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Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:50 PM

Greece, Turkey & Malta - Here we come - Med July 2013
Let me start by saying I don't blog, I don't write a journal, I don't even scrapbook. But I am a Type A personality that likes to have everything organized and I definitely like sharing things I have found and suggestions I have picked up along the way in my research.

I have done all the organizing I can do before I drive my family crazy. I have written a 30 page itinerary for everyone in my group to cover every day so everyone knows what has been planned, how payments need to be made and emergency contact numbers - I don't think any of them have looked at it....actually I know none of them have looked at it:rotfl:

I think they are all so use to me organizing that it has become second nature to them, and they just assume everything is just so.

So I thought I would share my planning and experience with you.;)

Let me start by telling you there are 10 of us traveling to the Med for the July 13th 12-day Greece trip on the Magic. The 10 of us consists of 4 different families in three different cabins. Me, DH, DS(12) & DS (4) - My Mum & Dad & a friends daughter (15) - My brother & wife and daughter (1).

Of the 10 of us, only my family and mum & dad have traveled DCL before. And my friend's daughter has never traveled outside of Atlantic Canada. And well my 1-year old niece has never traveled. I should also say that we (my family, my mum & dad) did the 7-day Med cruise on the Magic in 2011 - so the first three ports are repeats for us.

Our itinerary is as follows:
July 13 - Barcelona
July 14 - Villefranche (Nice & Monaco)
July 15 - La Spezia (Pisa & Florence)
July 16 - Civitavecchia (Rome)
July 17 & 18 - at sea
July 19 - Pireaus (Athens)
July 20 - Kusadasi (Ephesus-Turkey)
July 21 - Mykonos (& Delos - Greece)
July 22 - at sea
July 23 - Malta
July 24 - at sea
July 25 - Barcelona

Prior to our cruise, we are staying in England on a "Farm-stay" for a week and then a couple of days in Barcelona just prior to embarkation. We will also be in Barcelona for one day after our cruise (by accident - Air Canada moved our flight back 24 hours after we booked it and called it a minor schedule change) :lmao:).

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:51 PM

Just a quick not about my pre-trip plans.

We depart for Europe on the 4th of July. Our first destination is a small town in the County of Durham in England (you have to fly into Newcastle and then drive an hour). My 90 year-old grandmother lives there and the family is going to enjoy a week with her.

Joining us in England will be myself and my 2 boys (12 & 4), my brother, his wife and daughter (1 yr) and my mum and dad. We will be all taking separate flight from different parts of Canada Ottawa, Montreal and St. Johns (Newfoundland) and meeting up at my Grandmas.

Because my family lives so far apart this will also be the first time the boys & I will get to meet my little niece since she was born. It is also special because she was named after my British Grandma and it will be their first time meeting as well.

My husband and my friends daughter have to skip England (due to work & a baseball tournament) so they wont be joining us until we get to Barcelona.

My brothers family and mine (me and the two boys) will be staying on a farm near my Grandmas house. The farm cottage is a on a rare breeds working farm and includes animals such as Bison, Elk, Deer, Rhea, Pot-bellied pigs, peacocks, pygmy goats, peafowl, ducks, chickens and quail roaming on 80 acres. Next door is nature reserve with trails and is home to rare plants, butterflies and over 120 different wild birds. The farming couple have already invited the boys over every day to help with the feeding of the non-wild animals (not the bison!).

My youngest will have his 4th Birthday on the Farm. And we have invited all of our British relatives over to the farm for a big Birthday BBQ on the Sunday (as school will still be in session in England at the beginning of July). He has already put in his order for an OCTONAUT birthday which is an English kids show that has just recently started playing over in Canada.:cake:

So the best part about this is that Dad will miss the party and I say this is good??? Well, thats because, as my DS says, now he has to have 2 Birthday parties one on the farm and the other on the "big Disney Boat"!

We will be in England for about a week before we head out to Barcelona.

Now once again, Air Canada messed around with our flights from Newcastle to Barcelona and what was once only a two hour layover in Brussels for me and the two boys is now almost 6 hours...ugh. Thats okay though - I have made a plan (you could have never guessed, could you!).

