An April 2010 trip
to Greek Islands by pabrams52
Quote: It all started with a brochure that came in the mail. And the next thing I knew, I was on the phone making reservations. The itinerary was that inviting. It would be our first cruise with Oceania, but I can assure you now, it won't be our last.
Attraction | "2nd Port Stop on our Cruise"
The second port of call on our tour stopped in Port Said, Egypt where we disembarked for a 10-hour tour to the Great Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. We’ve seen them many, many times – in pictures, in television documentaries and in the movies, but nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to seeing them up close and personal! I am referring to the Great Pyramids in Cairo, Egypt. These massive, and frankly overwhelming, structures can only be appreciated by standing in their midst. They are daunting and I am certain I am not the only observer to ponder the natural question, "how was it possible to build them?". No electricity, no hydraulics, no cranes … but some incredible engineering skills had to have been employed. We do have some theories as to how these incredible structures were built, though. Here is an animation of how the stones were possibly lifted.
Because our tour began from Port Said in the morning, we did not reach the pyramids until mid-day, after the 3-hour bus ride. The sun was directly overhead by that time and it is important to stress that it is hot, and sun exposure should be taken very seriously. Visitors will find aggressive vendors selling cold bottled water for $1.00, among many other souvenirs. We were cautioned by our saavy guide regarding pickpockets and to take care with our personal belongings.
Our tour then took in a papyrus store and an Egyptian jewelry store where we were given time to shop. The papyrus art is exquisite and there were many designs and sizes from which to choose. Our last stop was at the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. Because photos are forbidden within the museum, I was not able to provide any firsthand viewings. There was a fascinating room displaying royal artifacts with jewels and precious gems along with incredibly designed mummy cases.
We now had a 3-hour return to our ship in Port Said and were eager to get back in time. Because of the exposure that the 3 tour buses in our convoy posed, we were escorted back into the port area by Egyptian security, as we had been on our departure that morning. Returning to our ship was a relief for all the passengers on the tour. We thanked our able and informative guide for a wonderful day. As we approached our ship, we were greeted by smiles, music and singing. Many of the staff lined the gangway to offer us chilled towels and juice to refresh ourselves as we boarded the Insignia. A splendid arrival that could not have been more appreciated!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 31, 2010
Attraction | "First Port Stop on our Cruise"
Our first stop was the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, (meaning "mounds of shards") one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.
Our second stop was the Roman Amphitheatre, dating from 2nd century A.D.
Our third stop was the Bibliotheca Alexandrina
Our fourth site was a drive along the Corniche, the famous stretch of road which runs along the eastern harbor seafront
Our fifth stop was the Palace & Mantaza Gardens
Our last stop was the Fort Qaitbay, along the sea
May did an excellent job of fully explaining and describing each of the sites we visited. She was always pleasant, courteous and a fine ambassador for her country. At the conclusion of our day, I told her of my nervousness of being in Egypt for the first time and not knowing quite what to expect. We had an honest and open discussion about her country and religion and she sincerely encouraged us to ask her anything. By the time our tour ended, I can honestly say that though we met as strangers, we definitely parted as friends. I asked for her business card and told her I would not hesitate to recommend her to any of my friends or family. It is so very true that meeting people face-to-face can break down barriers. I felt that if nothing else, I had managed to bridge a mental divide I had had in my mind and though differences and issues still remain, I am glad that my first experience in that country was such a successful one. For anyone wishing to contact May Etab for a tour, her email is: email@example.com
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 29, 2010
Attraction | "Our First Oceania Cruise"
Another definite draw for us was the itinerary. We sailed on their Cradle of History tour which began in Athen’s Greece and ended in Istanbul, Turkey and covered the following cities over 12 days: Alexandria (Egypt), Cairo (Egypt), Tel Aviv & Jerusalem (Israel), Haifa (Israel), Limassol (Cyprus), Antalya (Turkey), Rhodes (Greece), Patmos (Greece) and Dikili (Turkey). These were all places we’d wanted to see but wouldn’t necessarily have traveled to on land by ourselves, but visiting them by ship provided the entrée and shelter we desired.
As I read more about Oceania, I discovered that their 5-star menus were crafted for them by Master Chef Jacques Pépin. Food aboard ships in general has improved greatly over the years, but Oceania has truly taken their menus to the next level of excellence. And, let’s face it, what do you look forward to most aboard your cruise, but the food!
In respect to the level of service, my husband and I could find absolutely no fault with it. We felt pampered and welcomed at all times. No request was too much for their capable staff, who continually met us with smiles and unending accommodation.
The Insignia is outfitted with just enough relaxation venues to meet your needs, offering a card room, library, internet room, spacious pool deck with comfortable seating both in and out of the sun along with numerous indoor lounges in which to enjoy a drink and watch the passengers mill by. They also offer a wonderful spa and fitness center in which you can indulge yourself to stay in shape or freshen your appearance. I took advantage of their manicure service and was very pleased with the outcome.
