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Linda Coffman

On Renaissance R5
April 17 to May 12, 2000

with Pam and Jim Murphy

This was our third cruise with Renaissance so I will not go into the particulars of the ship or cruise line in depth.  We are fans of Renaissance and feel the value we receive for the money spent is exceptional.  The R5 is identical to the R1-R4 and absolutely beautiful.  We were in a D cabin and found it extremely comfortable for the 25 days, never feeling cramped for space or storage area.  We debated whether to save the difference in the cost between the D and B cabin and are not sorry for the decision we made in choosing the D.  The one thing that would have been nice in the B category would have been the mini refrigerator.  However, with the ice bucket being filled several times a day, we managed just fine. Our cabin was at the rear of the ship.  We enjoyed this location because we could see both sides of the ship, it is a bit more protected from the breeze and you have a deeper balcony than a cabin on the side of the ship.  We were next to one of the owner's suites.  The one drawback to this location is that in the morning you find soot from the smoke stack on the balcony and need to wipe off your chairs before sitting on them (this was no big deal.)  For a cruise of this length, I would definitely recommend a balcony room.

The service was excellent, as it has always been on this line for us.  The cabin steward and stewardess were lovely and extremely accommodating.  We asked for a lounge chair for our balcony, since the depth of the balcony at the back of the ship allowed the space for it.  Our cabin steward brought it to us with no problem.  The room was kept beautifully.  Room service (although a limited menu) was always prompt and nicely presented.  The dining room staff, waiters, bar tenders and cruise director and his assistants couldn't have been nicer.  We had a great cruise director, Dave Graham and his two assistants, Stacey and Mirya were also wonderful.  With a cruise of this duration you have the opportunity to get to know the staff fairly well.  We love the lack of announcements for activities.  Each day you are given a newspaper listing the day's announcements and activities and it is up to you whether or not to participate.

As always Renaissance is extremely well organized with their embarkation, shore excursions, customs procedures (especially in Egypt and Israel), and debarkation.  Things went very smoothly with no waiting in lines. Yes, the shore excursions are expensive, but nobody is forcing you to take them.  Many people chose to see the ports on their own and most seemed well satisfied.  I will go into this in a bit more detail, in my day to day accounting of the trip. We find that Renaissance's shore excursions are in keeping with the cost of shore excursions on Silver Seas and Radisson Seven Seas.  What I can say about them is that the tour buses are not completely filled to allow for smaller groups and more space on the buses and that the tour guides were all very knowledgeable and educated.  People commented that on other cruise lines the tours were less expensive but the buses were filled to capacity and the guides were not as well informed.  The prices I quote for the shore excursions are per person.  The smaller size of the ship is also a big plus for us, since this eliminates the cattle call type of an atmosphere with long lines and the herding of people.  These ships have lots of space to find a quiet place alone or companionship when you choose.

We had no problems with the food.  There were some nights that it was wonderful but also a couple of nights where it left a bit to be desired.  However, with all the courses offered we had plenty to eat.  If you didn't like your meal they would gladly bring you something else.  The main problems were with the beef.  Certain nights the filets and tenderloin and steaks were outrageously good, but a few nights the steaks were not as good a quality and were overcooked.  We chose not to make a big deal out of it but the waiters were more than happy to bring you another portion of the same or something different.  Their desserts are absolutely and consistently delicious.  The Club was probably the best place for all three meals.  The Panorama Buffet was adequate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The Grille Restaurant was good.  The Italian Restaurant was also fine but seemed to be the least favorite for most cruisers.  We ate here several times and had good meals.  Both the Grille and Italian Restaurant have the same menus each evening but did have at least one change of menu (which I noticed) during the cruise.  We especially appreciate the open seating that Renaissance offers.  This affords you the opportunity to eat when and with whom you please.  It is so nice to have the choice of whether to have a romantic dinner for two, eat with friends or meet new people.  We alternated these three alternatives which made for a wonderful cruise.

The entertainment was presented every night and was extremely entertaining. Renaissance does not have Broadway type shows but small and more intimate type entertainment, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

The itinerary was fabulous.  Each and every port had something different to offer.  This is the longest cruise we have taken and we weren't sure how we would adjust to being away for this length of time.  We had no problems at all and are now hoping that we will one day be able to take one of the 50-day cruises offered by Renaissance.  Jim was in the minority with not being retired, the majority of people we met were. 

The average age of Renaissance cruisers is 61 years.  I would say the average age on this sailing it might have been higher.  My guess is it is harder for working people to get away for this length of time, which upped the average age with mostly retirees on this cruise.  We had several people in their nineties who were absolutely remarkable.  They kept up with all the tours and never seemed to slow down.  Then at night you would see them dancing.  We also had many people touring with canes and they were real troopers.  Some of these sites required a lot of walking and climbing.  There was one couple traveling with their young adult grandchildren and there were a few very young retirees.  Most of the people we met were great and lots of fun.  However, as always, there are a few, that never look happy and spend the greater part of their lives complaining.  It doesn't take long to single them out and avoid them like the plague.

April 17 - Monday -Travel Day
We had a limousine pick us up at our home at 10 AM, to take us to JFK.  We arrived at about 12:30 PM and proceeded to check-in.  In the check-in line, we met a lovely couple from FL, Bill and Carol, who were also on the cruise.  Visiting with them at the airport made our waiting time fly.  Our flight took off at 4:30 PM on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt.  There were no problems with the flight.  We had a several hour wait at Frankfurt, which seems like forever when you are anxious to arrive.  The flight to Istanbul also was smooth.

April 18 - Tuesday -- Istanbul
We arrived in Istanbul at 12:30 PM.  Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents (Europe and Asia).  Upon arrival we picked up our luggage and the Renaissance people were there to take it directly to the ship as soon as we identified it.  We were then transported to the ship.  In this report, I am trying to give both positive and negative aspects of the cruise and am not trying to nit pick over small things.  Embarkation was quick and well organized.  The one small disappointment was that the staff on board didn't seem to know we had arrived.  The photographer was not there to take the usual photo (but who really wants that photo with the way you look after traveling so long?)  There was also no staff there to take carryon bags and show you to your room.  There were people to give directions but this is not the usual we have found on Renaissance on the other cruises.  This was no problem for us since we knew the ship and the room.  It took the cabin steward quite a while to greet us and explain things to us, but once again this was no problem for us. 

We had the opportunity to completely unpack and get settled before the lifeboat drill.  One hint for the lifeboat drills. When they take you to the lifeboat from your waiting area, hang back. The first out will be put in the back of the group and being squeezed in the back can be a bit claustrophobic. The last ones on the line go to the front, which is more open.

We showered and then went down for dinner. We had plans to meet Ron and Gail from Ohio, whom we had met online prior to the cruise, for dinner at 8 PM.  They turned out to be a lovely couple and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner with them.

We all went to the show, which was really not a show but an information session where people were introduced. Gail and I then headed for the casino. This is the first time I ever tried the slots on board.  Jim gave me $20 that I played. Won a few and lost a few and quickly grew bored.  Guess I am not a gambler.  Ended my session with slightly more than the $20 I started with.  Returned to the room and told Jim to use the casino coins if he wanted.  Then sat on the balcony and read a bit before bed.  Some people complained that the beds were too hard but we found them very comfortable and slept well.

Tonight there was a tour offered which was dinner and a performance by the Whirling Dervishes. This tour was cancelled due to the fact, that there were not enough people signed up for it. I can't imagine anyone having the energy to leave the ship after all the travel we had just completed.

April 19 - Wednesday -Istanbul
There is no doubt that you are in Istanbul when at 5 AM you hear the Muezzin's Call to Prayer. Hearing it, I got up and looked out from our balcony and the nearby mosque was absolutely beautiful with lights illuminating it.  The day started out overcast but by 11 AM the sun was out. 

Jim and I have already been to Istanbul, so felt it was not necessary to do the highlights of the city again.  Instead, we took a cab to the Grand Bazaar.  The cab driver dropped us off near the entrance and we thought we knew where we were going.  We wandered for quite a while trying to find the entrance.  We finally found a policeman to ask and he directed us to where we wanted to go.  The Grand Bazaar is great fun.  It is a covered maze of stores with the shopkeepers all vying for your business.  The bargaining can be fun once you get the hang of it.  At first I was a bit intimidated by the aggressiveness of the salesmen, but found that they are very nice and will eventually take no for an answer.  Here I purchased stainless steel skewers with brass decorations on the top, just under $2 each.  Bought these for my son and also some for a friend and her daughter.  While buying the skewers, another salesman came in and wanted to take me to his jewelry shop.  He makes everything himself, which I doubt was the truth.  I went with him and found a pair of gold Greek key earrings and a silver cartouche for friends and a pair of small gold with white sapphire earrings for myself.  Then found a silver Turkish bracelet for a friend.  Then I pointed out some Byzantine gold necklaces and earrings, which I hinted might make a nice Christmas present for Jim to give to me (this is something I had wanted). Wonder if he took the hint? Then found a camel bone decorated framed picture and a camel bone box. It was a fun day. Also bought postcards that I wrote out and sent.

Some people took the highlights of Istanbul tour and felt it gave them a good comprehensive overview of the city. Visited the shop on the ship where I purchased a couple of duty free bottles of perfume.

Returned to the ship and received a call from Arnie and Annemarie from CA, people I met on the Internet pre-cruise.  We met them for dinner at 6:30 and they turned out to be a great couple and we had a lot of fun with them.  Annemarie and I both felt we had been friends for years.  We all then went to the 8:30 show, which was Cary Ross, a comedian/magician.  After the show I returned to the cabin and sat on the balcony and read.  Tonight there was a tour offered called 1001 Turkish Nights.  This was a dinner with a sultan, belly dancing etc.  I don't know of anyone who took this tour.