I have researched all the "Flanders Fields" cemeteries in Brussels and I have found a Commonwealth Site only 20 minutes from the airport. So I am going to bring the boys out to see their first real World War Grave site. I think the poem Flanders Fields will have a much bigger meaning for my boys after that! Especially my 12 year old who participates in Remembrance Day every year but I think it is still just something that he reads - not something he gets fully.

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:52 PM

We get into Barcelona on the evening of the 11th (36 hours before we embark). So we basically have one full day in Barcelona pre-cruise. My DH and Friend's daughter arrive the next morning.

I don't know what we have planned for the 12th. No idea.

We decided on staying at an apartment hotel outside of Barcelona. With 10 of us travelling together, we would of had to have at least 4 rooms - maybe even 5 rooms (depending on triples available). This way we only have to have two reservations. We are staying at the Aura Park Aparthotel. The rate is less than $100 per night per room - one which sleeps 6 and the other 4. I think it's a great deal. The reviews look good on Tripadvisor. It is really close to the subway and train lines so getting in and out of Barcelona should not be a problem. And it is close to a shopping centre and grocery store. It also has a pool on the roof! (We are also staying at this hotel for one night after the cruise)

I think we might head back to the Dancing Fountains that night....but during the day I don't know.

In 2010 we did the HOHO bus and the subway pass....we saw the sites but it was Hot and almost uncomfortable. We also went to Gaudi's Park (Park Guell) and the Acquarium with a DCL excursion. I also took the boys up to the amusement park on top of the mountain behind Barcelona which they LOVED!!!! And the view is amazing.

My eldest son wants to back to Tibadabo(the amusement park) and my brother wants to see the stadium where the football team plays. I also thought about taking them to the cathedral -- but the lines were soooooo long - I don't know if it is worth it.

Maybe, we'll just do the beach.

Any suggestions on a one day visit to Barcelona where 3 people (and a baby) haven't seen the city and 6 have? Hmmmm

Oh - I forgot to mention - I have cars booked for everyone - there are three different arrival times at the airport -- so I need three cars to bring to the hotel. And then i need one large van to pick us all up and bring us to the port (and then two car booked for the return). I am using Autos Vilar - they were fabulous last time in 2011 and I trust them 100% this time.....and the price isn't so bad either :-).

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:53 PM

We arrive in Villefranche on Fete Nationale (Bastille Day). It should be very exciting. The last time I was in France on July 14th, I was only 9 years old so I am hoping this will be a real treat.

We have absolutely nothing planned officially for today.

In 2011, when we went to Villefranche my mum took us to Monaco on a private tour. It was her birthday that day and that is what she wanted to see. We used a company called Riviera Premium Tours - and they were fabulous. Anthony even mailed my son's glasses first class after he left them in the van without extra charge or hesitation. Anyway, this time round, no one seems excited about going into Monaco - maybe because it is our first day on the ship or maybe because it is Bastille Day - I don't know why.

So, I have organized a little hike around Cape Ferat - which is a very affluent peninsula of land next to Villefranche where many rich people have bought homes who haven't been able to get citizenship or land in Monaco. It has a great walking trail and I think something fun for the girls to do in the morning...Here is a little write up on it:

"The coastal path in Saint Jean Cape Ferratfollows the limestone cliffs which protected the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula in the olden days. The lighthouse was built in 1827 but was destroyed in 1944 in the Second World War before being rebuilt in 1951. The hike starts in Saint-Jean, a lovely little town which started as a small fishing port but has now become a tourist resort. The walk skirts the whole peninsula and ends back at the town beach. Youll love the wildness of the coast which is only really interrupted by the Cap Ferrat hotel, although it is pretty discreet. While youre trekking, watch out for divers in search of underwater wonders in the sparkling waters and the fishermen patiently waiting for their big catch!"

