Wednesday, April 12, 2023

MSC Splendida - Red Sea/Suez/Mediterraian Cruise - April 12, 2023


MSC Splendida - Red Sea / Suez Canal / Mediterranean Cruise  
Just the Facts
Ship:  MSC Splendida,  Fantasia class ship launched in 2009 @ 138,000 tons.
Ports: Jeddah Saudi Arabia, Yanbu SA, Sokhna Egypt, Safaga Egypt, Aquaba Jodan, Suez Canal, Santorini Greece, Mykonos Greece, Piraeus Greece, Katakolon Greece, Kotor Montenegro, Bari Italy, Trieste, Italy.

Another long adventure cruise with a lot of new ports for me. This cruise over 18 days will be in two segments so count as two cruises (MSC thing, but also get two Diamond parties, etc.). Also sailing the following cruise on 4/30, but will review it separately. I am sailing with my Dear Wife (DW). This is my first cruise on the MSC Splendida, but I have sailed the other three ships in the MSC Fantasia class. My 16th & 17th cruises on MSC, and my 198th & 199th total cruises overall.

Travel Days - Monday/Tuesday, April 10 & 11th 

We arrived at our new (to us) local airport in Tampa (photo left) for early international check-in and had time for a nice Chick-fil-A meal before our Monday 4:00 pm flight to Chicago ORD. At ORD went to the Qatar Air terminal for our 13-hour flight to Doha Qatar. We had very nice bulkhead seats for the long flight with a lot of legroom. We endured the long flight. We landed in Qatar (a new county for me) and found our way to our final flight to Jeddah. The flight was full of Pilgrims making their way to Mecca during Ramadan. Very interesting in itself. We finally landed in Jeddah at about 9:10 pm. local time. Lots of formality arriving in Saudi Arabia. We first acquired our SA Travel Visas from a kiosk ($120 per person) then went through primary Immigration. Then a carry-on baggage check and another immigration check to confirm we went through the primary. Even with these delays, we arrived at baggage claim before our bags arrived, but they did arrive just as we began looking so no need to panic. We were picked to get a random Customs query as we entered the main terminal area but they scanned our large backs quickly and we were on our way. We ordered an Uber and within 8 minutes were picked up in the designated Uber waiting area ($20 to hotel). There were plenty of local Saudis assisting the process from the beginning. It was needed as it was 22 hours and we were exhausted. Actual traffic on the roads as it gets busy after sundown during Ramadan. We arrived at the Crown Plaza Hotel at about 11:00 pm and had a very nice room with a Red Sea view. 

Wednesday, April 12th —  Jeddah, Saudi Arabia / Embarkation Day
We slept very well and enjoyed the room amenities, WiFi, and spacious room. Dining rooms are closed so food and drinks are only through room service during Ramadan. I did a short walkabout to the Corniche, but nothing was open nor was the famous fountain running. We arranged for a hotel shuttle to the ship at noon check-out. It’s a dry, dusty, and hot day so looking forward to shipboard amenities and food. Check-in by MSC was smooth and we checked all of our bags, but the Saudi Customs was as rigorous as the airport. Leaving the country is just as difficult as arriving…inspection for a proper Visa, including fingerprinting (as done yesterday) and a final check for the stamp on the passport. Really not too bad overall…we were at the buffet by 1:00ish. After a nice Salad and Pasta, we were soon at our cabin. We oriented ourselves with the cabin and had a wee nap as we waited for our luggage. The bags arrived and we were soon unpacked in our balcony cabin, our home for the next 18 days. At 6:30 we went to Muster Drill in the Strand Theater. The Safety drill was instructions but they did walk us to our actual muster meeting location.  We then went to dinner in the La Reggia Dining Room. It’s one of the smaller venues that I prefer over the larger MDR as it is more pleasant IMHO (no children for one reason). I ordered the Hearthy Tuscan Soup, Mezzah Plater (one of the local choices with hummus, baba ghanoush, stuffed vine leaves), Seafood Linguini, and Lamb Chops with potatoes & asparagus. DW had a Greek Salad and Tomato Petals and Mozzarella Fiordilatte. I had the Arroz con Leches for dessert. All the food, bread, and service were very good. We went straight to the Theater after dinner for the Rock & Roll feature production show (photo). The two featured singers as well as the dancers were great. Very entertaining. We returned to the cabin and finished setting up and awaited sail away so we could visit some of the onboard shops for the embark day discount. Those plans became moot as the port was closed overnight due to high winds.  We will hopefully be on our way in the morning.  It was an easy and entertaining embarkation day on the MSC Spendida.
Thursday, April 13th — Jeddah to Yanbu,  Saudi Arabia 

