My wife and I had never been on a cruise before as it just didn't seem like our kind of thing. Nevertheless, we signed up for this cruise, Crystal Cruise 3309, which went from Venice to Rome with 5 stops in between. Since it's a long way from California to Italy, we added time before and after in Italy to justify the long airline flight.
We started off with 3 nights in Venice before boarding the ship. The embarkation process went very smoothly and we quickly lost first time cruiser angst. We had a cabin with veranda on deck 10. The room was very nice and more than adequate for our needs. The veranda is very comfortable and was larger than I expected. The bathroom was laid out very well and did not feel at all cramped, but rather seemed like an efficient use of the space. The beds were extremely comfortable, perhaps a bit hard for some but perfect for our tastes. Everything in the room worked well. The flat screen TV was well positioned for easy viewing from the sofa or bed.
The first night, the ship stayed berthed in Venice and some tours were offered the next day. Since we had been three days in Venice, we elected to stay on board and checked out all the ships facilities. Our room was close to the forward stairwell/elevators, so we could get anywhere on the ship quite quickly. The ship seemed in immaculate condition. Scoped out the steam room and sauna on the top deck. It turns out, these are accessible 24 hours and became one of our favorite spots. Both the steam room and sauna were under utilized so I often had them to myself. The sauna in particular has a window to the outside so sitting there, sweating, watching the world go by was a enlightening experience.
The first night, we booked in one of the specialty restaurants, Prego. It was very nice and we were a bit regretting that we could only pre-book one night. After that we ate in the main dining room (MDR) every night and were not at all disappointed. The menu was varied and always very good, some evenings downright delicious. Our desire to try to rebook at Prego waned as the MDR was terrific. Our waiters, Zoran and Angela were very attentive. Crystal does not seem to scrimp on staff. Our 2 waiters had only two (8 person) tables to tend to and got help from busboys and others. We had breakfast each morning in the LIDO buffet. There was never a wait except if one wanted a cooked to order omelet. The selection was very good for either American or European tastes... Bacon, Sausage, scrambled eggs, cold cuts, cheeses, breads, fruit, and fresh squeezed OJ. Our diner waiter, Zoran, recognized us and after the second morning knew our preference for cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso and had it for us without asking. Overall, the food quality and food service was much better than I had imagined possible. BTW, this cruise was all inclusive, so there was no extra charge for wine or cocktails or an after dinner port. The wife developed a taste for lemoncello. One could order special drinks that did cost, but we never found the wines and drinks offered to be at all wanting.
We didn't go to any stage shows but did take in a couple of movies. The theater is small (may 100-150 seats) but more than adequate and was never more than 1/2 full. We did take in a special up close magic act. It was pretty lame, and seemed more like a promotion for the Magic Castle in LA.
The ports of call were all pretty interesting. We did book one tour through the ship, Pompeii, during our call to Sorrento and it was wonderful with a very animated and informative guide. For all the other destinations, we just took the cruise line supplied shuttle to town and walked around the towns. Dubrovnik, Kotor, Corfu, and Taormina each are charming and interesting. It was easy to burn 4 or 5 hours just walking around, looking in windows, drinking the local beer, and finding a free WIFI to catch up on the world.
So what the bottom line..... The cruise was terrific. Crystal did a great job. Everyone was friendly and helpful. The concierge was very helpful the few times we needed something. The tour desk was also really informative. Our waiter was a jewel.... he even had some suggestions about what to see in the various ports. The condition of the ship was more or less perfect. There were no lines. The food was great. The all inclusive package is the way to go. The only minor quibble is I would prefer more non-smoking areas, though once we identified the areas that allowed smoking they were pretty easy to avoid.
I can only hope this doesn't spoil me. We're looking into a Princess cruise and some of the reviews of the Grand Princess are getting me a bit nervous.