Two Majestic Trips…One Review!

Because I spend quite a bit of time in the casino when I cruise…and because I don’t often win…Royal Caribbean sometimes takes pity on me and gives me certificates for free cruises.  These are not big, fancy week long cruises on their big, fancy ships.  They are usually 3 or 4 day cruises on the older, smaller ships…but hey! They’re free!!

I had booked a cruise for February and wanted to take my father for his birthday (his birthday is really in October, and I made him a really cool card!) See:

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But then…In January, he found out that his work would not give him the time off so my brother got the spot instead.  (Dad gets a much better cruise later on, but you’ll have to wait for that one!)  So that is the first Majesty cruise.  A three night trip to Nassau and Cococay.  Certainly a quick trip, but Port Canaveral is not too bad a drive so easy enough for a weekend get-away

Then, I got another certificate in the mail for a free cruise so I hatched a plan to use this one for bribery!  I needed to pick up my son from college in Ft. Lauderdale and move him back home for the summer.  I drive a SUV, but my BIL drives a BIG SUV!  So I thought, “If I take him on the cruise, he will go with me the rest of the way from Port Canaveral to Ft. Lauderdale, help me move the kid out of the dorm, then we can split the drive back home!” It was a genius idea!  But that’s not how it worked out…It was even better than that!

You see, while we were on that first Majesty cruise, my brother earned a certificate for money off a future cruise so we decided to book a second cabin for the May four night cruise and bring Katie along as well!  Then I was able to get Jarod to convince a local college buddy to store some of his stuff over the summer, so now I didn’t need the big SUV.  It all worked out really well, mostly!

So since both cruises went to the same places, on the same ship I am going to combine them into one review…that may or may not work but we’ll see how it goes!

First up, a quick pit stop at Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar. Why? Because boarding doesn’t start until 11am so what else are you supposed to do?  Everyone needs a pre-boarding drink!  And a quick picture!

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The Majesty of the Seas is an older, smaller ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.  But they have made some upgrades, most notably on the pool deck where the addition of water slides was a big hit with the Under Six member of our party!

Another big hit with the Pre-K crowd was our stateroom attendant’s mastery of the famed “Towel Animal” left in the room after evening turndown service.  I am lucky that I have always had really good stateroom attendants and these two cruises were no different!  Here is one of our nightly visitors!

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As a quick side note…I left those sunglasses on the plane ride to Barcelona so if you flew American Airlines last month and found those awesome Minnie Mouse glasses in the seat pocket, can I have them back please?

But back to the Majesty.  Our itinerary was the same on both cruises but in different order.  In addition, the four day cruise also had a day at sea, while the three day cruise just had the port stops.  So first up…Cococay, Bahamas.  Royal Caribbean’s private island.  This is a tender port, which means you have to get off your big ship, onto a smaller ship in order to get to the island.  Really like a water taxi service.  Because of this, tender ports are susceptible to weather disruptions and are often missed.  We had amazing weather on both cruises so we were able to visit twice.

Here is what the Majesty looks like from the tender boat.  The water around the island is not deep enough for her to pull closer so she really does have to park a bit away.

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And that little boat by her side that looks like a barnacle is one of the tenders.  But they really are a nice little ride, provided the water is not choppy.  You can see our seas looked like glass. Nice and smooth!

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And here is a little part of the island.  This has been totally built by Royal Caribbean so everything and everyone on the island works for the cruise line.  This makes for a nice sanitized day at the beach, which is great and I really like Cococay, but sometimes I miss local flavors and stuff like that.  Still, it is beautiful.

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We had some cloud cover as you can see, but it never rained.  A newer addition to the island is the floating bar.  Basically a tiki hut that floats by the shore.  It is connected by a giant chain so if the water gets rough, they can reel it in.

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It does have a limit on how many people can be on it at one time…presumably so it doesn’t sink…so they kind of do a “one off, one on” scenario once it gets full.  I haven’t actually been out there yet, but it certainly looks cool!

Next up, we headed to Nassau.  If you have read my previous review of Nassau, you may grasp that I have not had the best of luck there! So sometimes I don’t even get off the ship anymore, but this May I had a goal…Pirate Republic Brewery.  It is right by the port and I love tasting local beers so that was my mission.  In addition, the beach soccer world cup was going on that week and while the day we were there was the rest day, so no games, I did want to see if I could find a t-shirt or something from the event…It is Soccer Mom Travels after all!

