Azamara Club Cruises
Greek Island Cruise - 2015
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Day 1 - YYZ to Istanbul – 10 hour flight – Departed 1 hour late at 5:30 pm arrived 10:20 am Monday morning. Istanbul customs very busy. Long walk to foreign nationals queue. Took 45 minutes to be
be for the computer system to refresh. Lots of frayed nerves especially in the Turkish national line up. Foreigners seemed to take it in stride.
Istanbul is a modern developed city – very spread out, but manageable. Hotel transfer was a good option – not sure I could instruct the taxi driver where to go. Found our name taped to the barriers upon exit from baggage claim. Hotel Rep met us and called the car to come. Ten minutes of waiting and the vehicle showed up. Spacious and air conditioned. Our hotel was about 45 mins from the airport in the old part of Istanbul.
The Sultanhan Hotel is on a back street near the main avenue that leads to the Grand Bazaar. Nice
hotel, but not luxurious. Great location. Drove past the Hyatt Regency and other high rise north American h each way so recommend staying in Old Town.
Arrived at our hotel at 12:30 pm and room was ready. Couldn’t manage going out in the afternoon heat after three hours sleep, so crashed for 4 hours. Got up at 5:00 local time and walked to the Grand Bazaar. What a fantastic and exotic place covering many square blocks of stores of exquisite and trashy mix of products and artifacts – carpets, metalware, leather, silk, spices, sweets, clothing…could spend all day and shopping. Major purchase was two silk scarves that started out at 50 Turkish Lira each ended up 55 TL for two.
For dinner, we found a modern outdoor café on the main avenue with a troubadour and great table for people watching. Ordered Turkish Pizza and meat wraps. Light and reasonable. Met a couple that were going on the same cruise as us. Turkish coffee after dinner, then a walk towards the Blue Mosque. We have a formal tour organized by a supplier Tuesday morning, so didn’t walk all the way to the Blue Mosque.
On the main avenue, there were numerous side streets lined with outdoor restaurants of all kinds. Romantic settings with candle lights and gentle cool breezes and lots of people watching. Notices a very nice looking upscale hotel Hagia Sofia right in a great location for more luxury conscious clients. Walking distance from
all the highlights of old Istanbul.
Great part of the city for walking at night. Everyone seemed to be out enjoying the cool evening.
The Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Day 2 – Tuesday July 21 – Istanbul – Breakfast on the roof top terrace of the Sultanhan Hotel with great views of the harbour and city.
Private guided walking tour by Mine from Magister Tours Inc., our preferred tour guide supplier in Turkey who arrived promptly at 9:30 am. First stop – The Hypodrome square, the centre of Istanbul from a historical and cultural perspective. Even today, it is a focal point of community and religious events and ceremonies. Next to the Hypodrome is the famous The Blue Mosque – incredible history and architecture and one of the most revered mosques in Turkey if not the muslim world. Dress protocol is strictly enforced and both men and women are given shawls and wraps to ensure they are properly covered. Plastic bags are provided to carry shoes since there are too many people visiting to leave shoes at the entrance. Timing of entry is critical, especially if there are cruise ships in the harbour. There was only one large ship and the Azamara Journey, but the line up to get in grew very quickly by 10 am, so it may be a good idea to visit before 8:30 to beat the crowds.
The next stop was to have been the Hagia Sophia Museum which is also one of the most sacred historic sites in Istanbul. The museum is ever larger than the Blue Mosque and is just a few hundred feet away. Unfortunately, the line up was too long and the weather was too hot to stand in line, so we opted to miss the museum this trip.
Instead, we went to visit the underground Cysternes across the road from the Blue Mosque and the museum. Amazing underground water system that supplied the city’s water brought in via aquaducts from many miles away. The Cysternes are now only an historic relic of times past, but a testament to the engineering skills of the Romans and the Turkish predecessors. Because they are underground, the temperature is about 17 degrees Celsius while the surface temperature was close to 30 degrees Celsius. The cavernous Cysternes have an eerie, spooky feel to it that seems to come right out of the
movies. This is every much a must visit attraction as anything else in Istanbul capped with the two carvings of Medusa in the furthest reaches of the caverns.