April 20 - Thursday -- Istanbul
We had a continental breakfast from room service this morning.  We then left for a Cruise Tour of the Bosphorus ($49.99).  The day was rainy and there is nothing worse than sitting on a boat at long tables with steamed up windows trying to see the sights.  From what we have heard this is a wonderful cruise to take on a nice day.  Luck just wasn't with us.  We sat with Ron and Gail and visiting with them was very nice.  After the cruise, we returned to the port by bus.  On the way we visited Sadberk Hanim Museum, the clothing and wedding gown exhibits were extremely interesting.  The museum had a small gift shop attached.  Then we stopped at the fortress, Rumeli Hisari.  I opted to return to the bus since it was raining fairly hard and there was nothing all that interesting to me here. We drove through several small villages but did not stop.  I took Dramamine before the cruise and wound up falling asleep on the bus due to the medication.  Jim had to wake me up when we arrived at the ship.

We went to the Panorama Buffet for lunch and I returned to the room and slept through the afternoon.  I guess between the travel and the Dramamine, this is what I desperately needed. We sailed for Kusadasi. The water was like glass and you would never have known you were at sea.

After dinner we all went to the show, which was Johnny Stafford, a harmonica player, (from the English group the Harmonica Rascals).  Had I known we were going to see a harmonica player I would have skipped the show.  However, he was absolutely wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed his performance.

Jim and I played Bingo and didn't win anything.  I returned to the cabin to read on the balcony (are you beginning to catch on that this is my favorite activity?)  There is nothing more relaxing than sitting under the stars with the sea breezes blowing.  This is as close to heaven as it gets.

April 21 - Friday -- At Sea, Cruising the Dardenelles
We slept in and ordered a continental breakfast from room service.  I watched Cider House Rules on television in the cabin. There were many activities offered on this day at sea: napkin folding, trivia, table tennis, a scavenger hunt, a bridge tour and a champagne reception to meet the Captain Limme. We passed on most of the activities and took the day to just sit back and relax. I attended the port lecture, hoping this would help us in choosing which shore excursions to sign up for.  Jim attended the golf chipping.

We cruised the Dardenelles. Dave, our cruise director, made announcements as we were passing sites of interest, such as Gallipoli, site of World War I battles and Mount Athos.  Mt. Athos is the site of many monasteries and women are not permitted here. The ship did not sail too close to shore, since we had women on board.  Today we had lunch at the Club Restaurant, which was very nice.

The evening show was the Paramount Performers.  The costumes were far more lavish but this particular group of young people was less talented than the performers we have seen on previous Renaissance cruises.  We still appreciated their efforts in singing and dancing and enjoyed the show.  Tonight Jim took my casino chips and played the slots winning $45, while I returned to the cabin.

April 22 - Saturday - Kusadasi, Turkey
We ordered a Continental breakfast in our room.  At 8:30 we departed for our tour of Ephesus ($79.99).  First we stopped at the House of the Virgin Mary where she is said to have died and I lit a candle. Downstairs is a site where petitioners leave pieces of cloth attached to the walls (this is mostly done by Moslems).  There were souvenir shops here where you can buy rosaries, magnets etc.  Here I found one of the Russian type stacking dolls that I bought for my son.  The large outer doll was Bill Clinton, the next doll was Monica Lewinsky, the next Paula Jones, the next Kathleen Willey, and the last little tiny doll was Hillary. Can't believe this is what I found to purchase ($20) at this sacred site.

Ephesus is the best-preserved ancient city in the Eastern Mediterranean and in its day was the place to be seen. This powerful trading port was on the sea (today it is inland) and sacred center for the cult of Artemis.  Its marble paved streets are where Cleopatra and Marc Antony once walked.  You can see the Library of Celsius, the Stadium, and brothel.  This is one of the grandest reconstructed sites in the world, with its extensive and remarkably preserved remains. This is the area where the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) once stood. We stopped at the Ephesus Museum, which contains one of the best collections of Roman and Greek artifacts in Turkey.  It contains frescoes and two statues of Artemis where she is shown with several rows of breasts or also described as belts of eggs, to show fertility. The museum has a shop were for $3 you can pick up some lovely notepaper with very pretty designs.

We next visited the Basilica of St. John of Selcuk. This church was built by the Emperor Justinian and is over the site of the tomb of St. John the Evangelist.  Eleven domes once topped the Basilica before an earthquake destroyed it.  This basilica is said to have rivaled the Haggia Sophia in Istanbul. The tour ended with a luncheon with Turkish dancers performing. The restaurant overlooked the Aegean and offered a beautiful view.  The food was very good and the desserts just delicious. This tour was well worth the money.

We returned to the ship and then spent some time shopping at the Bazaar in Kusadasi.  Bought a small leather and kilim carpet purse ($50), some jewelry and a child and an adult belly-dancing outfit for gifts.  Child's size runs about $10-15.  There are two types one is harem pants and a bolero type top which is in an opaque fabric with a gold print on it.  They also have them with a sequin type bra and chiffon skirt with decorated belt area that is adjustable (this type comes with a headband and veil). This is more the traditional belly dancer look. A nice quality adult size is in the $100 range.  This is a sequined bra, with heavy decorated wide belt area with chiffon skirt with gold disc decorations.  It comes with sequined fingerless gloves and headband with veil decorated with the gold discs.  Thought they would make great Halloween costumes.  I think everyone's young granddaughter got one of the children's.  Most people chose the harem style (more modest).

While in Kusadasi be sure to check your credit card receipts. When friends arrived home and received their credit card bill, it showed their purchases as cash advances rather than purchases.  This saves the vendor the service charge and charges the card-holder the fees.  Also it has been reported that you may be charged for the currency conversion on your purchases.  Our friends made some large purchases and found that they were charged and extra 8%.  At this point they do not know if there will be anything they can do about the situation.

Tonight's show was Turkish folkloric dancers (same dancers we saw at lunch).  They were quite good and the dancing is very similar to the Russian type of dance.  There was also a belly dancer, making the rounds of the men for money. After the show we played Ultimate Team Trivia with Annemarie and Arnie and a new couple we met, Jim and Linda, from Ohio. Among the trivia questions were two that gave us a good laugh.  One was who invented the brassiere? (Answer: Titslinger). The other was who invented the toilet? (Answer: Sir Thomas Crapper). Annemarie was our team captain and thought we were making these answers up and was refusing to say the answers. I can't tell you what a chuckle we had over this! She kept insisting that she was not going to say those answers out loud. Was she ever surprised when she found out we weren't putting her on and these were the correct answers! We won a bottle of champagne and found that we had a pretty powerful team. We all attended the second show to watch the dancers once again and drank our bottle of champagne, which we shared with cruise director, Dave, and his mother, Marilyn (from Toronto), a lovely woman.  We stayed overnight in Kusadasi.

April 23 -Sunday - Kusadasi, Turkey
Today we slept till 8 AM and then went to the Panorama Buffet for breakfast. From today on we were blessed with warm and sunny weather.

Kusadasi is a fun port and the Bazaar here is a bit more manageable than the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. As in Istanbul the vendors are quite aggressive but very nice and friendly. They will eventually accept NO for an answer with grace. When you leave the ship it is a very short walk to the shopping area. For those with walking difficulties there are men with bicycle type vehicles with room for two passengers to sit in the front. We spent today wandering around Kusadasi and doing a bit of shopping. Jim had a cute little scam going. He walked a bit ahead of me (since I kept stopping in shops) and all the shopkeepers were approaching him to buy leather, jewelry, carpets etc. He would tell them his wife was coming along and would give them my name and say I was dying to buy whatever they were selling. Needless to say, when I approached they were flocking around me big time. When I found out what he was doing I was ready to kill him but he thought it was quite humorous.  We met Annemarie and Arnie and were hysterical because Arnie had all the shopkeepers circled around him and was telling jokes. They just loved him. We stopped at a local sidewalk café for a drink and to rest and people watch. 

I returned to the ship and Carol called and we made plans to go back out shopping, leaving Bill and Jim behind. Jim relaxed at the pier with his cigar. I purchased a couple of typical Turkish pictures with hand painted camel bone frames which are quite pretty (2 for $65 after considerable bargaining). Also bought a couple of Turkish dolls (2 for $12) for a friend's granddaughters. Carol was looking for leather jackets.  She finally found what she was looking for at a good price. She bought black leather for her daughter and the same in cream for herself. These were double-breasted fitted jackets with a soft leather tie belt. The leather was extremely soft and she paid ($235 for both.)  They had the same jacket in red and if I had been thinking I would have grabbed it for my daughter. However, didn't think of it and missed this opportunity.  Carol also found
some very pretty scarves to take home as gifts for an extremely reasonable price. Carol and I were getting pretty good at this bargaining thing.

We all then went to the show, which was another performance by Cary Ross, the comedian/magician and by Johnny Stafford, the harmonica player.  Watching the shows I found that an Amaretto on the rocks really hit the spot.  This will now be my show cocktail.  Returned to the cabin to do my favorite thing, relax on the balcony.

April 24 - Monday - Santorini, Greece
This morning we arrived in Santorini.  Santorini was the only port on this itinerary where we tendered into port.  This island is one of the most beautiful in Greece and perhaps the world.  The ship enters into the flooded caldera, a crescent of cliffs, striated in pink, brown, black and pale green, with the white clusters of the towns of Fira and Oia perched on the top. These encircling cliffs are the remains of a still active volcano.  Santorini depends on rain collected in cisterns for its water for drinking and irrigation.  The roofs of its buildings are domed shaped which helps in the collection of rain.  The island produces wine, which is quite good due to the volcanic soil of the island.

