Friday, November 21, 2008

Cairo and Giza - Egypt

Well for us this port of call was the most important, seeing the great pyramids. The ship docked in Port Said which is a 3 hour drive from Cairo. We booked a ship's tour which included motor coach transport to Cairo, a visit to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, a visit to the Pyramids and the Sphinx.

We got up at 0500 and had to meet at 0630 in the Casino to go to our bus. Believe it or not there were 120 motor coaches going on this tour on this day so a logistical nightmare for the ship, the port and the Egyptian authorities. They value tourism as a natural resource and it is extremely important to them as a source of income for the national economy so when you have 120 tour buses travelling in motorcade for 3 hours to Cairo, the military escort the motorcade all the way. Seeing people with machine guns was a little frightening but apparently it was for our safety.

We waited on board our bus for what seemed like ages (1 hour) so that all the 120 buses could be loaded as they all had to travel together.

We travelled for 3 hours to Cairo with very little air conditioning so it was hot and uncomfortable. Princess insists on air conditioned coaches and inspects them all prior to departure when our driver had it on but during the trip he turned it off, probably to conserve fuel. We were then told not to use toilet paper in the on board toilet and it did not flush so take a guess what that meant - cross your legs!!

We got to Cairo finally and arrived at the Museum. Imagine over 1000 people converging on the museum at once plus the people who were already there!! Anyway we had around 45 minutes in the museum and we were rushed through it with our guide yelling, "faster, faster", Imagine all these elderly people (most of the passengers on this trip are retired, there are some younger people but not many for this itinerary) trying to scurry around. Anyway we saw very little. We did manage to get a glimpse of Tutankhamen's famous gold mask that was found in his tomb along with many other treasures. His mask is made of solid gold and weighs over 11kg. I would show you a photo but that was not allowed.

After the museum we went to lunch at the Intercontinental Hotel were they put on a huge buffet for all 120 coach loads of passengers in their banquet room. Of course we were warned about eating/drinking certain things in Egypt as you can get sick not being used to their water etc. Last cruise apparently over 400 passengers got sick. You ask me why? If you saw the rubbish in the Nile you would understand. The Nile is the lifeline, no other source of fresh water around and it is polluted, dirty and even has sewage in it!! Imagine washing you veggies in it!!

Anyway we stayed away from certain foods and still had a nice lunch. Then rush rush to the next location, Giza for the Pyramids. We crossed the Nile to go to the Giza area which believe it or not is just on the outskirts of Cairo. You don't see that in the movies!!

We had 30 minutes at the Pyramids and between walking to and from them, we had a few minutes only to get pictures, another disappointment about this tour.

The Egyptian hawkers are really pushy. They make it really difficult to enjoy the place.

The sandstorm made these photos a little odd but we can still prove we went there!!!!

We then all piled in to the 120 coaches and set back for Port Said another 3.5 hours away with no air conditioning and no toilet!!

All the buses arrived at the port at around 2000 and the ship and port authority did little to arrange our re-entry, it was a free for all with 1000+ passengers trying to get through gates and into the ship. There was only chaos and we had to pick Michael up or he would have got trampled. Everyone was very tired by this stage, a 12+ hour tour!!

It was a real pity by my view of it all was that the tour company was far too ambitious to fit all this in one day and the result was a very rushed, uncomfortable tour. We went, we took our photos and left but had little time to soak it all in. The next day the line at the complaints desk on the ship was very long needless to say!!

The next day we visited Alexandria also in Egypt. A very important city if you are a history buff. This is where Cleopatra and Mark Anthony spent a lot of time, a very important port, the biggest for Egypt (excluding trade through the Suez Canal).

We loved the Pyramids and Sphinx, pity for the lack of time.

Egyptian Vodafone

Egyptian KFC

Mykonos - Greece

We visited Mykonos on a half day visit. I had not booked any ship tours because we decided to go ashore on our own.

We went ashore and took a shuttle bus to the main part of town.

Mykonos is a very famous Greek Island. It is made of granite and all the homes are painted white with blue or red shutters. This is what you typically see in paintings and postcards of Greece, very different to Athens and the mainland.

This place is truly unique, with tiny streets and walking areas, it is a place where progress seems to have missed. No typically evident things like satellite dishes or other modern things, whilst I am sure they have them, they have been very good at hiding these from tourists so as not to spoil the impression of this island.

What a lovely place.

More Ambulances - not again!!

