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Odyssey of the Seas Live Blog - Day 10 - Santorini, Greece

In:
29 Oct 2022

Wow - I can’t believe it’s already Day 10 of our 12-night cruise. Today was our second to last port and it was wonderful day in the the idyllic Greek island of Santorini.

Santorini is best known for its charming village of Oia, located at the end of the island and scattered with gorgeous blue-domed buildings on the cliffside. It’s certainly a bucket-list destination for many because there’s no other place like it in the world!

Although I’ve been to Santorini twice before, this was the first time that Angie and my parents have visited the island. We chose to do a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean that visited the town of Fira, village of Oia and a local winery.

I know that visiting Santorini can be logistically challenging. First, it requires tendering to the island from the ship. When you tender from the ship for independent exploring, it drops you off near Fira. Once here, you are left to either take a cable car, walk up a ton of stairs or ride a donkey.

You can also take the speed boat to Oia from the port of Fira, which is what I’ve done previously.

I was a little worried about my parents having to deal with the cable car or donkey scenario in Fira, so we thought the excursion route would be best. We booked an excursion that had a bus ride to and from the port, which I felt would be the most enjoyable experience for everyone.

After the fiasco in Masada (trying to take a cable car with thousands of people) and knowing there would be 5 ships in port today, I was hopeful the shore excursion would alleviate some of those logistical pains.

Breakfast Views and Tendering

Since our tour had a meeting time of 9:45am, Angie and I woke up and had breakfast in the Windjammer. We were greeted by sweeping views of the island of Santorini as Odyssey of the Seas pulled into its anchoring spot.

We always enjoy breakfast in the Windjammer for its wide variety and we couldn’t stop looking at the island. Even if you choose to stay on the ship for the port of Santorini, you could enjoy the beautiful views all day.

I stopped for a quick coffee in the Diamond Club before meeting with our excursion group in the Royal Theatre.

Within 20 minutes, our tour group was called and we made our way to the tendering spot. I noticed that the excursions used a tender at the front of the ship while tenders for independent explorers (i.e. not on a RCL shore excursion) simultaneously left from the back of the ship.

The tender ride was lovely with views of the ship and island. It was a really nice vessel and took no more than 10 minutes. Our tender was brought to the Athinios Port while the other tenders from the ship dropped off passengers at the port near Fira with the cable car.

Parade and Shopping in Fira

We boarded a bus with the branding “Santorini Luxury Travel” - which was honestly anything but luxury!

While we sat in the very back, there was a clanking noise from the overhead bin while the bus weaved its way up the cliff on switchbacks. We couldn’t hear anything our tour guide said because the clanking was so loud at the back of the bus.

We arrived in Fira right at the start of a local parade! Today was a national holiday in Greece, so there were flags all over the island. It was fun to see the parade happenings while we walked around Fira for some free time.

Because of the parade, the bus had to park further away from the town than normal. We didn’t mind the walking, but some with mobility issues were grumbling about the inclined walk

We took this hour of free time to do some shopping and watch bits of the parade. I also enjoyed a little gelato while wandering the streets. It was a nice way to start our day!

Of course, everywhere you look, there are simply breathtaking views of the island and the Mediterranean Sea. You just can’t help but take pictures around every corner while walking around Fira.

The white buildings, the purple flowers and the deep blue ocean make for some truly beautiful pictures. We couldn’t help but take some photos with a backdrop that looks like a painting.

Winery Stop

After our free-time in Fira, we walked back down to the bus and told the bus driver to turn up his microphone so those of us in the back could hear him talk.

We were part of a line of tour buses made our way to the Santo Wines, which is a local winery on the island. Santorini is the oldest vineyard in Europe. This was a nice and scenic winery where we could sample 3 different wines. We all enjoyed the dessert wine, which was very sweet.

There was also a table of snacks including cheese and tomatoes. Lucky for us, Angie snagged a bunch of cheese cubes before they ran out that we could enjoy with our wines.

As with everywhere on Santorini, the views were stunning. As I sat there and drank my dessert wine overlooking the cliffside, I thought to myself that I am truly living the dream! How does it get better than this?

What a blessing it’s been to share these memories with not only my family, but also with everyone reading on Royal Caribbean Blog.

Although I could have spent all day at the winery, time was limited and we were shuffled back to the busses for our journey to the main attraction: Oia!

Village of Oia

When you see pictures of Santorini, you are most likely seeing pictures of the beautiful village of Oia with the blue domes overlooking the sea. This is what you come to see in Santorini!

I knew from experience that Oia would be crowded with tourists - both times that I’ve been to Santorini (once on a cruise and once on a land-trip), it’s been super congested in Oia. The alleys are small and everyone wants pictures of the same spots.

Our bus parked and we walked up the steps by the guidance of our tour director. We were greeted by the most breathtaking view of the island from both sides, along with a view of our ship and the sea below.

Everyone was awe-struck by the beauty. It’s truly like nothing you’ve seen before.

I had an unexpected encounter with a group of travelers right as we entered Oia. I saw two people wearing Semester at Sea hoodies. Excitedly, I told the group that I sailed with Semester at Sea in college 7 years ago during Fall 2015.

Semester at Sea (a study abroad program that sails around the world on a ship while you take classes at sea) is one of those life-changing experiences that bonds people together.

They said they were students on the current voyage and the ship was docked in Athens! I told the group how I also traveled to Santorini during my voyage; it was such a cool and nostalgic moment that I never anticipated happening. Such a small world!

After chatting for a bit, I met up with my family down the road as they were taking in the sights. We continued to wander the streets.

If we saw a bunch of people congregating in one place, we figured there would be a nice view worthwhile so we joined the crowds.

Along everyone else on the island, we took many pictures with the views of the village in the distance. Some of the spots we found were on cobblestone edges where it would be easy to lose your footing and fall. We were careful not to step back too far, as everything on Santorini is on the cliffside.

Santorini is like a postcard coming to life; you almost can’t believe you’re seeing it person.

We only had about 1.5 hours to wander around Oia and we had already shopped while in Fira. Instead, we used our time in Oia to take pictures and walk around the streets.

Everything is so quaint and charming, although flooded with people everywhere you look. This was still quite busy considering we were visiting in the off-season, although there were 4 other ships in port today.

We ventured to a place called Lolita’s Gelato, which is where my husband and I went on our honeymoon. Angie, dad and I enjoyed a scoop of ice cream to top off our time in Santorini. I told the owner how I visited his shoppe a few years back and showed him pictures - he was grateful for my return!

Santorini Sunset

Following our time in Oia, the bus drove us back to the Athinios Port. We had the option of getting off in Fira and taking the cable car or donkey ride back down, but no one on the bus opted for this.

The tender was waiting for us at the port and promptly departed once our bus unloaded and boarded the tender boat. I couldn’t believe it was actually a little chilly during the ride back to the ship, so I sported my new Santorini hoodie.

We took even more pictures of the island and ship as it anchored in the harbor. We were grateful for a nice tour that alleviated the logistical issues we were worried about. I would say it was worth the money to take this excursion, especially traveling with my parents.

A few people shared stories about the cable car being swamped with people in a way that couldn't be believed. We also heard from a couple who took donkeys down for $10 each, but the donkey leader forced them to get off after only making it about two-thirds of the way down. When the donkey leader forced them all to get off the saddles, one lady was stuck and ended up falling into donkey poop.

Hearing stories like reassures our decision that the excursion was a good idea, although those do make great stories!

Back onboard, we grabbed pizza at Sorrento’s and made our way to the top deck to watch the sunset.

Santorini is famous for its world-class sunsets; I told my family that we needed to be late for dinner tonight because the sunsets are simply unforgettable.

We grabbed a cocktail at Lime & Coconut from our favorite bartender, Dwayne (or Dwa as patty calls him), and snapped many pictures of the stunning sunset. The sun peaked over a tiny island in the distance and lit up the ship and island with a warm golden hour.

It was a beautiful moment that I will cherish. Of course, we took many pictures because the lighting and scenery were simply too beautiful to not capture the moment in time.

Dinner Onboard

After our Santorini Sunset, we made our way to dinner in the main dining room again. Mom was pleased to find her nightly escargot was improved after her casual conversation with the head waiter last night.

The head waiter, Jayson, came back to our table tonight to ensure everything was up to standards. Mom told him how she noticed the changes in her escargot and we thanked him for being so attentive.

We all enjoyed our meals in the dining room tonight, along with our fun conversations with the table seated right next to us. It was nice to enjoy the window views as Santorini started to light up after the sun went down.

Following dinner, there was little entertainment available tonight, presumably because we did not leave until 9pm tonight. It’s nice Royal Caribbean has a late-night stay in Santorini to provide everyone with ample time to see the island and watch the sunset.

Tomorrow, we will be in our final port of Chania, Crete. We are only docked from 7am-2:30 tomorrow, so we are hoping to get off the ship by 10am to explore. We do not have any plans other than walking around the harbor.

Until tomorrow, happy cruising!

Odyssey of the Seas Live Blog - Day 9 - Rhodes, Greece

In:
28 Oct 2022

Hello from the beautiful Odyssey of the Seas; it's Day 9 of our cruise, which means we only have 3 days left. The time has been flying by with our busy days exploring new ports (and countries!).

I am happy to report that I have a new favorite Greek island - Rhodes! After our busy days in Israel, we did not have an excursion planned for today so we could have freedom and flexibility to do what we wanted.

We woke up to a stunning view of Rhodes outside of our balcony!

Since we weren’t on a tight timeline, we enjoyed a slow morning with breakfast at Cafe 270. This was one of our favorite places when we cruised on Spectrum of the Seas back in 2019, and I am surprised we have yet to eat there on this cruise.

They have a wonderful selection of grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches and burritos, along with a bagel bar. There’s also a coffee cart located in 270, making it an easy place to grab breakfast.

Afternoon Shopping in Rhodes

With some quick research on Rhodes, everything online said the cruise port is located very conveniently in the old town.

Getting off the ship, we could immediately see the old town that was surrounded by a stone wall.

I found a few different locations within walking distance that I wanted us to check out starting with the Castle of the Old Town.

We walked through an old town entrance and found ourselves surrounded by lovely streets with tons of shopping and restaurants. Unfortunately, following the map on my phone to the Castle of the Old Town led us to a dead end on a side street. We looked around and saw nothing resembling a castle.

