Introduction: Let me start by providing brief introduction of my husband and myself so that readers can understand our perspective. I am 24 years old and my husband is 25. We have been married for a year and a half and are from Southern California, specifically Los Angeles. Although we are young, we have traveled much of the world on and off cruises and have previously traveled on (and greatly enjoyed) RCI before. With regard to this trip, we had already visited time visiting Rome, Florence, and Pisa on a previous trip to Europe. We do NOT go on the cruise ship's excursions, but instead explore the cities on our own or with our own guide that we have found.
We began our 10 day Western Mediterranean Cruise from Barcelona. My husband and I arrived in Barcelona 2 days before the cruise departure. We found a "flat" in the La Rambla area of Barcelona on www.airbnb.com. We really enjoyed staying in the apartment and found it to be a very affordable and practical place to stay. We had a 2 bed/1 bath apartment with a full kitchen and washer/dryer. We would highly recommend it. Our first night in Barcelona was spent walking up and down the great street of La Rambla. It was beautifully decorated for the holidays with lights in the trees. The area was fun and exciting with plenty of restaurants and shops lining the streets. We enjoyed delicious chocolate and churros at Cafe de la Opera- and HIGHLY recommend it! Our second day in Barcelona was spent exploring Barcelona. We walked all over the city and had a wonderful time exploring all of the fascinating architectural works of Gaudi. After a long, full day of exploration, we were excited to board the ship in the morning.
Embarkation & the Ship:
We arrived at the cruise terminal at about 2pm. The line was not too bad, as check-in had already begun about an hour before. The process was painless and straight-forward. We had brought on 2 bottles of wine (highly recommended as the ship's wine selection is limited and VERY expensive).
Once we were aboard the ship, we were able to go straight to our rooms and drop off our coats and my bag. It was very nice to have the rooms ready, instead of being kept in the public areas and waiting. The ship had JUST come out of dry dock and had only been on a 4 day cruise before we boarded. Our balcony room was large (for a cruise ship), the bed was comfortable, the shower & bathroom was clean, and the balcony was fantastic. We were on the 7th floor (room 7534) near the front of the ship. We were unaware beforehand, however, our balcony was MUCH larger than the rest of the balconies- it was a fantastic surprise!
Overall, the food was very good. We had the "My Time Dining" option, which was perfect for us. We made reservations on the first day for 6:30 and kept that time for the rest of the trip, however, if we returned to the ship late, we could call in and push our reservation back. We were able to keep our same waiters (Melroy and Cesar) whom we LOVED and provided us with EXCELLENT service. The My Time Dining is a great option and the way that RCI implemented it was great- we never had to wait in line or miss our dining due to being off of the ship on an excursion. The only complaint that my husband had regarding the food was that lobster tail was not served or offered during the 10 day cruise. We asked our waiter why this was, and he explained that lobster was not offered on the European RCI cruises because of the lack of interest from previous cruisers.
The ship itself was in great condition (having just been modernized during its time in dry dock). The way they utilized the centrum was great- we have never experienced such a creative use of that space before. The Solarium was relaxing and the salad bar in there was very good. We loved the touch screens on every floor by the elevators that could show what was currently happening on the ship (entertainment), what was on the menu for dinner, and where anything on the ship was located (great addition!). We ate at 2 of the specialty restaurants Izumi (sushi) and Chop Steak House. Chop was delicious and well worth the $30/person charge. Coming from California, we are pretty pretentious sushi eaters and were not impressed by Izumi. The fish quality and quantity was not good, although it may be acceptable for those not used to the same quality. We were hoping it would be the same quality as Oceania, but unfortunately, it wasn't even close.
As for the on board entertainment, we were extremely disappointed. The singers and dancers were below par compared to other cruise lines we have recently traveled (i.e. Carnival). We did enjoy the magician and thought that he was BY far the best act of the entire 10 day venture. We do understand that we, being as young as we are, are in the minority, however, the entertainment was CLEARLY aimed for an older crowd with no alternative form of entertainment. On Carnival, in comparison, we GREATLY enjoyed their nightly comedy in their Punchliner comedy club. However, on RCI, throughout the whole 10 day cruise, there was NO comedy at all.
The service on board has been topnotch. The ship is clean and the staff are friendly and helpful. We would happily sail on RCI again.
Palma de Mallorca, Balearic Islands:
We did not have anything specific planned for this port, however, we enjoyed exploring the city, castle, and cathedral. We got off the ship at about 9am, and because it is a small city and we had done and seen everything by the early afternoon (3pm). There is not much to report here, as there was not much do to.
Again, we did not have any specific plans for this port, however, we walked around the city, saw the beautiful views, and charming European style alleyways, buildings, and shops. Again, we left the ship at 9am and were done with our exploration of the whole city by 3pm.
Again, we did not have any specific plans for this port, however, we later found out that visiting Torumena was a popular and enjoyable spot to visit. We ventured around the city of Messina (although it was our one day of rain). We went on a small tour of the city on one of the little local tour trams (which was pretty much a waste of time). Overall, we did have a nice day exploring Messina, although it is not as quaint as Valletta or Palma and is much more of a big, busy city.
