This was our seventh cruise with Carnival, the last being on the Spirit through the Panama Canal. We are a couple in our mid 40's.
We flew into Rome a few days early and stayed at a downtown B&B, the Nicolas Inn http://www.nicolasinn.com/ This place was wonderful; great rooms, helpful owners and conveniently located near the Colosseum. They arranged transportation from the airport and to the cruise terminal. We found Rome friendly and easy to walk. Lots to see and you must allow a few days to at least get an overview.
On cruise day, we arrived at the cruise terminal about 11:30 AM and walked right on. The ship is as most Carnival designs; bright and party-like. The rooms are great. Carnival continues to add conveniences and features. We loved the Seaside theater and the in-room services such as booking excursions and reviewing your sign and sail account which were time savers.
Our room was excellent, one of the few with an extended balcony due to the ship layout. A bar fridge, flat screen TV, VCR/DVD player were some of the features in addition to a great bed and a well designed bathroom.
On the ship, we found the Carnival entertainment to be exceptionally good; we had seen better with the walk-on entertainment but it was still ok. The art auction has graduated beyond our capacity; the first painting sold was a Peter Max for $44K. We ate in the dining room as much as we could and found the food and the service to be better than ever. The cafeterias were pretty good, but focused more on quantity and quality. However, the deli and the fish and chip shop were excellent. The supper club was outstanding; we actually went twice and would have gone again except the food was so good in the dining room.
Not sure if others do this, but let your waitress tell you what is the best food each night; she/he serves it for 9 months and knows what is best. I found the food to be excellent.
With the ship being new, the staff seemed highly motivated to ensure we had a good time. It helped too to have the industry's top cruise director, John Heald on board for his last cruise before his vacation. John is outstanding and goes above and beyond with things like his morning show broadcast regularly in the cabins and on the Seaside theater.
With the ports, we arrived first at Naples where we had an excellent private tour with Francesco. http://www.francescomarrapese.com A highlight was Pompeii where he arranged for a guide and we would highly recommend this as it was a highlight of our entire cruise. We also enjoyed the Amalfi coast drive and lunch at a wonderful dock side restaurant in Sorrento.
After a much-needed day at sea, we were sailing into Venice. While a port-intensive cruise sees minimal balcony use, opening champagne as we sailed by St. Mark's Square made it worthwhile! We toured around ourselves the first day and went for a bellini at Harry's bar. We took a Carnival excursion including Murano and a gondola ride the next day. We had been to Venice before; it is enchanting but also expensive and commercialized. You have to see it, but it is not the best Italy has to offer.
We sailed next to Dubrovnik which was a surprise gem. We took the cruise shuttle to the old town, paid the admission and got the audio guide to walk the walls. Not for the faint of heart (it is very high and a long walk) but great views and great history.
After another sea day, it was Sicily where we took Carnival's Mt. Etna at 2900 m tour. This was the right tour but the wrong day...a snow storm prevented us from getting to the top of the volcano, however the guide was excellent and made the best of it. Eat canoli when you are in Sicily and you will never forget it. It is a wonderful pastry filled with fresh cheese. Off to Barcelona where we took the hop on hop off tour of the city and walked La Ramba. The architecture is wonderful.
A rough night as we it 115 kmh winds but we arrived at Cannes just an hour late where we had a driver, Lucy, from Ming tours. We drove along the coast stopping in Cannes, Nice, Eze and Monte Carlo. A thrill was driving around the Formula 1 race circuit and seeing the exotic cars outside the casino. Also stopped at a perfume factory and a flower market in Nice.
Next was another highlight, Florence where we had an outstanding tour guide, Pierguido 'Guido' Sarzani with Tuscany in my Pocket. http://www.tuscanyinmypocket.com/index.htm We will never forget this day. We saw the sites in Florence, including David where Guido got us in a side entrance with no lines and the leather factory (the place for leather products) in the church where he actually parked in the priest's area in the back courtyard. Then we went to Tuscany (sacrificing Pisa) and had the lunch of a lifetime on a hilltop vineyard. The food, wine and friendship was amazing and was a top highlight of our trip.
Getting off the ship was even easier than getting on. Carnival has perfected this process. It was orderly and painless.
As we sailed back to Citi, we decided to take the Carnival tour that took us to the Vatican and then the airport. We are glad we went to the Vatican but it is not the 'real Rome' in our opinion. Massive lines, rude people and no chance to take it all in. However, it is a site to see and as long as you are prepared for 3 hour waits and rude people, it is worthwhile. Our guide used headsets to help us get the most of our visit.
We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard that night which is a nice hotel. Get to the airport early as the lines are long and can be stressful unless you allow lots of time.
Tip: take a small flashlight and compass for getting around Rome at night; it helps with map reading.
Tip: Don't exchange money on the ship. Use a bank machine or take it with you (there is a safe in your cabin). If you take Euro traveler's cheques, most stores will not accept them however, there are AMEX offices near the Spanish stairs in Rome and just off St. Mark's square in Venice that cash them for no fee.
This was our best cruise to date. The ports are fantastic, and the ship is great. We found the food, service and activities to be the best yet. Everyone we met seemed to enjoy themselves.
After reading some negative reviews, I am convinced that people not enjoying themselves either 1) selected the wrong product (i.e. remember Carnival are the 'Fun Ships') or 2) did not plan tours and activities to make the best of their vacation (these are not ports where you just wonder of the ship without a plan). If you like the Carnival product, you'll love this cruise.