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Amelia Hesson

Age: 53

Occupation:Teacher in transit

Number of Cruises: 17

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Ruby Princess

Sailing Date: 04-18-2009

Itinerary: Eastern and Western Med

We had an incredible time on this 28 day Transatlantic Crossing. The Ruby Princess is really nice, this was my first time on a ship this size, and I loved it. Everything was clean, and the food has been really great.

The food was better than it had been on my last several cruises. We went to the Captain's circle party; there were so many members on this cruise they needed to have four parties! It was a great party as these things go, with plentiful drinks and of course the best company. Dinner was exceptional that night. I didn't eat the Lobster but everybody said it was wonderful. We had a chicken dish stuffed with mushrooms; it was the most delicious thing ever. The cold soup, Oranges with tea, was so good and the desert sorbet was a Lime Basil that was to die for. OMG my diet is shot!

I am pretty sure Ignazio D Agostino the Maitre D is an angel, he is one of the reasons we love Princess so much. On the second leg of the cruise, Generoso took over as Maitre d Hotel, exceeding all our expectations of what it means to be the cream of the crop. Generoso became like family to us, he totally made our cruise incredible. We are huge fans of Generoso; we will be following him around whatever ship he is on!

My Stateroom was B748, it had a lovely balcony and was quite small, but functional. We had the misfortune of getting a cabin surrounded by smokers, and I am an ex-smoker who had such a hard time quitting. After being smoke free for 14 years I couldn't breathe when I was in my room; everything smelled like smoke, and I seemed to get my smokers lungs back. I am not bashing smokers, but I still don't want to breathe smoky air in my room. It smelled bad on the ship where ever there were smokers who smoked in their rooms and the staff spent lots of time spraying chemicals to alleviate complaints, I was not the only person bothered by it.

Princess was very kind to me about the smoking problems I had during the 16 day transatlantic. They offered me several rooms around the ship, but I declined because nobody could offer me a guarantee that smokers wouldn't pollute my air, when most of this cruise disembarked/embarked in Barcelona and I hated to give up my beloved aft corner. Turns out the on the second leg of the cruise there was only one smoker near me and they confined there smoking to their balcony (thank you) which did not impact my room.

I loved that they tried hard to help me with my problems with the heavy smoking around me, Princess has good people in management on this ship and I appreciate them for that. I would love them more if they were willing to rethink separating smokers and non-smokers where it really counts for us non-smokers to be on different floors, or even different sides of the ship. I'm easy; just keep that smoke far from me so I can breathe.

There were tons of activities onboard daily, dancing, trivia, games, movies, sports, shopping, spa, and more. We couldn't do as much as we anticipated because the 23 hour days were killing us and we never considered that. Not a big deal in the larger scheme of things.

We saw the new production "Once Upon a Dream" and it was fantastic! It used the most advanced technology combined with talent and creativity to bring us something entirely new and refreshing, hooray Princess. Songs included selections by Pink, Enya, Simon and Garfunkel, and a hefty serving of Beatles! We all loved it, a real stand out for us. You will love it. We also saw "Stardust," another new production show developed for the Ruby Princess. It was nice, the dancing was spectacular and the singing was great! We all enjoyed the show and thought it was just a little better than the first show, which was a Broadway review. We missed the Hypnotist, who I heard was great, because of the intensity of this itinerary we are often too pooped to party! We were able to do less as the ports became more intensive.

I got a chance to pour a bottle of Champagne at the waterfall with Generoso and it was simply a blast! I adore this man, he is classy and sweet and very friendly. Generoso really knows how to make us passengers feel like Kings and Queens, and we all love it! Bless him for making this cruise so special for all of us.

Trivia had been boring, there was one team that won every game and nobody could beat them, yes I felt sour grapes! Its funny, I applaud their knowledge base of trivia (lots of cruises) but recognize the need to offer different, more challenging questions that are not repeats. Hey I want a chance! Speaking of which, I turned Elite on this cruise!

Guides and Port Reviews:
I used a lot of private guides throughout the cruise that I got from the Cruise Critic boards with great success. It seems to almost always be better to use private guides rather than ship tours because private tours are smaller and more intimate, something hard to achieve on a ship tour. I took one ship tour in Cadiz and hated it. The only port we missed was Monaco and I needed a sea day then anyway! Many of us cruisers were thrilled with the occassional missed port - those sea days are precious gems that we need.

