OK... This was our first cruise and this is also my first review. I'm writing this so that other first timers will know what they are getting into.
My fiance and I embarked the Adventure of the Seas at Malaga and despite a little of "where do we go now", the process was smooth and quick. We got on board at midday, when we arrived, instead of the time printed on our tickets of 1pm. I wish we hadn't, none of the rooms were available, so it felt like everyone and their seadogs were sitting in the windjammer. We got a little stressed out since there were no seats and we were faced with the horrifying idea that every meal would be like this (it wasn't in the end). One upside was that we were given a seat next to a lovely Irish couple who we would see throughout the trip and enjoy some drinks with.
However, once we got into the room, everything started going uphill... We had a balcony room (well worth getting, didn't cost us too much as it was a late deal cruise) which was very nicely presented, a little dated but comfortable and clean. Our stateroom attendant really was very good and comes in to clean at least a couple of times a day.
Port 1: Valencia - I wont say too much about ports since I recommend you explore yourself. We got a shuttle transfer from the boat since the grand prix was on at the time and we were a little worried about traffic etc. We were also a little worried at the small print on the shuttle ticket which stated that everything closes in Valencia on a Sunday... As it happened we found a couple really nice little bars and didn't really notice things were closed.
Port 2: Rome - We didn't get off... hoping that the boat would be a bit quieter, it wasn't. I wont start on the behaviour of some Spanish children on the boat (no fault of the cruise of course).
Port 3: Livorno - This was by far the best port for us... We took the train to Florence and got back to Pisa for a photo op for about half the price it would have cost us to do an organised excursion...
Port 4: Ajaccio - looked lovely but we spent most of the day in bed... and not in a good way!
More on that in a minute, back to the boat, we were definitely impressed with the size although we're not big fans of people (probably shouldn't have gone on a cruise) and so thought it a little busy at times. We spent most of our time in the windjammer, the casino and the theatre and have to say had a good time in all. The only problem with the casino is that everything is in USD and since we only took euros, you can imagine the type of exchange rate we got in the casino... and also I don't think the rocking of the boat helped with the roulette (seriously, the boat is as steady as a rock).
The Theatre was a bit of fun, mostly geared at kids but the male singing group were pretty good.
We didn't go to the ice show in the end, because we slept in and missed the one day you can get tickets, our Irish friends said it was good, if only because they kept falling over...Apparently people were getting let in at the door without tickets anyway.
The food was pretty good though got a little repetitive in the windjammer but that was because we tended to eat at odd times. We ate in the impressive formal dining room twice, the first occasion was during a formal evening... you really do need to dress up, some people didn't and I thought I wouldn't bother, but I would have felt uncomfortable and normally that kind of thing doesn't bother me. The second time we ate in the dinning room my paella didn't taste right so I didn't eat it... sure enough I got no sleep that night because my fiance was sick on the hour, every hour, until I called the nurse who told her she had a norovirus, gave her an injection and confined her to quarters for a day and a half... Needless to say this kind of ruined Corsica and the remainder of our holiday. Also, just as we got home and she was feeling 100% again, I got sick and had three days off work...
Tipping - Everyone expects a tip even though a service charge is already auto added to the bill. I didn't mind actually because we don't drink much and everyone was really friendly... If you want the scoop on what to do in a port and the cheapest way to go about doing it, speak to the crew (particularly the croupiers who only work nights and can therefore get off at ports) these people (and they are people) spend 7 months on ship and you don't see any of them on the shuttle bus... at the end of the holiday you get envelopes where you can put tips. We gave the stateroom guy a decent tip but nobody else since we only went to the restaurant twice and the second time got sick... Some people might think that harsh, but you know what, cruises are expensive and i'm not giving money to my "head waiter" who I didn't even meet!!
I'm getting bored now, so i'll sum up:
Would I go on a cruise again, yes BUT only with a balcony room, an equal sized or bigger boat and preferably more stops where you can just walk out from the boat i.e. you don't have to get a shuttle or taxi.
If you take one message from this review it's this: Cruises are good, expect to have to pay for drink, do as much excursions yourself at half the cost, wash your hands as much as you can and if it don't taste right, don't eat it!!