GRANDEUR OF THE
Eastern Mediterranean Cruise
June 30 - July 7, 2001
By Vincent & Mary Finelli
This was our first Eastern
Mediterranean Cruise, having done the Western Itinerary in 1999 (two
weeks from Amsterdam, Holland to Genoa, Italy and seven ports in
between). This itinerary was probably the most "port
intensive" of all of our cruises (five ports in seven days!).
You have it from us, sailing throughout the Greek Isles can be both
delightful and dramatic. The trip included a close up of
Stromboli, the active Italian volcano that juts straight up out of the
Tyrrhenean Sea and sports fumaroles and red lava flows at the top with
tiny villages at the base: How can people live so calmly on a rumbling
volcano? Passing through the Strait of Messina, brought to mind the
Odyssey of Ulysses and his adventure in this tempestuous sea, with the
threatening monsters Shylla and Charybdis, facing each other across
this strait. But, for us, the sea was calm and the view of
Calabria and Sicily marvelous. Nevertheless, with a little
imagination just sailing through this historical sea is impressive.
The next most significant memory is
sailing through the caldera of Santorini, which demarcates the
original boundaries of this remnant of an island (What was once a near
perfect circle of an island is now a mere crescent). We were
lucky that our cruise week coincided with a full moon on the Aegean
Sea. What a sight: just spectacular! If you haven't done this
itinerary yet, book it now, because it is all you could possibly dream
it would be. Since the Grandeur is the sister ship of the
Vision, which we described in our last review (June 6, 01), we will
skip the ship descriptions and specifications which are almost
identical, rather, here we'll focus on service and itinerary.
June 20th we flew Alitalia Airline from Miami-Milan-Rome;
unfortunately the plane change in Milan was a difficult one, which
made us long for the direct Miami-Rome flights of old! We did
not use the cruise package, but instead we rented a car (Avis), which
we picked up at the airport and spent ten days in the Samnium
Mountains (South Central Italy) before returning the car just a few
blocks from the pier at Civitavecchia, the morning of embarkation.
Since the Grandeur was berthed directly behind the new terminal,
embarkation was easy. A crew member was prompt in taking
Vincent's wheelchair aboard where the documents were processed within
minutes. The new RCI ticket packet is simplified and handy.
We met Hotel Director Tony O'Prey at
check-in. He makes passengers feel at home immediately and
continues to do so until debarkation. What a courteous person he is --
Thank you, Tony for all your kindnesses! We were in our spacious
stateroom in less than ten minutes (approximately noon). We went
straight to the Welcome Aboard Buffet, where a crew member carried our
trays and assisted us through. The food was good and the
dessert table excellent. We were happy to return to the Grandeur
after four years and were full of anticipation for this exciting trip.
The Grandeur of the Seas was built at Kvaerner Masa Shipyards,
Finland and launched on Nov. 2, 1996, as the dedication placard in the
Viking Crown Lounge reads. It looks just like the Vision of the
Seas: it's white with aqua/green glass on the top decks,
characteristic of all RCI ships, and has the sleek shape of an
oversized yacht. The major difference between this and other RCI
Vision class ships is in the interior decor and artworks. RCI
has made extensive use of wood and other fine appointments on the
Grandeur which makes it worthy of its name.
The two deck high Gatsby Dining Room
is a good place to start: The 20's era flapper statue in the
middle of the grand staircase evokes images of Zelda Fitzgerald
with its swaying fringed outfit. The far wall has a two deck
high water fall and the other three walls are hung with paintings
depicting "Roaring Twenties" party life. This dining
room has the most comfortable chairs, with arms rests and lumbar
The Centrum is both a handy reference
point and a place that is in constant movement with dancing, singing
and even cooking demonstrations. The ship's decor is pleasant
and subdued, with unique pieces of art almost everywhere. The
style is consistent throughout the ship, with more traditional artwork
(no abstract or futuristic motifs), indeed appropriate for this
itinerary. There are several pieces of sculpture that merit
* Deck 5 has four huge translucent
white marble Urns, lit from within, with swans and birds incised on
them flanking the entrances of the Palladium Theater, which
has crystals hanging along the front of the stage and on the
* Deck 6 by the Centrum has a resin bronze boy with cap, camera and
tour book by Clinch entitled "Where the Heck?"