A dead calm as we remained in Jeddah port and calm once we left @ 5:30 am and entered the Red Sea. We slept well. DW ordered room service as she prefers and I went to the Dining Room for breakfast. No pork available, I expected that onshore but not on the ship. A supply problem I assume. The Turkey Bacon and Beef Sausage leave a lot to be desired. MDR Service was excellent and fast, my Fruit Plate was very good and Hot Milk was readily available. A relaxing morning on the ship and we looked at the shops as we sail to Yanbu. Following a wee nap, we had Pizza for lunch, it was great! We arrived at Yanbu at about 3:30 and we went down to our excursion meet at about 4:00, Our excursion today was Yanbu, The City of Two Souls. We drove away from the port in a brand new (never used) bus about half an hour through the desert to the ruins of Yanbu Al Nakhal and the Al Jabriyah Water Spring. We viewed old architecture approximately 200 years old of desert mud dwellings on top of ancient dwellings. They overlooked an Oasis consisting of a small beautiful green valley with a spring and clear running water. The village was abandoned 100 years ago so preserved as a photo in time. Interesting. We did see about a dozen camels in the wild on the way, DW spotted them and I don’t think anyone else on the bus noticed…there was a bit of a sandstorm at the time. After the tour, we returned to Yanbu Al Balad and visited a restored area near the ship (photo of entry). There was a restored Night Market that was active. Also many food stalls and crafts in this new Heritage area. The tour ended here and as it was now evening but we stayed to enjoy the nice breeze off the water and had some interesting food from vendors, I still had Saudi currency so we decided to hit the Market again and made some purchases before walking back to the ship. After refreshing we went to the La Prua Lounge for two Ginger Ales. Because of the ship's late arrival and late departure, no alcohol was served in port today. Put a damper on the White Party scheduled late tonight. We won’t sail until 2:00 am. It was an interesting day in Yanbu and on the MSC Spendida.

Friday, April 14. — Sea Day in the Red Sea 

Windy but calm seas overnight and I slept well. I was up early and confirmed ship time as we set back our clocks one hour during the night moving from Arabian time to Eastern European time for Egypt on Saturday. We both went to the La Reggia Dining Room for early breakfast at about 8:00 am. It was busy, I suspect many had failed to change their time, but we had a very nice table with a sea view to ourselves. We each ordered Fruit, Omelettes, and Hash browns, I also ordered Pancakes in lieu of meats. We have to attend a face to face with Egyptian Customs today so decided to go early, ahead of our designated (by deck) time hoping for a possible time change advantage; however, when we arrived the line went from the entry doors of the theater to the stage. It went fairly quickly with only one official stamping passport until a second replaced him. We had a good view of the show that ensued, let's say a lot of arm-waving between customs officials, crew officers, and a few guests to boot…in several languages. The official closed his book and left the room. We had worked our way almost to the stage so waited it out…eventually two officials came back and the guests cheered to see them return. The line soon began to move quickly and we received our ‘quick entry visa stamps’. Entertaining for a sea day. Passing a now-long line extending to the casino we then went to the shops for goodies before returning to our cabin. We took a wee nap until a knock on the door…we received a bottle of Champagne, Chocolate, and Macaroons. Thank you, MSC. We attended the Diamond Guest Reception @ 6:00 pm in the La Prua Lounge. It was very nice with a choice of complimentary drinks. A very international group of guests attended. It was a classy event, they had quality entertainment, lots of servers, and the Captain did a toast. They went off the menu and prepared Hugo Spritzers (photo) for the DW and me as that is our MSC favorite. Thanks again MSC. Following we went straight to dinner. I ordered the Mezza Plater, Moroccan Harira Soup, Lobster Bisque, the Grilled Tournedos entree, and Coconut Tapioca Pudding for dessert. It was very good. We retired after dinner as we have a long excursion on Saturday with a 6:00 am meeting time. It was a nice relaxing day on the MSC Splendida.

Saturday, April 15 — Sokhna Port for Cairo, Egypt 

Smooth seas overnight, but did not sleep well, the anticipation of the BIG day and the fact we were up at 4:30 to prepare. I had breakfast at 5:15 am and the buffet was packed as most everyone had early excursions to the Pyramids. Meet time was 6:00 am just about the time we docked. First buses were called at 6:15 am, all were doing the Pyramids + one other location. We were on bus 29 and called a bit later. We had to go through Egyptian Customs first but it was easy compared to Saudi Arabia. Our bus had all passengers by 7:15 and we were soon on our way. Our excursion was MSC's GIZAH & SAKKARA. After an hour + drive to Cario and crossing the Nile River, our first stop was Saqqara Complex. Saqqara contains the oldest complete stone building complex known in history, the Pyramid of Djoser, built during the Third Dynasty. Another sixteen Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation. The scope of the site was a very pleasant surprise to me and we actually got to enter a tomb, It was amazing. y. Another sixteen Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation. The scope of the site was a very pleasant surprise to me and we actually got to enter a tomb, It was amazing. Our next stop was the famous Great Pyramid one of the 7th Wonders of the Work. It is quite amazing as well as the 2nd and third primary Pyramids. We visited several locations within the Archeological Park including the Great Sphinx. A bit off-putting the vast number of hustlers at the Pyramid sites but I understand that it has been so for many years. At least the camels add some character. Still, quite an awe-inspiring experience to witness the majesty of seeing them for the first time. We then had a late luncheon buffet at Helnan Dreamland Hotel which was the best food I have enjoyed in years. Lots of Chefs and servers to assist. The Salad area was amazing with everything so fresh and appealing. The entrees included Beef, Meatballs, and Fish with other choices such as Scalloped Potatoes, Fresh Breads, and fresh Vegetables. The desserts were also very good. Great sites and great food. Our final stop was at Merit Center El Bazaar and Merit Papyrus House. I did see how they make papyrus and we did buy an Egyptian art print on papyrus. We returned to the ship at about 6:45 pm. We retired early as it was a fantastic but tiring day in Cairo.