Mine and Magister Tours Inc. offer custom tours of Istanbul and the rest of Turkey and are extremely knowledgeable about history and the importance of each of Istanbul’s historic sites. Call us to book a tour.
Embarkation onto the Azamara Journey was quick and very efficient. We arrived from the hotel in
a taxi that cost TL 25 or about C$12.50 and breezed through check in and onto the ship without a wait or a queue anywhere along the way. Another advantage of a small ship. Our stateroom was ready at 1:30 as advised and we were very pleased to accept the upgrade to a suite arranged by the Azamara Sales Rep for Canada. Suite was spacious with a bathroom with a tub. With a suite, the specialty dining is complimentary, as is access to the Thalassa spa and 3 hours of free internet per person. The butler service was also included.
A quick tour of the ship showed us a well laid out deck plan with plenty of room for everyone. Deck
chairs with towels were plentiful with several different areas for relaxing and sunning all over the ship so that you weren’t limited to the pool deck. No music blaring, just a quiet pool with attentive wait staff ready to take your order. The gym is a fair size with machines and free weights; enough for most workouts.
Day 3 Kepez/Canakkale
Trojan Horse from the movie "Troy" on the waterfront, Canakkale, Turkey
Day 3 – Wednesday, July 22 – Kepez/Canakkale – The ship docked early in the morning before we were awake. Breakfast on the balcony at 7:30. Off the ship to the complimentary shuttles into Canakkale, a small port town on the Adriatic coast of Turkey. Canakkale is best known for two historic
sites. First, the ancient legendary city of Troy was located 35 km outside of Canakkale and the remains of the city are a major attraction. More recently, Gallipoli is across the Dardenelles Straits and was the site of a major battlefield in WW1 where the AnZac forces suffered a heart wrenching and horrific defeat.
We chose to spend the morning walking the waterfront promenade which has a number of interesting monuments and attractions. First, the Trojan Horse used in the movie "Troy" is found on the promenade with a tribute to the film along with a model of the city. Further down there is a giant sundial. In addition, there is a
monument to Pirri Reis, a pirate, an officer in the Ottoman Navy and a scientist from Gallipoli. All along the
waterfront are cafes and restaurants that serve tea and coffee and food to the many tourists and locals that come to the waterfront. Fishermen line the walkway hoping to land the next big one or simply to while away the time. Tip of the day: Most café’s have free wifi internet, so if you want to get connected, stop in for a drink and a sandwich and log on.
For us, it was back to the ship for some relaxation by the pool and maybe a workout in the gym.
Day 4 - Volos and Meteora
One of the monasteries in the Meteora area of Central Greece
Day 4 –Thursday, July 23 - Volos Greece – Volos is the second largest city in Greece. The main attraction from Volos is the tour to Meteora Monasteries. Meteora is a two hour drive north west from Volos in the mountains of central Greece. The rock formations are unique and the monasteries are perched on the top of some of the most inaccessible peaks. Before roads were built, the monks had to climb to the monasteries by rope ladders or be pulled up in net baskets. Many monks lived in hollowed out caves as a test of their faith and dedication to a simple life. The monasteries have been much photographed and even featured in a James Bond movie – "Live and Let Die" with Roger Moore. The scenery is renown as is the workmanship and engineering feat of building the monasteries in such difficult locations. The entire tour took about 8 hours and included lunch and stops at restaurants and icon workshop. . Meteora is a very popular tourist destination and you may want to consider the slightly higher cost of hiring a private car from Volos to avoid the crowds. You will be able to see more monasteries and some of the more remote monasteries and avoid the tourist restaurants and stores that are required on a group tour.
Part of the inclusions of an Azamara suite is unlimited access to the two specialty restaurants – Prime C and Aqualina. Prime C is a US themed steak house and the view, service and food are excellent.
Tip of the day – Another inclusion of an Azamara suite is 235 minutes of free internet per person in the and you need to make sure your browser is working properly. Otherwise, you will have trouble logging off and may end up wasting your internet time. Make sure that you visit the tech lounge to make sure you have the
logoff site icon added to your bookmarks.
