We decided to take this cruise even though we knew it would be extremely hot in July. The attraction was the itinerary, which for some reason is offerred only a few times this year.
We took the train from FCO to Civitaveccia. The first time we did that it was somewhat intimidating, but we have done it enough now that it is pretty routine. The last time we learned that if you change at Trastevere instead of Termini it is a bit less expensive and much easier to go to the platform for the next train (no long walk like at Termini, just two platforms here). July and August are when Italians go to the beach and the train was absolutely packed, so we had to stand in the boarding area near the doors, which was not air conditioned. This had not been the case when we have done this other times in the year. We were really glad to arrive at Civita, walked to the cruise port and took the shuttle bus to the ship.
Mariner is in fine shape and we found the cabin, food, staff, and entertainment to be excellent, as usual. With this cruise we became Diamond level Crown and Anchor Society members, so we have sailed with RCI quite a bit.
As I mentioned, the ports-of-call are what drew us to this cruise, even though we long ago said we would not travel in southern Europe again in summer, due to the heat, crowds and expensive airfare (which was really astronomical!). But the cruise was a bargain, booked through Vacations to go.com, so it balanced out a bit.
Our first port was Genoa. We had been there before and knew it is an underrated city, well worth a look, but decided to try and do the Cinque Terra by train, on our own. We were first in line to disembark at 7:00 am. An employee of the port directed us to the port exit and pointed us to the train station. The directions were not too good but eventually we got there, bought our tickets and caught the next train without too much delay. I got timetables from the very good Trenitalia.com.it website and printed them out before we left home. This was an absolute necessity and helped smooth the way.
We started at the last of the five villages, Riomaggiore. We had originally thought we would return by boat, but due to windy conditions the boats were not running.I was prpared for this because it happens quite often, so we bought our return train tickets at the station there and had a look around. We knew there would not be time to do the trail hikes and that was ok because it was really hot. After a gelato we headed for the train. Because the boats were canceled the ship excursions used the train. There was at least one other ship at Genoa and this combined with the normal summer crowds meant the first train we took was absolutely packed. We were lucky to squeeze on! Because of this we decided to play it conservatively and skip the smallest village,Corniglia. This was probably a good move because the trains started running a bit late due to the huge crowds delaying boarding. Next we went to Manarola, Vernazza and ended at Monterosso, which is the only one with an actual beach. It was of course full of people enjoying the sun and surf. European beaches are quite different than American ones, with rows of unbrellas and lounge chairs filling the sand. We had a much deserved cool drink in the shade and caught the next train back to Genoa, with time to spare before departure. This was one of several highlights of this cruise. I did a lot of preparation for using the trains, aided greatly as usual by the Rick Steves book. With the fine weather it could not have worked out better.
Ajaccio, Corsica was the next stop. We had not been here and so this cruise gave us that opportunity to vist this not very common port of call. We took a tour on our own on the topless (but somewhat shaded) sightseeing bus. Then we walked around this pretty city, filled with palm trees, a beach. a fortress and lots of shops. The ship docks in town so we went back for lunch, then back ashore to shop, ending with another well deserved cool drink at a little local cafe, steps away from the terminal entrance.
We had another long stop at Barcelona which allowed us to do all three of the BusTouristic sightseeing routes. You can take a city bus from the port to the Columbus monument and there you can book and board the sightseeing bus. We stopped along the route at the Tramvia Blau tram, which we took to the funicular that transports you to the Tibidabo amusement park, high up in the hills above Barcelona. This small amusement park is about a hundred years old and has some of the most charming antique rides I have ever seen. The view was spectacular and this became another highlight of the trip. At the end of the bus tours we walked to the Bari Gothic and then down the Ramblas shopping street which ends at the Columbus monument, where we easily caught the city bus back to the cruiseport. This time we had our refreshment on the ship, because the 10 euro beer at the sidewalk table on the Ramblas was the type of tourist trap rip off the guide books had warned about. But what an absolutely wonderful day!
Next port was Palma de Mallorca. We had been there once before but did not have time on that cruise to do the historic Train de Soller. This cruise stayed in port long enough that I thought it would be possible. I researched the times on their internet site and printed this info out before we left home. We were again off the ship early, caught the city bus into town and walked to the train station, which is next to the large regular train/bus staion.This historic train was inaugurated a hundred years ago. The electric locmotives and carriages are all wood and are immaculately restored and maintained. The ride to the village of Soller took a little over an hour. In Soller the sheds for the trains were accompanied by a small station with unbelievably two small free museums containing Picasso and Miro pieces. They both lived in Soller at one time and there are photos of them on the staion walls. In Soller you can take a tram that is equally historic, to the seaside Port de Soller. Some of the cars on the tram are open and it is quite a change going through the citrus groves and ending at the beach. We took a break at a shaded cafe table here, did a little shopping and caught the regional bus back to Palma, arriving in time to have a walk around there. Then the city bus back to the ship. Another great day-the train and tram at Soller was another highlight of this cruise for us. Anyone who has an interest in trains would truly enjoy this excursion.
Or last call was at Cagliari, Sardinia. This was another place we had not been as it only occasionally shows up on cruise itineraries. By now the tmperatures were really getting oppressive so we took the easy way out and booked a ships excursion at the last minute. it gave us quick look around and a look at the museum, which turned out to have some surprisingly good archaeolgical finds in it. However it would be easy to do this on your own and there is a hop-on-off sightseeing bus here that would be much cheaper. But if we had done that we wouldn't have gone to the museum which I thought was worth a look, even though it is pretty simple in design.
We booked a two night hotel stay at the Mercure Corso Trieste hotel and returned to Rome from Civita on the train. It was a ways from the city center a bit but near an express bus line direct to Termini station. We bought transit tickets and went back into the city, walked around all afternoon and evening and returned on a different bus line. We have been to Rome several times and have gotten pretty comfortable with the excellent public transit.
The second day we took the train to the hill town of Cortona and spent the day. This is the village where the Andre Rieu concert "Live From Tuscany" was filmed, if you have seen that on PBS. Spectacular views and a Sunday market added to this lovely hilltop village charm. We ate at a sidewalk cafe and had the best bruschetta ever. In fact the gelato we had there while we walked around was about the best too!
I have focused here on the ports because of the unique itinerary. Hopefully this will be helpful to others, because some of these places are hard to find info on. Rick Steves books were helpful, but did not cover all of these places.
We have been on many trips to Europe but I would rate this as one of the best!