Boarded the QE in Civitavecchia . Embarkation at about 4pm was a breeze. Note: if your flight arrives early enough on the day of arrival or departs after 4pm on the final day, Cunard offers a Highlights of Rome bus tour before or after the cruise. We would have welcomed that option but unfortunately our flight left at 3 so we couldn't pull it off. Got to the port courtesy of Cunard transfers which was stress free. ($86 pp round trip. for the hour trip.) The ship's public areas were beautiful and elegant. Many evenings musicians were playing orchestra type music as we walked thru the ship. We had the late dinner seating (8:30) which was a little late but worked out well with our port intensive itinerary. The food was superior to the food we had on a Princess cruise a few years ago. We only saw one show which featured the comedian Allan Stewart which was ok to good. Our table mates saw a few more shows that they thought were not so great but they did like the one that was a variety show.
This cruise had three segments and we were aboard for the middle week, visiting Florence, Monaco, Toulon and Barcelona. I had no complaints and really enjoyed my cruise. The only thing I complained about on my questionnaire was about the ridiculous price of the ships photos. Unlike the old days when every photo taken was printed out then thrown away when not sold, the process has gone digital where you view and select off a monitor. This should have reduced Cunard's cost greatly but wan't reflected in their pricing. Embarkation photos were $24.95 PLUS a 22%VAT tax. Photos taken on the staircase on formal nights were $34.95 plus the 22% tax. $30.43 and $42.64 seemed exorbitant so we avoided the photographers. Most people on the cruise seemed to have plenty of money so I guess Cunard can charge what the market will bear.
Made a big mistake here and relied on an old Rick Steves guide that said we could see this city on our own. Walked up the main rag (Ramblas) which was kind of seedy. We then reached Plaza Catalunya where we attempted to find the bus that would take us to the famous Sagrada Familiia Basilica. Wound up taking a cab (8 euros including tip) and was stunned to find a huge line snaking around the building in the hot sun. Admission charge would have been 15 euros apiece had we waited for hours to get in. TIP: Organized tours skip the line. Our table mates (who had guidance from their travel agent) picked the Gaudi tour which included the price of admission and an architectural tour of the city. Wish we did this. Wandered around the outside of the basilica then searched in vain for the bus stop before taking another 8 euro cab ride back to the Plaza. Gave up and went back to the ship and relaxed.
Most tours to Florence from the ship are on your own and I think it is because esp. during the summer it is hot and crowded and organized tours don't seem to get to skip the lines. The rowboat ride was kind of goofy. It was spartan and was pushed along the Arno River with sticks, much like a gondola but the pilot did not narrate anything so it was kind of pointless but did make for some photo ops. If you want to get into any of the museums call to reserve a time or book online because the lines for people without reservations were unreal. We didn't even attempt it. The tour bus got there at about ten and we had to meet back at four so pick your hour accordingly. Thought we were in line to see the Duomo (which was free) but no that line was unreal. Turns out we were in line to buy a combo ticket(10 euros pp) to the Duomo museum (which wound up being closed til 2015, the Bapistry, and Duomo tower which weren't open that day( Sunday). The only thing we could use that ticket for was another tower that had 414 dark, hot narrow, winding steps with no handrail. We gave the unused portion of the tickets to a family that would be there the next day. There is one ship's tour that was partially guided but was about $20 more that you may want to consider. Florence is just crazy in on a hot summer weekend. Tip: Prices for the tours go up a few dollars the closer to the voyage date and can get sold out but if you book in advance thru the voyage personalized you can't use your shipboard credit to pay for them
Actually docked in Toulon which was the maiden docking for the Queen Elizabeth. Toured Aix-in-Provence which was charming with open air markets and had a brief walking tour. The guide said the bus wasn't allowed to stay in the town for long so we only had an hour free time. An extra hour would have allowed more shopping or a change to try one of the quaint outside cafes.This tour was ok. TIP: Our table mates who had guidance from their travel agent picked the Casellet tour (which was sold out) and they liked it very much.
Did not go on an organized tour as Monaco is quite walkable. You must climb many steps but there is a parking garage on the left which supposedly has an elevator but I never saw it. Loved Monaco. Were there at 11:55 for the changing of the guard ceremony but snapped a quick pic and took advantage of the crowd being busy to tour the royal apartments in the Palace. There was a slight fee which I can't remember but was worth it. Then walked right in to the cathedral where Princess Grace was married and entombed. (free). We were thinking of walking to see the outside of the casino at Monte Carlo but it started to rain so we just went back to the ship.