The hike/walk will probably take us about 3 hours. We might walk out to Saint Jean but take the bus back. I found a good guide that talks about the bus routes - I think it would be easier to walk down the hill from the bus terminal rather than walk up the hill. I remember from last time we were there that the hill was quiet steep.

I think after our hike we will tender back to the ship - have lunch - and then pick up the boys. From there we will go and explore what Villefranche has to offer and see if there is any military parades or celebrations going on that day. I have my eye out on the town's website because it seems pretty good in listing events that are going on.

Fireworks are a big think on Fete Nationale, but my guess is that we will have departed and be long past France by the time the fireworks start.

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:54 PM

La Spezia
La Spezia planning has been the longest to come together. We were in La Spezia in 2011 and went to Pisa on our own and DH & DS climbed the tour -the rest of us wandered the area around the Tower and then headed back to the ship

This time around I really wanted to do something different. I wanted to go to Cinque Terre and take a private boat tour. I had even decided which one I wanted to do:


My youngest son is obsessed with the Tower of Pisa - I think I have heard about the Leaning Tower of Pisa every week since he was there in 2011 (he had just turned 2 then). He tells everyone the story about running around the tower at the bottom, with mum chasing him, while my DH & DS were on the 2nd top level. He continuously talks about going back and getting a new statue for his room of the Tower. And then when I asked my friends daughter what was the one thing she wanted to see - it was the TOWER. Now there is no way I can squeeze in the Tower and my Cinque Terre I capitulated - I gave in - we'll go see the tower. Now I know from last time round in cost about 20 Euros each for the return train and 18 Euros for those who climbed the tower and about 2 Euros for the bus. So doing it on our own was a lot cheaper (especially with 10 of us) than going with DCL. It wasn't that difficult to do last time - just a little long in my opinion - and hot.

DH told me that he wasn't up for the crazy schedule of our last cruise. (It was 7-days of ports all day long with only one at-sea day). So I promised him, he didn't have to go to every port this time especially if he had done it before. He was okay with going back to Pisa if DS-4 wanted him to go but what he really wanted was to sit down as a family and have an authentic Italian meal.

This got me to thinking maybe we could combine a nice meal in La Spezia with a trip to Pisa....that turned into could we have the kids make pizza (like they did on our previous Naples DCL excursion in the restaurant) at the restaurant....that turned into finding a cooking place in La Spezia....which finally turned into a full-on Tuscany Farm Cooking experience with a side-tour of Pisa.

Why the changing thoughts - I couldn't find anywhere close to La Spezia that would return my emails....and then others were so expensive that it would price us completely out. And no matter what I did, I had to try and include enough time in Pisa to allow for a climb. I also thought about the DCL cooking excursion, but everywhere I read - this one was booked at the Platinum/gold level - so we would never get the chance to do it - and besides the cost was $400+ each and was for 18 years and old...

So in the end....I am really really happy. I have ended up booking a full day excursion - all transportation, cooking class (with lunch & wine) and a trip to Pisa with Arianna & Friends ( She has sent us a menu to choose our items to cook (and included pizza for the kids as well). It is on a Tuscan farm and looks fabulous. This has now turned into my favourite excursion....

I think we have our items narrowed down - I'll update later when they are finalized. I have to get 10 people to agree - so you know how many times the menu can change :goodvibes

We haven't told the kids the cooking part - we are keeping it a surprise. They know everything else so it will be something to keep them guessing.

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:55 PM

I have been to Rome twice before this upcoming trip - only 2 of our party of 10 hadn't been before - so I really didn't know what to do.

I will tell you that our experience with the actual Port of Civitavecchia was not fun last time. And I said up front that I am not doing this port on our own again this time.

In 2011 the only reason we ended up on our own was because all the excursions we wanted were sold out by the time our booking slot opened up - so I had to come up with a different plan. Last time we prebooked Vatican tickets and a walking tour in the afternoon (and caught the train both ways). This time I was adamant - it was either DCL or a full private tour with pick up and drop off at the ship.

