First and foremost I want to talk about the excursions. I would say don't book with the ship because it's overpriced and you'll sit on a bus with 100 other people and be on their schedule. Booking a private tour offers flexibility and convenience. I reviewed each port individually but I cannot say enough about Your Tour in Italy (www.yourtourinitaly.com). We booked all three days in Italy with Aldo (the owner) and were so very pleased with every aspect of his service. The cars were in great condition and very clean. Each driver was native to the area we visited that day which was key - they were able to provide personal accounts of each area we visited and recommend restaurants and shopping first hand.
I read several reviews on this site looking for a tour company and Your Tour in Italy came up often. There were several companies with great reviews but Your Tour offered a tour in each Italian port. It was much more convenient to have 1 company to book with than 2 or 3.
There were no hidden costs. We paid the driver at the end of the tour. We used travellers cheques so we wouldn't need cash but my conversion rate was different than theirs so I would recommend asking Aldo for the rate before you buy your cheques. Also we tipped our drivers/guides in cash (Euros).
Please find the contact info below and see my specific port reviews for more details.
Your Tour in Italy di Aldo Monti P.Iva n 02341610596 Via Ferrazza 986 04100 LT Rome Italy www.yourtourinitaly.com firstname.lastname@example.org
As far as the ship is concerned - it was very clean. We had a stateroom with a balcony and that was very nice. The bigger bathroom was worth it. The TV station selection is poor, there's about 5 options. The Internet was extremely slow and very expensive (you pay by the minute and it's about $1/minute). We never dressed up and enjoyed being casual the whole time.
Restaurants: We tried the steak place our first night - Cagney's. It was $15 cover plus another $10 if you wanted seafood. The food was ok but not worth the additional cost. The king crab legs were not king crab legs and the lobster was a very small portion.
We tried the Italian place our second night, it had a $10 cover. It was again - just ok. The food was not worth the cover.
Our third night we tried the Mexican /Tapas place with a $10 cover and were again disappointed. We ate in the included restaurants from t hat point forward.
The service in the restaurants was generally poor. We waited for a while for drinks and sometimes for anyone to even greet our table.
You can get unlimited soda for a flat rate and if you drink a lot it's worth it. If you don't have that you will $2.50 for a can of soda.
You can't bring any food or drinks on the ship so if you buy anything at a port they will hold it until you disembark in Barcelona (pretty standard for a cruise).
There's a guy who gives "talks" about each port on a daily basis - he has good tips and knows a lot. It's worth your time for sure.
Docking into Malta is beautiful, just make sure you're out there early enough. We asked the desk what time to be there and were given a time that was too late. We saw most of it but I would have liked to be on deck for the whole thing.
They add a gratuity to your bill every day so DON'T TIP on every check. You'll be tipping twice. The conversion commission on the ship is horrible, change money before you go on your trip or in a port at a local bank. It will save you some money. You don't need Euros on the ship, everything is paid in USD.