I was lucky enough to be one of the few who got the chance to try out the Beirut-departing cruise ship, Orient Queen II. Apart from the Instagram and Twitter feed I kept flowing back then, here’s the full review as well as very hi-res photos courtesy of the Nokia 808 PureView phone.
If I could use one word to describe the whole 8-day experience, it would be Lebanese. Whether it be the Fairuz songs during morning buffets or the friendliness of Lebanese staff. The ship is nice and cozy, not the mega-floating cities you might think of when the thought of a cruise comes up. It has multiple sun-decks and a shallow pool and jacuzzi. There’s a top-deck piano bar as well as a mid-level, full-on nightclub. On the lower deck is the large restaurant where 3 times a day, amazing food was served.
Which brings me to the food. It was AMAZING. The variety, taste and choice were my favorite part of the day on the cruise. Sometimes, I even went ashore just to have lunch, the go back down, because the food was that good. Pastas, steaks, DIY salads, pastries, seafood and even Lebanese dishes were always on the menu and always a buffet, letting you get bloated and add as many servings as you want.
The nighttime entertainment on the ship was not my favorite type of show, with one-man shows and live Arabic performances. However, the newly wed couples and families on the cruise really loved those evenings with everyone singing and dancing along. The rooms were awesome too, I got a two-bed state-room with a nice little window, desk, closet and bathroom. There was also a casino that opened when the ship was in international waters, a duty-free shop, a beauty salon and a massage parlor and spa too.
But, to be honest, it was the destinations that I loved most. In particular, the lovely Greek island of Mykonos. Our first stop was on the island of Rhodes, where we were taken on a short trip to a monastery located on a hilltop overlooking the island. The view was awesome, take a look at it here and keep zooming in (right click, open in new tab/window)
Then lunch and maybe some shopping in the old town of Rhodes, where I must confess, I found an awesome piece of jewelery: a replica of The One Ring from The Lord of the Rings! I also went for a swim on one of the public beaches, where if you don’t sit on a long chair or use an umbrella, you don’t need to pay a dime! The water here was nice and clear and the local places erected a two-story high stairwell in the middle of the sea for you to jump off. Though, it was way too crowded near the port and having a nice quiet time to chillax and snorkel would have to wait.
Next, and after a very rough night on the very windy seas of the Aegean sea, came my new favorite spot on the Mediterranean area: Mykonos. The picture-perfect, white-washed, blue-windowed towns welcomed you without the usual cliché details that make you feel like a tourist, such as other annoying tourists, way too many expensive souvenir shops, etc. Instead, you’d feel like a local there, walking through the narrow streets and getting lost in the labyrinth-like alleyways. I did discover quite a few amazing places and restaurants though!
The beach, Tropicana Beach on Paradise Beach, is the best beach I have ever bathed my body in. The water is crystal-clear for hundreds of meters ahead and the reefs are buzzing with all kinds of beautiful and human-friendly fish. Tiny fish would come up to my snorkeling mask and stare at me, rainbow-colored bigger fish would try to avoid my hands and feet, each with the same colors, but very different patterns. I spent well over 4-hours, face-down in the water reveling with the awesome marine life. If you’re the more adventurous type, you could go to Super Paradise beach, a nudist beach a short boat ride away (from what I heard though, it’s mostly middle-aged men… Sorry guys!)
At around 4:00PM, Tropicana beach turns into a Miami-style beach party, with dancers, DJs, singers and a lot of drinks kicking off an early, all-night party. They’r big, and on the night we were there, Sebastian Ingrosso was on the lineup! Unfortunately, we had to leave at around 5:00PM to board the ship and sail off. My only wish is that we stayed longer in Mykonos. But other than that, the island, the beach, the towns, were all absolutely perfect.
Next came Bodrum and Marmaris, both of which have vibrant “bar streets” and pretty cool nightlife districts. Bar after bar, club after club, with beautiful “no hassle” signs and cheap shots. In Bodrum, a cool glass-bottomed ship called the Katamaran turns into a floating nightclub that goes back and forth in the harbor, which I thought was pretty cool! Though, my advice is hitting bar street early then going on the Katamaran around 9-10 before it departs at around 11.
Marmaris had awesome geography and topography, with high mountains dipping their feet in the Aegean waters. We went on the safari, which was by far the best organized outing offered. You get to check out the great surrounding mountains, a beautiful fresh-water natural river, waterfall and pool and finally a pretty weird gulf where sand sediments make it easy to create an illusion of “walking on water”
All in all, it was a very fun experience. If you can afford the 1900USD/person pricetag not including drinks (Coke 3$), outings (35-120$ each) and internet (10$/hour), it’s going to be a very fun trip. I’d recommend you go with family or your partner, the alone-time on the ship would be best spent with people you love. It’s also cool that it departs from Beirut, so no need for visas or plane tickets (you access Turkey and Greece with your ship card only, no passport needed!). But that’s also a disadvantage because the Lebanese border controls are a nightmare, as everything is that has to do with the Lebanese government. We disembark in 10 minutes in foreign countries, in Lebanon, the bureaucracy, “wasayet” and incompetent authorities make you wait well over an hour (and that’s with AMC’s best efforts to facilitate it for us, imagine if they hadn’t!). So, if you’re a family or newly married couple, this trip would be perfect for you. But, if you’re young folks looking to blow off some steam on a budget, I would recommend you look for something else!