Booked the “12N” Holy Lands cruise with RCL on board “Mariner of the Seas” and flew to Rome two days early to wander the city. Arrived Rome Fiumicino airport; I had read a lot of stories about how difficult the airport was to navigate but that was not true, it was simple to claim your luggage and there is an ATM next to the EXIT so you can get your Euros and save on the rip off money exchange fees. I opted for the train to central Rome versus the expensive auto pickup; walked out of the airport following the signs. Buy your ticket (cost is 14 euros) at the train station newsstand. The trip on the Leonardo Express takes about 30 minutes and the train departs every half-hour at 5 minutes past the hour and 35 minutes past the hour. Arriving at the “Termini” which is in central Rome, get your bearings before you start as this is a massive and confusing terminal, but once you get adjusted it will be simple. The wife and I booked a two night stay at the Hotel Maikol (http://www.hotelmaikol.com/) a basic 3 star B & B very close to the Termini at a great price. This is not fancy but is very clean and the location is wonderful. As this was my second visit to Rome, I was on a quest to visit the wonderful off the beaten road sights. I bought the 24 hr metro pass on both days (cost is 3 euros); would consider the ROMA pass if I was going to visit and enter more sights. Here goes the do not miss sights that tourists forget about but they are hidden gems and most of them are FREE or of little cost:
- Cappuchin Crypt
- Basilica de San Clemente
- The Pyramid of Rome (Piramide di Caio Cestio)
- Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero Accattolico)
- Castle San Angelo
- Campo dei Fiori
- Piazza Novona
Following two days in Rome we took the train to Civitavecchia to board the ship. This was relatively simple and only cost 4.5 euros. Once at Civitavecchia you will need to carry your luggage about ½ mile on a paved path to the port entrance, then board a shuttle bus to the ship.
Naples; our cruise first stop. The plan was to ride the hydrofoil (departs from Molo Beverello Terminal very close to the cruise port/a very short walk) to Capri, see the town, then board a boat at the Capri marina with friends and start our own trip around the island visiting the numerous rock “Faraglioni” formation, natural arches, grottos and a little swimming thrown in. We planned to take a small lunch with us; this boat trip around the island was recommended by every review I had read. Unfortunately, the weather did NOT cooperate as it was raining, windy, and quite cold. Instead, we opted to walk around Capri hiding beneath our umbrellas. Visiting Capri is quite simple and it is a very lovely town but expensive. One of the highlights was riding the funicular/cable car from the marina crossing to Marina Grande for spectacular views. A hint, I suggest that you purchase your return ticket for the hydrofoil once you arrive on Capri, as there were several people that found the hydrofoil tickets sold out in the afternoon. In spite of the weather, we did find a lovely little off the beaten path to escape the rain, relax and enjoy a wonderful pizza and cappuccino listening to Italian music & watching the locals go about their day. I hear that the gelato when the weather is nice is wonderful in Capri as well.
Athens; stop 2 at the port of Piraeus. It will be a 20 minute walk from the port terminal to the Metro station, or a taxi will cost 10-12 euros. I opted to walk; just follow the coast and enjoy the sights. When you see the overpass and the modern pedestrian bridge you are almost at the Metro station - no obvious signs indicating you are there, but it will be easy to spot once you arrive. Buy your 3 euro all day metro pass and you’ll be worry-free. It will take you about 25 minutes to get to the “Acropolis Metro station stop”. For this port, we opted to do a segway tour (http://www.athenssegwaytours.com) and I am glad we did. If you have never done a segway, you must do it. We had too many people who wanted to join our segway tour and sadly, we had to turn couples away as there were not enough segways available. It was great going up and down hills and watching all the tourists gawking at us and asking us where we booked this excursion. The only down side of the segway excursion was that there is no running commentary as you move around Athens; you only get the commentary once you stop. Sadly, our segway excursion had to end and afterwards we walked around and grabbed a bite to eat. Be aware, despite all our efforts, the entire area around the Acropolis seemed to be a tourist trap. Take your time because the Plaka is overrated but there are many other places to visit. The city is built around the Acropolis; easy to navigate.