We were signed up for the tour to Akrotiri, which was cancelled.  This town was destroyed 3600 years ago in a volcanic eruption and has been frozen in time by the layers of pumice that buried it. It is speculated that Akrotiri may be the lost Atlantis.  It is believed there was a warning of the volcanic eruption which gave the village inhabitants time to escape since no bodies or jewels were found in the remains. It is believed only one thirtieth of the remains have been excavated to date.  Many of us were disappointed that this tour was cancelled since the site is closed on Mondays.  The ship tried to visit Rhodes today and Santorini tomorrow, but due to some NATO exercises the change was not possible.  Instead we took the tour to Oia ($49.99).  Oia is a beautiful town with its white buildings and blue domed roofs on the hills.  However, taking a tour there was a total waste of money.  I would definitely recommend seeing it but in this case taking a cab on your own is a much more reasonable way to do it.  A tour guide is not necessary.

The tour left by taking a boat from the ship to the new port.  From there we boarded buses to visit Oia.  Oia, is breathtaking in its beauty and is where most photographs you see advertising Greece are taken.  It is a small town with lots of shops and cafes.  You are left on your own for about an hour but there is little to do except enjoy the scenery. There is a small Greek Orthodox Church, which we saw on our visit here two years ago, that is just beautiful.  However, it was not open this time.  The bus arrived in Oia before the stores were open and left around the time that they were just beginning to open.  This left very little time for browsing.  On the way back to the bus we passed a couple of shops that were opened and purchased several large bags of pistachios (grown on the island) about $4 per bag and absolutely delicious.  We enjoyed having these as a snack in our cabin.  Jim also bought a dry red wine (Kasteli) which was inexpensive ($5) and which we enjoyed at dinner that evening.  There is a $10 corkage fee if you bring your own wine to the dining room.  If you don't finish the wine they store it for you for another evening.  We were then bused to Fira, another lovely town. 

Here we had a snack (really can't call it lunch) at a beautiful café overlooking the water with a spectacular view. We were served, on a small plate, a spoonful of Greek salad, a small kabob, a small amount of humus, and a small amount of yogurt with onions and garlic. There was bread and you could have water or a glass of local Niktiri white wine.  Jim purchased a bottle of this wine for $9. Right near the cable car, this restaurant is a beautiful place to sit and have a drink but it is not necessary to take a tour to do so. We wondered around Fira and visited it myriad of lovely shops. Jim bought himself a Greek fisherman cap, and some souvenir type junk.  I found some lovely silver jewelry for Christmas gifts and also a silver money clip with Alexander the Great on it for $35.  We were given a ticket that was good for either the cable car or a donkey to take you down to the old port to get the tender to take us back to the ship.  We took the cable car but Jim really wanted to ride one of those donkeys.  He managed to find a donkey to have his picture taken on.  We returned to the ship mid afternoon and I ordered a sandwich from room service for lunch, which I enjoyed on the balcony.  We sailed for Rhodes and once again the seas were calm and you would have never known you weren't still in port.

This evening we joined Annemarie, Arnie, Linda and Jim at the Italian Restaurant.  We all went to the show with a performance by Stephen Kane, a singer who was absolutely wonderful.  Jim and I then played Bingo, which once again we didn't win.  We then returned to the cabin and sat out on the balcony.

April 25 - Tuesday - Rhodes, Greece
We woke up to another beautiful and warm day.  Once again had a continental breakfast in our room. This harbor is where the Colossus of Rhodes (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) once stood.  Today there are deer statues in the harbor (the deer is one of the symbols of Rhodes).  In 1309 when the Knights of Saint John took the city from its Genoese masters, its modern glorious era began.  The Knights of Saint John, were an order of Hospitalers organized in Jerusalem to protect and care for Christian pilgrims.  They were grouped into "tongues" by country of origin.  Each tongue had an inn as a place of assembly. We have been to Rhodes before so opted to spend the day doing Old Town on our own rather than taking a tour.  There was one tour offered of Rhodes and Old Town and also one to Lindos.  Friends took the tour to Lindos and thought it was a lovely village.  However, this tour requires a lot of climbing and walking and is a bit strenuous.  People felt they were not warned sufficiently of this fact. I would suggest hiring a cab on your own to see the island and then have the cab driver drop you off at Old Town and walk around here on your own. The walk from the ship to Old Town Rhodes is short. The old city, which is surrounded by the ancient city walls (remarkably well preserved) is a quaint and charming place and a real treat with its many wonderful shops and cafes. We met Annmarie and Arnie and together toured the Palace of the Grand Masters, which sits on the highest point of Old Rhodes Town.  The original palace withstood the Turkish siege but was destroyed by an ammunition explosion in the cellars of the nearby Church of St. John, in 1856. The palace was rebuilt by Mussolini during World War II and used as his headquarters.  We especially appreciated the medieval architecture, beautiful floor mosaics and the alabaster windows.  We walked along the Street of Knights, which is bordered on both sides by the Inns of the Tongues.  Old Town is a wonderful place to stop at a café for lunch or a drink and just sit and relax.

We did a bit of shopping in the Old Town found some more interesting silver and gold jewelry for gifts and also picked up a few bronze (doubt for the price ($20 each) they are really bronze as claimed) statues of the Greek gods as gifts.

We returned to the ship and played Frank Sinatra Trivia with Annemarie, Arnie, Linda and Jim.   We then all had dinner together at the Club Restaurant, which is always a fun time. After dinner we went to the Cabaret for a show by the Paramount Performers. After the show we played Name That Tune Trivia and won!  I then returned to the cabin and relaxed on that wonderful balcony!

April 26 - Wednesday - At Sea
Jim got up early and went to the Panorama Buffet for breakfast.  I slept until 9 AM which was a real treat with the pace we have been keeping.  At ten I attended the port briefing.  Spent the rest of the morning reading on the balcony.  Jim and I then went to the Club for lunch.  We joined a lovely couple from San Francisco who owned a jewelry business. We found them very interesting.  Jim went to the pool and to play shuffleboard.  I totally relaxed this afternoon with reading on the balcony and napping.

Dinner tonight was at the Club.  Jim and I were seated with three new couples.  We were very lucky each time we were seated with people we didn't already know.  There was not one time we did not enjoy our dinner companions.  I believe that the Maitre D' takes great care in getting to know the passengers and seating compatible people together.  He often said, "take them to table such and such, those people are very nice."  Met up with Arnie and Annemarie after dinner for the show, which was Teddy Davis, a comedian/ventriloquist. Once again returned to the cabin for what is becoming my nightly ritual of relaxing on the balcony before bed.

April 27 - Thursday - Limassol, Cyprus
We woke up to another beautiful day and once again had a continental breakfast in our room.  We took a tour of the Villages of the Troodos Mountains $49.99.   Others did this tour on their own by hiring a cab and this cost them $80 for a cab for four people.  The first village we visited was Lania, which was absolutely charming.  As we entered we saw older women, dressed in the traditional Greek style black, women baking bread in outdoor ovens, which smelled just wonderful, and donkeys. We visited a Greek Orthodox Church, which was beautiful with its icons.  Here I lit a candle (there will be many more opportunities to come, on this cruise, for lighting candles) and bought a framed picture of one of the icons for $15. We stopped a café for light refreshments.  There were a few souvenir shops with nothing too terribly unusual. There are many paintings by local artists at very reasonable prices.  On our return to the bus, we found a man with a fruit stand, who was very friendly and offered us tastes of his melons and other fruits.  We next stopped in the village of Omodos.  Here there was also a Church with icons, an old winepress, and a village square with numerous souvenir shops.  In this village there were once again the older women in their traditional black dress.  There was a blown glass shop to visit and also a home that could be toured to show you how they live. There is a lot of locally produced wine, which is said to be a cure-all.  We skipped this since we saw old men bottling this wine from a plastic jug.  It makes you stop and think of the sanitary procedures used in this bottling.  The scenery in these mountains is gorgeous and offers many photo ops.

Cyprus is a divided island with both the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.  Our tour guide explained some of the problems from the Greek prospective.  We returned to the ship for lunch at the Panorama Buffet.  Jim's favorites are the hot dogs and hamburgers at the grill here.  I spent the afternoon reading on the balcony and Jim took the shuttle into Limassol.  When Jim returned we went up to the Horizon's Lounge for a cocktail to watch the sailing, which once again was extremely smooth.

Tonight we had dinner at the Italian Restaurant with Annemarie, Arnie, Linda and Jim. We all then went to the show, which was another performance by Stephen Kane doing Songs of the South.  We then took our team to play Ultimate Team Trivia.  We came close but lost.

April 28 - Friday - Haifa, Israel
Another beautiful day to enjoy our continental breakfast on our cabin balcony. Upon arrival in Israel, each floor was called, in turn, to the Cabaret Lounge, where the Israeli authorities were waiting. We entered and pick up our passports, then proceeded with them to the Israelis, who issued us a landing card, then upon exiting the ship staff recollected the passports.  This went quickly and easily.  The landing cards were to remain with us at all times while on shore and would be checked on leaving and returning to the ship. Haifa is an industrial port and has a lot of military ships and subs.

