Katie & Marcello wanted to do something special for their anniversary – something not only memorable but that covered multiple incredible destinations. We knew the perfect way for them to maximize their time (and experiences) in the Mediterranean was to take a cruise. And they had a blast! Here is their trip report and top tips from each port:
Getting to and on the boat [The NCL Dawn] was very easy! We arrived about 1.5 hours early and they checked us in early and we were one of the first on! The club balcony suite was very spacious with a great bathroom but the ship overall is slightly dated. The best meals we had on the ship were La Cucina, Cagneys steakhouse, teppanyaki and Moderno (probably in that order). We loved the cruise experience, especially the staff. We’ve been on many Royal Caribbean cruises and in comparison we think the food and drinks are much better on Norwegian but the entertainment is better with Royal.
As for the ports. In Crete we did not make plans and did the hop on hop off when we got there which was the best choice. We hopped off at Knossos which is where all of the cruise excursion buses were and we did not pay nearly as much as they did. Knossos was amazing to see and read about. Then we walked a few minutes to a restaurant Pasiphae which was just far enough away from tourists to feel local and had a delicious and authentic Greek lunch! We bought a combo ticket at Knossos so hopped back on the bus to the architectural museum and were able to skip that line and see amazing artifacts that were often hard to wrap our heads around. A great stop! Then back on the bus to the boat.
Tip: Caution here that the late hop-on bus seemed to be around 430 pm so watch for times.
Santorini & Mykonos
We tendered for Santorini and also did not have formal plans. When we arrived the line for the cable car up the cliff was extremely long but well worth the wait. Walking up the steps should not even be considered an option and we did not support the donkey option.
Once at the top, it’s pretty hard to navigate with tiny streets at different levels but we found a spot called Rastoni and it was one of the best meals of the trip. We did some walking and shopping and I had previously booked a sunset table online at one of the bars which was the right move because it gets very busy at sunset. It was Pk Cocktails which had a gorgeous view but meh drinks.
[Photo Credit: Andrea via Shared Adventures – read about their Greece & London adventure here!]
Then back to the ship but the line for the cable car was over 3 hours so we had no choice but to walk.
Tip: Walking down the stairs was not bad at all however it is very steep, slippery, and covered in donkey poop. Well gripped shoes are a must and I can’t imagine how slippery it must be in the rain.
Next was Mykonos where it was very easy to walk into town do some shopping and grab a bite to eat. Nothing overly recommended for us but everything we saw was great
Stop in Athens
I had booked a tour of Athens through Viator (Athens city highlights half day private tour) for only $200 and we had a private guide pick us up at the port and bring us to the Acropolis, Olympic stadium, changing of the guard and he even stopped and got us baklava. It was well worth the money for his stories and insights into the city. It was nice not feeling like one of 100 people on a large tour.
Tip: Highly recommend a tour for Athens. There also isn’t much to do directly near the port so some kind of transportation is necessary
Final Greek Stop: Corfu
I did something similar in Corfu through Viator (taste of Corfu private tour) for $270 which also had a private driver and we stopped at a very local olive oil and wine producer where we were the only ones there and had a private full tasting of everything they made. We went to a beautiful garden monastery and then to a beach where we took an almost private boat ride through caves and watched the sunset. This was many people’s least favorite port because without a plan there isn’t much to do but we had an amazing day.
[Photo Credit: Eberhard Grossgasteiger via Unsplash]
Tip: The boat ride through the caves was the most memorable and difficult to get to without a guide like we had. A tour like this is most recommended for Corfu.
Cruise to Naples
In Naples, I chose a food tour through Viator (the 10 tastings of Naples with locals) which was a private tour that I might not recommend. The guide was lovely and we ate some great food but we walked much more than expected and I wasn’t sure we received all the stops we were supposed to. We saw a lot of the city which was nice but I’m not sure I would do it again. Naples is all about food and it’s such a big city that some type of navigator is preferred but maybe not this one. The city is very close to the port so transportation is not needed.
Florence & Pisa
Florence/Pisa was our only ship shore excursion and it was amazing. It was a very large group (almost 100) but it was okay for what we were doing. We chose Pisa and taste of Tuscany for $250pp. The price was steep for what you got but it was a fun day.
They took us to Pisa to explore the monuments and shop and the guide was really great. Then to a Tuscan winery to see the vineyards, try all the wines (unlimited tasting) and a classic Italian lunch of pasta and antipasti. It was very fun, delicious and expensive as we ended up buying a lot of wine and shipping it home.
Unfortunately our day in Cannes was cancelled because the wind was too strong for us to tender. I had had a Viator tour booked but was refunded because of this.
Overall I was very impressed with Viator in their prices and communication. Everyone messaged me many times about meeting times and locations and the guides always made sure we were back to the ship with lots of time to spare. I felt safe and confident in the tours we chose.
Final Stop of the Cruise: Barcelona
Finally Barcelona. Hotel Colon was absolutely beautiful and such a perfect choice! It was right by the cathedral and had a rooftop bar. We took a taxi to the hotel which was very easy (about 30 euro) and left our bags. Then, found a cafe and toured the beautiful cathedral. We learned that Sagrada Familia is actually not a cathedral and is much more modern than the cathedral we toured (and slightly overrated to the locals).
Then we went on a food tour booked through Viator (Barcelona tapas and wine experience) which was by far my favorite tour. An amazing value, not much walking, and a lovely guide. We went through the food and fish market, had wine and tapas in a wine cellar, tried four restaurants, and learned a lot about the city.
I had done some researched and booked Arcano for dinner and I cannot overemphasize how good this meal was. I would go back here a thousand times! And our guide recommended a flamenco show at Palaus Demases. There are many flamenco shows but this one was in a very old building, truly authentic and very small. We paid for vip seats which is a must to see how much work their feet are doing. It was such an authentic experience and so much fun!
I hope these tips can help others on their trips! We had an amazing vacation and can’t thank you enough!