In search of penguins we took a short 5 night cruise from Barcelona, the first of the 2013 season following her transatlantic crossing. Boarding was the quickest we have ever known , there was no one in the Diamond line and we were on board within minutes. Someone else we spoke with said it took over an hour so perhaps we just got lucky. We have cruised on Independence before so we were familiar with the layout and the facilities, but we have not cruised on RCI for approx. 4 years (having only cruised with X and ACC in recent years) so we were interested in seeing the changes and whether we liked them or not.
The first major changes were structural with the introduction of the big screen. It didn't seem to be used much, they were going to show movies in the evening but the weather was not good. DH got very excited when he saw that the Chelsea game was going to be live on Thursday evening until I reminded him we disembarked on Thursday morning.
New menus in the dining room , the options have been severely cut back; and there was no Videlia Onion tart any more, and no Indian options; however we didn't starve and the food was always hot and quickly served. Dinner in Chops was excellent as usual. And we got our burger fix in JRs. Windjammer is looking tired, and the melamine plates desperately need replacing. The apple juice at breakfast was so watered down to make it undrinkable.
We had a Promenade room , first and last time , it was very noisy at times and also very visible from the RP.
I thought the Dreamworks characters may be too OTT and in your face but they in fact made a few guest appearances, for around 20-30mins at a time, happily stood for pictures (and not just for the official photographer) and I found Puss to be the most friendly!!! I really wanted to see the penguins but they obviously had missed the ship. The Character breakfast was held twice during the cruise, it is free to attend but as it was at 8a on both days we missed it.
Diamond benefits , about 200 members on board who were really making the most of the 5-8.30p opening hours. Oana the hostess was charming; Ivan kept your glass topped up. I did hit a snafu with the internet package though. On X you buy the package and then hand in the voucher to get the monies refunded. I bought a package on RCI and handed in the voucher and they gave me more minutes".so don't make this mistake as I ended up with approx. $25 overspend on internet minutes.
As the ship sailed from Spain we were hit with the dreaded Spanish VAT , this is now 10% on top of every drink you buy in addition to the 15% service charge. Purchased in shops incurred an additional 21%.
Ports of call were Villefranche , where the tender line was ridiculously slow and it still took us around 30 mins to get off at noon. We had lunch and strolled around this quaint little town until rain forced a hurried return. Rome we have visited many times so we had a ship day; and Livorno where we caught the shuttle/bus/train to Lucca for $17.60pp which was considerably cheaper than the $66pp that RCI wanted just to take you to Pisa. If you have never been to Lucca I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is simply beautiful. Disembarking in Barcelona was a breeze. We carried our own luggage off at 7.30a, immediately got a cab and were checked in at the airport and in the lounge by 8.05a"..
So in summary, a good little cruise, which did exactly what it said on the tin (to quote a UK ad); I would happily cruise RCI again but my heart does lie with ACC and X. That said, we have got Oasis booked for next year so that will be an experience. And I'll continue to look for the penguins".