We took advantage of low prices for a last minute cruise. 'We' are myself, DW, DS who was celebrating his 21st birthday and my DM. We are all Elite members. This was my 22nd cruise.
After a nail biting start where our flight from London was delayed by 2 Â½ hrs we arrived at the pier. It was possibly the worst boarding experience we have had. Chaos! Someone decided to stop guests from both Silhouette and the MSC cruise from using the escalators up to the 1st floor check in so there were hundreds of people backed up. When we did get upstairs there were 2 lines, one for Elites, suites, AQ and Concierge, and one for the rest. Both lines seemed to move at a similar pace. It took almost an hour to board.
Once onboard the ship was as stunning as her sisters. Spotlessly clean, well laid out and no crowding. Many areas we noticed were either unused or under-used. The Cabanas were empty all cruise and are a blot on the wonderful views from the Lawn Club; Michaels Club is now soulless (and empty apart from the night when they showed the Champions League Final), the Molecular Bar had no drinkers, Cellar Masters was also empty for the duration....by contrast the Martini Bar and the Hideaway were always busy .....perhaps on any new ships they should remove all other venues and devote half the ship to be the MB and half to be the Hideaway! Our cabin was very close the Hideaway.. it was like having our own private coffee shop!
Music/Muzak and Noise.....there have been a lot of comments recently about the levels of noise on board especially in the bars or the Atrium. We did not notice this . As mentioned we were right by the Hideaway and we heard nothing from the main Atrium. I did dislike the 'games' by the pool such as 'name that song' which I felt contributed little to the ambience (and had few participants)
Food and drink.....meals were of a consistently high standard. Breakfasts were better than dinners IMO. We also booked the 3-meal-deal for $99pp which gave us a $11pp saving on the on board cost to dine in Qsine, Tuscan Grille and Murano. However, on board, every single day, we were bombarded with offers to dine at these restaurants at 50% off. Make sure you check the daily sheet carefully as we totally missed the Bruch as it was not well advertised at all.
We enjoyed the nightly Elite drinks in the Sky Lounge- apparently there were 300 Elites on board. Excellent, attentive service from Esteban and Wei Leng. Otherwise the bargain on board was the 355ml carafe of wine offered at OceanView cafe for just $9.95 ($11.44). There is a choice of 5 wines, 2 red, 2 white and a rose. They also did 2-4-1 deals on drinks around 4pm daily. We had CSD which worked well. There were 2 lines -- for those with reservations and for those without. Both lines moved at the same pace. Interesting to note that the whole of the upper deck was dedicated to CSD which shows its popularity.
We recognised several faces- Bernard singing at the entrance to the Ocean View to greet you each morning, Peter juggling bottles in the Martini Bar, Randy the Sommelier, and the wonderful Raul in the dining room. Many of these are being moved to Reflection soon.
Dresscode and Demographic......a 12 night cruise meant 3 formal nights. Those without a jacket were given one before entering the main dining room! Well done! The cruise had probably 50% Americans and the rest was made up from Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia. There were 28 children on board apparently. You still got the daily newspapers and chocolates on the pillow at night.
Entertainment....we only went to 2 shows. The a-capella group were very good, but only performed for around 15 minutes a day. A band played (loudly) by the pool in the afternoon. There was the usual galley tour and behind the scenes tour, but no Bridge tour.
Ports of call.....we chose this cruise because it went to several new ports. We generally DIY -- part of the fun of cruising is the planning. Of course the sail out of, and in to Venice, is simply stunning and worth the cruise fare alone. Remember in costings given below that there were 4 of us.
Ravenna: the local cruise terminal site advises that there is a free shuttle to town, which is around 10 miles distant. We saw no such thing and no one seemed to know. =X= offered a transfer for $14pp so we took a cab for â‚¬20. Ravenna is a hidden charm. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the mosaics. They do a museum ticket with entry to 5 sites for â‚¬11.50pp. You get a â‚¬1 discount if you say you are with a cruise. The mosaics are amazing and we really enjoyed this port. We caught the #90 bus back to Porto Corsini (Traghetto). It took 20 mins and the ticket was â‚¬2.50pp. A friendly local showed us the stop to get off at and it was a simple 5 minute stroll back to the ship.
Split: we had visited here 5 years before; a lovely town that is easy to walk around. We even found the same restaurant we had eaten in before-by the Iron Gate called Pizza Posejon where we had delicious local cheese and ham (and good local beer). This was a tender port.