Turkish ambulance

Egyptian ambulance


We visited Istanbul in another port visit. Istanbul did not originally appeal to me so I had not booked any shore tours but when we arrived we decided at the last minute to join a tour. We went around the city in a tour bus and also visited a massive mosque. I am glad we did it because I learned a little about Turkey that I did not know. Our bank manager is certainly glad we did it because we bought a pure wool Turkish carpet for over Us$2000, that was an expensive tour.

It was also interesting because it was called "Easy Istanbul - Spanning Two Continents" because half of the city is in Europe and half in Asia. So on this trip we have covered three continents Europe, Asia and Africa!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grand Princess - Life on Board

For those who are considering cruising, this is the life!

Wake up when you want, or if you have an early tour, get a wake up call! We booked all our tours in the afternoon that way we had plenty of time to get organised in the morning.

We go to breakfast to Horizon Court, the on board 24 hour buffet. The selection is great, cooked breakfast, freshly baked pastries, breads, jams, muffins, fruit galore - it is a paradise of food selection for any taste.

After breakfast we would take Michael to Kid's Club (more on that in another post) which he absolutely loves, then go to the Grand Atrium coffee lounge and get a Capuccino. I bought a Coffee Card on board which gives you discount on coffee, hot chocolate and espresso whilst on board. Remember that drinks and real coffee are not free. After the coffee fix it would generally leave us time to go for a walk, check out the photo board or sit in a lounge and just relax.

The photo boards are good to look at. The ship employs photographers/videographers who go along on tours, take photos at dinner, do formal portrait photos and theme photos. Then each day the photos of everyone are put on the boards, you can then select any you want to buy. They also use the video they shoot to create a cruise DVD that you can buy at the end of the cruise with all the ports of call, special ship events, and lots more.

We had a family formal photo done on formal night when we were all dressed up and purchased the photo. For US$260 we are also getting a canvas print of it in a huge size framed and shipped directly to our home. Even in AU$ we would not get that for the same price. It was a good opportunity to get a family portrait because we would never get around to it once we got home.

Lunches are served in all the dining rooms (there are three main dining rooms), the buffet, the Pizzeria and the Grill. Lots of choice for everyone whether you want a light lunch or a big sit down affair.

After lunch on a sea day, we have had the choice of movies in the theatre, trivia, wine tasting, shopping on board and much more. Princess is good at their sales. They have jewellers, clothes, perfumes, and much more on board. They time their sales well with sea days and they hold the sales in Grand Atrium or in one of the dining rooms. The prices are tax and duty free and heavily discounted at times. Some stuff is junk but lots of good opportunities for good gifts. They had my Guess handbags and Svarovsky jewellery, watches (which I bought many of) and of course lots of trinkets and cruise junk but must haves!!!

Money on board. When on board a cruise, all transactions are cashless. When you get on board they give you a cruise card which is your stateroom door card, ID for getting on and off ship and your method of payment for those items which are not included in the cruise fare. Great not to have to carry money around!

Don't get me wrong, a lot of stuff is included in the fare:

  • Accommodation

  • Gym facilities

  • Pools and all lounges

  • All shows and entertainment

  • Food in all dining rooms, dining areas except two alternative dining areas (the Steakhouse and the Italian restaurant but here you pay a $20 cover charge only)

  • The ice cream parlour is also extra

  • The Lotus Spa is extra for hair and beauty appointments as you would ashore

  • Room service

Really the only extras are:

  • Drinks

  • Shopping

  • Tours if you book any

Other special things on board are:

The Princess Patter - this is the daily ship newsletter, every cruise line has one. Each night you receive one in your stateroom and it has all the activities for the next day on it. It includes shows, games, movies, weather, sales etc. It is a lot of fun to look at each night and plan out your next day. Michael even gets one for the Kid's Club and he loves reading it to find out what he is going to do each day.


There are many dining options on the ship. When you book your cruise with Princess they ask you if you want traditional fixed dining or Anytime Dining. Traditional is a set time each night at the same restaurant, same table, same people. Anytime is basically just that, you turn up anytime and have dinner. If they have no places at that time, they give you a pager and page you when a table opens up. This has only happened to us once so we went to a bar to get a drink and I did not even get to finish it because they paged us so quickly. We love anytime dining. It is good because you do not have to worry about what time your tour gets back or if you want to have a later dinner, you can.