Fortunately, there was plenty to still see and lots of shopping that was close by so we went back to the main pedestrian

Mom and I were in heaven with all of the shops, especially the jewelry shops. We found a lovely shop owned by a Greek family who made unique bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces. I think mom and I spent nearly an hour shopping inside this single shop with the owner helping us finding the perfect pieces.

The shop owners were so warm and welcoming! They said mom was their best customer of the day.

Dad roamed the streets by his lonesome self until we finished our shopping; of course, he wasn’t entirely pleased with how much time and money we spent.

Wandering Around Old Town

Back to our self-guided walk of the old town, we chose the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. Say that 10 times fast!

We weaved through the streets, often getting distracted by how many photo opportunities presented themselves in this charming city!

At the Palace, we enjoyed taking some photos and ran into some friends from the ship that we spoke with for a little while. It was $10 to enter the Palace, so we opted just to enjoy the outside of what we could see from the castle.

We also met a nice family from Austria that told us how lovely the marina walk in Rhodes is, so we set that as our next destination.

After exiting the Palace, we walked through a really wonderful courtyard with greenery, flowers and views of the palace.

As we made our way to the sea, we walked out of the old city and into the newer area. We found an H&M and stopped in Starbucks for a quick resident and bathroom stop.

Marina and Rhode Windmills

We found ourselves strolling along the sea with incredible views of the ocean, Fort St. Nicholas and the Three Windmills of Rhodes. We could also see Odyssey of the Seas, along with 3 other small ships, in the port.

Fort St. Nicholas is located at the end of a short walkway-like pier that expands from the marina. It looked like a great spot to walk with sweeping views of the ocean.

This also gave us an up-close look at the Three Windmills of Rhodes. One of the windmills was missing its actual windmill, which was interesting.

I enjoyed taking some really fun pictures with the windmills and ocean views while dad climbed on the rocks with Angie and mom found some locals to strike up a conversation with. She enjoys talking to friendly locals and asking all about their city and economy.

The locals explained that Rhodes is one of the biggest Greek Islands and relies almost entirely on tourism for its economy. He also talked to us about the island’s problem with gypsies begging for money in the city, which have become more of a problem in recent years.

We didn’t walk to the end of the jetty but admired Fort St. Nicholas from afar and a display of European flags that lined the walkway.

Scammers at Saint Paul’s Gate

After mom finished conversing with the locals, we set our sites for the Temple of Aphrodite but stumbled upon the very charming St. Paul’s Gate!

Entering the gate, we found a staircase that allowed us to climb the ramparts and see sweeping views of the harbor. Angie, dad and I climbed the steps to walk around while mom admired from the safety of the ground level.

At one point, two gypsies started screaming at each other, disrupting our peaceful moment taking in the ocean views.

We continued to explore the area, in which we ran into more cruise friends who offered to take our family picture. We found cute little nooks to take pictures and enjoyed admiring the views.

Apparently, Saint Paul’s Gate is one of the most intricate gates in Rhodes and connects the old town to the harbor.

While I was snapping some pictures of Angie and Mom off in the distance, I turned around to see a gypsy yelling in my face. I was taken aback since I had not engaged in any sort of conversation or eye contact with the women. From years of traveling (and getting scammed before), I know it’s best to be persistent in not engaging with them.

She started to scream to NOT take her photo. I looked at her confused and showed her the picture of mom and Angie, I said to her that she wasn’t even in the photo and I wasn’t interested in photographing her.

She screamed even louder, “YOU LIE - YOU’RE A PSYCHO! I see you use your phone to take my picture!!!!” And I walked away insisting that I did not take her picture nor was I interested in taking her photo.

I was worried she was using this as an opportunity to pickpocket by creating a scene, but she didn’t take anything from me.

As we left the area, we saw the gypsies approach two men and place bracelets on their wrists - in which they proceeded to yell and expect the men to pay them for the bracelets. They prey on anyone who shows them compassion or makes eye contact!

As I was writing this blog, I found a few people noting online having the same experiences with these women. Some of the comments are from ten years ago - so these same women have been scamming people for almost a decade. It is too bad, as it does take away some of the beauty of the gate.

Souvlaki and Shopping in Old Town

Once we could decompress after the gypsy debacle, mom and I decided we had worked up an appetite for some gyros or souvlaki. When in Rome!

We walked by the Temple of Aphrodite as we looked to find something to eat near the port.

Back in the old town, we ran into our friends from earlier who recommended a spot that was right down the road. There was a quaint seating area with flowers and booths covered with colorful pillows.

We ordered 2 pitas for mom and I to enjoy while Dad tried baklava for the first time. Everyone enjoyed the chicken souvlakis and we appreciated a moment to sit down, refresh and rest after walking about 3 miles.

There was even a musician who came over to play the guitar - bringing a smile to all of us at the restaurant.

Following our souvlaki indulgence, Mom and I had more shopping to do in one of the leather stores before finding even more cruise friends in the old town. We love meeting so many kind people from the cruise and our rowdiness must make it easy to identify us in a crowd!

We decided to make our way back to the port since it was around 4:30.

Lime and Coconut

Once back onboard the ship, we dropped off our shopping bags in the room and spoke to our wonderful stateroom attendant, Waylan. We’ve been so impressed with the service we’ve received on this cruise. The entire staff onboard has been excellent and so attentive.

We decided to head up to the Lime and Coconut Bar to see our favorite bartender, Dwayne. Mom has been referring to him as ‘Dwa’ during this cruise; she met him on the first day and couldn’t see his entire name tag when he asked her to guess his name so she said ‘It must be DWA’!

‘Dwa’ whipped up four cocktails for us, including a mudslide for me, Miami Vice for dad and Bailey’s Banana Colada, which is Angie’s latest drink obsession. The cool drinks tasted so good after all the walking we did today.

The sun was starting to set over Rhodes as we enjoyed happy hour cocktails on the top deck. We reflected on another great day of our cruise and marveled at the perfect weather.

I concluded that Rhodes might be my new favorite Greek Island of all the islands I’ve visited (including Santorini, Crete, Corfu and Rhodes). The city was so charming and very clean. I’d love to return and visit the acropolis and other areas of the island.

Evening on Board

It was 6:00PM before we knew it, so we went to dinner in the main dining room. Tonight we tried a variety of appetizers, entrees and desserts but most of us found that it wasn’t our favorite meal of the cruise.

Angie was the only one who thoroughly enjoyed her entire meal tonight; she ordered the chicken wings, pork chop and berry crumble.

Dad and I found the Beef Trio to be a little tough while mom didn’t love her goat cheese tart or fisherman’s pie.

We mentioned to the server that we found the meat to be a little tough and shortly after, the head waiter came over to talk to us. We certainly aren’t picky or ones to complain, so we weren’t expecting to speak to the head waiter.

He was asking intently about the entree’s issues to ensure he understood the issue, although we emphasized that we have been happy with all of our food thus far. We were impressed by how concerned and quickly he came to address our comment.

After dinner, the rest of the family went to watch a magician performance in the Royal Theatre. Since I stayed up late (like 1 am) to finish yesterday’s blog after a busy evening with entertainment, I opted to come back and get some work done.

They greatly enjoyed the magician, so I will have to go watch his performance tomorrow night!

I enjoy having the quiet time to myself to go through photos and write today’s live blog.

Tomorrow’s Plans

Tomorrow, we are in Santorini, Greece! I’ve been to Santorini twice before. The first time I came to Santorini was during college when I did Semester at Sea; I flew to the island from Athens and spent a few days exploring.

The second time I visited Santorini was with my husband when we did a cruise from Venice for our honeymoon. During that visit, we did our own thing and took the speed boat and bus to Oia and walked down from Fira.

For this visit, we have a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean. I think this will be more relaxing for mom and dad not having to worry about logistics on our own.

I read that there will be a few other ships in port, so it could be busy. We also will need to tender to the island, so having the shore excursion should make that easy. Our tour includes visits to Oia (where the classic blue roofs are!!), a winery and Fira before returning to the ship.

I have never visited the wineries in Santorini, so I am excited to see what that’s all about!

The description of the tour makes it sound like we will be driven to Oia from the port and return to the port by bus; it does not mention the cable car or donkey walk down from Fira on the hilltop, so I am hoping that means returning to the port will not be an issue.

I am crossing my fingers that our good luck continues tomorrow! Mom, Dad and Angie have never visited Santorini and I know they are looking forward to it. This is an exciting port for many, as Santorini is an iconic Greek Island and a world-class destination for many.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventures! Until then, goodnight everyone!

Odyssey of the Seas Live Blog - Day 8 - Sea Day

In:
27 Oct 2022

Hello from the beautiful and calm Mediterranean Sea! It’s Day 8 onboard our 12-night sailing on Odyssey of the Seas. We are making our way to Rhodes, Greece for our next port.

We were all grateful for his sea day to relax and rest after 3 very busy days in Israel. As Angie and I snuggled into bed, we both breathed a sigh of relief that we could sleep in without setting an early alarm.

The two of us didn’t get our morning started until 11:30am this morning. It was just what we needed!

Reflective Morning

I woke up feeling both refreshed and grateful for the incredible days we had in Israel.

As I mentioned, we’ve heard quite a few stories of people who had unfortunate luck during our time in Israel - like broken arms, twisted ankles, cancelled tours, scamming taxi drivers, getting left behind or lost, etc.

While these are all risks of life and traveling, there’s great disappointment that comes with highly anticipated trips that don’t go as planned. I know for many that this trip is once in a lifetime and that can make it even harder when things go amiss.

Hearing these stories makes me feel so thankful we had 3 amazing days touring and exploring Israel - everything for us went according to plan. It seems like others were not as lucky and I have a heavy heart for those who missed out due to things beyond their control.

My advice for anyone planning to do a Holy Land cruise is to book excursions through Royal Caribbean, especially on the first day for ease of immigration. If you book an independent tour, I would do research for alternative options in case your first plan doesn’t come to fruition.

Many people I spoke to that had canceled tours or they were left behind felt like they didn’t have any other options. It’s difficult to find something last minute - but being on the cruise forums and Facebook groups can help provide options.

Finally, pack your patience. From following blogs and other forums from previous sailings, there seem to be more logistical things that can go wrong with Israel compared to other sailings (like very strict immigration).

Afternoon and Sexiest Man Contest

It was nice to have nowhere to be today and no plans. The only breakfast available was in the dining room, so we opted for Sorrento’s pizza instead.