Day 5 - Skiathos
The arch at Lalaria Beach, Skiathos Island, Greece
Day 5 – Friday, July 24 - Skiathos, Greece – Skiathos is just 35 km south of Volos near the coast of Greece. The port of Skiathos is a small, iconic Greek fishing village transformed into a vacation spot, not as well known as Santorini or Mykonos, but just as picturesque. Skapelos is a neighbouring island which was featured in the movie "Mama Mia" and you can take a tour to the island and visit the church and the beach from the movie. Be prepared to listen to ABBA music for the entire trip to and from the island. Skiathos is best known for its beaches. The best known is Lalaria beach with its famous arch. The legend is that if you swim through the arch once, you will have good fortune. If you swim through it twice, you will find love. If you swim through it three times and you are a young woman, you will conceive. Not sure what happens to men who swim through it three times.
At the port, you can choose which island or beach you want to visit. The ferry to Lalaria cost
Euros 10 pp return. The ferry left at 10 am and left Lalaria at 2:00. The timing worked well as most of the other ferries left at noon and the passengers on our ferry were the only ones on the beach after noon. The beach, like many others in Greece, is pebble, so bring flip flops or water shoes as it can be difficult to get out of the water. Lalaria does not have any facilities so bring water and food and visit the wc before you go. Another beach is Koukounais Beach which is on the south part of the island. This beach has beach chairs, umbrellas for rent as well as a small café, plus a sandy beach.
Spend some time visiting Skiathos port, wander the small streets or sit in a café, most of which have comfortable patio sofas and loungers and guests are welcome to spend the afternoon there. Each café offers free wifi so you can get caught up with the outside world if you want.
Tips of the day – At Lalaria Beach, walk to the arch end of the beach as there is the most shade.
There are no umbrellas available and the rest of the beach is exposed to the sun. In Skiathos cafes, the wifi
password is usually the café telephone number which is on the menu.
Day 6 - Kusadasi and Ephesus
The Library at the ruins in Ephesus, Turkey
Click the image above or here to see our video of Ephesus
Day 6 – Saturday, July 25 - Kusadasi Turkey – Back across the Aegean Sea to Kusadasi, Turkey. Turkey is the home to
some of the most precious Roman ruins. The most famous is Ephesus, the former Roman capital of Asia Minor and second only to Rome in wealth and splendour. The ruins are still being excavated and some of the most iconic ruins are located here. While Ephesus is the most famous, there are many other important ruins nearby. The Temple of St John and the House of the Virgin Mary to name a few. Kusadasi used to be a farming and fishing community until the 1980’s when tourism became the biggest economy driven by the excavations of Ephesus.
Kusadasi also has wonderful beaches within 15 – 30 minutes by taxi from Kusadasi. In addition, because of the tourism, Kusadasi is famous for its markets and bazaars. Café’s and restaurants line the waterfront. North American hotels are building resorts and condo complexes in the city as well.
Tip of the day: Ephesus is a large complex with little shade. Many tours last for several hours, but only
include an hour or so at the ruins. The rest of the time is taken up by shopping tours. We found a wonderful taxi on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor – Yucel Bor, from Can Taxi. His website is www.kusadasitaxiport.com. He will drive to the upper gate at Ephesus and meet you at the bottom gate. Timing is your own. He can also add other sites including Pamukke salt pools. He only takes payment at the end of the tour, so you won’t be worried about losing him along the way and being stranded. He is
new to the internet, but is receiving great reviews, ours included.
Part of the Azamara Cruise experience is an Azamazing Evening, a private shore excursion exclusively for Azamara clients. Tonight we will be returning to Ephesus for a concert in one of the amphitheatres. Looking
forward to that and will post an update later.
Entrance to the amphitheatre of the Azamazing Evening concert under the stars
Click photo above to view video of the event by Cruise Holidays | Luxury Travel Boutique
Azamazing Evening – As part of the Azamara Club Cruise, a special event is organized on most cruises of longer than 5 nights. On the Greek Island cruise, the Azamazing Evening was a concert by a string orchestra Ephesus. Ephesus is closed in the evening, so the only people were Azamara guests. The evening sky and was truly Azamazing!
