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Cruising the Star Princess - May 2011

A trip to Italy, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece

This is the story of an amazing trip.

In the spring of 2010, we began planning for our an amazing itinerary that would combine a short stay in Rome with a cruise that would visit Egypt, Turkey, and Greece. This became a reality when we booked a trip on the cruise ship the Star Princess for May of 2011.

The Star Princess offered a unique itinerary. Sailing out of Civitavecchia, Italy, it would include a two day stop in Alexandria, Egypt and port calls at Chios and Athens in Greece, and Istanbul and Kusadsi in Turkey, before making a final call in Naples, Italy.

With the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution in January of 2011, the itinerary was changed. Egypt was dropped as a port of call, and Valetta, Malta was added, along with Livorno, Italy. Fortunately, just a few short weeks before our departure date, Princess announced that we would be among the first ships to return to Egypt. On Friday, May 13th, we stepped out our front door and embarked on a voyage of discovery.

Posted by Zukini 21:30 Archived in Italy Tagged italy cruise rome mediterranean princess Comments (0)

Embarkation Day

Star Princess Egypt & Aegean 12 day cruise.

sunny 70 °F

Porters immediately take our luggage, and we enter the cruise terminal. It's about 12:15, and there are no lines at all. We walk immediately up to the counter for check-in.

At check in, we are asked to fill out a form if we intend to stay off the ship for our overnight at Egypt. We're also asked to turn over our passports. The passports will be returned before we dock in Alexandria, then collected again before we dock in Greece. They'll be returned to us once more before we arrive in Naples.

Embarkation is a breeze, as we've come to expect with Princess. I really love their "white glove" service. For this cruise, we've decided to book a category BB balcony on the forward starboard part of Caribe deck.

Caribe Deck Balcony Stateroom

Caribe Deck Balcony Stateroom

For the uninitiated, Caribe deck balconies are extended...they are nearly twice as deep as the standard balconies elsewhere on the ship. They are also half-covered...the portion nearest the rail is open to the sky (and to the view of the decks above). The portion closest to the door is covered by the overhanging deck above. We had a little trepidation about a partially open balcony...we had a completely open balcony on a Carnival ship last year, and it was an absolute nightmare.

Well, now that we've tried the Caribe deck on Princess, we'll never go back to a normal balcony again. Having the extra room and the option for sun or shade greatly outweighed any privacy concerns. We absolutely loved it.

A Caribe Deck balcony on the Star Princess

A Caribe Deck balcony on the Star Princess

We headed up to the Horizon Court for lunch. The Horizon Court is small and compact. On this ship, the problematic center gate was shut, so that kind of kept people moving in a semblance of order. We noticed that the ship barely seemed populated at all. I think I heard it mentioned that we were sailing with only 1950 passengers, so about 2/3 of maximum capacity. I don't know if this was because the ship was sailing with a lot of empty cabins, or if the proportion of singles and doubles to triples and quads was greater than on shorter Caribbean itineraries we've experienced. In any case, the ship was NEVER crowded at all.

We really enjoyed the design of this ship, as opposed to the Crown and the Caribbean Princess. Although we missed the Cafe Caribe, the enclosed Calypso Pool made up for it, especially on this somewhat cool spring itinerary.

Next we headed up to the Spa to sign up for a couples Thermal Suite pass for $199. We've used this on previous cruises, and really took advantage of it. DW in particular loves to relax in the steam room after a long day of touring.

Next stop is down to the Piazza to enjoy a cappuccino from the International Cafe. We sit and sip while listening to an operatic performance by the Corrado Amici Duo.

A welcome cappucchino

A welcome cappucchino

Muster drill is held just before sailing. Our muster station is in the Princess Theater, and it goes very smoothly, but not without the usual grumbling from the rabble.

The Scenic Port of Civitavecchia

The Scenic Port of Civitavecchia

Dinner tonight is anytime dining in the Portofino Dining Room. Highlights are the Caesar Salad, Totellini & Spinach Soup, and Luau Ham with White Beans. Nothing jumps out at us for dessert, so we head down to the International Cafe to sample the Chocolate Ganache and Carrot cakes.

Afterward, we head over to the Promenade Lounge (formerly Crooner's) and listen to the very talented Lucky Charms String Quartet. We wind up running into them at various venues around the ship over the next 11 days, and they're always a delight to listen to.

The Lucky Charms String Quartet

The Lucky Charms String Quartet

We're not much for shows, so we pass up Comedy Club Showtime with Lenny Windsor.

Tomorrow, our first full day at sea.
__________________

Posted by Zukini 12:04 Archived in Italy Tagged cruise star princess civitavecchia Comments (0)

Scenic Cruising down the Italian Coast

sunny 70 °F

It's Thursday, our first full day at sea, and it's going to be a scenic one. I'm up at 6am, and as I wander to the balcony, I'm presented with a spectacular sight. Right off the starboard side of the ship, the volcanic island of Stromboli is sliding by. I wake up the Mrs. Z, and we sit and take it all in.

