Have you ever wanted to take a Mediterranean cruise? It was our pleasure to experience just such a trip on Oceania Cruise Lines – one of the best cruise lines in and around the Mediterranean. There were several reasons why we selected Oceania that made the adventure enjoyable.
All restaurants on board were open to everyone – no assigned seating – all adults/no children – no formal attire required – dressy casual was the norm for dinner – and the ship stopped at all the right islands/with the best tourist destinations for sightseeing – plus only 684 passengers with 412 service staff not including the crew that operated the ship.
We booked one of the Owner’s Suites on level 7 at the aft of the ship with a large deck that spanned both the main room and the bedroom. I believe the ship only had six of these suites. We later found out upon boarding that the suite included a butler –who would have thought?
Once requested, coffee/orange juice and a ship’s newspaper were delivered at 7 am each day for the next 14 days. We dined at the Terrace Café on the back deck almost every morning. Room service was available but we liked meeting new people. Tuscany was our favorite restaurant with its casual friendly atmosphere, excellent food and staff. The Polo Grill was fussy and fine, we ate there three times, but it was less casual with more of a club appeal.
Boarding took place in Istanbul where we spent five days at the Saltanahmet Palace Hotel prior to sailing. It was located facing the Marmara Sea and directly across the street from the Blue Mosque. Our room had a Turkish style Hammam bathroom complete with a marble bench and water basin with ladle for pouring the water over you. Fortunately, for me, it also worked as a shower. Our room overlooked the top of the restaurant where we had breakfast while watching dolphins playing in the Sea of Marmara below.
The famous Blue Mosque
Entrance to the Saltanahmet Palace Hotel
The Hotel and a view from our room terrace.
Our first port of call was at Kusadasi, Turkey to visit the ancient city of Ephesus. Here, we were bused in to the ancient city of Anthony and Cleopatra. Ephesus used to be on the coast but the coastline has changes over the centuries. We had an amazing tour through the recently excavated “terrace houses” with beautiful fresco murals and mosaic tile floors. Archeological engineers had built Lucite walkways over the various excavated levels to help preserve these artistic wonders. Seeing how people lived during the days of the Roman Empire brought history to life.
Arches and the column lined, stone paved streets of Ephesus where Cleopatra and Marc Anthony once walked. I had to search to find shade that day.
The amazing terrace houses – with murals still in place.
Arched and painted ceilings
Mosaic tile floors and indoor pools and fountains.
I’m reminded of some of the grand houses in Merida today.
This is the front of what was the Roman library. Quite ornate!
Entrance to the public restrooms
We also learned, that in ancient times they had live entertainment in the public restrooms where you could sit on a toilet and listen to music or poetry while taking care of business. There was running water below so you didn’t even need to flush. The Mayan palace ruins in Palanque also had similar facilities – King Ludwig came much later with running water in his palaces – But on with my story…
The ruins on the Isle of Delos – Roman columns framing arches must have been popular.
The Isle of Delos was our next destination. This is referred to as “The Isle of the Gods” – it was believed to be the home of the Greek gods. No one is allowed to be on the island after dark – that must be when the gods had their parties – no visitors allowed.
Houses were close and the streets were narrow.
Four large cruise ships anchored off Delos. Ours was number five. – Very little vegetation on the island.
Due to shallow water around the isle, the ship is not able to anchor close so they ferry passengers in on the tenders (lifeboats). Here you need to take a guided tour or you won’t have a clue about what you are looking at.
We sailed next to Mykonos where many of the passengers went ashore to spend their money on lunch and shopping. We took advantage of the quiet time to have a massage in the ships spa and a private lunch in our reserved open cabana above the pool deck at the front of the ship. We could see most of the town from there and avoided the crowded streets, restaurants, and shops with their outrageous prices (our massages and lunch were included in our Owner’s Suite package).
We cruised over night and were having breakfast the next morning as we arrived at the magical island of Santorini which had been created by a volcanic eruption. Like the teeth of a giant, the gleaming white town spread along the black volcanic rock smiling at us in the crisp morning light, dotted with domed caps of blue here and there. Several ships had arrived at the same time so we knew it would be like a colony of ants scurrying to take in all the important sites and devour the meat off the bones.
Crisp white building like this church clung to the cliffs edges and stair stepped down.
Once off the bus, we stayed away from the tour groups and wandered on our own finding a delightful restaurant hidden off the street and down a couple flights of stairs. Sitting on a small terrace overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean we enjoyed a delicious lunch while listening to Greek music in the background. See below…
Athens was next on the ships agenda. Here we decided to take a tour to the Acropolis with a guide who was out to give us the entire history of every Greek war that was ever fought – forgetting the romantic Greek poetry and stories of Greek gods.
We left the group – did our own architectural tour and had a soothing, cool chocolate shake at the restaurant near where the buses were parked before the group returned hot, tired, bleary eyed and over educated on Greek wars.
Yes…there was smog in Athens as you can tell from the haze in the background.
We bused into town and had lunch then wander through the famous downtown Palatka full of shops and winding streets where the gypsy women try to sell you beautiful lace while their children are picking your pockets with a professional touch. Six of our fellow passengers came back to the ship without their wallets – word to the wise – stay alert.
We purchased a few bottles of Greek wine at Ermou Spirits Cava wine shop and a huge bouquet of mixed flowers at a corner flower stall. Our butler got us a couple of vases for the flowers and we relaxed with a bottle of wine on our deck before dinner that evening with Carolyn and Sidney Schultz.
We met and had lunch the first day on board with Carolyn and Sidney from New Rochelle, NY, while waiting for the crew to deliver luggage to the cabins. Carolyn used to teach drama in NYC. One of her students was Bernie Schwartz before he became known as Tony Curtis. She was also in a Broadway play with Bea Arthur.
The ship traveled over night from Athens to Taormina, Sicily where we visited a church on top of the hill and participated in a wine tasting event before heading off again.
Passing through the Straits of Messina between Italy and Sicily while having dinner, we arrived in Positano the following morning. Positano is a cliff-side village south of the Bay of Naples on the Amalif Coast of Italy. It’s a well-known holiday destination for affluent Europeans and others with a pebble beachfront and steep, narrow streets lined with expensive boutiques and cafes. We opted to stay on board ship for another day at the spa and lunch in our open cabana.
We had made plans with our butler to have a small party that evening as we passed through the Straits of Messina once again on our way around the boot of Italy to Dubrovnik.
I will save the party, the dance contest, Croatia, the Dalmatian coast and Venice for the next blog post.
Until then Bon Voyage!