* Deck 7 in the library has a larger than life bronze man on a chair
with cigar in hand and newspaper over his face called "Snoozin"
also by Clinch, appropriately positioned on the side of
one table. We were pleasantly surprised when we discovered it.
* In the Viking Crown Lounge are a series of life size Steel Vikings
statues by Walenty Pytel and a Viking Ship by T. E. Skelinen.
Other artwork worth mentioning are
the large murals in the stairways representing Spanish scenes of matadors
and senoritas, and a collage with a ballroom scene near the
We were in Superior Ocean View Stateroom #7102 port side,
wheelchair accessible. It was furnished with a queen size bed; a
sitting area with sofa bed, upholstered chair and a large coffee
table; mirrored vanity/desk area, a huge bathroom with additional
railings and a 4'x4' shower. This cabin has tons of storage in
closets and drawers, more than adequate for four people on a two week
cruise. The far wall is glassed with a sliding door to the
verandah with two chaises, two chairs and a table. The color
scheme was similar to the Vision, with muted tones of gray, blue,
lavender and pink.
The Grandeur is scheduled for dry
dock this fall and in several areas refurbishing is needed--
upholstery etc. But, all in all, she is a beautiful ship.
Food is available round the clock. The Windjammer and the Gatsby
Dining Room have fixed schedules and the Solarium has pizza (not very
good) but they serve excellent hot dogs, burgers and fries which are
available most of the day and evening (the European cruisers all
wanted to make sure that the beef was U.S.; they are still living with
mad cow fear). Snacks are served in all of the bars, lounges and
the Casino from 11:30 pm to 12:30 am and the bars are open from 9:00
am to 2:00 am the next morning. Room service is 24 hrs. per day.
Usually we ate breakfast in our cabin
and it was punctual, hot and abundant (omelets were fine, bacon crisp,
coffee hot and rolls and croissants fresh). Unfortunately, we
did not personally meet the Executive Chef, Martin Grabenhofer
(Austria), but read of his extensive culinary background.
RCI has the best meats afloat, we also had succulent salmon and the
salads were innovative (Boston Mimosa, Waldorf and especially Ensalada
del Chef with orange segments and mixed greens). At lunch
we had the Philadelphia Cheese Steak and the Tuna Melt Sub served on
great, crispy French bread. The International menus were nicely
varied but we particularly liked some Greek fare: Santorini fruit
salad with Ouzo, Spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese pie) Beef
Souvlaki skewers, Mousaka and Yiaourtini (yogurt cake with
orange liquor). There were terrific ices, sherbets and ice
creams; memorable chocolate cakes and delicious cookies.
However, even though the Chef had trained in Venice, the pastas
were not up to those we had enjoyed for the past ten days while in
Italy, prior to embarkation. We are finding it harder and harder
to order pastas on board RCI ships, since al dente is rarely achieved
and the sauces just don't taste Italian. Even a simple dish like
spaghetti Carbonara was ruined by adding a cream sauce,
that's a no-no! The spaghetti were neither Carbonara nor Alfredo,
but somewhere in between. However, we have to admit most non
Italians didn't notice a difference.
The gala meals are always the best
and this cruise was no exception: We dined with Staff Captain
George Paraskevopoulos (born in Australia of Greek parents and a
graduate of the Mercantile Academy of Greece). He was
delightfully candid about life at sea and hosted a dinner with escargots,
soupe a` l'oignon, Caesar salad, Surf and Turf (lobster tail and
filet mignon), blackened salmon and velvet chocolate cake. He
toasted his guests with water to emphasize SAFETY at sea, but ordered
fine wines for the rest of the table (more later). Great food,
gracious company, and all under the watchful eye of Maitre d` Massimo
The tone and ambiance is set by the Captain and his crew follows
his lead: Captain Carlos Pedercini (Argentina) is RCI's youngest
captain, receiving his Master's license at age 28 and at 36 he is a
serious Master of the Grandeur; he wears his honors well. Staff
Captain George emphasized the strict protocol and attention paid to
safety by RCI with its Tricolor Alert System (Red, Yellow and Green)
requiring specific staff duties at all times. Sleep easy
cruisers, the Bridge is in capable, cautious hands!
Tony O'Prey, Hotel Director, is an
affable capable man with one mission: He makes sure everything is done
with flair and that the passengers are pleased. We were happy to
see that there is a Chief Purser aboard, Julie Hansen was caring and
totally efficient and responsive to cruiser's concerns which she
followed up personally. Fortunately RCI has not attempted to run
other ships as it did the Radiance of the Seas, where an experiment
assigning ship hotel management to independent administrators,
breaking the chain of command from the Captain on down.