The land excursion tours that Oceania offers are well chosen and managed by very good local operators. Our guides were always well-spoken and offered fascinating and informative facts. The line offers both half day and full day tours, which are all rated for exertion difficulty. We took advantage of a tour in nearly every port, particularly liking the ports of Antalya, Turkey and Patmos, Greece.
One of the nicest features on board was the billing of the gratuities for our cabin stewards. The ship adds an automatic per day gratuity to your final bill making it effortless to check out at the end of the cruise. We left with good memories and a strong desire to return to Oceania for our next cruise. Now, we just have to decide which one of their many destinations captures our imagination … it’s a tough call – they’re all tempting.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 29, 2010
8300 Nw 33rd Street, Suite 308
Hotel | "I Could Get Used to This"
Every once in a while, staying at a luxury hotel is (as Martha Stewart would say) "a good thing". Do I need to coax myself to kick it up a notch? Naaaaahh! So, when one of the hotel choices provided to us by our cruise line was the Grande Bretagne Athens, I welcomed the opportunity to indulge myself. I’ll justify it to my husband later … after he falls in love with the services. This was our first visit to Athens, Greece and due to some of the unrest we had heard about in the news, I wanted to be at a secure and capable location. That many other amenities came with it was more than icing on the cake. I also learned that the Grande Bretagne is part of the Starwood family of hotels, which happens to be the loyalty program to which I belong. After the many hassles that traveling can throw at passengers, it’s nice to indulge for compensation.
From the moment the guest walks into their impressive lobby, he/she is warmly welcomed and attended to with a level of professionalism that is really refreshing. Their bell staff secured our bags as soon as we exited our taxi and accurately directed them to our room, while we checked in at the front desk. Their staff exuded just the right balance of decorum, displaying friendliness but not too much familiarity. Our questions were answered courteously and accurately without hesitation.
The rooms are elegantly appointed with quality linens on the bed and in the bathroom. It is such a pleasure to have thick, large bath towels, which is usually not the standard in the mid-level hotels in which we normally stay. If I can wrap the towel fully around me and have it cover nearly to my knees, I know I’ve chosen well. The Grande Bretagne’s bathrooms provide both a shower stall and a deep soaking tub that are separate. The tub is a feature that I relish when traveling, as it is the first thing I turn to after a long airline flight as well as being the perfect antidote to a long day of walking and touring. The guestrooms are outfitted with wireless connections and we had no issues using our Apple MacBook Air.
One of the most important features that I crave when traveling is a really good swimming pool. I don’t mean one of those oversized bathtub types, but one long enough in which to do proper laps. It should be well-maintained (i.e. clean not murky) and the proper temperature. If it is beautiful, then that is icing on the cake. The indoor pool at the Grande Bretagne not only met, but exceeded my expectations. It is one of the most beautiful pools in which I have ever swam. It is constructed of shimmering aqua glass tiles which just glow from the underwater lighting. The lounge area surrounding the pool is kept immaculate as well as the adjacent dressing rooms that are outfitted with steam, sauna, showers and necessary dressing area and with private, secure lockers. It is truly a haven for relaxation and rejuvenation.
After my refreshing swim, my husband and I readied ourselves for a delicious dinner in the hotel’s rooftop garden restaurant. The pièce de résistance was the view of the Acropolis from our table. At night the Parthenon is lit up and glows against the night sky. It was simply breathtaking. We enjoyed a wonderful light dinner of fresh fish accompanied by a marvelous red wine, that the French diner next to our table was nice enough to recommend.
We retired to our comfortable room for a perfect night of sleep to wake refreshed the next day for our tour of the city.
Hotel Grande Bretagne
Athens, Greece 10563
Hotel | "Further Detail Regarding Our Stay"
I’ll get right to the point. As a fairly frequent traveler, I have come to expect a certain level of professionalism and efficiency from the hotels that I give my business. I put a good deal of effort into my trip preparations, but nevertheless, there is a certain amount of "flip-of-the-coin" aspect to the final outcome. Perhaps I am becoming too critical in my advancing years, but I tend to think that is not the case and that I am a fair and equitable judge. Be that as it may, my husband and I ran into some, how shall we say, Alice in Wonderland moments that left us scratching our heads and unquestionably disappointed. That was certainly the case at our most recent stop, while connecting at Heathrow Airport in London.
I will however start out by saying that the Sheraton Skyline Heathrow has much in its favor, which I have no problem sharing with my fellow travelers. The proximity to the airport is a short bus ride and visitors can take the convenient Hoppa Bus from Heathrow for door-to-door service. The fare ran us £4/person. If you have the cash on hand in British pounds, you can pay on the bus, otherwise, tickets can be purchased at a kiosk before exiting the airport.
