If anyone has taken this cruise on the Grand Princess, we are at a loss as to whether to utilize the cruiseline shore excursions, and if we do this, which ones would be best. Many are 8-10 hours. We were told by a travel agent these ports can be done on your own. We don't want to miss the highlights, as this may be the only time we are ever in the Mediterranean. But we are concerned we would be totally worn out and not have time to enjoy anything on board if we did cruiseline excursions every day. (We have taken 5 cruises including Caribbean and Alaska.) PLEASE HELP - THANKS!
We did the Mediterranean cruise on the Grand Princess last year and had a wonderful time. There is so much to see that all the tours can do is give you a small taste of each port before you head on to the next one. I did a lot of reading and research online before choosing my excursions. I finally chose the ships shore excursions because I felt comfortable knowing that Princess had excellent tour operators and that if there was any problem with traffic, etc... the tour operator would be in contact with the ship. They will hold a ship for a ship sponsored tour, not for people who choose to go out on their own. It amazed me that, after an 8 hour tour, they would pull back up to the ship within 10-15 minutes of the time the tour was scheduled to end. Many of our day long tours did involve a couple of hours travel to and from the destination, so we did have some rest time on the bus while traveling and weren't exhausted when we got back to the ship. We did go to bed by 11:00 so that we would be ready for that 8:00 tour the next morning. I also found that the two Days at Sea and the 1/2 days in ports were spaced just right, so that, as I was getting tired of 8:00 tours, I had the next day to rest.
If you want to go on your own, visit www.portreviews.com. The web site will give excellent instructions on what you want to see in the ports, how to get around the cities on your own, how to catch the trains & busses needed to get from the ship to the town and back, etc... Even if you decide to go on the ship's excursions, this web site will help you decide which points of interest you want to see and which excursion is the one that interests you. If it's your first time in Europe, I believe you would prefer letting someone else take you where you want to go and you can enjoy the sites. After you've been there one, and you go back again, then I think you may consider doing it on your own. You;ll know the layout of the town and can then focus in on the things you missed the first time.
I wish I had your problem this year. We're going on the Crown Princess to the Caribbean, and after choosing between seeing the Vatican and Ancient Rome tours last year, the caribbean tours aren't near as exciting.
I was on the Grand Med cruise last year as well - truely the best holiday I've ever had!
As a personal view on what we chose and thought about in each port....
Venice (arrival PM, and pre-departure AM next day after night on board) - Princess offers a shuttle ferry from the ship to the stop by St Mark's Sq - the voucher was in our cabin, and if we used it, we got charged, but the ticket was valid for unlimited trips acorss both days, so worth it. Around the city, we just wondered round and came across places as we found them! We did have a small map, but just loved wondering round.
Kusadasi - we made a mistake and just walked round the place on our own which wasn't great. We wished we'd taken the ship's tour to Ephesus. if you do go here by yourself, the best bit was Pigeon island first thing before anyone else go there!
Istanbul - We walked from the ship (about 20-30mins) to the city centre and walked round all the sites our selves (Bazzars, Blue Mosque etc). Loved it and felt that we'd seen the same things as you would do if you went on a ship's tour - only we did it at our pace. Had a lunch at a small place in the middle of the Grand bazzaar just watching everyone shopping.
Mykonos - Took the ship arranged shuttle bus into the town and had some lunch / wandered round. Don;t eat in the main tourist hotspot - we heard of some people that had lunch there and paid about 3 times the amount we did - we had a full meal with a few beers - they had a sandwich!!! Walk up through the town to the top of the hill and you'll find some tavernas around there. You can walk to the town from the harbour but it's a busy road with no pavement. But if you do use the bus, you queue on the pier by the ship to buy the ticket and then get on the bus - we got there before the time they said the busses started running so only queued for 10 mins or so - others were queuing for 40mins to get on the bus!!
Athens - we did the ship's tour to the Acropolis and the old town with a city tour. This was nice and got some great info with the tour round the Acropolis. Walking round the old town was nice, but not necessarily a highlight!
Naples - We did the ship's tour to Pompeii and 'taste of' Sorrento. We wished we'd spent the whole day in Pompeii as it's amazing, and it does seem quite easy to do yourself from the ship by train! We weren't that impressed with Sorrento and felt it to be a bit of a waste of time. We're going to Naples again next year (with RCI) and we'll probably try out Capri this time.
Rome - We did the ship's tour that covered the Vatican, St Peters, Collesium - we thought this well worth it as we skipped the massive queue at the Collesium, and went into the Vatican when it was actually closed - had the place to ourselves which was amazing!
Pisa/Florence - did the ships tour that covered both places. Ultimately in Pisa you just get time enough to get out and walk to the place, then take some photos and a quick look round - the time we were there, many places were only just opening! In Florence, it was a nice trip, but again, a lot of seeing things form the outside and moving on. It didn't help we had lots of people who were just dragging their heals and missing meeting times etc - hope their ears are burning!!
Marseille - I took the ship arranged shuttle bus to the city centre and then walked round everywhere myself. This was really nice and could get a nice local feel. The Notre dame cathedral is well worth the hike upto for the views.
Barcelona (departure city) - we had a late departure and after a bit of arguing on board, we arranged a later transfer off the ship so had the morning free to explore. We just took a taxi to the foot of Las Ramblas and then walked round the harbour area, old town and Las Ramblas - but we'd been there before so knew where we were going.
I'd agree that this was a very port intensive tour - but that's why we booked it. We went from Venice to Barcelona, so we had a 'run' of 3 ships tours on 3 consecutive days (Naples, Rome, Florence) - getting up earlier on each day, and with no sea days between then and the end of the cruise, it was a bit tiring. But we still made the most of the ship and all it had to offer - seeing all the shows we wanted to, and the Movies under the Stars.
If you fancy just relaxing by the pool and don't want the crowds - go to the adults only pool near the back. We 'camped out' by the shuffle boards each day and had a nice relaxing time and could always get loungers.
Feel free to ask me anything specific you want to know - I love remembering it!!!
I have just returned from the Grand Greek Isles cruise. Had an awesome cruise. Many of us had already been to these ports & did not need to do the whole day tours.
The only Princess tour we did was for Capri. And my reason for this was I did not want to risk being late with the lines for the hydrofoil. After doing it we could have managed fine on our own.
One of my friends did have tours booked for every port of call, most with Princess except the 2 I mention below.
This port intensive cruise can wear you down IF you let it. But, if you build in some downtime (suntime for me) you'll be fine.
We always went ashore early & got back to the ship by about 2pm most days. Exceptions were Ephesus & Naples.
I took tons of photos which I have on my webshots albums. Take a look & it will prepare you.
Good Luck with your planning. If you have other questions ask away.
I appreciate the info from all who responded. Overall, we had a good cruise. The weather was overcast a lot and we had rain in Athens, but better cool than sweltering. We ended up doing a quite a lot of ship excursions - mostly because since we had only been to Europe one other time we were more comfortable knowing our guide had to get us back on time, etc. We loved Ephesus - how amazing to see what has been uncovered in its original state and to know that is only about 15% of the whole city. We did Mykonos on our own and enjoyed the chance to be on our own pace instead of a 9-hr tour. Venice and Marseille were the other ports we did on our own. Ancient Rome was also wonderful.
Some guides were better than others, and we would do a few things different if we went again, but we are glad we went.