This is the "short" version of the review of the 17th September Silhouette Adriatic Venice to Rome Cruise. The mother of all reviews, with photos and more details is still in the works....
We planned this trip to celebrate sending our youngest off to college and my impending 50th birthday. Initially we booked a Baltic cruise, then changed to to an Egypt and Holy Land one, before this cruise suddenly appeared online from nowhere and offered a safer alternative with several new ports.
We have cruised many times on celebrity, and decided to give Aqua Class a whirl as we heard it offered spa features and it's restaurant Blu served food of a lighter, healthier style which we thought would suit us.
We flew United to Munich in Economy Plus (well worth the extra $100) and after a 5 hour layover, braved a flight over the Alps on an Air Dolomiti propellor plane. Eek! Truth be told I was so exhausted I fell asleep before we took off and woke up to the most amazing view of the Alps out of the window. It was spectacular. "Fly low over the Alps in a scary plane" has now been checked off my bucket list!
We splurged on a water taxi from VCE airport to the Hilton Molino Stucky. Again money well spent as it was an exhilarating ride and we arrived in style, rather than schlepping our bags on and off ferries and dragging them over bridges. I chose the hotel because it had it's own dock, and it's own private ferry service to Zattere and San Marco, and also because I knew I'd be guaranteed a comfortable bed and a decent bathroom, which for me are essential when I am jet lagged.
We spent 3 days pre-cruise in Venice just wandering around soaking up the place. We pre-booked a guided tour of the Doges Palace and one of the Clock Tower, which it turns out is not the tall tower in Piazza San Marco! Oops, sorry DH, but at least we climbed something not many other people have ;) Ate lots of great food, paid the obligatory music fee and enjoyed a light lunch at Caffe Florian while the square flooded, ate fabulous fish and an amazing chocolate souffle at a waterfront restaurant near the Zattere ferry stop and also tried Venetian Cicchettis which I reckon are an acquired taste that I haven't acquired!
Shared a water taxi to the ship, again money well spent, as our bags were unloaded right at the taxi stop and taken straight to the ship. I felt sorry for the people dragging bags from the ferry or the People Mover to the Terminal.
Check in was a breeze and we were on board drinking champagne in less than 15 minutes.
We had an Aqua 2 cabin, 1626, in a great location just aft of the midship elevators, and located between two decks of cabins. Our steward Jonathan was excellent and dealt with all my initial requests with a smile, even though they were a pain for him on a busy day. I have really bad allergies so the flowers, the smelly incense sticks and the feather bedding had to go. I had given this info to the CC department a few weeks before sailing but it seems it never actually reached the ship.
The cabin was well laid out although a couple more drawers would have been a welcome addition, especially in the night stand. As for the over the bed storage, I am 5'2" and never had any trouble reaching it either from the floor or standing on the bed. Loved the rainforest style overhead shower, but never did quite figure out why I would want jets of water squirting at my bum or the backs of my knees...
We ate in Blu and I have to confess food wise, for me,it was a bit disappointing, with less choices than the MDR menu. I don't eat a lot, and in the MDR can eat light with the everyday shrimp cocktail and the everyday caesar salad if I wish, but there were only everyday main courses on the Blu menu. I struggled to find appetisers that were neither raw, laden with cheese or deep fried. Some nights there wasn't even a leafy salad appetiser, just two different mayo based salads. I am a savory rather than sweet person and as well as a chilled sweet soup, the hot savory soup also had sweet components to it, so choices there were also limited. The mains offered more variety with a dinner salad, pasta, fish, poultry and a couple of red meat dishes, as well as the everyday plain chicken, salmon and steak. I eat mainly fish and chicken, and very occasionally red meat paired with lots of vegetables. Every night the waiters were dissuading guests from the fish and poultry dishes and recommending the meat dishes which were really heavy. The presentation was nice but there was just too much food. In the end I even ordered from the vegetarian menu. I don't expect people to jump through hoops for me but things that have been mentioned previously about being able to order from the MDR menu in Blu, about shrimp cocktail always being available, or being able to personalise dishes (even asking to swap baked potato on one dish for mashed potatoes from another was a no), were just not possible on this cruise and vegetables were just about non-existent.
Having said this I certainly didn't starve. A lot of what I ordered was so so. I really enjoyed the vegetables and hummus and breadsticks that were on the table. Of the stand out dishes, on night one the fillet mignon and the dessert with berries were fabulous, the broccoli soup from the vegetarian menu was really nice and towards the end of the cruise I had the best lobster I have ever eaten in my life.
Perhaps I should mention that Blu was packed every night we were there. Service was frantic and rushed certainly not a relaxing dining experience. It was open seating, they don't accept reservations, so you showed up when you were ready and hoped for the best. There was no facility to reserve a specific time or specific waiters section.