[Last time we ended up walking over 1 1/2 hours through the actual port itself to the Magic because the port was soooooo busy, no shuttles would take us to our ship - it was disastrous]

Anyway, we went thought the DCL excursions, and hummed and hawed...and thought some more. I can't say Rome is my favourite place although I love history. I think the problem is that there is so much to see it is really rushed to try and fit it all into one day - especially the Vatican and the antiquities. So the only person who REALLY wanted to see Rome was my friend's daughter so I sat down with her and went through all of the things to see and do in Rome and she prioritized her list. Her main things were the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. And she wanted to see St. Peter's Basilica but didn't really want to go inside.

She liked some of the DCL excursions, but couldn't find one (especially with the minimal descriptions) that covered off her list.

So I started looking to see if there were any decent private tours that were comparable in price to DCL for two people (me and a 15 year old girl). I know EVERYONE uses Rome in Limo. But I like the use of tour guides that are accredited. But I know that comes with a price.

Anyway, in the end I ended up booking Rudy's Touring Service. I think I got lucky. The price is good, he has excellent reviews, and has been very helpful in coming up with a suggested list of things to see (especially if we skip the Vatican). And the price was the same whether there were 2 of us or 7. So, my mum and dad want to come now, and since my DS-3 (who will be four on the trip) is always talking about going in the broken building with the fighters (aka Colosseum) I think we will bring him....that leaves two more seats for anyone else in our party to change their minds.

Maybe after this trip my view of this port will change - I am leaving my mind open:cool1:

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:56 PM

Athens is the major reason why we booked this trip.

I am the only one if our party of 10 that has been to Greece before. My Dad wrote his final paper for graduating his military school on Ancient Greece but he has never been. He retires this year, and although he travels all over the world with his work, he has never been to Athens. This is his special trip - something he has always wanted. And it is even more special because the entire family will be there with him.

It was really important to me that we get the best of the best tour guide for him during this stop. Unlike the prior ports, DCL didn't post the excursions for this port until about 4 weeks ago - so we really didn't know what they were going to offer. But I also didn't want to wait and lose out on a great tour guide. So I went for it. I researched, and researched and researched. I can tell you that a lot of people use drivers as guides and hire proper guides at the specific sites. I didn't want this I wanted a driver full time and a guide full time.

I ended up finding a guide, Anna Benaki, that I liked and contacted her to see if she could arrange the car.

She booked us a 17-seater with driver (because it was the same price as a 10-seater) and just in case we added anyone along the way.

She seems really excited about our tour and is thrilled that we want to go to the museum (not just the acropolis). She can't wait to show us her country. And I can't wait to meet her.

All 10 of us are going (including the 1-year old) so it should be a great day. Now DH and my friends' daughter are not adventurous eaters so I can't wait for them to try out authentic Greek food.

I do have to tell you that when DCL released their Athens excursions I was impressed - there are some great sounding trips. I can't wait to get back on the ship and compare days with everyone. I think that this will be one day when the Magic will be pretty empty during the day.

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:56 PM

Turkey I cant wait.

Now I have been to Turkey several times. And I have to tell you that I love Turkey. I cant wait to show my family Turkey yes its only Kusadasi but it is a great introduction that is where I first started.

[OFF TOPIC but I have to tell the story, because I laugh about it now. I went to Kusadasi in my Grade 8 year with school. My brother collected keychains (he would have been 11 years old) - so everywhere I visited I brought a keychain home as a souvenir for him. In Kusadasi, I picked him up a keychain from a local tourist store just a short walk from the port. There weren't any touristy keychains that said Kusadasi or anything on it so I picked him one with two silver people on it. Thought nothing else of it. When I got home, I game my 11 year old brother a keychain of a man and a women that was anatomically correct with strategically placed holes. Needless to say my parents were none-to-impressed and we never saw the keychain again. All I can do is laugh about it now. And Ill make sure to check any goods that my 15 year old friends daughter buys for her little sister!)]

