This was the 27th Cruise for my wife and I but our first Transatlantic and our first time in Italy. We had done a Baltics and Russia Cruise on RCI back in 2007 which we truly enjoyed, but with our added time in Italy (Nine days on our own) this would be our longest Vacation we had done.
We toured Venice, Florence, Siena, and Rome on our own during those nine days which was a truly memorable adventure. We used Celebrity Choice Air for our Flight to Venice which was a much better price than I could find elsewhere for the one way flight to Venice.
This was our Second Cruise on a Solstice Class Ship and seventh overall with Celebrity. Our first Solstice Class cruise was on the Silhouette back in April which was also our first time trying Aqua Class and Blu. We really enjoy the food and superb service in Blu even though we miss the large table atmosphere of the MDR, having done most of our Cruises as late traditional diners. The tables in Blu are arranged so you can easily strike up a conversation with those around you though, and we met a lot of very nice folks this way. Having hit Elite Status some time back, we also loved the Laundry Coupons which came in handy for a 24 day trip living out of two large suitcases, and many folks enjoyed the Elite Cocktail Hours up in the Sky Lounge.
We had a very active Cruise Critic Roll Call with over 300 members and about 8000 posts in the year or more leading up to our Cruise. We had dinners with fellow Cruise Critics pre-Cruise in Venice, Florence, and Rome (all three nights in Rome with different folks). We also had a large group who met for lunch in Madeira. We had several onboard activities including a Sail Away gathering, Gift Exchange, Slot Pull, Cabin Crawl and LRC dice games three times over the final week at Sea on our way to FLL.
We shared transport to the Pier from Central Rome with two other couples, this ran 150 euros and we arrived at the Pier about 11:30am. We pretty much walked right through the process and were on board in no time. Cabins were not available until 1:00 but that gave us time for a snack, a short tour of the ship, and the obligatory first Cruise Cocktail. Our first bag showed up about 2:00 and the second a couple hours later. We were mostly unpacked prior to Muster and our Cruise Critic Sail Away Gathering that followed. It was the perfect start to a wonderful cruise.
Our Ports of Call started with Livorno where we joined another CC couple for our own trip to Pisa. We took the shuttle to the bus station, a bus to the train station and then two short train rides to the stop in Pisa near the Tower. Sounds a bit convoluted, but really was fairly easy and only cost about 25 euros RT for two. Our second Port of Call was Toulon, France and eight of us had pre-arranged a Tour to Sanary, Cassis, and Marseille. Even though it was rainy, we still had a great time and enjoyed a nice lunch near the harbor in Marseille. The Tour was with Catherine of Tour Designer of Provence and ran 135 euros per couple not including lunch. They offer a variety of options and will tailor the tour to your wants.
Crossing from Toulon to Barcelona we skirted the edges of a large storm in the Med and even though we missed the worst of it, the ship was rocking and rolling a lot late that evening. Many folks had things fall off the counter and brake in their cabins, and several Balcony Partitions were smashed. I heard the next day that the Captain told one of our CC Members that we ran into 45 ft. seas and 95-100mph winds. It was quite a ride and a lot of folks were not handling it too well. We had no issue as it does not bother us much, we actually fell asleep during the worst of it and I woke up about 3:00 am when it stopped rocking the ship.? We had one other rough evening of weather after Madeira, but not as bad as the storm in the Med. After that is was pretty smooth sailing and great sunny weather.
We did our own walking tours in Barcelona and Cartagena which included some sites and some shopping, but we did meet up with some other CC folks for lunch and Sangria and some good times. After a sea day through the Straights we had our last stop in Madeira, a very pretty Island out in the Atlantic. By this time, the weather had warmed up well into the 60's and we enjoyed a short Taxi Tour of the Island with another CC couple and then met the large group for a great lunch in down town Funchal.
Disembarkation went a lot smoother than I expected after hearing stories of delays with immigration on TAs. We found our bags quickly, grabbed a Porter who ushered us right through and into a Taxi with the whole process taking maybe 30 -- 40 minutes from Ship to Taxi. The Porters have a couple separate lines through customs and no line for a Taxi once you get through. Well worth the $10 tip for ease of passage.
Only issue we had with the Cruise was the Internet which was almost nonexistent for much of the early part of the Cruise. Having been on so many Cruises, I expect the systems to be slow, but this was way beyond that. I did hear that RCI is changing to a new provider by the end of the year and service should be much better. It could not have been much worse that is for sure.
The Crew all over the Ship was very friendly and the Service was excellent in Blu and all venues we spent time in. We loved the Martini Bar for pre-dinner cocktails and met a lot of really nice folks there. The buffet food was typical of most Cruise Ships, but I liked the Island type layout they use which prevents long slow lines. It was nice to be able to get omelets to order, or eggs anyway you wanted them every morning as well as waffles everyday if you wanted.
Entertainment was ok but I really miss them not having a "Piano Man" type of venue anymore. I did enjoy the talks done by Bob Mc Elwee who was a former NFL Referee for 23 years. He did a series of five "shows" that included Video, commentary, and he took questions from the audience each day.
Celebrity is our main Cruise line of Choice but I do book others if they have an Itinerary we prefer. We sail on Eclipse in March of 2013, but will be in the MDR as we are sailing with a group of friends. While on board this Cruise, I booked the same Eclipse Cruise for Feb. of 2014 and will be back in AQ and Blu for that one. We are also discussing plans for our next TA experience, maybe a B2B Med Cruise and TA to follow?!!