Stromboli

Stromboli

At 9:30, we head up to the open deck above the bridge. We'll be transiting the Strait of Messina, and our port lecturer, Joe May, will be narrating our transit. The Strait is only a mile and a half wide at its' narrowest point, so it should be beautiful scenic cruising.

The Calabrian Coastline

The Calabrian Coastline

We're not disappointed. The seas are calm and the sky is blue as we pick up our pilot and glide between Calabria and Messina.

In line to pass through the Strait

In line to pass through the Strait

Strait of Messina

Strait of Messina

What a great day! We even spot a pod of porpoises cavorting near the ship.

Off to the spa. The Lotus Pool is deserted, and the current machine is working, so we spend a lot of time swimming. We utilize the thermal suite, then head to lunch.

TIP: A lot of people wonder about the Caribe deck balconies (half shade/half open) which I've already described. Another thing to note is the Dolphin deck balconies, below us. These are mini-suites, but the balcony is smaller than on Caribe, and fully exposed to both the sun and the eyes of those above.

Dolphin Deck Balcony

Dolphin Deck Balcony

Today, we choose Prego Pizzaria, where I overindulge in two slices. Then, our ritual cappuccino in the International Cafe. As we're sitting, sipping our coffee, a server comes around with fresh warm cookies, right out of the oven. Mmmmmmmm.

Tonight is formal night, so we head back to the room to dress. We head down to dinner, but I'm feeling a bit out of sorts, and nothing on the dining room menu seems to appeal to me. We head to the Horizon Court instead, but nothing seems to whet my appetite there either. Hmmm. DW enjoys some dinner at the buffet, and then we head back the room, where I make an early night of it. When we arrive at our cabin, our stateroom attendant has left a sheet of paper for us....it's a health advisory, reminding us to wash our hands and use the sanitizers.

Tomorrow.......doooooooom.

Posted by Zukini 10:10 Archived in Italy Tagged cruise 2011 star_princess Comments (0)

Introducing, Doooooom

Norovirus on the high seas

We now interrupt our previously scheduled cruise review for this important safety message:

Wash your hands. Use the sanitizer. Don't lick your fingers and then handle the serving tongs. Don't reach into the container of raisins by the oatmeal with your fingers, use the spoon instead. Don't pick up strips of bacon that have fallen on the floor and put them back into the serving pan.

Thank you. We now return to our cruise review. You'll forgive the lack of illustrative photos for this portion of the review, I hope.

It's now Friday morning, our second full day at sea, on our way to a two day stop in Alexandria, Egypt. Over the past year, we've made big plans for Egypt, having arranged a private tour for two with Egypt Private Excursions, to see Saqqara, Dahshur, Memphis, and the Pyramids of Giza, with an overnight stay at the luxurious Mena House Oberoi.

They say that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

I wake up at 6:30 Friday morning with a dawning suspicion that all is not well. That's confirmed a few moments later when I bolt to the bathroom. Chills, fever, and severe gastrointestinal distress are the order of the day.

I try to convince myself that it was overindulgence in pizza and cookies, but the medical team onboard disagrees. I am diagnosed with probable norovirus, and confined to my cabin until they decide otherwise. I'm not really in any condition to argue.

Mrs. Z is feeling fine, and is not under any restriction, so at my urging she steers clear of the room as much as possible today. My room steward, Roberto, is replaced by a tag team of specialized hazmat stewards, and my dining selections, such as they are, are limited to the "Light and Healthy" room service menu, delivered by a dedicated, blue-gloved attendant.

By 9pm, I'm starting to feel more like a human being than a howler monkey. I check in with the medical center, but I'm still running a fever. I'm concerned, naturally about my excursion tomorrow. The staff sympathizes, but will not release me to go ashore until I am symptom free. Mrs. Z and I debate about what to do. There's a possibility I may be released in the morning, but then again, perhaps not. We inquire about the incubation period for norovirus. 8 to 32 hours seems to be the consensus. That means she could come down with this as well at any time.

We make the very difficult decision of trying to reach H. David, our tour operator, by Skype, but the call won't go through. I send him an email, explaining our predicament, and requesting that he cancel the tour and try to intercept the guide. I hope he gets the message before morning. His cancellation policy is 5 days in advance, unless the ship doesn't dock, so we fully expect to be on the hook for, at the very least, the cost of the hotel room and transportation.

Mr. David responds a short time later, confirming our cancellation. Since I won't be allowed off the ship, he waives all fees, which was really very kind of him. The wife and I are despondent. On-again-off-again Egypt was the centerpiece of this trip, and the driving reason we booked this cruise, over a year ago.

We got to bed that night, miserable on many levels.

Posted by Zukini 12:51 Tagged cruise norovirus Comments (0)

Chios, Greece

sunny 75 °F

Well, we've lost a full 50 hours. It's now Tuesday and at 6am, the med center calls to spring us from quarantine, in time for our Princess excursion to Pyrgi and Mesta. Typically, we prefer to bypass Princess excursions in favor of private guides or DYI, but Chios doesn't really have any independent tour operators that we can find, and we're not interested in renting a car here.

