This was our first cruise and we were excited and apprehensive. Travelling as a family with two daughters aged 16 and 18.
We booked late, only 5 weeks before departure, and had the 'guarantee' rooms. Were a bit worried that two rooms would be on different decks etc, but Travel agent 'linked' bookings and we were side by side. Had two rooms right at the front of the ship on Deck 7, overlooking the Helicopter pad.
Rooms were lovely, clean and spacious. Rather like those in Premier Inn. Plenty of storage for clothes etc and lots of hangers in the wardrobe!
We had an early flight arriving in port at about 10.30am. Each passenger is issued with a 'Sea pass' card, which is like a credit card and you will need to carry with you at all times if you want to buy anything. Cash is not used on board for any purchases, you just handover your seapass card and it is charged to your account. We linked all our passes to one account (this was done when we checked in online before travelling). You can select to have your credit card charged in US dollars or your own currency which uses the ships exchange rate. We opted for charging in dollars as tend to get a better rate from our credit card company. Check if your card issuer charges for exchange fees. You can view your charges at anytime via your room TV, so no surprises at the end of the trip.
We were able to board and have a good look around. Headed for the Windjammer and were blown away by the choice and quality of the food. Salads, pasta dishes, curries, roast potatoes, burger and chips...and more, all you can eat! Presentation was great with carved fruit and everything looking 'fresh'. We had no problem finding a table by the window, only busy time was when we had a day cruising and didnt get to breakfast until 10.30am, but the waiters did all they could to accomodate us and found a table within a few minutes. Nothing was too much trouble.
Tea, coffee, iced water, iced tea and cloudy lemonade (fruit juice in the morning) were all free and plentiful. Unless you cant live without coke and sprite, I wouldnt bother with the soda package as they could work out expensive if buying for a family.
Dont take any towels. Clean pool towels are available every day for free, you only get charged if you dont return them by the end of the trip, I think you can take them into port as well if you need too.
You will need your seapass card to exit and return to the ship, so dont forget it!
Plug adaptors. You have a choice, there are sockets for the american plugs using the lower voltage, or sockets for european (2pin) using 230v, so ladies you can take your straighteners! There are hairdryers provided in rooms. You are not allowed to take clothes Irons. There is a laundry service (chargeable) if you need it. However, you can hang clothes up in the bathroom to remove creases using the steam from your shower. No clocks in the room so take a travel clock. You can get alarm calls. Calls between rooms are free and there are phones around the ship. Calls to land etc are chargeable.
Trips - Valencia - we got the 15euro (each) shuttle to downtown valencia, if you want shops its a waste of time on a sunday as they are all shut. However, I believe you can walk to local sights, cathedrals etc. The formula 1 was on when we were there and we got a taxi to the track (cheaper than the shuttle) and there was a small shopping mall called Aqua nearby, we walked around the museum of art which is a amazing building and there was another mall with Carrefour in the front. Got a taxi from here back to the ship, was less than 10euros for all of us.
Civitevecchia - we decided to get the train to Rome rather than going on the excursion. Get the shuttle from the ship to the port gate. Outside the gate to the right is a ticket seller. Choice of trains, the fast train is good but you are tied to a return time, this is 15e each, or the BIRG which was 12e each this also covered buses and underground (metro) in Rome. We got off at Rome S Pietro and walked 10mins to vatican city. Queues to get into church very long so we didnt bother, just walked through the square and out the other sided where we caught the metro to Trevi Fountain, then 5 min walk to spanish steps. Took another metro to colosseum. Top tip:- when exiting collosso station Colosseum is straight in front of you, and there will be a long queue for tickets, walk past colesseum and continue through arch down to Palentino (I'm not sure if my spelling is correct),buy your ticket at the Palentino entrance which is on the right a little way down, there will be no queue and the ticket gets you into the palentino and colosseum so you can walk back and jump the queue! From here we got the metro to the termini and returned to civitivecchia. The platform was no 27 and a good walk through the station. we got the train times from the internet before leaving home. Train takes about an hour.
Livorno - had to pay for the shuttle, 5e each. Other guests complained and got their money refunded as you have no choice if you want to leave the ship. Livorno is quite a busy town. Where shuttle drops you off you can head for Piazzo Grande and the buses stop in front of macdonalds. No 1 Bus to train station (about 3miles) , buy two tickets to return. 1.20e each way. Train to Piza about 20mins ride, then a 15-20min walk to tower. when you come out of the station head straight on, at first plaza go to the left to the tourist info and they will give you a good map. Its basically straight on and you pass through a good shopping street. We didnt go to Florence but those that did had a good time.
Ajaccio - we stayed in the town as only a short day here. Port is in town so no shuttle, just exit terminal and turn left, walk through open air market on right, and shopping street runs parallel to the port.
Back on board we had the 7pm dining option. We missed a couple of nights as we wanted to watch the ship leaving port. Service was excellent and food choice good, however, you can get the same (and more) at the windjammer. Those with young children tended to favour the windjammer for evening meals,and if you didnt want to dress up for the formal evening you could eat in the Windjammer or order room service. For the formal evening we were advised to dress smart. Men did wear suits and ties, and some tuxedo's which looked very nice. Ladies, a nice dress or trouser suit. These ranged from long dresses, to smart dresses that you would wear on a night out...not mini ones though!
There is plenty to do on board and we found we ran out of time! You get a daily 'compass' the night before giving details of events the next day. The ice show is a must and get your tickets early to get your choice of show time -these are complimentary and you will be informed via the compass when they are available.
Photos- they are taken everytime you get off the ship, every night at the dinner table, as you are going into dinner....have them taken, they are on sale in the gallery and you dont have to have them.
Tips - these can be prepaid with your travel agent or you have the choice at the end of the cruise to have them charged to your onboard account or pay in cash ($) you are provided with envelopes to give out yourself. The recommended per person is $11.65 a day. this is made up of $3.75 stateroom attendant, $5 dining room waiter, $2.15 asst waiter, $0.75 head waiter. We english are not good at tipping, but to be honest by the time we got to day 6 we were more than happy to pay as the service is soooo good and nothing is too much trouble.
Pools and sunbathing, there are 3 pools, two next to each other and are family pools, one is an adult only pool with two large jacuzzi's. Only thing that annoyed us was the 'loved up' couples smooching etc in the adult pool - you've got a room, use it! Water was pleasantly warm and well worth going in. There are two area's for topless sunbathing, but these can get full full up with people in their tankini's which is annoying again!
The gym - my hubby thought this was wonderful, treadmills, cross trainers, weights, large and spacious. Take your running shoes and gym outfit its open all day.
All in all we had an amazing time. this was our first cruise but it wont be the last, there is something for everyone, which is great when we all want different things from a holiday. The staff were friendly, the ship was clean and sparkling. Have a great holiday!