Age: Baby Boomer
Number of Cruises: Man
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: September 7th, 2005
I was the seminar facilitator and escort for a group of 40 cruise professionals aboard Celebrity Cruise Lines Millennium. I had taken this exact same cruise about a year ago and completely reviewed the ship on a MEGA review located here. I had been on the Splendour of the Seas for a 7-day Western Mediterranean cruise with my wife prior to flying into Venice to pick up this group and you can read the review of that cruise here. I had laid over in Barcelona for the five days necessary to connect to this cruise and had decided to fly into Venice the day of the cruise simply because of the cost involved in transferring into Venice from the airport to a hotel and then getting to the cruise terminal from Venice. Since the cruise spent the evening in Venice and departed on the 8th, I felt comfortable making these plans. The Air France flight went flawlessly, my luggage arrived as scheduled and the taxi took me right to the shi without delay. All in all, it was a painless embarkation.
The I believe that the Millennium class ships of Celebrity Cruise Lines are one of the best designed and functional ships afloat. I have reviewed the Millennium in great detail here, so I will not repeat myself in this review. However, it had been a year since I cruised her, I will comment on her condition. First, she is to go into dry dock for a major refurbishment in November of 2005 and her condition reflected this fact. There was an amount of deferred maintenance and the staffing seemed more temporary and less caring than the last time that I had cruise her. That said, I suspect that it was simply in the preparation for her dry dock that such was the case.
Day One, September 7th, 2005; Venice, Italy,
Ahhhh, Venice. If you haven't been there, you need to go. If you have, then you know what I am talking about.. Venice is truly one of the world's most wonderful cities. It has everything going for it. I arrived at the airport and negotiated for a taxi to take me to the cruise terminal. In 30 short minutes I was dropped off at the luggage check-in point where I checked my luggage and then walked what seemed to be a mile to the cruise terminal. I was wondering if my taxi driver did me wrong or if the check-in process at the cruise terminal simply had major flaws. When I finally arrived at the terminal, there was no lines and I was whisked onto the ship as an "Elite Member". Once I had found my cabin and unpacked my carry-on luggage, I made my way to the Purser's desk to reconfirm my group's arrangements. Once confirmed, I made some "Welcome Aboard" flyers and delivered them to the group's cabins and then spent the afternoon enjoying the solarium spa before dressing for the cocktail party and dinner. Having just cruise on the Millennium a year ago on this very same itinerary, i felt completely at home.
We met in Cosmos Lounge for our party and I was glad to meet the group coordinator and group members. There were quite a few agents that had not sailed the Mediterranean before, so I made a note to go over the ports at the first seminar. We had a great time getting to know one another and when the party was over, we moved into the Metropolitan Restaurant where we enjoyed the first of pur cruise's excellent dining experiences. Since I did not have a seminar to do in the morning and I was in the same time zone, I went back to Cosmos Night Club to enjoy the music and see if I could run into any of our group members that were out and about. Being the first night of the cruise, many people had gone to bed and there wasn't much going on. I turned in.
Day Two, September 8th, 2005; Venice, Italy,
I was up early and anxious to go into Venice to get some pictures and also visit Murano Island. It seems that every five minutes around the vaparetto stations someone is bugging you to go to Murano and visit the glass factories for free. Of course, there are obviously hooks involved, as the characters doing the solicitation seem somewhat sleazy. On my last trip to Venice I decided to find out what it was all about.
The San Marcos Vaparetto Ticket Station
(Notice the #41 and #42 on the Sign)
I decided to take a local vaparetto to Murano and see what was there. I had taken shots of San Marcos Square and also of the Grand Canal and had some extra time so I went to find the vaparetto station that would take me there. As it turned out, it wasn't all that easy. I started at the vaparetto ticket booth on the Grand Canal just down from the Rialto Bridge. He told me that I had to depart for Murano from St. Marks Square. I walked back to St. Marks taking the back streets that I had learned would take me there in less than 10-minutes. I went to the first vaparetto station I could find and asked if I was in the right place. He pointed toward the Doge Palace. So it went. After a frustrating time, I finally found the right ticket booth (pictured above) and wharf for the vaparetto that would take me to Murano.
Here are the instructions on how to find it. From St. Marks square go over the footbridge that allows you to see the Bridge of Sighs (turn to the right if you are facing the palace) and then keep going until you see the ticket booth pictured above. You want vaparetto #41 to take you there and vaparetto #42 to bring you back. Be careful, though as there are two #42's that depart Murano. The fare is 6 euro return (round trip).