We met up with mom and dad in the promenade area and enjoyed some pizza for breakfast - all of us having slept well and feeling refreshed.

After, Angie and I decided to put on our swimsuits and head up to the pool deck. We found chairs next to mom and dad in the Solarium so we opted to grab a drink and hop in the pool there.

It was unexpectedly cold so we didn’t last long before heading to the hot tub.

By this time, the International Sexiest Man Competition was starting! We couldn’t miss out on this one for obvious reasons. Our cruise director joked that they might have to cancel due to lack of eligible participants - we laughed at that!

Have no fear though - 7 different men entered the contest to keep us all wildly entertained.

I grabbed a cheesy chicken quesadilla from my new favorite place, El Loco Fresh, and a Lime & Coconut cocktail to watch the exotic poolside show.

The men put on a great show with the pool deck erupting in cheers. We had dancing, splashing, muscle flexing and even a little twerking. Given the age demographics on this sailing, the participants were about what I expected!

The winner was a sweet older man named Steven from Montana who touched the hearts of everyone when he mentioned his grandchildren, his late wife and how he would create world peace if given the chance.

In an ironic spin, I think he was actually the most muscular of all the participants!

Trivia and Dinner

Angie and I made our way back to the cabin so we could get ready for dinner and General Knowledge Trivia in the Schooner Bar beforehand.

We joined forces with new friends and RCB fans from Ohio. Although we didn’t win the coveted Royal Caribbean water bottle prize, we had fun trying!

Angie and I had drinks in Boleros to kill time before dinner. I tried the Painkiller and Angie tried an off-the-menu drink known as the Bailey’s Banana Colada. We got to see the sunset while sipping on our cocktails.

Dinner tonight was excellent. Mom had 3 appetizers, including one of her favorites - the Seafood Cake. For dinner, we had chicken parmesan, beef short rib, steak and mushroom risotto.

We finished dinner with delicious desserts - Mississippi Mud Pie, lemon tart and apple blossoms.

Throughout dinner, we enjoyed getting to know those sitting at the table next to us. The table is located so close to ours that you can barely walk between them, so it feels almost like we are dining with them each evening.

Evening Entertainment

Following dinner, we all attended the evening show in the Royal Theatre. The performers also showcased their talents last night, but I was too tired to attend.

The rest of the family enjoyed it so much they went back for a second time. The couple performed a series of acrobatic moves in a stunning show. We all enjoyed seeing them twist and turn in ways that didn’t seem humanly possible.

Immediately after, we went to 270 to see a show called The Book. This uses the 270 space for a spectacular show that includes storytelling with cutting-edge technology.

Although we all struggled slightly to understand the storyline, the performers did an excellent job. It was electrifying, colorful and energetic as the performers danced, twirled, and sang.

There were even some acrobatic moves when performers were flung from the ceiling and danced.

The show was incredible with stunning visuals. Dad described it as sensory overload and joked that he felt like he was on drugs during some of the portions!

The late show means a late bedtime for us as I finish this blog.

Tomorrow we are in Rhodes, Greece. I have been to Greece a few times, but never to this island. I’ve heard wonderful things and luckily the ship docks right near the old town.

We plan to independently explore the island tomorrow and hopefully that’s a good choice.

Until then, good night from Odyssey of the Seas!

Odyssey of the Seas Live Blog - Day 7 - Haifa, Israel

In:
26 Oct 2022

It’s Day 7 of our cruise and today was our third and final day in Israel. Our beautiful ship made the short journey last night from Ashdod to Haifa while we slept off yesterday’s Dead Sea adventure. 

Odyssey of the Seas docked in Haifa

Our morning started a little later, which was a welcomed change. Our meeting time was 8:00am since the ship had to arrive in port and clear immigration.

We had breakfast in the Windjammer and it was packed! I have yet to feel like the ship was crowded until this morning, which is pretty good considering it’s Day 7. I grabbed a latte in the Diamond Club and made my way to the Royal Theatre for our excursion meeting time.

Angie and I got to meet two fans of the Royal Caribbean Blog in the elevator, which was a wonderful way to start our last day in Israel! We love meeting readers in person so please say hi if you see us around the ship or in port!

Today, we had scheduled a full day tour from Haifa to Nazareth and Galilee. While waiting for our excursion to leave, the captain came on to make an unexpected and disappointing announcement.

Unexpected Cancellations

In a subdued voice, the captain stated that the Haifa bus drivers were on strike today and some tours would be cancelled due to lack of available busses. He went on to explain that there was no way Royal Caribbean could have anticipated this happening.

Because of the strike, some tours needed to be cancelled. The captain started to announce the tours that would not be operating today - and the tension in the room could be cut with the knife.

We held our breath as they listed the cancelled tours. I truly thought this is where our good luck would run out! We’ve been fortunate with our tours and ease of immigration, especially after hearing some of the bad experiences others have had.

We’ve heard horror stories of people who have tried to do their own thing in port by taking a taxi only to get themselves in sticky and scary situations. We’ve also heard from people who booked independent tours and were left behind because they didn’t clear immigration quick enough.

Others said they did their own tours or grabbed taxis in town without issue, but it seems hit or miss for those that did independent tours in Israel.

The captain listed 3 different half-day tours that were cancelled, in addition to the small group tours to Nazareth and Galilee. When he first said the town names, my heart sank that our tour was getting axed.

Cancelling the half-day and small group tours makes sense from a business perspective, as they’d want to keep the most expensive tours (i.e full-day tours) running.

We were so grateful that our tour was still on and the group breathed a sigh of relief.

Nazareth Exploration

We were on our way to Nazareth once everyone was on the bus. We weaved through Haifa on our way up to Nazareth. One family that came running on at the last minute said they snagged last minute spots when their small group was cancelled.

I’m sure it was a mess back on the ship as people scrambled to figure out their plans!

Haifa is British-influenced and the architecture definitely reflects this compared to Ashdod. The area was certainly more modern than Ashdod as well.

First on our itinerary was a stop at the Basilica of the Annunciation in the town of Nazareth. This is known by Christians as the location of the immaculate conception.

Inside the church, there was a large alter hidden away where it’s believed the Angel Gabriel made the announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus. There was a line that we could have waited in to get a closer look, but we opted to not wait in the line.

Right next door was the site that Christians believe to be the workshop of Jesus’ father, Joseph. We went downstairs to see the ruins of which the church was built upon.

Mom missed this entirely because she waited 20 minutes to use the bathroom - which she said did not have an adequate toilet seat or toilet paper. The not-so-glamorous side of travel!

Up next was the Church of Multiplication, where we were greeted by a grumpy bathroom attendant. I swear she was some local woman who plops in front of the bathroom at this church and charges the tourists for entrance fees. She was waving a huge wad of cash!

Our guide, Leon, brought our group under a shaded tree to read to us the biblical miracle story of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish to feed 5,000 people. It was a quiet moment among Tour Bus #4 and certainly set the scene.

Inside was the actual rock, now displayed under an alter, believed to be the rock where the miracle was performed. We weren’t able to get too close to the alter because it was blocked off.

Lunch and Sea of Galilee

After a short drive, we arrived at a resort located on the Sea of Galilee for lunch. Inside, we were served a delicious buffet with stunning views of the Sea of Galilee. By this point, we were getting to know the others on our Tour Bus #4 and enjoyed sharing stories about our Israeli experiences.

This was definitely the best buffet of the 3 days that we were served and most at our table agreed.

Without much time to explore, we snarfed down lunch and scurried down to the shore to put our hands in the Sea of Galilee. We snapped a variety of photos with other members of our group before it was time to head to the next stop. Dad even dunked his hat in the sea so it had a lasting touch.

At this point, our guide Leon was herding us around like sheep to get us from place to place on time. He would announce after each stop, “Well, we lost 4 but found 2 during lunch” when referencing tour members that couldn’t keep up.

Apparently, the Israeli tour guides are told to expect 10% of each bus to be missing at any point, which is somewhat concerning. It was a fast-paced tour though, and if you couldn’t keep up or you wandered away from the group, there wasn’t much wiggle room for time in the schedule.

Capharnaum Visit

Up next on our busy day was a visit to Capharnaum, which is a small fishing village known as the Town of Jesus.

It’s pretty mind blowing when thinking about the religious and historical significance of these incredible places. These are things you’ve only ever read in books and then suddenly you get off a cruise ship and they come to life.

At times, it was almost too overwhelming for my brain to comprehend.

In Capharnaum, we were able to see the synagogue where Christians believe Jesus taught regularly. The archeological sites surrounding the structure are thought to have been part of the homes back in Jesus’ time.

There was even a room specially marked with a cross that’s believed to be the room Jesus would stay when in Capharnaum at the House of Peter.

These remains date back to the first century BC…. Absolutely mind blowing! There was a church built upon the ruins of Saint Peter’s house, which have been excavated beautifully.

There was no time to waste though, as we were back on the bus and onto our next stop! The tour busses worked as a moving unit shuffling us tourists swiftly from one historic site to the next.

Mount of the Beatitudes

Not too far from Capharnaum was the Mount of the Beatitudes, which is a hill that is believed to be where Jesus gave his sermon on the Beatitudes. The beautifully designed church is located on top of the Mount and gives sweeping views of the Sea of Galilee.

We had all but 20 minutes to explore this site. There were tons of tourists going up to the church in unison and then shuffling back to the parking long after taking in the sites.

I loved photographing these pillars on the church balcony, which gave enchanting views of the Sea of Galilee.

We had one final stop to the Jordan River before we would make our way back to the ship. I was shocked to see the sun already setting, but we’d seen a lot in the day already and Leon kept us on a tight schedule so we wouldn’t miss anything.

Jordan River

Our 3 days in Israel went out with a bang by ending the tour with a stop at the Jordan River. This was the place that Dad was most excited about visiting!

The river is actually quite small and resembles more of a creek. There is a gift shop at the entrance that’s been obviously designed and structured to accommodate the bus loads of tourists that come to visit.

Christians believe the Jordan River is where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist; many also choose to get baptized in white robes in the river for the understandably significant nature of the river.

Although the historic site of the baptism took place in Jordanian territory, Israel is where most tourists come to see the river.

As we approached the river, I was stunned to see it appear emerald green yet clear enough to see large fish swimming. It was flowing gently and surrounded by lush trees. There was a large group that was getting baptized together in the river with touching music playing from a stereo for all to hear.

