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Ship Excursion or On your Own?

Vancouver, Canada
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Ship Excursion or On your Own?

My husband and I will be going on Regal Princess in May on the Eastern Mediterranean cruise. Ports include Corfu, Istanbul, Mykonos, and Athens. As this is our first time to the Mediterranean, we are not sure whether to join the ship's excursions or go on our own to explore the ports. We want to get the maximum experience at each port. We don't speak Greek or Turkish ~ the ports are completely foreign to us. What is everyone's thoughts?

ON, Canada
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1. Re: Ship Excursion or On your Own?

We really enjoy exploring on our own, and have done so in many places in Europe, Asia and South America that were foreign to us and where we haven't spoken the language. Suggest getting a copy of amazon.ca/Rick-Steves-Mediterranean-Cruise-P… (you might be able to get it at your library) - I've used his other guidebooks - e.g. for Greece, France, Italy and Istanbul for planning our port days (they are more comprehensive than the Med port one) - but you can probably get enough info from the port book to plan port days in places that are easy to do on your own.

We also like to get the most out of our port days, and often accomplish just as much if not more than what the ship's excursions offer (without being on a tour bus with 40 others and having to do the obligatory shopping stops.) However, we aren't completely opposed to doing a ship's tour if we can't do it ourselves or hiring a private driver isn't an option. (Hiring a driver is something we rarely do - only if public transportation isn't a convenient or logical choice.)

I would only recommend doing port days on your own if you enjoy doing the pre-trip planning necessary to make sure that you can fit in the sights that you want to see and figure out how to use public transportation (if needed), and if you are comfortable with it. When we first started doing port days on our own I was much more comfortable with it than my husband was because I had done all the research and was confident that our plans were going to work out, and I usually had a back up plan in case we had to change things up that day. Also, doing it on your own usually involves more walking than if doing a ship's excursion, so if you have physical limitations, then DIY might not be the way to go.

Another option would be to check your Roll Call on Cruise Critic to see if anyone is arranging private tours and looking for others to join in - here's a link to Regal Princess Rolls Calls - just scroll down until you find the date for your cruise (sorry, that doesn't look like a good suggestion as there's very little activity on those Roll Calls - if you don't see one for your date, you could always try to start a roll call and see if there are others out there who want to share info and ideas with you) - boards.cruisecritic.com/forumdisplay.php…

Good luck with your plans - not sure if you are doing the 13 day itinerary, but if so, it looks like a great one!

Edited: 28 December 2013, 20:13
Vancouver, Canada
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2. Re: Ship Excursion or On your Own?

Wow ! Thank you for your information

Wigan, United...
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3. Re: Ship Excursion or On your Own?

DIY is the way forward and you can find many many reputable local tour operators at those ports here in Tripadvisor.

Just do a search for Athens as an example, then look for the things to do section then activities and a whole list of local tour guides, complete with reviews will appear.

Thats how we find pretty much 90% of our stuff.

With regards Mykonos.. there isnt much there and is walkable from the ship. Use it as a rest day is my advice as you will be tired in Athens, Istanbul etc

ON, Canada
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4. Re: Ship Excursion or On your Own?

Athens can be done on your own using the metro to get from Piraeus into the historical area of Athens - you don't need a driver there if you're comfortable taking public transportation.

Sydney, Australia
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5. Re: Ship Excursion or On your Own?

Re Mykonos, as you are cruising with Princess, check your personaliser / itinerary for the hours you are in port. On the two times I've been there with Princess, we only had a half day there. The first time we did a Princess shore ex there which took us to various parts of the island and about one hour to explore on our own.

This year we explored on our own and caught a bus into town (about 5 mins or so and about $10 pp return trip). There's still a bit of a walk to where the restaurants and shops are but it is a nice flat walk albeit over paving stones / cobblestones.

There's also a jet boat that can take you to the island not far from Mykonos where there are some archeological ruins - Steve Wiggan may know which one I'm thinking of ...

We simply followed the waterfront all the way around to the famous windmills. Many people speak English so if you get lost, you can always find someone to help you.

Re Istanbul - have been there 3 times and have done it on our own for the first two visits apart from the last one this year as we wanted to do something completely different and needed transport .. we got Ephesus Shuttles to take us around and asked 4 others to join us ... one couple had been there before and another had not and all enjoyed the day as it was off the beaten track...

www.travelpod.com/members/dougo

Entry numbers 42 and 43 will tell you what we did in Mykonos and Istanbul. We did nothing in Athens as it was way too hot for us so we had a nice relaxing day on board.

