My wife and I spent 10 days on this ship celebrating her 50th birthday and our 20th anniversary. My expectations were low, but hers were high. We were both pleased with the journey.
We arrived a couple days early to Rome to shake the jet lag and explore this city. You could stay 10 days in Rome and still only scratch the surface. We did a 4 hour cooking class that morphed into a 6 hour class and loved every minute of it. Finally made pasta and tomato sauce from scratch. There were 12 of us in the class and space was tight, but everyone made it work. The other day in Rome we just explored. I highly recommend the double decker red buses that give your a great (and inexpensive) way to tour the city (maybe 20 euros for all the buses).
We decided to put the big girl panties and took the train to the port. Although the trip was relaxing and far less expensive than a cab be prepared for the comical experience of dragging 150 pounds of luggage up and down 3 sets of stairs at the station. I highly recommend taking one of the taxis at the station to the ship rather than lugging all your belongings the 1/2 mile distance dodging street vendors on your way there.
Getting onto the ship was a breeze...perhaps 30 minutes. As you know, RCCL frowns on bringing your own booze on the ship, but many (I will deny this in a court of law) were able to store their victuals in water containers.
This is our 4th cruise and we found the layout, design, amenities and condition of the ship to be excellent. Although there are 3,200 other cruisers, you would never know it...unless you want a bite to eat at the buffet at peak hours. The promenade is genius. The number of small locations to catch your breadth are immense. I would venture to say there are still places on the ship we failed to discover. There were far fewer invasive photographers and hawking of merchandise. The ship was 1/3 US, 1/3 brazilian (they stayed on from the time the ship was there) and 1/3 the world. We found the temperament and attitudes of our shipmates to be one of the keenest aspects of this trip. Aussies, UK'ers, Italians...all pleasant.
Yes the buffet was...well..a buffet. My standards for all buffets are low, and this one was what I expected. No one can feed an army with every type of cuisine and do it perfectly, but this was adequate. You can not longer "serve yourself" coffee, but can do that in the coffee bar at the Promenade. The quality of food at sit down dinner (or lunch) was sometimes average but oftentimes excellent....and if you don't like what they bring you, order something else...here's a little secret...it's free. Our dinner at Chops was outstanding and the service at all locations on the ship was outstanding.
The entertainment on the ship was on par with a college production...some of it was sophomoric and others were amusing. I don't like magicians (their whole act is to make you feel stupid) but this one was great. The stage productions were ok (Jersey Boy guys good) and we heard the ice show was excellent (I don't watch ice skating even on the Olympic level). A little disappointing was that there was no comic and very little karaoke.
Our first port was Sicily. This once proud island has hit some hard times but we went wine tasting and I know this will sound bad, but wine tasting anywhere works for me. The Gambino winery was excellent (very strange to hear the owner say most of their grapes come from the Corleone area of Sicily). Our guide was fantastic. Since you are not allowed to bring alcohol on board (any booze they find they confiscate and give back to you the last night of the cruise) I perfected my smuggling of 2 bottles of wine at each port.
Second day: ship at sea. My wife did the massage/facial thing, we relaxed and ate at Chops.
Third day: Athens. No offense Athenians, but your city is a mess. Graffiti on ancient ruins, stray dogs everywhere, and a once proud nation circling the economic toilet. We had a private tour with Paul's taxi. This was Paul's son, and his english is ok, and we had a pleasant day in a largely unpleasant place, ate at a great restaurant at the Agora, but he did bring us to overpriced vendors as our last stop. Don't miss the huge market downtown.
Fourth day: Ephesus. This stop was easily the highlight for us. Ertinga was our guide to this amazing city. Where everywhere else in Italy and Greece the relics have been seized by marauders, Goths, Turks and anyone who could lay their hands on anything of worth over 500 years, Ephesus was covered by mud and lay untouched for these years. After viewing the ancient city, he took us to an incredible restaurant in the hills and his only demerit came when he brought us to a rug manufacturing shop where the owner pressed hard for the $3,000 rug sale. The turks are relentless negotiators.
Fifth day: Rhodes. This is a very small city built by the knights and defended to the last man against the turks. This is where you shopping should be done. Hundreds of shops located in the old town. Don't forget to down your boot of beer.
Sixth day: Crete. The weather was not kind to Crete, but the Cretians were kind to us. We had a private tour and saw the sights of Chania. So you know, there are not many sights of Chania. The port area is nice, the downtown market interesting....that's about it. I would rent a car the next time and head for Harata on the other side of the island.
Seventh day: ship at sea. This was a nice rest day after 3 days of non-stop excursions.
Eight day: Naples. We were getting "ruined" out, so we took those fabulous red buses about town. We took one of the buses to the north part of town (opposite Vesuvius) and ate at a seaside restaurant with all the locals and felt "Italian". These people are serious about their octopus.
Last day: Rolled off early and enjoyed the chaos that is disembarkation. Our private van back to the airport got lost, and after 45 minutes of panic, he found us and we found our way to the airport.
This will be a trip that we will never forget and it was the sum of experiences rather than one that made it that way. The ship, fellow cruisers, ports, private tours and the genuinely kind people of these countries made it truly memorable.