Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Golden Princess
Sailing Date: June 10th, 2003
Captain Bernard Warner
Cruise Director Graham Seymour
First, I would like to direct my comments toward items that I didn't pick up on
other cruise reviews, and detailed instructions to those who would like to make
their own shore excursion arrangements. Yes, the ship is beautiful, the staff
very friendly, all areas exceptionally clean, the production shows were good to
excellent, etc etc etc... Here is my account of the other useful stuff:
We spent two prior days in Rome, and arrived for an early Rome-Venice flight. The ship was parked at the commercial docks on the northwest part of Venice, and we could readily see it from the plane on approach to the airport. It looked to be very close to the Piazzale Roma on the crude map in my Lonely Planet Mediterranean Europe guidebook. We didn't use the transfers, and used an airport ATVO bus to take us to Piazzala Roma at about 3.50 per person. This was actually a mistake on our part. A taxi would have been better. We also saw a ACTV city bus going into the commercial port, which could have been the ACTV #5 bus from the airport. The walk from the Piazzale to where the ship was docked was back along a narrow sidewalk next to traffic on a high bridge and then a half kilometer walk on the port road to where the passenger terminals were, and the ship was docked. The ship was facing us docked starboard side on a pier to our left. There was a red two story red terminal at the base of the piers, and another older yellow terminal on the pier to our right, where another ship was docked. (there was quite a lack of guidance for pedestrians approaching the pier. We took the left turn toward the ship, our second mistake, and checked the red terminal , which was locked up. We continued walking toward the ship, dragging our luggage in high heat. When we arrived at the boarding ramp, we were told to drag all of our luggage all of the way around the port back to the yellow terminal. I was quite angry at this point. I went by myself, leaving my wife and child at the ramp with our luggage, because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't making another mistake. I took our documents, passports, etc to the yellow building and found two lines. One line was quite long, and was labled "Express Check In" The other line was shorter and labeled "Check In". Since we bought this cruise at the last minute, we had never received our cruise tickets. So I entered the shorter line. I had totally missed anybody directing people to the correct lines, and missed receiving the SARS form which was required. The long line was feeding about sixteen desks, and our short line was feeding about two. The wait in line, in the poorly air conditioned building, was well over an hour at 12:00, although it did get shorter later in the day. Finally, the agent and I filled out the required immigration information in her computer. The information which I put in the Princess web site had either been lost or was entered too late. I received three cruise cards, and was given instructions to pass through immigration with my family. I walked out the front of the building and back to the ship, where my family had been waiting. I asked the crew members at the ramp if we could board with the cards, and they said yes. We took our luggage as carry on to our stateroom. We dined at the Horizon court buffet, and later walked back to the passenger terminal, where we went through the immigration desk, and our passports were taken. The normal procedure was to take a bus from immigration to the ship, which we did, and asked the driver to drop us off at the water shuttle. This shuttle boat took Princess passengers to Piazza San Marco and back. We were told that in the future, the boat would park further into the Castello direction, perhaps where we saw the RCI Brilliance of the Seas parked.
Venice: Most of what you need to see is at Piazza San Marco -- The Doges' Palace, the Duomo, the Campanile, etc. We did pay a lot for a gondola ride, but we considered it a must do. All gondola licenses are owned by an oligopoly of ten companies, so the prices are pretty much fixed. The only difference is determining where in the city you want to start your ride. We went for a gondola just inside the small canal under the Bridge of Sighs. To see the grand canal, ride the vaporetto No 1 (public water bus) instead.
Istanbul: The ship docks in the Tophane area, which makes it very accessible to the Dolmabahce Palace, but you must cross the Golden Horn to get to Old Istanbul, Sultanahmet. Plenty of taxis. We negotiated for $8 for a taxi to take us to the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, and $11 to return to the ship from the Grand Bazaar (Kapili Carsi "Charshi"). Don't leave the return to the last minute. During rush hour, the traffic is terrible. In Turkey, don't be surprised to find that the taxi fare you negotiated in good faith to not be enough money at the end of the ride for whatever reason. Stick to your original deal. Turkey is not on the Euro. The exchange rate with the Turkish Lira was about 1,410,000 to the dollar.
Kusadasi: We walked past the astronomically priced first tier of taxis, to the more reasonable second and third tier. It took a little haggeling, and at one point even getting right back out of a taxi, to get our price of $50 for a ride to Ephasus, The Virgin Mary house, and St John's Cathedral ruins. The port city is very touristy, and walkable. Lots of tourist shopping can be done here -- don't forget to bargain, and walk away if you don't get your price.