We're to meet our bus shoreside at 11:20am, so we tender off the ship around 10am. The ship is using its own tenders, and the process is very smooth. We're on the quay at Chios town in just a few minutes.

We stroll along the harbor front, exploring the little shops and cafes along the way. Chios is exactly how you would expect a Mediterranean port to look.

Chios Harbor

Chios Harbor

The waterfront is filled with cafe's serving tourists and locals. Crusty old men play backgammon with cracking vengeance while smoking and drinking coffee. Cold coffee drinks seem to be the preferred libation here. After exploring the waterfront and back row a bit, we decide to sit down at a cafe to have a bite to eat. We order a cappuccino for Mrs. Z, an espresso for me, and a plate of loukoumades (donuts). The donuts are unique, almost like carnival food. A delicately fried exterior, a soft, custardy center, and 14 ounces of lemony honey are served up on a plate with mandatory knives and forks.

Loukoumades

Loukoumades

Indeed, the donuts even come with their very own crusty seaman, Alexander, a local who sits down with us and asks every question in the universe about the specifications of the Star Princess, noting them down with great satisfaction on a napkin. He tells us tales of his life as a former sea captain, and a rambling tale of meeting Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. We enjoy passing the time with him.

At 11:20, we board our tour bus, and are introduced to Barbara, our Greek tour guide. We take a pleasant drive through the hills of southern Chios, on our way to Pyrgi. Chios is an amazing place. To the north are arid, barren mountains. To the south are arid, tree covered hills. Everywhere, we see fruit trees, pistachios, and of course the ubiquitous mastic trees that it is famous for.

The Chios countryside

The Chios countryside

We arrive at Pyrgi, one of the medieval mastic villages, know as the "painted village" because of the black and white sgraffito that covers nearly every home. This is achieved by placing a grey stucco coat on each home, then whitewashing over it. When the whitewash has dried, it's scraped off to reveal repeating patterns of the underlying grey stucco.

The Homes of Pyrgi

The Homes of Pyrgi

Sgrafitto walls in Pyrgi

Sgrafitto walls in Pyrgi

Our guide walks us through the twisting, maze like streets of this castle town, and brings us to the Church of the Apostles, St. Peter and Paul, an ancient Greek Orthodox church that just oozes centuries of religious hopes and dreams. No photos are allowed inside, so here's an exterior shot. That's Barbara, our tour guide, in the foreground.

Byzantine Church at Pyrgi

Byzantine Church at Pyrgi

Then, it's back on the bus to our next stop. The sextons of the church hitch a ride with us, as they want to get back to Chios, eventually. They bring a huge bag of bread and sandwiches along with them and munch them as we drive.

The next stop is the masticchoria (Mastic Town) of Mesta, another castle town. Chios is a supplier to the world of gum from the unique mastic trees. This gum is used in a variety of cosmetic and edible products, and is considered to be antiseptic as well as tasty. We later found that the unique chewy texture of Turkish ice cream is due to the use of this mastic gum.

Streets of Mesta

Streets of Mesta

Mesta is filled with incredible, tunnel-like streets winding, again, in a maze, to the central square.

The Fortress town of Mesta

The Fortress town of Mesta


Our tourguide takes us to visit the ancient orthodox church of Palaios Taxiarchis, with it's elaborately carved altar screen. Even for a non-religous person, it's an interesting experience. In the middle of the church, a large sandbox is set up, and tapers are available for a donation. I drop a coin, and DW lights a taper in memory of a recently deceased aunt. It's an emotional experience.

We sit at a tavern in the square and enjoy a Coke, served in thick, old fashioned, glass bottles. A Canadian woman asks to have our trash...apparently, her son collects Coke bottles of different nationalities. Go figure.

Cafe in the Town Square at Mesta

Cafe in the Town Square at Mesta

These old villages are really a scenic stop in a port that was kind of low on our list of priorities. We find ourselves falling in love with Chios.

The winding alleys of Mesta

The winding alleys of Mesta

After Mesta, it's back to Chios town and the ship. A very pleasant, albeit short, excursion. Unfortunately, the heat, sun, and jostling bus has left Mrs. Z feeling under the weather again. We head to the dining room for dinner anyway. She spots spaghetti and meatballs on the menu, and figures it will be a good bet, along with some nippy peach soup. I go for the shrimp fra diavolo. When DW's meal arrives, she cuts into the first meatball, and finds it bright pink inside. That's enough for her! The staff seems to feel truly awful, and does back flips trying to make her happy. They do up a special plate of pasta, cooked fresh for her, and she eats a bit, but her appetite is really not up to it.

Tonight, it's Variety Showtime with Noel & Victoria and Lovena B. Fox in the Princess Theater, and Tron:Legacy is on the MUTS screen. Still a little worn out from our previous illness, we decide to make an early night of it.

Tomorrow, a wonderful day in Istanbul is on the menu.

Posted by Zukini 20:55 Archived in Greece Tagged greece cruise chios star_princess khios Comments (0)

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