Category Archives: Tour/Excursion Recommendations

3 Islands: Hydra, Egina, & Poros – The Best Day Trip from Athens

IMG_4563DSCN1630IMG_4566We didn’t have time on our trip to go all the way out to Santorini or the other Greek Islands so this cruise was the perfect way to get a taste of the Greek Islands and all it did was make us want to come back and see the others. All you need is one full day and you can cross 3 islands off your list.

We booked our cruise tickets through Viator. Our day started with an included hotel pick-up at around 7:30 am. Our pick-up was a bit late and we stopped at another hotel to pick up some more cruisers before being driven about 20 minutes to the Athens port. Once we arrived we were given our Lunch pass with an assigned lunch time, they took our photos and then we boarded the ship and were ready to set sail! My only complaint about this process is that we arrived a bit late and all of the best seats were taken. Luckily people moved around during the cruise and we were able to find a vacant table in the dining room about halfway through the morning. The ship is large with 3 floors which is plenty of room for people to spread out and seating can be found indoors in the dining room area and along all the outdoor railings. They also have a large VIP section for an additional cost. It looked very nice and had plenty of nice seats, but I’m still not sure the extra cost is justified.

The first leg of our IMG_4572sailing trip was the longest and I think I remember that it took about 2 hours. During that time we dozed on a sofa and then we ordered a breakfast croissant and a drink from the dining room. It was a bit pricey, but we are experienced cruisers so we kind of expected that. The cruise company also did a presentation and allowed cruisers the opportunity to purchase tours for the different ports. For Hydra, cruisers had the option to purchase a walking tour. For Egina there were a couple of different tour options. Poros did not have any additional tours. We only purchased an extra tour for Egina which I think cost about $40 per person. The company did take credit card, although I think if you paid cash the process would go considerably smoother. The cruise company also explained that half of the people on board would IMG_4571eat lunch between the 1st and 2nd stop and the other half would eat between the 2nd and 3rd stop. We didn’t get a choice (it seemed to be based on your arrival to the ship in the morning) and we had the 2nd dining time slot.

1st Stop: Hydra

The island of Hydra is really lovely with blue water, and picturesque white houses covering the hillside. The first thing that we learned is that Hydra does not have any cars. The residents rely on donkeys for their only transportation. And sure enough, we saw an entire line of donkeys for rent when we exited our boat and walked along the pier. DSCN1635We did not rent a donkey or join the tour, but instead we spent the morning wandering in and out of the shops in Hydra and found a few places to stop and take some pictures.

On our walk we passed a bunch of restaurants with tables and chairs right out on the pier. It all looked so good, we decided that we were a long ways away from lunch and we shared a small brunch at one of the restaurants along the street (on the pier if you DSCN1658have your back to the water it was the furthest restaurant to the right). Our chicken kabobs and Greek salad were delicious! And we were very entertained when a cat came up and stole one of our leftover kabobs! I have to say that our lunch on the pier in Hydra was one of my favorite meals of the week because the scenery was so lovely.

After lunch we walked back to the ship and  since half the tourists were at lunch, DSCN1707we found great seats on the 2nd deck for the short journey to Poros!

2nd Stop: Poros

Poros was the shortest stop on our journey. I believe we only had about 45 minutes in the port. So we climbed up the stairs to the clock tower (it’s pretty well marked) and then found a place to get ice cream while we wandered into a couple of souvenir shops. The clock tower is pretty lovely. And someday I’d like to go back for more time so that we can visit the Lemon Forest.

Lunch Time: 

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After we re-boarded the ship we immediately went to the dining room for lunch. The lunch was a buffet with a couple types of salad, pasta, and a few other dishes. Overall it was fine and edible, but I just ate a little plate and was happy with that. Truthfully, I was really glad that we ate brunch at Hydra because it was so much better than the lunch that was served on board. It was also more scenic and an actual Greek meal, so yeah, if your budget allows, I say you should go ahead and brunch in Hydra. You probably won’t regret it.