Initially this experiment resulted in failure. We have not
followed the situation on the Radiance, but we feel that common sense
will prevail at the top of RCI management and the tried-and-true
system with the Captain, as the sole master of the ship, with the well
established chain of officers and crew, will remain as the one and
only valid system in the whole fleet.
In the Gatsby Dining Room we found
the service outstanding under the direction of Maitre d' Massimo
Barbiero (Italy). We could trust his honest assessment of the
menu and were happy with his specific suggestions: Fine food, fine
service, and a delightful atmosphere (in part due to the trio of
musicians who played there nightly). We had a table for two at
the top of the Grand Staircase overlooking the Salon and the Captain's
table. Our Waiter Ajini Khalil (Tunisia) was attentive, but not
hovering, just perfect. Asst. Waiter Rodrigo Estay (Chile) was
smiling and friendly and Head Waiter Jayaraman Iyer (India/France) was
also a knowledgeable sommelier.
Lunch in the dining room was always
interesting with Waiter Vincenzo Caraglia (Italy); he sought out
Vincent to discuss Italian soccer, Formula I Auto Racing, etc.--
friendly and prompt service.
We felt right at home on our second
cruise aboard the Grandeur. The Repeaters Captain's Cocktail had
an excellent Canapé Buffet, free drinks and friendly faces. We met
many nice cruisers and staff. Social Hostess Chez van Straaten
(S. Africa) was both bright and gracious. Her parents were on
board for a 28th wedding anniversary and a second honeymoon to revisit
Athens. We know where Chez got her charm.
Cruise Director Kyle Dodson (Texas, USA) heads up an active group
which runs everything from daily Bingo to dance lessons and games.
This cruise had several evening shows worth mentioning: Los
Pampas Gauchos gave a literally hair raising routine (you've got to
see it to believe it!). Judy Kolba gave a combination
Singing/Comedy routine that we heard was hilarious (sorry, we did not
catch her). Day Three's RCI production of "Starstruck"
with its tribute to the silver screen and dazzling combination of live
performance and film projection, with the RCI dancers deftly jumping
in and out of the giant screen was breathtaking. The dancers'
timing was perfect to achieve this wonderful special effect.
Dominic Allen was the ultimate
entertainer with both his vocal and instrumental expertise. The
audience loved him.
The Celeste Trio had a wonderful female vocalist accompanied by
her husband Marcangelo and percussionist Mr. Leyette. They were
everywhere from the lounges to the Centrum and had a very demanding
repertoire and great reception. Last, but not least, Naki Ataman
(Turkey) performed his special U.N. Tribute to 24 Countries
(Theme "Around the World in 80 Days"). The audience
honored his piano virtuosity with a well deserved standing ovation.
As usual, RCI's Entertainment is
worth seeing and hearing.
PORTS OF CALL
The main reason for this cruise was the itinerary and we are happy
to say that our expectations were met, but the less than one day taste
of Athens left us longing for more. Next time . . . and there
will be a next time (God willing!), we will approach this cruise
differently. We'll fly first to Athens for a three day stay and
take a cruise back to Venice, Italy. Sounds good to us. We
are now at a point in our lives that whenever we check off a vacation
destination, we must add another one in order to keep that list going.
This is an engaging home port for Italy, where ferries to Sardinia (a
trendy vacation spot) leave daily. We took a ride up into the
mountains as far as the beginning of the Tuscan Hills. If you
are interested in Etruscan Necropoles and Museums visit nearby
Cerveteri and Tarquinia; Civitavecchia is a an excellent
starting point. Of course Rome is a short one hour bus trip.
Definitely extend your cruise vacation either before or after or you
will regret it.
Greece comprises over 1400 isles of which only 169 are inhabited.
This small town on the western coast of the Peloponnese (Greece's
largest peninsula) has as its main attraction the famous archeological
site of Ancient Olympia, where the Pisans first held their Olympic
Games about 1,000 B.C. The contests reached their heights in 6th
century B.C., but were banned in 394 A.D. The modern revival was
in 1896 and Greeks are enthusiastically building and planning to host
the games in 2004 in Athens.
Ioanna, the tour guide through
Olympia was knowledgeable, humorous and made history come to life.