4-24-2009 Madeira, Portugal:

We hit land yesterday and it was very cool! I am under the weather, got a dumb cold and indeed have been relaxing with a capital R! We arranged for our guide to pick us up at 2:30, so we didn't bother getting in line and relaxed and ate leisurely instead and it was so much more relaxed that cueing up to disembark! After the initial crowd, we walked off easily and there was Daniel our taxi driver waiting so we were whisked away quickly. Way ahead of the tour buses.

We found Daniel R. de Freitas through CC; he was incredibly knowledgeable about the history, and the flora and fauna of the area. He had maps and pictures and info about the area and he kept us ahead the crowds most of the day. We took the sleds down from Monte first thing to avoid crowds, it was the best fun. Somewhere along the run they snapped our pictures and by the time we got to the end of the run, they had those pictures for sale! I had to laugh, and they were awesome photos. Of course we bought them.

Next we went to the Nun's Valley, we drove up through the lush forests of Eucalyptus, Banana, Flowers everywhere (and Daniel knew all the names) wild Birds of Paradise. Madeira is an amazing island, former volcanoes had left the island with very fertile soil and everything grows here. We also visited the Mini Grand Canyon, and the second highest sea cliff in the world. We had some astounding views.

Daniel dropped us back at the ship with plenty of time to spare, I would have stayed in town, but I needed rest. I have to say Daniel was a great guide, he can be found at www.daniel-taxidriver.pt.vu or jd@netmadeira.com. I bought some Banana candy and a floaty pen with the sled ride floating by. Total cost 4E! Back on the ship, we leave at around 8PM but I am fast asleep already, trying to get well ASAP because after tomorrow, we are in Cadiz! We ordered hamburgers and ravished them, then passed out from exhaustion!

4-26-09 Cadiz, Spain
Cadiz was nice, yes we did not go to Seville but we did go to Arcos de los Fronteras with a Princess tour. The town was beautiful but the guide was terrible, she did not wait for the older folks, several fell on the cobbled streets trying to keep up with her, and a few gave up because they couldn't do it. We didn't see much but I huffed and puffed a lot (and I am fit) and at a dead run down the cobbled streets, we did managed to keep our eyes on the tour guide so we know she was leaving 45 minutes earlier than she told the group to meet (meet at 12:45 but she made us leave a 12:00) so we barely kept up. When the bus was loaded, there was 6 people missing, the tour guide would not go back up the hill to look for them, she said 'oh well they must have gone on another bus" and left them! We were in shock, this was an expensive Princess tour where they are supposed to leave people, and they did. My private guides would never do that! Never.

Later we bumped into the 6 people and they followed her instructions exactly, it could have easily been me, and after figuring that she had left them, it cost them almost 500 E to get back to the ship! I felt so bad for them, really nice people. Needless to say their day was ruined.

We did walk through Cadiz, it is a great town. Beware that taking Princess tours does not necessarily guarantee you a safe return to the ship.

4-27-2009 Gibraltar, GB
Gibraltar was nice especially with the great weather we were having. It was easy to do on our own, with lots of shopping (but no room in luggage :)). We did laundry and enjoyed a slow and unplanned day and it was nice. Wonderful sail away viewing the Pillars of Hercules. They also call it Jews gate, I have no idea why? The weather was warming (70 today) and the seas were calming. Good news for my May 4th friends who I soon would meet!

May 1, 2009 Civitavecchia, Italy. Guide: Fabricio Melaragno
http://www.allarounditaly.net/

We finally hit Italy (Rome) and the tour with Fabricio (allarounditaly.net) to Orvieto and Civita di Bagnoregio and everybody concurred that it was the best tour ever. It was a day to end all days, these two towns were both incredible, but Civita di Bagnoregio was a "once in a lifetime" moment that all who took the time to visit recognized. We were appropriately blown away!

Our guide Fabricio was both knowledgeable, and hilarious. We laughed so much I got cramps. We learned so much, and it was fun. We did twice as much as the tours available on the ship, and Fabricio surprised us with wonderful towns and villages in addition to our planned itinerary because we had the time to take it slow and cover a lot of ground. And Fabricio got us past Police and blockades to places no bus and many locals could not get to, I'm not going to give away his secret but you will laugh and be so happy you booked him when you see this! A real treat.

There were 15 of us on this tour, 8 in Fabricio's bus and 7 in Alberto's (also very nice) although everybody wanted to be with Fabricio because he is so alive, so filled with good humor and good intentions. We decided to cancel all the Princess tours and go with him everywhere! So that will be 5 tours with him in Italy, and I highly recommend him to my cruise critic friends.

