13 Greece 2008
Home Up Who Went Greece Information Photo Gallery Rome Italy

Greece Italy Home Who Went Photographs of Guests Rome Day One Rome Day Two
Sicily Athens Ephesus Crete More about Greece Italy Turkey

The SSQQ 2008 Cruise to Greece

Trip organized by Marla Archer
Story written by Rick Archer

A Visit to the Birthplace
of Western Civilization!

Sunday, July 20th - Sunday, July 27th
Aboard Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas

Day One:   
Day Two:   
Day Three:
Day Four:  
Day Five:  
Day Six:    
Day Seven:
Day Eight:
Rome, Italy
Sicily, Italy
Cruising the Mediterranean
Athens, Greece
Ephesus, Turkey
Heraklion, Crete
Cruising the Mediterranean
Rome, Italy

This is the story of the SSQQ 2008 Cruise to Greece and Italy, the countries that took turns as the Birthplace of Western Civilization. 

In addition we included stops in Sicily and Crete as well as a special visit to Ephesus, Turkey, an area rich with both Roman ruins and Biblical significance.

The 2008 SSQQ Eastern Mediterranean Cruise was indeed a rare opportunity to explore first-hand the roots of our Western Civilization.

Overall I would have to say that as a history lesson, the trip was a marvelous success.

But speaking only for myself, as a vacation, the trip had more than its fair share of rough spots.  Before this trip would end, I would hit every kind of barrier known to travel. 

This list included the negative exchange rate, the aches and pains of long-distance travel, the language barrier, problems with finding places in a foreign country as well as the dangers of being ripped off (pickpockets, scam artists, and on several occasions merchants that seemed to deliberately give the wrong change.


When Marla first announced our plans back in October 2007, the initial reaction to our Mediterranean destination was very positive. Marla has to schedule these trips well in advance. After all, people must have plenty of time to plan their vacations. They have to get time off from work, they have to make sure there are no family commitments in the way, and so on.

At the time when Marla first planned this trip, the coast was clear.  Given the attractive destination, people signed on board quickly.  For a moment there, we thought we might even surpass the Adventure Cruise record of 80 we had set on the Hawaii 2007 Cruise.

Then it hit - just one month later in November 2007 the price of gas started climbing. And climbing. And climbing. This was crazy! Thanks to the sudden downturn in the US economy, the omens for this trip were no longer promising.  The Euro was strong, the Dollar was weak, and transportation industries were struggling to deal with the crisis due to oil price increases.

One day out of the blue Marla noticed the already expensive airfare to Rome had jumped another $100 per person practically overnight! Things were getting scary out there.  Then came attempts by Royal Caribbean to add on a fuel surcharge (they eventually backed off).

Practically overnight this trip had developed a definite 'swimming upstream' feel to it.

In my opinion, it is a credit to Marla Archer's hard work that she kept this trip on a positive keel. She was disappointed when several people who were signed up for the trip decided to bail. They took one look at the rising airfare plus the ratio of the weak dollar to the euro and headed for the exit door. We had at least 10 people cancel on us. The chance of a lifetime would have to wait till next year.

Fortunately Marla had made the trip so attractive that she was able to overcome the cancellations to still take 49 passengers halfway across the world. Considering the obstacles, 49 was a pretty good number. Obviously in a better economy, this trip would have done much better.

Then Marla had to face the strangest development she had ever seen - as the sailing date grew nearer, Royal Caribbean was actually lowering the price of their cabins below what our group had paid for them!  Marla was fit to be tied. The prices for cabins at the last minute are supposed to rise, not fall.

St Peters Basilica, Rome

Trastavere at Night

Castle Saint Angelo

Marla decided she had no choice but to write a letter to her group. Here is what Marla said:

I have recently received a few emails with questions regarding the current price of our cruise.

I would like to preface what I am going to say with "this is an incredibly unusual year".

The price of oil is at it's highest ever, groceries are skyrocketing, houses are foreclosing left and right and the economy is the worst it is ever been since the early 70s.

That said, Royal Caribbean has done something that I have never seen done before. They actually dropped price on the few remaining cabins to sell out the sailing. What this means is that the prevailing rate maybe lower than our original group rate on the handful of cabins that are left.

I have now organized 11 cruises. This is the first time I have ever seen the price of a cabin drop as the departure date comes closer. It always goes the other direction... except for this bizarre year.

