After many years of hard work, poverty and near poverty, good and bad decisions made, and the rest of the highs and lows that life has to offer, things have been going pretty well for us the past few years. Therefore, after much discussion, we are going on a11 night/12-day cruise of the western Mediterranean on the Celebrity Equinox this summer, followed by 3 days in Rome. All told we’ll be gone 18-19 days.

This will be my first trans-Atlantic trip and Laura’s and Sophie’s first trip to non-English speaking cultures (they’ve been to London.) Laura has especially wanted to see Istanbul her entire life and we chose this particular cruise because it docks for two days there. We’ll probably do one day at the Hagia Sophia and surrounding area, the other at the Grand Bazaar.

We got a Concierge class room in the middle, higher part of the ship, with a veranda with lounge seating, so we can sit outside the room at night and watch the world go by. The ship itself looks quite fun, perhaps a little old for Sophia, but they do have children’s activities and places and times where you can dump them off and run back to the room for some motion in the ocean.

Oddly enough, I’m looking forward to doing some gambling, something I never care to do here in the States.

Oh! And Athens, Greece is on the itinerary as well.

I’m so looking forward to this that I could just giggle. We’re meeting with the agent later this week about hotels, but any suggestions would be appreciated – I’m looking for something within half-hours walking distance of the Vatican and Old Rome, 3-star and up (my wife loves to walk in cities, so a half-hour walk through one of the most historic places on the planet merely to get to our destination(s) is an added bonus.)

Any advice? (Yes, we have our passports and easily meet the requirements for international travel, so that has been taken care of.)

I’d also love to hear about favorite (or dreamed-of) cruises that you have been on. I will say it was quite the decision between the Med and doing the fjords in Norway, but we decided that the educational and cultural opportunities afforded by Rome, Athens, and Istanbul were just too great.

And Laura wants to straddle two continents while in Istanbul. Any idea how to do that would be greatly appreciated!

You realize you’ve made a terrible mistake.

Once you’re on the ship, you will be pining for the fjords.


When we were in Rome last year we stayed here:

I din’t know how it rates wrt your budget but it was a cute small hotel sort of overlooking the Spanish Steps. The draped beds are very romantic. There is a pleasant cafe on the roof for breakfast and afternoon cocktails and it is in walking distance of pretty much everything. The only time we took a cab was for schlepping luggage to and from the airport.

We just spent several days in Athens this spring break and had a really good time…saw the Acropolis and all the excavations surrounding it; wandered through the tourist shops in the Plaka, went to a few museums, watched a riot in front of our hotel, complete with tear gas and pepper spray! ( it was no big deal really. No need to feel nervous about that)

Sounds like a wonderful trip!

My husband and I are also taking a cruise this summer, though nothing as exotic as that one! We’re doing a 8-night Bahamas/Turks & Caicos itinerary out of NYC in July.

Have you guys cruised before?

No, we’ve never cruised before, which is part of my giddiness.

While on the ship, don’t hold back, do EVERYTHING. Never sang Karoke? now’s the time, you don’t know these people, just have fun. Play the games eat the dish you’ve never had, talk to the workers on the ship, go to the show just participate. Dance like no one’s watching.

Cruises are great, all that traveling and you unpack once =)

Make sure that you can pay any import duties on the crap you buy to bring home …

make photocopies of your passport and plastic to make it easier to replace if lost or stolen. Never take all your resources with you, lock everything up in the little safe in the stateroom. You may consider if you have the time to - make another account at your bank, make sure IT IS NOT LINKED IN ANY MANNER TO YOUR NORMAL ACCOUNTS and leave everything in your regular account, and only load enough money into this card for your daily purchases so your entire bank account will not get busted if someone gets your main cards.

Just to let you know John, that people go off of people you know !

And just to make it perfectly clear, totally bloody clear, I don’t envy you, OK !

I don’t envy you one little bit !


Avoid any ship captained by Capt. Schettino.
Also, attend the lifeboat drills!

In Kusadasi, walk to Pigeon Island. It’s a little “castle” on an island connected by a walkway. It’s beautiful. At the base of that walkway (i.e. the mainland), there’s a taxi stand. Ask for Tahsin (pronounced tok-SEEN). Tell him you want to go to Ephesus, and when he quotes the price, haggle with him. Tell him if he gives you a better price, you’ll go leather shopping and carpet shopping with him. Don’t buy anything from these stores- just visit them and feign interest.

You’ll need Turkish Lira to get into Ephesus. They’re a government-run site, so they won’t take other currencies. You can use a debit card, I think, but there’s an extra fee.

In Athens, we took the tour. It was expensive but totally worth it, as was the Vatican tour. Any others were not nearly as interesting to us.

Remember, they x-ray the bags for alcohol and other things, but they use a metal detector on you. So if you want to sneak on booze, carry it on your person. Also remember that you can do whatever you want on the boat, including sleeping in. The point is to relax and have fun, not stress out by trying to be and do everything for everyone else.

