As I begin this tale of our Exotic Mediterranean Cruise I am sitting in the dark on our verandah at what I think is 6:40 am Italian time. Kathleen woke up around 3:00 am and couldn’t sleep so she read for a while and since I woke up as well, I started reading too.
As is usual for us, she was able to go back to sleep and I lay in bed watching the clock for two+ hours until I finally gave in and came out here with my laptop to start the story of our journey.

So here we go. First let me state that this is one of those BIG trips we have been looking forward to forever. We have been corresponding with a very active Cruise Critic board and doing tons of planning for months. It is wonderful to finally be here. The trip started on a mildly sour note as we arrived at SeaTac the proscribed three hours early when Josh dropped us off at 3:30 pm for a scheduled 6:40 flight on British Airways. It was a nonstop to London where we would connect to Rome. When we got in line to check in, the monitors above the British counter gave us the bad news that our flight was delayed almost 3 hours. So we settled in, plugged in the laptop, watched some TIVOed TV and waited. The worst part of the lateness was it meant we would miss our connection to our 2:40 flight from Heathrow to Rome and British had rebooked us on a later flight which would not get us into Rome until almost (as it turned out later) 11:00 pm.

The London flight on a 747 got out right about exactly at the three-hour-late mark. We had their World Traveler Plus seats which are a step above coach and almost the size of an Alaska Air first class seat. I could stretch my legs completely out so it was more comfortable than we had been in the past when we have flown coach. We were a little ticked that even though we had 50,000 British miles we couldn’t upgrade to business or first because there was no room.

Once in the air, they served dinner (you still get food on British) which was an adequate lasagna for me and an asian chicken dish for Kathleen. After dinner we watched MI-3 on the headrest monitors and then tried to sleep. It was a tad noisy but I was able to catch more winks than Kathleen (that’s unusual) and awoke just in time to have breakfast as we landed in London.

Heathrow is a zoo! If you haven’t been there lately it is crazier than the first time we were there. When you arrive from an international flight you have to completely change terminals. That means walking a bunch, taking a bus, walking more, going through security again, walking more, sitting in the middle of what looks like a shopping mall and then finally boarding our flight after a five hour layover. Yuck!

Our plane to Rome was delayed as well but only about 40 minutes. Finally got in the air where they served us a light snack (tuna or cheese sandwiches--both awful) which we each took one bite of and skipped. Got into Rome about 10:45 and thank God were staying the night at the Airport Hilton. We had previously stayed there the night before we flew to Sicily in 2002 so we knew right where it was and after a short walk we were in our room asleep. Did we ever need it!

The next morning (Monday, I think) we met two of our new Cruise Critic friends, Leo & Lynn for breakfast. They are from the DC area and had flown in the day before as well. We were sharing a van to the ship with them and another couple, John & Lys. They were flying in early that day from Amsterdam where they had reunited as she works and lives in South Carolina and John is with the DOD in Iraq.

After breakfast (where I had a bad encounter with a pepper shaker) we boarded our van which was driven by the speedy Ottavio and headed to the port at Civitavecchia. The trip took about an hour and was definitely fun as Ottavio scared Kathleen to death.

I can say nothing but good things about embarkation. We arrived at the pier, dropped our bags with the porters and were onboard within 15 minutes. Wonderful.

(At this point I will take a break and go back into our darkened cabin as my fingers have gotten far to cold to continue typing.)

(Another post-cruise edit here: Our cabin was very nice. 20 square feet smaller than a comparable CC on Infinity but still adequate and in some ways better situated. The beds and bedding were brand new and we slept well--when I could sleep--on them.)

Day 2—At Sea in the Mediterranean

Picking up early on the next morning I think I can honestly say that if this trip doesn’t take a sudden turn for the better, it will become my least favorite trip of all time. (I don’t count our Carnival cruise. I pretend we never went on it.)

Let the griping begin. First let me say that this has nothing to do with X. Galaxy is a fine ship (even if she is showing her age a little and I have a few specific gripes that I will address later) and her crew is as wonderful as any we have encountered on our four voyages on Infinity (and that is saying a lot). No, the problem is my body (or more likely my mind). I can’t sleep. For the second night in a row, I have slept three hours and woken up. And I mean wide awake. As I write this I am sitting in a lounge (Rendevous Square, I think) and it is 5:15 am. I have been awake since 1:35. And I am not tired. But I can’t take the boredom of laying in bed.

