Never having been to the Mediterranean we were looking forward to this cruise with stops at 5 different Italian ports, plus Cannes, France & Split, Croatia. We had planned on arriving into Barcelona two days early to see the city that seems to be the favorite of so many, but that was not to be. Coming from Phoenix on Friday morning we had four flights to take, PHX-MSP, MSP-ORD (Both on Delta), ORD-DUS, DUS-BCN (both on Lufthansa), with the ship sailing on Monday. In Chicago, the ORD-DUS flight was cancelled at 730pm Friday, necessitating an overnight stay in Chicago, courtesy of Lufthansa. We were booked on United for the next day via EWR, but the ORD-EWR flight was cancelled several hours prior to departure. Finally we were booked on US Air via Philadelphia arriving Barcelona on Sunday morning 8am.(NOTE: we had so much friendly help from so many different ticket agents with these canceled & rebooked flights, thank you). In Barcelona our first task was to file a bag claim form for our one checked bag; after that we took the aerobus into the town center for 5.75E each (quick & inexpensive), arriving at our hotel (Zenit Borrell in the Eixample area) at 10am. Nice hotel, off the beaten path, our courtyard room was very quiet and nice ($127 USD/night). We had pre-purchased tickets to the Sagrada Familia (12.3E each) for entry 11-12N so used the metro to go there. Huge line for those without tickets, we went in within a few minutes--spectacular & very crowded. Next we went to Mont Juic via the funicular to view the fort, city & port area. Monday morning we had word our bag was coming at 12 noon & would be delivered to the ship in time (sailing at 5pm),not taking a chance, we made a trip to the airport (aerobus 5.75E each), got the bag at 12noon & took a cab to the port (28.55E), arriving 1pm. This bag contained all our exterior clothing items. A quick entry onto the Serenade, hit the room, then to the windjammer. This was the only bad meal we had the entire trip in the windjammer, we hoped this was not a prelude to our dining experience. (it was not).
DINING: we ate only in the included dining areas. Evening dining in the MDR: We were seated with 5 other couples at a table for 12, 3 from England, 1 from B.C., 1 from Ohio. What a marvelous group--we all looked forward to dinner each evening; the service (from Gener & Carl) was outstanding, the food was always very good to excellent & as a rule all couples ate there each evening. We normally used the windjammer for breakfast & lunch, with lunches being some of the best food of the cruise. We saw no reason to spend $30 each to eat elsewhere.
SHIP CONDITION: We were concerned the ship might not be up to par as it was heading to dry dock very soon - not a problem, we found it clean and well maintained, though a refreshing of some areas (carpets) would be good. As in the past, virtually all Royal employees always provided a greeting and smile. Our oceanview room was also clean and in good shape, our housekeeper always keept it clean and neat.
ENTERTAINMENT: The RC singers, dancers & orchestra were very good, some of enterainment booked we felt was not up to RC standards; this was one place where we were not uniformly satisfied. Activities on board were the usual, trivia, late night dance parties, bingo ($22 or $32 per session !!).
PASSENGERS: Approximately 2100; 1250 US, 320 Brits, 90 Australians, 60 Canadians and I would say less than 50 children; a nice international mixture, such a joy to talk with people from other parts of the world.
PORTS & ITINERARY: This was the outstanding part of this cruise, such a thrill to see these cities if only briefly. We tendered to Cannes, France & Split,Croatia, otherwise we docked at a port. At the start, 4 ports in 4 straight days was a chore but a labor of love. Hour plus commutes, 1 way, from Livorno to Florence and Civitavecchia to Rome. Venice overnight was great, docked from 10am Sunday till 840pm Monday, no city like it. MORE PORT DETAIL FOLLOWS IN MY CITY REVIEWS. We did not use any of the RC tours, used other vendors for Florence & Rome and did Pompeii via Salerno with our table mates on our own using local transport. This all worked well at a lower cost.
DISEMBARKATION: Opted for express departure, 1st off the ship as our flight was 1045am & the ship docked at 6am Monday. Left the departure lounge at 625am, 20 min cab ride to the airport (40.55E, RC charged $31USD each) and we were at the United counter at 655am, the counter didn't open till 745am! Once we had boarding passes we were thru security & customs and at our gate at 815am. The United flight to Newark left on time at 1051am, arriving Newark 50 minutes early, 8 hrs 20 mins total. In Newark--passport control, customs, bag claim, recheck bag, change terminals, re-screen security, this took 1 hour--allow time for this! Not a pleasant experience. Then EWR--DEN (3 3/4 hrs), finally DEN--PHX (1 1/4 hrs), all 3 United flights early or on time, all totaled - 6200 miles & 14 hrs in those 3 airline seats to get home & it went well, fortunately.
CRUISE PRICING: After we made our final payment RC marked our cruise down by another $600 or so. We were able to obtain an oceanview room vs. our original interior as a consolation (but no change in our amount paid) so our 12 day cruise was available at a very low cost had a person been able to book at the last minute. WEATHER: Could not have been better, no rain, sunny, 60 to 85 F each day, but rough seas to & from Barcelona on the 1st and last day. Could not be a much better time to do this itinerary.