We cruised the Adriatic Sea from Venice to Athens for 10 days, November 4-14th and generally had a lovely time. It was our second AZ cruise--we had been on the Quest last year--and our 8th cruise overall.
Embarkation: Smooth and straightforward. We got off the ship nearly as soon as we got on since we wanted to continue to explore Venice to the max. Dropped our luggage and headed back out. Unfortunately, we were overlooked on the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle list, didn't get the invitation, and missed it altogether. (We didn't even know it had taken place until the next day when we met some people form our roll-call by happenstance.)
Dining: Breakfasts in the buffet were fine, perhaps a little bit difficult to get a table since it was generally not outdoor-weather so the inside-buffet area was tight and it was a full sailing. But the food quality and service were certainly acceptable. We ate most of our lunches in port so I can't comment on that. Dinner in the main dining room was generally good, although I did find it a bit too hectic for my taste. The food and wine were both very nice, although not outstanding. We dined in Aqualina twice and Prime C once and all of those meals were wonderful.
Service: AZ service is as good as everyone says. People are just so nice and accommodating. A pleasure.
State of the ship: We knew the ship was due to go into drydock soon and we could see that it was necessary. Nothing was ratty-looking but it could use the spruce-up that it will soon be getting.
Fellow passengers: We were surprised at the number and variety of British and other Commonwealth accents we heard and people we met. A significant major of the ship, it seemed. Very nice people.
Ports: This was surely the best part of this cruise. We were in port every day and took advantage of it to the max. The ports were:
Venice, Italy--We came a day early and the ship stayed in Venice for 2 days so we had 3 days here in total. We walked and rode the vaporetto everywhere and felt like we saw much of what we wanted to see. Due to the overnight in port, we ate dinner off the ship and missed both the Cruise Critic get-together and the muster drill. The ship was surprisingly laid back about that!
Trieste, Italy--A welcome surprise, and a nice, laid back day after our 3 days of rushing around Venice. We rented an acoustiguide form the tourist office and it took us around the major sites at our own speed. There's a surprising variety of architecture and history to observe, from Roman to 19the Century buildings. Trieste was a lovely, harmonious city that we really enjoyed.
Ravenna, Italy--There was a short AZ-provided shuttle bus into town and then we used a walking tour that I had found online to take us from site to site. The Byzantine mosaics were just amazing. Our lunch at Ca de Ven was wonderful. It was a great day.
Split, Croatia--We spent the morning wandering around this charming city on our own, had a lovely lunch on a "Venetian" piazza, and then met up with a private guide for a 2 hour walking tour. She was great and we learned so much about Split and Croatian history from her. (We got her name from a Rick Steves' book.)
Dubrovnik, Croatia--Our travel agent is part of a consortium of travel agencies, and they provided a nearly full-day excursion for us in and around Dubrovnik. It was a disappointing excursion, no fault of AZ. We went off on our own in early afternoon and were able to walk the city walls, see the Synagogue Museum, wander the old town, and finally, watched the sunset from the "Hole in the Wall/Buza" bar. So it turned out to be a nice day despite our slow start.
Kotor, Montenegro--Through a recommendation on CC, we booked a taxi driver to take us around Montenegro. We spent the day going hither and yon all around the countryside, from one scenic vantage point to another. It was fabulous. Montenegro is an unbelievably pretty country, from what we saw. Unfortunately, we were out so long that it was dark by the time we got back to Kotor, so we didn't see that much of Kotor itself.
Brindisi, Italy--Kind of a nothing town. Don't know why AZ calls on this port. We booked the ship's excursion to Lecce, a town rich in Baroque architecture, about 45 minutes away. It was the first ship's tour we'd done--one of the few ship's tour we'd ever done on all our cruises--and that had its pluses and minuses. The guide was fairly good, the bus ride was quite slow, and the group moved very slowly. All in all, I really prefer to be on our own but there's very little tourist infrastructure to speak of in this port. Brindisi itself was quiet and boring.
Corfu, Greece--We booked a private tour with one of the taxi companies and spent a lovely day driving all over seeing Corfu island. We had a nice stop for bread and fresh olive oil, olives and wine. We barely saw a tour bus all day long so we felt like we had the place to ourselves. One strategic mistake we made was that after lunch in Corfu Town, nearly all the stores were closing up so we didn't get to see as much of Corfu Town as we would have liked.
Katakalon, Greece--Katakalon is the entry port for Olympia, the site of the first Olympics. We used the ship's transportation to get us to Olympia (transportation only) and then met up with a guide whom we had hired based on a Rick Steves' recommendation. She really brought the place to life for us.
Athens, Greece--On disembarkation, we had hired one of the Athens taxi companies to meet us at the port, take us around for the day and then bring us to the airport hotel so that we'd be there for our very early flight the next morning. They did a fabulous job of keeping us ahead of the crowds and away from the protests. It was a pleasure, albeit a hectic way of ending the trip.
All in all, it was a really nice cruise. Comparing it to our previous AZ cruise (Quest, September 2011, Istanbul to Athens), I'd have to say that the first one was marginally better than this one. Perhaps that can be attributed to the weather, which allowed for people to spread out more on the ship. Perhaps it can be attributed to the ship's being ready for drydock. Having said that, I'd sail either of the ships again in an instant if the right itinerary came along at the right time and the right price. I'll be watching reviews to see how the post drydock, new pricing model comes out.