Sunday, April 16  —  Sofaga and Luxor Egypt 
We were up early again preparing for a private overnight adventure excursion to Luxor.  I went up to the Buffet for breakfast and returned with items for the DW.  We docked at 8:00 and by 8:30 we on the dock searching for our excursion.  We found our Egypt Tours mini bus driver Ali and eventually 9 other adventurous guests and headed out for our 4-hour drive to Luxor.  We were all friends by the time we arrived and met our Guide Mohmoud Nour in Luxor.  Luxor is located on the Nile river and greener than most cities we have seen in Egypt. We went strait away to the Karnak Temple complex.  We knew immediately that our guide was special: an expert Egyptologist and very considerate to the needs of the group.  Karnak Temple dates from around 2055 BC to around 100 AD. Approximately thirty pharaohs contributed to the buildings, enabling it to reach a size, complexity, and diversity not seen elsewhere. It was amazing, exactly what a tourist wants to see when visiting an Egyptian ruin. Mahmoud promised authentic Egyptian food and he delivered we ate lunch in a local restaurant and we were the only tourist there. No menus in English so I can’t give specifics but basically a choice of several options of Beef, Chicken, Fish with extras.  I had a mixed grill and lentil soup.  They
serve Ayesh Baladi (Native Bread) with Hummas, Pickled Relishes, Tomato Relish in common.  Three of our eleven in group were Vegetarians so DW had company.  After lunch we were taken to our hotel, the Pavillon a special annex (for groups) of the famous Winter Palace Hotel.  Beautiful grounds with perfectly trimmed grass, flowers, palms, and lush fragrant landscaping.  Our room was wonderful with a balcony overlooking the gardens.  I had a quick dip in the pool to refresh.  We met the group at 6:00 pm for an evening visit to Luxor Temple, just blocks away.  Arriving at Sundown we did the exterior and Avenue of Sphinxes first as the Temple became illuminated by the special lighting.  The Luxor Temple itself looks magnificent highlighted by the lights.  To me perhaps giving an impression of how magnificent it looked in their ancient days when painted and maintained. After passing the Statues of Ramesses II at the entrance we visited the various interior chambers.
Parts of the temple were built by Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun, Ramesses II, and Alexander the Great. It was a wonderful experience, to me better than the Pyramids of Giza.  We returned to the hotel at about 8:30 and DW and I walked the gardens and interior of the Winter Palace Hotel a historic British colonial-era luxury resort hotel opened in 1907.  We love this style of hotel.  Notable residents include Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile while staying at the hotel and George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, a collector of Egyptian antiquities who financed archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922.  We had visited Lord Carnarvon’s home Highclere Castle in England and saw his collection a few years ago.  (BTW-Highclere is better known to many as the home of the popular TV/Movies Downton Abbey).  We then retired after such a long, busy, and exciting day.

