Monday, September 22, 2014

Celebrity Silhouette ~ August 2014

Celebrity Silhouette 8/17/2014 ~ 7-night Greece and Turkey (Eastern Med) with 2 nights pre-cruise in Venice, Italy

We arrived in Venice mid-morning on 8/15 and proceeded to the water taxi counter in the airport where our name was posted as our hotel had pre-arranged the transfer with Venezia Taxi service.  They were friendly and we were able to pay with credit card for the 120€ trip.  The water taxi pier/station is reached via a fairly easy 10 minute walk from the terminal (easy if your luggage is manageable anyway).  The walkway is mostly covered but in bad weather it could be cumbersome.  A beautiful wooden boat was our means of transport across the lagoon and into the canals including the Grand Canal directly to our hotel located on one of the smaller canals.  This was the perfect welcome to Venice!  Absolutely worth the money.  The ride was about 40 minutes and the sights were amazing – it was like getting a sightseeing tour as well!

Upon arrival at our hotel Locanda Orseolo we entered through an opening from the canal into the sitting room of the hotel – talk about making an entrance!  Our luggage was handed up to Igor, one of the hotel team members who was always “at your service”, so we didn’t have to lift a finger!  The hotel is a charming, boutique, family-owned property.  The team introduced themselves and graciously welcomed us to their hotel.  This was just the start of the amazing personal service we were treated to our entire stay!  From always being greeted by name, given advice about concerts, selecting wines for us to enjoy in the afternoon, to serving a delicious buffet and made to order eggs and crepes at the included daily breakfast!

Since our room wasn’t ready yet we checked in and left our luggage with the desk before we ventured out to explore the alleys and canals of Venice.  Igor provided us a map and gave us a few tips about how to get around and we were off!

Our hotel was tucked in a private courtyard behind an iron gate just a few short blocks from the famous St. Mark’s Square.  The location was perfect!!  We wandered the alleys and bridges and were amazed at the architecture and beauty of Venice.  After a couple of hours we found a great little wine-bar, Vineria all’Amarone for cichetti (small bite appetizers) and wine, of course!

After lunch we headed back to the hotel and our room was ready with our bags waiting inside.  One unique thing is that they use REAL keys at the hotel, and you leave it at the desk when you go out.  The room was decorated in old-style Italian with red and gold drapes and had a king size bed, an old-fashioned desk and chair, a small closet with a safe.  Modern amenities included a flat screen TV, free Wi-Fi, a coffee maker and fully stocked mini-bar fridge.  The bathroom was large and modern with a bathtub with shower, toilet, bidet and even a towel warmer.   Plush bathrobes and slippers were available for our use as well!

After unpacking, we went back out to explore some more.  We couldn’t get enough of this unique and fascinating city.

Saturday morning, we were scheduled for a tour of Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica with Walks of Italy.  We had pre-arranged the tour directly with them before leaving home.  Our guide Mosé was friendly and knowledgeable and had a true passion for the history of Venice!  Our tour included the famous Bridge of Sighs and even a perfectly timed visit to the terrace of the basilica to see the clock tower movements at noon where the figures are striking the bell.  We are so thankful we booked this tour as we would never have appreciated these sites or Venice as much!

We elected to attend a Vivaldi concert performed by Interpreti Veneziani at Chiesa SanVidal, a former church turned concert hall that was about a 15 minute walk from the hotel.  Igor suggested getting there about 8:30pm for the 9:00pm show, so we decided to have a snack just across the Grand Canal at Beccafico Café.  We shared a delicious veggie pizza and wine and made it to the church at 8:35pm where we found ourselves sitting in last row!  So if you decide to go to this concert, arrive at 8:15pm for better seating.  Even being in the last row, the venue isn’t large and the acoustics were fine.  We still had a decent view of the performance which consisted of about 90 minutes of music from talented musicians including one short intermission.

In the morning, we enjoyed the hotel’s buffet for breakfast, and headed out one more time to see what more we could see.

Our tickets from the earlier tour included admission into a couple other museums including the Correr museum.  

We spent a couple of hours admiring the art and the historical items before getting back to our hotel just in time to catch our water taxi transfer to the cruise port.  Again this was with Venezia Taxi and well worth every penny (100€ including tip)!  This was like getting another “tour” of the canals including the Grand Canal all the way to the cruise ship pier!  We would pay for this again!

The beautiful Celebrity Silhouette awaited us for boarding at the pier!  It was about 12:30pm when we checked in and went aboard.  The ship is beautiful with classy décor and plenty of open spaces.  

We were booked in an Aqua Class stateroom (1591) on deck 11 midship.  The room had the bed near the closet and a couch and desk near the balcony windows.  The balcony was spacious with a round table and two chairs that could recline back along with two foot rests.  Overall it was very comfortable for both relaxing and dining!

The cabin had plenty of closet space, but limited drawer space.  Fortunately we remembered the overhead storage areas above the bed and made good use of that space.  The bed was made up with a plush duvet and several pillows.  The bathroom had lots of storage and real shower doors!  A special feature for the ladies – a foot rest in the shower to make it easier to shave your legs!

