We flew into Barcelona and stayed in the city for 2 days before the cruise. It really helped us acclimate to the time change and an added bonus we had a great time in the city. Barcelona has a very modern and clean subway system that made getting around very simple. Many shops and restaurants spoke a bit of English and with our limited Spanish it was very easy. The tapas and sangria cannot be missed! Embarkation was fairly easy and well-organized. Do as much as you can online ahead of time and it goes very smoothly. Make sure to utilize the duty-free shops after you check-in but before boarding. The bottled water can be taken directly on-board and it is a fraction of the ship's package. In addition, you can put a few bottles of wine or liquor into a carry-on(again in the duty-free area) and it is the only time they don't screen your bags as you board. Our room wasn't ready so we were all "herded" into the Windjammer Cafe until around 2. It was really crowded and hot and not a good start for first-time cruisers. Our room was a family suite and was bigger than we expected. We had a second small bedroom in addition to a pull-out and larger(queen)bed as well as a sitting/living room area. It was plenty of room for the 5 of us. Our other family members had a balcony stateroom that was a good size and had a nice balcony. The rooms are dated and bit worn but clean. The cruise line did a nice job having lots of hand sanitizer around the ship with the threat of H1N1. Our attendant Vincent was great and our bags arrived before we did.
The "muster" drill was pretty painless and was well organized. We wandered around the ship later that afternoon-it's huge but easy to get around. The ship is over-the-top in a lot of ways but what we expected. The constant money-grab gets to be a bit much but you can steer away from it. Our dining was the late seating which worked out well with the excursion days-it gives you time to relax before dinner. Food on the ship is not a strong-point ranging from cafeteria-like(Windjammer) to mediocre at best in main dining room. Our server, Anna, was great but the "head waiter" did nothing at all! Our first day was at sea and it gave us time to explore the ship and relax. One big problem RCI needs to address is the smoking on-board-the casino is so smoke-filled and many of the lounges are, too. Be sure to get ice show tickets-they did a nice job and the earlier tickets go fast! Day 2 was Napoli. We did extensive research before the cruise and did every shore excursion on our own. It went very smoothly, they got us back to the ship in plenty of time and it was so much better than what we heard other's did with the ship's excursions-the cost is also a fraction of what you'd pay through RCI! Amalfi Coast was amazing! See port reviews for details. Day 3 Rome. It's impossible to do everything in one day but by using our own private tour we saw so much and had a van that took us around the city. Day 4 Pisa and Florence. Pisa isn't much other than the tower but good to see.
We again had a private driver and got a tour of an olive-oil factory, a drive through Tuscany, and shopping in Florence! Thanksgiving dinner that night was REALLY BAD-the food was terrible! Day 5 Villefranche/Nice. We were tendered in and found the train to Nice or Monaco with relative ease. Do your research and it's easy to do. Nice has a nice outdoor market in the morning and tons of cafes for lunch. Day 6 Suppose to go to Marseille but strike caused us to dock in Toulon. Only time used ship's excursion-took a motor coach into Aix en Provence. Cute little town with cafes and shopping. Make sure to know some French-not many speak English at all. That evening we sailed back to Barcelona and it was very rough-we really felt the waves throughout the night. Disembarkation was very easy-we had early flights out of the airport and got there in plenty of time. Luggage right there and we had a private company take us to airport-it was a breeze! Overall it was a great family trip. We really used the ship as our "floating hotel" and loved seeing all the ports. It gave us a taste of the areas we want to return to-would cruise again only to see another region in the same fashion.