Day 7 - Bodrum
Day 7 – Sunday, July 26 - Bodrom, Turkey – Bodrom is a small beach resort town centred around the Castle of St Peter, built in the 15 century. High up on the hills are windmills similar to the ones in Mykonos. Bodrom has become a
sailing destination with the harbour filled with private yachts and sailboats. The waterfront extends for several miles from the cruise port to the Castle of St Peter.
We had the best intentions of walking over to the Castle and taking a tour. Along the way we stopped
at the beach for a swim and a lounge under an umbrella. The café’s provide the loungers and the
umbrellas to anyone that wants to order something off the menu. We ordered two ice café’s for about 7 Euros or C$10 and spent an hour swimming and sun bathing.
We left to head to the castle, but stopped for lunch along the waterfront. I ordered the sea bream
which was fresh from the sea that morning. After lunch we started heading to the Castle again, only to get lost in the market streets that run parallel to the beach.
The shopping district went the rest of the way to the Castle. Unfortunately, when we arrived
at the castle, it was already too late to spend any time there, so we turned around and headed back to the ship. Of course, we had to stop for a drink and a refreshing dip along the way. By the time we got back to the ship, we only had time to shower and get dressed for our 6:00 reservation at Prime C, the specialty steak restaurant. All in all, a very nice relaxing day meandering the waterfront of Bodrom.
Tip of the Day: The local crafts seem to be a better bargain in Bodrom than in Istanbul or Kusadasi. We were able to bargain quite easily and 50% of the asking price was not a bad end result. Turkish made designer wear is everywhere, but you have to be careful of the quality. You pay for what you get. Turkish cotton seems to be of reasonable quality at a good price.
Day 8 - Santorini
Iconic Santorini, Greece
Day 8 – Monday, July 27 - Santorini – A group of islands created around the crater of a volcano. One of the most picturesque islands in the world and it lives up to the advance billing. The main villages of Fira and Oia (pronounced "eeya") are perched on the cliffs overlooking the Caldera, or the crater which is now filled with sea water.
The cruise ships dock offshore of Fira and tender to the base of the cliff below Fira. The only way up is to walk a very steep switchback path, ride a donkey or purchase a ticket on the cable car. Santorini is
usually very hot, so the walk up can be very arduous. The donkey ride costs the same as the cable car and takes 20 minutes to half an hour. The only problem is that the donkey stays with you until the next
shower. The cable car is the easiest way and takes about 3 minutes, although when the large cruise ships are in port, there may be a long line up.
Azamara, which holds less than 700 passengers was able to pick a port day in which only two other small ships were in port, so there were very little crowds. In addition, Azamara did leave Santorini until after 10 pm long after the other cruise ships leave in the late afternoon. Hence, there was no wait at the cable car at any time during the day.
Tip of the day: From Fira port you can take a boat ride to Oia port which includes a bus up a steep hill from Oia port to the village and then at regular intervals a bus ride back to Fira is included as well. The cost is 10 Euros. (Others offer the same package for 20 Euros, but there is no difference. Go with the 10 Euro option.) You will have to take the cable car down to get back to the tender, but it is an easy way to get to Oia, the most picturesque of the two towns.
Santorini Video (click on image to view Santorini video by Cruise Holidays | Luxury Travel Boutique)
Video of Santorini
Oia is iconic in every sense. The views, the blue domed churches, the bells, the cafes and restaurants are everything that you have read or seen. It takes some exploring to find all the iconic views and angles, but well worth exploring for a couple of hours. The heat can be oppressive, so bring plenty of water and stop in the shade from time to time. Tip of the day: While most of the main streets run parallel to the cliffs edge, take some of the side streets towards the Caldera to find those hidden scene and landscapes. Each side street has its own surprise. As you walk away from the direction of Fira, you end up at a castle and the windmills. It is best to turn around and retrace your steps as going around the back of the town is not as scenic.
The bus ride back to Fira is about 25 minutes and the road runs behind the cliffs and gives you a view of the sea side of the island. Once in Fira, meander the streets again for some shopping or photos. You can spend
another couple of hours in Fira as well. Late in the afternoon, people gather along the cliffs to watch the
sunset. The late afternoon sun creates the most brilliant light and brings out all the photographers.