Today we took the Biblical Route/Nazareth and Tiberias Tour for $99.99. As we left the ship our landing cards were checked and our personal possessions searched.  The official seemed fascinated by my Totes fold up umbrella!  It was actually reassuring to see the tight security.  There were no problems in Israel when we were there but the day after we left the unrest began with rockets being launched from the Golan Heights.  Friends who have visited here before were surprised at how much greener Israel was than the last time they visited two years ago.  It is amazing to see how green and lush certain areas are in the barren land due to their irrigation techniques. Our first stop was to the Church of the Annunciation.  The first floor has the cave where the angel Gabriel is said to have come to the Virgin Mary to tell her that she would give birth to the Savior.  The second floor is decorated with a multitude of images of the Blessed Mother.  Each country was asked to send a piece with their artistic interpretation of Mary.  The United States submitted a very interesting piece of rough metal.  To some it is beautiful and to others ugly.  From here we walked to the Church of Saint Joseph.  This site is believed to have been the workshop of Joseph.  From here you can look down the grates on the floor and view the remains of Old Nazareth below.  Here we also viewed an old ritual bath where Jewish brides were taken to be cleansed, before marriage.  We once again boarded our bus and went to the baptismal site at the River Jordan.  Some people chose to go down to the river and walk into it.  Another option was to visit a shop run by a kibbutz, where they sold bath products from the Dead Sea, syrup, Roman Glass and other jewelry and lots of typical souvenirs and T Shirts (which seemed to run nice and full).  The Roman Glass jewelry seemed high in price and also uninteresting in design.  We were told the quality was excellent.  I decided to wait on this type of purchase. We were taken to the River Jordan Hotel for a buffet lunch.  I didn't eat but Jim seemed to think the food was good.  From here we visited the Church of the Multiplication where Jesus is said to have performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  Another opportunity to light a candle.  Here you are able to view the original mosaics, which were commissioned by Helena, the mother of Constantine.  After Constantine was converted to Christianity, Helena visited the Holy Land to find the holy sites.  Today she is credited with locating all the sites we are visiting.  This was of special interest to me, since I am a direct descendant of Constantine and his mother.  We drove through Cana, viewing the site where Jesus performed the miracle of changing water to wine at the wedding of Cana.  We passed the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus preached, saw the Golan Heights in the distance,  giving us a perspective of how close Syria is to this section of Israel.  We next visited Capernum to see the ruins of St. Peter's house, a church has been built over this site where we heard a German choir singing. Here is also the site of  ruins from a synagogue.  We returned to the ship but an option was offered to anyone who wanted to stay on the bus to visit the diamond factory.  After a very full day of touring, we were exhausted and passed.  Some friends went and were disappointed since the operations of cutting the diamonds were closed for the day.  It was possible to purchase a diamond but the prices were very high.  We were told the quality of the diamonds was also high.  One person bought a diamond that was flawed but had the flaws corrected by laser.  This did not make it a perfect diamond but made it look perfect to the eye.  They seemed extremely pleased with their purchase.

Tonight we met for dinner with a couple named Randy and Laura, from Alaska.  They were a really nice couple and we enjoyed our time with them.  We joined Annemarie and Arnie for the show, which was British comedian, Squire Ronnie Hayward.  I found him extremely offensive in his jokes against women.  He also singled out an elderly woman from the audience who was traveling with a male companion who fell asleep during the show. Her male companion who was in his 90s and deaf became the butt of the jokes.  The poor man just sat there unaware that everyone was laughing at him.  In fairness to the comedian, the woman was feeding him all sorts of private information.  Returned to the cabin and relaxed on the balcony.  Jim went off the ship for a cigar and had an interesting conversation with the Israeli Security stationed by the ship.

April 29 - Saturday - Haifa, Israel
Another continental breakfast in our room while watching the sunrise.  Saturday is the Sabbath and most shops and facilities are closed.  Today we took a tour of Acre/The Crusader's Kingdom, $59.99.  There were cabs at the pier and many people hired them to arrange their own private tours.  Our first stop was to view the Baha'i Shrine and its gardens, from below.  This is a beautiful site and the gardens are magnificent.  This is the holiest place for the Baha'i followers. The Baha'i faith believes that God is manifested to men and women through prophets such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Bab (Bahaullah's predecessor) and Buhaullah.  The Baha'i faith proclaims that all religions are one, that men and women are equal, that the world should be at peace and that education should be universal.  From here we drove up Mount Carmel to visit the French Carmelite Monastery, Stella Maris.  Under the altar is the burial place (cave) of the Prophet Elijah, whose life is strongly associated with this mountain.  On the altar there is a statue of the Blessed Mother, the head on this statue is older than the body.  There is a small souvenir shop where I purchased several pair of rosary beads made of pressed wild flowers from the Holy Land.  They smell wonderfully fragrant. We next drove to a lookout point to view the Baha'i Shrine from above.  The Shrine is an awesome site.  We then drove to Acre, the regional-seat of the Crusader government and includes an entire underground city that we were able to visit.  The site is still being excavated.  We saw the Knight's Hall, once occupied by the Knights of the Hospitalers of St. John, the Crypt (dining hall), and a courtyard (it is not known what its use was).  Our guide read us a translation of a letter written by a bishop who was sent here during the Crusader period.  The corruption was unbelievable.  People tend to think of the Crusaders as holy people but this was not necessarily the case.  This tour requires walking through a low tunnel.  Those who were claustrophobic were strongly urged to return to the bus at this point.  The bus was supposed to be waiting.  However, the bus had already moved and the people lost the tour group. We walked through the Egyptian Bazaar, which had a few small souvenir shops and through some very narrow alleys of a poor section.  We came to an area called a caravansary, where once goods were sold and here was once an inn, where the merchants and travelers stayed.  The tour included a tour of the Municipal Museum where the Turkish baths can be seen. We then walked to the water, where we were able to see the remains of the fortress of the Knights of Templar in the water.  We were given some time to visit a shop where I found a Roman Glass necklace and a pair of very pretty silver earrings.  The prices here were not reasonable. Before leaving Acre, we drove around and found the missing people from our tour.  It appeared that the tour guide was ready to kill the bus driver for moving the bus before the arranged time.

We returned to the ship and went to the Club Restaurant for lunch.  We ate with Joe and Vicky from San Francisco and Randy and Laura from Anchorage.  Jim wandered around the ship and then went onto the pier for a cigar. I spent the afternoon reading on our balcony.  Before sailing for Ashdod, Israeli customs came on board to process the Value Added Tax forms. 

We met Annemarie and Arnie at the Club Restaurant for dinner.  We then all went to the show where Mark Newsome (a regular entertainer from Horizons) performed.  He gave an excellent show. We then went to Horizon's (Linda and Jim joined us) to watch Karaoke which was a rather pathetic spectacle.  We then returned to watch the second show by Mark.

April 30 - Sunday - Ashdod, Israel
Today it is 69 degrees and sunny.  We had our usual continental breakfast in the cabin balcony.  Ashdod is a smoggy, industrial, and very busy port. The area around Haifa is greener and prettier.  Today there was a tour to Masada and the Dead Sea ($109.99).  People who took the tour seemed to really enjoy it.  They said it was a long tiring day but worth it.  They especially enjoyed swimming or should I say floating in the Dead Sea. Some people were not pleased with the communal dressing room facilities.  This tour passed Bedouins with their tents and camels, which they found interesting. There was also a tour to Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa ($49.99).

I wanted to see Masada but had to make a choice.  We decided to hire a cab to take us to Old Jaffa and Tel Aviv. We decided against the ship's tour since when I asked about it at the shore excursion desk, I was told that no tours are shopping tours.  We hired a cab for $60 plus a $10 tip, to take us to Old Jaffa and a drive through Tel Aviv.  Our driver spoke broken English, was difficult to understand, and offered very little information on what we were seeing.  We arrived in Old Jaffa, containing many artist's galleries, but most were not yet opened for business.  We were told the evenings are the time that this area is the busiest.  There was one particular shop I was looking for, Ben Zion David.  We found it and it was open.  This shop had a wonderful selection of Yemenite jewelry and Roman Glass pieces at very reasonable cost.  The designer is on the premises and will adjust the pieces for you.  I picked out quite a few lovely things.  This is the first shop that offered a form for the Value Added Tax.  We spent a little time wandering around the Old Town, visiting the small museum, which tells a bit of the history of this area.  We ran into the ship's tour group and found they were given two hours on their own, which would have been plenty of time for the shopping I wanted to do. We returned to the ship by way of Tel Aviv, just a big city with nothing special to see. We noticed there are a lot of military personnel on the streets (all men and women must put a certain amount of time serving in the military).  We also saw a huge military communications tower here.

We returned to the ship at noon and our room was not made up.  Our cabin steward apologized.  I spent the afternoon reading on the balcony with a sandwich delivered by room service for lunch.  Jim took the shuttle into Ashdod, which was available for $4. The schedule was erratic and Jim and most other people wound up returning by cab. The shopping here was strictly for the locals and the trip to town not worth it.  There is a museum in Ashdod, which is free to enter but upon leaving you are charged $8.  From those who saw it they said there was nothing in this museum of any interest.

Tonight Jim and I had a dinner for two at the Club while watching the sun set over the water of Ashdod.  The show this evening was a performance by a troupe of teen Israeli folk dancers, which included a performance by an excellent vocalist.  They had very colorful costumes, interesting dances and lots of energy.

May 1 - Monday - Ashdod, Israel
Today Jim went to the Panorama Buffet for breakfast while I got dressed.  From the balcony we were able to watch the ships in the harbor being loaded.  There were 28 ships waiting in the harbor to be brought into port to be unloaded.  It is interesting to watch the tugboats and pilot boats maneuver the large ships into the dock. 

We left at 8 AM for our tour of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, $99.99. The temperature was 69 degrees and sunny.  Jerusalem is the holy site for three major monotheistic religions.  No matter what your belief, it is almost a certainty that something very special happened here.  Our first stop was at the Mount of Olives, from here, there is a spectacular view of the old walled city of Jerusalem, including the Golden Dome of the Rock.  The Dome, built by the Moslems, is the site of the Second Temple, the site where Abraham was to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and also the site where it is believed that Muhammad ascended to heaven in a dream on his steed.  You can see the graves of the Jews buried here.  Their belief is that when the Messiah arrives this will be where the resurrection of the dead will occur, others believe that this is the shortest route to heaven since God's presence hovers over the city.  From here you can view the one gate to the old city which has been permanently closed, until the arrival of the awaited Messiah.  This is also the gate through which Jesus is said to have entered the city.  We visited the Basilica of the Agony (Church of All Nations), built by the people of 16 different nations in 1924.  Its façade shows a gold mosaic of God looking down from heaven over Jesus and the peoples of the world. The church contains the rock where Jesus despaired.  The Garden of Gethsemene adjoins the church and is where Jesus prayed the night before his arrest.  The olive trees here may well be the same trees that existed during the time of Jesus.  There is no proof of this but it is believed that they are at least 1500 years old and possibly older.