Monday, April 17  —  Luxor,  Egypt 
We were up at 4:00 am to pack and prepare for our early morning Balloon Ride. We checked out, picked up our Breakfast Box. and met our balloon driver at 5:50 am. We took a water taxi across the Nile River and were picked up by a new driver who took us to our balloon company (there are several that launch). The five in our group joined others to make up the 28 max capacity of our basket. We soon launched with almost two dozen other balloons, spectacular in itself, but the views were fantastic. We went over amazing Temples, Monuments, and Tombs as well as views of the Nile Valley. It was amazing. Flight time was about 30+ minutes and landing was fine. What a place for one's first balloon ride. The vans followed the balloon and we were picked up straight away and dropped at the Nile River landing meeting our tour group, driver, and guide…all before 7:30 am. We went direct to the Valley of the Kings our primary stop of the day. It was the principal burial place of the major royal figures of the Egyptian New Kingdom, as well as many privileged
nobles. The staircases and passageways of the 
Royal Tombs are elaborately decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues as to the beliefs and funerary practices of the period. Including recent discoveries, there are 63 known tombs. We visited five including Tutankhamun and 3 from the Ramesses dynasty. They were breathtaking, I tried to find the funerary boat in each. We then began the next stops on the west bank of the Nile. Since we began early in the day but it was getting hot reaching 98° DW and I (and others in the group) took it easier the rest of the tour, especially since we had just seen these sites final two sites from the air. These included the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, Colossi of Memnon, and more. We stopped at an Artesans Market on the West Bank before heading back to the Nile River where we boarded a boat for a trip up the Nile to Banana Island where we had lunch. A large place where again we were the only tourists…so authentic Egyptian food. I had Chicken Shawarma. They served the usual bread, hummus, and relishes…plus bananas. After lunch, we boarded the boat back down the Nile River to the Winter Palace landing. We retrieved our bags, made a WC stop, and met our driver Ali. Here we said farewell to our guide Mohmoud Nour. We were very fortunate to have him. He is an independent with a degree in Egyptology, but a multi-generational local who lived on the west bank, and his family worked on the tombs for years. As a youth, his grandparents lived inside one of the ancient tombs. In reality, it was a member of his family in 1922 that was the water boy who discovered the steps to the tomb when his water-laden donkey stepped into a depression. He then informed Howard Carter the famed discoverer. This is a well-documented occurrence. I recommend him as a guide and he may be the best we have used in our many journeys. The long drive began back to Sofaga and we arrived back just under four hours. I took a quick shower and was able to make it to 6:30 dinner (a little late). I craved some traditional food…I ordered the Asparagus soup, Chateaubriand Beef, and Wildberry Cobbler for dessert. Too tired to do anything other than sleep so retired. It was the end of an exciting and wonderful trip to Luxor.
Tuesday, April 18. — Sea Day in the Red Sea 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. We changed our time forward overnight so back on the original Arabian time for Jordon tomorrow. We relaxed and I updated my Travel Blog this morning, then had breakfast at about 10:00 am in the Bora Bora Buffet on Deck 14. Adequate breakfast but they were running out of food, mugs, catsup, fruit, and more. I think many guests missed the MDR closing time due to the time change as it was very busy. We went to the port lecture on Jordan at 11:00 am. It was good and reminded me to confirm the information on my private tour. Also to have a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, closed-toe shoes, and an optional umbrella. Yesterday my sunglasses broke at the very last site, the earpiece just fell off as was holding them in my hand. Interestingly they were having a 20% off sale on sunglasses today in the shops, but the RayBans similar to mine were $230…no thanks. Luckily I went to the Swim Shop on deck 14 and got a nice pair for $45 (photo: corner mosaic on pool deck). After hearing the lecture it a reconfirmed that there will be a minimum of 3 miles of walking tomorrow. We are already tired and sore from the three connective days of long excursions so today will be a rest-only day. We did sneak up to the buffet for Pizza and I brought back the juiciest plums I have ever tasted. Egyptian I'm sure as they have such great fruit. At 6:00 pm we went for some complementary Captain’s Night cocktails at the La Prua Lounge and then to dinner in the La Reggia Dining Room. All six assigned were there for the first time, but a sea day helps. Tonight I ordered a Mezzah Plater, Herbed Salmon Gravlax, the Grilled Tournedos au Jus entree, and Bread and Butter Pudding for dessert. With another big excursion tomorrow we retired for the evening. It was a relaxing and much-needed sea day on the MSWC Splendida.

Wednesday, April 19 — Acaba,  Jordon

Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. We were still asleep when we docked in Aqaba at about 6:00 am. Since MSC originally stated that their Petra tours were sold out we have a private tour today @ 9:00 am so began getting ready at about 7:00ish. We soon left the ship and rode the 1st MSC shuttle into town. At the drop-off site, we were inundated by locals who wanted to sell tours or taxi rides. Having been accosted by locals in Egypt we were concerned, people here are much more civilized…a polite no is all that is needed. As we were early we did befriend one who did help (expecting nothing in return). This was our meeting location but the actual bus would be a block away. We took advantage of the nearby Hilton Hotel and did some shopping for a straw hat. I did have Jordanian Dinars. Our late bus (more below) finally arrived and we left at about 10:15 for the almost three-hour drive to Petra. Petra is a famous archaeological site in Jordan's southwestern desert. Dating to around 300 B.C., it was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. Accessed via a narrow canyon called Al Siq, it contains tombs and temples carved into pink sandstone cliffs. Its most famous structure is the 45m-high Al Khazneh, a temple with an ornate, Greek-style facade, and known as The Treasury. Not having much actual time at the site we proceeded on the walk into the Archeological area. The initial trail is gravel, then some blacktop, then ancient Roman Road as you get to the famous canyon. It is a beautiful approach once you hit the long narrow canyon and the shade is welcome on this hot day. Walking 1+ mile you reach the most famous Treasury site. It is most impressive and more massive than I visioned in the photos. In lieu of going to other sites beyond we luckily found a table and enjoyed some Coca-cola and the sites. A lot to take in with the local Bedouin, tourists, camels, dogs, donkeys, and more. We returned walking back the same path and to a restaurant for a buffet lunch before boarding the bus back to Aqaba. We arrived at exactly 7:05 pm just after the back-on-board time. Once refreshing ourselves we went up to the buffet for Pizza and then retired early. It was a long and strenuous day. We were very happy to see Petra, but the tour operator was the worst I have ever experienced causing undue stress for most on the tour (I’ll comment on that later). We were very happy once we returned to the MSC Splendida.