With only 20 minutes to souvenir shop and take in the sites, Dad went down the stairs that was crowded with some part of the baptism group. He gently dunked his head into the river for his own baptism renewal.

He rose from the stairs and launched his fist into the air in celebration. This was a big moment for Dad - it was so special that we could be there with him.

Shortly after, I ran down to put my hands in the river and Angie followed.

We watched as mom went down and put her own hands in the water. She came back up the stairs with tears in her eyes, overcome with emotion.

She said she wasn’t expecting to feel so touched by the experience, but I also think it symbolized her conquering her anxiety that she had about this trip visiting Israel. She knew it was a bucket list trip for Dad and originally said she wasn’t going to join us on the Israel tours. 

After much thought, she mustered the courage to join us and I think she was both relieved and joyous in the moment.

We must have started a trend, as many others from our group ran down to touch the water as well from this staircase.

20 minutes went by quickly as we rushed into the souvenir shop and frantically picked out t-shirts to purchase. Back on the bus, we were headed for the port.

Home Sweet Home

After another 10 hour tour in the hot sun, it felt so good to get back to the ship. This is one of the reasons I love cruising and why these types of cruises are my favorite.

We’ve been exploring and touring Israel for 3 long days, and I don’t necessarily think that our family would have enjoyed an Israeli-intensive land tour. I truly value the comfort of coming back to the ship each night to reset and refresh.

Cruising allows you to immerse yourself and a new culture and be out of your comfort zone while still returning to a clean room, a delicious meal and maybe even a Lime & Coconut cocktail.

Our day ended with dinner in the dining room. We enjoyed recapping the last 3 days together and sharing our favorite moments of the trip. Memories were shared among seafood risotto, beef tenderloin and autumn turkey dinner complete with chocolate cake, creme brûlée and apple blossom.

Somehow, everyone else had energy to go to the silent disco, live band in the Music Hall and acrobatics show tonight. They said everything was fairly busy, so everyone is ready to let loose and have fun! I chose to spend my night finishing the blog because I did not have much time today to work on the bus with how busy our tour was. 

Tomorrow we have a sea day, which is very much needed after everyone had three very busy days in Israel! Our plans for tomorrow are minimal, but will absolutely include a lot of sleep. We also have plans to see The Book, which is a show in the 270 Theatre - that should be fun!

Odyssey of the Seas Live Blog - Day 6 - Masada & Dead Sea, Israel

In:
25 Oct 2022

It’s our second full-day in Israel onboard Odyssey of the Seas. The ship was docked overnight in Ashdod, which is the port city for Jerusalem.

Some chose to spend the night in Jerusalem while most of us seemingly returned to the ship. It was a quick night’s rest with another early morning for our full-day tour to Masada and the Dead Sea.

Originally, we had booked the Dead Sea on Your Own Tour. These excursions are essentially transportation to and from an attraction where you have time on your own. After second thought, we figured we should change to the Masada and Dead Sea tour to optimize our time in Israel and see as much as possible.

Today, we were not visiting any holy sites so we could wear shorts and tank tops. 

Masada Bound

The morning came too quickly at 5:45am. I think that is truly the earliest I’ve ever set my alarm on a cruise before! The earlier start is due to our ship moving from Ashdod to Haifa, and therefore we all need to be back by 6pm.

Our guide, Moshe (which means Moses in Hebrew) is apparently one of the oldest tour guides in Israel! He’s been giving tours for 40 years - so we knew we were in good hands.

The Windjammer was opened this early to accommodate those of us on long tours. The sun had yet to rise as we grabbed our breakfast.

We congregated in the Royal Theatre and soon we were on our way to Masada. We drove about an hour before the obligatory bathroom and shopping. I grabbed some local snacks to try. 

During the drive, we weaved through big mountains and valleys. We started to drive along the Dead Sea and we could see Jordan just on the other side of the sea.

For those who aren’t familiar (aka me this morning), Masada is actually a national park in Israel and it has the archeological structure of King Herod’s palace.

Mayhem at Masada National Park

Once we arrived at Masada, the parking lot filled in with tour bus after tour bus. We all blindly followed Moshe into the sea of people - little did we know the chaos we’d be walking into.

I should note, there are 3 ships in port today, including an Oceania cruise ship docked in Haifa and we had the addition of a Celebrity cruise ship today. Apparently, we were all on the same timeline of heading from the port to Masada and then on to the Dead Sea. Not to mention, there are other tour groups that are prevalent in these big attraction sites.

All this to say - there were tons of people. Come to find out, there are only two cable cars that go up to the top of Masada and back down.

Everyone first goes through a small theatre to watch the little bit about the history of Masada. During this point, people were getting a little more aggressive about pushing and shoving to stay with their groups. This felt a bit like Disney World with less organization and people who had no respect for waiting in a line.

After the theatre, it was a huge bottleneck to get to the platform for the cable car. My mom was losing it seeing all the people pushing and shoving. There was even a woman with her baby that people were shoving around, which was astonishing!

Moshe was cool as a cucumber during all this - stating in all his years of leading tours, he’s never seen anything like this.

We pushed our way onto the platform with many others from our group. We loaded into the cable car with about 60 others, packed in there like sardines. As we turned around, we saw dad was left behind and didn’t make it onto the platform with us.

As the cable car launched into the air, we waved goodbye to dad as he stood amidst the chaos. Luckily, there were others from our group that were also stuck so he wouldn’t be alone.

Even with the mess, the cable car ride was beautiful as it catapulted us to the top of Masada. As we landed to the launching pad, we could see a huge line of people waiting to get back. Imagining that we’d have to endure more pushing and shoving - this time in the heat - led to a collective, large and unanimous sigh among everyone in the cable car.

We made our way to a shaded area under the guidance of Moshe. It wasn’t long before we met up with the remaining group members and dad found us quickly, to the relief of everyone.

At this point, some group members contemplated getting right back in line to return to the museum. Mom considered going right back down, but I warned her this wouldn’t do anything productive. She’d still have to wait for the rest of the group to finish and I told her it wasn’t a good time for her to venture away from the group.

Many of us realized we were grossly behind schedule. I asked Moshe if we’d be getting back for the ship’s scheduled departure of 5:30. His eyes widened and he laughed. It was pretty obvious we wouldn’t be back on time, along with lots of other tour groups in the same boat.

This is an instance where I was extremely relieved to be on a cruise-sponsored excursion. Had someone ventured to Masada on their own and got caught up in the chaos, they could have easily missed the ship’s departure.

I don’t always take short excursions through the cruise line, but there’s a time and place where it’s worth the extra money and convenience. Since we were on a Royal Caribbean excursion, we had the security knowing the ship wouldn’t leave without us and that gave us all a sense of relief.

Moshe guided us through the Masada fortress; however, it was quite hot and I have to admit that I was more concerned with taking panoramic photos of the view than trying to hear everything Moshe had to say. Everything was a bit of a whirlwind!

We toured where Herod the Great, King of Judea, lived. We saw the original bath structure that King Herod built. It’s believe that a mass suicide event took place in Masada when the Romans came to conquer the fortress, although archeologists don’t all agree with this theory.

Masada is one of the top tourist attractions in Israel and seeing the mountain-top fortress was very compelling. It’s not surprising that this is a major attraction given how far back the history dates!

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves back in line to take the cable car again. This line appeared more organized, although there was another bottleneck before entering the structured line area.

Our little tour group started to band together and ensure people weren’t cutting in front of us. We started to yell and point at others who weren’t obliging to the line.

Again, Moshe was cool as a cucumber. He was chatting with everyone and learning about their lives. He said this was his first time to Masada in 3 years because of the pandemic and he had never seen so many lines.

On the other hand, we couldn’t find mom at one point because she was down by the bottleneck calling out groups for not going to the back of the line. “A line is a line!” she kept yelling.

We cheered on mom as the line patrol. Moshe never lost his cool and said that’s just the way it is in Israel!

At one point, a ton of people started yelling and one of the cable car workers had to run over and start putting people in their place.

There were some tour groups claiming that they were planning to take the trail down - which can take an hour depending on your health. We all rolled our eyes at the group of baby boomers claiming they were going to take the rocky trail downward.

This all transpired while my deodorant was working overtime to keep up with the rising heat. It was dry and hot on the top of Masada while we were all trying to find humor in the chaos.

That’s just the way it goes sometimes when you travel!

In actuality, it took about 30 minutes to get back on the cable car and make our way back to the national park entrance. This was an improvement from the hour we waited to go up. We started chatting with a lot of our fellow tour members; it was almost as if we had a little trauma bond going on.

Although this was a bit chaotic, I can't really blame anyone. No one wanted to be separated from their group, hence the aggression in the lines. One of the tour guides explained that this is how things work in Israel and that us Americans have high standards for how operations should be run. That was an interesting perspective.

With only a few people working the cable cars and thousands of people going to the same spot at the same time, it was destined for mayhem. Moshe was apologetic was how unorganized it was, but of course, this was not his fault. This is one of those instances where you just have to go with the flow!

Dead Sea Bound

Back on the bus, we all cheered when every person miraculously made it back to the bus. Some members only rode the cable car to the top and stayed on to ride it back down. For those with mobility issues, this wasn’t a bad idea since the cable car ride was beautiful!

We were about 1.5 hours behind schedule when our bus made the short drive to the resort area near the Dead Sea.

At the resort, we were provided lunch and entrance to the changing area, spa and beach. The buffet had a variety of options, but I enjoyed the chicken fingers and French fries while dad tried a mystery meat that we have yet to identify.

We changed into our swimsuits and walked down to the beach. The Dead Sea is 400 meters below sea level - making it the lowest place on the planet!

Mom was actually the first in the water, which is funny because she can’t swim! The idea of not physically being able to drown must have given her courage.

We all joined her in the sea and laid on our backs as the salty sea kept us bobbing on the surface. I’ve never felt anything like it! Truly, it was one of the coolest experiences ever! 

We bobbed around the sea for a while -  noting how smooth and salty our skin felt. A tiny taste of the water on my lips was enough to keep me from any sort of splashing.

The sea floor bottom is filled with clumps of salt, so it wasn’t necessarily very nice to walk on. We had about 30 minutes to enjoy the Dead Sea, which honestly was plenty given the saltiness of the water.

It wasn’t long before there was an announcement for our bus to get ready for leaving in the next 20 minutes. Angie and I used the outdoor shower to rinse off and back into the changing room.