The facility itself is pleasant and inviting enough for an airport hotel, with friendly check-in, and comfortable lobby which offers an on-site Starbuck’s. The guestroom hallways though, are long and unless you’re up for "stretching your legs" and the airport concourse wasn’t a challenging enough workout, you may want to request a room near the elevator bank. I will give this generous compliment to them though, we stayed in room #1073 which is placed at the back of the hotel, and it was blissfully quiet. One should be aware that the front of the airport faces one of Heathrow’s busy runways and the noise is quite audible. For that reason, being situated on the opposite side was beneficial enough to overlook the unfavorable proximity to the elevators.
The décor and the space of the guestrooms was very good. We found our guestroom to be in good condition and providing the following: ample room, mini bar, deep tub/shower, good bathroom lighting, large towels, iron and ironing board, full-length mirror, pant press/jacket valet, generous desk space with cable internet connection, nice-sized plasma tv, 3-drawer bureau with deep drawers, very comfortable bed with quality linens, reading chair and ottoman (with its own lamp) and in-room safe. A criterion of mine is always large enough towels and I found the ones at Sheraton Skyline to be sufficiently generous to fully wrap around me and cover from shoulders to knees.
I believe that now brings us to the cons of this hotel. Being a Starwood Preferred Guest, I was extremely disappointed to find that my very capable and nimble MacBook Air did not work with their internet cable connection in the room. Even after being inspected by a technician, sent up after our complaint, the situation remained unsolved, leaving us with no access whatsoever to the internet for our convenience. I simply hate being out of communication and I also require internet access to maintain my travel journals along our journey. One does not anticipate this kind of snafu in Great Britain, which isn’t exactly a third-world country, but it did not reflect well on the hotel at all. The hotel informed us that the problem was not on their side but lay with my Mac and offered no further explanation or assistance. I BEG TO DIFFER! I have used this recent Mac in many countries, (most recently Australia) with no connection issues, and did not appreciate this condescending assessment. My husband and I attempted to compensate for this by utilizing their lobby guest terminals but found this also to be a real grinding experience. The connections were slow, if we could connect at all. Printing our boarding passes for the next day took the patience of a saint (which I assure you I am not). I struggled to remain courteous and polite under this duress, but in the end have no choice but to give them a poor grade on technical prowess and internet accessibility.
In summary, if you absolutely need an airport hotel and want the Starwood points, this location will fit the bill as long as connectivity on a Mac isn’t essential. It is possible that I am an isolated case in this critique but I suspect not. If you travel with a, PC, perhaps your experience will be more positive. My attitude has always been, if the hotel is offering the service, then it is their responsibility to ensure that it works properly for all guests. On that count, they missed the mark. In their behalf, as we were departing the hotel and waiting outside for our shuttle to the airport, a very kind and thoughtful bellman checked with us to make sure that we had enough time to reach the airport and make our flight. Traffic had been slowed by an accident and he was informing guests of that issue. That was the very kind of pro-active professionalism we were seeking from the start and it was refreshing to depart the property on that improved note.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 29, 2010
Sheraton Skyline Hotel
London, England UB3 5BP
+44 (208) 7592535
Hotel | "Staying with "Family""
Anyone who has seen the movie "Up in the Air" with George Clooney, knows about loyalty programs. Most travelers today are not prepared to spend one travel dollar without getting some sort of compensation towards a future hotel room or plane seat. If they are smart, they will register with those companies to whom they feel they can most comfortably dedicate their business on the road. Because one of those companies for me is the Starwood chain of hotels, I chose an airport hotel for our stopover at London’s Heathrow from their family of brands. My husband and I wanted to break up our long journey from Los Angeles to Athens and agreed that an overnight in London would give us an opportunity to stretch our legs in a city that we simply love to visit. We selected the Sheraton Skyline Hotel London Heathrow.
The hotel is easy to access upon arrival at Heathrow by utilizing the Hotel Hoppa Bus system, for a small fee of £4/person. Check for currency conversion at XE online.
The Sheraton Skyline is a well-run property only minutes from the Heathrow terminals. Our check-in was efficient and friendly, but even better, our room was available that morning. After our long flight from Los Angeles, we were ready to rest and refresh. Their rooms are well appointed with coffee maker, iron/ironing board, cabled internet connection, good dresser & closet space and comfortable reading chair with ottoman. The hotel also maintains a concierge desk in their main lobby. Our questions regarding how to access the Tube to London were answered with professionalism and accuracy.
After enjoying a meal at one of our favorite London destinations, we spent a comfortable night catching some much-needed rest before our flight to Athens the next morning.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 27, 2010
Los Angeles, California