There was absolutely no way to predict that this would happen. Of course anyone purchasing a cabin at the prevailing rate is not eligible for any group benefits.

For SSQQ to schedule a group cruise, it must be planned almost a year in advance. Sure, the price maybe slightly lower now, but if we always wait until the last minute, there would never be any Group Cruises!

Individuals who had the ability to wait until the last minute were able to save a few dollars on this sailing. These individuals are in no way connected to our group.

However, let me point out their increased airfare more than exceeded any last-minute savings created by this artificial situation.

Amazingly, Marla did not receive a single complaint regarding this bad news.

In fact, one dear lady wrote a very kind note:

View of St Peter's Square from the Basilica

Marla,  You should not feel you have to apologize for this price drop. There was certainly no way to predict it. I'm sure the cruise lines don't like to do this very often because it would encourage people to wait till the last minute. On the other hand, since they make most of their profits from liquor sales and the casino, it's to their advantage to try to fill all cabins, even if they have to lower the base rate.

Anyway, I am very grateful to you for doing all the work in organizing these cruises. It makes it much easier for us. Also, as you pointed out, any savings on the cruise would probably be eaten up in higher airfares and hotel rates (if staying some extra days.)

I certainly wouldn't want to wait till the last minute on the off chance I could save a few dollars.

At any rate, I hope you just ignore any complaints. I really appreciate everything you do to put these cruises together.

See you on Sunday.

This kind lady's sentiments were echoed in many other corners as well. One day in the middle of the trip, a fellow cruiser remarked to me about the high prices and winced a little. Then he proceeded to add, "I am not getting any younger. I am not going to have dozens of opportunities further down the road to hang out with a group this special and visit famous places like I am seeing. Sometimes when you see the chance, you just grab it. I love this trip!"

I nodded in agreement. I pretty much operate on the same principle. I have seen much of the best America has to offer, but I had never been to Europe before.

Now was the time for me to check out the rest of the world. I didn't see the point in postponing anything!  Get it done now while I have enough health and enough wealth to get it done. The trip may have been swimming upstream, but I didn't get this far in life by quitting when storm clouds appear.

Castle Saint Angelo

So it rains a little.  I was determined to push forward despite the obstacles.

However, just because I was convinced this trip was the right thing to do didn't mean I was going to avoid learning some tough lessons about travel in Europe. Far from it.  Right from the start, I had made an enormous mistake. Before the trip, I had gotten some advice that came back to haunt me.

"Rick, you don't need that much cash. You should be able to charge practically everything."

I would ultimately wake up in the middle of the night more than once with those Famous Last Words screaming in my brain!

"You should be able to charge everything!" "You should be able to charge everything!"

One day before we left, Marla looked at me and asked how much cash we should take. I thought about it. We had taken $1,000 to Hawaii a year earlier and had come back with half of that to spare.  Why not be on the safe side and take $1,200?

Marla was worried about carrying that much money in cash. Europe has a reputation for highly skilled pickpockets. So she went out and bought two money belts, one for her and one for me. In hindsight, she need not have bothered - we blew $1,000 in the first two days of the trip alone!

It's pretty hard to pick a pocket that is already empty.

Trevi Fountain


We landed in Rome on Friday, July 18, two days before the cruise would begin on Sunday.  My first task was to change my dollars to Euros. At the airport, I plopped down $200. The lady handed me back 102 Euros. I frowned. This didn't look good. But I decided to stay optimistic. Since I was new to Europe, I had no idea how far a Euro would go. As it turned out, the answer was: not very far.

I can't be absolutely sure, but as the trip progressed it seemed like one Euro had roughly the same purchasing power as one dollar. Except that it cost two dollars to buy each Euro!

For example, one day I bought a tee shirt in Turkey for 8 Euros. I suppose $16 is about right for an average tee shirt. After all, $16 seems like the amount I pay for a tee shirt in Cozumel.  In other words, my dollars went half as far in Europe as they do in the USA. 

As we waited in the airport for our luggage to come down the chute, I kept staring at my 102 Euros. Even though I had yet to spend a single Euro, I already had a very bad feeling about this.

My worries were absolutely correct. Sure enough, by the end of our first day, those 102 Euros would be totally gone.

The Hotel Across the Street from the Vatican

After the long flight, we were pleased to find the shuttle from our hotel waiting for us there at the airport. 

