This was our first cruise and we were a bit worried about how we might be affected by sea sickness as well as the problem in Greece. The reviews we read were mixed some worrying ones about the cabin size (as there were 4 of us in a JS) and food (a vegetarian and non-fish eating 'fish are friends not food' among us). On the other hand we've also read good reviews and reassured by the blog about the refurbishment of the ship.
We booked on RCI website and prebooked a few excursions,mainly to spread the cost so that we don't have a huge bill on board! We had one of the soda fountain package and one of the water package (handy for excursions). We ordered and received the luggage tags in plenty of time.
We arranged our own flights via Alitalia and booked our hotels directly and through Booking.com for a few days in Bari before and after the cruise. The price including flights on RCI website was quite expensive by comparison.
We also used the RCI webchat facility on their website for other questions and this was efficient and helpful e.g. for dietary requirements, cabin size and currency / visa info.
On the day of departure our check in at the port was at 2.30pm (departure at 8pm). There there was RCI staff everywhere to help us and the check in was 5-10 minutes only. Our photos were taken but this seems to be a a problem area as the cards keeps malfunctioning during the cruise so we keep having to get new photos taken (maybe the effects of the good food were affecting our faces :) Because of this and inaccurate bills we spent a lot of time at guest services during the cruise!
The ship looks a bit dated on the outside as when we arrived the MSC DIVINA (which was bigger & recently launched in May) was in the next dock so the immediate comparison is less than favourable. However, inside the Splendour it is amazing, everything looks new thanks to the recent refurb! Our room JS 8020 was a good size but a bit compact for 2 adults and 2 teenagers. There was a double bed (that can be split up to 2 singles) and a comfortable sofa bed. The latter was opened up every evening and folded away in the morning by the attendant. There was no dividing curtain to divide the areas even though this was shown in the online picture. The balcony has a round table and 2 chairs and we could've done with 2 more for when we had room service breakfast. There were 2 armchairs and 2 footstools in the room as well as the sofa bed which gets in the way when the bed is open and not needed. There were a lot of storage space, more than enough for all of us. There was a minibar with soft drinks and a selection of minibar snacks and biscuits. There were enough clothes hangers but we had brought extra for the formal wear. We also used the cleaning offer of $25 for a bag of clothes on day 3 of the cruise (but you need to ask the attendant for a special bag to use)
There were a lot of activities available and we tried the yoga classes which was good way to start our morning but there were only 2 sessions on the whole cruise. The spa and gym was small, we used the package of $99 for 3 x 15 mins treatments and on the day in Venice there was an offer of $129 for full massage and facial. The treatments were fairly basic (compared to normal salon treatment) and at time seems like the therapist were just (albeit politely) going through the motion.
Our room attendant ( Gar) was a kind, attentive and observant guy who is not only hardworking (keeping a room tidy with 2 teenagers is a challenge) helpful and talented - we were delighted by the towel monkey, elephant and pig sporting our daughter's sunglasses! In the restaurant, we had a 6.30 seating and was lucky to have lovely dinner companions from Wisconsin. The menu choices were good and our waitresses Kelly and Hunriye were so helpful. The former is the happiest person we've ever met! We had the Maine lobster one evening at $28 but well worth it!!
We prebooked the Corfu Dassia beach and it was very well organised and worth the money. The hotel manager was there to greet us and we were shown a reserved section of the beach with sunloungers and sun umbrellas enough for the whole party. This included a soft drink each and the tour guide stayed close to make sure to help if we need it.
The next excursion we pre-book was cable car in Croatia which was again well organised and informative. It gave us an excellent view of Dubrovnik and time to shop for souveniers in the town. We even had time for a quick lunch and the prices in the shops were reasonable.
The day of Mykonos and Athens were swapped around due to problems with strong wind preventing the ship from going there on the day planned. In Athens we shared a minibus organised by another party and we visited the Acropolis and the tomb of unknown soldier. The Parthenon and Acropolis is a must see if you visit Athens but there is not much else to see in the time available.
We didn't visit Mykonos as the tender was quite choppy in the strong wind but people who did go onshore seemed to have coped well with it.
In Venice, most of the people left and there were no organised excursion for those who's leaving in Bari like us. Outside the ship, we took a shuttle bus to the port office (nearly ended up leaving on the wrong bus as directed by the staff who thought we were leaving). At the port, there is a train /People mover at Euro 1 each or water taxi of Euro 15 each. We took the former which was long queue and had to put up with a lot of tour groups who queue jump! Also, this delivers us only to a train station and we then have to queue for another ticket for a water taxi to San Marks square at Euro 6 each. However, this is the scenic route to San Marks square and was definitely worth the effort! On the way back, we took the direct water taxi to the port at Euro8 each. We feel that RCI really let us down in Venice as it just docked there for us to figure out how to go around ourselves (the only staff on the bus with us was very friendly on the ship but jumped the queue and ignored us, presumably because she was off duty and going shopping in Venice)
The shows were good and we enjoyed most when we can although felt very nervous for the aerial performers as they look terrified most of the time!
Dining and paparazzi:
On our day of boarding, we encountered the paparazzi experience when we were ORDERED to stand together by a wall for a photo to record our cruise start. After this shock and delay we headed to the Winjammer for lunch and was told that it's closed even though we were assured on check in that lunch would be available there. We had to search around and found that the only place open was the Hot Dog bar (no vege option) and the Ben & Jerry where we got charged for ice cream and drinks as only cookies and cakes are included. This was disappointing start as being our first cruise we didn't know much about the ship schedule and it made us cautious as to what else is chargeable. All the staff seems to assume we've been on a cruise before and left us to figure things out which can be nice but in this case was not really...
Our dinner seating at 6.30pm allowed us to see the show straight after and since most departure is by 4pm, suits us well as we're not use to eating so late. The menu choices was varied, our vegetarian daughter preferred Windjammer most nights and you can check the menu beforehand to decide on the night. However, on two occassions in the King & I, this was marred by the same 'paparazzi' ordering us to stop eating and at one point he told my husband not to put his arm around his daughter for the photo! This is very rude & disruptive so we asked the waitress to request them not to disturb our dinner again. We enjoyed having our photos taken most times but not with mouthful of food, perhaps between courses would've been better.
The speciality dining we tried was Chef's table (AMAZING & DELICIOUS experience!!!) which took about 3 hours and Chops Grille which was included in the package. The food in the latter was also v.good and the service was excellent. We didn't try Izumi as it was included but with extra charges. We used the Viking Crown lounge a lot as it is a relaxed and quiet area for post dinner conversations and cocktails with our new friends.
The disembarkation in Bari was smooth as we've arranged a shuttle bus from the Sheraton Nicolaus (free of charge) to collect us. The port shuttle bus was $10 each and we didn't see any taxis around so a lot of the others who disembarked were left standing around in the hot sun waiting for a taxi.
Overall an excellent ship and itinerary, a few staff needs further training but we highly recommend it to first timers!