Katakalon, Greece is a very small port and resembles a sleepy town, until a cruise ship enters the port and can more than triple the number of people. Why do cruise ships call into this port? It is the closest one to Olympia — the site of the original Olympic games. Of course, there are ship excursions to the site. There is also a train the runs from the port to Olympia. How you go, is up to you — the trip is worth it.
Olympia is a large archaeological site. Next to it is a museum and the town of Olympia that has shops and restaurants catering to the tourists.
The ancient site of Olympus sits near the western coast of Greece. Cruise ships dock at Katakalon, a nice fishing village about 40 minutes from the site. While most ships do plan excursions to the site, it is also easy to take a taxi or a train to get to Olympus. Unlike many archaeological sites, this one feels like a park, with lots of trees, flowers and other vegetation. The day I went started out with rain, but once I got to Olympus, the clouds opened and it was a very nice, clear day.
The museum close to the site contains some of the statues found in Olympus, including an amazing statue of the Greek God, Hermes. This is also the museum where my friend left her camera (the story is part of the Excursions post).
Definitely worth a visit – you can even try running a race using the marble starting blocks!
One of the choices you have when taking is cruise is about whether or not to take an excursion when in port. The ship offers a number of excursions for passengers to take – and mostly you will be crowded into buses with 40+ people from the ship, a tour guide / mother hen and a driver. If you plan ahead of time, you can also arrange for private excursions with other passengers. These tend to be smaller – 8 to 16 people — and you have the ability to adjust the tour to your needs. One of the best ways to arrange a private excursion is to sign up on a ship’s roll call in the forums on www.cruisecritic.com! You can also “go it on your own” and see what happens when you get to a port. This includes following your own plan, or grabbing a private tour looking for people, or the “hop on, hop off bus” that tends to be close to where many cruise ships dock. I have done all of the above – and there are reasons to experience each one. It just depends on what your needs are and how you like to travel. For this post, I am focusing on my best ship-organized excursion experiences.
Ship-organized excursions have a guarantee that you will make it to the ship on time. If you need this type of security, than this is a good option. In most places, the tour guide is licensed. The guide also gives you a running commentary on all things about the country, culture and places visited (this can get a little annoying if you just want to watch the world go by). For my first cruise, I used most of the ship’s excursions because I was nervous about making it back to the ship on time and I was not sure about “doing things on my own.”
Taking the excursion from Alexandria to Cairo was very important because there was an accident on the only road between the two cities and the all the buses were late getting back to the ship. We also had an armed guard with us on the bus. He realized I was alone in the group, and took a few pictures of me – and helped me out when a scammer almost stole my camera at Giza!
In Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, I took a historic tour of the city that included visiting the Senor do Bonfim church that is important to the Candoble religion in Brazil. Our group was small – about 20 German and English speakers – so it was as close to a private tour as we could get on a ship’s excursion. He was extremely knowledgeable of all the different traditions and religions in Brazil, and even talked about the different meanings of the Candoble ribbons and blessings you can receive.
One last experience is courtesy of a traveling companion. On a tour to Olympus, she discovered her camera was missing as we were heading back to the bus after a long day. We both panicked as we listed our options (forget the camera, look for the camera, miss the bus, take a taxi back to the ship …). We found the tour guide and told him our dilemma. He called one of the museums we had visited and the camera was there. We thought we would just take a taxi back, when the entire busload of people voted to wait for her as she ran back to the museum to get her camera – and they all applauded when she returned, camera in hand.
On our return to the ship, she went to the shore Excursion desk to fill out a comment card. They are so used to getting complaints that our comment card filled with thanks and compliments really touched them. The next day, they delivered a bottle of red wine to our cabin. Bonus!