He promised us cheese everywhere, it was a joke and we really appreciated how funny he is and what a good guy he really is. So I don't think that will be an issue but if it comes up, I'll report it. Don't miss Civita di Bagnoregio! Orvieto was pretty cool too, we visited the catacombs and tunnels in the Tufa rock there and that was very interesting as well. The Cathedral in Orvieto is magnificent, probably one of the nicest I have ever seen. It was a great day!

May 2, 2009 Livorno to Florence with Fabricio
Having our guide pick us up again at Livorno, we all now feel like family with Fabricio! He got us early, before any large buses had left the port and it was much easier than I had expected. I had heard that this port was more difficult to maneuver, and I was expecting it to be a pain - somehow I imagined that I would not be able to find my guide, or that I would have to walk far to find him. Not so, all private guides all right by the ship, in case anybody has the worries I had.

We zipped out of the port with our van filled to the brim with very happy campers; everybody by now has experiences a "large bus" tour and recognizes the gift of the private guides and small vans. We don't drive any expressways; instead we take country roads all the way into Florence. Fabricio has many surprises in store for us today, we stop for some astounding views, he is trying to fill everybody's wishes and it feels really good to know how much he wants us to enjoy this day. We love him and now we cannot imagine being without him anywhere.

We zip into Florence, passing crowds of people and lots of parked buses; they cannot get 5 steps from Academia like we can... In the sea of "umbrellas held in the air," we walked past them and straight into Academia, where we are free to explore at our own pace. Academia is perfect for a first timer; it's beautiful but not too large so it's a reasonable amount of beauty that does not overwhelm too much. David is magnificent to see in person, as are Michelangelo's haunting unfinished pieces - think prisoners in stone. They are incredible, don't miss Academia.

As we step out of the museum, Fabricio is waiting for us. We head back too the van and despite the massive crowds, he gets us to the Piazza Santa Croce in a few minutes. 5 steps and we are in the square. After a brief explanation of the church, we get an hour to wander, shop the markets and grab a delicious sandwich all in the shadow of this beautiful church.

Next we head to the Brunelleschi's Duomo, the lines are daunting and we decide not to try to get in. As the day goes on the crowds become overwhelming to all of us and we spend more time walking and less time visiting monuments. We shop a little then head toward the Ponte Vecchio which is way too crowded for me. Luckily I pass this Cameo shop and I find the most beautiful Cameo I have ever seen1 Never mind the price.

Fabricio has gotten us no more that 5 steps from every monument, Piazza and Palace and he still has not tried to sell us any cheese! I think he is actually allergic to many cheeses. Anyway no cheese, but lots of special and personalized treatment that makes everyone who meets him really like him. I am sad to not see him for a few days; he won't drive to Monaco or Barcelona for me!

May 3, 2009 Monaco
Today we missed the port because of wind and gratefully our wonderful Captain kept us safe and canceled the port. We really appreciate how he has no power over the weather and are always grade when our safety is considered first. Thanks Captain Yeomans.

Lots of people bitching and complaining about this, really embarrassing for many of us who know there is nothing nefarious about missing a port. I think it has to do with knowing that tomorrow is their last day, meanwhile we continue on to Venice and the weather has been divine. For us it was a great unexpected sea day, we loved every minute, except the ugliness of the laundry room mid morning!

May 4, 2009 Barcelona, Spain
We pulled into port this morning and it was clear and sunny, I know it would be a perfect day! We had booked GoCars in Barcelona and were planning on meeting friends at 9am sharp. I took the opportunity to scout out other rooms on the ship since this was a disembarkation day and I could! Wahoo, cruise critic friends had said to check out the aft Emerald deck minis and they were awesome! I had booked the most aft room on the Port side and my jaw dropped when I saw the size. My tour guide could pitch a large tent there and I wouldn't even see him! This is a cherry cabin, glad I booked it for next year!

We jammed off the ship and took the ridiculously time consuming port shuttle which took precious time and turns out, with 4 it's cheaper and faster to grab a cab. We learned that coming back; it saves us an hour of waiting. When we finally got to the GoCars place, it was closed for business. Oops, guess our credit card deposit is gone, beware if you are planning to do this. In any event, we did switch plans on the spot and just jumped on the HOHO bus, gotta be flexible when you travel. It was very crowded in Barcelona and we passed up Sagrada Familia when we saw the huge line snaking around the Church, having spent this holiday weekend in Italy we were all not feeling like fighting more crowds.

