Let’s start things out with a blogging premiere! This is my inside look at a full ship Mediterranean Charter: Venice, Santorini, Dubrovnik, Kusadasi and Istanbul!
Venice, Italy. All aboard! The first stop on the full ship charter began in Venice, Italy! What an incredible place to start a whirlwind journey through the Mediterranean and what an amazing place to be in port. With two days before we embarked to the next destination, participants had had quite a bit of free time in Venice. So, what better way to keep them happy than to offer a free shuttle to and from the ship to St. Mark’s Square – also known as the Piazza San Marco. With so much time at leisure it was important that we allowed everyone an opportunity to get off the ship and easily get to a place in town where they could experience the sights, the food, the culture, etc. In addition to leisure time for the majority of the group, we also visited Murano – a series of islands linked by bridges in the Venetian lagoon, famous for its glass making. For a special group of individuals, the factory was closed to the public and opened just for us with gorgeous glass blowing demonstrations, time to shop the show room and of course a luxurious lunch on the terrace overlooking the Venetian lagoon. Not a bad beginning to a Mediterranean adventure.
Santorini, Greece…talk about a city with a view. Santorini was the next stop on our Mediterranean cruise, this also happened to be the one stop on the itinerary with tenders from the ship. If you aren’t familiar with a tender, those are essentially the small boats that are used to take everyone from the ship to land when you must be docked a little bit off shore. While it always takes a little longer to get off the ship with tenders, the participants had a great time on the 15 minute trip to shore. They chatted about whether to take the donkey rides to the top of the city (where all the shops, restaurants and views are) or to opt for the faster cable car which is a bit like a Ferris wheel if it went straight up and down. Being that I had limited time off the ship, I decided to take the cable car to the top and eventually walk to the bottom after some exploring. I loved that our group had some fun options to consider and it was quite the adventure dodging the donkeys and the riders as I walked to the bottom and eventually headed back to the ship. Another fantastic day!
Dubrovnik, Croatia is one of those cities that feels like you’ve been thrown back in time. With giant walls and incredible stone surrounding the entire city, through a series of complicated and ornate side streets you wander through the town with a fun shop, market or restaurant at every turn. Unlike some of the other ports, you must drive a little bit to get to anything worth seeing once you’re docked in Dubrovnik. While this may seem a little daunting at first, I found it to be one of the more easy to navigate ports. Once you get off the ship you have the option to hop into a taxi (many lined up and waiting for you) or for as little as $20 roundtrip you could take a shuttle bus into town and back to the ship easily – this option could be charged to your stateroom which was fantastic for those who didn’t have foreign currency for a taxi. Dubrovnik is definitely a city you could get lost in for hours – there are few things in this world that are as incredible as a walled city on the coast of Croatia. Breathtaking.
Kusadasi, Turkey has what I consider to be one of the wonders of the world – Ephesus! If you haven’t heard of Ephesus chances are you have at least seen pictures of these incredible ruins and may just not know what it was called. This was one of our craziest days of the trip as almost the entire ship disembarked to go to shore to see the ancient city that was rumored to be where the Gospel of St. John was written and home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis. Walking down the long and winding main road of Ephesus and seeing the streets bursting at the seams with people gave a little insight into what it must have been like during those ancient times. From the stunning library to the jaw dropping theater, the old city did not disappoint and is a must see when visiting this part of the world.
Istanbul, Turkey is hands down one of my favorite places in the world. With tours throughout the day to the legendary Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and much more, this was definitely the port with the most to take in and experience. I was absolutely thrilled to find out this city was on the cruise itinerary and that we would be having the final night’s gala right on the Bosphorus at the phenomenal Cirigan Palace. With a view from Europe to Asia across the historical waters of the Bosphorus, there isn’t a more spectacular backdrop. If you want to go out with a bang, Istanbul definitely has that wow factor. From fireworks to fire dancers, Turkish ballerinas to Whirling Dervishes and everything between, it was certainly a night not soon to be forgotten. I was lucky enough to stay in Istanbul after our group’s program came to a close and check out the sites with a few close friends on our own – I left with an ache in my heart and a deep love of all things Turkish. From the delectable Turkish delights to daily cravings for Turkish coffees I fell in love with the people, the food, the culture and the history. Can’t wait to go back.