We had the Premium Alcoholic Package and had difficulty getting decent wine service in Blu. The two sommeliers were stretched to the point that they couldn't do their jobs well. When we sat down I ordered the same white wine every night and my husband ordered a glass of the same white as me and a glass of red wine for the main course. We thought ordering everything at once would make life easier for the sommelier and give the red wine time to breathe. We were forever waiting for the glasses to be refilled (don't see why they couldn't have left the bottle on the table), and for the glass of red to appear, to the point one night when my husband walked to the Ensemble Bar and got a glass of red from there to enjoy with his entree which had already arrived. The Sommelier was horrified.
Because our cruise was very port-intensive with lots of early tours, we only had the chance to try breakfast in Blu on disembarkation day and really enjoyed the experience. It was calm, quiet and civilised and the service was very attentive. The food was delicious too. It made a delightful alternative to the buffet!
I am not a buffet person, I don't like eating food that has been hanging around, so only had a couple of late lunches there. As I was craving vegetables most of the trip, the indian section of the buffet provided a welcome selection of vegetable curries.
The Aquaspa Cafe was a nice lunch venue, with several different choices of cold fish and shrimp served with salad, and an extensive salad bar.
We ate at Qsine one night and Murano another. We had heard from other people that at Qsine there is too much food, especially if you go with a large group, so we went just as a couple and went with a game plan. We would order only 3 dishes. We had the Taj Mahal (indian), Chi-tinis (chinese) and the chicken skewered on a dagger. The first two dishes were great, but we struggled with the 3rd and passed on dessert. Was the food good? Yes. Was it worth $40 a head? No way. Murano was very pleasant, but I worried the food would be overwhelmingly rich and filling, and I was right. I ordered the Mushroom Capuccino soup. It was very rich and creamy, but the portion was huge, and I was full by the end of it. I had the lobster for the main course, and again it was delicious, but I could only manage a few bites and I hate wasting food. I had the thinnest sliver of cheese and we shared a portion of ice cream, much to the disappointment of the waiter who wanted to bring us two. Again Murano was nice, but this time, even though I didn't eat much, I would say it was worth the $40 cover charge because of the nice atmosphere and the impeccable service.
We spent a lot of time in Cafe Al Baccio, lattes in the morning, afternoon teas and igloos and hot milks at bedtime. The lunchtime sandwiches there are small and delicious. We liked the quiet bars, rather than ones where the "action" was. The Ensemble Bar, Michaels Club and the Passport Bar.
I mentioned we had the Premium Alcohol Package. People often wonder whether you get your monies worth. I certainly did. If you figure in a couple of large bottles of Evian per day (the complimentary Aqua Class water was not premium), a latte, some nice tea, a couple of non-alcoholic drinks a day, four glasses of $11 wine (the Pouilly Fume and the Italian rose were excellent!), the drink package was a bargain.
So how about the entertainment? I am a quiet person so tend to avoid the things everyone else goes to, the shows, the pool parties, the guest entertainers etc. I have no idea what the cruise director looked like! However I was never bored. The musicians around the ship were excellent. I particularly enjoyed the strings an piano ensemble and the classical guitarist. The guitarist singer was OK, but had a limited repertoire, and the jazz ensemble were decent bust best listened to from a distance as the drummer had the tendency to overwhelm the vocalist close up. I never heard the party band and was fortunate enough to never bump into the accapela quartet the entire 12 days, which must be something of a record ;)
British Pub Night in Michaels was fun with trivia and name that tune.
We visited the spa and had a couples hot stones massage. It was fantastic, but was absolutely, completely and utterly ruined by the hard sell afterwards. No thank you should be sufficient to end the hard sell. Having to say it over and over again for five minutes was beyond annoying and ensured the masseuse, despite being really good, did not get any additional tip, and also meant that I didn't make a second booking because I was so fed up when I left.
While we are discussing hard sell, this is the first cruise where I have been accosted on my way to dinner in Blu, sitting in a bar enjoying a pre-dinner drink and resting by the pool, by waiters from the Specialty Restaurants trying to drum up bookings and offering a discount. I don't like having to say no and I particularly dislike having to say no to someone who invades my personal space when I am relaxing, to sell me something. Celebrity please take note, this is really, really tacky.
While my blood pressure is up, I may as well touch on some other hot-button topics...
Smoking - I love the new smoking policy. The ship smells fresh and clean. I stayed away from the smoking areas, the smokers stayed in them and everyone was happy. Never smelt any cigarettes on the balconies.
Blu Dress Code - Everyone always looked clean and nicely dressed. On formal night dress went from tuxedos to jeans and nice shirts and from long gowns to capris. Everyone wore what they wanted and didn't care about other people. I liked seeing the lovely outfits but was also glad I didn't have to drag all my formal gear with me.
Tendering - We were Elite so got priority tender tickets. In Split we reported to the Ensemble Lounge and were sent immediately to the tender station. On our tender were people with tender tickets 1 and 2 as well as the Priority ticket holders. Tendering seemed to go pretty smoothly.
Loud Music: I can't say I noticed that the music was loud. What I noticed was how limited the playlist was. By the end of the trip I knew exactly what song would be coming up next. There is certainly room for improvement here.