Aqua Class staterooms are assigned open-seating dining in Blu Restaurant.  The food here is prepared a bit healthier and the portion sizes are perfect to help keep you from eating too much but don’t leave you hungry.  Service was very good most nights, except one.  Food was excellent.  The open-seating concept worked well for us as we never had more than a few moments wait to be seated for breakfast or dinner.

We did dine in both Murano and Tuscan Grille specialty restaurants.  The service was great in both.  Our favorite dish in Tuscan Grille was a perfectly grilled Filet Mignon.  The table-side prepared lobster tail and the venison were the winners in Murano followed by a delicious soufflé with Grand Mariner vanilla sauce.

For breakfast, we dined in Blu, the Elite Captain’s Club lounge, the buffet and even ordered room service to get a variety.   The breakfast buffet had plenty of choices and the food quality was good.  Blu was delicious with excellent choices.  Room service was prompt and the croissants and fruit were fresh.

Lunch brought us to the main dining room and the buffet after enjoying the deliciously refreshing daily-changing Gazpacho soups at the AquaSpa cafe.  The buffet has made to order pasta and stir fry stations that served up tasty dishes.  Pizza was as good as always, but they had a hard time keeping up with the demand.  The Mexican station with fixings for fajitas and nachos always had a long line.  There were plenty of sandwich and salad choices and lots of fresh fruit.  The main dining room offered some nicely presented and appetizing dishes in generous portions.

Entertainment throughout the ship was fantastic.  The solo guitarist, the duo, the house band – all were great.  The main production shows Velocity and Broadway Nights were top notch as well.   Every time we passed one of the acts throughout the ship, we made a comment on how great the music was!

The crew and officers were friendly and ever-present.  Our stateroom steward Raymond and his assistant Nelson were efficient and always there with a smile!

One of our cruise highlights was being invited to the Captain’s Table hosted by the Hotel Director and Onboard Marketing Manager.  The experience was very special with a great menu and nice wine choices.  Conversation with our fellow guests was fun and the food was excellent as expected.

Ports of call:

Dubrovnik – We took a taxi for 10€ to the Old Town area where we joined the Discover Dubrovnik Walk, offered several times a day by Dubrovnik Walking Tours for 12€ per person. The tour lasted about 90 minutes, but it was more of a stand and hear history, walk a few steps, stand and hear history, etc.  Our guide Vesnay wasn’t the most engaging, but she was nice.  It was a little disappointing to hear that the town had been rebuilt as recently as 1990 (to the historical specifications).  Once our tour was over we walked 2/3 of the way around the city walls giving us spectacular views of the city and the bay.  After walking the walls, we climbed up, down and across the alleys until we found a great little restaurant – Rozario.  Ivan our waiter served us local wine and delicious gorgonzola stuffed mushrooms.  It was the perfect way to end our day in Dubrovnik before heading back to the ship.

Kusadasi – We booked a private excursion with Curio Travel/Ephesus Shuttle for our stop in Turkey.  Our guide met us at the pier and we walked a short distance to our private decked-out SUV with plush leather seats facing each other in the back.  Our guide Taylan shared history and stories along the drive to the ruins at Ephesus.  He took us through the ruins including the amazing Terrace Houses.  His knowledge and passion for the history and culture of the ancient times was admirable.  

After the ruins, we headed towards the little village of Sirince.  Just outside of town, we stopped for lunch at Bizim Ev a restaurant whose owner Hatice prepares a variety of local dishes served buffet style.  With so many choices, we got to try lots of different dishes – our favorite had to be the stuffed grape leaves!  Sirince was a charming hillside village with cobblestone streets, cute cafes, nice shops and fascinating little hotels.  We definitely would come back for more than a few hours!  On the way back to the ship, we stopped at a local carpet co-op where they showed us the techniques for making those beautiful rugs and then they showed several rugs in different styles and colors.  Awesome experience without high pressure sales!  A full day tour showed us just a touch of what this beautiful country has to offer.

Mykonos – We had high hopes for Greece as it has been on our must-visit list for years.  We had the Mykonos Old and New tour planned that was booked with Shore Excursions Group.  We took an early tender in and had 30-45 minutes to wander the streets/alleys of Old Town Mykonos before the tour started, so we got some very nice photos before the shops opened and the streets were crowded with people.  

The 3.5 hour tour first took us to a 30 minute stop at Kalafati Beach where we discovered that the sand in Mykonos is really just gravel.  Next, we visited a working Greek Orthodox Monastery followed by a local pastry and beverage at a small café before heading back to Old Town for our walking tour.  This part was very disappointing as our guide showed us the photo store, the bookshop and the banks instead of concentrating on local history and stories.  A brief visit to a small folk history museum gave us some of that, but it’s not the same as when you’re standing at the actual site.  By this time, the streets were crowded with people and small vehicles trying to wind their way through the alleys, so we just headed back to the ship.

Corfu – Celebrity offered just a few tour choices for Corfu.  We took one including the beautiful Achilleion Palace, the Virgin Mary Monastery in Paleokastritsa, and some time in Corfu’s old town (most of which didn’t seem too old to us).  Our guide was very good, and we saw a lot of the island.  Again, we expected more but we’re glad we got to see what we did.

Overall the ship, crew, food, entertainment and itinerary were excellent!  We had a great cruise and can’t wait for our next one!

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