Day 9 - Mykonos
Day 9 – Monday, July 28 - Mykonos – Know as a party island, the port is quite quaint with some small churches and the iconic windmills and waterfront restaurants. The Port of Mykonos is not quite as picturesque as Santorini, but there is a bit more to do on the island as a whole.
Elia Beach is a popular destination and it can get quite busy. The best time is early in the morning before the crowds arrive. Transportation is a bit tricky in Mykonos. Taxis are not readily available and the best way to get one is to have someone call. The taxi will give you the taxi number and will wait for a few minutes to make sure they connect with you. The legitimate taxis are Mercedes Benz, but there are locals with cars that will come to drive you if you get a local to call for you. Negotiate the fare with the non-official taxis as they will start high.
The taxi to Elia Beach should be around Euro 25 and the beach is about 20 minutes away from the port.
The beach is sandy and there are plenty of loungers and thatched umbrellas for shade. The cost varies
depending how close you want to be to the sea. The first two rows are Eur 20 for two loungers and an umbrella. The other rows are less. There are restaurants and boutiques at the beach and water equipment along the beach as well. There is wifi, but the internet is very slow. Tip of the day: If you take one of the loungers in the first row, make sure your belongings are above the sand. There is an occasional wave that will wash up to the second row of chairs and everything on the ground will get wet and may get washed away.
Another form of transportation is the bus. For 2 Euro, there is a bus that runs back and forth from the Old Port to Elia Beach, but only starts at 11:00. Just be aware that sometimes the bus can be late by as much as 45 minutes, so allow plenty of time when you leave. There may be a long line up and the boarding can be chaotic. If there are filled, people are allowed to stand in the aisles. The bus is white and looks like a tour bus, but has a sign on the front window "Old Port to Elia". The bus is air conditioned, which is a huge plus.
Mykonos video (click image below to view Mykonos video by Cruise Holidays | Luxury Travel Boutique)
Video of Mykonos
The sunset in Mykonos is a popular attraction. The cafes and restaurants are all facing the sunset. People gather on the hill by the windmills to take pictures and watch the sun go down. Evening is also a good time to wander the streets of the port. The streets are very narrow, originally designed to combat pirates. The narrow streets forced them to move single file which made it easier to trap and defeat the pirates. There are few dead ends and eventually all streets lead back to the waterfront. If you get lost, the locals will direct you.
Unlike Santorini, the local residents still live in the port area. In Santorini, all the local homes have been
converted to hotels.
Back on the waterfront, the open air cafes are a great place to people watch. The crowds are
continuous and people stream by. The port also lights up at night creating a beautiful setting for dinner, drinks or just a stroll. Tip of the day: if you want to use the wifi of a local café, make sure you check with someone there that is online. The internet at the restaurant where we had drinks didn’t work and the staff didn’t seem to be too enthusiastic about finding a solution.
Day 10 - Hydra
Day 10 – Tuesday, July 29 - Hydra (pron. "hee-dra") – Small island port made famous by Sophia Loren and since then, a mecca for the rich and famous. Greece’s Monte Carlo, but smaller. No vehicles on the island. Mules are the only transportation. We saw some new guests arriving by ferry and being taken up to their hotel by mule train.
One mule for the bags and two more for the guests. The man was dressed in a seersucker suit and
was perched atop a mule.
The port is as picturesque as Skiathos or Santorini. Outdoor restaurants by the waterfront have put up make shift canvas tarps to shade the guests. As you walk to the far side of the port, the cafés and restaurants are
built on the rocks with umbrellas for shade.
There are pathways to swimming areas on the rocks near the water and these paths meander through the restaurants right between the tables. You can take a table in the restaurant and walk down the path for a quick dip. Or you can walk down to the edge of the rocks and jump in. There are ladders that you can use to climb out of the water all along the shore. The water is deep, clear and blue. At the point at the end of the port waterfront, there is an arch in the rocks carved by the water and the local kids spend most of the day climbing up and jumping 15 feet off the arch into the water below.
Hydra is a real hidden gem and rivals Skiathos and Santorini in photogenics and relaxation.
Peter Wong, July 2015