From here we drove to Bethlehem which is under Palestinian control.  We entered the Church of the Nativity, a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church and waited in line close to an hour to hour and a half to see the site of the birth of Jesus. You go down the stairs to view the cave with a silver star marking the spot of Jesus' birth. In the cave is a lighted candle.  From this candle you are able to light the Year 2000 Christmas Candles, which can be purchased at the Church, $2.  The candles are to be lit again at Christmas for a blessed year.  The crowds were horrendous and you are pushed through so quickly you are barely able to view this holy site or to reflect on the meaning of what you were seeing. We were then taken to a souvenir shop where they were selling carved olive wood nativity sets.  The hand-carved sets were more expensive than the machine made ones.  I bought a hand carved one, all in one piece for $155.

Our next stop was to a Kibbutz for lunch.  Once again I did not eat but made the mistake of drinking the lemonade on the table and had stomach problems that night, due to what I assume was the water. Suggest sticking to bottled drinks. The food really didn't look too terribly appetizing to me. After lunch we entered the walled city of Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate.  First we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We climbed the stairs, which is actually climbing Golgotha.  We came to the Catholic section, the site where Jesus was nailed to the cross.  Next to this is the Greek Orthodox section, the site where Jesus died on the cross. The thought of actually being here was an overwhelming experience.  However, once again there were huge crowds pushing and shoving, making you feel like you were in a can of sardines, and this definitely took away from the holiness and meaning of what we were seeing.  We then descended the stairs to the Stone of Unction, the site where Jesus was prepared for burial.  Here the faithful were in a frenzy lying across the stone, pouring water and rubbing the stone and then rubbing the water on themselves.  Next we saw the marble edifice, which encloses the actual cave of the sepulchre.  We then walked the Via Dolorosa, containing the Stations of the Cross.  This was quite a disappointment since it is an area with a lot of tourist shops, in-your-face vendors, and stairways covered with bags of garbage.  You see people walking in groups, praying, with one member of the group carrying a wooden cross.  It amazes me how anyone could concentrate on prayer in this chaotic atmosphere.  Our last stop was at the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) which is the only remaining part of the Second Temple and the holiest site for Jews. Before entering this site you are required to go through a metal detector and have your personal belongings searched.  Here men must cover their heads if they approach the wall. Men and women each have their own sections. Women are handed shawls to cover their shoulders.  The faithful write prayers or requests on a piece of paper and put the paper in the cracks in the wall. It is quite a sight to see the Jews standing here in fervent prayer.

There were some incidents of people being pick-pocketed during the tour.  We had no problems but on entering the old walled city there were a number of men selling postcards, shoving them in your face.  We noticed while they were doing this they were checking out the wrists of the tourists. We left the walled city through the Dung Gate and headed back to the ship.  Before boarding we stopped to pick up some duty free purchases Jim made.  

He bought a large bottle of B&B for $2 less than he paid for the small bottle in the States.  He also bought a box of Cuban cigars for himself, $85. Customs once again boarded the ship before sailing to process the Value Added Tax Forms.  We showered and then sat on the balcony as we sailed for Egypt. We were exhausted and went to the Panorama Buffet for a quick dinner and then returned to the room to relax on the balcony.

May 2 - Tuesday - At Sea
Today we slept later than usual.  Jim went to the Panorama buffet for breakfast and brought me breakfast to our room.  We attended our second lifeboat drill, required due to the number of days at sea.  I had a totally relaxing day spent on the balcony reading.  Jim had lunch at the Panorama buffet and I ordered room service.

We met Annemarie, Arnie, Linda and Jim for dinner at the Grille. The show was  singer, Mark Newsome and British comedian, Ronnie Hayward.  After the show Annemarie, Linda and I went to Horizon's for TV Tune Trivia.  We won a bottle of champagne and we were quite proud of ourselves.

May 3 - Wednesday - Alexandria, Egypt
First, I want to address the issue of Egyptian visas.  Renaissance sent letters to some passengers saying that they were responsible to get their own Egyptian visas.  Others of us did not receive the letter.  I called the Egyptian consulate and was told we did indeed need the visas.  The story was that some of us had visas and others didn't.  My guess is that neither Renaissance nor the Egyptian authorities were sure exactly what we needed.  As best as we could figure out we were OK without visas as long as we did not spend an overnight on land.  Renaissance offered a tour for an overnight in Cairo, which is probably where the confusion originated.  Due to problems with the Egyptian hotel this tour wound up being cancelled.  What was needed in Egypt was to carry your passport with you.  I believe the feeling of Renaissance (they do not go frequently to Egypt) was the Egyptian authorities were not really worth dealing with.  Stacey, our assistant cruise director appeared ready to tear her hair out while trying to get one of the entertainers on board in Egypt. They definitely did not make it easy for her.

Upon arrival in Egypt, we were called to the Cabaret Lounge to pick up our passports.  When we looked outside there were swarms of mosquitoes all over the sliding glass door to our balcony. You'd better believe we didn't set foot out there and didn't even open the door.  We also asked our cabin steward not to open the balcony door, so the mosquitoes wouldn't come in. Besides mosquitoes there was also a rather unpleasant smell at this port.  We think the prevailing winds were coming from the swamps.  By that evening there was a beautiful breeze and the mosquitoes and the smell were gone.  I would suggest anyone visiting Egypt take insect repellant.  The mosquitoes were such a problem they were in the halls and still got into the cabins.  We killed about six, which considering wasn't too bad, considering that our next door neighbors were up all night killing them.  These mosquitoes were as aggressive as the vendors we were to encounter.  The temperatures were in the low 100s and the sun was shining.

Another problem in Egypt was a lot of passengers were hit with severe and painful stomach problems that lasted for several days.  One woman came down with a fungal infection and another had huge bites all over her legs. The worst we had were a couple of mosquito bites, and the concern that they weren't carrying Malaria. Also of note is that the Egyptians charge to bring camera into the museums.  I believe the charge is $3 for a regular camera (no flash) and $45 for a video camera at each site.

We left early this morning for the Pyramids of Giza/Sphinx Tour ($249.99 each).  I believe the reason this tour was so high priced was the government requires all bus tours to have armed guards on board and the busses to go in caravans with a car of armed guards front and back to thwart any chance of terrorism against tourists.  I don't think they are all worried about our safety but about what another incident would do to their tourism industry.  Some people hired cars to take them for a much lower cost.  We opted for the tour since we felt it was the safest way to see Egypt.  One couple hired a private tour guide online who never showed up. They were going crazy trying to make other arrangements at the last minute. Another couple hired a private car and were on their way to Cairo when the car broke down. I would say the decision on whether to take the high priced tour or to do it on your own is a personal choice. Egypt is a chaotic and dirty place. The Egyptian vendors make the Turks look pathetic in their aggressiveness, and most look dirty and are missing teeth. Welcome to the land of the Pharaohs!

Our tour guide was on his soap-box as soon as we started for Cairo. He was the nephew of the pilot of the Egyptian Air jet that crashed and was reported to have been committing suicide.  The guide was on CNN, Larry King etc. at the time, defending his uncle.  He is now involved in law suits with the media for there claims.  The Egyptian authorities deny this was a suicide.  He also told us the crash was due to friendly fire, the same as the TWA crash over Long Island.  We were in for a day of opinions!  The trip to Cairo was 2 ½ -3 hours.  The best part of the armed guards was that traffic was cleared for us as were intersections, which avoided traffic gridlock. It appeared our buses were playing games with each other on the road.  However, this tactic was used to keep too many other cars from passing at one time, for security reasons.  Our guide told us there was no danger, but that it was just a government regulation. The buses were equipped with bathrooms and also water and soft drinks. We were warned not to drink Egyptian bottled water, so I stuck with coke and brought my own bottled water from the ship (there is a charge for the bottled water).  We traveled with Randy and Laura from Alaska.  Laura and I took the back seat and found it quite comfortable.  Chatting with them made the drive go very quickly.  Randy and Jim each had their own double seat in front of us.  We noticed the Egyptians seem to love tourists, they wave and throw kisses as our buses pass.

We arrived at the Pyramids of Giza and what a fantastic site.  It boggles the mind to think of the technological expertise these early Egyptians had, which allowed them to build such magnificent structures.  I imagined the pyramids to be in the dessert, which they are, except that the city of Cairo has moved out to the dessert right next to the pyramids.  You were able to enter the pyramids but we were told that you would have to be bent over quite far to pass through the passageways and that the experience could be claustrophobic. Jim and I passed on this adventure, figuring we would watch a documentary to see the inside.  Randy and Arnie went in and said it wasn't as bad as we were told.  At this site is the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure.  There are also smaller burial monuments in this area belonging to the family and servants of the Pharaohs. 