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Looks like we got the best parking spot!  And look!!! Right there!!  Pirate Republic Brewery!!  How close is that!!

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Off we headed to find soccer stuff then stop for a nice frosty local beer…ah the best laid plans.  Seems I have no luck in Nassau at all.  We tried to get a taxi over to the stadium since the vendors were telling us that the only place that would sell t-shirts like that were over at the stadium, but then the taxi driver said that the vendors wouldn’t even be open because there were no games.  Sigh.  Okay so that plan is shot…at least I still have my frosty local beer to look forward to, right??

Um. No.

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While I heartily applaud the policy of not drinking and voting, this would once again add to my luck in Nassau.  So once again I am leaving Nassau without doing any of the things I actually planned to do.  Lucky I still have two more trips scheduled with stops in Nassau.  I will get to you yet Pirate Republic!

Overall, I really do like these short cruises on the smaller ships.  I am very lucky to live within driving distance which makes it possible to do these.  Next up?  Freedom of the Seas in the Western Mediterranean.  Spoiler…Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds!

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Happy Birthday!!

So I am back from my venture on Carnival Cruise lines and I will write a full trip report shortly.  BUT!  Today is my dear brothers birthday and I wanted to take a minute and let him know how dear he is to me.

There are people in our lives that love us: family, friends, etc.  But if you are really lucky, you have someone that supports you unconditionally.  Without question or reservation, no matter what stupid decisions you make.  My brother is that guy.  I am blessed to have a plenty of loving family…sometimes part of that love is to call me out when I make an unwise decision (believe it or not it does happen…sometimes!).  My brother just supports (at least to my face…he may talk about me behind my back though!! :-).  And he always has.

In addition to being an amazing brother, father, son, husband and friend; he is also an amazing travel companion.  So to that end, he will be joining me on my next cruise in February.  This is the first time we have cruised, or even traveled just us so there really is no limit to the trouble I expect us to get into!

We will be sailing back on Royal Caribbean, on their oldest and smallest ship, the Majesty of the Seas, but even being the small, old girl she still has a loyal following so I am looking forward to sailing on another new ship for me.

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We are headed to Nassau and CocoCay.  This is just a quick 3 day cruise, but I am honored to have my brother along.  So Happy Birthday dear…I can’t wait to cruise with you!

Part 9 (Santorini, Greece) – Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

Santorini.  The most picturesque of all the Greek Isles, as I had been told over and over again by friends and family that had been there and loved it.  I will admit, my expectations were high heading into our third and final tour with The Travel Insiders.  We chose a tour called, “The Highlights of Santorini – The Black Pearl of the Aegean.

This was our only tender port so I did have a little heartburn about getting off the ship and up the cable cars by our tour’s assigned meeting time…I am a little, teensy bit OCD about being on time so I tend to get really crabby when I am late.

We did eventually get off the ship and to our meeting spot and we were about 10 minutes late…this means that I was almost in hives stressing about it, but I tried not to be too crabby!!!  (That only worked for part of the day!)

We got our tickets for the ride up the cliffside and hopped on the cable cars.  My mother is terrified of these things so I am pretty sure she kept her eyes closed the entire time, but if she hadn’t, she would have seen a pretty steep ride up the side of a volcano.

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Okay, it’s a little steep…but a quick 5 minutes and you are up to the top where you now realize that you are standing on the rim of a volcano.  From the town of Fira you can really see how the cone of the volcano used to look and you realize that your ship is parked right in the middle.  I know a bunch of really smart science and geology people have proven this volcano to be dead, but there is a minute when you look around at the throng of tourists and wonder which one you will toss over the side of the cliff in case an emergency sacrifice becomes necessary.

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We met our tour guide and she walked us around Fira showing us some lovely views and giving us the history of the caldera and how the island came to be so popular.  We wound through very crowded streets to get to our coach that would take us to Oia.

After a bit of a harrowing ride along sheer cliff walls, we arrived in picturesque Oia.  This is what everyone thinks of when they think of Santorini.   This is the white washed buildings with the blue domes, this is the endless vistas over the caldera, this is beautiful.

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In case you were wondering, yes I did notice the For Sale sign and yes, I do have that number written down!

