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John Bull

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About Me

  • Location
    Lee-on-the-Solent, England
  • Interests
    vintage & classic vehicles
  • Favorite Cruise Line(s)
    Voyages of Discovery
  • Favorite Cruise Destination Or Port of Call

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  1. I have the same problem. My doctor says I should avoid using the buffet in the evenings. 😉 Western Med should be OK in October, the eastern Med is more risky because the season usually changes quite suddenly sometime in October. A good big 'un is always more stable than a good little 'un, and they don't come much bigger than Harmony o t S. The more likely problem at that time of year is that in inclement weather it's too chilly or too wet to make good use of the outside decks & facilities, particularly late in the day. Prices should be keen in October 🙂 JB 🙂
  2. Hi, rka, We rarely see HAL (Holland-America Line) in the UK. Have considered them a couple of times for their itineraries off-the-beaten-track in the Far East - Singapore to Aus rings a bell. We're retired, we like 20 to 30-day one-way cruises for the destinations, and we don't spend a lot per diem - so I think we fit the customer-profile? But we've never (yet) sailed with them. My first cruise - if it counts - was to the Baltic. A schools' education cruise on a converted troop-ship, highlight then was Leningrad. Been back since by "proper" cruise ship, same highlight but St Petersburg very different to the Soviet era Leningrad. But I see port-intensive as ideal for a first cruise. If you realise too late that you don't like being on a ship, you're ashore most days. But there's no compunction to go ashore - we've repeated a few cruises simply to get in some cheap winter sun and a few lazy beers in port. But of course there are pros & cons to all itineraries. JB 🙂
  3. Hi, Jimbo, and a belated welcome to Cruise Critic, First off, I'm presuming from the content that that you're based in the UK. Most contributors are American or Canadian, hence suggestions about sailing from places like New Jersey to places like the Caribbean. A suggestion - when you find the time, add your location to your screen-name. This will help to avoid any inappropriate advice, for instance about visas etc. Kuoni are an excellent holiday agency, but you need a CRUISE SPECIALIST agency. Naming agents is against Cruise Critic's rules so I can't make any suggestions, but dial "cruise agents UK" into Google & check out the websites - then use the PHONE, not the internet. Cruise agents can help enormously by finding out your preferences & giving you the lowdown on different ships, cruise lines & itineraries, and by addressing some pretty basic matters which you might not know about. When you've settled on a particular cruise, get the best price that you can find (and ask for freebies like upgrades, drinks packages, cruise parking etc). Then phone back to the agent who you have found to be the most helpful and ask them to match it - as a newbie, go with them even if they can't quite match the best deal. They can then guide you through cabin choice (not just category but location too), dining options, on-board accounts, going ashore, and a thousand other things. Just a few personal opinions based on your posts ................. Cunard No longer British, but the most formal cruise line in the business - for instance jacket & tie at dinner every evening, except in the buffet. currency is USD P&O also expect standards, but far less-strictly - for instance on formal nights (one or sometimes two per week) dining is a collar-and-tie affair (most, but not all, in DJs) in both the main dining room and some bars,. Again, no such restrictions in the buffet. Tips are included in your fare, though most reward excellent service from cabin stewards & waiting staff. Bar prices lower than most, & no tips added. Bear these things in mind when comparing fares. Some ships (not Aurora) are adults-only - sounds good, but attracts a much higher proportion of seriously-elderly. P&O is actually American-owned, part of the Carnival stable, but geared very much to Brit tastes. Currency is £. Royal Caribbean is very American. They do have formal nights but the dress code isn't strictly-enforced and that results in a pretty unhappy mix of DJs and Hawaiian shirts. Other than that, a pretty good cruise line. Currency is USD. Celebrity is one of the more up-market sisters of Royal Caribbean & a higher proportion of older folk. NCL are indeed very informal throughout. They do have a reputation for nickel-and-diming and up-selling. They probably have the highest proportion of speciality dining venues, great for a special occasion but expensive if you use them every night - which they'll try to persuade you to do, and with "tips" added to those bills even though you're already paying one of the highest daily service charges in the business!. Don't be put off, but do bear in mind when comparing value for money. Currency is USD. Fred Olsen is geared very much to Brit recently-retireds. We've not sailed with Fred, but know many who have. Older ships bought second-hand, but Fred has a very loyal customer-base, and very friendly passengers & crew.. I don't know about tips, currency is £. Princess was a subsidiary of P&O many moons ago - now it is American, but as "English" as American ships get. Much more refined than Royal Caribbean & NCL, a little more up-market than P&O. Currency is USD. Oceania is one of those cruise lines I can only dream about, same applies to Azamara, Silverseas & a few others.. They operate smaller cruise ships, vaguely 600 to 1200 passengers. Viking is a new boy on the block, seems worth considering. I don't think Marella (Thomson /TUI) or Virgin would suit you, MSC and Costa are probably not best for a first cruise, Hurtigruten is very different from standard cruises. I've mentioned currency. Altho ships are cashless, if its not your home currency it can be a bind to mentally figure value-for-money, and there'll be conversion charges to charge your card. (nb don't let the ship convert "for your convenience" - your card supplier will convert at a much better rate Bear in mind the size of ships, they vary from 600 passengers to over 5,000. We find about 2,000 gives the right balance between crowds and facilities - one reason why Aurora is a favourite of ours. If you want to sail from the UK , I'd strongly recommend the Baltic. JB 🙂