We visited Park Guell, very interesting, and we hopped back onto the Hoho to Las Ramblas. We visited the market which was nice, had a few nibbles and walked. We veered off to the ancient town where we visited the oldest synagogue in Europe, but you had to use your imagination a lot since it was just excavation pits. I enjoyed connecting with my own history here too. I found a hidden synagogue in the Barri Gothic (I've abandoned spelling) today where they had a small but powerful display on the ancient Jews that once thrived in this city. I noted that the small size of the remains seemed to accurately reflect the amount of Jewish I am! I like this, it appeals to my sense of balance. Of course, I have to buy something, I notice something that I actually don't want to like, but of course I have to ask what it symbolizes the deconstruction of the ego and I know this is mine! Man talks, God laughs.

We really didn't feel unsafe at all in this city, I had heard a lot about pickpockets and such but frankly, I did not find this town any more daunting than Los Angeles! I feel this was all over Europe, I feel silly about all the safety backpacks and junk I bought because Europe is no different than the US in terms of safety issues.

Back on the ship, we enjoyed not having to do muster again, nanana  I notice that as the days float by, I am really having a great time. But I miss Fabricio, LOL, and the experience! This has been my "yes" journey so far. I love being able to be different, try different things, say yes to whatever presents itself, push the resistant reflexive crap out of me. Just be. This ridiculous woman with lipstick painted over half her face (the boat is not moving that much) asked me to play trivia and I said yes. She turned out to be brilliant and her husband an accomplished Yogi! I loved every ridiculous inch of her.

May 5, 2009 Monaco finally with Guide Michael of Revelation Tours.
We got to Monaco slowly but surely and actually did not tender, instead we docked at the floating dock (as Captain Yeomans had told me) and had perfect weather to boot! Captain Yeomans parked us perfectly and we were off the ship within minutes of getting there.

Our guide Michael from Revelation tours was waiting with a large sign and we were off once again, beating all the bus tours and making great time. We visited St Paul de Vence first; it was as wonderful as I had remembered. After a brief rundown on where we could go, where and when we should meet him, we were off exploring this wonderful town. Incredible, filled with Art stores and quaint shops and every turn a surprise nook or alley. We loved it here.

We drove through Nice, a waste of time in my opinion, if you want to see a place you have to stop and if you don't stop why waste time driving through its traffic? Nice is like Santa Monica, I would go to St Paul and Eze and not even want to drive by Nice! I've spend several days there in the past to be fair, but its nothing special like Eze.

After the long drive, we went to Eze. Eze is incredible, even better than St. Paul de Vence if this is possible. Smaller and less touristy, and I say that with reticence since you could hardly describe it as touristy, Eze is filled with the narrowest alleys and quaintest nooks ever. This was a wonderful place, and across the street from the entrance to the small town are several perfume factories that have great stuff, I love Fragonard.

May 6, 2009 Volterra and San Gimignano (out of Livorno) Guide: Alberto from
allarounditaly.net
Leave as early as possible to avoid traffic! We started out at 8 am rather than 7:30 am and it made a big difference, in the amount of traffic we hit, since we had to drive close to Florence - it took us a grueling 2.5 hours to get to our first stop San Gimignano. Later I realized that our guide had taken a more scenic road that was slower and we had to drive through the outskirts of Florence. I would leave early and take the toll road to get as quickly as possible, and I would go to Volterra first because it is much more charming and there will be the greatest opportunity to be alone in this town without many tourists

Having said that, less is definitely more on this excursion. We were going to try to fit in Sienna as well but this significantly reduced the amount of time we would have had to wander these lovely towns. We ended up choosing to spend more time in each town and less time driving around because it's not fun around Florence, just congested.

Volterra is incredibly interesting and quite walk able, there are nooks and crannies everywhere and lots of ancient churches and buildings, including many towers. We found an ancient Greek forum, a fort with walls you can walk, and lots of photo oops everywhere. This is the place to buy Alabaster; we found demonstrations and great shops selling the most unique items including statues, lamps, tiles, and dishes.

May 7, 2009 Rome with Fabricio http://www.allarounditaly.net/
Woke to perfect weather, we pulled in to Civitavecchia, docked and were able to disembark by 7:15 am. Our guide was Fabricio again so we were all looking forward to an experience! I had a check list of things to do, not so much the classics because I've been several times on the classics tour, but the weird and wonderful interesting sights that I've never had time to see.

