I just back from a 12 day cruise from Barcelona to Barcelona. We visited Cannes (side-tripped to Grasse by local bus), La Spezia (visited three Cinque Terre villages by train), Civitavecchia (visited Rome by train), Salerno (visited Pompeii by train), Venice (a day and a half), and Dubrovnik. The port was closed in Ravenna due to high winds. In addition to this unexpected sea day, we had three scheduled days on board.
I was travelling with three of my sisters and we chose a mainstream budget cruise line - Royal Caribbean and enjoyed our large family room. It was comfy with twin beds, a bunk in a separate curtained alcove and a double sofa bed which we did not need. About 313 square feet. This cruise line is new to me and I was pleased with the trip. If you are looking for reasonable food, good service and tons of activities and nightlife, this is for you. Look for specials, though, especially if you are flexible about dates. We met a traveller who got a room to himself for about the usual price of sharing. (If you know cruises, you know that they often charge the single as if they are a couple - i.e. double price.) I did find there was a bit more smoking onboard compared to Oceania, my only comparator. For example, the casino and an English-style pub are both smoking. Perhaps because we were sailing from Spain, many announcements from the activities staff were bilingual. Passengers did hail from all over the world, though.
We stayed at a budget hotel in Barcelona the night before our cruise. Great location in the Gothic Quarter, very clean, friendly and cheap (for Barcelona). Recommended if you don't need door man, room service, etc. Hotel Canton is walking distance to the port.
We loved Cinque Terre. We bought the Cinque Terre card in the national park office in the train station. This allowed us unlimited day use of the trains as well as the opportunity to hike the trails between the villages. Riomaggiore was our favourite.
In Civitavecchia, we bought a BIRG ticket (Biglietto Integrato Regionale Giornaliero ) at the train station that gave us free regional trains to and from Rome as well as local buses and Metro in Rome. Worthwhile. We went into Termini and out from San Pietro near the Vatican. We had booked tickets online to see the Vatican Museums through the Vatican itself. A small extra charge but worthwhile. We visited several churches and sites in the city beforehand and thoroughly enjoyed our day, except for a bit of a rush to get to Cipro Metro station and the Vatican museums. We used a neat website to create a free customized walking tour - http://www.tripomatic.com
We also talked to some people who used a tour guide that they highly recommended. We saw a company rep at the train station and he seemed helpful and personable. You might want to check into the company if you wanted a helping hand with Rome:
Pompeii is very doable from Salerno. We had thought of Paestum and the Greek temples but it seemed a bit more challenging by public transport. We had taken a private tour a few years ago along the Amalfi Coast and Herculaneum. This time, we took the train from Salerno to the city of Pompei. Cheap trains take you near the back entrance (Anfitheatro) in the city of Pompei. Pompeii is overwhelmingly large. If you haven't been to either Pompeii or Herculaneum, and are approaching from Naples or Sorrento, you might want to visit Herculaneum. Opinions on this?
We walked through the old part of Salerno after our train ride back and we were very surprised with its beauty and colourful streets. We visited the cathedral - dates from the 11th century.
Venice was wonderful! We went up to the helipad at the front of the ship to watch our entrance into the city along the Giudecca Canal. It is easy to do-it-yourself from the port (Maritima) Free shuttle to the nearby People Mover (1 euro a trip) to Piazzale Roma.
After a walk in the area to see the Tintoretto ceilings, we bought a 24 hour vaporetto pass. Worthwhile since each trip costs 7 euros so we easily covered the cost.
No queues in November to get into San Marco! We saw the tail end of high water in a couple of places but weren't affected by it.
We wandered the back streets, and just enjoyed the gorgeous vistas everywhere!
We were disappointed by missing Ravenna but it can't be helped. Weather overall was fine - great site seeing weather and very little rain while we were ashore. We did walk the wall in Dubrovnik and visited a couple of museums. We bought the Dubrovnik card online before we left. The only downside - in November (on a Sunday in November?) the port TI office is closed so we had to pay for our local bus to the TI inside the wall. You need local currency for the bus. (The ticket office might have credit cards.) Still the card was worthwhile because the ticket covers admission to the wall walk. BTW, if you are going by ship, the prices at the market by the cruise ship are cheaper than in the town, especially for little girl's sailor dresses!
The last two nights at sea where quite rocky, especially if you think that the Mediterranean is a millpond! If you get sea sick, you might want to go in late October rather than late November. We didn't have a problem with our appetites though!
We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise and were impressed by the energy and service by crew and staff. My sister who is on a gluten-free diet was well catered for. She deleted the next evening's meal after dessert the night before. In the buffet, staff were able to call the cook to check into the gluten in the day's offering. Excellent service for anyone with a dietary problem.
I preferred RCCL to my one Celebrity trip - I liked that they brought you coffee, tea, juice and water to your table in the Windjammer Cafe. A small thing but adds to my pleasure! The food ingredients are higher end on Oceania but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality on RCCL, especially if you choose menu offerings with lower cost ingredients - e.g. lamb shank rather than steak. My sisters were disappointed with the steak that was on the everyday menu but found the "special of the day" steak much better.
There were a couple of occasions when the glass or plate had not been thoroughly washed by the dishwasher. And some of the passengers messed up the food when serving themselves in the Windjammer. I also thought that the English language skills of the staff was a little lower than on Oceania. However, we were paying a whole lot less!
Overall, a great cruise. Wonderful ports of call. Lots of fun to be had on board. And thank you to everyone who shared their experiences on CC.
Q326N pix at https://secure.flickr.com/photos/rhkennerly/collections/72157637907906424/