First of all, was it perfect? No. Was it fun and a great way to see parts of Europe for the first time? Yes! I'm essentially a first time cruiser (my only other experience was so long ago and such a vastly different experience than today's cruising that it doesn't count). Myself, my two daughters, 17 and 22 and 2 friends decided to book this cruise almost a year ago. It's been a long wait! I'm going to try to summarize our trip and answer some of the questions I've had or I've seen on the boards over the last year.
Day 1 -- Barcelona
We arrived in Barcelona at 8:30 AM the day before the cruise. Boy, do I understand "jetlag" now! We were booked at the Hotel Arts (Ritz Carleton) using points I had built up. I had arranged transportation from the airport to the hotel, hotel to port and port to airport with Autos Vilar prior to our arrival. We were picked up promptly with no problems and were quickly transported to the hotel.
We checked in, our room wasn't ready yet (but we expected that), stowed our bags and grabbed the HOHO bus... the RED one. Stops for both busses are very close to the Hotel. While we were only semi-conscious, we did get to see much of Barcelona from the top deck of the bus. We 'hopped off' at Las Rambles and took a stroll. I wasn't very impressed. We did have lunch there which was yummy. However, we didn't attempt the market due to the crowds... seemed to look like a great place to have your pocket picked. By the time we returned to the hotel via the HOHO, our room was ready and we crashed until Dinner. We had wonderful Paella at a cafe with outdoor seating just across the street from the hotel.
Notes on the Ritz... not exactly as "5-Star" as one would think... service was excellent, but rooms are a bit worn for the Ritz brand. However, it was free, right on the sea and clean. Would I stay there again under the same circumstances? Yes.
Day 2 -- All Aboard!
We arranged with Autos Vilar to pick us up at 11:15 and take us to the ship. They were there ahead of time waiting for us to arrive. It was a short drive to the pier. Our bags were taken by the porters and we went through checkin easily. Note, we were able to purchase wine at the duty free shop in the port building, put it in our carryon and take it aboard with no further screening.
I headed straight to Customer Service to see if I could still get Posh Passes. While the 1 day only passes were sold out, I was able to get weekly passes for myself and my daughters! Yea!
Notes on Posh... Nice and quiet, lots of personal attention, great 'furniture' for sunning, beautiful view. As some have mentioned before, a strange odor at times, seems to be under some sort of exhaust system. I believe it was $59/person for the week. You can order food from the bar from a limited menu.
While they tried to guide us to the buffet, we headed for the MDR (Taste)... it was almost empty, and we were able to enjoy a very relaxed lunch. After that, our cabins were ready. Our luggage arrived shortly after. I had upgraded to a mini-suite for $95 when prices dropped shortly before sailing. Since there were 3 of us in the room (all adult-sized), I was very pleased with the extra room. It's not a huge difference or anything, but it helped keep us from stepping all over each other.
We met our room steward. Her service throughout the week was good, not great. It took a day or two to start getting towels for 3. Also, getting rid of dirty room service dishes was a constant challenge during the whole trip. We were told by our steward to put them outside of our door... they stayed there a LOOONGG time! However, the room was very clean and working around 3 women can't be easy!
Went to Posh for the sailaway (free champagne!)
We ate in Taste that night and retired early. Still jet lagged!
Day 3 -- Sea Day
Off to the buffet to gather breakfast and taking my spoils to Posh to sit in the sun! Missed the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet since I was asleep in the sun. We used the buffet as the go to place for snacks or a quick bite. I like a snack of cheese and crackers before bed and this was always available on the buffet to take back to my room.
Had buffalo wings at O'sheehans for lunch, they were pretty good. Later had dinner there as well, and really enjoyed the Pot Pie.
Attended Blue Man Group that night. Enjoyed some parts, found some parts boring. Mixed review.
Day 4 -- Naples
We took advantage of having room service deliver our breakfast. Took Cruise Critic advice and wrote in scrambled eggs and bacon on the room service hang tag... and that's what I got! Did that all week. Very pleased!
We were met outside the ship by Adriano from Your Tour in Italy for our private tour. With 7 of us, this was MUCH cheaper than the ship's excursions. Our schedule for the day was a tour of the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. We had hooked up with another couple from roll call, John and Laurie. Adriano was very entertaining and we had a great time! We did have a private guide for Pompeii which I highly recommend.
Dinner that night was in Le Bistro. Very good!
Day 5 -- Rome
We were met outside the ship by Christiano from Your Tour in Italy for our private tour. We did the Vatican museum (including the Sistine Chapel), St. Peter's Basilica (again, had a private guide), the Coloseum and Trevi fountain as well as driving by a number of other sites. Rome was crowded and it was a tiring day, but we were able to see a lot in our allotted time. We returned to the ship by 5:30.
Day 6 -- Florence
Again, we had arranged a private tour with Your Tour in Italy. We were met by Walter outside the ship. We went to Pisa and then a drive into Tuscany/Chianti and had a wine tasting. The wine tasting was awesome. Walter was a former sommelier and shared his knowledge of wine with us. This was our last tour with Your Tour in Italy. I would highly recommend them. They were on-time, got us back to the ship in plenty of time and were knowledgeable about each area we visited.
Day 7 -- Cannes
This was our most adventurous day. We 'did it ourselves' and took the bus to Antibes. One word of advice, don't count on the French bus driver to tell you when you've reached your bus stop... it's a long story that I won't go into here, but suffice it to say, we got where we needed to eventually and had a terrific day that included visiting the market, shopping, lunch and a dip in the med.
Ate at La Cucina that night. View was wonderful and food was very good. Service was best we'd had in any restaurant on the trip.
Day 8 -- Marseilles
Took a half-day cruise line excursion to Bandol and Castellet (spelling?). Castellet specifically was very nice, but the bus ride was a bit long.
Day 9 -- Back in Barcelona
Took the walk-off option. No delays except getting an elevator. Autos Vilar was waiting as expected at 8:00 am and had us at the airport in plenty of time for a 10:45 flight.
In summary -- we had a great time. We were too exhausted by the port tours to take advantage of any of the nightly activities such as Karoke or the White Hot party. We did participate in both Martini tastings and they were a great way to meet people and a lot of fun! The ship's staff could be a bit friendlier/more helpful and there definitely were some gaps in service but nothing that spoiled the trip.
I doubt I'll have another opportunity to cruise the med again, if I did, I might or might not try another ship. I did appreciate the Freestyle Cruising concept. Either way, I'd totally use Your Tour in Italy and Autos Vilar again!
I have an upcoming cruise on Celebrity this December. It'll be very interesting to see what the differences are.