Overall lovely ship with fantastic crew, wonderful service and excellent food.
Very port intensive itinerary, Barcelona:Rome:Kotor:Venice:Dubrovnik:Napes:Livorno:Toulon with 3 sea days.
After a short flight form Heathrow we landed at Barcelona Airport. We had a very long delay at baggage reclaim for our British Airways flight - about an hour, all baggage seemed to be mixed in with other flights.
Check in at pier very organised and quick. Dedicated check ins for each category of cabin and Captains Club Status.
Independence of the Seas and Costa Serena in port.
We had our wrong Captains Club status (we're Elite) printed on our card which was a bit of a nuisance which I comment on later.
Day 2 at sea, sailing through the Straight of Bonifacio, between Corsica and Sardinia which are 7 m apart. Nice to see Celebrity still offers towels at the pool without having to swipe your card RCCL style, and also offers sorbet and iced towels during the day.
Sun Loungers at a premium after 10am. Pool butlers do place warning cards on lounger but do not on occasion follow through with removal of items as often as they perhaps should.
Day 3 Rome
We chose the "A Taste of Rome" excursion. Early start and easy journey into Rome on a quiet Sunday morning. Exited the coach in the area of the Vatican. Free time of 3 hrs. Crossed the Tiber and headed for the main sights. Once we found the Piazza Navona we picked up the pedestrianised grid system and found the other main sights very accessible. The guide should have explained this.
Had lunch in the Pantheon Square and then wandered back to meet the guide for a tour inside the Vatican.
Evening entertainment was Claire Maidin, who works with Simon Cowell as a vocal coach for show contestants. Very professional and entertaining show with a mix of music.
Day 4. Sea.
Passed through Straights of Messina, between Sicily and Italy nr Palermo. 2nd formal night, with the 3rd being the final sea day.
Day 5. Kotor : Montenegro.
Rainy start to the day which made the cobbled streets very hazardous. Tender port. Spectacular setting in bay, Shops a bit tacky.
Day 6. Venice.
Arrival for 5pm. Spectacular sail in past San Marco Square and the Canale Della Guidecca on the starboard side. We were invited to the helipad at the bow for an unforgettable transit of the canal.
Celebrity offer a ships shuttle at $22 for 1 day and $36 for 2 days. We disembarked over an hour after arrival to find a horrendously long queue at the pier. Wait was around 45m and they were offering water to the line. Continuous vaparetto struggled to reduce the waiting time, the journey to near San Marco was around 20m from the pier. We returned just as the sun was setting having had a lovely dinner in a trattoria.
Day 2 encountered an extremely long walk to the pier for the shuttle which had been relocated from day 1 to allow a Costa ship to berth. We boarded the first one at 8 which was quiet. The distance to pick up this service was disappointing given that it was a Celebrity sold shuttle rather than a local pier one. I have overhead others complain of long lines to return to the ship in the late evening of day 1 and many received refunds. It is something no doubt they will be looking to improve upon in forthcoming cruises.
We took a local vaparetto service on day 2 to Murano which was wonderful and well worth a visit on the second day having enjoyed an early morning visit to a very quiet Square, Grand Canal and Rialto.
Ship sails away back through same route so it doesn't matter which side your cabin is on, you will see it sailing in or away !
Day 8. Dubrovnik.
Docked at Gruz Harbour. Ships shuttle $12 each. Appears local taxis charge 10 euros for same journey.
Due to the fact that the ship does not dock until afternoon and it is high tourist season, Dubrovnik was horrendously overcrowded and lost its charm to us. It was too hot ( in the high 90s ) to enjoy it, and walk around the ramparts. Our shuttle took over 45m for a 15m journey as we got delayed in some visiting dignitary transit. The return pick up was disorganised and a free for all to board the buses, amongst other moving coaches and not value for money. Both euros and kunes are equally used.
The Bay of Gruz harbour is a pleasant stop if you wish to avoid Dubrovnik.
Day 9 : Sea
Return through passage between Sicily and Italy.
Day 10. Naples.
We choose trip to Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii. Excellent guide Guisseppe,
50m jetfoil to Capri from Napels. Then Funicular - 5 mins - to Caprl.
Very overcrowded in high season. Then boat to Sorrento for lunch in a very pleasant Trattoria. Drive along coastline to Pompeii. 1 hr guided tour.
Day 11. Livorno for Florence.
We were very glad to have chosen the Panoramic Florence Tour which was 6 hrs after the long 10 hr trip the previous day. This is a very port intensive cruise and travellers should be aware of the long exhausting days in high temperatures, coaches and ferries are not as well air cond'd as the US.
Visited first leather factory then Michelangelo Sq for wonderful views of Florence and the Ponte Vecchio. Then dropped close to the Duomo for free time of around 2 hrs. Easy to walk to the Ponte V. and there are lots of high end retail stores in this area. Hard Rock Cafe too. Tour did what is described and we enjoyed, although others commented on lack of guided tour within the city but this was not in the description anyway.
Day 12 Toulon
Trip to Aix en Provence.
Docked in La Seyne Sur Mer which is quite attractive. Shops offers shuttles to Toulon across the bay which is a naval port.
Aix trip dropped us centrally at the fountain in centre with choice of walking tour or free time. Excellent guide Jose.
Select dining - can be inconsistent. We tended to eat around 9 when it was a little less chaotic. The maitre d's are too keen to seat guests at tables that have been hastily cleared and partially reset. As these tables clearly lack the basics of side plates, butter knives or water glasses perhaps it would offer the guests a better experience if they had to wait a few more minutes rather than be seated somewhere not fit for purpose. If you are seated in a block of 8 tables running together, they are very close together and have the feel of a large table. We requested ones with more space and the dining experience was transformed. RCCL My Time Dining on the Brilliance had more space between tables and more opportunities to sit with the same waiters if you so choose.
Internet - service very erratic. They seemed to struggle with connections problems on this cruise. I overhead one officer in the I Lounge stating that he had just started the job a week ago and was regretting it already. Given the high charges that customers encountered it could be better. I was very appreciative of my 'free' Elite minutes on this occasion !
Captains Club - given that we had the incorrect status on our card it was a nuisance to have to chase this considering I had already confirmed it would be ok with the UK office. I experienced the same problem on our RCCL cruise in February. It appears their system picks up your status at the point you book your cruise rather than update after each cruise, we had taken 2 since making the booking 14 mths ago. Anyway the Captains Club hostess very efficiently corrected this but it shouldn't happen in the first place.
We didn't use Michaels Club for cocktails as it fell too early 5 till 7 each evening. We preferred to be on deck at the Lawn Club at this time of day. On the Independence I loved cocktail time as it has its own bright airy lounge next to the Sky Bar with outside space, something that would be nice to see on the large Solstice Class ships.
Shows - loved Claire Maidin and the violinist in the theatre who both received standing ovations.
This was our first Celebrity cruise for over 7 years and they still have those little touches that make it special. The officers are extremely friendly and helpful and mingle well. The staff are always smiling and greet you every time. Celebrity is a far better product overall than RCCL given that they are in the same price bracket.
The one thing they could improve upon is the music. How about somethings for us younger passengers - The Beach Boys Tribute or The Beatles. Also some rock at the pool. There is still an emphasis on string quartets, big band and funeral elevator music.
I would not hesitate to recommend this itinerary and cruise line. 5 star.