  4. We rarely use ships' tours, but sometimes they make sense - and to us, Seville from Cadiz would be one of those times. As you appreciate, by train is no quicker. .And when using public transport for that sort of distance on a port-of-call day, we always aim to take the second-to-last suitable train (or bus or ferry), leaving the very last one in hand for any problems with the transport - or with our own map-reading, timetable-reading etc. That caution paid dividends for us once in Rome, when we fouled-up getting to the station for the train back to port. By train may also mean relying on local transport for some sights in Seville, which will cost time. To us, a guide accompanying a ship's tour group is only a small bonus & not worth the big difference between excursion fees & train fares, and an over-long lunch stop loses valuable time. But the krunch is getting back to the ship on time, because it's a long swim to the next port. JB 🙂
  5. Cherbourg is closer to the US D-Day sights - (30 minutes from Ste Mere-Eglise) vs Le Havre (1hour 40 from Omaha/American cemetery). But ships normally depart Le Havre later, 8.00pm vs 5.30pm, which pretty-well nullifies the convenience from Cherbourg. And do check hours in port for Cherbourg - some are only half-day. Cherbourg is also closer to Mont St Michel - just under 2 hours vs 2hrs 20 from Le Havre. As others have said, its not possible to sensibly do both in one port-of-call day. JB 🙂
  6. Ever wondered why, when sailing out of Southampton Water & into the Solent, your ship does a huge dogleg west then a sharp turn to port ? It's to stay clear of the Bramble Bank - a submerged sand-bar which protrudes into the Solent, requiring large ships to hug the Isle of Wight in order to avoid it. Every year the Bramble Bank is sufficiently exposed by an exceptionally low tide, allowing a cricket match to take place. This year's match was yesterday - the mainland (Royal Southern Yacht Club) beat the island (Island Sailing Club). JB 🙂
  7. Ooooops, forgot an important rider....... Since this is a weekend, do check which days & times the various places are open. But at least your time is split over two days, so you should be able to adjust to visit all your must-sees. JB 🙂
  8. We've visited Istanbul a few times, but you've had excellent advice already so I'll just reinforce it ................. Yes, the TRAM is the way to get from the ship across the Galata Bridge & up to Sultanahmet, where a lot of sights are clustered and easily-walkable. Trams have their own dedicated lanes and whiz past the choc-a-bloc traffic. From there you can walk across to the top of the Grand Bazaar and down through it to the Spice Bazaar or Yeni Camii. But the Spice Bazar is no longer that special - there are plenty of excellent spice stalls in the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Bazaar has a lot of general wares, so if I led you blindfold into the Spice Bazaar you probably wouldn't know it was the "Spice Bazaar". And by that time you'll probably be mosqued-out, so it takes a degree of enthusiasm to visit another. Anyway, you'll probably be dead on your feet by then 🙃 But now you're on level ground at Eminonu, by the Galata Bridge over The Golden Horn & the ferries which ply up the Golden Horn, up the Bosphorus, out to little islands in the Sea of Marmaris, and across to the Asian side. Consider a short ferry ride (though that's likely to be at a busy time of day), or relaxing in one of the cafes & restaurants on the lower level of the Galata Bridge, or take a tram back over the Galata Bridge to your ship. Because Sultanahmet is at the top of a hill (not too steep but quite long) I strongly recommend you work that way round, so that your walking is on level and downhill ground. Taksim is tolerably close to your ship, & the little funicular a fun way to get there. But it's a more-modern part of the city and not somewhere I'd consider worthy for your short time in Istanbul. We've not visited Topkapi Palace, so can't comment other than it doesn't fit well into a route unless you skip the Grand Bazaar and it probably needs a half-day or more. A ship's tour or any tour involving transport would waste a lot of time fighting the traffic, many ships' tours waste a lot of valuable time visiting selected carpet shops & such, and (though unlikely with your hours in port) waste more time with a lunch stop. But a private tour using the tram would be relatively inexpensive (especially if you got together a group of six or eight like-mindeds via your cruise's RollCall) would provide you with background info and avoid some lost time. I'm a great fan of ho-ho buses in appropriate cities - but Istanbul isn't one of them. I appreciate that I've not answered your main question about splitting between your two half-days, but I suggest you do the bucket stuff first and mebbe the bazaars or Yeni Camii next day. And if you're in sociable company, extend day one into the evening - dining out, or just snacking & return to the ship in time for the crumbs left-over from the buffet. JB 🙂
  9. Free wifi is available in most cafes & bars throughout all the European countries that we've visited, usually there'll be a prominent "free wifi" notice. It's for customers only so it requires a password, available from a server. BE AWARE - The quality of signal is extremely variable, so before you order check with other customers who are tapping away and move on to somewhere else if they're struggling. . - Public wifi isn't secure, so don't open up sensitive information like banking. JB 🙂