3rd Stop: Egina

We paid extra for a tour to Egina because we IMG_4612wanted to see the Temple of Aphaia and complete the Sacred Triangle of Temples (Parthenon, Poseidon, and Aphaia). After exiting the ship we immediately boarded a bus which was conveniently labeled for English speaking guests. They also had other buses with tour guides speaking several other languages. Our bus immediately headed for the Temple of Aphaia and along the way our tour guide told us all about Egina which is one of the largest growers of pistachios in the world. In fact after visiting the Temple of Aphaia, we had a few extra minutes and my husband purchased a fresh pistachio ice cream made from goat’s milk for a snack. He also picked up a couple of bags of pistachios to bring home.

IMG_4614Our second stop in Egina was the Cathedral of Saint Nectarios a large church with a large monastery. It was a very impressive church and was pretty recently constructed unlike many of the other churches and temples that we saw in Europe. In fact, the sanctuary still had scaffolding inside where they were finishing up the last bit of construction. You also had another opportunity to buy fresh pistachios from a stand in the parking lot of the church.

After visiting the church we headed right back to the ship. We didn’t have time to do any sightseeing or wander around the port because it was time to set sail back to Athens. After this last stop the ship had a Greek dancing presentation which cruisers couldDSCN1737 watch. We opted to sit on the second deck and sip a coke while sat out in the nice weather and ocean breeze. When we got close to Athens the wind picked up and the waves got pretty big and we decided that we felt a lot safer indoors. It was a pretty rough ride back to Athens and we were delayed a bit getting back into port due to the rough seas. If you get seasick, you would have hated this last little bit of the ride. I recommend packing seasickness medication if you need it because they did not sell any onboard. I wouldn’t let this concern stop you from traveling unless you have a huge fear. The odds of this same situation happening to you have to be pretty small. We had a really calm and peaceful ride up until the last hour.

Overall, even with the rough boat ride back to port, we absolutely loved this day trip to the Greek Islands. It was a really great way to experience the Greek islands on a short time frame. It’s also a great way to get to visit the Temple of Aphaia and complete the Sacred Triangle of temples.

You can book this exact daytrip by clicking on the logo below:

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Tuscany One Day Sightseeing – The Best Day Trip in Florence

IMG_4934The absolute best day trip that we took while in Europe for our 24-day honeymoon was a day trip to Tuscany from Florence. This excursion took the entire day, about 12 hours, but it was absolutely packed with fun stuff and we loved it. Plus our tour guide, Lavi, from Walkabout Tours, was absolutely wonderful. She provided the perfect mix of interesting information while we were riding on the bus, but also knew when to let people nap. And we were able to have a lot of free time in each stop rather than following a guide around when we wanted to be off exploring on our own.

Meeting Place: The tour lined up right out front of the Santa Maria Novella train station, an easy walk from any IMG_4864hotel in downtown Florence. Both of our tours met at the Santa Maria train station, so it’s a great idea to stay somewhere close like we did. We stayed at the C-Hotels in Florence which is about the closest you can get to the train station at 1-block away.

Stop 1 – Siena: We boarded the bus and had just about an hour drive to our first stop. While we drove, our tour guide told us lots of interesting things about the City of Florence IMG_4872and pointed out interesting things like the city walls that are still standing. She also told us all about the Palio de Siena, an annual horse race held by the City of Siena that is like no other horse race in the world. It was so interesting to hear about the different neighborhoods of the city and how each neighborhood is named after a different animal. We also learned that the horse race is held in the center of the city with huge crowds, which is hard to imagine when we stood in this space later during our trip.IMG_4884

After arriving just outside the center of the city of Siena, we had a short 10 minute walk to the city center. The streets are very narrow which is why the buses park a ways away and people need to walk. I should stress that this happened in each stop, so people who take this tour should wear walking shoes and while the walks aren’t too strenuous, it’s a great way to get your steps in for the day (our step counter was just under 23,000 for the day!).

In Siena, most of the group chose to follow the tour guide and tour a church museum right next to the Duomo di Siena. My husband and I elected to skip this tour and DSCN1940started our free time early. After visiting the beautiful church with it’s gorgeous tower of striped black and white marble, we wandered the streets of Siena. After the entire group enjoyed some free time, our group met back up underneath the clock tower in the main piazza (where the horse race is held) and headed out for our next stop.

