We are platinum Captain's Circle members on Princess which provided a couple of nice perks (250 internet minutes-didn't use them all) some of which we used some we didn't need, such as embarkation lounge.
We spent 3 days pre-cruise in Rome, 2 days in Venice and 3 days post-cruise in Barcelona (should have made that 4 or 5).
EMBARKATION: Couldn't have been easier. Checked out of our hotel (Westin Europa-Regina at Per San Marco...beautiful!) at 3:00 PM and walked on board. We were in our room within 5 minutes of getting to the ship. TIP: Arriving later is almost always better. Let the early birds stand in line.
DISEMBARKATION: Walked off the ship with our bags caught a cab and were at our hotel (Le Meridian on La Rambla...another beautiful place) in 15 minutes. Do NOT believe Princess about long cab waits. They just want to scare you into purchasing their over priced shuttle to town. Our cab was a quarter the cost.
SHIP: Beautiful as a new ship should be. Never seemed crowded although it was sold out.
ROOM: Originally had a balcony on Riviera deck, but were able to upgrade to a mini suite for $99. Great deal for a great room on Dolphin deck. Will probably book Mini's from now on. The room had a full tub in the bathroom which is a huge bonus, 2- 36 inch flat screen TV's and a nice sized living room and balcony. I can't see 2 people needing anything larger...sometimes more is just more. The location toward the stern (rear) was perfect. Close to the self serve laundry and just far enough away from the elevators. Our room steward, Marlon was perfect. I appreciated having ESPN2 to keep me company, although I did miss the re-runs of Get Smart, Gilligan's Island, A Team etc from previous cruises, but maybe that's just me...yeah probably is. All in all, there were no negatives.
DINING: We had anytime for the first time and it worked out just fine...lots of options and we actually ended up eating less than usual as we only went to the dining room twice the whole cruise. We were able to get into the Chef's table one night and it was fabulous! Worth every penny of the $75 cover charge. Sabatini's Well worth the $20 cover. Crowne Grill was OK, but I doubt I'll do it again. The unexpected jewel for me was Vines on deck 5. Good wine at decent prices, but it's the food that makes it special. The sushi was fresh, cold and delicious, the tapas were very good as were the cheeses. My favorite was the sea bass ceviche...some of the best I've ever had anywhere and I've been a fan for 30 years. We ended up eating dinner there more than any other venue. The chefs and waiters were personable and very competent. Horizon and Caribe are good, standard buffets...'nuf said. Trident grill and Pizza. Excellent hot dogs and pizza, but why oh why do they have to turn the hamburger patties into tasteless, dry hockey pucks? All in all, if you can't find anything to like on this ship, it's your problem!
A special shout out to room service: It was prompt and very good. I ordered the black bean chili con carne the first night and it was some of the best I have ever had anywhere. If you like chili, try it.
ITINERARY: Terrific, even with missing Athens (OK by me as we have been there, but I'm sure many were looking forward to this stop). The extra day in Venice was a nice bonus. This cruise really did give the best of the region. If you have been to Ephesus before, go again. They have uncovered some amazing new relics in the last few years that are a must see.
TIPS: 1. Go on the boards on this site and arrange private tours for small groups (8 to 10). You will have a much better experience at a lower price, avoid some of the crowds and see more. We also met lots of wonderful people!
2. Use the public transportation at the ports to get where you're going if you're not on an organized tour. It's not hard and very inexpensive. These are "walking" cities. Use the metro subway in Rome. It's no different than the ones in the US or anywhere else-cheap, easy and FAST (traffic in these cities is a bitch! avoid if possible.) If you go to Sorrento via van or bus, take the ferry back to the ship, as it's fast, cheap and drops you off right next to the ships. You will also get a great view of the area.
3. I found the port areas to be much more attractive and interesting than the ship led me to believe. They all had open air markets, and a number of good little out door places to get a beer, snack or a gelato.
ON BOARD SERVICES:
1. Internet: The main complaint is that it is slow...Yep, it's via satellite and can be slow if you try to down load or transmit large files like pictures or videos. I had no problem with basic emails or web searches.
2. Launder mats: On every deck. Bring a roll of quarters with you. Washer and dryers each take $1.50 as well as the detergent. A great value which allows you to pack lighter.