To start off with some background, my husband and I are 25 and 26 and we are spending these years traveling while I'm still in grad school and no kids are in the picture! I also generally prefer to do my own planning and am more of an independent traveler. I was afraid a cruise to this area wouldn't allow that, but it totally did! It was the perfect way to see the Mediterranean, at least for a first glance. Also a quick tip - we booked 5 months in advance and a couple weeks before I noticed the prices dropped about $800 a person. I called just curious if they could provide an upgrade or credit and to my surprise they upgraded us from inside to balcony! Very impressed with their generosity given that they had no obligation to! For the rest of the review I'll separate things in to categories as best as possible:
I'll leave the comments about the room in the deck plans review! But real quick, the cabin was great, the noise was annoying.
Food: We pretty much only ate dinner on the ship, with the occasional breakfast. We did the buffet for most dinners, but there were also a handful of days we did Windows. The buffet had a decent selection, but that selection didn't seem to change much from day to day. Also, the quality didn't always seem amazing. There was a large amount of fresh fruit and bread though! The Windows dining area was nice and quiet, but it did require slightly formal wear every night. The food at Windows was about on par with other cruises I've been on, maybe slightly lower quality. The Blue Lagoon had really good American type food, but the service wasn't great there. I would have liked to see more pizza and sandwich options overall on the ship.
Entertainment: We only went to the evening shows in the main theater and a couple of the game shows. I was fine with most of the evening shows. I particularly liked the Broadway night, Angels (acrobats), and the final show Elements. The Flaminco dancers were my least favorite. I thought the shows were better than the Carnival cruises I've been on.
Onboard expenses: I'm cheap, so I didn't go over our $100 of onboard credit when buying alcohol. It still went a far way though. I'd suggest buying the Fosters beer because the size for the money is best. Also, if you're willing to stray from Miller, Bud, Coors then the "better beers" (in my opinion) were more affordable. Also, at the Henry's Pub the mixed drinks were made quite strong, so I felt you got your moneys worth :) As for exchanging money on board, I'd say don't if you can possibly help it. It's a $10 fee and the exchange rate is insane. Nearly every port has a plethora of ATMs, use these instead!! Same with internet, the rates are crazy. Most ports had internet cafes or free internet somewhere around, wait until you are out and slip into one!
Service: Nothing to say, but great! Friendly staff and crew, especially room service... but I've always had a good experience with this on cruises.
Embarkation/Disembarkation: Great, fast experience! We got there right at 12pm on embarkation day and went right through with no problems, our bags got to our room a couple hours later. Disembarkation we waited until the last minute and there was still quite a few people leaving, but we had no problems getting off or using elevators for our bags. When you get off at Barcelona, either take a taxi (the line was horrendous) or take the shuttle to the Columbus Monument (runs every 30/40 mins, so it can be a wait). Also related to getting on/off the ship... we were on time, early, or within 10 mins late for every port... very impressed by that!
Ports that I couldn't include in the port reviews:
Venice: We flew in the day before (got in about 1pm on the 26th). We had prepaid through Venice Connected for our transportation passes. This ended up being very useful! We took the bus to the first vaporetto stop and hopped on the vaporetto to Rialto Bridge. Our hotel was a short walk from the bridge, but we the confusing streets and bags it was a bit tiring. Bring a map! We stayed at the Locanda La Corte and loved it! It was a two-story room with a large sitting area and bathroom upstairs. The bed was a bit hard and there was no free breakfast, but besides that we really liked it. We used our passes quite a bit to go up and down the Grand Canal, so well worth the price. It was also fun just to walk around the canals.. you can't get too lost usually. The prices are a bit high, but if you get away from Grand Canal and St. Mark's you can get slightly more authentic, cheaper food and souvenirs. To get to the ship, take the vaporetto back to where the bus drops you off and take the people mover (they'll be signs) to the ship. Make note that our muster time was 4:30, so plan around that cause you need to be there.
Toulon: We went to Cassis this day. Unfortunately docking time didn't allow us to get to the 9:30am train out to Cassis, so we got the 10:55am one. We walked to the train station (about 20 mins). Cassis was about 25 mins away and there was a bus waiting at the train station to take you into town. These seem to only come every 30/40 mins and there are no taxis. When in town we got a 5 calanque boat tour (65 mins) and pretty much hopped right on. This was well worth it and beautiful (google pics of these)! But we were a bit stressed getting to the train station, as we had to wait a while for the bus back.
Overall, the Spirit was a good ship, but the itinerary really made the trip! It was wonderful! I'm cheap and we don't have a lot of money to work with, so we did all but one port on our own. It is VERY doable to do this if you don't want to pay the crazy price for excursions. Buy Rick Steves book (God-send) and do your research. Public transportation is a breeze in most ports and MUCH cheaper than a private van. Also, don't be fooled by the "you need a group tour to skip lines", just buy the tickets online ahead of time... we skipped long lines for Vatican, Colosseum, and Accademia! If you are doing things on your own make an effort to be off the boat ASAP (it's not hard, just show up 10 mins before scheduled docking on the floor above the gangway). A lot of the times we beat the tours to the sights. Email me if you have further questions: email@example.com