The drive back to the port was uneventful and quiet as many napped. I worked on this blog whenever the bus wasn’t weaving up the mountains.

Late Arrival Back to Port

We arrived back to the ship only an hour late, which isn’t as late as many of us were anticipating. The captain announced we would be departing at 8:00pm instead of 6:00pm.

After a long day touring, we decided to have dinner in the Windjammer again rather than having a long meal in the dining room. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by dinner selection in the Windjammer, as I really don’t eat dinner here often.

The ship feels a little tired and slow tonight with everyone recovering from their second full in Israel.

We ended the night with cocktails at Lime and Coconut to watch the ship’s departure; however, we didn't end up leaving until 9:00pm. We also used all of our Diamond vouchers to get canned water instead of letting them to go to waste. 

Tonight, the ship will move from Ashdod to Haifa, which is just down the road. Tomorrow, we have a tour of Nazareth and Galilee, which will includes a stop in the Jordan River.

Luckily, we only have to meet our tour at 8am, so not as early. We are looking forward to a more restful night before our third and final day in Israel.

Odyssey of the Seas Live Blog - Day 5 - Jerusalem, Israel

In:
24 Oct 2022

Hello from Israel - we’ve made it! Our morning started super early with a 6:30am alarm, which gave us an hour to get ready, have breakfast and meet in the Royal Theatre for our excursion.

Today, we had a 10 hour excursion that would visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Angie and I made our way to the Windjammer to meet mom and dad for breakfast. We ate quickly and got ready just in time for us to go to the Royal Theatre.

By 8am, the ship had docked in Ashdod and they were clearing immigration. Along with the rest of our tour, we were escorted off the ship and into the terminal for face to face immigration.

As I mentioned yesterday, everyone onboard has to do immigration in Israel - even if you’re not getting off the ship in the port. Everyone on a Royal Caribbean excursion has priority, so most people on independent tours weren’t able to go through immigration until later in the morning.

Most were scrambling to get on a Royal Caribbean excursion or to move their independent tours to later in the day.

I’d highly recommend if you’re in a port that requires immigration to book an excursion for priority disembarkation. We also had this same mentality for Santorini, where we have to tender and will have priority on an excursion.

Immigration was quick and painless. From our research, we were prepared to pack our patience for going through immigration; it was a breeze for us on our excursion!! We were given a gate pass to keep in our passport throughout our stay in Israel.

In leu of a stamp, the gate pass acts as our entrance into the country. An Israeli stamp could prohibit future travel to Arab countries, so the gate pass is a way around that.

We were on the tour bus by 8:30 and on our way into Jerusalem from the port. The drive is about an hour into town and the port is very industrial.

Our guide, Ronen, gave us the low down on Israel. Our first stop in Jerusalem was a lookout spot that overlooked the entire city. We could see the Dome of the Rock with its gold dome off in the distance - this is one of the most photographed buildings in the world!

Also within view was the Mount of Olives, which Christians believe to be the mountain where Jesus the Messiah ascended into heaven.

This was a beautiful stop with panoramic views of the mountainous and hilly Jerusalem.

After the photo-op, we made our way into the old town to see the Western Wall. We had to go through a basic security check-point. There was a side for men and a side for women, but this was not being followed by anyone.

Once inside, there was a large square surrounded by the Western Wall with many people praying.

This is made of ancient limestone in the Old City of Jerusalem. The ancient wall, a small segment still standing off a once-larger surrounding wall, is a sacred place for Jews. It’s common practice to write your prayers/wishes on a piece of paper and place the paper in the wall.

There were 2 sections of the wall, one for men and one for women. Interestingly, the men’s side is probably three times bigger than the women’s side. The men’s side has tables with purple cloths overhanging while the women’s side had no such thing.

There was also a barricade between the two sides. The women’s side had stools that we could step on to see the men’s side.

I read that women needed to wear head coverings at the Western Wall, but this did not appear to be true. If it was, no one was enforcing the head coverings.

We didn’t have too much time at the Western Wall, just enough to take some pictures and place our prayer wish in the wall. Some were complaining about the lack of time at the Western Wall; however, I thought it was enough time.

Following our time at the Western Wall, we walked through a series of markets. These remind me of the medians in Morocco with lots of trinkets and hagglers.

As we made our way through the alleyways, we learned about a few Stations of the Cross along the way. Quite the juxtaposition to hear about Jesus walking these same steps to seeing Mickey Mouse on a bunch of t-shirts.

The alleyways were narrow with many shops, but it was fascinating to see and learn about the different stations of the cross that led us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church has 2 grey domes that can be seen from across Israel and it’s considered one of Christianity’s most holy site. 

At this point, the guide said we would be climbing steep, slippery stairs inside the church. Some of the others in our group stated they weren’t able to do the stairs. As we went inside, we saw one lady crawling up the stairs because she was so determined to get to the top. 

This is why I’m so vocal to others, and especially to my parents, about the importance of traveling while you are (relatively) young and able. These kinds of trips are exhausting for able-bodied people, but we had some struggle to keep up all day. 

The excursion stated we would be walking on uneven surfaces for 3 miles - and we definitely did. Some were grumbling that the tour was too fast-paced for them, although we found it to be appropriate given all the things we were seeing in one day. 

Inside the church, we made our way up the stairs to see multiple sacred spaces, which include the spots where Christians believe Jesus was nailed to the cross and crucified. Many were waiting in line to kiss and bow to these sacred spots, although our tour didn’t allow time for this. 

We also touched the Stone of Anointing, which is known as the spot where Jesus was laid before he was buried. Many were taking personally items, like veils and souvenirs. and rubbing them on the stone as well. 

Last, we were able to see the Tomb of Jesus inside the church. According to traditions dating back to the 4th century, Christians believe this to be the spot where Jesus was resurrected after his death. There was a long line to enter the tomb with only one person able to go inside at a time, and our tour didn’t include this. 

We weaved quickly through the markets and I snagged a magnet, which is my favorite souvenir for my fridge. I haggled down from $7 to $3, which is about what I expected. 

Back on the bus, we stopped for a lunch buffet with all the other tours from the ship. There was a wide selection of food served in a buffet style.

We finished eating and the bus started heading towards Bethlehem. Those familiar with the area will know that Bethlehem is under Palestinian rule in the West Bank, so we had to enter their territory. We drove right through the border check but could see barbed wire and police guarding the entrance. 

Upon entering the West Bank, we also got another tour guide who would cover the Palestinian locations. 

I could immediately tell Bethlehem was not as nice as Jerusalem- there were many run down buildings and the streets were filled with trash. 

While I’ve always envisioned Bethlehem as being some sort of nativity with donkeys, I was shocked by the KFC right in the city center. It was nothing like I envisioned. 

Our new guide took us into the Church of the Nativity, which is where Christians believe to be the birthplace of Jesus. We didn’t have time to wait in the 2 hour line to see the actual manger spot, but those in line were showing signs of frustrating and angst as they stood in the heat.

At one point, someone in line pushed and yelled at our tour guide as he maneuvered our group around the line to talk about the church’s restoration. 

Throughout this tour, we lost 2 separate groups that would rejoin us during a later part of the tour. I thought the guide was joking when he said it’s normal for at least a few people to get lost or left behind! Luckily, our ship is docked overnight and they gave out the locations to share with taxi drivers to meet up. 

I had always pictured some sort of farm on the prairie with a cute little nativity scene in a barn - and this was nothing like what I expected. Travel can surprise us, that’s for sure. 

We had a quick shopping stop at a store that was almost certainly sponsored by Royal Caribbean. They put Jesus’ face on everything you can imagine in this store - even fingernail clippers. 

This was the last stop on our tour, and I used the hour drive back to the ship to go through photos and get started on this blog. 

The weather today was perfect and about as good as we could have hoped for! It was warm but not super humid with a slight breeze. 

We are so grateful that we booked this excursion instead of doing a third-party excursion as we had planned. We had a full day and got everything on our agenda before sunset. We certainly wouldn’t have seen everything we wanted to without getting off the ship so early with the priority immigration through the RCL excursion we booked. 

Before entering the port, we had to go through an immigration check where a local immigration officer had our tour guide sign a form. Almost every tour was getting back at the same time and it took us 30 minutes by the time we entered the port to the time we actually got to the ship. 

We were back onboard by 8:00pm, so we weren’t able to dine in the dining room. We went up to the Windjammer for dinner, which might be a first for me as well! I can't remember the last time I had Windjammer for dinner, but I was pleasantly surprised with how tasty it was. By this point, we were pretty hungry. 

Dinner tonight was BBQ themed in the Windjammer! Crazy to think we wandered some of the oldest religious sites in the world and then came back to the ship to have corn dogs, ribs, mac and cheese and funnel cakes. 

 

Tomorrow, we have an even earlier wake-up time with a 5:45am alarm. We will be heading to the Dead Sea and Masada for a full-day tour! It takes 2 hours to get to the Dead Sea from Ashdod, so we are anticipating another long day of exploring this beautiful country.

Until then, good night everyone!

Odyssey of the Seas Live Blog - Day 4 - Limassol, Cyprus

In:
23 Oct 2022

Hello from the beautiful island of Cyprus! Our consecutive sea days came to an end as we pulled into Limassol, Cyprus around 9am.

Odyssey of the Seas docked in Cyprus

As I mentioned yesterday, we opted to cancel our walking tour excursion through the ship to do our own thing. Knowing we have 3 full days in Israel coming up, we wanted to have the flexibility to do whatever we wanted.

Angie and I enjoyed sleeping in a little longer than we were planning. Tomorrow morning's 6:30am wake-up call will be brutal!

We met up with mom and dad in the Windjammer for breakfast. This was, shockingly, our first time we’ve been to to the Windjammer. I love all the options available in the Windjammer - I think it's my favorite spot for breakfast when cruising. 

I was hoping to find outdoor seating like my husband and I enjoyed on Anthem of the Seas each morning, but there was no outdoor Windjammer seating for this ship. 

After a delicious breakfast, we made our way to the stateroom to get ready for the day and make our way to the gangway.

A Cyprus Dizzy Spell

After exiting the ship, I had my own 'Alpha Alpha Alpha' medical scare right after getting off the ship!

We took the elevator straight down from the top deck and then got off the ship. I noticed my ears were not popping, which is unusual, so I plugged my nose and forced my ears to pop.