F.te Nove Vaparetto Wharf
For whatever reason, I suspected that Murano was going to be nothing but a tourist trap full of tourists so I planned to jump off the vaparetto when we arrived at a likely looking spot where there were no tourists. We pulled up to the P.te Nove wharf and there were a good number of locals getting off, but no tourists. I sensed this was my opportunity for some peace and quiet, so I got off with the rest of the folks. It turned out to be a great plan.
F.te Nove Canals
Since I had no idea where I was or what the town was called, I am embarrassed to say I will simply call it F.te Nove for the lack of a better name. No one spoke a word of English, and frankly my Italian is more like Spanish with an Italian sound. Folks were plenty nice though. I wandered its narrow pedestrian streets and noticed that there were an abundance of artist galleries and also stone and clay shops.
A Typical Street in F.te Nove
I passed several flower shops all selling spectacular arrangements, a local fish market in a small square where the fish were being sold open air on ice, local pharmacies and dry good stores and of course, local restaurants.
F.te Nove Restaurant
I thought this place was really cool. The picture doesn't really do it justice, but it had all the character one could imagine. I stopped for a cup of coffee and just took in the local goings-on in for about 45 minutes. I could tell that it had been some time since this restaurant had a tourist in it as everyone kept looking at me and laughing at my "Italish". I could have spent the entire day in and around F.te Nove (or whatever its real name is). Since my objective was to visit Murano, I made my way back to the vaparetto wharf and caught the #41 to Murano.
Here is where to get off the vaparetto. There is no announcement made in English and the name of the stop is something other than Murano. When you see this sign, get off the vaparetto.
The Scene Around the Vaparetto Wharf in Murano
After arriving in Murano with what seemed like a million other folks, there was a gentleman on the wharf directing people to the left. He looked like the same kind of character that hustles the "free trips" around St. Mark's Square, so I went to the right. Of course, going to the right is the way everyone should have gone.
Murano Glass Stores as Far as the Eye Can See
After walking a short distance past some small stores and vendors, one comes upon a canal that is lined with quality stores selling Murano glass. I am not sure how many stores there are, but it must be in the hundreds.
One of the Murano Footbridges
There are footbridges every now and then so that you may cross to the other side to gain access to more shops. You will also find a good number of restaurants and sidewalk cafes should your hunger alarm go off.
More Murano Shopping Opportunities
I finally turned around and took this picture from a footbridge as I crossed the canal. I admit to not being a very good shopper, however, I saw just about everything you could imagine that could be made from glass, and it is beautiful. Chandeliers, vases, glassware, jewelry, figurines, animals, dishes and other dining utensils and much, much more.
Murano on the Ocean
After a long walk around the canal shopping area I decided to take a look at the area folks were being referred to as they left the vaparetto. I walked past the center of Murano and around the corner on the open ocean. There were a few stores but now I understood why the guy was sending folks there. He obviously worked for one of the factories that were located there and was trying to divert people from the real shopping area. I will bet you that some folks never made it down to the canal and thought that this was the Murano experience.
Murano Glass Factory
A couple of the stores had demonstrations of how the glass was made that you could watch. While it was interesting, the stores hosting the events were not as competitive as those in the main part of the shopping canal. At the very end of the walkway was a museum and factory store. There was a long line of tourist waiting to get in. I turned around and made my way back to the vaparetto terminal to catch the #42 back to St. Marks Square.
Hint: Unless you are either keenly interested in buying Murano glass or have exhausted things to do in Venice, I wouldn't visit Murano. It is quaint and interesting, it is just that there is so much more to see in Venice and most of the glass pieces I saw in the stores on Murano are also available from shops in Venice. Have Fun!
I took the ship's shuttle boat back to the Millennium just in time for the 3:30 pm lifeboat drill. After watching the sail away (don't miss it!) I fell into my routine of visiting the solarium and relaxing in the Jacuzzis and spa. I was dressed in time to take in the evening's pre-dinner show, an illusionist named Jamie Allen. Dinner went quite smoothly and our group was already coming together.
Panoramic View of Dubrovnik, Croatia
Day Three, September 9th, 2006; Dubrovnik,
I was up early again and looking forward to visiting Dubrovnik once again. My plan was to take the transfer into the old city and then spend the day taking pictures for PortReviews.com from the wall that surrounds the city. I climbed onto the wall and spent the entire day walking the wall and the streets of Dubrovnik that lie within the walls. I got some great shots.