If I was to say anything about Turkey is that I love the food (kebabs who doesnt love kebabs) and I love the shopping. I especially love the bazaars and bartering. I think the first time I was there I took any price offered to me, but now I love to hunt down the best deal. The handicrafts are beautiful including pottery, iron work, carvings (wood & stone). I tell everyone not to be be put off by the carpet sellers stories Turkey has some other great things to offer. I have to tell you that the scarves are beautiful as well. And as a confession, I have used many of them as tablecloths as they are so ornate and look beautiful as an overlay. I think everyone ends up coming back with Turkish delight as well take my advice if you go to buy Turkish delight do NOT buy the stuff in the box (very stale and untasteful) buy the fresh stuff from the big bins at the market.

Turkey though can be a little overwhelming to some first time visitors. Now if you are at all proportioned like me - ( do I put it...well-endowed with a healthy hourglass) with a fair complexion and blond hair - the men can be a little intimidating. For some reason in the past I have garnered a fair amount of attention in countries like Turkey, Egypt, Morocco. So I have to say that I am somewhat use to it now and I have always made sure not to wander away from my group and to stick with a male and I have always worn appropriate attire. Now, all this being said, there are many women who have no trouble at all I really think it is just my type.

Anyway, I digress....

Kusadasi is a strange little place. Its a mix of ruins, touristy stuff, Christianity, bazaars, - its everything all rolled into one. If I had my true first choice it would be to find a way to get to Pamukkale Springs (about 250km away) just because I have always seen the pictures and I have never been able to go!!! (There and Cappadochia are on my list to see). But I think we will stick to the tried and true Virgin Marys House (just because you gotta say you went), Ephesus, a Turkish lunch and the bazaar. And you are probably going to laugh but a carpet tour (Ill come back to this one later).

My experience is that Turkey is cheap the tours are cheap, the food is cheap, souvenirs are cheap. Everything is cheaper so this is a good place to save a little money on the budget but get to see everything you want. And also dont forget Turks are use to you haggling so you can always ask for a better price. So a private tour here is not going to break the bank.

I read through a million cruise critic and tripadvisor reviews. I read the good, the bad and the ugly. I chose my top 5 tour groups and then went and priced them out. I ended up going with Ekol Travel. Why? The reviews were good and the price was good&.especially because if you keep checking out their website they have sales on excursions! I got my excursion for 50% off the listed price.

Yes, there will be a carpet tour. There is always a carpet tour even DCL has the carpet stop on their excursions. I have done quite a few carpet tours, pottery tours, leather tours, jewelry tours, perfume tours, furniture tour, carving tours, etc (all the different tourist tours you get roped into in different countries). My first carpet tour, I was aghast now I actually dont mind them. I dont buy a carpet I have never bought a carpet but I enjoy the Turkish coffee (or sometimes even Coke) and I love seeing the beautiful work. I am always upfront that we arent buying, and yes, I have heard every sales tactic in the world. No, I dont want it shipped home tax free, no I am not interested. But I can tell you that on most of my trips I always remember these visits in a good way (they dont frustrate me) and I think the kids might get a kick out of it and maybe even learn something about how the carpet is made. I am respectful for these visits because I understand this is how most of these guides make their money.

Anyway...Turkey has me on a roll..

I have to tell you my favourite thing in Turkey of all times. A private Turkish Bath. AHHHHHH I love them. I wont have time this visit if I am going to all the sites...but I dream of Turkish baths!

Here are some hints my travel agent suggested.

Make sure to bring little bottles to fill up while at the special springs at the Virgin Marys home. The water is considered to be holy and many people collect it. Also make sure you bring paper & pen to write your wishes as well at the Virgin Marys home for the wishing wall.

Ephesus is hot!!! Make sure you have water, sunscreen and hats with you.

Bring small bills for the bazaar you dont want to break a $100 USD and end up with a whole lot of Turkish Lire!!!

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:57 PM

I have never been to Mykonos nor has anyone in my party. I really don’t know what to do here. I don’t have anything planned. I have been thinking about going over to Delos (probably just me and my dad). I don’t know if it is because I feel like I need to plan something because of my need to have all my ducks in a row or because I feel like it would be a waste to go somewhere and not see everything I can. Maybe, I need to take my DH advise and just “don’t worry about doing everything”.