All of the sudden, my ears started making some screeching sounds and everything started to spin. I was so dizzy, I couldn’t even look straight. Angie said I looked like I was in a sumo wrestler squat as I tried to get my footing. I started to hang onto my mom and then crouched a bit to create a sturdy base.

Unfortunately, the dizziness got worse and I went straight to the ground. I didn't want to take mom down with me, as she's not necessarily the most physically stable person as is. I didn’t feel faint, just extremely dizzy.

I knew if I didn’t get to the ground myself that the ground would find me - and I would fall flat on the concrete. There I was, having my own alpha alpha alpha medical scare right off the gangway.

I started to panic - what if I can’t see straight for a while?! I’ve never had vertigo of any sort and I rarely even get seasick. It felt like I was on an uncontrollable roller coaster.

A small group of concerned cruisers came crowding around me but I kept saying, “I’m fine, I’m fine! I popped my ears and now I can’t see straight”. 

Luckily, after staring straight into the distance for a minute or so, my vision started to get better.  Once the world stopped spinning, I grounded myself and felt fine enough to continue walking. I’ve never had something like this happen to me - it was a scary moment for sure. 

Perhaps my equilibrium was thrown off from getting off sea to land and then popping my ears exasperated the issue. That's the last time I force my ears to pop!

Exploring Limassol

Royal Caribbean provided free shuttles from the port into the city for free. This was a nice option, as the port was more industrial than I expected. The ride lasted no more than 10 minutes into town, which is just a few miles from where our ship docked.

We were out of the shuttle and dropped off near the Limassol Marina, which was a beautiful part of the city. This area was lined with shops, boats and seaside eateries. The water was strikingly blue.

First on our list was the Limassol Castle, which would have been part of our walking tour we originally booked. As we weaved through the side streets, we stumbled upon a lot of little souvenir shops. It was nice to shop and explore the old city without being on a time crunch.

We also noticed there were tons of cats wandering around the island. One of the shop owners claimed a street cat as their own, but we saw probably a dozen different cats throughout the day wandering the streets.

The Limassol Castle was not far from where the shuttles dropped us off. It was an easy and leisure walk - no more than 5 minutes had we walked straight there. The castle was built in 1590 according to our online research and it was a quaint little castle.

There was an entrance fee for going into the castle and we didn’t really feel like going inside, so we just admired the outside of the medieval structure.

Next, we walked through old town a little more and stumbled into some cute side streets and alleys. There were even more shops to enjoy. I was amazed by how quiet the city seemed, but perhaps this was because it was a Saturday.

We made out way back to the ocean and found a promenade, which was a nice walkway right along the sea. It was lined with palm trees, parks and eateries. There was a lovely breeze that kept the heat at bay.

During our walk, we found a spot to sit down and grab a quick drink. The menu stated if you left a TripAdvisor review that you would get a free drink; so, I promptly opened my phone and left a review. Say no more - anything for a free drink! Angie had the free drink while I ordered a limoncello cocktail.

Both cocktails were equally beautiful as they were delicious! It was nice to sit down and enjoy the ocean views under some covered shade.

 

Once we finished our drinks, we started to make our way back to the shuttle meeting spot; again, we walked along the promenade. This brought us all the way back to the Marina, where we enjoyed more of the local sights.

All of us really enjoyed Limassol! I would love to go back and take a tour of some of the other main attractions on the island. Given the port-intensity of this itinerary, we wanted to take it easy today in preparation for our next 3 days in Israel.

Back Onboard

As we made our way back to the ship, we went up to the pool deck for a quick snack. We walked about 4 miles while in Limassol so we worked up an appetite!

We all went to my new favorite spot, El Loco Fresh. The cheesy chicken quesadilla with sour cream just hits the spot every time. Mom and dad enjoyed some nachos.

The Caribbean band started to play as I went through today’s photos. I loved all the songs they were playing - even some Ed Sheeran ones with a Caribbean flair. It was a nice way to spend the late afternoon before we went back to the cabin to get ready for dinner. I even dozed off at one point while relaxing in the lounger.

Giovanni's Italian Kitchen

As the sun started to set, we went back to our staterooms to get ready for dinner. For tonight, we had a reservation for Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen. We’ve dined many times at the old Giovani’s Table, but we had not tried this new twist on the Royal Caribbean classic.

To start, our waiter, Anil, was excellent. His warm presence immediately made us feel welcomed into the restaurant. Since we’ve never dined at this establishment, there were quite a few things on the menu that we wanted to try.

He first brought us the warm garlic knots were oozing with buttery goodness - we immediately ordered a second serving.

For starters, we tried the Giant Meatball, Stromboli, Truffle Caprese Salad and Calamari. Everything was excellent. I loved the Truffle Caprese Salad and Angie also really liked the Stromboli. The meatball was indeed giant and very hearty. 

Giovanni’s is known for its pizza, so we ordered the Meatlovers pizza and the Truffle & Egg pizza sans the egg. The hit of the night was the Truffle pizza, which had the perfect hints of truffle. There wasn’t a piece left at the end of the night.

For pasta, we tried the Carbonara and Fettuccini Alfredo. The Carbonara was the showstopper at our table.

Entree wise, Mom ordered the Chicken Parmesan and Dad ordered the steak filet. Both said their meals were awesome. Dad even said the filet was *almost* as good as the steak he had in Chops Grille the first night! Our compliments to the chef.

Halfway through dinner, we saw the ship start to pull away from the port. We were hoping to see the sunset over Cyprus, but the sun had already set. We waved goodbye to the city as the ship turned around and started its way out to sea.

I wish the specialty restaurants had better ocean views, as all we could see were the big yellow lifeboats from inside the both Chops Grille and Giovani's.

 

Back to our meal, we also ordered a lasagna to share and the serving was absolutely huge. It was practically an entire pan of lasagna; unfortunately, this one wasn’t our favorite and we felt a little wasteful for wanting to try it and then not loving it.

 

Normally, we are pretty good about ordering only what we know we will eat. We’ve cruised enough to know the portion sizes that are adequate, but we definitely over ordered tonight. If we return to Giovanni’s, we know what to order and how big to expect the portions.

We always save enough room for dessert, which is served with a complementary shot of limoncello. Mom and I are the only ones who like limoncello, so I finished the shots from Dad and Angie.

Angie and I tried the Nutella fried ravioli, which was rich and decadent. Dad had the tiramisu and mom had the banana Nutella Stromboli, which is what Anil recommended. We were in Nutella heaven!

Overall, dinner was excellent and we would happily dine at Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen again. I love the revamped feel to make the space more trendy and less formal. I always enjoyed Giovanni’s Table and the food that was served, but I think we prefer Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen.

We had wonderful and attentive service from Anil and his partner - they both made our experience even better. 

Angie said she was ‘as stuffed as that Giant Meatball’ after the meal! I empathize with this metaphor.

Israeli Plans for Tomorrow

There isn’t a ton of entertainment tonight happening, as most are getting ready for the next few days in Israel. We have all day shore excursions booked through the ship for all 3 days.

We originally had a third-party tour booked for tomorrow, but we opted to book a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean instead. Excursions for the days in Israel were booked many months in advance and some have been sold out for months. Just about two months ago, more excursions were opened up and we made the decision to book through the cruise line instead.

There are a few reasons for this. First, we felt it would be the safest option to book through Royal Caribbean since local tour guides might have less risk tolerance. We also had extra flexibility and added convenience of booking through the cruise line

Second, some of the research I did uncovered that immigration in Israel can take a long time once we dock - like up to 4 hours. That’s a lot of time to miss out on during our first day in Israel and the Holy Land is our reason for taking this cruise.

Royal Caribbean shore excursions have priority to go through immigration first, so we should be off the ship in the morning once we go through face-to-face immigration. Everyone on an independent tour has to wait for all excursions to clear customs first.

We are required to carry our passport while in Israel. Most of the holy sites require shoulders and knees to be covered, so we are dressing appropriately. Some require women to cover their heads, so we are packing scarves as well.

Tomorrow, we are visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem when our ship docks in Ashdod, Israel. The tour is 10 hours long with 1 hour driving each way and lunch provided.

We are stoked to be in Israel and to see incredibly historic and religious spots!

Rather than attend activities tonight on the ship, we are ensuring we have everything ready to go for tomorrow. I am going to read through the Israel immigration information that was provided through Royal Caribbean to make sure I am not missing anything important. 

Cameras are charging and passports are ready - here we come, Israel!

Odyssey of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 - Sea Day

In:
22 Oct 2022

It’s our second sea day onboard Odyssey of the Seas! Tomorrow we will be in Limassol, Cyprus - our first port of call. This is a new port and country for all of us, so we are very excited. 

We originally had a walking tour booked for tomorrow, but upon further consideration, we decided to cancel tonight.

Sea day on Odyssey of the seas

The itinerary for the excursion included all things that we think we can do on our own and it will save us $200 to just get off the ship independently. There’s no tendering tomorrow and we want to take things at our own pace. It looks like a pretty easy port to explore on our own. Will report back on that tomorrow!

One of the reasons we like booking shore excursions through the cruise line is the ease of canceling, even the night before. We've done this for years and it's always been a total breeze canceling excursions onboard. 

I jinxed us by saying the seas were calm yesterday because we've definitely been rocking and rolling a bit today. Nothing horrible, but more noticeable and especially noticeable last night. 

Sea Day Sleeping and Breakfast

In the spirit of rest and rejuvenation, Angie and I slept until 10:30am. I had a lovely night relaxing and even took a bath in our stateroom - a cruise first for me!

Our ship had the dreaded time change forward last night, but it’s all good since we had no plans for today. I did consider going to the Hebrew Language class this morning, but my rest felt more important than stumbling through learning a new language in 30 minutes.

Our only option for breakfast was brunch in the main dining room again, so we made our way down there.

I opted for a simple breakfast with yogurt and a bagel while Angie and mom had an omelet. Angie also ordered the French toast again, which is served with a berry compote. 

The menu was slightly different than the brunch menu from yesterday morning, which was interesting.

They’ve also been coming around with different and fun juices during breakfast that are complimentary. I’ve tried both celery and carrot juice in an attempt to cancel out the alcohol I've been consuming. 

I enjoy having a slower breakfast in the morning on sea days, especially knowing we have 4 busy days coming up.

After breakfast, Angie went to a dance class with mom and dad on the SeaPlex. She explained it as a 'random compilation of wedding reception songs' that included the Cupid shuffle and electric slide. They said it was fun to dance and get moving. The instructor even noted how many people showed up and how pleased he was to have such a big group!