We had 2 van loads of people. We all went to the Coliseum and forum first and then we broke off into different tours, this worked out well because some of us dud not want to go to the Vatican and others had to. I found the best "then and now" books at the entrance of the Coliseum. It's large and red with a DVD's for 25 E and it is the best book. I had looked for this one in the states, but its costs a fortune on Amazon. It's an awesome book; you cannot do the Forum and Colisseum with out it. You also cannot find it anywhere else in the city, including inside the monuments, so don't pass it up!

Next we went to San Clemente Church, an incredible 3 level church where you descend to the bottom level and discover the other river that runs through / underneath the city and it runs right through this church. At the bottom is the ancient pagan church filled with ancient frescos and just so incredibly old. Next the old Roman empire church, filled with more recent ancient artifacts! Then of course the current church with its Mosaics and Marble statues. Wow!

Next stop San Pietro in Vincoli where the famous statue of Michelangelo's Moses graces this most beautiful of churches. Where can you ever see this for free? Also on display are the chains of St. Peter. One side Catholic, one side Jewish!

We visited the keyhole, an incredible place on the Palatine hill, as well as the mouth of truth! It was so cool, you get to climb the ancient walls and walk around the ramparts - truly a hidden gem here and we were the only people in this museum.

Onto the Ghetto and Trastevere, we walked around the oldest area of Rome and had a great falafel! Next we went to the Pantheon, probably my favorite building in all of Rome. It's so awesome, inspiring in its simplicity and beauty with its megalithic columns and gorgeous marble floors.

We did a quickie at the Trevi fountain then finally hit the highlight; the Capuchin Crypt where we visited the best crypt in all of Rome, a must see. Really interesting, you won't believe your eyes!

Fabricio made the day incredible, he knew every shortcut, every policeman and guide and got us within 10 steps of all monuments, gave us great background info and clear directions and meeting times and places and it was so cool when he came looking for us when we got lost! We never felt unsafe, but often grateful that we were not driving, this is an impossible town to navigate. We got back to the ship at 5:30 exhausted but very satisfied. Tomorrow the Amalfi coast with Fabricio! Hooray.

May 8, 2009 Amalfi Coast and Herculaneum with Fabricio

Naples was our last day with Fabricio; he took 14 of us in 2 vans along the Amalfi Coast to Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello where we ate a slow and delicious lunch that was the best meal we all had in Italy. It was perfect weather, warm but not hot and with out a cloud in the sky. We loved the hairpin turns and beautiful countryside.
This was another incredible day with Fabricio, by now it seemed like many people came running over to say goodbye to Fabricio in the morning and afternoon and for good reason. Fabricio completely made our tours in Italy, whenever we had him we laughed, learned, and did it in quick time and always landing close to sights and way ahead of the large buses. Fabricio did raise an umbrella a few times in the van to make us feel like tourists! We all laughed so much we cried, you know how that goes.

Fabricio Wanted to get us on the Amalfi coast ASAP to avoid the crowds and buses, so we went there first and it was mind-blowing. We stopped in Positano and walked, snacked, shopped, and then took off to Amalfi. We loved the tour, we changed plans when we hit crowds and finally Fabricio took us to a lovely cliffside restaurant where we all (14) sat and ate the best meal of the whole trip - the freshest pasta, salads, and pizzas and more. It was another highlight, we did not pay a fixed price and instead choose what we wanted and paid for that. We ate and drank like Kings and Queens for under 30 E! No cheese at all here!

Next we went to Herculaneum and Fabricio had arranged for a professor to guide us through and we all really loved it. It is smaller than Pompeii, more complete and better preserved, was home to the wealthiest people and therefore the nicest frescos and mosaics, and finally it is much less crowded than Pompeii! Another hit with all the gang, we also bought more "then and now" overlay books. Do buy them when you see then, you often never find them again later in the day. One couple in the group decided to build another home based on the things they saw in this incredible town where the elite lived and prospered as a colony of the Roman Empire.