Thursday, April 20. — Sea Day to Suez Canal South 

Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well waking early to update my blog. Relaxing, writing, and updating various projects online all morning. Today we sailed from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea then position the ship just south of the Suez. We are to join a northbound transit of the canal tomorrow morning. At noon we went down to Deck 5 to La Reggia Dining Room for a proper Lunch. We discovered that we had failed to turn back our clocks last night and we were an hour early. We decided to lounge in the Lobby Bar area (photo) and enjoyed a Hugo Spritzer cocktail and wait. We review some Excursions while there. When the MDR opened we sat with some Australians that were on our tour yesterday. I ordered a Madison Salad, and two entrees: Fish & Chips and a Grilled Meat Skewer. They had my favorite MSC dessert a Floating Island (poached egg white, vanilla anglaise, caramel). After lunch, we read and took a long nap. It was refreshing. When we woke we decided to skip the MDR this evening and continued our rest. Four big excursions in five days are not easy. I noted our concerns about yesterday's excursion to Tour-Jordon. Interesting that we went from the best excursion ever to the worst in the same week. By 8:00 pm we were anchored among a huge line of ships, there were ships as far as the eye could see. Hopefully, cruise ships get priority tomorrow when we begin transit of the Suez Canal. I made a late Pizza run and a double surprise…meats on the Pizzas and Plums in the fruit section. I got two slices of Charcol Pizzas with hamburger and one slice of spicy salami. MSC still has the best Pizza at sea by far. It was a relaxing day at sea on the MSC Splendida.

Friday, April 21. — Suez Canal Transit 

Anchored overnight so calm seas. I slept very well and woke at 5:30 am, the sun was bright so good view of the ships, and at 6:00 we began our approach to the canal. Looks like we will be leading the convoy, with a smaller passenger ship following. By 6:30 am we dropped the pilot and made a turn to starboard entering the canal itself. Just happened to be awake and on the correct side of the ship to see the action. Canal itself is rather plain no interesting features as you enter just equipment and several booms in the water. In the 125+ mile length we did get the Laurence of Arabia desert view with desert on each side, Also one major bridge at Ismailia (photo), a ferry crossing, and several settlements on the west side. The east bank had a stone fence with observation points that I assume were built by the Israeli army when they occupied the Sinai for many years following the Six-day War. We had a lot of business on Deck 5 mid-day with Guest Services, Excursion Desk, and then lunch in the La Reggia Dining Room. I ordered a nice Green Salad, the Chicken Wing appetizer, and the entree of Sliced Roast Beef with Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans. DW had a Spinach Crepe. A very nice Wild Berry Sundae for dessert. We have enjoyed the MDR lunches more than the evening meals on the sea days. I had a wee nap and woke about 4:00 pm as we arrived at the end of the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean Sea.  At about 5pm we went to the Lobby Bar for a Peroni beer, then to the La Prua Lounge for cocktails. We did attend the Motown Show in the theater featuring the Angelettes. It was a fly-in act used as filler on longer cruises with three campy British gals singing. Not that good yet entertaining in its own way. Afterward, we went up to the Buffet and there was meat including pork everywhere…I assume the cruise line had an agreement while in the Red Sea to somewhat observe Ramadan. I had Pork Chops, Potatoes, and Beets. We then retired for the evening. It was a needed restful day while sailing the Suez Canal.

Saturday, April 22 — Sea Day 

Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. We changed our clocks forward again so we are now on Eastern European Time for Greece. I woke at about 7:30ish and updated my blog. We had an easy pajama day until noon when we went down to the La Reggia Dining Room for lunch. I ordered the Baby Shrimp & Vegetable Salpicon starter, Pan-seared fillets of Red Mullet, and Fruit Plate, the DW ordered Caprese Salad, Cauliflower Gnocchi, and the Fruit Sundae. We enjoyed the luncheons. it’s much cooler weather in the Mediterranean than in the Red Sea…that is very welcome.  We did a walkabout the ship after lunch…guests were busy on outer decks, casino, dining rooms, playing trivia, spa, bingo, shopping, and many other activities. We had another relaxing afternoon and prepared for the next 6 ports in a row beginning tomorrow. At about 7:00 pm we went to the Bora Bora Buffet for dinner. I had an assortment of many things and yes a lot of meat choices, DW found a Pesto Pasta, one of her favorites. We didn’t go out this evening as we have an early excursion in the morning and a busy week ahead. It was a relaxing day on the MSC Splendida.

