My wife and I sailed on May 26th 2012 out of Malaga.
The cruise was excellent value for money (Â£300 balcony cabin thru US agent 4 weeks from departure) so Im finding it hard to justify the negatives within this review. However, they need to be aired as not everyone will have benefitted from such a low rate (especially UK cruisers who KEEP getting ripped-off by RCI).
If you are a non-smoker DO NOT book this cruise. The RCI cruise contract states which areas of the ship are designated for smoking, and have a tiny clause which allows them to adjust this. Let me tell you, every bar we visited allowed smoking and you could NOT escape it. You might find a nice clean air spot and then a bunch of (usually Spanish) guests would arrive and immediately light-up.
One side of the ship is traditionally smoke-free but that policy went too. Lazing in the Solarium etc was often spoiled.
We saw people smoking in Windjammer but that was eventually stopped. The same went for the Theatre.
RCI need to make this smoking policy known to potential guests BEFORE they book their cruise and not when they are aboard.
Again, a HUGE problem.
We have never cruised before and had to queue to enter Windjammer - this was really poor on embarkation day and also sea days.
Once you got inside the buffet restaurant, you have two choices. You could either hover over guests you feel might be on their last mouthful of food or you could do the Windjammer Circuit; walking three or four times around the restaurant until you get lucky and then race other guests for the just vacated dirty table (which thankfully was quickly cleaned by staff).
I understand that RCI works on a turnaround of 45 minutes per table for Windjammer service. They need to move large groups of Spanish guests who think it OK to sit and chat for very long periods and deny other guests the opportunity to sit and eat.
Service was good.
Sadly, the food choice has nosedived in the last few years with RCI, but (overall) the quality of that offered was good.
A (very) old ex-Vegas duo clicking stone balls on ropes is nowhere near the standard expected of RCI - we saw this same couple 10 years ago and the act was dated back then.
A Beatles tribute concert and a (poor) Abba tribute band sum up a cost-cutting policy - these are pub tribute acts not quality cruise entertainment.
Even the production shows were limp. The main theatre even went one evening without any show at all.
Due to the (mainly) Spanish and English speaking nature of the guests, i appreciate that visual and/or "internationally recognised" themes are used to get over the language issues BUT there is plenty of scope for broadway style shows which could easily do the job, but with style.
Check-In - opens at 11am.
Vibration - the rear of the ship vibrates a lot, especially when seated in the sky lounge.
Spanish VAT - on top of the 15% gratuity, 8% Spanish VAT is added to bills (even when not near Spain). A $7.75 beer will see $1.78 added to it, making an expensive $9.53 or Â£6 for a 16oz can of Fosters.
Stateroom - no problems, just a little wear and tear.
The Spanish - VERY loud and little consideration for other guests. Often blocking stairs, corridors and no attempt to move aside for you to get past. WHY do they have to shout across a room?
Disembarkation - the ship offers a late disembarkation for $35pp. You get to stay in your room until 9am and enjoy the ship (inc lunch) until 3.30pm. Well worth it if you have a late departure flight.
PORTS OF CALL
Valencia - $15 shuttle bus charge to get into the Town. Did HOHO bus but should have stayed on ship.
Malaga Arrival/Departure - get the local bus from outside airport arrivals hall as this takes you right up to the ship - cost just 2 Euro per person and takes around 25 minutes. If you arrive early or depart late the same bus stops at the train station where there's a left luggage facility (5 Euro for 2 large cases for 24hrs).
Civitaveccia (for Rome) - we purchased a 29Euro private bus tour which included Vatican tour and guide for most part. Sadly, inconsiderate fellow guests were unable to tell the time and several parts of the tour were cut short as a result.
Livorno (for Pisa and Florence) - we purchased an $89 private guided coach tour of Pisa and Florence. This was a long day but (with exception of guests not able to tell the time) was well worth it. Our guide took us to a small restuarant wehere we enjoyed salad and 3 pasta dishes, plus water and wine for just 15 Euro each. The ship offers are very similar tour for $100 more per person.
Ajaccio (Corsica) - we took a Â£55 tour into the mountains and had a short land train tour plus sampled local food (with wine). TBH, it would have been better to stay in the Town as the ship docks just a few yards away.
I have to remember that we paid Â£300 each (plus flights) for our Balcony Cabin so for us the cruise did provide excellent value for money and (with the definate exception of the smoking policy) we enjoyed our cruise.