Once in Oia, we were given plenty of free time to walk around, shop if we wanted and of course take pictures!

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You can see how incredibly close to the sheer dropoff these houses were built.  I know quite a few Greek nationals and I promise you, many of them are a schosh crazy…seeing how close to death these folks choose to live?  I get it a little bit!

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This may, in part also explain the abundance of churches for such a small island, between the cliffs and the volcano, I could certainly see wanting to stay on good terms with the Almighty!

After wandering around for a bit, shopping if we wanted, or desperately searching for a bit of shade, we meandered back towards the bus.  Our guide promised us a treat on the way back to the bus and she was not wrong!  Gelato!!

We stopped at Lolita’s Gelato and it is cute, kitchy, very greek.  BUT…and this is the most important part…the gelato is fantastic!  i don’t know if I would say it was the best I had on the trip, we did spend several days in Venice, but it was the best we had in Greece.  And we tried some in every port.  My son was on a mission to find the best gelato so he was certainly well equipped to make a determination.  We tried all the fun flavors, Cuban Lover: a blend of coffee and chocolate (my favorite); Zabaione, Stracciatella, and the flavor that they are famous for: Greek Viagra.  This is gelato flavored with honey and pistachios and it is fantastic.  If you can get past saying the name, it is totally worth it!

We then moved on to Pyrgos.  This traditional village is supposedly the least spoiled by tourism and still has many features of the medieval village such as narrow streets, fortified walls and secret passageways.

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Many of the houses are still inhabited mostly “as is,” small and built on top of one another.

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This village also has the best vantage point of the island.  It isn’t “untouched” by accident…the villagers could see an invasion coming for miles.  Remember those walls?  This is a fantastic example of a fortified city still around for us to see.

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Yep, you can see for miles and miles and miles.

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That’s Oia…way over there.  It took us about 30 minutes to drive here from there in the motor coach.

After some time for picture taking, we headed for a quick stop at the Black Beach of Kamari.

There are cafes and shops and things here that I am sure would make a lovely stop by themselves.  However, we were running out of time and really, I had to put my feet in the water so I could say I had been in the Aegean and Ionian Seas.

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This is from the beach looking back up the road we had driven on to get here.  The sand is indeed black, and I did put my feet in the Aegean.  A word of warning…if you go to a black sand beach in the Mediterranean in August, spend some time before hand studying with the fire walkers so you are prepared to withstand your walk from the side walk to the water.  Just saying.

Back in the coach to head back to Fira to wait in the incredibly long line to get to the cable cars down the mountain.  There is a path to walk, but it is hot and covered in donkey poo and there is no place to rest on the way.  I knew mom wouldn’t make it, so I waited the two hours to get to the cable cars.  This is likely not as bad when there are fewer ships in port, but still…its better than sitting on a donkey the whole way down!

For me, Santorini was the supermodel of the Greek Isles.  Pretty (stunning actually), but kind of superficial.  This was also my one disappointment with the tour I had taken, because of the time crunch we did not get to see the Venetsantos Winery, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to be on this tour.  Ah well, next time!

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Here is the port area where you catch your tender back to your ship hopefully still waiting where you left it, in the middle of a collapsed volcano cone!

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And there is the cable car track and the path back up to Fira…yeah, not walking it!  Back on board I was devastated to learn that SOMEONE drank all of the Aperol on the entire ship and I (I mean…someone) would now have to find another refreshing beverage to get me through the sea day tomorrow, and then…KINGS LANDING!!!  Well, I guess some people call it Dubrovnik.

Part 8 (Kusadasi, Turkey) – Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

In the days leading up to this cruise, Turkey had a failed coup attempt.  With that in mind, many cruise ships were skipping or replacing stops in Turkey with either a sea day, or another port in the area.  Our cruise had made no announcement as to what the plan was at that point, and when asked, the officers stated that they were monitoring the situation and would let us know, but the plan was to stop in Turkey and in fact, Royal Caribbean had collected all non-EU passports per the Turkish governments request (standard procedure even before the coup attempt).

All this to say that until the day before our port stop in Kusadasi, we still had no idea if we were stopping or not.  I had reserved a taxi service through Taxi Service for Ephesus to take us from the port up to Ephesus.  I was wary of joining a traditional tour because I did not want to get bullied into a “demonstration” that often turns into a hard sell.  I had read that most organized tours have a stop either at a carpet weaver or a leather shop included in the tour, and in fact all of the ship sponsored tours had this included stop as well.  The carpet weavers in Turkey are some of the best in the world, but lets be honest…who has room in their luggage for carpeting?