Sunday, April 23 — Island of Santorini, Greece 

We woke at 6:00 as we have a 7:00 am excursion meet time in the theater. We were here in the fall and we only did the primary town of Fira so we wanted to see the entire island on this trip. No excursions were released until an hour later, a mixup in tender starting times I heard. At about 8:00ish we got on the first tender to the commercial Athinios Ferry port. Tendering in the Santorini Caldera is a beautiful experience and it’s a lovely sunshine day. Soon we were on tour bus 4 and on our way to our first stop. Oia is Santorini's most picturesque town and has some of the island's best hotels. It's located at the northern tip of the island and is famous for its fabulous views. We had an hour to explore on our own and we walked the long beautiful marble passageways along the cliff edge from one end of the village to the other. We had a wonderful pastry from a Bakery and enjoyed the views. At about 10:45 am, we re-boarded the bus and crossed back across the island to Santo Wines for Snacks and a Wine Tasting. We had a very nice table with a view of the caldera for our one-hour visit (photo above). The final stop was the capital city of Fira, the guide walked us up towards the largest church on the island, Candlemas Holy Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral of Thira. We visited inside and we were on our own the rest of the day. We visited the numerous shops and did a bit of walking. We stopped at Fanari Greek Restaurant which had a great view of the ship, the walking trail down, and the caldera. We enjoyed the Wifi, Beers, Water, fresh Pita bread, Saganaki cheese, and a great Tzatziki. It was very nice. Being next to the trail down the mountain to the port below, we thought about walking but did the fun thing and rode the donkeys down. My knees were grateful. There was a long line for the return tender to the ship but it went fairly well, we were back on board by 4:30 pm. We were tired, we did over 12,000 steps today so we had cabin time and retired early. It was a great day on the Island of Santorini with three different wonderful sea views.