Piraeus (Athens): The ship parked at the international ferry terminal, which is directly across the harbor from the Metro station, where you want to be. Leaving the terminal, turn to your left, to walk counter clockwise around the harbor. Go early for a cool morning walk that takes about 20 to 30 minutes and no, I haven't figured out which bus takes you there. When you pass a large round fountain, you will find the metro station at the next major intersection, in a large, old unmarked building, where a lot of people are moving through the doors. The fare to Monastiraki in the Plaka (same line) was E 0.60 and to Akropoli (change to line 2 at Omonia) E 0.70. Buy your tickets at the window, and validate them in the slot near the metro entrance. The trains are air conditioned. the Architectural Museum is closed for renovations, and the Acropolis/Parthenon is adorned with a lot of scaffolding, hence they are not charging admission to the Acropolis. All this is in preparation for the Olympic Games.
Be sure to check out the view passing the Messina Strait (between Italy and Sicily), and the Stromboli Volcano!
Napoli: Here, we only wanted to see Pompei. Take a right after leaving the ship, and walk down to the next pier. Walk inside the office to buy a round trip ticket, get on the bus and validate the ticket in the machine. The bus makes one stop in Naples, and the next stop in Pompei. We spent pretty much the entire day walking around the fascinating ruins. To return, go to outdoor restaurant where the bus let you off, cross the street (near the yellow post office sign) and catch the bus to Napoli. Get off at the second (last) city stop, turn left at the castle, and you'll be back at the ship. At the terminal, I bought a telephone card to reserve a museum in Florence. Put the card into the payphone slot, and dial this exact number (inside Italy): 055-29-48-83. Listen for instructions in English, and talk to an English speaking reservationist. We booked the Accademia for 11:30. 12:00 would have been more realistic. Use the rest of the phone card to call relatives to tell them how much fun you're having. For international, dial "00" then country code (1 for US/Canada) area code/city code etc.
Livorno: The only option is to take the Princess shuttle ($4 each way) to the Piazza Grande. You can then walk back from the shuttle to the square to find the public bus #1 which will take you to the train station (stazione). A lettered bus, 'D' I think, takes you back. For two adults, and our child, the round trip to Florence (Firenze) cost about E22. Validate the outbound ticket in the machine. There is a direct train, but the faster one for us was to take the train to Pisa (about 20 minutes) and connect to the more frequent Florence trains (about 65 minutes). Don't get off at the first Firenze station, take the second one Santa Maria Novella. We walked to the Galleria del Accademia and went to the short reservation line. We paid 6.50 plus 3.50 reservation fee per ticket, and saw Michelangelo's David. Outside, we walked to and toured the Duomo, and the Ponte Vecchio, returned to the station, and took a train to Pisa (ticket was checked on this train -- always be sure to validate). There, we took bus No 3 (buy tickets at the tabac, validate on the bus). Cross the river, and get off where you see a long midieval wall. On the other side of this wall is the Leaning Tower and the Duomo. Cross the street to take a lettered bus back (ask the driver: Stazione?) and train back to Livorno. Lots of trains make stops in Livorno but it won't show as the destination on the electronic signs. Check the posted schedule.
Monaco: We anchored and tendered in to the end of Quai Antione 1er. Ask the tourist information booths for a bus map. The buses are air conditioned, and save the climbs. The driver sells tickets, and you can save by buying a multi ticket. Validate it once for each passenger in your group. We went to the world famous aquarium, and took the little tourist train on a trip around the sites.
Barcelona: From where the ship docks, you have the choice of taking Princess Shuttle for $4 or the port bus for 2 Euros. Not so many taxis. The shuttle was stalling for time, so we got off and took the port bus to the Placa del Portal de la Plau, at the end of the Rambla. We walked to the Picasso museum, took the metro to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Cathedral, made the climb to Parc Güell (metro station "Lesseps" and follow the signs) and metro to Catalunya and walked the evening length of the Rambla back to the port bus.
Disembarkation: There were plenty of taxis to take us to the airport. However, one note: My family boarded a minivan type vehicle, and on top of the 20 Euro meter, and about 9 Euros in extras (luggage?) he wanted an extra 7 Euros for the vehicle type. This was new to me, and I was unprepared to challange the charge. So, for my family, and luggage, the fancy taxi fare was 36 Euros. Be prepared. Also, the international check in for Iberia (we were going to spend 3 days in Nice, France) was long and slow. There seemed to be no line at all for Iberia domestic.
All in all, a very nice vacation. It was very hot, and you should not be concerned with bringing warm clothing, unless you are sensitive to the ships air conditioning. All of this is the information that I would have wanted to know. I hope that you find it useful. If you find something I wrote is wrong, then please correct it in your own cruise review.