This was our fifth RCI cruise, although the first in quite a while (we still call it RCCL, so that may give you an idea). It was also our first cruise on a "mega" ship. The largest ship we had previously sailed on was the old Sovereign of the Seas. Our cruise was a seven day roundtrip from Barcelona.
We stayed in Barcelona for two days prior to the cruise, and were able to pick our arrival time at the pier. Our agent suggested 1:00, so that's when we arrived. The embarkation area didn't seem too crowded, plus we had booked a junior suite so we got to use a shorter line than most. It only took a few minutes, which was admirable.
As I said, we had a junior suite, the first time we stayed in a suite. It was room 9580, pretty much dead center on deck 9. It was by FAR the best stateroom we've ever had. There was an enormous amount of space, a large balcony and a walk-in closet. We were also staying in Barcelona after the cruise, and so we had a lot of luggage. There was plenty of room in the closet for all of our stuff. It's going to be hard to go back to a standard room after this!
We were part of a group of 11, and for flexibility reasons we chose My Time dining. We were really disappointed in the overall dining room experience. The dinners seemed to go on forever, nearly three hours on average. I don't know if the brutal pacing was because of My Time, but it was way, way too slow.
The dining room food was poor too, I thought. There would be a selection of just 5 entree choices, two of which were vegetarian. They also had a few things that were always on the menu, like plain salmon and chicken. Nothing I had was better than mediocre, and several things were just plain bad. We cruised on Princess twice last year, and dining was a highlight, so this was a total disappointment.
I hated the food worse than most of the rest of the group, but no one rated it better than "just OK." Given the poor food and extended dining times, we gave up and opted to eat at Portofino and the buffet three out of the last four nights. Portofino was excellent, and I would highly recommend having a dinner there.
The buffet had a large selection, but the quality was nothing special (although the food wasn't any worse than the dining room). We never had a problem finding a place to sit.
We were real impressed with the ship. It never felt crowded, and it was either full or nearly full. That was pretty impressive. We were in port 6 out of 7 days, and so didn't get to spend as much time exploring the ship as we would have liked.
We had a drink in pretty much every bar, and liked them all. But our favorite was Vintages Wine Bar. The bar had a huge selection of wines by the glass, and they would bring you a nice plate of tapas while you were there. Most of the wine uses a self service system, so they are basically never closed. Most of my shipboard account was spent here!
Toulon: We took an RCI tour to Aix-en-Provence. It was Sunday, and so most of the shops were closed. There was an antiques market, which kept my wife busy, and several enchanting cafes to keep me happy. It was a very pleasant day.
Villefranche. We took the train to Nice on our own and spent most of the day there. We had a very nice lunch right on the beach at Lido Plage. It was less expensive than we expected for the Riviera, and had some of the best seafood I've ever had. Our group of 7 all recommend this place,
We returned to Villefranche later in the afternoon and shopped and had coffee in a seaside cafe. It was such a nice day that we are considering getting a villa here next summer.
Livorno: We took a tour of Pisa and Florence through RCI. It was kind of a dud. Pisa was just a photo opp, and once we got off the bus there was a 20 minute walk to the tower. We had a really nice lunch in a restaurant recommended by our guide (il Francescano), but things were way too crowded in town to really enjoy ourselves. Plus the main square was set up for an upcoming soccer game, and was closed. That made things even more crowded.
I'm willing to blame ourselves on this, though. We should have taken a private tour or at least have prepared a little more. As it was, we just wandered around and didn't have a great time.
Civatavecchia (Rome): We took the train to Rome through RCI. It was a very comfortable 90 minute ride (I slept the entire way back). Some of our friends had been to Rome several times and took us on a whirlwind walking tour. It was fast paced enough that it was all kind of a blur :)
Naples: We were a little burned out after Rome, and spent the morning on the ship. We eventually got up enough energy to walk into town and have terrific pizza at a place whose name escapes me. We shopped at the Umberto Galleria, and just explored some of the colorful side streets of Naples. Naples turned out to be a lot of fun, in part because it was the first port that didn't involve a bus or train ride.
RCI did so much right on this cruise. We were awed by our room, and by the ship itself. They really have the logistics down on how to handle a huge number of passengers. It was rare to stand in any lines, and an elevator was usually waiting for you when you needed it.
But I can't get past how really bad the dining experience was. Poor food, a narrow selection in the dining room, and meals that seemed to last forever. I'm not a big buffet fan, and this buffet was only adequate. So if I preferred it to the dining room things had to be terrible. For me, it wiped out most of the good things that RCI did during the week.