This was our first “proper” cruise, not counting the Nile and Rhine so, even with the help of Cruise Critic we were a little apprehensive. Arriving at Venice was fairly simple but the “cattle market” mayhem of the arrivals lounge was a little overwhelming.
Bored already – scrool down to the end of the post and see the slide shows!
Having negotiated this hurdle we were suitably impressed by the standard of the Magnifica and our cabin, sea-view with balcony. It is a credit to the line and was immaculate in every sense of the word. The mirrors, which meet you at every turn, sparkle, the brass-work gleams and everything is spotless. The staff throughout were pleasant, courteous and helpful. We took breakfast and lunch at the 13th deck buffet rather than one of the restaurants and found the selection and quality of a really high standard. This is definitely continental European fare with an Italian bias, but this is what we like so it was not a problem. Zac and Vivien, one of the couples we dined with commented that it was the best ship they had ever been on but had the worst food – I feel that this was because of the style of cuisine rather than the standard because we could not really fault it. Dinners were generally six courses which always included 2-3 starters, 2 soups, a salad, two pasta dishes, minimum of 3 mains + vegetarian and a choice of sweets. I never got through more than 5! Quality generally very good.
There is little formality vis-a-vis dress at dinner; most people making the effort to put on a jacket and tie for gala nights but it was not de rigueur. The entertainment was generally good and the participation show and dance good fun all round.
The excursions we took were well organised and informative. The only down sides we encountered were embarkation and disembarkation but we note from the “Cruise Critic site” that these are common gripes!
A bit about the cruise. We sailed out of Venice as dusk was settling and headed off towards Bari, on the heel of Italy, where we arrived after lunch on the following day.
It is a typical medieval Italian town and is the capital of the province of the same name. It is also the capital of of the Apulia or, for wine buffs, Puglia. It is a fascinating maze of small streets and boasts the Basilica of St. Nicolas which was built in the 11th century to house the bones of the saint, and where they remain in the crypt to this day.
That evening we sailed again for Rhodes, about 600nm away.
Evenings throughout the cruise took a similar pattern. We were booked for the early dinner sitting at 6.00pm. The second sitting was at 9.00 which is, for us at least. far too late for a large meal. So, given that it took about and hour and a half we were ready to move into the lounge for coffee and a dram and still have plenty of time for the nightly show in the theatre (seats 1200) at 9.00. These were themed variety shows lasting about 30 minutes. Given the large number of ethnic tongues on board you may guess that they were all visual and musical and did not rely on any verbal dexterity save from the compere. They were all very good.
From there we moved in to the L’Ametista lounge where there was a combo playing each evening followed by party games run by the ships entertainment team. The dancing continued after this but by then we were on our way to our cabin.
One thing that it took a couple of evenings to get used to was that one side of the lounge is for smokers! There is an extremely efficient extraction system and one could not tell there was any smoke at all on the other side of the dance floor.
Following a day at sea, which consisted mainly of eating and drinking, we arrived in Rhodes the following morning. Once again it was only a short walk into the city. It really is impressive and, as it was only just coming to life at 9.30, we decided to walk round the walls which are exceptionally well preserved. The moat, which apparently never contained water, was littered with piles of cannon balls.
There seemed to be something new, or rather old, round each corner and it is exceptionally easy to get lost in the myriad side streets.
We finally ended up in the main square where we sat and partook of a beer before heading back to the ship to start on our next leg.
Onward to Alexandria where we had booked a tour of the Roman heritage. There were excursions to Cairo and the pyramids but we did not fancy spending 6 hours of the day on a bus. It as a totally different experience from Luxor which was definitely very Egyptian.
Alexandria is more Greco Roman with a smattering of Egyptian thrown in. We started at the Serapeum or Temple of Serapis, built by Ptolemy III, which dates back to the 2nd century BC. It housed part of the famous Alexandrian library. It was destroyed by a mob in 391AD but whether they were a Christian crowd or Roman soldiers depends on the account you believe. From here we went to the Kom El-Shouqafa catacombs an impressive private tomb which is accessed by a spiral staircase of 99 steps around a central shaft down which the body was lowered. It was later used as a public burial ground on three levels.
The rest of the tour took in the new library of Alexandria, the Kaupay fortress which occupies the area where the great lighthouse once stood and the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi mosque. An interesting day in a very modern Egyptian city as the picture of the ladies with their mobiles depicts.
New year was spent at sea with parties and midnight buffets held in all the bars and discos. Needless to say we did not do much on New Years Day!
We arrived in the Greek port of Katakolon on the 2nd of January. This is about 30 minutes from the site of the first games at Olympia and was the second of our organised excursions. Our guide was fantastic running a commentary in fluent English and Italian vernacular. Her name was Pipi or something to that effect.
One has to be impressed by the organisation that went into those and subsequent games. Practice grounds, baths and of course the temples to the relevant gods. Every winner had a stature carved but unfortunately all these have been destroyed. One of the best preserved is the plinth of the statue of Marcus who came second in a boys event.
The actual athletics field, which seated 40,000, still has the start and finish lines and the victors podium. It is interesting that running events were up and down the stadium and not around the circumference.
Following this we went to a taverna for a meze and an exhibition of Greek dancing. The food, wine and ouzo were fine but I was disappointed in the dancing which bore no resemblance to any I have seen anywhere else in Greece; more like a glorified conga. Ah well you can’t have everything. It didn’t rain on us either.
There was a karaoke in the bar that night. I thought it was only on X Factor that people got up who couldn’t sing. One girl could not even follow the words, not to mention the music!
We arrived at our penultimate port Dubrovnik, the well known Croatian gem on the Adriatic, the next day. Somebody had told us that the old city was “just down the road” from the berth.
This is not strictly true, it is an hours walk a lot of which, if you do not know the short cut, is straight up. Still, it was a bright sunny day so we enjoyed the exercise.
Having reached the top of the hill we found a path down to walls, we did not count the steps but there were an awful lot of them. It was well worth it. We entered the city by the Pile Gate which is the main tourist entrance on the West side.
The walls are one of the great attractions, but as Josephine tends to suffer from vertigo and the stone staircase is near vertical with only an iron handrail she decided to give this a miss.
I did venture up and there are some magnificent views. I did not make the complete circuit though. we wandered through the streets, round the towers and fountains and found the ubiquitous Irish pub. There would have to be one wouldn’t there! Needless to say we didn’t venture in. We caught a local bus back to the ship to save our feet.
From there it was back to Venice and the long drawn out process of disembarkation. Will definately book an early excursion next time. We spent the day in Venice and found on e of the best local restauants serving Venetian food that I have come across in my many trips there.
We made our way to St Mark’s Square and caught a water taxi back to the left luggage and from there took the final coach to Marco Polo airport.
Altogether a great experience and a wonderful way to see in the New Year.
SLIDE SHOWS & PICTURE GALLERIES
Venice to Bari
Katakolon – Olympia