This was our first Med cruise having previously done Caribbean/Bermuda (all with RCCL). We flew out (arranging our own flights with bmibaby - very poor) to Barca, stayed the night in airport hotel and then got on the ship straight after breakfast. Was at the port at 12:30 and got straight on the ship (we didn't need to use the express check-in line). Enjoyed the Spanish sun before the sailaway.
SHIP - General comments: Was in much better nick that I originally thought since eight years old. Could not fault the appearance at all she was well looked after. We had a great dining position and were at 9:00 sitting which was good. Dining room was nice with open panoramic views. WIndjammer effective. Pool areas were nice but Solarium was often infiltrated by uncontrolled children and immature teenagers
DINING - Food quality was OK, I felt standards and portion sizes have dropped since last year. Or perhaps it is because we don't eat that much in Europe. Soups were salty. However the steaks were lovely and I wasn't tempted to use the "alternative" menu until the last night, I found this to be the best meal. We had a superb table of mixed Americans and English who all got on raucously (table 062... you know who you are). Waiting staff were superb and massive big ups to Jorge, Fenelao and WJ for looking after us so splendidly. Disappointed more people (men) don't make the effort on formal nights but this was better than the last three cruises we have been on. Only had lunch on ship once and this was repeaters meal (platinum) so can't comment on quality then. Breakfast was OK but I had a dodgy egg benedict - what's the point of plastering page one of the cruise compass with warnings if you don't cook the eggs properly?!?
CABIN - Excellent attendant in Marilyn. Cabin was perfunctory but fine. Loud air conditioning. Luggage was taken in for us which is always nice. We go for smaller cabins to go on more cruises. Didn't feel movement as we were midships. Safe was odd, had to use credit card to lock it, would prefer numbers so don't have to take credit card ashore.
ENTERTAINMENT - Being our first Med cruise we didn't know what would replace the steel band poolside. We thought the string duos were fabulous and allowed us to chill out much more than on Caribbean itineraries. A touch of class - well done. We love the Steel Bands though! Neal Austen has been on ships for a while and he's excellent, he went down well but we missed the end since we had to go for dinner. This was to be a gripe throughout the cruise and I felt the scheduling was poor. We didn't really see the CD Rico very much, felt he didn't add anything to the cruise. Becky Thompson remains our firm favourite and glad to see she is on Mariner of the Seas at the moment. Olé Olé were the Spanish flamenco band who were very good but went on for a bit too long. Royal Caribbean revue cast were excellent but had to do three shows?!?! I felt this was a way of cutting down on entertainers. Missed the Soul band and Elaine Lesley. No heartstrings pulled on the last night, just the revue cast and that's it. Excellent pianist in the Schooner bag (James Barr) and good atmosphere watching the Euro 2004 football games.
PORTS OF CALL - We did all our own trips since RCI tours seemed extortionately expensive. Did bus tour in Marseilles and got on and off bus. We had low expectations but were pleasantly surprised. Villefranche - Got SNCF to Monte Carlo (station is 10 minute walk away) and spent a lovely day there. Recommend a 11 Euro ice cream in the Café de Paris - more expensive than the rail ticket! Villefranche is a lovely fishing town and nicest place the ship docked. Livorno - shared taxi with delightful couple from Sheffield to go to Florence and Pisa - saw all the sights. Book tickets for Uffizi gallery before you go - massive lines to get in. Rome (Civitavecchia) very disappointing - great city spoilt by ghastly traffic (makes London look good) and by miles between the sights - I would recommend a tour here. Naples gritty - harrowing train journey to Pompeii (which was amazing) but astounded at the poverty - where are our EU contributions going I want to know 'cause they're not going here.
MISCELLANEOUS - We felt that some of the officers were a little haughty but the captain was really welcoming at the platinum and diamond reception. We struggled to talk to the groups at his cocktail party - he seems a very shy man. We were off the ship a lot more than previous cruises due to travelling at ports of call but exhausting and excellent at the same time. Would recommend staying a couple of days in Barcelona as it's probably the best port of call and the Bus touriste again is the best option as easy to whittle a whole day away.
Will do Euro cruise again, nice to do the 12 day from Barca (Brilliance) but also interested in 14-days from Soton (Legend), prices need to come down a lot yet though as no need for airfare. I like the Canary itinerary the best as done a lot of the other itinerary in this cruise and it doesn't go to Venice (which Brilliance does).