During this time, I stayed in the cabin so I could finish grading projects - which only took me about 45 minutes. Gotta pay for the cruises somehow, right?!

My Taylor Swift Moment

After finishing my work for the week, I wanted to get footage of the belly flop contest and see who would be participating in this event. Come to find out, the event was possibly done by the time I got to the pool deck, although I was only 15 minutes late. 

Dad claims he met someone who had a medal from the competition and said you couldn’t miss it on the pool deck! I guess it was a quick competition.

Today’s an important and historic day, as Taylor Swift released her newest album! As a big fan, I wanted to slot some me-time to listen to the new album. Might seem silly, but it's something I love to do. 

I made my way to the top deck and found there to be plenty of places for me to get comfortable. I found a little colorful cocoon daybed to make my sacred Swiftie spot.

It was so relaxing listening to the album and the crashing waves in the distance. I was having a happy moment.

In the distance, I saw the rest of my travel crew walking around. Dad decided to hit the gym while Angie, mom and I went to the pool deck. I opted for another Lime & Coconut cocktail and Angie joined me.

I love all the fun colors around this ship and couldn't help but take a cute picture of the cocktail again. 

We also enjoyed a warm cookie skillet from Windjammer topped with ice cream on top. Angie said the Windjammer didn’t have vanilla ice cream - so she went to the ice cream station. We indulged while jamming to the Caribbean tunes along with others bopping along.

Before long, it was creeping up on the early evening hours so we made our way back to the cabin. I love having a balcony all to myself and not feeling like I’m missing out on stunning ocean views by going to my stateroom.

I found that I enjoy spending more time in my cabin when I have a nicer, larger room. I really love coming back to our suite and each night have been enjoying the walk-in shower and bathtub.

Angie and dad decided to try the Diamond Lounge while mom and I finished getting ready for dinner.

They said they couldn’t find a spot to sit! With over 1,200 Diamond and Diamond+ people onboard, I guess it’s unsurprising that they couldn’t find a spot.

My husband and I found the same issue when we sailed on Anthem of the Seas this summer, which is the same ship class. We went one night to the Diamond Lounge and didn’t end up going back.

This is a disappointment for us, as we’ve always enjoyed going to the Diamond Lounge before dinner and smaller ships have much larger Diamond lounges.

For dinner tonight, we decided to deviate from our plans to dine at Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen. We pushed back our reservation to tomorrow night, although we wanted to move it to the next sea day.

We’ve had 2 big meals the last two nights and we wanted to just enjoy a more casual night in the main dining room. We always seem to eat more in the speciality restaurants because everything is so delicious. 

Lucky for us, our dining table is right by the window! We have a lovely table that seats all 4 of us.

I enjoyed another round of French onion soup while Angie had the roasted tomato soup. Mom had her nightly escargot and dad loves high nightly Cesar salad.

For main entrees, we enjoyed the Steak Diane, Chicken Cordon Blu, and a pesto pasta dish. Everything tasted delicious and the view couldn’t be beat as the Mediterranean sun went down.

We finished off with Royal Chocolate Cake, Tiramisu and Cherries Jubilee. The Royal Chocolate Cake is a RCL staple and it seems that every ship does it a little bit differently.

I adored the richness of Odyssey’s Royal Chocolate Cake! Some of the best I’ve had.

Showgirl Production

Tonight's entertainment was a Production Show: Showgirl, which included the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers. There was not an empty seat in the house for the early seating. 

As I mentioned, this ship has an older demographic so I assume everyone is going to the early show rather than the 10:15pm showtime. 

The show was dazzling with spectacular music and choreography. There were even acrobats at one point, which was a fun addition. Everyone enjoyed the upbeat music. It was energetic very entertaining! 

Stray Observations

Dad also had an exciting day - he finally found some strawberry purée so he was able to get his Miami Vice in the Music Hall. This is a fun venue each evening with live music - my husband and I spent a few nights in this venue during our summer cruise on Anthem of the Seas.

The ship is only sailing around 60% capacity but most of the guests are Diamond members or above! 

Odyssey of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - Sea Day

In:
20 Oct 2022

It's Day 2 onboard the stunning Odyssey of the Seas. Today was a sea day on the calm Mediterranean as we make our way to The Holy Land!

We have sea days both today and tomorrow before reaching Cyprus for one day and then three full days in Israel.

I’m using these two days to get lots of sleep, take it easy and drink a ton of water. After plenty of wine and cocktails in Paris and Rome, I want to stay a little more hydrated before our big tour days in Israel! 

Our morning started late after Angie and I both slept in. I knew I needed to get some rest after the last five days of traveling and exploring; so, I am very grateful that we have these two sea days to relax before the busy port days come up.

When it comes to these longer itineraries, having a few sea days scattered throughout is essential for me to reset. 

After a restful night’s sleep, we decided to try brunch in the dining room at 11am. This brunch was served until 12:30pm, which was something new to us! Normally, we find the Windjammer to serve the latest breakfast option, usually until 11am on sea days; but we were pleased to find this brunch option available until 12:30pm.

The menu had an assortment of breakfast and lunch options - most of the options I recognized from the normal main dining room breakfast menu.

Angie and I had the French Toast while mom and dad both had omelets. I also enjoyed my morning latte using one of my daily drink vouchers. Everything tasted good to us. 

Bumper Cars

After we finished breakfast, mom suggested we head up to the Seaplex to try out the bumper cars. We thought that would be a fun way to start the day since the line was short. 

Bumper cars on Odyssey

As we walked in, we kind of laughed to each other at how everyone was riding in a circle - going rather slowly - instead of actually bumping into each other.

There were only two cars left in the next group so we decided to ride together in the two cars. Angie got behind the wheel, as did my dad, and I brought my camera for blog content.

To start, those little suckers go faster than they appear!

Angie thought it would be a great idea to run into our parents at full speed, which was a horrible idea. She slammed into mom and dad's bumper car in a head-on collision!

Mom and I had the wind knocked out of us and exclaimed some not-so-family-friendly words. I also jammed my knee against the dashboard! I think mom and I took the brunt of the hit since we didn’t have our hands on the wheel to soften the blow.

Here are a few live-action stills from the video I took - mom's face says it all!

After we scolded Angie for her lapse in judgement, she turned into Driving Miss Daisy and we avoided contact with every car until the end of the session. It was a fun experience but also somewhat of a bust given the collision that was entirely preventable!

We laughed about it later but I definitely have a burn from the seatbelt and I am pretty positive I will wake up with a sore neck tomorrow.

Now, it makes sense why everyone was driving in a circle and NOT engaging in lots of bumping.

After we recovered from the bumper car trauma, I decided to go back to the stateroom and finally unpack my suitcase. I always unpack my suitcase and store it under the bed. Regardless of how long a cruise is, I put everything away because I hate living out of a suitcase.

Our suite has tons of space to unpack comfortably with six large drawers and a closet with about 20 hangers and a shoe rack. We also brought a collapsable, mesh hamper to use for dirty clothes and this fits perfectly in the closet. 

Icon of the Seas Reveal

Last night when we returned to our stateroom, we found an invitation to an Icon of the Seas reveal party for loyalty members.

As hard working gals of Royal Caribbean Blog, we knew we would need to check out this event in the Royal Theatre! Upon entering, there were servers with tons of different snack options. I was looking for any free cocktails that might be served (of course), but we got there right as it started so maybe there were some but they ran out.

I enjoyed a chocolate covered mousse ball while Angie had some strawberry whipped dessert as the presentation started.

We watched the first two episodes of Making an Icon and then they released the new episode that unveiled Icon of the Seas! Wow - it looks stunning!

Solarium Afternoon

Once the Icon of the Seas reveal event was finished, we made our way upstairs to the Solarium.

It was unfortunately quite busy in here, but we were able to snag a table and chairs near the side entrance. Mom and dad played cribbage while Angie tried out the Massager Taster event.

Since I am an adjunct instructor (in addition to blogging and my other corporate job), I had to get some grading done for class. I can’t complain about the office view though and the Wi-Fi onboard has been pretty good so far.

Angie came back from the Massage Taster event with her new favorite cocktail - The Lime & Coconut Cocktail!

I was inspired to head to the El Loco Fresh again for a quick snack, which consisted of cheese and chicken quesadillas with sour cream. I absolutely love this little place on the pool deck for lunch and it hit the spot, again!

As the sun was starting to set, we went back to our cabin to get ready for formal night. The sunset tonight was so stunning from our balcony that we had to take some pictures.

I also realized that our balcony has really nice furniture compared to a standard balcony with a plushy seat, back support pillow and padded footrest. I am definitely going to be spending some time tomorrow on the balcony enjoying the calm seas.

Tales of a Lost SeaPass

While heading out the door for dinner, I searched everywhere for my SeaPass card to no avail. I knew I must have left my SeaPass (on a lanyard) in the Solarium during our afternoon visit.

Before going to dinner, I made my way back to our chairs to find that everything was already cleaned up. I asked the gentleman sitting if he had seen my SeaPass, and he said no.

I then made my way to the Solarium Bar and asked the bartenders if anyone had handed in a lost SeaPass card. They said no and to check with the towel attendants, as that’s where left-behind items go on the pool deck and Solarium.

As I rushed to the towel stand, I realized in all my years of cruising that I have NEVER lost my SeaPass card! Walking up to the towel station, I saw a handful of lost and found items. Low and behold, my SeaPass was there in my lanyard.

Although I knew they could just make me a new SeaPass card if the key was really lost, it was a relief to just get it back and move on.

Coastal Kitchen for Dinner

We made reservations yesterday to dine at Coastal Kitchen tonight, as junior suite guests can dine here on a per-availability basis. We were told that reservations can only be made on a daily basis given the number of Pinnacle guests onboard.

I’ve heard from some people that they love Coastal Kitchen because it's a great, elevated dining option for suite guests; on the other hand, I’ve heard from others (like our very own Matt Hochberg) that Coastal Kitchen isn’t necessarily anything special or worth the hype.

After tonight’s experience, I’d have to agree with Matt that Coastal Kitchen isn’t something I’d rave about.

On a positive note, our waitress was very sweet and the dining space is really gorgeous with floor to ceiling windows. It was nice to be in a more intimate dining environment and try something new. However, the food wasn’t anything special even though we had expectations that it would be better than the dining room.