Edited: 29 December 2013, 02:45
London, England
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6. Re: Ship Excursion or On your Own?

It is very unlikely that you will need to speak Greek or Turkish, but it is always nice to learn the basics like please, thank you, good morning etc.

We rarely go on a ship's excursion and I have limited mobility. I always do plenty of research beforehand and so far, it has always worked out very well for us. I ask friends who have been to the places before, use Tripadvisor, Cruise Critic, local tourist offices and sometimes make phone calls to venues etc.

The ship excursions are very overpriced.

Sydney, Australia
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7. Re: Ship Excursion or On your Own?

I forgot to mention that the Turkish people are lovely and we've never had a problem in any Turkish port we've been to re: language issues.

If you wanted to see the main tourist spots in Istanbul, get the ship's bus up to the Old Town area - easier to do this than haggle with a taxi driver plus you will be in the midst of the most visited tourist attractions.

Google Maps is a big help - simply google the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cisterna, the Hagia Sofia, the Topkapa Palace and the Grand Bazaar - they are all within easy walking distance from each other.

If the Topkapa Palace is of interest to you, I would recommend you see it first and also include the Harem for a small extra charge and a head set if you wish. We spent 3 hours there and didn't see it all. It's not a palace like Buckingham Palace at all but much of the beauty is about the Iznik tiles, architecture and some of the treasures such as the Sultans clothes. Indeed there is a treasury with some huge precious stones and items which blew my socks off. At the opposite end of the entrance you will find a fantastic view over the Bospherous too.

After the Topkapa Palace, walk to the Blue Mosque (take a plastic bag to carry your shoes if you don't want to leave them outside), dress modestly. You may not be allowed in if it is prayer time but as other venues are close by, you can always go back. The Hippodrome is along side the Blue Mosque too.

The Aya Sofia which was once a Byzantine Church, has been a Mosque for quite some time. There is an entry fee here and you'll probably find "guides" offering their services for a fee while you line up to pay the fee. Regardless of whether a guide is of interest, it is a beautiful building to simply admire.

The Basillica Cisterna is close by and is a huge underground structure which contains water - beautiful and cool on a hot day and don't forget to look for the column with the Medusa head upside down.

The Grand Bazaar - closed on Sunday - take a photo of the entrance when before you go in as there are several entrances and you'd want to exit the same one to get back to your transport to the ship. You can get lost in here hence the photo ... show it to a shop keeper and they'll point you in the right direction - just make sure you have enough battery power ! You can buy many different things here or simply look - it's unique in that there are some 4,000 shops here so there's plenty to look at.

Tips : don't get a taxi from the dock and expect to get the grand tour of all these places or some of them for a sum of money. Chances are you will be taken to a carpet demonstration and will find it hard to get out of that once you are there. Taxi drivers are not guides ... end of story ... and I've heard of a few people who availed themselves of a taxi "guide" in Istanbul and did not get the "tour" they expected to get and paid more than a ship's excursion ... one couple was on our dinner table who paid 80 Euros and were so upset at being taken to a carpet factory and intimidated to buy, then to the Blue Mosque where the driver called over a man and they paid him to take them into the Mosque who pointed to some features and said "blue". After that, they went back to the ship !

Bottom line, it's easy to do by yourself but just be polite, say no thank you to any offers to see a carpet demonstration and keep walking.

Once more thing, in 2006 when we visited the Aya Sofia, we had to pay the entry fee in Lira. In 2008, entry fee into the Topkapa Palace was also in Lira. I don't know if that is still the case but you could check on the Istanbul Travel Forum which by the way has lots of guides on it giving advice. The entry fee into the Basilica Cisterna, I think we paid in Euros. Other than that, we've found that USD, GBP, Euro are likely to be accepted in lots of places in Turkey.

Edited: 29 December 2013, 21:15
Vancouver, Canada
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8. Re: Ship Excursion or On your Own?

Thank you for the great ideas !!

Vancouver, Canada
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9. Re: Ship Excursion or On your Own?

Great tips ! thank you ! Do they accept credit cards in the grand bazaar? or do you recommend to take cash?

London, England
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10. Re: Ship Excursion or On your Own?

Cash is King when it comes to haggling, which is imperative in the Grand Bazaar. The Turkish Lira is very low against other major currencies at the moment, so Turkey will work out a cheap destination.