Even better, the Hotel Alimandi allowed us to check in early at 10:30 am.  What a relief to find a place to put our luggage!

massive Vatican City was directly across the street from our hotel.
I knew Marla had located a marvelous facility close to the Vatican, but I didn't realize it was this close. 

Behold the picture of the Vatican Wall!  The only thing we could see from our hotel room was this Wall.  The Wall was my entire reality.  There was nothing else I could see. 

The Wall completely disoriented me.  I was convinced this Wall was north of us.  Based on the map given us, the Vatican was in the upper northwest corner of Rome.  I was positive that Rome was to my right.  Unfortunately, this Wall was actually south of the Hotel and the center of Rome was to my left.  This terrible misconception would play an important role in the events of the following morning.

We could not help but notice a never-ending line that stretched the length of the street.  These were people waiting for their chance to visit the Vatican Museum.  My daughter Sam, 17, who accompanied Marla and me on the trip, suggested we consider eating first.  Maybe the lines would dwindle.

So after
we checked into our hotel, we went out in search of lunch. Unfortunately we were too early for the only restaurant in sight. So we settled for 3 gelatos at a shop next door. 6 Euros. Okay. That's not bad.  I can handle that.

It was about 1 pm. As we returned to our hotel, we noticed the enormous lines we had seen that morning to the Vatican Museum had dwindled to a trickle (we did not know it at the time, but the guides do their trips in the morning to beat the summer heat).

Carpe Diem - Seize the Day. Why not visit the museum now?

The Vatican Museum charged 18 Euros a person. No problem.  We can charge it. Oops. The Vatican Museum didn't take credit cards.  Uh oh.  Our trip to the Vatican Museum wiped out 54 Euros.  If you are keeping track, we were now down to 42 Euros.

Once we were inside, Marla looked wistfully at a guided tour or an audio tour… 6 Euros apiece, i.e. 18 Euros for the three of us. I shook my head.  No way!  What were we going to buy dinner with if the restaurant didn't take credit cards?  I was very frustrated.

So we walked through the amazing Vatican Museum without a clue about the stories behind these many works of arts.

Vatican Museum claimed to house the largest art collection in the world.  I don't know if this is true, but after visiting one never-ending room after another, you would not get an argument from me.  One amazing work of art after another unfolded before our eyes. Sculptures, Renaissance paintings, wall-size maps, religious frescoes, you name it.

The highlight of the Vatican Museum was the famous Sistine Chapel with all those wonderful paintings on the ceiling drawn by Michelangelo.  How that man painted such incredible images upside down is beyond me!  And what an imagination the man had to conceive these paintings!

Sad to say, I dropped the ball. After a couple hours of wandering through the Museum, I became so tired I could barely stand up any longer. I sat down and I didn't want to get back up. The room was spinning. I had trouble keeping my eyes open. I was fighting as hard as I could not to simply fall asleep right where I sat.  Obviously jet lag had kicked in. Plus the museum was not air-conditioned and the heat wilted me. Furthermore I had forgotten to take my thyroid-boost medication.  My energy level was down to zero.

Here was the chance of a lifetime to explore this marvelous place, but we could only scratch the surface thanks to the twin headaches of poverty and my lack of stamina.  We had no choice but to return to the hotel feeling frustrated and short-changed.  I felt so disappointed to let down Sam and Marla.

In retrospect, I wish Sam and Marla had stayed at the Museum while I went back.  After all, the hotel was just across the street.  But they were tired too.  It had been a long flight.  The three of us hit the beds and passed out immediately.  We slept six hours till 9 pm.

That is the Vatican above the enormous Wall

Here is another view of the Enormous Wall that surrounds the Vatican.  This Wall was all I could see from my Hotel.

Here are the endless throngs of visitors to the Vatican Museum

That night’s dinner was an exercise in precise mathematics. 

Sure enough, the place we found was just a little café down the street that did not take credit cards.  We carefully added up the cost of every item we ordered to stay under our 42 Euro limit.  We had just enough money left to order some wine.  Good move.  The meal was so-so, but the wine was great.  Please dull my pain.

We left tired, still a little hungry, and not a single Euro in our pockets.  Not the greatest way to start a trip.

Next Story: A Day in Rome

Greece Italy Home Who Went Photographs of Guests Rome Day One Rome Day Two
Sicily Athens Ephesus Crete More about Greece Italy Turkey
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