For dinner, dad and I ordered the rib eye steak while Angie ordered a pasta dish and mom ordered a seafood dish. The rib eye was excellent and Angie enjoyed her pasta. Mom wasn’t wowed by her fish or her lobster salad starter either. Dad and I didn't love the potatoes or ratatouille served with the steak and Angie felt her soup starter lacked flavor. 

Dessert consisted of a chocolate bar, cheesecake, creme brulee and apple blossom - most of these are available in the dining room. 

During dinner, the entire room felt a little too quiet and maybe even too stuffy for our liking. For reference, we are a pretty loud family so we don't ever feel like we need to keep it down with the commotion of the main dining room.

Everyone in Coastal Kitchen had their Pinnacle pins on; we joked that we need to order fake Pinnacle pins off Ebay so we can fit in better next time! Our eyes widened as we heard one couple say how they book two separate junior suites for cruises so they can earn four points per night of their cruise - and they’ve taken 62 cruises. Another couple responded, “You’ve ONLY done 62 cruises?”

As my mom stated, perhaps we are just more meat-and-potato folks. We might need to give Coastal Kitchen another try depending on the different menu offerings, but we were unfortunately not super impressed tonight with the experience. 

Tomorrow we are dining at Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen, which is new to all of us! We’ve dined at the old Giovanni’s Table and Jamie’s Italian, but have not tried the reimagined Giovani’s Kitchen. 

Odyssey of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Civitavecchia, Italy

In:
19 Oct 2022

Ciao from Roma, Italia! Our next live blog will be coming daily from Europe onboard Odyssey of the Seas.

I’m excited to share that I’ll be cruising for the next 12 nights on a much-anticipated cruise to the Holy Land; this cruise includes three days in Israel, along with stops in Limmasol (Cyprus), Santorini (Greece), Rhodes (Greece) and Chania (Greece)

During our time in Israel, Odyssey will dock overnight for two days in Jerusalem (Ashdod) and finish with one day in Haifa.

This is a special cruise, as it has been on my dad’s bucket list for years. We had to postpone this one many times due to the pandemic, but we are so thrilled to be onboard and heading to Israel!

For this cruise, I’m sailing with Angie, my sister and social media manager for Royal Caribbean Blog. We are also joined by our parents, but we won't make them work too hard during this cruise!

Europe is my absolute favorite place to cruise in the world; the European itineraries are jam-packed with so many destinations rich in culture. This is my eighth time cruising in Europe and my third time onboard a Quantum-class ship.

Traveling to Rome

Cruising in Europe is a great cruise choice for many reasons, but one of my favorites is the opportunity to explore new cities and countries before the cruise departs.

My sister and I traveled from Florida to Paris, France last week to spend a few days in the city of love. We met up with my dear friend, Rosina, whom I actually met at the teen club on a cruise more than 14 years ago! Although I’d been to Paris on a cruise once before, having a full four days to see this incredible city was the perfect start to our cruise vacation.

Yesterday, we flew from Paris to Rome on a cheap EasyJet flight where we met up with my parents at the airport. My parents' flight landed on Tuesday morning, just in time for our cruise to depart on Wednesday.

Personally, I would recommend arriving in an international cruise destination at least two days before. This gives you more time to get adjusted to the time zone and accounts for any potential delays you might encounter. Also, this gives you a full day to explore your cruise departure city!

After meeting up with our jet-lagged parents, we made our way into Rome and enjoyed dinner before visiting the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum and Spanish Steps.

We stayed the night at Crowne Plaza - St. Peters due to its proximity to the city, airport and cruise port. I’d highly recommend staying in this area. 

Getting to the Port

After a restful night’s sleep, we took a private transfer that we arranged on Viator from our hotel to the port city of Civitavecchia.

There are multiple ways to get to the port from Rome, such as train, bus or taxi, but a scheduled transfer was both relaxing and convenient. Our private transfer was booked for $50 each while the hotel was charging $70 each for a large shuttle bus transfer. We saw the lobby filled with fellow cruisers waiting in a long line for the shuttles and taxis. 

The drive to Civitavecchia took about an hour, getting us to the port around 11:00am. Although we were slotted for a 12:00pm boarding time, there was no issue with us getting onboard earlier.

Embarkation was an absolute breeze - much smoother than any embarkation I’ve experienced stateside! Since this cruise is 12 nights, we had to take a self-monitored Covid-19 test and present negative results before boarding. We were not asked to show our vaccination cards when boarding.

Angie and I both brought Covid-19 home tests to Paris and took these at our hotel before flying to Rome. 

Getting Acquainted

Once onboard Odyssey of the Seas, we went straight to Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen to schedule dinner, which allows us to use our BOGO diamond specialty dining benefit.

We also made a reservation for Chops Grille for tonight to utilize all of the BOGO deals between the four of us.

Although the benefit states you need to dine on Day 1 or 2, we’ve found that most of the time you can prepay on the first or second day and then dine on a later date.

Since we are staying in a Junior Suite for this cruise, I also went to Coastal Kitchen to make a reservation for tomorrow night. We’ve never dined in Coastal Kitchen before, so we are excited to see what the hype’s about. 

Lunch started at the Solarium Bistro, but everything we tried was cold so we made our way to El Loco Fresh. I haven’t sailed on a ship with this dining option, so I was ready to try it out!

I really enjoyed my chicken burrito and Angie also liked her quesadilla.

We finished the meal with a creamy mudslide cocktail, made with ice cream fresh from the pool deck machine. It was divine!

The Suite Life

You might know me as the cheap cruise expert, but sometimes I do like to splurge. Although we originally booked a cheap inside cabin (per usual), we upgraded our room twice during the pre-cruise process.

We booked our inside cabin right when this itinerary was announced in 2020. Back in February, we repriced our cabins and saved $1,400 on our inside cabin while my parents saved $2,400 on their balcony stateroom. 

Book early and reprice often is always the way to go!

Just a few months ago, I upgraded us to a balcony guarantee for free since the price was slightly less than we paid. When we had the chance to bid on a suite during the Royal Up process, we bid $300 each and were awarded a mid-ship junior suite!

I’m anxious to see if the suite life is worth the price. For this cruise, we are paying right around $100 per person per day before gratuities.

Our room is equally gorgeous as it is spacious. After sailing almost exclusively in inside cabins, it feels like pure luxury.

We have a large balcony, bathtub, walk-in shower, and (the best part of all) a separate area with a toilet and additional sink. Our initial impressions of the stateroom were extremely positive - maybe I need to start upgrading myself more often!

The North Star

After making dinner reservations and finding our stateroom, we headed to Deck 14 for our North Star reservation.

I've heard before to make a reservation on the first day to try North Star - I’m so glad we did! We were able to get a reservation for 3:30pm and this allowed us to see the port and ship from above.

With a small group, we were launched into the air and given some really cool views of the ship and port area. Although I’ve sailed on both Spectrum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, this was my first time trying the North Star!

Although it was a cool thing to do once, I wouldn’t say it’s an absolute must-do and I don’t know if I would pay to do it. While in port, you aren't able to go off the side of the ship like they are able to do at sea; therefore, the complimentary ride (available during port days) is shorter. 

Right by the launching pad of the North Star was the Lime & Coconut bar. We decided to try the signature ‘Lime & Coconut’ cocktail, served in a little Malibu bucket. The cocktail was sweet with creamy coconut. It was so good that Angie and I ordered a second round!

Chops Grille

Since my dad prefers eating dinner very early, I wasn’t on the top deck to watch our sail away. Instead, we had a 5:45pm reservation at Chops Grille.

I tend to order the same thing every time I dine at Chops Grille - and it’s becoming my new routine to dine there on the first night of every cruise. This allows us to use our BOGO specialty dining benefit and it also keeps me out of the main dining room for the first night.

I’ve learned that Royal Caribbean serves the same Day 1 menu in the main dining room on practically every cruise, regardless of where I sail - and it’s just not my favorite menu. 

Upon entering Chops Grille, we saw a familiar face at the check-in counter, but couldn’t quite put our fingers on it. We asked what ships the gentleman had worked on; he listed a variety of ships but nothing helped ring a bell.

Finally, he listed at the end of his long list “Spectrum of the Seas” and we all perked up. He was our waiter for our last family cruise from Shanghai to Japan in 2019 where we dined in the Silver Lounge each evening. It’s always fun to see familiar faces onboard and reminisce on cruising memories!

For dinner, we enjoyed the thick-cut bacon and crab cakes as starters, followed by creamy wild mushroom soup. Angie doesn’t love steak so she chooses the chicken while the rest of us enjoyed tender fillets and flavorful ribeyes.

We ended dinner with an assortment of desserts, including key lime pie, chocolate cake and red velvet cake. Everything was wonderful and tasted great. The key lime pie is a showstopper in Chops Grille for us!

I ended the evening with a quiet, relaxing night in the cabin working on this blog and editing photos. Tonight’s entertainment was a 50s and 60s Tribute show, which speaks to the general demographic of this itinerary based on my observations.

Angie attended the evening show with my parents and said she enjoyed listening to the music. Our parents have yet to return to their stateroom for the night - how the tables have turned!

Tomorrow is a sea day, which is very much needed after five busy days of exploring, touring and walking all over Paris and Rome. I plan to do a lot of sleeping and napping, along with catching up on some work. 

Stray Observations

One of the biggest observations we all made was the sheer number of guests wearing Pinnacle pins. For those who don’t know, this is the highest tier of loyalty one can reach with Royal Caribbean and these exclusive guests receive an engraved name tag. These are worn with great pride by Pinnacle members - or so I’ve been told!

I’ve truly never seen so many people wearing Pinnacle pins on a cruise. Our server tonight confirmed there is a supposedly a ‘record-breaking’ number of Pinnacle guests onboard, which explains this unique observation.

This could make it difficult for us to get Coastal Kitchen reservations, as Junior Suite guests are lowest priority and can only dine for dinner if there’s availability. 

As I mentioned, the demographics on this cruise are certainly on the older side - a stark contrast from my last cruise on Carnival Ecstasy, which was a wild weekend cruise to Mexico from Mobile, Alabama for Cruise.Blog

My parents are in their 60s and we would guess that’s the average age of most cruisers onboard. This tends to be more common based on my experiences in European cruising, especially on the longer itineraries.

My dad tried to order a Miami Vice twice and apparently the ship is out of the strawberry mix! We will see if this continues to be true in the coming days.

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