The alternative restaurants like the steakhouse and Italian restaurant are good too but you need to book there to get a table. They charge a cover charge of $20 but it is really good value and the food is great. The cost covers entree, main and dessert a la carte.

Kids are not forgotten either. There is a kids menu and there is always the grill or the pizzeria!!

More next post

Athens - Greece

Another important Port of Call on this trip was the visit to Athens. Athens, the centre of the ancient Greek empire, was the centre of the ancient world after Rome. If you ask the Greeks, Rome was second to them!!

We took a ship's tour again in this port that covered the city of Athens and the Acropolis. After a coach tour of the city, we headed up to the Acropolis. Acropolis is the term used for the entire area on the mountain that includes the Parthenon and other monuments. From the mountain top we could see the whole city which is probably why the ancient Greeks built it there, it was a fortress.

Michael behaved very badly as by this point in our trip, he was getting toured out. No more ruins he kept saying. At this point we started to consider the suggestion that he stay in the kids club whilst we went ashore which he wanted to do.
Anyhow, we went, we saw and we were there!! Seemed like the top of the world, and it was for the Greeks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

First Port of Call - Naples for our visit to Pompeii

After boarding the ship on Sunday, we got settled in and the very next day the ship was alongside in Naples Italy. This was a good stop for us because we were looking forward to seeing Pompeii. A once in a lifetime experience to see a city frozen in time after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. Pompeii was roman installation and looks similar to the others we have seen so far. All the towns had similar characteristics, a theatre, baths, public piazzas, shopping areas and wide streets and of course a very important thing, underground plumbing!!

We went on a Princess arranged tour with an English speaking guide so we did not have to do anything. This time it was me getting on a tour bus outside the port terminal instead of watching passengers at Outer Harbor do it as I have always done. It is nice to be on the other side for a change and to see how the different ports operate their terminals/embarkation points.

When we arrived in Naples by bus it was hard not to notice the mighty Mount Vesuvius towering over town still so dangerously close for an active volcano that is likely to erupt again. This monster must have instilled some fear in the inhabitants of Pompeii back in the day when they hear the mountain rumbling. Believe it or not they left their city for days and after the rumbling and trembling stopped, they returned only to be sitting ducks for the explosion of deadly gas and ash that they had no idea was to follow. This eruption preserved life at a moment in time like no other. We had a perception though that our tour of the city would show the people in their homes preserved at that moment in time but unfortunately, in order to preserve them forever, the people have been removed from their original place and placed in a central viewing area as well as artifacts like pots, plates etc. This was probably our only disappointment. The city is huge as it used to have 20,000 inhabitants.

A funny thing we walked through was a two storey brothel. In those days many foreign merchants would come to Pompeii to sell/buy products and of course they would visit the brothel. Because of the language barrier, the locals depicted pictures of certain "services" as a catalogue on the walls of the brothel so that foreign visitors could just point to the service of their choice. Apparently they were a very open civilisation when it came to these things.

See the anguish on the face of this person, quite chilling.
Next post, Athens Greece

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Grand Princess - More photos!!

This ship is amazing in size. We still get lost and the public areas are huge. It hardly seems like being on a ship. The ship just glides on the water and it is so easy just to relax on board.
There are so many things to do, Broadway shows, movies, wine tasting, card games, trivia, bingo, sales at the shops, Internet cafe and Internet access in our suite!
Here are some more photos of some of the public areas:

The Princess Theatre - this is where they have Broadway shows, concerts etc. It would probably seat 2000 people. Amazing! With the intensive port visits, they also use this theatre for port lectures where you can learn about the upcoming ports, what to see, what to buy, what not to do. Today we attended one for our Egypt visit, a very important one if we do not want to get sick after this visit. They also use this theatre for movies and live shows.

Another show lounge below "The Vista Lounge". Use for live shows, more movies etc.

The Explorer's Bar- a quiet place to sit and relax.
Live bands, trivia and games are held here.

This is the Lido deck and the main open air pool. They have a massive TV screen here which runs day and night. They show movies here as well at night time "Movies Under the Stars" is cool, they serve popcorn and you get a blanket and lie on a deck chair!

Also on the Lido deck is this undercover pool. In total I have counted 7 pools I think as well as a kids pool.

Mini golf above plus there is a tennis court, table tennis and many other sporting activities.

Next post, Pompeii and also more on the ship!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cruise Day! Yippee - Grand Princess 14 night Mediterranean cruise

We boarded Grand Princess on the 10th of November. I was dreading the boarding since our experience boarding Pacific Star in Brisbane. There we lined up for 3 hours in the hot sun dragging our luggage all the way.

