Our first trip to the Med. to celebrate a special birthday for Lynda.
Flew to Barcelona and stayed 2 nights at the Tryp Apollo which we would recommend given the fair pricing and great location (near waterfront & Las Ramblas - 10 minute walk). Took a Taxi from the Airport to the hotel. We noticed from previous reviews Taxi would cost 25 E which is what we paid door to door. Took a suite upgrade at the Hotel for 35 E per night however, would not recommend this given the short time you'll be in the room.
Found Las Ramblas a lot of fun with lots of places to eat. The street is also a good place to have breakfast with several places offering coffee, juice, toast (jam) & croissant for 5E. Hotel staff told us not to go to Las Ramblas in the evening however, we strolled down during the late evening & had no trouble (nor did we notice any) at all. Used the Hop On/Off Bus for a tour of Barcelona and found this to be great value. We went on the blue and red lines and skipped the green. Got off on one stop and went up the Funicular to Mount Tibadabo which is high above the city and offers great views and reasonable pricing for lunches and beverages.
Embarkation was quick and easy. We went to the port around 1 PM as suggested by the Cruise Line however, several people went as early as 11 AM with no problem at all. We registered on line prior to the cruise.
We last sailed on the Summit 3 years ago in the Caribbean. We took Concierge service on that trip however, decided not to on this one. Our cabin was entirely adequate and well serviced by Peter and his associate. We tipped our room attendant the first day and were well served throughout the voyage. Laundry(pressing) service on the first day was prompt and reasonably priced. Our cabin was opposite one of the service doors used by the staff. When I mentioned the noise from opening and closing the door during the night disturbed my sleep, Peter told the staff and the problem disappeared the next day. Great service !.
Used very few of the activities offered in that this is a very busy itinerary. Musicians were all good and provided both listening and dancing music for all to enjoy. One complaint I and others had is that on the White Night (dining under the stars), once dinner was over, they changed the dancing music to a "techno" theme for the balance of the night. This music was not "age appropriate" in my mind with most of the "over 50"s" leaving early for other choices on board.
Front desk and other staff on board get high ratings for being friendly, helpful and efficient.
Food and Beverage: While food was generally "O.K." in the dining room, consider this area to have deteriorated somewhat since our last trip on the Summit considering she is rated a 5 star ship. We were at late seating and found on most occasions our dinners were "rushed", hampering our time to visit with our table mates. Very little "Wow" factor on presentation. The salads in particular need to be improved. As an example, the green salads included lettuce that looked old and wilted with very little color. I finally asked for some tomatoes to be included for some variety. Shrimp Cocktails included only 3 pieces of shrimp. (Ask for two orders). Our Waiter tried very hard to make us all happy during our meals as did his assistant. Buffet dining was good with a wide variety of choices. Drink prices expensive. As an example, one bottled beer in the pool area cost $6.90.
Our table mates found the dinner wine service not up to 5 star standard. On several occasions and despite several reminders, their white wine was not delivered and served cold. Simple thing to fix but wasn't. On two occasions, they waited well into the dining before their wine was poured. Perhaps more staff are needed in this area. One other item we noticed is that dress code does not appear to be enforced - ie on 2 Formal Night occasions we noticed jeans in the Dining Room.
Shore / Excursions:
Took the Tender from the ship to Villefranche. Walked to the train station (short distance) and took the train towards Monte Carlo. We got off the train on the second stop at Eze Sur Mer and found a local bus (#83) to Eze. NOTE: If you go this route, suggest you try to coordinate timing for the local buses. In our case, we just missed the 10:00 bus and had to wait an hour in the sun with no place to sit. Also, if the train stations are closed, you can only use coin to purchase your tickets at the machines (not Credit Cards). Eze was worth the trip. Nice village with great views and shopping.
Livorno/Pisa/Florence: We did "Florence on your own" as several of our friends on board said Pisa was a waste of time and took away from time in Florence. If doing again, we would probably use the Hop On/Off bus for a tour of Florence. We missed going up the hill south of the city where we understand you get great views.
Rome: Strongly suggest arranging for private tours. We used Rome Cabs. Joined up with 2 other couples and toured Rome in a very comfortable Mercedes Mini Van. What a treat. We saw all the major sites including the Colosseum, Forum, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps followed by a very nice lunch arranged by our Driver Salvatore. In the afternoon, we went for a tour of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. Our driver arranged for a Private Tour Guide (University educated with good command of English). Well worth the costs especially when you are sharing with the other couples. NOTE: Our driver made arrangements for all of the tickets needed eliminating long and slow lineups.
Naples/Capri/Pompeii: Took one of the Ship' Tours. Weather not so great for Capri but got better in Sorrento which we loved. Capri(outside of a visit to a fantastic Garden) mostly for Shopping. Had a great lunch in Sorrento arranged by our Tour Guide. Would like to have stayed longer in Sorrento. Looks like a great place to visit. Drove to Pompeii (very scenic - make sure you get on the right side of the bus for the views) which was fantastic. Our Tour Guide was very helpful. Make sure you have water and good footwear as the tour is somewhat lengthy.
Santorini: Did on our own and used the Funicular to the top of the hill. You can walk up however very steep.Use the Donkeys at your discretion as they can be slow, and take a change of clothes. The smell is terrible. Santorini was fantastic as we expected. FYI - you can rent Quads which two can ride for only 25 Euro per day and well worth it. We found this out too late in the day. Took the bus out to Oia which is absolutely beautiful. Walked around for awhile and then stopped at one of the great restaurants for some food and wine and enjoyed the fantastic view.Took a cab back to Fira and had a great lunch overlooking the ocean and our ship. Several choices for eating.
Athens: What a great place. Used Athens Taxi for a private tour with another couple. We got an early start (met us at 7:30 at the Pier)so as to avoid the crowds at the major sites. When we finished our tour of the Acropolis, the crowds trying to enter (Ship's Tours) were very lengthy. Visited the Parthenon and Olympic Stadium as well as other sites. Nice to have a Tour Guide to help you avoid line ups for tickets. Our Guide arranged for a great lunch at an out of the way restaurant where locals eat. We told him we wanted a slow lunch (some can be rushed). He arranged a spot for us to meet after lunch and at this time, we asked and he agreed to change our itinerary ie he had planned for us to visit the Museum in the afternoon. We instead asked for him to drop us off in the Old Town (Plaka) area so we could walk around, shop etc. No problem. NOTE: Prior to our Cruise, some people had told us Athens was not very clean. We found the opposite on our visit.
Dubrovnik: Biggest surprise. Did on our own and used ship's shuttle bus. Beautiful city. Walked the wall for 3.5 hrs with friends. Had a great lunch in the town square followed by a walk around the city with a brief stop for some wine. Want to go back and stay for a week or so.
Venice: Did on our own and met up with friends later in the day. Lovely place but very crowded narrow streets. Best time was at night listening to the Musicians in St. Marks Square. Found a great restaurant in the inner part of the city and had a very nice dinner. Stay away from the expensive restaurants on the Grand Canal. Went to Harry's Bar for overpriced Bellini's which were fantastic.
Disembarkation: Very quick and efficient. Venice Airport can be very crowded on departure dates especially when there are several ships in port. Make sure you know what counter to line up at for check in. (We confirmed this 3 times). Stood in line for 2-3 hours to make sure we got good seats on our flights home.
Conclusion: Notwithstanding some negatives noted in our comments, we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise and the people we met on board some of whom have become close friends. The service and friendliness of the staff was especially noted. The ports are fantastic. Suggest you take private tours when possible as these are normally less expensive and you get much more from them versus the ships tours.