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.
Travel Days - Monday/Tuesday, April 10 & 11thWe 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.
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 SeaWindy 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, EgyptThird 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.
Wednesday, April 19 — Acaba, JordonSmooth 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
Friday, April 21. — Suez Canal Transitabout 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
Sunday, April 23 — Island of Santorini, GreeceWe 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.
Luxor excursion, Balloon ride and Overnight stay
Great Pyramids of Egypt
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