Elite Perks - We used the free laundry coupon, the $20 a bag laundry coupon, the $49.95 internet coupon, the free pressing coupon and the 20% off a bottle of wine coupon. We never went to the elite breakfast or the cocktail hour as we had the drink package so weren't following the free drinks around the ship ;) I think the nicest perk was that the Elites were invited to the helipad to see the Venice sailaway. That was amazing!
I suppose at some point I should mention the ports! This was a great itinerary with several new ports and some old favourites.
Koper: We toured with Tina Hiti and did Ljubljana and Lake Bled. I put the tour together and made sure that we would have enough time to go to out to the church on the island, climb the steps and ring the bell. A lot of other tour groups didn't have time to do that.
Ravenna: We toured by ourselves. We took the ship shuttle, $14 each, for a 20-25 minute ride, so walking to Ravenna was not really an option, even though people seemed to be giving it a go! There were also taxis at the port. Saw lots of mosaics. They sold a combination ticket for 5 different mosaic sites so we visited all of those.
Split: We did a walking tour of Split arranged by another CCer. Very pleasant port. Be careful if you climb the clock tower of the cathedral - I heard the stairs were very rickety!
Dubrovnik: We paid $12 for the ship shuttle into Dubrovnik. A fellow CCer had organised a walking tour and as we were there early we decided to do a quick walk round the walls to take some photos before it got crowded. FYI it is possible to walk quickly all the way round in approx 35 minutes, although you will look sweaty and bedraggled at the end of it :) They accept credit cards for entry to the wall and also Croatian Kuhne cash. The official tour around the walls was very informative.
Kotor: My least favourite port, probably because we just wandered aimlessly around and were harassed a fair bit by people begging. We had planned to climb up to the fort, but overslept and by the time we tendered ashore it was too hot. There was a hop on hop off bus available. I think we would probably have enjoyed it more had we taken some sort of tour. Sail in was meant to be spectacular. Unfortunately we missed it, but sailaway was also pretty darn good!
Valletta: We booked a private tour through Touring Malta. We visited the Hypogeum, which was spectacular, a fishing village, an overlook that looked down on the Blue Grotto, Mdina and Valletta. Our guide Brigitte was very informative. The Hypogeum and seeing a couple of Caravaggios were on our "must do" list, the fact that we came across a British sweet shop selling proper British chocolate was a bonus, and made this British expat very happy!
Catania: This was our ship tour and was meant to be an off road convoy of 4x4 jeeps and some hiking up Etna. We were a bit wary of booking a ship tour, but needn't have been as there were only 4 of us on it in one jeep with our own volcanologist guide! We had an incredible day hiking up Etna, going down lava tubes and offroading where the lava had hardened. A very nice lunch was included too.
Naples: Day 1 of Naples I put together a tour through Mariano of Pleasant Tours (who we had previously toured through) to visit Herculaneum, The Villas at Stabia and Pompeii. Mariano provided a driver and hired a guide for us, Daniella, who would accompany us to all 3 sites. We were the first people to arrive at Herculaneum. It was amazing. So many buildings had survived intact. The Villas at Stabia were luxurious villas perched high on the hills. Pompeii was getting crowded by the time we arrived after lunch. Because of funding cuts only a few of the buildings were open to visitors, so it way well have seemed more crowded than it actually was because everyone was crammed into a small area of the vast site.
Naples: Day 2 I put together a low key walking tour of Naples to see for myself if it really was as horrible and scary as people said. I booked with Fabrizio B of Tours With Locals. Naples was a great city. We saw both the touristy and the non-touristy spots and the Veiled Christ statue. Don't let people put you off. Get out there and explore Naples, you won't be disappointed.
Disembarkation was pretty painless, apart from me turning 50 that day :( We had transfers to Rome booked with Stefano of Romecabs for 9am so asked for an 8:30am disembarkation. At the said time we got off the ship, found our bags and as there was no customs or passport control, we were in our car by 8:45am. It doesn't get better than that.
In Rome we had booked the Albergo del Senato hotel for four nights post-cruise. I had booked a Pantheon View room and had shamelessly mentioned that the trip was for my birthday in the hope of getting an upgrade. I think someone was smiling down on me as not only did I get my Pantheon View, the room was the only one with a balcony on the front of the hotel. It was fabulous. I felt like I should stand out there and deliver a speech... "Friends, Romans, Countrymen..." The hotel was very charming, and despite being in the thick of things, an oasis of quiet.
We have visited Rome several times before so we just ambled around the city, taking photos and eating and drinking and having a marvellous time. At the end of the trip we were ready to come home, not yet ready to go back to work, but after 3 weeks it was time to come home.
We booked transfers to FCO through Romecabs again and as always the driver was punctual, courteous and very safe. I would highly recommend them.
We flew home non-stop on United from FCO to IAD. I have to say that the humidity on the plane was the driest I have ever experienced. On the plus side, the food was remarkably good!
Overall this trip was a great and memorable way to celebrate a milestone in our lives. Would I choose Celebrity again? Most certainly. Would I choose Aqua Class again on an itinerary like this? Probably not.