Another treat awaiting at the pyramids is the multitude of camels and their masters vying for you to take a ride on their camel.  The camels are dirty and many have fleas, I can probably safely say the same for the camel masters.  One of the camel masters took Jim by the hand to take him to his camel, I guess I was lagging behind and the Egyptian yelled at me to hurry up. I guess time is money!  He grabbed our camera and took a picture of Jim and I by the camel (which I am sure raised the price we were paying). Jim rode it and since he had previously been on one in Morocco he was prepared for the dipping they do when standing and this time it was much easier for him.  He enjoyed his ride.  When the camel returned it was making the most horrible noises, which I assume meant it was less than happy.  So glad I wasn't on the beast!  I had a terrible fear of Jim smelling like the camel on the long ride back to the ship!  Thank goodness he didn't!  And what a surprise, there was a photographer right there to catch this special moment for a price. The photos (one of Jim on the camel and one of the two of us at the pyramids) were at the bus when we returned to it, and were actually a reasonable price.  One word of caution is to be sure to pay for the camel ride before getting on the camel.  There was a scam going on where they would take you behind the pyramids and not let you off until you paid $50.  A ride should normally cost between $3-$8.  And of course, there were vendors galore trying to sell you their wares, including sheik type head coverings, papyrus pictures, toy camels, papyrus book marks, postcards, etc.  We then drove to the Sphinx, which was another awesome site.  Here we met up with Gail and Ron, and had some pictures taken together.  We didn't see as much of them as we hoped, I imagine they had a different schedule for themselves.

We were next taken to a shop where you could order a cartouche with your name in hieroglyphics.  The gift-shop on the ship was selling them and were charging $60 for the silver and $200 for the gold.  These were being made in Athens and were to be delivered to the ship upon arrival in Piraeus.  This shop had a much better selection of both silver and gold cartouches to choose from.  Their price range was from $12 for the least expensive silver cartouche and went up to over $300 for the gold.  The $300 cartouche was 18 karat gold and was double sided and much heavier than the one sold on the ship.  The cartouches were to be delivered to our bus after our lunch.  The problem with this stop was that you only had 20 minutes and had to make a very quick decision.  They also had a nice selection of other jewelry, plates, and other souvenirs.  Right outside this shop  was a stand where they were selling very nice pens with Egyptian designs on them for $1 each.  I picked up a few for Christmas stocking stuffers.  Also the papyrus pictures were very reasonable and made inexpensive remembrances to bring home to friends.  We drove by the Nile and saw the boats for cruising on the Nile.  With more time this would have been an interesting thing to do.

Luncheon was at a beautiful restaurant in a nice hotel.  The room was quite ornate.  I only drank bottled coke and skipped the buffet meal.  Jim ate the meal, seemed to enjoy it and had no after effects.  After lunch the cartouches were delivered to us.  We then went to the Egyptian Museum.  Of special interest to me was the Palette of Narmer, which shows the king wearing both the white crown of upper Egypt and the Red Crown of lower Egypt.  Also I enjoyed seeing the treasures found in King Tuts tomb, including the life sized statues that guarded his tomb, his funery mask, throne, and small statues of his servants (this is so he would have servants in the afterlife), and the sarcophagus.  The Jewelry room was interesting and the guards were extremely helpful in telling you what to photograph.  As we were leaving the room the guard hisses 'Baksheesh' to me, which is asking for a tip for his unwanted help.  The best of all the exhibits, in my opinion, was the mummy room.  Here are the mummified bodies of the Pharaohs.  I expected them to be wrapped but these were the actual bodies with facial grimaces, hair etc.  One had tufts of blonde hair and another had a head of braids.  When the museum was closing you have never seen guards empty out a place as quickly.  They even went into the ladies room to get the ladies out. 

We arrived back at the ship at about 8pm but before boarding we had to run the gauntlet of vendors waiting lined up from the buses to the ship.  One on board we quickly showered and dressed and then went to the Club Restaurant for dinner. We ate with two couples from Houston and one couple from CA.  We were all exhausted after such a full day of touring.  Most people ate at the Panorama Buffet tonight so they could eat quickly and rest.  After dinner I couldn't get back to the cabin to sit on the balcony and relax quickly enough.  I totally enjoyed this with the mosquitoes gone and the wonderful cool breezes.  Jim went to the show, which was an Egyptian magician, who pulled chickens out of his mouth.

May 4 - Thursday - Alexandria, Egypt
This morning there were no signs of the mosquitoes and sitting on the balcony for breakfast was heavenly.  Today the temperatures were in the high 80s to low 90s.  At 8:30 we left for a tour of Alexandria, $79.99.  Getting to the bus was another adventure in dodging the vendors. We once again had an armed guard on our bus and the buses traveled together. We were told the city of Alexandria has been greatly cleaned up recently, the cleanup is attributed to the governor of Alexandria, whom they refer to as being like Mayor Giuliani of NYC, with both cleaning up their respective cities.  Alexandria has some beautiful areas and also some very run down areas.  We also noted the shopping areas for the Egyptians look like big sidewalk sales.  At night these areas are lit up and the people flock here.

First we stopped at the Royal Jewelry Museum.  This was formerly one of King Farouk's palaces and houses a collection of jewels from the time of Muhammad Ali's early 19th century rule to King Farouk's abdication.  The jewelry is quite interesting and also the building itself with its decorated ceilings and stained glass windows.  Also worth seeing are the bathrooms.  The courtyard outside of this building was just lovely. 

We next visited the Greco-Roman Museum, which contains artifacts from local excavations. There are statues of the Ptolemies and the Roman emperors.  The mummies here have a picture of the deceased covering the face.  There is an interesting statue of Alexander the Great and also Tanagra Figurines that are quite unique and a case of lustrous glass vessels that is exquisite. The museum courtyard has a mass of statues and fragments.  Our next stop was to the recently excavated Roman Theater, the only one in Egypt.  They are still excavating this site and it was interesting to watch them do the work by hand.  At this site there are also ruins that have been found in the waters of Alexandria.  We then drove along the Corniche, the road along the water to the Fort Qait Bay (which was the site of the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.)  It is believed that some of the stones used for the Fort were originally part of the lighthouse.

On this tour, you are once again dealing with the vendors.  Be careful of the inlaid boxes, which are quite pretty, since many of the interiors are soiled.  I bought a couple of boxes and needed change, which they tried to give me in more merchandise. You need to be firm with them.  When we returned to the ship we browsed through the stalls at the pier (we are gluttons for punishment).  All the same merchandise.  People were buying the T Shirts, the Caftans for both men and women (Jim was not interested in wearing a dress), and camel leather wallets and jewelry boxes.

I ordered room service for lunch and relaxed on the balcony upon returning to the ship.  We sailed for Heraklion, Greece and hit some pretty rough seas.  The captain warned us that it would be rough so I put on my sea bands and took Dramomine and had no ill effects.  Jim is not prone to seasickness.  The ship was definitely listing to the side with a lot of pitch and roll.  We found it a challenge to walk straight.

Tonight Annemarie, Linda and I shared our hard won bottle of champagne with the guys, during dinner at the Grille.  We then all went to the show together.  Tonight's performer was Sandee Williams, a singer, who was somewhat entertaining. I went back to the cabin and Jim played the slots and won $14.

May 5 - Friday - At Sea
We got up at 8:30 and went to the Panorama Buffet for breakfast.  We attended the port briefing for Athens and  I then returned to the cabin and slept till 1:30, what luxury!  Think the Dramamine was making me tired.  I ordered room service for lunch and spent the afternoon reading on the balcony, which was my idea of a perfect day!  There is nothing like the warm sun and cool sea breezes (today I could even feel the sea spray), the sound of the water, the fluffy white clouds against the clear blue sky and the seagulls gliding by and the added surprise of dolphins swimming near the ship.  Jim spent the day attending a talk given by our cruise director, Dave, about life at sea.  He said Renaissance found people prefer being on the ship rather than staying pre- and post-cruise in a hotel.  The line is cutting back on five day cruises and is gearing itself to more 12 day cruises and a few more 25-50 day cruises. 

The seas were still quite choppy and a lot of people were seasick.  Even the crew was complaining about how rough it was.  There was an announcement that medication for seasickness was available at the desk.  Thank goodness, Jim and I both had no problems.  The day was sunny and breezy and absolutely perfect for sitting out.  The pool was sloshing over the sides and not many were on deck. 

Tonight we had dinner with some new people at the club.  After dinner we noticed the water splashing against the doors leading to the deck on deck 5.  We were getting quite a storm.  We then met up with Annmarie, Arnie, Linda and Jim for the show, which was Jeff Bradley, a juggler/comedian.  He was quite entertaining.  After the show we played Name That Tune Trivia and won.

May 6 - Saturday - Heraklion (Crete), Greece
This morning I skipped breakfast.  It was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures at about 68 degrees.  Jim and I walked out to the local market by the port.  This was mostly fruit, vegetables and flowers and also some pirated designer clothing like you would find at a flea market.  It got very crowded so returned to the ship to sit on the balcony.  Jim had his hamburger at the Panorama Buffet but I skipped lunch.  At 12:30 we were scheduled to leave for our tour of the Palace of Knossos, $59.99.  There was a mix up with this tour and the buses came a half an hour later than scheduled.  Upon our return, there was a note of apology on our door, from the shore excursion desk.  Knossos was the Palace of King Minos and gives a wonderful insight into the early Minoan civilization. Until Arthur Evans began excavating here in 1900, little was known about the Minoan people.  He did something controversial, then and even now, by rebuilding parts of the palace, walls, windows, floors, stairs and columns.  He insisted he had solid evidence for his restorations.  This palace was not just a residence, but also housed the Minoan's chief religious-ceremonial center, administrative headquarters and royal workshops.  We saw the storage areas, the Queen's apartments, which were decorated with a colorful dolphin fresco, the Grand Staircase, and the throne room complex.  The peaceful bucolic setting of this palace reflects the Minoan's love of nature.  There are several shops in the area.  Here I found a selection of very unusual so-called bronze doorknockers, $40.  I also bought a figure of the Minoan Snake Goddess.  We then went to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum where the treasures of the Minoan civilization are housed.  I found the collection of small deep rectangular sarcophagi interesting.  The Minoans were buried in the fetal position so were able to fit in these.  There were two skeletons of Minoans in the fetal position on display and one still had a ring on its finger.  Also of interest were the remains of the blue dolphin fresco from Knossos.