One of the few things about traveling that I don’t like is that Kathleen and my sleep cycles are not often in sync, either at home or away. Although we both go to bed about the same time every night, I tend to need much less sleep than she does. At home, this is not a problem as I just get up and go downstairs where I either read, watch TV, surf the web or work. On a trip (unless we have a suite--which hasn’t happened yet) I get to lay in the dark, put on a robe and go out on the verandah in the dark (this worked OK in the tropics but it is much too cold here to do that) or get fully dressed and do what I am doing now, sitting in a big, empty lounge writing.

And many times Kathleen doesn’t understand why I just get up. So when we travel I do my best to lay in bed and try and go back to sleep. For instance, this morning, I told myself that even though I was wide awake at 1:30 I told myself I could not get out of bed until 5. So I didn’t. I laid there and watched the clock until it turned 5:00 and then got up.

Some other things have contributed to making this trip my least favorite so far. First, and foremost besides not sleeping, is yesterday afternoon’s rough seas. I should add here that we had a wonderful morning. We got up around 7:30 (although I had been awake since 2:30), went to the gym and did 45 minutes on the treadmill. While we were on the treadmills we got to watch the sun come up over Stromboli, a very cool, Italian volcanic island. 
Then we showered, dressed, went to breakfast where I got my usual bagel, cream cheese, lox, sour cream and capers My favorite X breakfast. And good for me too, if I go easy on the sour cream. After breakfast we went to the Cova Cafe to grab a cappuccino and pastry. The almond croissants were to die for. Then we walked around ship, did a little shopping, I e-mailed Barak, our tour guide we were meeting in Istanbul to see if he could handle six instead of 4.
Kathleen was in the shops and I went back up to get something from our cabin when I noticed that were very close to land. I ran back down and grabbed her and we headed topside to watch as the ship transited the Straits of Messina. If you are on Galaxy and want a wonderful view, we suggest the front of deck 11, outside in front of the gym. On the M class ships this area does not exist and it is a little hard to find but worth it as the other, higher decks were very crowded. On this one it was us and never more than 10 or 12 others. While cruising the Straits we met four other members of our Cruise Critic group, two couples from the Bay Area who know Ed and Andrew, (who doesn’t) our Martini Mate friends who live in San Francisco.

The weather was perfect at this point. A nice breeze and temps around 72 with a few big clouds. As you transit the Straits, Messina, Sicily is on your right and Calabria (the toe of the Italian boot) is on your left. It was BEAUTIFUL!

After we left the Straits, the seas started getting rough. Now I know that many of you reading this are old cruiser-types who will need some way to judge how strong the seas were. OK, here are three things that will give you a point of reference. First, we were in the buffet line and heard a huge crash. The ship had rolled so much that an ice sculpture fell over. Now you know they have those pretty well anchored. Second, Kathleen got seasick. This never happens. We had rough seas in the Caribbean on our canal crossing cruise and she had no problems but she was violently ill  the rest of the day and evening. Lastly, (this is actually funny) when Kathleen went back to the cabin (she said she just felt queasy at this point) she told me stay and have lunch. (Rough seas hardly ever bother me.)The place was packed and I ended up taking my salad and calamari outside on the aft deck. The wind was strong. So strong it literally blew the dressed salad right out of my bowl. and half way across the deck. Ridiculous!

When I got back to the cabin, Kathleen was looking pretty pale and she had lost most of her breakfast, the pastries and the cappuccino. I told her to relax and sleep it off. She did and about three hours later she said she felt much better so we decided to go up to the T-pool.

For non-X cruisers, the T-pool is a giant jacuzzi. On Infinity it is free to everyone but on Galaxy only those in suites (not us) or Elite Captain’s Club members (not us until after this cruise) got the T-pool as a complimentary part of cruising. On Infinity, the T-pool is one of our favorite places so we went ahead and spent the $100 each that got us a cruise-long pass to the T-pool.

I have to say that I wish we hadn’t. First, the T-pool on Galaxy is much stronger than on Infinity. That’s a good thing. But the bad far outweighs the good in my opinion. On Infinity the T-pool is one of the brightest areas on the ship. Glass ceilings give you tons of light and it is a very wide open area. On Galaxy, the T-pool is a dark, cavernous area with no outside light.  It is very cramped and stuffy. I think it was that stuffiness that did Kathleen in and knocked her out for the rest of the day and the evening. When we came out, she was looking very green (actually very pale) so we went back to the cabin where she lost any other food she had eaten that was still in her system. Well you know how that can just knock you out. She made a valiant attempt a few hours later to dress for the first formal night but it was not to be. I told her to get back in bed and that I would go grab something to eat at the buffet and bring it back and would bring her something back something very light as well. Then we could just watch DVDs we had brought with us on my laptop.

