We arrived at Rome airport and took the train to Civitaveccia, arriving in time for lunch onboard.We had an outside cabin for the first cruise from Rome to Amsterdam and a balcony cabin for the Norwegisn fjords cruise. Both were very nice with cabin stewards to match. We had late dinner seating for both cruises because we wanted to maximize our time in the ports. We took all of our dinners and breakfasts in the main dining room and found the food quality and service to be very good. Lunch was in the Windjammer buffet. Food there was very good with a large selection including some good Indian curry dishes. The only problem was the extreme shortage of tables, due in part to the cool weather preventing outside dining most days.
This is a Radiance class ship, about 2000 passengers, so smaller than some of the megaships. It is a nice size and we particularly like the Colony Club atmosphere. They had karaoke in the Crown and Anchor observation lounge at night and for us this made that normally pleasant area unuseable as a quiet place after dinner. Usually this area on RCI ships has an easy-listening group playing.
The entertainment was frequently exceptionally good. The ABBA tribute group was good but the Beach Boys tribute group called Westcoast was fantastic. Backed by the ships orchestra they put on a great live show, with harmonies that were possibly even better than the origional (if that's possible). The classical duo was not so good, however.We like to play trivia but the quizes seemed geared to a British audience, probably due to the large number of Europeans on board. We managed to score a few wins anyway! Disco night was held in the atrium and the cruise staff put on a great show with live singers and band performing.
Our first port was Gibralter and we had the warmest and sunniest day of the cruises here. It was Sunday so most of the shops were closed. We took the cable car up to the top of the rock. We have been here once before and did the tour, so this time we just went off on our own. On such a clear day the views were spectacular, so no problem seeing over to the shore of Africa. Even the Barbary Apes on the top were pretty well behaved except for a young one that snuck into the cafe and was promptly shooed out by a staff member. When we went down we walked through town back to the ship, stopping at a very English pub in this very English town on the coast of Spain.
We next docked at La Coruna Spain. We went to Santiago de Compostela on own by public bus. There was a large service going on in the Cathedral and it was full of people. We saw the tomb of St. James and the huge incense burner swinging from the rafters over the crowd. We had seen this in a Rick Steves video but we never dreamed we would be there at a time when it was actually happening. It was a great way to spend an otherwise cool and rainy day. When we returned to the port area we walked around the old town area nearby and then returned to the ship.
Le Havre France was next after we spent a day at sea transiting the Bay of Biscayne. This sea is notoriously rough but for us it was a very smooth crossing. We took a city/local bus to the very pleasant old seaside village of Etretat on the Alabaster Coast. There were half-timbered restaurants and shops there. It was somwhat touristy and problably gets really crowded in high season, but there were few people there in May. The chalk cliffs here mirror the ones at Dover England, which was our next stop.
Some comments in guide books are not very kind to Dover but we found it just fine to walk around on a fairly short stop. The castle is its most notable structure and although we did not go there, a local told us it had been recently upgraded to a first class sight to visit. You can view the castle without going up to it and you have a great view of the white cliffs sailing in and out of port. Dover town is a fairly typical English town and we had a snack at one of the pubs on a day sunny and warm enough to sit at the outdoor tables.
This cruise ended at Amsterdam, which is to be its homeport for the remainder of the summer. We spent the day ashore meeting friends who just happened to be there on their trip to Europe. What a stroke of luck. We walked around the canals and had a break at a local brown cafe. Once again it was just warm enough to sit outside on a breezy but sunny day. We have been to Amsterdam several times so we did not take in any sights beyond enjoying the canals, outdoor market in the Jordaan neighborhood and of course a quick stroll through the red light district.
The highlight of the fjord cruise is of course the spectacular fjords themselves. Nothing can compare to just sitting on the back of the ship with a hot cup of coffee and taking in this view. I won't tell you how many pictures we took.
Alesund was our first stop in Norway and it was unfortunately a truly terrrible day, with heavy rain, strong winds and cold temperatures. A covered tourist train kept us out of the rain but we didn't know it loaded right next to the ship until we walked to the tourist information center and then back to where the train tour started. At least we saw some of the famous art nouveau architecture the town is known for along the way. The viewpoint at the end of the tour was spectacular even in the rain. I was surprised how good the photos turned out even though I had to take them through the windows at the cafe on the top. The wind and rain were just too much to work around outside.We had some more rain in Bergen which was truly sad because by sheer luck we happened to be there on May 17 which is a holiday very similar to our July 4th. Everyone was in traditional costumes which were beautifully ornate, even somewhat covered by raincoats and umbrellas. There were bands and parades going on everywhere. Canons were being fired from the walls of the ancient fort and there was a tall sailing ship in the harbor. Once again in spite of the rain we got some good photos, especially of the colorful, intricately embroidered costumes.Sailing out of Beren through the islands with their tiny cottages is very scenic, even in a light rain.
We had an occasionally cloudy but dry day in Olden. We walked up to both of the old churches and the waterfall. Along the way was a small farm with newborn lambs in the field and spring flowers nearby. This is a very small village at the end of a fjord. There is not a whole lot there and that is the attraction.
Our day in the Geiranger fjord was on a day that could not have been more picture perfect. Sunny and warm, it made for a nice walk and a great little tour we booked ashore that simply took you by bus up to one side of the valley for the view and photo opportunity, then back down to the town and up the switch-back road to the other side of the valley for a completely different viewpoint of the fjord and the village below. While we were up there the Hurtigruten sailed down the fjord making for a picture postcard photo. More great photos of the fjord and waterfalls as we sailed back through the fjord at the end of the day.
All in all a great back to back pair of cruises even though the spring weather sometimes did not cooperate. I should add that RCI did some nice things for back to back cruisers, including a champaign brunch and a very helpful free bag of laundry. Captain Henrik was very personable and has a great sense of humor. Julie the pursars desk manager was also very pleasant and helpful. We would definitely sail on this ship again and would highly recommend a cruise through the Norwegian fjords.