After previous warning of Naples, we hopped on a train as soon as we arrived and headed towards Pompeii. Naples is a big city with a relatively high crime rate. There are many "creepy" people lining the streets and it is best to head out of the city and go to one of the many neighboring areas. However, it is not so easy to navigate the public transportation system in order to get to the train and my husband and I luckily hopped on the right bus that led us to the station. Once at the station we were able to buy our ticket to Pompeii with no problem and headed out. Pompeii was amazing. Be warned there are 2 places to purchase the audio guide- one when you get off the train and one in the ruins where you purchase your ticket (Advice: be sure to purchase the audio guide at the one IN the ruins as we've heard it's better). Pompeii is a MUST see. This vast city is in ruins, but it is HUGE and incredible. The audio guide was OK, but we were often confused at what we were looking at. If we had to do it again, we probably would try to hire a guide for a couple hours. We heard a lot has changed over the years and they have blocked some of the areas to see. Furthermore, it was VERY VERY crowded. We were shocked at how many people were actually there. It has almost become too commercialized as they even have a small pizza and souvenir shop RIGHT in the middle of the ruins by the forum; however, it was well worth every penny to visit as it's still an amazing site to see.
Once we were through with Pompeii we purchased another ticket and headed further south to Sorrento. This small town was beautiful. We loved it. We had incredible food at Ristorante Pizzeria Giardiniello Enoteca. This place is a MUST. It is a small, family owned, family run restaurant with all homemade food. It really is the quintessential, stereotypical Italian restaurant. One word: Phenomenal. It is one of the things we will truly remember from this trip -- it is THAT good. After lunch we walked around a bit more then caught the train back to Naples and shared a cab with 2 couples to get back to the ship. Overall, great day.
Rome/Civitivecchia (2 day stop):
On our first day we had plans to go to Orvieto. I had read on Tripadvisor.com that this was a great place to take a day trip from Rome. However, I did not take into account that the trip from Civitivecchia to Rome by train is 90 minutes and then another 90+ minutes to get from Rome to Orvieto. Totaling 6 hours on trains. We tried very hard to make it to Orvieto, however Roma termini is extremely difficult to navigate, even for experienced travelers. We somehow missed our train even though we were at the platform it was supposed to arrive at 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after its supposed arrival/departure. After missing our train we decided to make the most of our day and explore Rome again. We had been in Rome 2 years ago, but how could you not see the Coliseum again!? We walked the entire city the rest of the afternoon and ended up having a great day and were exhausted when we caught the train back to the ship. PS there is a shuttle that will take you from the end of the port to your ship- it is about a 1 mile walk- we did the walk the first morning when we did not realize how long it would take.
On our second day, we decided to try to see a smaller town, as we had seen the big city. Therefore, we decided to tempt our fait again, but this time with the hope of getting to Anguillara, a small town bordering the Lake Bracciano. This time, we did make it there, after a 120 minute train ride with a transfer of trains at the St. Peter's Basilica station. The lake was very pretty, but the town was all closed down for the most part. It was a very quaint little town, but we suspected that because this was the off time of travel, that most of the shops and restaurants had closed for the winter. We assumed that it would be a great place to visit in the summer. We did enjoy our walk along the lake, as it was very peaceful, and nice to get away from the big city and common "tours."
Livorno/Tuscan Wine Country/Pisa/Florence:
As stated previously, my husband and I had already visited Pisa and Florence and although we LOVED Florence and laugh at our pictures with the leaning tower, we did not need to see those sites again. Instead, prior to leaving LA, we booked a Wine Tasting Tour with Alessandro Cammili (see www.alessandrocammilli.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; +39 339 6441133). This tour with Alessandro was probably the highlight of our trip. Alessandro was professional, kind, friendly, knowledgeable, funny, and easy to talk to. He picked us up at 8:30 in the morning from the ship and we were on our way to explore the Tuscan wine country. Initially, he asked if we wanted to go see Florence/Pisa on the way/way back from Tuscany, but since we have already seen these two cities, we decided to just enjoy Tuscany. It was about an hour drive from Livorno on an incredibly scenic route with a brief history and education on the wines from the region by Alessandro. Our first stop was a castle at the top of Tuscany where we enjoyed a tasting of traditional Chianti Classico wine. Then, our favorite stop, was at Fattoria Di Montagliari (www.montagliara.com) with Alessandro. We received an amazing private tour of the winery BY ALESSANDRO, met the winemaker himself, and learned about the history of the winery. Additionally, Alessandro was able to give us a tour AND taste of the oil and balsamic vinegar. Alessandro was the person that gave us the tasting, walked us around the property, and even poured us all of the wines in the tasting and he knew what he was talking about and knew the owners and workers at the winery. His involvement in the experience was welcomed by us and by the winery. We've visited many wineries and experienced plenty of tastings from Napa and Temecula, but we have never had such a memorable, behind the scenes experience like Alessandro was able to provide. I cannot recommend him enough. Even if you have never seen Florence/Pisa, I would advise hiring Alessandro to help plan your day. He can take you wherever you want to go and will ensure you have a great time.