It was so sad to say goodbye to Fabricio, he is the nicest guy, so polite and so funny and so many of us CC people had the privilege of using him and his associates and we all appreciated what a joyous man his is and how filled with life he is. I enjoyed every moment with him as did all the people on my tours, he is a gem. I had read some stuff about Fabricio taking advantage of people and forcing them to buy a thousand dollars in cheese but he never brought us to any cheese place, or any place where we were told to shop. I am a giant pain in the rear, I am a researcher and I teach ancient civilizations so I brought checklists of places to see and Fabricio greeted each list with joy and pleasure - he loved that I found places that he had never been. He even found the Museum of Walls for me, it was very cool. Fabricio is the best I've had, I feel safe and know he will take good care of me and whomever is with me, always mindful of our time limits and always leaving a wide berth of time in case of emergencies that could impede our getting back to the ship on time. Everywhere we went after Fabricio (except in Turkey with Kagan) we missed him so!

I even had an opportunity to use a phrase Fabricio taught us all in the dining room! The sun was blarring in my eyes and I asked for the shades to be pulled, mostly because I had a migraine in the morning and was sensitive to light. Another man at another table started complaining about this and I stood up and shook my hands (like Fabricio in traffic) and said ˜shut uppa your face!" I know I'm so bad.

May 10, 2009 Mykonos, Greece
We pulled into Mykonos early in the morning, ready to disembark by 7 am. There was a shuttle bus that we were encouraged to take, no other alternatives to this but walking so we shelled out 6 E each for the ride. We didn't walk because the port day was short and we were concerned that wasting a half hour walking (the bus took 3 minutes) would cut into our touring time. Turns out it would not have mattered because nothing opened until 9 am and there was an island wide blackout. So its was a cash only day, couldn't get money out of the cash machine, no credit cards taken either.

The weather is perfect, once again. It's warm but not hot and I am comfortable in shorts and a tank top. The island is beautiful, covered in boxy white homes that have hilly uneven walls that are thick to insulate from the heat. The water is so blue, except where it is shallow and then it is blue-green.

We walk through the quaint town via the waterfront which is called "little Venice," because the houses hang over the water in some places. Despite the blackout, many shops were open and we managed to spend some money, they have beautiful woven clothing and some incredible one of a kind jewelry. Yikes!

We stopped and ate some Greek food at the waterfront, relaxing with friends and watching people. I never imagined myself enjoying slowing down and eating some slow meals as much as this happened, I envisioned quick eat-on-the-go meals but hated this especially in fast paced placed like Rome. I always feel like I need to cram as much as possible into sightseeing, even if I been there several times before. This time I slowed down a little and really enjoyed it! Less is more they say.

May 11, 2009 Istanbul with Kagan Kosegan
http://www.tourguidesinturkey.com/kagankosagan.html
Woke up this morning to a perfect day again! Sailing through the beginning of the Bosporus and Golden Horn, I see Aya Sophia, Topkopki Palace, the fort, more Mosques, and more. It is the best sail in I have had ever, the massive traffic in the water is intense, small ferries and boats come so close to the ship its is strange to see this happening. I am mesmerized by all of this, wake up early and don't miss this.
Kagan picked us up at 8 am and had his driver drop us off at the Prison that was in Midnight Express; it is now a 5 star hotel! From there we walk to the Blue Mosque, a beautiful temple where Kagan leads us in and we promptly sit cross legged on the floor in our own private section. He begins to teach us about Islam and the traditions around praying and living. Kagan is not Muslim, he is an Eastern Christian and he is clearly educated and compassionate, we learn a lot about this religion that we knew very little about. I love this aspect of travel; it fosters tolerance through learning and being in different cultures in a hand on way!

Next we walk to the Palace, we head straight for the Harem; I am astounded by the beauty of the tiles and gardens. The crowds are not too bad, we are trying to keep ahead of the large bus tours but this is almost impossible since most people are on bus tours; you can only get into Aya Sophia with a Princess bus tour.

Kagan teaches us about the Harem, the way the women are chosen and how they are kept educated and wealthy, even if they are never picked to become a favorite. We enjoy the Harem tour so much because Kagan is walking us through each room and showing us how the Sultan walked, how the girls tried to allure him, and how they were kept in safe, educated environments where they are provided opportunities to gain massive wealth even if they were never chosen! I can see why families from all over the world wanted their daughters to become part of this Harem!

Next we walked to the Basilica Cisterns which are under Aya Sophia, these are very interesting and even if I did not get into Aya Sophia, I got under it. The Cisterns are still in use today, we learn about how there used to be a fish restaurant down here that closed and the owner filled the cistern waters with fish and they are still there today. I got pictures of huge Carp swimming everywhere. The Cisterns are fantastic, held up with ancient recycled columns (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian) including some with statue reliefs. Check out the upside down Medusa's at the end of the Cisterns, but men need to watch the eye contact, lol!

