Not exactly sure if I say any red sails but the words of Ulsterman Jimmy Kennedy seem appropriate for the a first cruise review by one of his countrymen.
Chosen at random and in a rush we found ourselves on an Easyjet flight to Barcelona with less than a couple of hours to play with plunging headlong and blind into an experience I had only heard about from a few friends but which I had yearned for for many years.
First of all lets get the complaints out of the way.
1. They made us get off the ship in Barcelona at the end of the cruise.
OK enough of the moaning - what about the good points. How long have you got? I will try to keep it simple. Met at airport, whisked to ship, straight through registration, glass of 'bubbly' in foyer then straight to stateroom which was booked as 'guarantee' and came up trumps with Deck 6 centre aft and a glass of our own wine on the verandah as the sun set over the beautiful cliffside graveyard of Barcelona. We had stuck to the rules of two bottles of wine per stateroom until we passed through "check-in" and we allowed to purchase a further two bottles at the shops before boarding. To be honest they were 'plonk' and I soon wished I had'nt bothered.
The next twelve days we had wall to wall sunshine - apart from a foggy entrance into Venice - and with the exception of the tender into Cannes we might as well have been sailing on a local pond such was the lack of movement on the ship.
Those who responded to my pre-cruise paranoia will know that my main concern was 'drinks package or no drinks package?' I changed my mind at least four times and in the end decided to wait. Good decision. Not wishing to cast aspersions on those who did take the plunge but I reckon that in order to get full value from either the Classic or the Premium I would have been what is known in the Ulster venacular as 'permanently blocked' which means that while the ship might not have been rolling about I most certainly would have. As it was I was perfectly satified with the odd lunchtime glass of wine(when we were on board); the occasional pre-dinner tipple and a regular three large glasses with my dinner in the MDR. Coupled with an occasional 'premium' coffee I still finsihed quids in by the end of the voyage.
As for the food ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, What can you say. We dined every evening in the MDR and could find no reason to consider any of the speciality alternatives. The food and service was magnificent. I had twelve different fish dishes and loved every-one. The starters allowed ample opportunity to experiment (frogs legs and snails for example)and the only problem with the desserts was having to choose.
Having only been to Cannes before the other destinations were full of interest. While the excursions were expensive, as 'first timers' we did go for two of them to Rome and to Pompeii and the latter was well worth the money with an excellent guide who brought the whole visit to life. In Livorno we did our own thing and got a coach to Pisa with ample time to admire the area.
Kotor, in Montenegro was amazing and all the more so as I had never heard of it before booking the cruise. Having said that the only way to see it in all its glory is to climb up to the Fortress. The estimated 90 mins accent does require a certain amount of basic fitness but the rewards are sensational.
Dubrovnik was also stunningly beautiful but unlike other fortress cities where you might reflect on ancient battles centuries in the past it was alarming to realise that death and destruction was a fact of life here less than two decades ago and the evidence is still there for all to see. The 12 dollar return shuttle from the ship was more than value for money.
Venice, despite the morning fog, was perhaps the highlight of the cruise. Forget the shuttle which takes you via the outer canal to near the centre, the best way to see the city is to walk. Five minutes from the ship to the 1 Euro elevated railway ride to the bus depot. Form there it is a delightful mile and a half (2.5k) to Plaza San MArco via the sadly heavily graffitied Rialto Bridge and a maze of facinating streets full of tiny speciality shops. One big disappointment is the Italian desire to charge for entry into places of worship and to deny photography of any kind (flash or no flash). Having spent nearly 20 years travelling the length and breadth of France visiting scores of beautiful churches which are only too glad to welcome worshippers or non worshippers I found this a strange Italian trait.
Saint Mark's Square was 'mental' and I imagine the only time to really see it is about 6.00am! To be honest it is overhyped. The rest of the city is much more interesting and I said a little prayer of thanks to the inventor of digital photography as I filled up my 8gb memory card. As we only had a morning on day two we took a vaporetto from the bus depot down the Grand Canal - an experience in itself as it was rush hour and clearly the 'elf and safety' brigade have not yet reached Venice as I did not think it possible to squeeze so many people into such a small space. Tip - as you get on stop at the entrance and don't venture inside.
Back to the ship. Everything was what I expected and then some. First class entertainment, wonderful service (thanks Madelyn for the wine advice), absolute cleanliness, great choice of activities (the Glass sculpture was wonderful - I just wish I could have afforded to bid for the finished products); and most amazing of all it was only on the very rare occasion that you had any idea of the number of people on board.
All in all one of the most amazing experiences of my life and one which I cannot wait to repeat. The Canaary Isles beckon next October. I just hope that I was not spoilt by my Solstice experience. It will be hard to equal.