The Doric architecture was massive in the Palaestra (wrestling
school), the Prytaneum (where winners were honored) and the Temple of
Zeus (not one of its original 25 columns still standing, this was the
site of the gold and ivory statue of Zeus listed as one of the seven
ancient wonders of the world). The Temple of Hera (which
is better preserved) once held the statue of Hermes by
Praxiteles (circa 350 B.C.) which is now across the road at the
Olympia Archeological Museum.. The first olympic stadium which set the
distance for races and gave its name to all stadiums to follow was
truly awesome. The start and finish lines still exist and are
white marble and its sloping grassy sides held 30,000 spectators.
The ruins of Olympia reveal a well organized sports center of gigantic
proportions in ancient Greece. We gamely started out to tour
these ruins, but soon realized it was hard with a wheelchair on
unpaved ground. Sean, a fellow cruiser courteously took over and
pushed Vincent through the entire site -- An Olympian Effort!
This tour (excursion KKA1 on the
ship's list) is a must. Although the ship's 11:00 am arrival
makes this tour in the summer uncomfortable from the heat of a high
noon sun and we barely made it back to the last tender at 5:30 pm, it
was an afternoon to remember. After this visit, we will never
view the modern Olympics again in the same old way: The spirit of the
old Olympians is with us.
Aaah! This is the Greek Isles of postcards and travel
guides. White washed buildings on cliffs with blue cupolas.
This volcanic island erupted in 1450 B.C. and there remains only a
crescent shape with the island of Nea Kameni in the center of
the caldera. Very impressive and evocative of Geology 101.
Sailing through a caldera! The ship anchors off Skala and the
blue/white town of Fira` can be accessed by climbing the over
600 steps of the Serpentine Path (we don't think so), riding a
stubborn donkey (no way) or our choice "the cable car."
Firŕ was destroyed by an earthquake
1956 and rebuilt maintaining its former charm of houses built into the
mountainside. The narrow streets are uneven cobblestone and no
cars. We visited the Archeological Museum, but the tour of the
day was Ancient Akrotiri and Santorini (excursion SOA1) which we did
not take due to the wheelchair. Akrotiri is famous for its wall
paintings (not frescoes since they are painted on dry walls) but
fortunately for us the best of these we saw in Athens at the National
Museum, including "The Fleet", "Boxing Children",
"The Fisherman" and "The Spring Fresco"
Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey:
Here we were steered wrongly by the ship's Shore Excursion desk.
Because of Vincent's wheelchair we were told to catch a cab--to
the tune of $100. The driver knew little English, and refused to
leave us at the top of Ephesus and pick us up in the bottom, as
promised. We suggest cruisers, even those with wheelchairs, take
the ship excursion KDC1: Ephesus Ruins and house of the Virgin Mary.
We found out later that a lady in a wheelchair had no problem with
this tour and loved it. Next time we'll know better.
Piraeus (Athens), Greece:
Athens is seven miles from the Port of Piraeus. Best tour here
is the ship's PRA1 the Acropolis and Athens sightseeing. We
opted for PRB1 the National Museum and sightseeing which meant viewing
the shopping district. Next time we would like to see more of
Athens which may mean staying over either at the beginning or ending
of our cruise.
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy:
Rome was the final city on this itinerary and this is such a
monumental city that it requires an extended stay. It's our
favorite city since Vincent is a graduate of University of Rome and
knows it well. Fond memories of our family stay there for a year
in 1980 - '81, during Vincent's sabbatical appointment at the Catholic
University, give it a special place in our hearts. We do Rome by
ourselves, but we suggest that cruisers use the ship's excursions
since the "Eternal City" is one newcomers may need a guide
Debarkation as usual was simple, Vincent's wheelchair was escorted
all the way to the luggage area and out of the terminal. It was
the end of a Grand cruising experience.
It is very hard to improve on a great cruise, but we are making
the following suggestions in an attempt to make a great cruise
1. If the itinerary could be arranged
so that the arrival times for Katakolon and Santorini would be early
morning as were the times for the other ports, cruisers would
not be starting out on excursions at high noon, the hottest part of
the day. Some of the ruins are unbearably hot at that time.
At present, arrival at these two ports is 11:00 am. In our
opinion they should be changed if possible to 8:00 am.
2. Once again RCI should hire a
chef with expertise in Italian cuisine who would improve the
sauces and pasta dishes thus attracting more lovers of true