Stop 2 – Tuscany Vineyard: Our next drive was probably about an hour and 15 minutes, although the scenery was so beautiful, you honestly don’t really notice. After winding our way through the Tuscan countrywide, we found ourselves at an organic vineyard where we were given a tour of the farm and served a homemade traditional Tuscan lunch with a wine tasting of 4 different wines.IMG_4888

For lunch we were served locally cured meats and cheeses, a garden salad, homemade pasta, and got to try biscotti and dessert wine. The dinner was really nice. And after enjoying our meal, our awesome tour guide took some great pictures of us on the balcony with the city of San Gimignano and the Tuscan countryside in the background.

Stop 3 – San Gimignano: The drive from the vineyard to San GImignano couldn’t have taken much more than 20 or so minutes.  During the drive our tour guide, Lavi, made lots of helpful suggestions about ways to spend your time in “San-G”.IMG_4917

The actual city made a huge impression on me that I wasn’t expecting because San-G just wasn’t on my radar. I was mesmerized by the view of it sitting on it’s hilltop with all the towers and the wall surrounding it. And really and truly feels like you are walking back in time just as soon as you enter through the main gate.No matter what you decide to do in San-G, I highly recommend walking down the main street until you come to the public square. I really and truly felt like I was back in the middle ages.

We used our hour of free time in San Gimignano to wander around, we went to the city park (Rocca di Montestaffoli) which just past the main square and then you follow the street to the left. After taking some pictures we got gelato from Gelateria Dondoli, an award winning gelato restaurant which had a long line. After buying our snack, we wandered in and out of souvenir shops on our way back out of the city where we had to meet our bus.

IMG_4927Stop 4 – Pisa: After leaving San-G, we had about an hour and a half drive to Pisa which our tour guide let us use for napping. It was nice and quiet on the bus and she very kindly woke everyone up just before we arrived in Pisa.

Again in Pisa, we had to park the bus and walk a bit of a ways to get to the actual site of Pisa. If you want to climb to the top of the Tower of Pisa, you have to book those tickets when you book the tour. If you book through Viator like we did, it’s an option that you can add to the touIMG_4947r. I highly recommend it. It’s very noticeable that the tower is leaning as you climb it. We didn’t really have any issues, but I can see how people with vertigo/balance problems might have trouble with it.

Pisa! It really leans! I actually thought the entire space was beautiful. There was just something about the white buildings against the green grass and the blue sky. It was beautiful.

After spending our free time at Pisa, we met up with the tour group to walk back to the bus. Another memorable thing about Pisa was the pickpockets. Our guide, Lavi, was wonderful at pointing them out and telling the people in our tour IMG_4936exactly what to look for. No one ended up getting pick-pocketed thanks to Lavi’s care.

Return Home: After Pisa we had a short 1-hour drive back to the City of Florence, arriving right at about 12 hours after we started.

All in all we had a wonderful day and would highly recommend this trip to anyone interested!

You can book this exact daytrip by following this link and selecting “Tuscany in One Day”:
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First snorkel experience and best so far! Roatán Island

I had always wanted to snorkeled, but had never travelRoatanIslandPiered anywhere that had good snorkeling until I went on my 2nd cruise.  The cruise was a 7 Day Exotic cruise of the Western Caribbean on Carnival Cruise Lines that hit Roatán Island, Belize City, and Cozumel.  We booked an excursion through Carnival that took us to an animal retreat of Maya Cay not far from the cruise ship.  They had a nice beach, some animal pens, and a pier that went straight out into the coral reef.

Since this cruise I have snorkeled at 6 different locations in the Caribbean and still the spot at Roatán Island is the most beautiful spot I’ve experienced!  There were all kinds of different fish including Lion Fish which while are annoying for the habitat, they are quite a sight to see!

You can swim around the reef for hours and not see the whole thing, however once you get quite a ways out you’ll immediately witness a drop off that surely goes hundreds of feet down.  While my buddy Eric and I were out near the drop off, I was learning how to dive down.  As soon as I was 15 feet down or so he started pointing at me with a frantic look.  I immediately thought Shark and my life flashed before my eyes.  As I turned around to face my attacker I was mauled over by a massive school of fish that slapped m482896_10151373998133614_251808949_ne with their tails as they swam by!

I would highly recommend if you visit Roatán Island or mainland Honduras that you make a trip out to Maya Cay for the snorkeling.  They also have a jaguar pen, alligator pen, and occasionally have a baby alligator and monkey out that you can hold and take your picture with.

-Brian