  10. Israel was on our bucket list, but for years we put it off "until the region settles down". Eventually we realised that wasn't likely in our lifetimes, so we booked - the cruise included one day in Haifa & two in Ashdod. Had no problems at all. A great shared day-trip from Haifa, visiting Cana, Nazareth, a kibbutz, baptisms in the River Jordan. and Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Rented a car for two days in Ashdod, drove across the Negev Desert to the fort at Masada ( cablecar up to the fort, interesting history & glorious panoramic views of the Dead Sea), swam in the Dead Sea at Ein Gedi, overnight hotel in Jerusalem, walking tour of the walled city next morning & back at the ship in time for tea. We returned to Haifa for two nights on another cruise, again no problem. Took the train to the crusader city of Akko (Acre) A few things to bear in mind....... - Things can change quickly. Peaceful when you book doesn't mean peaceful when you go, and problems now don't mean problems when you go. The situation is almost certain to go thro several ups & downs between now & 2023 - Even if there's grief in the south (Ashdod), the north (Haifa) is very peaceful - local Israelis & Palestinians have learned to get along together. - If you're unlucky & Ashdod gets cancelled, there's a good chance that your ship can remain in Haifa if there's space in the port. Jerusalem is a fair drive from Haifa, but can be done in a day-trip. - We rate the chances of a land-based visit being screwed-up as significantly greater, since hotels are notoriously incapable of sailing to an alternate 😉. JB 🙂
  11. Just from our own experience .................... The sound quality of "Movies Under the Stars" is pretty poor. It doesn't detract from action movies, but it's pretty pointless to try to watch a movie which relies heavily on dialogue because much of it is unintelligible. So - even if you know that such a movie will be shown - should you have the opportunity to watch it before your cruise, I suggest you take it. JB 🙂
  12. Without a doubt, the Acropolis. Not just because of the crowds but also the heat. It's quite often closed in the afternoons on particularly hot days. It opens at 8am & closes at sunset, but check that those hours are up-to-date before you go JB 🙂
  13. Must've been 5 or 6 years ago, but the rental fee was about €35. By law, rental prices in Europe must include taxes and third-party insurance, and every vehicle I've rented anywhere in Europe has also included CDW in the rental fee. But CDW usually has high excess - anywhere between €800 and €1500. We have an annual policy from a UK insurer to cover CDW excess, so I don't know what they charge for zero excess. You can pay extra for zero excess but the fee for that, like for most extras, is a rip-off. But it's such a short and simple drive that even without that cover I'd not pay for CDW excess. Charges for a second driver range from zilch to excessive, for that journey it's not worth paying extra. Do make sure the car has air-con - it'll be a welcome oasis after the heat at Olympia No hanging around while the coach touts for more business, but also importantly you leave Olympia when you choose rather than the scheduled time. JB 🙂
  14. We went from Haifa to Akko (yes, "Acre" on some maps) by train. 10 minute walk from the cruise berth to the station, don't remember the fare but it was peanuts, don't remember the journey time but mebbe 20/25 minutes, don't remember the train frequency but something like half-hourly. Do remember that it was a fair walk from Akko station to the fortress, mebbe 25/30 minutes. Fortress itself wasn't open to the public other than a small museum, but it was fun getting lost in the maze of little alleyways in the old-town area around it. A long medieval (?) tunnel, and a pleasant seafront. On a previous occasion we took a tour in a van that was touting for business outside the port gate much like in the Caribbean or Asia - but the area has since changed / been up-graded & I don't know whether you can still just find seats in a van. But the tour was excellent, if you can find something similar to book seats or get a van group together via your RollCall. Our tour included.... - Photostop at the top of the "Hanging Gardens" that you can see from the ship - Cana (water into wine) - Nazareth (pretty grubby, bit of a disappointment) - a kibbutz (very interesting) - baptisms on the River Jordan (seem to happen all day) - shores of the Sea of Galilee to Tiberias - back to the ship in good time for dinner. JB 🙂 -
  15. The train from Katakolon has a chequered history, sometimes it runs & sometimes it doesn't. I wouldn't want to rely on it. Other than ship's tours you have two choices https://www.katakolon-express.com/katakolon/olympiaescortedtour.htm Reliable coach service, leaves from close to the port gate. Worth pre-booking to be sure. The price is for transportation only, ships' tours will include admission and (probably) a guided tour Or rent a car. There are two (or more?) agencies very close to the port gate. Avis is one, the other is Dias https://www.rentacarkatakolo.gr/ We rented from the one listed as Dias, I recognise the premises from Google streetview, but that name doesn't ring a bell so it may have changed hands. We pre-booked, no front-money or card number required. Clean modern cars with aircon (check transmission if you need automatic), a little map to get to Olympia though it's very very simple - just two junctions. Return the car with the same amount of gas. About 22 miles to Olympia (Olimpia on Googlemaps, Olympia is a red-herring village) For two, Katakolon Express & car rental cost about the same, for more than two the car is cheaper as well as more comfortable & flexible JB 🙂
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