Monday, April 24 — Island of Mykonos, Greece

Smooth seas overnight and we slept well. I watched us sail into port just after 7:00 am. It looks like another perfect weather day too. At about 8:30 I went to the La Reggia Dining Room for breakfast. The entire regular menu is available now and I ordered: Fruit Plate, Eggs Benedict, Potatoes, Bacon (English), Hot Milk, and Danish. It was very good. I then got two private tender tickets from Shore Excursions @ 10€ so I would save some time when we go over to the city of Mykonos. We left the cabin at about 10:30 am and walked to the ferry across the harbor and arrived in town at about 11:00. We walked the familiar and new passageways looking at shops and interesting architecture. We stopped for some Coca-Colas then continued our way to the famous Windmills where we took some photos. We then went to a place on the water we stopped at last October named the Veranda. Here we got a small waterside table on the water with a great view of the windmills (photo). I had two beers and we used the WiFi as well. Very nice. We did some more shopping and site seeing before stopping at Paraportiana located off the water on an old square. It seemed to cater to locals as they had a shared table and made deliveries. We had our big meal here, we ordered Fresh bread with butter and tapenade, Pita bread, Tzatziki, Fava split peas (local hummus style), Saganaki cheese, Local wine, and a large Fix beer. It was very good we enjoyed it very much. Also good Wifi, clean toilets, and good service…we recommend. We were very close to the harbor so took the next tender back to the ship. Overall a very pleasant day with perfect weather. This year as last year we enjoyed Mykonos better than Santorini. Following our tender ride we rested a bit until sail away.  At about 18:00 we went to the La Prua Lounge for cocktails, a Hugo Spritz, and an Elderflower martini. At about 19:10 we went to the Bora Bora for a light dinner, I had Veal from the Carving Station, Spinach, Bread, and a selection of small deserts. We then retired as we have another port tomorrow. It was a fantastic day in Mykonos.
Tuesday, April 25 -- Port of Piraeus for Athens, Greece
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. At about 7:45 am I went to breakfast in the Bora-Bora Buffet…loving the Bacon and Eggs. Today we have a shuttle bus at 8:45 for a Plaka On Your Own tour. We have seen every site in Athens as we did the deluxe Dimitri tour a few ago; however, we had not been to the Acropolis Museum. That was our mission today. Although the bus gave us too little time we did the entire museum and walked a bit in the Plaka area. I was impressed with the Museum, itself built over ancient ruins. The way the Parthenon is represented with modern materials then used to display the ancient art is amazing i.e.—stainless steel columns in place of the stone. The entire footprint of the Parthenon is represented on the third level of the Acropolis Museum to correspond with the upper level of the Parthenon. Then the surviving ancient art is hung in the proper position. Amazing. After visiting the museum we walked in the Plaka and enjoyed a nice ice creme. The weather is again perfect. We considered staying and taking a taxi back, but we will be back at Piraeus on Wednesday next week. We bought some snacks before returning to the ship. We did get back in time to take advantage of a lunch offer in the Butchers Cut Steakhouse. I had a nice NY Strip steak and DW had a Mac&Cheese. The M&C was not good, the best item by far was the Hearts of Palm Salad. It was wonderful. We had a short nap until we sailed away then updated the blog. At about sundown, we went to the buffet for Pizza…always good. It was a nice day at the Museum and on the MSC Splendida.
Wednesday, April 26 -- Katakolon, Greece 
Smooth seas overnight and we slept well. This is our third visit to this Greek port and we have seen the Olympus site so we are having a casual day. I went to breakfast at the buffet and had my Eggs & Bacon with hot milk. Still enjoying that bacon. At about 10:45 am we walked into the port town. It was cool and a very light rain but we made it to the waterfront where I stayed at Koursaros Coffee shop and enjoyed a Sprite while the DW shopped at the Main Street shops. We found some bargains last visit and she did it again. The weather improved and was nicer as we returned to the ship at about 1:00. We went straight to the La Reggia Dining Room for a proper lunch. I had a New Orleans Salad, Braised Cabbage Rolls, Turkey escalope with lemon, and the Wild Cherry Sundae for dessert. It was very good. We had a nice conversation with Melania the Hotel Director, she endured one of ‘my MSC stories’. Soon after returning to the cabin, the weather cleared so we had a nice 3:00 pm sail away under clear blue skies. I had time for a wee nap before preparing for the 18:00 Diamond Party in the Aft lounge on deck 7. There are 300 Diamonds on board thus the larger lounge. Nice entertainment by the regular aft lounge entertainers and yes they provided Hugo Spritzers to the DW and me. The Captain & Melania came by too. Thanks. We met friends in the Lobby and then went to the theater for the George Michaels show. It was entertaining…some really got into it. Afterward, I purchased an MSC jacket in the Logo Shop, with the special happy hour sale it was less than €20. Deal. We then retired to the cabin. It was a fun day on the MSC Spendida.
 Thursday, April 27 -- Kotor, Montenegro 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. We turned our clocks back another hour and woke to a beautiful sunny sky. Hope it continues as we don’t arrive until 11:00 am in Montenegro. We were entering the huge Kotor Bay when I went upstairs to the buffet for Eggs & Bacon. When I returned to the cabin we watched from the balcony as we sailed into the inner Bay and towards Kotor. It’s a beautiful mountainside landscape and seems much like sailing in a fiord. Beautiful. We reached our Mooring station early, by 10:00 am. Our excursion, the Grand Tour of Montenegro, meet time was 10:30, but we went early and have an early bus and they called us for the first guest tender off the boat at 10:20. It was a 20-minute tender to the port and soon the Bus 3 group (English) met next to the pier to begin our excursion. We began with a walking tour of Old Town Kotor. It is an old gated community with buildings dating back to the 8th century and many to the 12th century. There are a great number of monuments of medieval architecture: churches, cathedrals, palaces, and museums. Its beauty is complemented by the multitude of narrow streets, squares,
and markets that are now: boutiques and clothes stores, souvenir shops, photo shops, jewelry shops, book stores, antique shops, many cafés, pizzerias, and more. You could easily spend several hours here exploring. After our walking tour, we boarded a bus to drive the 