We returned to the ship and Jim and I sat on the balcony to watch the sailing from Heraklion.  Tonight we were back to calm seas.  We met Annemarie, Arnie, Linda and Jim for dinner at the Club Restaurant. We all then went to the show to watch a jazz clarinetist from New Orleans, Rick Hardeman.

May 7 - Sunday - Katakalon, Greece
This morning we had a continental breakfast on the balcony.  At 8:30 we left for our tour of Olympia, $69.99.  On the drive to Olympia we passed several herds of sheep on the road, which was quite a sight. We were able to spot the ram, usually in the front with his horns making it easy to single him out.  The bus pulled to the side of the road to let them pass.  We first went to the Archaeological Museum where we saw the sculpture of Nike, the Hermes of Praxiteles and sculptures from the Temple of Zeus.  We then visited the archaeological site of the ancient Olympics.  This is the site of the Temple of Zeus, another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which lies at the base of Kronion Hill.  Only a few column drums are in place, but the huge size of the temple platform is impressive.  We saw Pheidias' (sculptor of the statue of Zeus) workshop, where the statue of Zeus was constructed in a large hall of the same size as the interior of the temple.  The statue was made of gold and ivory, and showed Zeus seated on a throne, holding Nike in his open right hand and a scepter in his left.  It was said to be seven times life-size.  In the workshop, a cup was found with an inscription on the bottom saying that it was the property of Pheidias.  

The first Olympiad is thought to have been in 776 BC.  The festival took place every four years over a five-day period in the late summer.  Initially, only native speakers of Greek (excepting slaves) were allowed to participate, but later Romans were admitted. Women were barred from the sanctuary during the festival under pain of death.  The athletes competed in the nude; this was to be sure that none were women.  One woman was caught but was spared since her husband, sons and father were all Olympic winners.  The only woman present was the priestess.  This is a very peaceful and shady site, with the remains of a small Roman bath; the Gymnasion, a large open practice field surrounded by long narrow porticoes; the Phillippeion, a circular shrine started by Philip II and completed after his death by Alexander the Great; the Heraion, the temple of Hera; the Zanes, which are 16 bronze statues of Zeus bought with the money from fines levied on those caught cheating at the games (bribery was the major offense); the treasuries which look like small temples and were used to store valuables; the Stadium, which ran along the terrace of the Treasuries and had no embankments for the spectators to sit on (embankments were added later); the house of Nero, which was built for his visits;  and the Hippodrome, where the horse and chariot races were held. The tour stopped at the village of Olympia and we were given a short amount of time to shop in some very nice shops.

We were at Olympia on May 7, and on Wednesday, May 10 they were holding the  ceremony here to light the Olympic torch.  Once lit, runners carried it to the Olympic stadium in Athens and then it is flown to Sydney.

After the tour we walked around the lovely port of Katakolon.  It was a beautiful sunny day with a delightful breeze.  There are numerous jewelry, pottery and souvenir shops within walking distance of the ship.  I found a couple Greek style dresses for my daughter and my son's girlfriend, a couple Greek dolls and a silver chain.  We stopped at one of the cafes along the water front for lunch.  I ordered a Greek salad and a yogurt dish mixed with lemon, and garlic that you spread on  bread.  Jim being the adventurous soul that he is, ordered French-Fries!  They serve very slowly which made it a very leisurely lunch with the opportunity to just sit and watch the world go by.  Our table was right on the water and we had a wonderful view of the fishing boats and of the fishermen repairing their nets.  The crew had leave from the ship and they sat at the cafes singing while enjoying the Greek beverage of choice!

We returned to the ship at 3 PM and relaxed on the balcony while watching the ship sail for Corfu.  We ate at the Italian Restaurant with Annemarie, Arnie, Linda and Jim.  We went to the show, our cruise director, Dave Graham, singing and dancing. Thoroughly enjoyable!  He was followed by a short performance by the singer, Sandee Williams.  She talked to the audience telling them that on this cruise she thought she had found her Prince Charming but her Prince turned out to be a Princess, and that his earring should have given her a clue. For the past few days we had all seen her fairly romantically chummy with one of the male entertainers who happened to have an earring.  Naturally, everyone assumed she was referring to him and couldn't quite believe that she had said this, on stage.

Today one woman was rushed to the hospital in Katakolon for appendicitis.  She had quite a horror story to tell.  The hospital was dirty and the bathrooms filthy.  In the emergency room, where she was examined, there was an open window with three men smoking outside and looking in at her.  Her sheets were not changed for three days until a big stink was made over it.  The nurses were very anti-American and downright nasty to her.  She said her doctor was wonderful and that the port agent was a great help in getting them to the hospital, finding a hotel for her husband, acting as interpreter, and he even took her husband to see Olympia (which is something he really wanted to see.)  Renaissance was of little help to her and she was less than impressed with the ship's doctor.  The purser, Brad, told her in no uncertain terms, as she was being rushed to the hospital, that it was their responsibility to get back to the ship on their own, or to get home if the cruise was over.  As it turned out she was released the day before we left for home.  They took a very long cab ride from Katakolon to Athens to meet the ship.  She was on our flight home and she was quite uncomfortable after the surgery.  This is one of those things you pray won't happen to you!
May 8 - Monday - Corfu, Greece
Today I was able to sleep until 8:45 and Jim brought me breakfast.  I just love this service and pampering!  One more gorgeous day to enjoy this beautiful island.  Corfu was a wonderful surprise, probably everyone's favorite port. Its beauty may even surpass that of Santorini.

We originally signed up for a tour to Paleokatritsa and Old Corfu Town with the ship but cancelled.  You can cancel  tours up to 24 hours in advance. We hired a cab for $50 (Theodore was our driver), who took Jim and I to Paleokatritsa, on the other (western) side of the island.  The day was warm but with the windows of the cab open there was a wonderful breeze and we didn't even need our driver to turn on the air conditioner.  I can't even begin to describe the breathtaking scenery of this trip; it is a spectacular spot of coves, rock formations and turquoise waters.  Paleokatritsa is often described as the Capri of the Greek Islands, and many come for summer vacations.  Archaeologists identify this area of grottoes and cliffs as the site of Homer's city of the Phaeacians; the big rock called Kolovri resembles the mythological ship that brought Ulysses home.  Here we visited the Byzantine Monastery, which is set among terraced gardens overlooking the Ionian Sea.  Upon entering, women will be given skirts to put on over shorts.  The chapel is of beautiful Greek Orthodox design with a particularly lovely icon of the Virgin Mary.  We visited the small museum with its display of early icons.  This is one of the most beautiful and peaceful spots that I have ever visited, with roses growing in profusion.  The inner courtyard is built on the edge of the cliff and as you stand under a roof of shading vines, you look down to the green cove and coastline.  This in my opinion is
a must see! 

We drove back and the driver dropped us off at Old Corfu Town.  This is a lovely area of cafes and a maze of streets with wonderful shops. The Esplanada (between the Old Fortress and Old Town) is an open parade ground, which is central to the life of the town.  Many consider it the most beautiful esplanade in Greece.  We stopped at a sidewalk café for fresh squeezed orange juice, which was just delicious.  There are horse and carriages for hire ($15 per person for a half an hour), but we decided to leisurely stroll the streets on foot (so I would be free to stop in each and every store!).  Here they had some lovely silver jewelry (more Christmas gifts) and also lots of beautiful gold pieces.  I found wonderful hand painted, folk style, figurines of a Greek man and woman in native Greek dress ($23 and $19).  Before returning to the ship we stopped at another quaint outdoor café near the Esplanade for a Greek lunch.  I had a small Greek Salad (the feta cheese was better than we get in the states), Moussaka, and just couldn't resist the Baklava.  Adventurous Jim once again ordered French-Fries!  In Greece, meals are served in a very unhurried way, giving you plenty of time for relaxing and watching the people pass.  It is possible to walk back to the ship but it is quite a hike.  We grabbed a cab ($6-$8).

Back on board ship we showered and then sat on the balcony having a spectacular view, with the mountains of Albania in the distance.  There are ferries for day trips which can be taken from Corfu to Albania, but our cab driver told us that the Albanians come to Greece but the Greeks do not go to Albania, since there is nothing much there.

We had dinner at the Club with one couple from San Diego and two other couples (one looked just like Ed Koch).  We had  lots of fun referring to him as the Mayor. We met up with Annemarie and Arnie for the show, which was a performance by Jeff Bradley, juggler/mime.

This morning we witnessed quite a tearful goodbye with lots of hugging, between Sandee Williams (singer who was leaving the ship and the one who told us about her Prince being a Princess) and the ship's male entertainer. Upon asking some questions we found that her remarks are part of her show and had nothing to do with the entertainer she was involved with.  Perhaps it is true love after all!  A 25-day cruise makes you privy to a lot of shipboard gossip.

May 9 - Tuesday - At Sea
Jim went to the Panorama Buffet while I slept and then brought breakfast back to me (what a guy!).  On his way to breakfast Jim noticed a lot of commotion at a room around the corner from us.  The doctor and security were there.  On his return to the cabin they had a security officer posted outside the room.  We suspected that there might have been a death.  It was later confirmed one of the passengers died in his sleep and his wife found him.  We were told every ship has a morgue.  The body was removed on a gurney.  Renaissance handled this incident in a quiet and private way.  This was a terrible shock to us all because most of us knew this couple, at least in passing.  There were some problems for the wife in having the body released by the Greek authorities upon arrival in Athens, since an autopsy was necessary.  The man was Jewish and she wanted him buried immediately.  My heart breaks for her having this to face.  They were traveling alone so there was no one close at hand for her.

