ITTN’s Shane Cullen and members of the Irish travel trade joined Rebecca Kelly onboard Princess Cruises’ Enchanted Princess sailing a 7-night cruise in the Mediterranean with stops at Mediterranean destinations such as Crete, Kusadasi, Istanbul and Mykonos.
Escorted excursions can be booked with Princess Cruises, however, guests can equally disembark and explore each destination at their leisure. Princess Medallion technology means to disembark just scan your Medallion and rescan when you board again. It’s quick and easy without queues or paperwork.
Rebecca might not know every nook and cranny of every destination but she knows how to find hidden gems. We hopped in a taxi and she instructed the driver to take us to the best local beach. Our local driver didn’t disappoint. A short hop later, we were basking in the Mediterranean heat, watching the sea glistening in the sunshine with clear blue skies stretching to the horizon.
I have been on holiday to Kusadasi many times. I certainly did my share of cheap and cheerful sun holidays in my early twenties. Having not ventured to these shores in a decade and a half, I was impressed by how well the town looked. It still has an abundance of shops selling clothing, bags and shoes and your Euro or Turkish Lira stretches further than home. While many might be tempted by designer goods, my tip is to check out the local Turkish brands such as Mavi jeans which are sold in the higher-end shops the world over but are a fraction of the price in their local country.
The place was spotless with lovely eateries and a bustling vibe and the ship ports right in the centre. Again, with the Euro/Turkish Lira exchange rate currently, your money stretches quite far and is a great place to pick up a bargain or three.
Having only been to inside the (fabulous) Istanbul airport, this was the first time stepping foot in the city. The first sight that resonates is the commanding structure of the Blue Mosque.
A taxi took a solid half hour due to road traffic with the same distance covered by foot in c. 35 minutes. In retrospect, I probably would have walked to get a better feel for the city, the streets, the atmosphere – I’ll know for next time.
Navigating the city is relatively easy given the imposing structures marking the skyline and equally large cruise ship which can be seen from most vantage points.
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is over four centuries old and is an Ottoman-era mosque still in use today. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a must-see in the city. Given the queues to visit the interior, a pre-booked excursion is likely the best way to see inside this impressive architectural marvel though the exterior is a sight to behold.
Located less than 500 meters away is Hagia Sophia, another very impressive Byzantine architectural mosque that was built in 537 when this city was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Hagia Sophia History Museum, located here, gives an in-depth account of the history and journey through centuries of history in this region.
Settlers have inhabited what is now known as Istanbul for thousands of years. Prior to 1930, it was formerly known as Constantinople and during its history served as the capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. It was a centre of trade and a thriving port for centuries with a diverse mix of cultures and races. Reflecting on its history of commerce is the Grand Bazaar which dates back to 1461.
The Grand Bazarr stretches over 30,000 sqm and has an immense 4,000 shops. This is still a hive of shopkeepers selling their wares with jewellery and leather goods featuring prominently.
Istanbul is a fascinating city and I would love more time to explore the historic sights and culture of this place (so wear comfortable walking shoes and make every moment count).
A short tender of c. 10 minutes brought us to the idyllic shores of the island of Mykonos. A free shuttle bus will bring you from the port to the town or for just €2, I recommend opting for a water taxi.
The town is beautifully picturesque with a high-quality retail offering and quaint eateries dotted along the winding, narrow streets. The price point is higher here with a local beer (c. € 6-7) but the timeless streets, stunning views and the sun on your skin is heaven on earth.
Shane Cullen joined Rebecca Kelly (Princess Cruises) and members of the Irish travel trade on a fam trip onboard Enchanted Princess. The group boarded in Civitavecchia-Rome and visited Naples, Crete, Kusadasi, Istanbul and Mykonos before disembarking in Athens.