Here is another place I dislike Galaxy. At dinner time, there is only one place to find food that you can just walk up and grab. (Yes, we could have ordered room service but I could not find a menu and they did not have the “order on the TV” service that Infinity has (at least I couldn’t find it) and I hate to admit it but after four X cruises we have never ordered room service. We just aren’t room service kind of people. We go on cruises to meet others. That’s what dinner is about.) The entire buffet lines turn into a “by reservation only” restaurant. Not someplace you can go and just grab a sandwich. The only place to do that (grab something) was the pizza/pasta bar in the aft pool area. Now, I have no problem with pizza or pasta. But I had decided that whatever I had it could not be too aromatic if I wanted to be able to eat in the cabin with Kathleen in her present condition. But because the pool area where this cafe is located is enclosed, with the doors opening and closing to the outside on a constant basis, it is basically an outdoor cafe. Well, in high winds with open doors, this equals COLD FOOD!  Here I was on a cruise where food is supposed to be the highlight and I am eating cold pizza. I do want to add that if we had gone to dinner in the dining room, we never would have known this. But I just feel like griping here and I will probably take this out before I publish this review/journal.

Another gripe (when you don’t sleep, you think of everything you don’t like) I have is with our table in the dining room. We are at an oblong table for 10 in the far back corner of the room, on the main floor. We had a oblong table of 10 on our Caribbean cruise and it was great. But the crowd at that table was young (mid 30s to mid 50s), loud and fun. The folks at this table are very nice (only 7 were at dinner on the first night) but they are older (average age at the table is 65+) and speak very softly. This means that between their low voices, the fact that I was at the foot of the table with three empty chairs and the hum of the engines directly beneath the dining room I spent dinner with just Kathleen. I also spent a bunch of time, nodding and pretending that could hear what anyone was saying. There are only so many times you can ask someone to repeat themselves without looking like an ass.  As I said earlier, we come on cruises to meet people and share good times. We might as well have been at a table for two. And not that I don’t love dining with the love of my life, but we do that every night at home. We have made a note to never again take a table for 10. Only round eights from now on.

Food, other than the cold pizza, has been adequate so far. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the United States dining room on Infinity, I would give it a 8. (Post-cruise note: All in all, we thought the dining room food on Galaxy was head and shoulders above Infinity. Better choices, better prep.) One new feature we loved at dinner the first night is that they list the “always available” items right on the menu now. And they have added escargot to the list. So I had the mushroom appetizer (had it many times before--always good), skipped the soup and had escargot, a shrimp cocktail instead of salad (X still does lousy salads--lettuce and dressing--no imagination) and a NY steak. The steak was a little overdone for me. The quality was below steak house but a step above cafeteria. Finished it off with a rice krispy dessert, and decaf. Mmmm good.

After dinner we strolled the ship and then found our way to the Martini Bar.
Our usual MO is to have a martini before dinner but we had been at the Cruise Critic sailaway party before dinner (why they had the lifeboat drill so late, I have no clue--we weren’t done with it until almost 5:50 and then dinner was at 6:15 so we had very little time to meet and greet with the CC gang. We hope to meet more of them today at the CC reception at 10:00 am in the Stratosphere lounge before we arrive in Mykonos.

The Martini Bar (another of our favorite places on Infinity) is also (like the T-pool) very dark. And it is a little hard to find. It is on deck 5 aft just before you go into the dining room. But strangely, you cannot walk from midships on deck 5 to the Martini Bar. You have to go up to Deck 6 and then back down to deck 5 on a small staircase that goes right into the Martini Bar. And two things were missing that would have made the Martini Bar perfect. First our Martini Mates. We miss them now, every time we cruise and second Eliseo, the world’s greatest martini maker. We know that he left Infinity last summer and he had mentioned that he might wind up here on Galaxy. We had high hopes that this had happened, but sadly, he is nowhere to be found.

We did meet another very nice martini maker but after Eliseo, we are spoiled. He made great martinis but not with his pizzazz. Maybe he’ll get better as we get to know him.

Something good to say about X.

Just a side note here and I am not sure where to put this and I may move it later but I wanted to say something impressive about X. Early Tuesday morning when I could not sleep, one of things I was worried about was our garment bag. It is a pretty expensive bag that is basically new. We have used it on three trips prior to this one. When we handed it to the porter at the pier on embarkation day, it was in great shape. When it arrived in our cabin three hours later, the handle had been just about completely pulled off. It was originally held on by four VERY LARGE rivets. And three of those has been pulled right out of the bag. In the rush to go to the lifeboat drill (it had arrived last of our four bags) we just shoved it under the bed to deal with later.