Today I started packing and it will be a miracle if we are able to fit everything into our suitcases.  I am hoping that Jim did not come packed as tightly as I did.  We listened to the debarkation talk and guidelines were given for tipping.  Renaissance recommends $5 per person per day for housekeeping and $12 per person per day for the dining room staff.  The consensus among the passengers was that this is way above industry standards and most were planning to tip lower.  Many people slipped $20 every so often to their cabin steward/stewardess when they had leave, so that they would have a little spending money in port.

I spent the greater part of today reading on the balcony. At 4:30 we met for Trivia (a new couple joined our team) and we came in 2nd.  There was a question on the meaning of Yom Kippur.  I said, "Day of Atonement."  The new lady on our team seemed to know what she was talking about and said something different.  I deferred to her since I assumed she was Jewish and I'm not.  I should have stuck to my guns and we would have tied for first.  No big deal, we were only playing for wooden nickels, which could be redeemed for small gifts at the end of the cruise.  Each starred activity you participated in gave you a wooden nickel.  The things offered were Renaissance fanny packs, Ren. book marks, and small Ren. canvas tote bags.  We had enough wooden nickels for a tote.  Many people had accumulated so many nickels that they had armfuls of these treasures!  Lucky, lucky them!

Jim played Bingo (didn't win) while we were playing Trivia. Tonight we met with Annemarie, Arnie, Linda and Jim at the Italian Restaurant.  The show tonight was "Hooray for Hollywood and Broadway" with the Paramount Performers.  After the show I returned to the room and relaxed on the balcony, since this was the last opportunity to enjoy the ship sailing.

May 10 - Wednesday - Piraeus/Athens
It's hard to believe that we are at our final port of call.  This cruise has gone all too quickly.  Piraeus is a bit of a drive from Athens and is an extremely busy port.  There are numerous ports here, one for cruise ships, one for ferries, and one for cargo ships.  Why break tradition?  So once more we enjoyed our continental breakfast in our room.

Most people took the Highlights of Athens tour today or did Athens on their own.  Since we have been to Athens before we opted for the Tour of Delphi, $89.99, which left at 8 AM.  It is a 2 ½ hour drive from Piraeus to Delphi.  There was one rest stop along the way where you were able to buy refreshments and of course, souvenirs.  The drive was lovely with the beauty of the mountains and the wild flowers in full bloom.  We passed several fields of poppies, which looked just like a Monet painting.  Our first stop was in the mountain village of Arachova, a winter resort with its gray-stone houses with red-tiled roofs clinging to the steep slopes of Mt. Parnassos.  The roads are extremely narrow and it is great fun when two buses want to pass.  We were taken to a shop in Arachova, where they sell leather jackets (I bought the softest red leather jacket for my daughter for $140), flokati rugs (long hairy white rugs), tapestry type embroidered decorative pillow covers ($10 each), oriental type carpets, sweaters (there were some very pretty heavy cream color cardigans for children with a decorative design in the front for $20-$30), and a multitude of other souvenirs.  Here they did not want to take American Express and if they did accept it, the price of your purchase went up.  Great twin cliffs, the Phaedriades (the Bright Ones), which glow with reflected light, guard the road from Arachova to Delphi.

Our tour guide was excellent and very knowledgeable.  At Delphi, which is a truly beautiful site, there is a lot of walking and climbing. It is home to Apollo and to the most famous oracle of antiquity. The Pythia (or priestess) was traditionally a woman over 50 (elderly in those days), who lived in seclusion.  On the oracle day (the seventh of the month) the Pythia cleansed herself in the Castalian Spring. She then went to the Temple of Apollo and sat on a tripod, which straddled a chasm in the ground, with gasses from the earth being emitted.  She drank the Castalian water, chewed laurel leaves and sunk into a trance before she began to prophesy.  Questions were presented to her and ambiguous answers were given (these answers were left to interpretation and insured the Pythia would never be wrong).  Delphi attracted supplicants from beyond the Greek mainland, such as King Midas of Phrygia and King Croesus of Lydia.  The first thing we saw was the Castalian Spring then through the main gate to the Sacred Way, which on its way up the hill passes between building foundations and bases for votive dedications. 

The Treasury of the Athenians was built with money from the victory over the Persians at Marathon.  The Temple of Apollo, the remains which we see today, are from the 4th century BC.  Today there is no trace of the chasm over which the Pythia sat.  We only climbed as far as the Temple of Apollo, but if you climb higher you can see the remains of the Theater, the Stadium and the Hippodrome.

Our next stop was the Delphi Museum, which contains a wonderful collection of art and sculpture mainly from the Sanctuary of Apollo and Athena.  Of special interest is the bronze Charioteer and the partial remains of a silver-plated bull.

We stopped for lunch at a family run restaurant in the mountains our return trip. Lunch was appetizers of spinach pie, stuffed grape leaves, fried cheese and fried zucchini, a Greek salad,  Orzo with beef in a red sauce, baklava and other Greek pastries.  The tour returned to the ship at 7 PM.  Jim and I showered and went to the Club Restaurant for dinner.  During dinner we visited with a very nice couple from Delaware who were sitting at the next table.  Annemarie and Arnie were just finishing their dinner and joined us for dessert and coffee.  We went to the second show to watch the Acropolis Greek Folk Dancers.  After the show we met up with Linda and Jim and  played Movie Trivia and won bookmarks.

The people who spent the day in Athens were raving about the jewelry and the fur coats for $1000 in the Plaka (shopping area).  For anyone interested in the Sound and Light Show at the Acropolis in Athens, our tour guide made the following suggestions.  In her opinion this presentation is too long and tends to get boring.  Instead go to a restaurant called Dionysos, at the foot of the Acropolis, for a drink or dinner, to watch the show.  This way you miss the crowds and the boring sound part of the show but still get to see the light show.

May 11 - Thursday - Athens
Today it is hot and sunny with some clouds and occasional drizzle.  We began the day with a continental breakfast in our room and then left for the tour of Corinth ($59.99).  We were originally signed up for the Cape Sounion Tour ($69.99) but received notification that it was cancelled (not enough people signed up for it).  Jim and I were disappointed in the Corinth tour, perhaps at this point we were just "ruined out."  Also we had the same tour guide that we had for Olympia and she was difficult to understand and gave way too much information.  She was very knowledgeable but too wordy.  We first saw the Corinth Canal, which is cut quite deep into the rock and is very narrow.  At this point the ruins of Old Corinth were just more stones!  Jim and I skipped the museum at this site.  The town of Corinth had some shops with more of the same things.  They had pottery shops where you were able to watch copies of museum pieces being painted by hand.  It was beautiful work but we questioned why with all the labor put into the painting, they didn't fire in the colors in to make it more permanent.  The consensus of opinion was that the prices were way too high.  My only purchase in Corinth was a picture frame, which was in the shape of Greek architecture.

We returned to the ship and stopped at the duty free shop where I found Red Jeans cologne for $23.  Jim and I went to the Panorama Buffet for lunch, where Jim got his favorite - the hamburger and hot dog.  I then returned to the cabin to pack.  What fun trying to make it fit!  Jim left the ship to smoke the remains of his Cuban cigars.  When he returned he packed and was able to get everything left into his suitcases.  Yes, they were bulging -- he was my hero!  Today many people were frantically going out to buy another suitcase to bring their purchases home.  I brought a large canvas tote with me that we needed to use as a carryon for our breakables.

Tonight we met with Annemarie, Arnie, Linda and Jim for our farewell dinner at the Grille. We went to the Cabaret Lounge for the show, which was Steve Fowler, from Broadway's Starlight Express.  He was an excellent entertainer and his rendition of Old Man River brought the house down.  We returned to the room to finish packing and to get our suitcases into the hall for pick-up by 11:30 PM.

May 12 - Friday - Travel
Today we got up bright and early.  Jim went for breakfast and really earned his gold star by bringing me breakfast in bed. What a nice way to end a perfect vacation!  The breakfast buffet was open most of the night, for the people who left the ship for home at 3 AM. We had a 3:55 flight and didn't have to be out of our rooms until 9:30.  Those with morning flights were taken directly to the airport and those of us with afternoon flights were taken to the Hilton Hotel in Athens where there was a hospitality room set up for us with a continental breakfast buffet.  Debarkation was handled very smoothly.  The Hilton had some nice shops so the time passed quickly.  We met up with Linda and Jim and had a chance for a short visit before having to say goodbye.  Linda was thrilled because she found a bookshop a few blocks from the hotel where she found a great collection of children's books in Greek, which she was bringing home to a friend.

At 1:30 the bus arrived to take us to the airport, we had a lot of traffic. Check-in was a total mob scene with much confusion.  We were all in line and they were allowing the Greeks to cut in front of us.  Needless, to say people weren't too happy after waiting one and a half-hours.  Believe at one point, a woman referred to Jim as a "rude Americano" when she tried to cut in front of him and he didn't smile graciously!  Our plane took off late since so many of us were still checking in.  We were on Swiss Air and changed planes in Zurich.  We just made our flight in Zurich by the skin of our teeth, no time to even stop at the water closet!  The flight from Zurich to JFK was on time and was a smooth flight but the plane had to have the smallest and closest seats any of us have ever experienced.  Another problem was that the air conditioner on the flight wasn't working properly and it was extremely warm, actually to the point of being close and uncomfortable.

After going through customs (this is the quickest and easiest it has ever been) our driver was there to meet us and we both slept on the drive home.

We feel that meeting so many wonderful people, especially Annemarie, Arnie, Linda and Jim, contributed greatly to our wonderful time.  In my opinion the six of us made a great group, since we all enjoyed each other's company but did not have the need to be attached at the hip.  This gave us all the freedom to meet other people and do our own thing.  We usually went our separate ways during the day and then met up at night.  Once we got together at the end of our day, we wound up talking a mile a minute comparing notes on the day's activities.

This was a fabulous cruise and we thank Renaissance for giving us the opportunity to experience all of these marvelous ports in such a comfortable and elegant way.

Pam Murphy

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