Now we decide to eat lunch, we imagined no sit down meals (waste too much time) but have completely changed our notion of travel on this trip. After a full morning of walking and touring, we need to slow down and relax and rejuvenate ourselves at lunchtime. Kagan takes us to a local place, one of his favorites, and we sit and break bread together and enjoy an incredible meal and conversation. As we eat we learn about the spices used in cooking, the different foods and ways of preparing them, and even the traditions surrounding meals and tea. We have Turkish tea—not apple tea—as we finish the meal. Wonderful food, this is a must do with Kagan!

After lunch, we hit the grand bazaar. Kagan walks us through the market, starting at gate 1, and shows us where the leather is, the local crafts are, food, Jewelry, and junk! He explained how we should pay about half the initial price offered, and how I should explain that ˜my husband will only let me spend $___" to help the vender save face! This is the polite way of bargaining, and everything here seems quite civil to me. After he orients us, he sets us free to shop for about 45 minutes (our choice) and we love the vendors who are not nearly as aggressive as I expected. In fact, it is an entirely pleasant experience and nothing like what I expected. I got some great deals! We meet back up with Kagan at the designated time and he takes us back into the bazaar and has a man draw my name in Calligraphy, It's gorgeous.

Now we visit the markets where all the locals shop, out of the grand bazaar, and then to the Spice market where it smells divine. I buy the freshest Turkish Delight, after sampling f course. I found Rose tea (calming) and Rose jam, and in a small perfume shop I found the best Rose oil I have even had. This is the real deal here, everything is of the highest quality, and I can't believe how a small drop of oil stays with me the entire day. Finally, we find this Pomegranate sauce that we had on our salads at lunch, a must buy if you like pomegranate.

Next we walked through the old city, under the city streets through tunnels, and across the Golden horn to the Galata district in an old dinghy boat, very Turkish. This part of town is much newer, only 500 years old! We take the underground funicular to a wide pedestrian street and walk and talk about this area. We walk through a street market with tools, hardware, and home improvement stuff, among ancient buildings and walkways. We find Venice in Istanbul and learn the story of how a Venetian man fell in love with a woman from Istanbul whose family would not let her go to Venice, so he married her and brought Venice to Istanbul. We visit another shop for the freshest Halva around and I buy a small chunk to bring to the ship. Watch this; it is so good and so fattening, lol, not so good after all the great food on the Ruby!

We never made it to the Galata Tower, not a biggie since I know I am coming back here, love this town. We ended of walking 5-7 miles, had the best tour of our lives, and one of the best port days as well. Istanbul was a wonderful surprise and gift to me, clean and sane and safe. I fell in love with this city, its people, and especially the Islamic customs and practices of this Muslim country. I loved seeing all the different religions and customs practiced everywhere. Kagan was an awesome guide; I highly recommend him and suggest you book very early as he is popular. We loved having him to ourselves on our walking tour, he charged us $150 E plus admissions and food, and we did tip him like 25%. It was a great port day!

May 12, 2009
http://www.tourguidesinturkey.com/kagankosagan.html
Kusadasi was quite surprising, I don't know why but we were not expecting such beautiful country with an immaculate city. Our guide Yelda was incredible, she was a nice contrast to Kagan and also quite educated, knowledgeable, and charming. She was a plethora of knowledge about the area, with a real passion for it and that makes such a difference in guides. I hired Yelda through Kagan, we were all completely pleased.

First we went to Mary's house, it was lovely and moving and I found it quite touching as a Jew. I bought some holey water and drank it up, it was delicious and I feel wonderful! We beat the large buses by a half hour, but they were right on our heels from that point on.

Next we went to Ephesus, an amazing place in beautiful country side, you sort of turn a corner in the country and suddenly Giant columns appear and you know you are in Ephesus. Oh My Gosh pops Mama Mia! This was an incredible experience; Yelda knew everything about the place including secret symbols and all sorts of secrets you never learn on larger bus tours. Those tours kept passing us up quickly, we could see they were barely explaining the info Yelda was lavishing upon us! We saw everything, walked the Marble road, visited the amazing Terrace houses, all guided expertly by Yelda. Most of people I've talked to loved Ephesus better than any ruins they saw including Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Acropolis complex in Athens. I find it hard to top the Parthenon in Athens but it is the only thing left that is beautiful, Athens is a dirty city and the locals do not seem to take as much pride in their city and heritage and it is quite sad considering they were they greatest society that lived at one time.