The City of Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik is an excellent port that is easy to do on your own. It offers great shopping, restaurants and other activities. I finally took the transfer back to the harbor where the Millennium was at anchor in the bay. There were a good number of ships in port and the Millennium had to anchor and tender making the process a little more trying. Once back aboard, it was off to the solarium for me and another round with the spa. Since this was the first formal night, I had arranged to meet with many in our group for pre-dinner cocktails before going into the Metropolitan Restaurant for what was turning out to be an exceptional dining experience. The Millennium's first production show was this evening and even though I had a seminar to do in the morning, I stayed up to enjoy it. Titled "Spectacle of Broadway" it was a fantastic show that I stayed for the very last.
Day Four, September 10th, 2005; Day at Sea,
Once again, I was up early, dined in the Ocean Cafe and was ready for our first seminar in Michael's Club. I always enjoy the first seminar as it is everyone's opportunity to get to know one another and this group was an excellent one. We talked until noon and then continued on for about an hour before I ended the discussion and made my way to lunch. The Millennium's solarium and spa offer a pool with several water stations and two racks of bubbling water that contains various minerals and salts making a good soak in the bubbles very relaxing indeed. I worked in the afternoon in my cabin before meeting some from our group in the Champagne Bar for a cocktail before the evenings pre-dinner show in the Celebrity Theater. The evening's entertainment was a pianist named Brooks Aehron and man, could he play the piano. He had the entire audience mesmerized with his obvious talent. After a wonderful show we made our way to dinner and another enjoyable dining experience. We had arranged to "round robin" our various dining tables and ended up with three separate waiters to experience. Each were excellent in their own right, while being different at the same time. Post-dinner found me sound asleep in my cabin relaxing after a busy day.
Day Five, September 11th, 2005; Athens, Greece,
I am not a big fan of Athens because of the disregard the local taxi drivers treat folks with. They view you as a game to cheat you of your money and experiences so I was determined to find how to take the train to the Plaka from Piraeus. After a good breakfast a couple of the agents and I took off for the train station. We asked questions along the way and after twenty minutes or so, found our way. Here is what to do if you are interested in taking the train rather than getting ripped off by the local taxi drivers.
The Erechtheion. and the Parthenon at Athen's Acropolis
When you disembark the ship you will go through the cruise terminal and be led out the front door where many taxis will be waiting. The taxi drivers will bug you to death. Just ignore them and keep walking right out of the port facility. When you nit the street simply turn left and follow the road around the harbor. It will be about a 20-minute walk to the train station.
Turn Right at this Corner
As you round the harbor, you will come to the area where the ferries dock (there may or may not be ferries in the port at the time. You will come to a large intersection with two roads converging on the road that you are on. Take the road to the immediate right (pictured above). The train station is about four short blocks on the right hand side.
The Piraeus Train Station
You will come to a square and see the train station on the far side of the square. There are a number of doors that you can enter.
Piraeus Train Station Ticket Counter
Look for the main ticket counter (pictured above) and then purchase a round-trip ticket to the Plaka. The entire fare to get there is only 1 euro and 20 cents. Once you have purchased your ticket just go up the steps to the waiting train and find a seat.
The 7th stop that you will make will display this sign. This is where you want to get off the train, as you are right in the heart of the Plaka district. If for any reason there are a different number of stops, just look for this sign.
The Plaka Train Station and the Road to the Acropolis
When you leave the train station, you can look up towards the Acropolis. If you turn to the right and start going up hill (pictured above) it will lead ou to the ticket office so that you can then gain entrance and climb to the Acropolis. Entrance to the Acropolis is current 12 euro. On the way you will pass several sights and ruins worthy of exploration.
The Backside of the Parthenon
Once you have explored the Acropolis to your satisfaction, you can head back down the hill to the Plaka any number of ways to see more sights. Back at the train station, you are right in the middle of the Plaka. There are restaurants.
Plaka Restaurants by the Train Station
and there is unlimited shopping for everything under the sun.
Typical Plaka Shopping
A Typical Plaka Shopping Street
A Typical Plaka Crowd
You should be very wary in and around the Plaka, as it can get quite crowded and the area is known to have pick pockets that look for tourists. When you are ready to go back to Piraeus and the ship, just return to the train station and go down the right side (opposite side) of the tracks to catch the train to Piraeus (you will see a sign clearly marked "Piraeus" in the station. Again you must validate your return ticket when entering the station.
The sign for the Piraeus Station
Once again, Piraeus will be the seventh (and final) stop for the train. Look for this sign as confirmation that you are, indeed in the right station.
The Piraeus Train in the Piraeus Train Station