We just returned from 12 days Eastern Med cruise with Norwegian Jade. It was a FABULOUS trip. We tend toward doing most of the ports ourselves, and hiring private guides if necessary because we enjoy researching the ports and like the flexibility and efficiency of a private tour (we have found it to be cheaper than the ship’s tours as well).
We used several local tour operators. Hope the information below would be useful for you.
Rome/Civitavecchia. After much consideration, we decided to book a private full day tour in Rome visiting some of the familiar places and including a few new ones. After researching companies to use, we decided on LimoinRome - Claudio Caponera (www.limoinrome.com
) as our driver/guide for the day. We shared this tour with 3 couples from our roll call. Our itinerary included The Roman Forum, Coliseum, Mouth of Truth, Circus Maximums, the Key Hole (Sov Mil Ordine Di Malta), Palatine Hill, Baths of Caracalla, The Catacombs, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Capitol Hill, and Gianicolo (great views of Rome from this spot) and Borghese Gallery. Claudio arranged for our lunch stop at Ristorante Massenzio. Good meal. If we could have eliminated one thing in the itinerary it would, in our opinion, have been the Borghese Gallery. After a full day of sightseeing, I for one was on "information overload". I would suggest that the Borghese Gallery be done by itself or perhaps along with a walk through the garden areas.
Athens. We hired a taxi driver from Spiros at email@example.com
for the day (8:30-2:00) Spriros at firstname.lastname@example.org
. This ended up being a boon – it costs 25 euro each way from Piraeus on the meter anyway, and saved us hundreds of steps in the heat. He parked at the back side of the Acropolis (it is not necessary to climb the hundreds of steps from the Plaka) and waited for us, then took us to the old Olympic stadium (actually pretty impressive), the Temple of Zeus, to the President’s house in time for the changing of the guard (actually worth the stop), the Parliament building, the Roman Agora, and then the Greek Agora and Plaka. We zipped through it all – again because we got out early I think, and were driving instead of walking – and were back on board by 2, exhausted.
Ephesus. We hired a private tour guide for this port -- Denizhan at email@example.com
. We combined with another family I met on our Roll Call. I join the list of Cruise Critic people that highly recommend him. He was knowledgeable, personable, proud of his country, and completely professional. We started early and were through most of Ephesus by the time the first tour bus arrived. Since it reached 105 degrees that day, we were EXTREMELY grateful to have gotten to see it before the hottest part of the day. Be sure to also see the ruins of St. John’s Basilica. Denizhan also took us inside a local and historic mosque and explained a lot about ***** and Turkish politics. Lunch was the best of the trip. We also visited the museum in Selcuk, which was fine, although it is hard to compete with the Vatican, the Egyptian Museum, and others on this trip. Definitely try apple tea if you can – hot or cold, it’s delicious. All in all, a great stop.
Alexandria/Giza. You definitely need a guide/tour for this stop. Most passengers ponied up for a RCI tour of some sort, and I was a little nervous not to, reading all the postings about police convoys. But having a private tour guide (we used Rasha El Ashmawy at www.egyptdailytours.com)
worked out great, and we were very happy with the day. We didn’t have to wait for the convoy (and I felt safer, being less obviously a tourist in a small vehicle), we lingered at things that interested us, and went quicker through things that did not. Price for a family of four was $100 for adults and $90 for kids; a group of seven was $80 for adults and $70 for kids (solar boat museum, going inside the pyramids and mummy room at the Egyptian museum extra, but lunch included). Keys to this day are FLEXIBILITY and HUMOR, and you should realize that even if you do it with RCI there might be glitches – for example, the entire bus that took the RCI Nile trip got sick, and cartouches ordered on a different RCI tour turned black when they were worn into the pool back on the ship. However, on the whole we heard that the RCI tours were pretty good. Our tour included the Giza plateau, where we walked around near all three pyramids, drove to a vista, drove back to go inside the medium sized pyramid (Kefern) and then visited the Sphinx. Lunch was a quick falafel sandwich, and then we went to the Egyptian Museum (including mummy room) and back out to shop at the Khan Al Khalili bazaar in ******* Cairo. We left the bazaar at 6:00 sharp, and pulled up to the ship at 9:25 (had to be back onboard by 9:30, so you really do have to watch your time). Rasha did not travel with us, but checked in with us all the way back to make sure that we made it back on board. Tips about this particular Giza/museum/bazaar itinerary: 1) change money before you get off the ship if possible because Euros/dollars are not accepted until you are at the bazaar; 2) take toilet paper in your bag – bathrooms are often bare; 3) take small change for the bathrooms; 4) resist resist resist people offering you anything (even people that claim to work for the sites you are visiting) – you will suspect it is a scam, but then you will not want to offend them, so you will go along, but it will end up being a scam at the end. We had a number of people flat out lie to us – “I work for the government, not a tour guide, come see, I don’t want to take your money” – and then demand “baksheesh;” 5) take water and umbrellas – Giza plateau is really exposed; 6) at the bazaar, decide what you are willing to pay and stick to your guns – as a rule of thumb, Rasha told us to chop their asking price in half or more – if you can’t settle with the first guy, you will probably see the same thing a few stores away; 7) about going inside the pyramids – a claustrophobic, hot, crowded, and stinky experience – but my family was glad they did it. The middle pyramid (Kefern) offers much the same experience as the largest pyramid (Khufu), but priced at about $6 instead of $20. The experience takes ten to fifteen minutes at either pyramid; 8) The Museum – so many treasures crammed right next to each other, it’s overwhelming – read a little before you go so you can sort out the experience before you’re there. There are actually two mummy rooms to see for the additional admission price of $20 – if you’ve seen a mummy before, you can honestly give this a miss, but if you haven’t, it is fairly interesting. If the line is long, see the rest of the museum and check back in later – it fluctuates depending on tour groups; 9) Get to ******* and/or Coptic Cairo if you can – much more atmosphere than downtown where the Museum is; 10) Do NOT eat at the bazaar – most expensive (and worst) “snack” of the trip; 11) DO try mint tea mmmmmm.
Valetta. This is the one port where we decided to do one of the ship’s organized excursions, a “jeep adventure” tour of the island. Having just recovered from a pinched nerve in my back, I don’t know what possessed me to book this excursion. The ride is VERY bumpy and rough, especially around the limestone quarries, so if you have any back or neck problems, you should opt for a different tour. That being said, the “Malta Jeep Adventure” is a good way to see a lot of the island. Each vehicle is an open-air jeep with seating for four people. There is a recorded guided tour playing in English to explain the various monuments or sights as you pass them. The last stop was at Golden Bay where we had free time to swim or lounge on the beach. Again, we are not big on organized tours, but this one was a good value for the money. Something that we found surprising was that all the signs were in English.