We had a tour for 6 although they brought a large bus for 16! It was a perfect size tour, I highly recommend keeping them small at this kind of sight. I also highly recommend Kagan and his guide Yelda in Ephesus; once again it was one of the highlight days on this cruise.

May 13, 2009 Athens Driver: Paul of Athens Taxi
We are in Athens--docked at like 5am--and its perfectly clear and warm but not hot (the weather theme this 28 day cruise). Our guide picked us up from the ship at 7:30 and I wish I would have had him come at 7! Do that if you can--we used Paul the driver and he was nice, but did not compared to Kagan in Istanbul, Yelda is Ephesus, and Fabricio in Italy. The Acropolis is incredibl,e but Athens is filthy and it made me very sad to think that these people once produced the greatest minds in the world and now its beautiful city is covered in Graffiti. It is worse than Los Angeles. The sail away from Athens was very interesting, and the sunset was spectacular.

We had an incredible time on this 28 day Transatlantic Crossing. The Ruby Princess is really nice, this was my first time on a ship this size, and I loved it. Everything was clean, and the food has been really great. I am pretty sure Ignazio D Agostino the Maitre D is an angel, he is one of the reasons we love Princess so much. On the second leg of the cruise, Generoso took over as Maitre d Hotel, exceeding all our expectations of what it means to be the cream of the crop. Generoso became like family to us, he totally made our cruise incredible. We are huge fans of Generoso; we will be following him around whatever ship he is on!

We had our first CC meeting and the captain showed up, what a nice guy. Captain Tony Yeomans has a great personality and seems very approachable and certainly charming. He was warm, and honest, and very informative. I find this to make the difference between a nice cruise, and a great cruise.

My back hurt from the motion at the back of the ship during a few of the bad transatlantic days but it did not last long and those were the only real bumpy days of the 28 day journey. I also got a bug (hard to say the F word these days) that put me down for several days, I did not really care to ponder what was wrong with me! I was completely grateful to be on a cruise, and even more grateful when I recovered!

Our sail into Venice was fantastic and while we got to the port at 1 PM everybody was out on the top decks by 11 - 11:30 am. We were so excited to finally get to Venice, although it was bittersweet because we were soon leaving the Ruby, our home for 28 days! I loved this ship, the crew made all the difference they were all great. Our last evening together they sang happy birthday to me, I turned 53! Yikes! I was spoiled again by Generoso who sent over the best desert wine I had ever tasted, along with good wishes and great recommendations. He is the most charming man I have ever met!

Had many final sales during the 28 day cruise, I had to buy an inaugural Ruby shirt (got so excited to get it at half price) and a few other things all from the Caribbean. Of course all the standard stuff was there as well at 30 to 50 % off. I bought gifts; my people are on a lag so they know they will probably get Hawaii stuff on the Mexican cruises, as well as Alaska stuff from last year.

No fill a laundry bag for $20 yet, but the laundry rooms were not too crowded and we had an easy time doing our laundry. Try starting it before dinner, dry it right after dinner and it is ready after the show! On sea days it’s very crowded, so plan accordingly.

By our last sea day (between Gibraltar and Sardinia) we had finally achieved our time change! I did not move through the time changing—jet lag moments well, they seemed to last the entire week of the Atlantic crossing. It was brutal on me; I met people who were struggling like me and others who had no issues with it. I don’t know why. The Maitre D Generoso takes his vacations during these crossings because the time changes are tough on him going both ways! Good to know.

I have to admit that I was not expecting the food to be great this cruise because the prices were so good I expected the food to reflect that. Not so on this ship, the food was absolutely to die for. I couldn't stop eating, my waiters were awesome, and I had to learn how to not ask them to compare dishes because then both came (I loved it) and they were both wonderful. Furthermore, my waiters were reading my mind as if it were an open book. They knew what I want to drink before I did! The service had been so good. From the Maitre d' Generoso, to the room service waiters, everybody was happy and kind.

Disembarkation was shaping up to be a nightmare. At first they said no self disembark and left many people sleepless and worried about making their 6 am flights, needing to disembark at 4 am! We blew it off, knowing that eventually you will get exactly what you need if you just wait. Low and behold today we were all allowed to make self disembark plans to suit our needs. Lesson learned, relax and wait because it always works out!

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