As a first-time cruiser, I thought I would provide some tips following our cruise on the serenade of the Seas with Royal Caribbean.
We flew from the UK to Barcelona and were transferred from the airport to the ship via a coach. There was a very long queue for embarkation and this took quite some time. The process is quite easy and involves setting up an on-board account whereupon you are handed a sea pass card which is used to purchase items and to embark and disembark from the ship at each port. The only money you need is when you purchase at each destination.
We really enjoyed our cruise and found the staff to be very friendly. The hidden extras are expensive, for example, the approximate price for a pint of lager is £5 or £6 and a bottle of wine is $46. Gratuities are added to any food/drink purchase on top of the $12 a day compulsory charge. Everything is charged in dollars.
There is plenty of entertainment on board including a cinema, casino and gym. It is very much akin to a four-star all-inclusive hotel. The Windjammer cafe provides basic food with a large choice but possibly not fantastic quality. The Park Cafe provides salads and some lovely beef sandwiches. There is plenty of choice on the menu in the Reflections dining room. The food is good but not excellent. Excursions booked on board can be expensive so see below for a guide to travelling independently to the various locations (Nice - weather too bad to dock).
Livorno - shuttle bus (5 euros return) takes you from the ship to Livorno centre where you can get up further bus to the train station for two euros. The trains to Florence run every half an hour and cost nine euros each way. You can stop at Pisa on the way to Florence. The train journey to Florence is one and a half hours. Florence is worth a visit, one of the highlights. Watch some of the ice cream prices though!
Civitavecchia - shuttle bus is free to the centre where there is a 10/15m walk to the train station (follow the crowds and buy your ticket from a travel agency next to the entrance; not on the way). The train to Rome is five euros each way. We got a taxi from train station to the ship for five euros each on our return. Train journey time is approximately 1 hour and 15 min. Rome is busier than Florence but the Coliseum is worth a visit.
Athens - shuttle bus is free to the port terminal but there is a 25 min walk to the Metro station (follow the line of the port) which takes you to the Acropolis for 1.40 euros. You can take a taxi from the town to the Acropolis for 20 euros plus. The open top tour buses cost about 35 euros. The metro stop at the Acropolis is Thissio where you can walk through the market stalls to the Acropolis. You have to queue at the ticket store to get a ticket to enter the Acropolis which costs 12 euros.
Kusadasi - we did not travel to Ephesus. You can buy very cheap leather goods in Kusadasi. Prices for leather jacket started £100/150 upwards. Bartering is of course compulsory!
Santorini - the shuttle boat takes you to the shore from the ship where you can take a cable car to the town or walk up steps. The view from the top is amazing and the town is beautiful, worth a visit. The highlight for me.
Salerno - free shuttle bus takes you to the centre where the train station is very nearby, a five-minute walk. Return ticket to Pompeii (Naples train) was eight euros. Don't queue at the main ticket office, buy your ticket from a kiosk toward the rear of the station (the ticets should be validated in punch machines located on the platform - put your ticket toward the left in the slot). Pompeii is a highlight and worth a visit. The ruins are a 20m walk from the station and are not well signposted. Entry is 11 euros. My advice is to book a guide as well. We did not go to Capri but I remember this being very beautiful from a previous visit.