Greece has been at the top of my bucket list for years and it seemed wrong to be so close and not go. With over 150 lbs of luggage, it was easier to take a cruise than multiple flights. We had a week open after Lake Como and Milan, and the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas cruise to Greece and Croatia fit right in our schedule.
We are not cruise people (The Husband gets seasick, I hate crowds) so a lot of this was new to us. We have been on a few cruises (a Caribbean cruise before I had my blog in 2010, Groupon cruise, and steamboat cruise down the Mississippi) but in generally they aren’t our thing. I prefer trips where I can plan and I don’t have to follow someone else’s schedule. I get anxiety about missing the ship at ports and I want to have dinner whenever I want.
But this made the most sense so we went for it. Our cruise left out of Ravenna and stopped in Split, Croatia, Athens then Santorini, Greece, and Dubrovnik, Croatia. The cruise itinerary called it Venice and not Ravenna, which is about two hours away. You can take the train into Ravenna from anywhere in Italy, or take the Royal Caribbean bus from Venice. Ravenna claims to have taxi services, but we couldn’t find a single taxi. Make a reservation for the shuttle to the ship and back to the train station to ensure a ride, as the port is about a 15 minute drive from the train station. To the ship, you get in line and wait entirely too long to get on the bus. It was a chaotic mess and took forever. We didn’t have a reservation but they let us and charged our account. The lady said reservations weren’t required and we incorrectly assumed she meant both ways, but a reservation is required from the port to the station. We ended up stranded in the parking lot at the port when we returned along with a bunch of other people. We finally got a shuttle but it was stressful and took forever. Pro Tip #1- Book your Ravenna transfer as soon as you get on the ship because they sell out. They have a reservation desk.
We booked a room with a balcony, because my claustrophobia would not like an interior room. The room was surprisingly spacious, but definitely needed an upgrade. The couch was very hard and looked pretty gross. It was a not usable, except to hold our stuff. The bed was surprisingly soft, but the seam of the two twin beds pushed together was a little awkward. The TV worked fine, and there was a good amount of storage. The balcony was a good size, with two chairs and a table. The bathroom was a decent size as well, and the shower had enough space. There was some mold in the shower, and also needed updating. But overall, better than I expected. Pro Tip #2- Book a starboard room for this route. It had a much better view at every port than our port side room.
We also added the drink package for both of us, since it was on sale when we booked the cruise. We were hesitant to book it, because at $65 per person per day, it was expensive. We ended up being glad we did, because without it, you really on have water, tea, and coffee as an option. Even the soda was extra, unless you had the package. With the package, you got a reusable souvenir cup with unlimited refills from the soda machine, wine, cocktails, Starbucks coffee drinks, and you didn’t have to worry about tipping or signing the receipt each time you ordered a drink. Someone said milkshakes were also included, but I didn’t try to order one. Unfortunately, they didn’t have many of the wines listed. We ordered Prosecco and it cheap sparkling wine, which they didn’t tell us. I finally asked what it was, because it didn’t taste like Prosecco, and they said they had to order it from the US and it didn’t come. Yes, a ship in Italy had to order Prosecco from the US. Despite that, it was still worth it. Plus I could try drinks I wouldn’t normally try, since it was all included. Pro Tip # 3-buy the drink package and watch the price. It if goes lower than what you paid, you can request the lower price.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had a dinner anytime option, thinking that meant we could eat dinner in the dining room anytime we wanted. What I didn’t know was that you still needed a reservation and by the time I realized that, they were only available after 9 pm. As soon as you get on the ship you can download the app and make your dinner reservations. Pro Tip #4- Book your reservations as soon as you get on the ship.
This ship had two pools and a bunch of hot tubs. Despite that, there still wasn’t enough room for everyone, especially on sailing days. You have to get up early and claim your chairs or forget about spending the day in the pool. We have become late risers in our semi-retirement, so we didn’t get there in time to get a seat either sailing day. We did go in the pool once, but the water was really hot so it wasn’t refreshing at all. Pro Tip #5- Get up early if you want to lay by the pool. Or book a suite, as they had reserved roped off areas.
It also had two water slides and a wave simulator, both of which we didn’t try. There were actually a good amount of activities on board, including basketball, pickleball, ping pong, an arcade, ice skating, and a small three-hole mini golf course. The scheduled activities sounded fun too, such as trivia and bingo, but every time we tried to go to something, it was packed full and there wasn’t any room. Pro Tip # 6- Get to all activities early.
Since we didn’t make reservations on time, we ate most meals at the buffet, and they were all pretty horrible. It was a different theme every night, such as Italian, American, Indian, but none of it was very good. Honestly, the breakfast hashbrowns were the only thing worth eating. The cafe area had pizza, and it looked absolutely inedible. So bad that we didn’t even try it, and you know how much we love pizza.
I won $700 in the casino (yes, it’s in USD despite being in Europe) so I treated myself to the overprice wifi for five of the 7 days. It was $33/day and it was so slow. Unless you have to stay in contact with someone during the two days at sea, I wouldn’t waste my money on the wifi.
Our first port of call was Split, Croatia. We didn’t have any excursions booked, because we booked two weeks before the cruise and all of their excursions were sold out. For Split, we planned on walking around and just checking things out. However, it poured and stormed the entire time we were there. So we stayed on the ship.
The second port of call was Athens, Greece. Disembarking was super easy and organized. We booked our own tour and it was great. You can read that here.
The third port was Santorini. This port gave me so much anxiety. You had to tender to the actual port. If you had an excursion booked with Royal Caribbean, you had a tender time and they announced it overhead. If you didn’t have an excursion, you could get off whenever you wanted. We didn’t have an excursion booked so we waited for the crowds to get off. The port is at sea level, but the towns are all up above the port. There’s a cable car that goes up to the top, and there were hundreds of people waiting for it. It was a chaotic mess and it was so hot. You could also walk up 588 stairs, which are slippery and covered in donkey poop. There are donkeys/mules available to ride up, but please don’t do that. If it’s so hard you can’t do it yourself, why subject a poor animal to do it, with your weight on top of it. The last option, and the one we chose, was to take a ferry to the next port and then a bus to the city center in Oia, then get back on that bus to Fira, when you then walk down the stairs or wait for the cable car.
We had lunch in Oia and enjoyed the beautiful views of the water and white building with blue domes that you think of when you think of Santorini. After lunch, we took the bus back to Fira and walked the stairs down to the port and onto our tender to the ship.
Our last stop was Dubrovnik, where we did a Game of Thrones tour. Our stop there wasn’t nearly long enough, and we already talk about going back to Croatia.
We returned to Ravenna early and had to be out of our rooms by 8 am. Since we didn’t book a shuttle, we were assigned a later disembarkation time, 9:45 am. That was a lot of sitting around, with nothing to do.
Overall, the staff was super nice and it was cool to meet people from all over the world. You could barely feel the ship moving, so seasickness wasn’t an issue. The common areas were also very clean. We saw people cleaning something every time we left the room.
At around $5,000 for our balcony room and drink package, I didn’t think it was worth the price. It started out sounding like a good deal, but after adding the required gratuity and all the additional fees, it was more expensive than I expected. They nickle and dime everything. The ship is so outdated and the buffet food was awful. I’m glad we had a little amuse-bouche of Greece and Croatia, but if I could go back I would have done something other than this cruise.