Mykonos and Crete as its free time if you don’t do the optionals.

    In Istanbul you have about 1.5 hours in the Grand Bazaar.

    Everywhere else its a quick stop at some not so great souvenir stores but there are stalls at the port in Egypt and the duty free store at the port in Israel

  • 11 Jul 2010 Explorer1189701 said

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    Hi Nelle!
    Great review! One quick question…how much spending money did you need???

  • 12 Jul 2010 Nelle_1234 said

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    You really don’t need money on the boat (your food is taken care of and you can put a credit card on account and charge all of your drinks)

    You do have some souvenir opportunities but not really I think I spent maybe 500—but I bought a rug

  • 13 Jul 2010 KatElmore said

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    Hi Nelle!!
    Your posts are so incredibly helpful. If you don’t mind, I have a few questions as well. Are long skirts/dresses appropriate for Turkey, Israel, and Egypt? Also, did you find that you had time to unwind with a few cocktails with your fellow travelers after all of the site seeing was over for the day? Thanks so much for your help! And- if I read correctly, you only spent $500 (us dollars) for the 10 days that you were there?

  • 14 Jul 2010 Nelle_1234 said

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    Yes many girls had on the long skirts/dresses (especially with the heat). You just have to make sure you have an appropriate top on
    what was appropriate depended on the man ‘checking’ (i.e. some though V-necks were too revealing, others thought sleeves were too short and others thought the tops were too tight and thus inappropriate). I had a cheap scarf with me in my bag that I could throw on just in case…. the ones that they give you to put on are dirty and smelly.

    There was alot of time on the boat and even after long days of ‘touring’ many people ended up at the pool deck or the ‘dance club (the dj does not know good music and does not take requests and I felt I was in the 90’s most nights I went in there—lots of Michael Jackson songs)for drinks/unwinding.

    This is VERY different from the land tour in that it’s up to you to make friends/socialize/meet-greet the other people on the Contiki tour.

    Yup I spent about $500 for souvenirs but I bought a $300 dollar rug.

    Remember, food is taken care of (you can buy snacks if you wanted to at the duty free shop but that was unnecessary) and the drinks you get have to be put on the boat’s card (which you either leave a cash deposit or you can put your credit card on account)

    I really do NOT recommend the drink plan …. no one can drink as much as is necessary to break even and if you want a coffee/water/soda etc before 10am you need to buy it
    even though you have the drink plan
  • 15 Jul 2010 Lena said

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    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your review with us. I’m definitely going to encourage my travel buddies to read this before we leave for our trip!

  • 15 Jul 2010 Explorer1194865 said

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    This is so helpful! Thank you so much.
    I also just have one question – are there plug ins on the boat? If so, what kind of converter would I need?

  • 18 Jul 2010 Nelle_1234 said

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    PLUGS:

    http://www.magellans.com/store…AdaptorsEA351D?Args=

    The European Style (see link above which has a picture)

    AND

    There is one plug that takes the American style plug (see link below which has a picture)

    http://www.magellans.com/store…AdaptorsEA351A?Args=

  • 18 Jul 2010 YASMIN said

    YASMIN

    Hey Nelle,
    Thanks again for answering all these questions. This might sound dumb, but do they have an alarm clock in the room. Last year, when my husband and I did the “European Discovery”, our cell phones didn’t work so we had to buy a old cheap alarm clock in order to wake us up and know what time it was. It was nerve wrecking since we didn’t want to get left behind. So I was thinking of taking a little digital alarm clock my brother has for his dorm room. What do you think?

  • 19 Jul 2010 Nelle_1234 said

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    HI…

    Now that I think about it there was NO clock at all in the room. I know that my cell kept getting confused on our location (it thought it was in Iceland alot) so an alarm clock maybe helpful on the days you have shore excursions. I know a few people used the wake call system but they said it was a pain.

    Have fun

  • 19 Jul 2010 Explorer1198767 said

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    Nelle,
    Thank you SO much for your helpful tips. If you don’t mind- I have a few quick questions. Just to confirm, American appliances will not work in outlets onboard? Second question- would you mind sharing how much the drink plan was? Did the duty free shop sell alcohol or wine? Myself and the two other ladies I am going with would very much like to drink onboard but are worried drink prices will be too high. Do they check bags as you board daily? Any chance of bringing some liquor onboard from the mainland? Thank you SO much again!

  • 7 Sep 2010 KatElmore said

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    found a review on the cruise ship. somebody was asking about the drink plan. according to this review, its $28 euros per day or basically $35 american per day.
    http://www.cruisecritic.com/me…ew.cfm?EntryID=71821

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