On this day we had our driver from RomeCabs collect us at 1100 to go to Civitavecchia, Rome's port. It takes about one hour to get there so we thought this would be good since boarding commenced at 1200. The brochure said, board after 1300 for a faster check in.
Anyway we go there at 1230 and as we got out of the car, a port worker took our luggage straight to the ship, we did not see it again until it arrived in our mini suite later that day. We then went to check in. We lined up for no longer than 20 minutes, got our cruise cards, and were on board in 30 minutes flat. How great was that! It does not have to be complicated, maybe the Brisbane port should take some hints from these guys.

Grand Princess is truly a grand ship. Built 10 years ago it was Princess' flagship and still is. It is 109000 gross tonnes and is like a massive floating palace. You can hardly believe you are on a ship. Every space looks huge and although there are near 4000 people on board including crew, you could never tell.

Above the Grand Atrium

Below are shots of our mini suite

Next post, more on Grand Princess - public areas etc

Back in Rome - on the Hop On Hop Off Bus

We returned to Rome from Sardinia and had a day and a half before leaving for our ship.
We spent half a day walking around Rome again and saw more of the same sights. We ate out for lunch and dinner and sampled the local food. It’s hard being a tourist you know….
I had to re pack the suitcases because after being overloaded in Sardinia, I had to pay 180EU for excess baggage and we nearly did not get the suitcases on the flight. I am surely going to have to do something with all this stuff before we leave for Australia.
We took the Hop on Hop Off bus around Rome for a whole day. All the big cities have these, you pay your fare for a day or two days and you get to hop on and off as many times as you want and the bus goes to all the major sights and leaves every 15 minutes so it is a great system. On board you have earphones you can plug in for commentary in any language and the attendant speaks English too. Michael was so excited to go up to the top deck “al fresco” style.

We went all the way to the Vatican and checked things out there before having lunch. We arrived there on a Sunday at around 1130 just after mass had finished, the Pope had just given his sermon and a sea of people were returning from St Peter’s Basilica. The photo may not show you well but it was overwhelming to see all the people.
We took some snaps there but did not visit the monument as we have a booking in a few weeks to visit the Vatican museum including the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo. We got some good shots from the outside of the Basilica. One tip: eating near the Vatican is very expensive. We had lunch in a restaurant and we would have paid 70EU elsewhere, but here we paid 118EU. In our currency it is double because we are only getting 50 cents for our dollar so that was an expensive lunch!!!!
Talk about expensive, I will have to tell you the story about our $2500 internet with Telstra! Maybe next post. That will explain why the blog had no new posts for a few days last week.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Our Visit to the ancient Roman ruins of Nora, near Cagliari, Sardinia

On our guided tour of Cagliari, we visited the ruins of Nora an ancient roman city near Cagliari.
This city is still half under water and half still remains to be excavated.
The ruins are 3000 years old and whilst many of the walls are only a few rows of bricks high, you can see how these people lived and ran their lives.
The Romans were smart people... even 3000 years ago they had plumbing, heating and had devised many things that even in the most recent centuries have not been made available to developing countries.
I have put together a small slide show of some of our shots of these ruins. Later in our trip we visit Pompeii which was also a Roman city (as you all know it was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius). Pompeii is of course far better preserved due to the volcanic ash but you will see the similarities.

Michael said "Oh no, not another ruin!" but he managed to get through this tour OK.

Next post, more about our time in Rome then our embarkation on the lovely "Grand Princess

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Our last week in Sardinia

Well the last few days in Sardinia were a mad rush between seeing all our relatives and organizing everything for the next part of the trip.

We spent a day in Cagliari with an English speaking guide, kindly arranged by our cousin Graziella. This guide spent the whole day with us alone. We drove to Cagliari were we went on foot through the historic part of the city. Cagliari was built on the port as most Italian cities were and has thousands of years of history. Like most, it was built with city walls and a fortress high up on the hill to look out for invaders.

We took some fantastic panoramic shots from the top of the hill.We visited the Cathedral and saw some beautiful architecture.

We also visited Nora an ancient roman installation which still shows remains today.
I will write a separate post on this one, lots to tell!

We spent time with most relatives and took some shots for Michael to remember his time with his cousins.

More photos to come….
Next post, more on Rome and then our boarding of Grand Princess!