During the night when I couldn’t sleep, I started worrying about how I would get it home without any handle. It is big, heavy and tough to move even with a handle. So after breakfast Kathleen and I went down to the pursers desk to enquire about the bag and if they had any idea what we could do to hold it together it so we could get it home. We met Nuno who told us it was not a problem. If we left it empty on our bed in our cabin, he would have someone from the upholstery shop come by, pick it up, fix it and return it to us. And that is just what they have done. At least up to the picking up part. We still don’t have it back yet but we have 12 more days until we need it so I am not to worried. (Later note: We got it back, fixed and ready to travel. X comes through again.)

Oops! While writing that last kudos to X I thought of something I really don’t like about Galaxy. The bugs. Specifically the flies. I could understand flies buzzing us while we ate lunch on the aft deck on sailaway day, but here it is 6:00 am and I have three buzzing around me in a totally empty lounge, nowhere near any outside area. And this isn’t the only place. They buzzed us in the gym while we were on the treadmills, in the buffet and other places. We have never had this on Infinity. Even through the canal and the Caribbean. But here in the Mediterranean they are everywhere. I don’t know if this is normal or just someone like me who lives in a suburban environment where we have very few but there are way too many on board Galaxy. (Post-cruise note: The flies had nothing to do with Celebrity. They were everywhere in the Med. I guess that’s why the call them Mediterranean fruit flies. And there probably weren’t that many, we have just lived in the city so long, we take for granted having very few insects around.)

Day 3—Mykonos

A much better day. No seasickness for Kathleen and once I was up and moving, things for me were good. We had a “light” breakfast (for me that meant a wonderful omelet made by Gerald from Jamaica plus two of X’s great waffles with blueberries not to mention our daily cappuccino with Martha (from Peru) and Giri (from Goa) in the Cova Cafe.

At 10:00 that morning we all (the Cruise Critic gang) went to the Stratosphere lounge for our Celebrity Connections party. By this time the ship was really rocking again. We found out from
Sean, our Cruise Director, that the winds were 58 knots per hour. No wonder Kathleen got seasick. Everyone on the crew said they had never seen winds and seas like this on the Med.

The Cruise Critic party was fun. It was great to meet everyone who we had been posting with online for the last year. We had already met some earlier but this was the first time we were all formally introduced. Sean (the CD) went around the room and had everyone introduce themselves and then give their screen names. Always funny to see who all those people are. We set up some later meetings and such and headed to try the “wine blending” class that as available for Captain’s Club members. When we got there we found it was an all chardonay class so we decided to skip it and were we glad we did. On the way out of the dining room where the wine blending was held, we ran into a bunch of our CC friends who were on their way to play Tri-Bond, a kind of crazy but fun game, with Kevin of the activities staff.

Had a great time doing that for an hour or so, headed back to the cabin, grabbed lunch and we were ready to disembark as we pulled into Mykonos. We were supposed to be there by 2:00 but due to the high seas we didn’t get there until 3:00 or so. That was OK as much of the island’s shops and restaurants were closed down because of the poor weather.

In Mykonos we found a lot of interesting shopping and great photo opportunities. You can see the photos from that day by clicking here. We seemed to be stalking two of our CC friends, (Lynn and Leo) as we were on the same shuttle bus and seemed to run into them everywhere we went. This was AOK with us as they are great folks.

The pictures say a lot more about Mykonos than I will write here.
We had originally planned to have dinner on the island but as I said, most of the restaurants were closed and those that weren’t were pretty much tourist traps so we headed back aboard as X had promised a Greek buffet by the pool. It was pretty decent but not the best greek food we had ever had and we certainly got a lot better the next day in Rhodes but it was nice to be back, enjoy dinner and share a martini and a couple of glasses of Greek wine. Then off to bed where I was asleep by 8:00 and didn’t wake again until 7:30 the next morning. (Except in the middle of the night when the ship started rolling and rocking so much we thought we were going to get tossed out of bed.) But it was still great to get a full night’s sleep. And it made our day in Rhodes today, wonderful. More about that on the next page. 

To continue, click here.

Galaxy in the Mediterranean

This is the first episode in Kathleen and my Mediterranean Cruise on the MV Galaxy that included stops in Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini, Istanbul (in two parts), Constanta, Odessa, Athens, Kusadasi and Naples. You can read the second part of this journal by clicking here. You can read part three by clicking here, four by clicking here. five by clicking here, six by clicking here and seven by clicking here.

To see our pictures from this cruise, click here.