So instead I reserved just a taxi to meet us at the port, drop us off at the top gate to Ephesus, and come back a few hours later and pick us up at the bottom gate.  I made the reservations via email, the price was agreed upon in advance and Hasan was very responsive and easy to work with.  In addition, his English was nearly perfect and I have no reservations recommending this company should you ever find yourself near Kusadasi port.

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It is a beautiful port area, hills rising steeply from the ocean with condos/apartments/hotels built all up the hillside.  That little tiny island out there?  Well that is the namesake, the actual Kusadasi – Bird Island.  Here is a better picture:

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There are shops and restaurants all along the pier so a very easy port to navigate by foot if all you are looking for is nosh and trinkets.  We however, were headed to Ephesus.

We walked out of the port area past armed guards.  We were told that we were the first cruise ship to stop at Kusadasi since the failed coup attempt, only 16 days prior.  It was very clear that the merchants were happy to have us (tourists) back.

At the taxi stand, we met Hasan and he directed us to our driver for the day.  He ensured that we had his number and knew how to reach him if necessary.  While Hasan’s English was excellent, our driver’s was not.  He tried really hard and he was so nice though that we hardly minded.  Ephesus is about 30km from Kusadasi through some lovely countryside.  Our driver pointed out some other local attractions along the way and tried to teach us the names of some of the fruits in Turkish!

When we reached the top gate, our driver found a friend that spoke English and we arranged a time to meet at the lower gate for pickup.  Our driver assured us that if we happened to be a few minutes late that he would certainly not leave us stranded!  We also purchased a guide book and some water…it is HOT in Turkey in July and we would come to find out, not much shade in Ephesus.

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So these ruins are a bit different than the ones in Athens or Olympia.  These ruins are being actively restored.  They are only using the original pieces that they find so different buildings are in different states of, well ruin.  The other thing that I love about Ephesus is how accessible everything is.  You can walk in, around, and through almost all of the building sites.

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We added the Terrace Houses to our admission.  These were the houses of the wealthy citizens of Ephesus and are currently being excavated and restored.  As we were there on a Sunday, no one was working but evidence of excavation was all around.  And the houses themselves were incredible!

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The color on the walls and the mosaics on the floors are so remarkably preserved.  It was an awesome thing to see and if you are ever in Ephesus, make sure you take the side tour into the Terrace Houses.  It is hot and there are a lot of stairs, but it is worth it!

Coming out of the Terrace Houses, you arrive at the restored facade to the Library of Celsus.  Its Stunning.

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This two story library was home to thousands of scrolls (you know…what books used to be!) making it the third largest library in the world in its day.  This building has been restored somewhat. But since they will only use original parts for restoration, it is never going to be fully restored.

Nearby is the Temple of Hadrian…we seem to have seen a lot of stuff dedicated to this guy!

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And of course, my favorite…the theaters!  There are several in Ephesus from smaller ones used for Senate meetings and such:

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I’ve heard that this guy Paul lived here around 50AD for a few years.  He gave daily talks to scholars here.  Those talks eventually became “Ephesians” in a pretty famous book…that’s impressive stuff!

To the massive ampitheater used for concerts as well as gladiator battles and other community building exercises!!

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This one seats approximately 25,000.  See that little black dot?  That’s my son.  He climbed all those stairs!!  I did not, in case you were wondering!!

The Commercial Agora is where business got done.  You can see in this picture the parts that have been unearthed but not restored to actual buildings.

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 So after a very warm yet amazing trip through history we made our way out the lower gates to meet our driver. If you EVER make it to Ephesus, take note: start at the top and walk downhill! We passed people going the other way and they really looked like they would welcome death. Remember it is hot…very hot. And there are no trees or shady spots to rest. Add to that an uphill climb and I can totally understand their open arming the grim reaper.

But forwarned is forarmed so we worked with gravity and not against it. And as we made our way out of the historic site, we invariably walked into vendor central. These guys are well aware of the demographics of their clientele and proudly touted their stock of chilled water bottles…or the one that won our hearts (and dollars) air conditioning!