Kotor Serpentine a road going up the mountain containing 25 switch-back curves. The scenery and views are spectacular. It was an exciting drive-up. We stopped at a viewpoint where you could see both Bays and the Adriatic Sea. Amazing. Next, we stopped for a snack at a mountainside village, I had a Montenegrin Sandwich (local cheese, fresh bread, and Njeguši prosciutto ham) and the local beer. It was good. We then had a nice drive through the mountains of Lovcen National Park on the way to Budva. Our first stop was the restaurant Porto located direct on the waterfront where we had our meal. They served: Slaw, Montenegro Steak (veal wrapped with Njeguši prosciutto ham, and cheese), Potatoes, and mixed Rice. The slaw was great, the entree was not my cup of tea. It was then just a short walk to the Budva Old Town. This is another walled city…a miniature version of Kotor or Dubrovnik. The small streets and passageways were very nice marble making it easy to walk. The Buddha Citadel is the main feature. Most of the former medieval buildings are now Restaurants, Cafes, and Souvenir Shops. It was a beautiful atmosphere. We had 30+ minutes of free time to explore. We bussed back on a direct route arriving back about 6:30 pm. A long line for the returning tenders but we were soon safely back on board. DW brought Pizza down to the cabin for a late snack and we ate on the balcony enjoying Kotor Bay. It was our 5th really monumental excursion on this special trip…and Kotor is a port I’ve really been wanting to visit. Another great day.
Friday, April 28 -- Bari, Italy 
Smooth sailing across the Adriatic Sea to Bari. We arrived by 8:00 am and we have no excursions planned other than just getting off and seeing the city. I had breakfast in the MDR, ordering Fruit Plate and Eggs Benedict, it was good. At about 9:30 we made our way down to the pier and the shuttle bus into Bari. We were dropped at the Teatro Petruzzelli the ornate 1904 Opera House between Old Town and New Town Bari. Our first stop was Mcdonalds', a great start as I used the WiFi to get a good City Map on the iPhone, used the toilet and had a Coca-cola. We then headed to Old Town with the goal of visiting Basilica San Nicola a pilgrimage site for Eastern Europe Roman Catholics & Orthodox Christians, built 1087–1197. I was completely amazed by the Medieval era passageways of the old town. We had just visited the old town areas of Koto and Budva that have been restored and now have modern shops, but we were experiencing real-time Italian families living in these narrow extensive passageways of small neighborhoods and piazzas. Beautifully maintained and clean with most buildings being restored but within the medieval infrastructure. A few were touristy near the Cathedral, but most were just everyday life of residents, businesses, cafes, and restaurants. The Basilica was amazing and includes the tomb of Saint Nicholas one of the most notable Saints in early Christian churches (yes origin of Santa Claus) and especially revered in Eastern European Orthodox Churches. I’ve enjoyed reading
about the Patron Saint of many including Sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students. We then made our way to the 
Museo Archeologico di Santa Scolastica just a few passageways north of the Basilica. This was one of the most amazing Museums I have visited. Comparable to the Acropolis Museum in Athens. It was built in the old 16th-century ruins of a Monastery and adjacent original Bastion or Sea Gate into the original Bari. It has just opened after extensive restoration. The archaeological history takes the visitor on a journey back in time, from the 19th century, through the Middle Ages, to Protohistory, into the foundations of the building. The site itself dates to the Bronze Age. Much of the building is on pillars (as in Athens) to preserve the sites below. The Bastion has a longer history explained in detail. Also home to rare collections of early Greek and Italian artifacts beautifully displayed (photo above). A beautiful venue, presentation, and facilities, and free. After this visit, we walked back through Old Town to another primary church the Basilica Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale San Sabino, a very large 13th-century Romanesque church with a subterranean crypt also containing ancient relics. Not as ornate as San Nicola, but perhaps larger overall. From here we head back towards the new town and look for a restaurant for lunch. Many choices along the wide modern Boulevard and we choose one by the menu: Alterno. We leisurely dined outside on the sidewalk with a small park & activities of the new town. I had Pasta with Tomato sauce, sausage, and mushrooms, DW a selection of local cheeses. It was now about 14:30 so we walked back towards the original shuttle location stopping for some wonderful gelato along the way. I really enjoyed our walk in Bari without being rushed by a tour guide. Loved the architecture of the old town and the perfect weather. We were back in our cabin by 4:00 pm.  We relaxed and watched sail away from Bari then up to the buffet to eat and watch the sun set,  We retired after dinner.  It was a wonderful day visiting the port city of Bari, Italy.
Saturday, April 29, 2023  --  Sea Day 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I woke early and updated my blog then we both went up to the Bora-Bora buffet for breakfast. The proper English bacon is gone, they are passing off a thin sliced fried pork shoulder as bacon and it is terrible. I’m off hot milk too as I’ve had a sensitive stomach of late…neither of my breakfast favorites. I did have fruit and fried eggs, they have had fresh fried eggs readily available all cruise. We went to the watch shop and had help with a pin that fell from my watch band in Kotor. Amazingly the eagle-eyed DW found the pin when my watch fell onto the cobblestone street of the old town. The weather was partly cloudy and cooler but guests are still on deck. This will be a final chance for casino, shopping, and activities for the majority that will debark tomorrow. We finally were able to stream some American television so watched Fox & Friends, of course, we were 6 hours later. The only English TV we have had for the past 6 days has been a Turkish channel that broadcasts in English (smart of them) so I know what’s happening in Turkey. We had a lazy day until we went to the Butchers Cut Steakhouse at about 7:00 pm. (photo of entry).  They knew we weren’t that pleased with our previous visit so they were prepared for us. We had a nice table and great service as we did prior, but the food was much improved. Between us, we ordered: a NY Sirloin steak and a Filet Mignon steak. the Burrata Cheese & Beets, a Hearts of Palm Salad (without the Raspberry Sauce) with thick Balsamic dressing, two Baked Potatoes, Creamed Spinach, and Breads. For dessert: Lava Cake with ice creme & a warm Peanut Butter Cookie with ice creme, It was all very good and very filling. After dinner, we packed as we change cabins tomorrow as well as have a very early excursion. It was a pleasant final day for this cruise

Personal HIGHLIGHTS of the Cruises
Luxor excursion, Balloon ride and Overnight stay
Great Pyramids of Egypt
Montenegro Tour
Our day in Bari
Greece: The Islands & Atheneum Museum
Suez Canal passage

Observations about the MSC Splendida and cruise
Obviously the many unique ports we visited
Most stable ship I have ever sailed in high seas - stabilizers worked well
Hot milk is readily available.
Staff and Crew much nicer than the old MSC

No kleenex or tissues
Very protective of the Music Rolls (toilet paper)
Very little shower pressure in our cabin (unsure about other areas)
No English language TV stations.  Not even BBC but a couple of days of CNBC
Sailing during Ramadan…too many restrictions


No comments: