Five stars! We just returned from a 7 day Wind Surf cruise from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Nice. The ship had just 135 passengers on board (capacity is about 200 more than that), so, as you can imagine, our experience may not be the norm, but it was a delight. We have nothing but the highest praise for the crew and staff whose friendly attitudes enhanced our overall trip experience.
We arrived about 4pm for a 6pm departure and were among the last to arrive since we had spent as much time as possible in Rome. We took a train from Termini in Rome and I agree with other posts that note the walk from the rail station in Civitavecchia to the port entrance dragging bags is not something everyone will want to do, especially if it's hot out. We did that, however, and then caught a bus inside the Port entrance to our ship. Cabs are available at the train station and will drop you right at the luggage tent.
Check-in was a breeze with drinks and hors d'oevres offered. We were escorted to our cabin and our luggage arrived at the door within 30 minutes. The cabin was a standard (not suite), which was more spacious than we had envisioned....we were glad we had not opted for the higher priced suite. There was more than enough storage space, the suitcases fit under the bed, and we settled in quickly. The bathroom was modern, clean, very nicely lit and well stocked with wonderful L'Occitane shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and lotion. I would have liked an exhaust fan, but you can't have everything! The room had an Ipod dock (Ipod rentals available, though we had our own. Note that it DOES NOT charge the Ipod while in the dock, but the front desk staff graciously recharged our Ipod twice) and DVD player - great to have since there was little in the way of television programming available.
With just 135 passengers our experience was certainly one of ample access to all aspects of the ship. We dined in each of the evening restaurant venues - 2 indoor, 2 outdoor - somehow managing to select the perfect nights to dine outdoors when several evenings were a bit too windy or were hampered by a late afternoon shower. We found the food to be consistently excellent and the service just outstanding throughout. We actually preferred the main dining room menu to the other venues, though they were also good and offered a nice change of scene. The waiters, wine stewards, and bar staff could not have been more delightful or accommodating. The dining rooms were never full, so every night everyone had a lovely window view to enjoy. With a port stop every day we never enjoyed a lunch aboard ship, but the breakfast spread was tremendous, with hot made-to-order items (omelets, crepes, French toast, etc.) available as well. In chatting with other passengers there was some agreement that a casual, available anytime, restaurant would be a nice addition to the ship, since the dinner period (7:30-9:30) was open seating, but was like dining in a very nice restaurant - not someplace you could drop in to grab a hamburger if you're tired from a long day of touring. Room service was available, but it was inconvenient to eat in your room since there was only one chair that tucked in under the desk/vanity.
If you're looking for entertainment or after dinner activities, you're pretty limited here - but you probably wouldn't be considering this cruise if you wanted the big after-dinner show and bingo! The DVD library seemed to be popular and offered quite a large selection. After a long day in port many passengers seemed very happy to just take a movie back to their room and relax. That's not to say there wasn't some nightlife available if you wanted it. There are two lounges - one offered a 6 piece group playing dance tunes suitable for couples dancing, and in the other, smaller Compass Rose bar, a duo playing more contemporary rock n roll. With such a reduced passenger load we found that few people spent time after dinner in the larger lounge - those who wanted to drink and socialize mostly spent time in the Compass Rose. The casino is small with just 4 tables and about 25 slot machines, however, that drew an enthusiastic blackjack group each evening - and I'm happy to report my DH's winnings were able to finance the tab at the end of the trip - so, yes, some folks came out ahead. The tables were $5 minimum for blackjack, which makes it an affordable diversion. The joviality of the shipboard casino was in sharp contrast to the port casinos (Monte Carlo, Nice), where gambling is quiet and serious. Note that the casino did not open until the ship had sailed from port - so with an 11pm sailing time each evening, gambling was a late night activity. I can imagine that with a full ship the casino could seem too small, but that was not an issue on this sailing. The crew show on Friday night was charming and fun, and was a very nice way to see another side of these hardworking crew members, almost all from Indonesia.
Our itinerary required tendering service in LaSpetzia, Portfino and St. Tropez. We found that service to be quick and efficient - we never waited more than a few minutes in either direction. The advantage of the anchorage was that the water sports deck was then opened - in this case, in Portofino and St. Tropez. So some passengers were swimming, sailing and kayaking. We did not avail ourselves of spa services, but those who used the services were very complimentary. As you can imagine, there were "specials" offered during the week to entice passengers to indulge. The daily newsletter and evening briefing on the next port of call were both very helpful. We did not go on any ship sponsored excursions, preferring to extend our days and take the excellent public transportation available. Those who did go on the excursions seemed to like them very much and the photographs taken by the ship photographers certainly seemed to show happy groups. Several excursions were cancelled due to lack of adequate enrollments. We saved A LOT of money using the trains instead of excursions, but recognize that some will opt for the convenience value of just hopping on the bus on the dock. Having done a lot of research about our ports of call ahead of time, however, we felt very confident going it alone - and it paid off with unique experiences that only come when you're on your own and not in a large tour group. (special shout out to fodors.com forums and tripadvisor.com - a wealth of information available that helped immensely in planning for each port of call)
Our itinerary was wonderful. A nice combination of the big city and the small villages. The only disadvantage to this itinerary was Monday in Florence since the Uffizi and Accademia museums are closed on Mondays. We knew that ahead of time and decided there is much to see in Florence, so we focused on the positive and will save those visits for another trip. As hiking enthusiasts the highpoint for us was the stop in LaSpetzia and visiting the Cinque Terre. We hiked between 4 of the 5 towns and took the train to the 5th - a long day, but one filled with natural beauty, fantastic food (ask me about panna cotta in Vernazza!) and little glimpses into the lives of the 5Terre residents that will be long remembered. It didn't hurt that the weather was nearly perfect throughout the week (high 70's/low 80's and sunny 90% of the time) and we hit just before the peak season, so crowds weren't an issue. We would certainly choose June again, as the water was warm enough for swimming, but the heat of the summer not yet uncomfortable. Evenings were cool enough to require a sweater on deck...and always in the ship's public areas, which were kept very cool (too cool in my opinion, but my DH liked it fine).
Overall, we had a excellent cruise experience, enjoying our traveling hotel room and the congeniality of other passengers and the crew. This is not the ship for those who are looking for constant entertainment, glitz or buffet extravaganzas. But if you're looking for a low key, more casual, and romantic cruise with a focus on providing a comfortable backdrop to your port adventures, this could be the ship for you.