I have been reading the June Greek Cruise Meet thread and I see that the DCL Delos trip is SOLD OUT at the Gold Level – we are silver so probably no chance to get on the DCL trip – which is reasonably priced and I wouldn’t mind doing.

We could easily do it on our own though – there are three ferries a day (all in the morning) and wander the island ourselves. I think I saw a sign that says the day is about €18 with a return trip for the ferry.

“From Mykonos to Delos on: 09.00 10:00 a.m. 11:00 a.m. Back from Delos to:12.15 13.30 15.00 (daily except Monday) The ticket price is 12.50 euros including return, and can be purchased from travel agents and the kiosk outside of these ships. The entrance to the archaeological site costs EUR 5.”

If I was without the kids, I think I would take advantage of the private beach at St. John’s Resort. For €30 they pick you up and drop you off at the ship and you get a full day at their Resort – and it looks absolutely spectacular.

Anyway….what to do???

I really like Tom’s port guide for Mykonos though…..good directions on how to get to the Pelican and Windmills which is a must see for sure.

Anybody know what DCL is doing about the shuttle from the Dock to the town? – it is not listed as an excursion option (like other cruise lines do for $10 pp). Any chance they will include it in the price? Or will we have to pay individually the day of?:confused3

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:58 PM

I think Malta is one of those places that I could come up with 10 days full of different things to do. I was really surprised when researching how many things there was to do there.

As a history buff, there were some pretty exciting ancient sites I would like to see. But as a mum, I knew that after all the "rocks" and "broken buildings" over the past few ports that I had to give the kids a day that they got to choose the sites/excursions.

I came up with a pretty decent list. Everything from panning for salt, Water parks, Popeye's village, beaches, Zoo, ancient caves, you name it - I had it on the list. The one thing I didn't come up with was fishing. Yes fishing. We live on an island in the north atlantic where everyone fishes (or has a relative to fish) so I really didn't think fishing was something that the kids wanted to do while on vacation. But ask the kids what they wanted to do.... and they wanted to go fishing.:confused3

And fishing only went way up on the list when they realized they could fish for barracuda's and parrot fish...amongst a million other types. So back to the research I went. I found a company that specialized in family fishing and took a leap and booked it. The kids are SOOO excited. And to tell you the truth - so is my DH and brother. 6 of us are fishing (3 kids, myself, DH & brother)

I can't wait to report back on what they caught - pictures and everything.pirate:

The day is topped off with a trip to the Playmobil factory. One of the only toy factories in the world not located in China. The younger ones are going to stay and play in the playzone and the older kids are going for a tour.

We aren't going to get to see much of Valetta but I think we are going to have a fun day.:cheer2:

My mum and dad couldn't decide what to do - so they are going to take the HOHO bus around the island.

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:59 PM

At Sea
Hold for Ship stuff

Newfoundland Sailor 03-10-2013 04:59 PM

Barcelona and home
Hold for Barcelona and heading back home

Newfoundland Sailor 03-11-2013 11:46 AM

Gotta do.....
Things I have to figure out:

- Birthday cakes
- 2 sets of Fish Extender gifts
- Wine Package?
- Birthday Decorations????
- Rain Forest Passes - buy singles or wait and get a full pass when onboard???
- Arrival gifts for the 4 kids  maybe get something ordered from The Disney Store UK?
- Get a European SIM card  order through Tesco?
- Beer Mugs
- Fridge for Medicine & Needle disposal

What else????? :rolleyes1

Newfoundland Sailor 03-12-2013 09:37 AM

PIF day
I just sent off all the information to the travel agent to Pay us off in Full...PIF day for me today :banana:

Just patiently waiting to make sure everything went through properly.

I gotta ask myself - why does the CND $ always go down just before I PIF -- it did last time too. What a difference a couple of % makes to your payment - this time around it would have been 12 days of gratuities!

Oh well....

wiigirl 03-12-2013 09:46 AM

In for your PTR! :thumbsup2

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