Oh, and I don’t know if anyone told you, but the food is free. It’s not rude or out of place to order two entrees or a fourth shrimp cocktail for dessert if you want to.

At the end of the cruise, you’re expected to tip your stateroom attendants, waiters, and head waiters. This is ONLY salary they receive, so be sure to do right by them. Yes, you heard me right- this is the only money they make on the entire cruise, so if you stiff them, you’re basically stealing their service.

Sorry but bullshit. Not every cruise line, maybe some cut rate mexican or serbian one. [Several different cruise lines have hiring offices in major cities like Bucharest, I have known several people who have worked for several different cruise lines. My Romanian friend’s current GF works for Carnival and was hired in Bucharest’s office.]

The wages are not huge, and tips are of course very welcome, but they do get paid a paycheck. [otherwise it would be slavery, dude.]

A few years ago we went on a cruise from Barcelona to Rome, Athens, Ephesus, Alexandria (I assume they’ve scratched that) Malta and back to Barcelona.

There are tours set up by the cruise line, or in some cases you can go on your own. For Rome there is train into Rome from walking distance of the cruise port. For Athens you dock at the port, and there is a subway into Athens a good hike from the cruise dock.
Ephesus is quite far from where you dock, so you might want to use the tour. But check out some travel books. We made copies of the pages about the places we were visiting. The really small, thin books with maps are really useful. You don’t want to drag thick travel books with you.
Visiting cities during a cruise just gives you a taste - enough to see if you want to go back. We discovered we did not like Rome or Athens, but we loved Turkey. But don’t expect to know a city after you’ve visited.

Cruise lines try to extract money from you however possible - goes with relatively cheap fares. Presentations about cities were mostly about going to the four or five stores in the city which kicked back money to the cruise line.
As for gambling - you are a captive audience, so don’t expect good odds.
Bingo didn’t used to cost money, but now it appears to, and a lot, and they sell so many cards that your chances of winning is pretty minimal. However there are still a good number of trivia contests and the like for free, which I enjoyed - and which the cruise director who ran them gleefully said got more people than Bingo.

We’ve been on four cruises and going on our fifth in June, and it is great fun. You’ll enjoy it.

That’s not a tip, then. I agree that he should leave them money if that’s what’s expected, but not because that’s the only money they receive. The way you word it (“if you don’t tip, you’re a thief”) means it isn’t a tip–it’s a gratuity. Tips are optional. Since this isn’t really optional, it should be a fee that’s included with the rest of the noise. That it isn’t just a fee would indicate a problem with the cruise company’s business model.

But, I think it’s sort of illegal to get paid less than minimum wage, no matter how bad a waiter you are or how much your customers refuse to tip you.

Actually, today a lot of ships have premium restaurants where you pay extra. We weren’t impressed by the choices, but where we live we can easily go to better restaurants than this, and the food in the main dining room was plenty good. Getting enough food is the least of your problems, even without ordering extra.

The ships make tipping very easy. Even though the staff does get paid, it is still a good thing to do.

Ships in international waters don’t have to follow U.S. labor laws.

Most cruise ships never dock in the US and are not covered by US law. However if you depend on service to customers, you don’t want to hire people desperate to work for free.
You have so many waiters and so many stewards that tipping is close to being a fee. You should tip more for special service, of course. The lines make it very easy.

Good advice - I’ll do this.

We’re going to do the tours of Athens, Ephesus, and Pompeii due to the short time the ship will be docked. We’ll have 5 days in Rome and 2 in Istanbul, so we are going off by ourselves there.


Rome and Athens are two of my favorite cities. Three days in Rome? You must take the train down to Pompeii. Seriously, you will not regret it! Pompeii is probably my favorite educational/cultural destination on the planet!

How many days will you be in Athens? Try to take a bus up to Delphi if you can. Beautiful!

Regarding shore excursions -

At the major ports you will be given the option of purchasing from a menu of shore excursion trips. Some are full bus loads - some are van sized - guided, not-quite-as-guided - and price ranges that match the level of comfort & service. They can get quite pricey overall, you could almost double the cost of your cruise with shore excursions.

Of course you could choose to just hoof it and use a guide book, many do, but I recommend at least a few tours with guides. You really get a lot more information and see things you might have missed on your own.

Now with that in mind - there are a lot of private tour operators at the ports who are often a little cheaper than the ones available from the cruise company - check online. We did a few where we hooked up with another family on the cruise and got a guided van tour for a fixed price for the whole group of us (not per-person). In addition, they can be a little more flexible in the itinerary based on your desires.

Also, join the message board at, you will find a thread for your specific cruise. There you can find people to share private tours with.

Regarding food - I concur with the recommendation of getting 3 appetizers and 4 entrees and 5 desserts, yum! (But you can’t do this in the specialty restaurants where you pay more, only the normal dining room.)