My wife and I just returned from the May 14th sailing on the Splendour of the Seas. We have cruised about 8-10 times previously. My wife is 39 and I am 41.
We have cruised several times on Celebrity, once on NCL and this was our second RCI cruise.
We had an amazing time.
The ship is terrific. The food is delicious, and the Solarium pool is wonderful. I swam every night before dinner in the indoor Solarium pool, and most of the time I was alone in the pool. The fellow passengers were also fabulous.
We flew in the day before the cruise and boarded at 5:30 p.m., after everyone else. It took us 2 minutes, and we had missed the dreaded muster drill.
First thing you should always do when boarding the ship is to go check with the Maitre D' about your dining arrangements. We always request a table for 2 at the late seating, and invariably this is not what we are assigned. This is never a problem. The Head Waiter who ended up being our Head Waiter, Wilder, immediately sorted us out. Sometimes they need a day to sort it out, but we have never been disappointed.
In Marseilles, the ship docks a few miles from the Old Port. My wife has family there so we were picked up and spent a great day with them. I would suggest doing some sort of tour to Aix-en-Provence or Les Baux de Provence. If you are going to see Marseilles, share a taxi with others to the Old Port, or take the RCI shuttle ($5 each way).
In Villefranche, my wife also has family nearby. We were picked up and went to Cannes during the film festival. A fun time. Then we took a train to Nice. Be forewarned, the train station in Nice is about a half hour walk from Vieux Nice. But, in Villefranche, there is a tourist information desk as soon as you get off the tenders. You can take buses or trains to many places (Nice-7 mins, Monte Carlo or Cannes). The train station is a 5 minute walk to the right along the port. Schedules are available at the tourist information desk.
From Livorno, we shared a taxi with 2 other people to the train station (15 Euros), and took a train to Florence. The ride is about an hour and a half. We walked around and visited three museums, the Accademia, to see Michelangelo's David, Museo di San Marco (Fra Angelico) and the Bargello (the sculpture museum). The # to call for reservations at Florence museums is 011-39-055-294-883. The cost is 3 Euros per ticket. You will need one for the Accademia and the Uffizi. The operators speak English. Sadly, the Uffizi was fully booked, and the line to get in was VERY long.
We then took a train to Pisa (about a one hour ride), then hopped on a train at Pisa Centrale for the Pisa San Rossore station (4 minute ride). This lets you off a 5 minute walk from the Leaning Tower. You can book climbs online at their official website. We spent about an hour there, and did not climb the Tower. We then hopped a train back to Pisa Centrale, and then one to Livorno (20 minute ride), and shared a cab back to the ship (20 Euros). You cannot walk from the ship to the station in Livorno.
In Civitavecchia, we took the port provided shuttle to the port entrance and walked to the train station (a 5-7 minute walk along the sea). We then took a train to Rome (60-80 minute ride, depending on where you are going). We first went to the Vatican Museums. I had booked a tour of the museums directly with the Vatican at a cost of 21.50 Euros. You can do this by going to the Vatican's official website and sending them a fax stating the number in your party and what tour you want. They will send you a fax back in about 3 days. If you have a tour, you do not wait in line, but instead go to the exit to the right of the entrance to the Vatican museums to get your tickets. We got there at about 9:45 a.m., and the line to get in for individuals without a tour or a reservation was about 5-10 minutes long, so we eschewed our tour and opted for that instead (12 Euros). I had a terrific guidebook of the treasures of the Vatican and we spent over 3 hours in the museums, culminating with the Sistine Chapel. Spectacular! When you exit the Sistine Chapel, go out the exit in the back on the right and that will lead you down so you can go into St. Peter's Basilica. The main exit from the Sistine Chapel on the left does not allow you to do this. We then spent about 45 minutes in St. Peter's, and then walked to the Castel Sant' Angelo, crossed over the river, walked to Piazza Navona, visited the Pantheon, walked by Hadrian's Temple, then to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, then along the Foro Traiano for a view a few blocks away of the Coliseum, then past the Mercati Traianei and to the Fountain of Trevi, then to Piazza Barberini to see Bernini's small but wonderful Fountain of Triton. From there we hopped on the Metro (2 stops) to the train station and caught a train back to Civitavecchia. Note: The train station is HUGE. Give yourself 10-15 minutes to find and get to your train.
If you are going to the Vatican first, get off at the Roma S Pietro station. Then, it is a short walk (10-15 minutes) to the Vatican. You will easily see the Dome.
In Naples, we shared a full day private tour with 6 others with DriveAmalfi (email@example.com) to the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. The cost was 81.25 Euros per person. We found the group on the Cruise Critic message boards. We stopped in Amalfi and Ravello, had lunch in Pontone (20 Euros, including wine, then visited Pompeii for 2 hours at the end. Normally, the tour begins with Pompeii, but there was a strike at Pompeii that morning. We had a wonderful day. Note: Salvatore, about whom everyone raves, can only be on one tour. I think DriveAmalfi had 6 tours that day. We had Marco who was VERY nice, but did not fill us in that much about the history, etc. I had books, so we saw what we wanted to. I would fully recommend this private tour. As an aside, I know 4 people who hired a cab at the ship for 5 or 6 hours at noon to take them to Pompeii and then around Naples. It cost them 35 Euros each.
(Note: We were lucky to be in Italy during Culture Week when most of the museums and Pompeii were free admission.)
We are not big on the ship's tours and only do them when absolutely necessary. Visiting the cities, as I described above, on your own is very easy and incredibly enjoyable. For a full schedule of trains in Italy go to http://www.trenitalia.com/en/index.html From there, you can get any list of trains you want. Just enter the stations' names, and the times you want to go.
On the last day at sea we relaxed, took some sun, although it was a little chilly, and played minigolf.
For debarkation, we were the last people off the ship, so we got right into a taxi for our hotel. The dining room and Windjammer were open until 8:30 for breakfast on the last day.
We had a day and half in Barcelona before the cruise and a full day afterward. Barcelona is a great city. We visited Park Guell, Montjuic, walked around the Barri Gotic, visited Sagrada Familia, the Picasso Museum, Casa Mila and saw the Fountain show. We also had some wonderful meals. Three restaurants I can recommend off the tourist path are the intimate El Cafeti, 99 C. Hospital, www.elcafeti.com (known for their paella and rice dishes), Meson David, 63 C. Carretes, a boisterous and inexpensive place where I had a delicious Roast Leg of Pork and where the desserts are terrific, and La Paradeta, 7 C. Comercial. La Paradeta is a great experience. You pick your seafood from what they have as you enter, buy it by weight, tell them how you want it cooked, get a number and wait for it to be called. The food is divine. None of these three restaurants are expensive. Both Meson David and La Paradeta are crowded with locals.
In Barcelona the subways are terrific. I recommend buying a T-10. It gives you 10 rides for 6.30 Euros, and can be used by as many people as you want. You can buy it at any subway station.
We were thrilled beyond belief with our whole trip. To cap it all off, our Iberia flight from Madrid to NYC was overbooked and we were put in Business Plus Class.
You cannot lose with this itinerary. Everyone with whom I spoke on the ship had a spectacular time.