One of the traditions we have as a family is that whatever country we visit, we buy the national team soccer jersey. So we were in the market for a Turkey jersey and as it happened, he had the air conditioning also!!
I find that very often I am faced with the stereotype of a woman not knowing her sports. This was very apparent in Turkey and I was VERY amused proving him wrong!! He took it in stride and in fact gave us a great deal on the jerseys once I proved my knowledge!

So having gotten our fill of history and our quota of Turkish soccer jerseys, we headed back to the port with our driver who was exactly where we said he would be waiting.

Back at the port we stopped to shop a bit and get something to eat. We had some of the best calamari I have ever had and when we stopped the owner to compliment the food, he simply pointed to the the water and said, “Of course it’s good. I caught it right there!”  

All in all, this was our favorite port so far and I am so glad we stopped. I would go back for a land vacation without hesitation!


Back on the boat, we visited our favvie post port bar for Aperol Spritzs. Our next port is Santorini. 

Could it really be as awesome as everyone said??

Part 7 (Thessaloniki, Greece) – Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

Well, I am back from my Disney vacation and I will write more about that later, but let me tell you…I thought the Mediterranean in July was hot, it was NOTHING compared to Orlando in September!  But!  That’s a story for another day.  Onward and upward (or not) to Thessaloniki, Greece.

Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece.  Having just come from the largest city (Athens) I can tell you that it may indeed be the 2nd largest, but it is as different from Athens as night to day.

I had not planned anything in this port, and hindsight 20/20 I should have.  There are many cool things to see, just not super close to the port.

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Here is the Rhapsody docked at the port.  All those buildings on the dock area are shipping and industrial.  No shopping or eating.  I needed to find a pharmacy, which shouldn’t have been too difficult.  In Europe all of the pharmacies have big green plus signs out front so we walked along this front street for a while.  We could see the famous White Tower of Thessaloniki in the distance, but it was certainly not a walkable distance for us (maybe for me, but my family often accuses me of trying to walk them to death!).

Along the way, there were some cafes, most with outdoor seating which already had plenty of locals sitting with their coffee.  Also along the way, we were accosted by a man trying to get us to buy his bracelets by striking up a conversation with my son, then just putting the bracelet on his wrist.  This was the only time we encountered something like this on this trip.  I am used to it in the Caribbean, and in fact this man was Jamaican, but I had not come across it on this trip.  However, just like in the Caribbean, a very firm “NO!” sent him on his way.

We passed some very pretty areas:

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I loved this tree!  We still had not found a pharmacy though.  We finally cut through a square and low and behold we found what we were looking for…we also found that we had been passing the really cute shopping district nearly the whole time, we were just two blocks off it.  Huh…see why I should have done more research?  At any rate, after our quick stop, we decided to head back to the ship, but this time along the populated streets!

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See?? Cute stuff.  But, it was hot, really hot.  And, as you may have guessed from my frantic search for a pharmacy, I was not feeling my best so back to the ship and its glorious air conditioning we went.  Plus!  We have Chef’s Table dinner tonight!!!  My favorite! So I wanted to be well rested!

Here is a picture of the Port Authority building…pretty impressive but it could use some shops!!!

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Back on board and looking forward to my favorite meal of the whole trip!!  The Chef’s Table!

You may remember that I have done the Chef’s table before on other cruises and have LOVED it both times!  I knew from past cruisers that the menu was the same as my meal aboard the Enchantment, but that one was super yummy so I was happy to have it again!  Plus, the pairings were really good so I was not concerned at all…until I sat down and looked at the menu.

Yes, the menu was the same, but the wines were totally different.  And not in a good way.  I am all about trying new wines, in fact I have another blog I write that details my standard selection method of picking wine just by the cool looking label so I am all for trying new things.  And I will agree that dry rosès are all the rage right now.  But lets all agree that Berringer White Zinfandel is not one of these, can we? Please?

What was fantastic about this particular Chef’s Table was the company.  Some times you get a good crowd and some times you do not.  We dined with a family from Texas that was absolutely spectacular and I am so happy we got to meet them.  The food was still great, the Braised Short Rib Ravioli is still one of the best things I have ever eaten.  I will continue to attend Chef’s Table on every cruise I go on, hopefully these wines were a one off!

Up next?  Kusadasi, Turkey.  Another surprising port…in more ways than one!