Haifa; stop 3 at a much underrated port. Haifa has much to offer and the port terminal is located next to the train station. Wanting to visit interesting and unusual sights, I opted to start the day by traveling to Rosh HaNikra. To get to Rosh HaNikra I took the train to Nahariya (30 minutes) and then a 10 minute cab ride to Rosh HaNikra. Once there, we looked across into Lebanon (you are on the border) and we walked around the lovely white cliffs and got to go inside the tunnels. Both to the north and south, tunnels were carved out by the British for the railroad during WWII to connect Europe and Egypt. In the north tunnel there is a 20 minute film about the history of the railroads. Aside from this, the best part was getting to enter the grottos and walk through the caves. Afterwards, we grabbed a cab and headed for Akko. Akko, or Acre, is a predominantly Arab town that is quite picturesque with an interesting history. We walked through the old city and visited the Knights’ Templar fortifications and tunnels. We then took the train back to Haifa and walked to the lovely Bah’ai Gardens located on Haifa’s Mount Carmel and got to see the Golden Dome and terraced gardens. Due to closing time of 5pm, we were not able to walk through the gardens. Overall, we had a terrific day visiting the less travelled part of Israel at a very minimal cost.
Ashdod; the gateway for visiting Jerusalem, what more can be said. Wanting to see the Holy City and simultaneously do some other unique activities I opted for a private excursion with Mark Zober (email@example.com). I will highly recommend this option as there is so little time and so much to see to include making your way through the thousands of tourists and crowded streets. It is the only way to see Jerusalem unless you have at least a week to spare. I highly recommend Mark to anyone wanting to see Jerusalem - he is very well educated, very reasonable, and is flexible and organized. Mark will customize any excursion to your needs. Besides the four main Jerusalem quarters, I asked Mark to have us do the City of David to include all the three underground tunnels. These tunnels were just recently discovered it was a great experience but be ready for some heavy duty walking. I limited my group to a total of only 10 people; maneuver the throngs of tourists staying small is wise. Jerusalem is an amazing city filled with so much history that one day is not enough; however Mark packed in as much as humanly possible for one day.
Rhodes; another fun port but very windy. Rather than do the typical walk around “Old Town”, I opted for the Rhodes safari experience (http://www.rhodessafari.com/) with a group of friends. WOW! This was a terrific choice; you tour around the entire island in a 4x4 jeep with some off road fun, along with some amazing sights. You are driven through and sometimes stop at little towns that are off the beaten path, you see parts of the island that are seldom seem by tourists. At one point, we stopped where the Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean Sea which was amazing. The highlight of the day is when we stopped at an abandoned beach and had an olive picnic lunch (I felt like I was on Gilligan’s Island). Simply a wonderful and fun day.
Kusadasi; our next to final stop. At this port we did the typical tourist thing by visiting the best preserved ruins in the Mediterranean - the ruins at Ephesus. As part of a group, we booked an excursion with Ephesus Deluxe (www.ephesusdeluxe.com). They were very professional and did exactly what had been requested. At Ephesus, be prepared for massive crowds. The ruins are magnificent and we got to go to the newly opened Terrace Houses. Our excursion only lasted for 4 hrs and that was more than enough. Back at Kusadasi, you can roam the port area that is filled with numerous shops selling all the dust collectors a person could possibly want.
Chania/Crete; sadly this was our final stop, but what a terrific port. Do not plan on any ruins; just visit this lovely place, wander the streets, visit shops, grab a bite to eat & relax & enjoy the atmosphere. Since this is a new port the ship docks about 20-25 minutes from town and you will need to buy a round trip shuttle bus ticket (you will need euros for the ticket!); walking is much much farther than several people (not us!) anticipated! However, once on the bus, the trip to town & back was organized and not a problem. One little tip – in town there is a great lookout point at the back end of the rows of shops ( towards the ocean look for the hill that looks deserted & overgrown with wild flowers). It is actually the high point of the island in town & provides an excellent photo op & quiet place away from most of the tourists. Surprisingly enough, we had some amazing ice cream just before we got back in the port area. Our only complaint was that we didn’t have enough time in Crete!
Airport Return: from the port of Civitavecchia to Fiumicino Airport can be done with local transportation but will make for a long day as there is no direct route, therefore to AVOID the rip off cruise ship transfer I used Stefano(www.romecabs.com), I have used his service in the past and found him to be reasonable, dependable and very honest shared the return ride back to reality with some of the friends we had met on board.Enjoy!