Malta: a beautiful sail-in. We took a taxi straight to Mdina for â‚¬20. It is best to arrive at Mdina as early as possible as by noon it was very crowded. Mdina is a beautiful calm walled city. We had the famous cake at Fontanella tea rooms -- only â‚¬2.85 for a huge slice. We then caught the local bus back to Valetta (#51/52/53 run from outside the gate every 10minutes.) You buy a ticket at the machine -- single trip is 2.20pp (â‚¬0.30 for seniors). Valetta is a little rundown IMO so we strolled back down the hill, enjoying the harbour views, back to the ship. There is a duty free shop here with reasonable prices - â‚¬20 for200 Marlboro Lites. The ship was selling 400 for â‚¬59 if you want to compare. Also along the harbour front there are a selection of bars and restaurants where you can enjoy a very good local Cisk beer. Easy to spot which bars offered free wifi too!
Catania,Sicily: An interesting port. You stroll into town- out of the port, turn left under the railway arches and keep straight on. First stop was the fish market -- very ' local and authentic...my DW said wear closed toe shoes -- there is a reason why the locals are wearing wellies.....if you are the slightest bit squeamish then give this a miss, personally I love markets and this was a good one ! There was not a lot to see in the town, so we enjoyed a leisurely lunch just off Via Etna (good shopping street apparently -DW managed to buy 3 pairs of shoes on this trip!) where a carafe of wine was â‚¬4. We had several.
Naples: We did take a ships tour in the morning to Pompeii. After lunch we strolled off the ship into town where we enjoyed a gelati. Another glorious hot day.
Rome: As we have been to Rome several times we decided to visit Tarquinia. We had detailed instructions taken from CruiseCritic of where to buy the tickets and where the bus went from but no newsagent/Tabacchi would sell us a bus ticket (we tried 3 of them including the one on the corner that is often mentioned). The gelataria (ice cream shop) did not have them either. There were several people trying. The bus driver initially would not let us on but thankfully someone spoke Italian and explained the situation. He then sold us tickets at â‚¬7pp -these were pre-printed so I'm not sure if he ripped us off or not! Anyway it was a pleasant journey and Tarquinia is a lovely hilltop town-so it was away from the searing heat of the coast (Rome was apparently unbearable that day). It is famed for the Etruscan tombs. Entry was â‚¬6pp -- with 18-25s being halfprice and over 65s being free. A cheap deal! There is a free city bus that tours the small city (it does not run between noon and 4p though). We had a pleasant lunch and then set about trying to buy a ticket from the Tabacchi for our return. Everyone was shut for lunch! So we waited at the stop, with the intention of trying to use our â‚¬7 tickets which had not been stamped. A little minibus arrived, and when we boarded we found out that this was an =X= tour -- the busdriver sold us a one way ticket for â‚¬1.70pp!! We were all dropped off at the wall and caught the free shuttle to the ship.
Kotor,Montenegro: Make sure to be up early for the stunning sail-in. It is like going through the fjords. A beautiful small walled city that easy to walk around. Unfortunately the weather was terrible and it poured with rain most of the day.
Dubrovnik: for us all this was the highlight of the cruise. We were going to catch a cab to the cable car but the cab driver offered us a tour for â‚¬50, and took us to the top where the cable car stops for the sights. Given that the cable car was 87kn pp (around â‚¬12pp) this was a good deal. He dropped us at the Pile Gate. We walked the city walls -- tickets are 70kn pp and they only accept Kuna not Euros. This took around 90 minutes, after which we strolled the streets of this simply beautiful town. Add it to your Bucket List if you have not visited! After a lunch of local cheese, hams, calamari and wine we caught the 1B bus back to the port. Tickets were 12kn pp. That is around $2. Busses run from the Pile Gate and the 1A,1B, 3 & 8 will take you to the port. =X= were offering a shuttle for $12pp.
Venice: And back into Venice. A beautiful sail-in at 10am so we had breakfast on the balcony to watch the views. =X= were offering a shuttle to St Marks Square for $22pp -- we just strolled over to the PeopleMover (you cannot miss it) and bought a ticket to Piazzale Roma for â‚¬1pp. Then we walked via Rialto Bridge to St Marks and then on to Accedemia Bridge. There we bought a 24h vaporetto pass forâ‚¬20pp and spent the rest of the day riding the vaporettos, out to Murano (which is beautiful and peaceful compared to St Marks Square) and up and down the Grand Canal. We caught the PeopleMover back to the ship. The next day we disembarked. Took the PM again to Piazzale Roma, left our luggage (as you exit the PM, turn left and you will see the door right next to the cafe with the green awning-it is easy to miss as it is just a door).â‚¬5.50per case for24hours. We rode the vaporetto out to the Lido determined to get full value out of the tickets, had a final lunch and then caught the blue bus to the airport for â‚¬5pp.
In summary, an excellent cruise with some fascinating ports on a beautiful ship.