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Glad I booked even after reading all the negative reviews!
Europe - Western Mediterranean
I almost didn't book this cruise due to the reviews I read here but decided to be open minded and give it a shot. I was extremely apprehensive while boarding the ship as I really didn't know what to expect. Let me preempt this review by saying that I travel extensively, have done about 9 cruises and did this cruise after a 3 week stay in Europe as I thought it would be the cheapest way to get to see a lot of places that I otherwise would not have been able to do in one week. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience and not only would I highly recommend, I would do it again next year.
Rooms: I was traveling with my cousin and we had a HUGE outside Samsara room on the 11th floor. I think the choice of room had a lot to do with our great experience. It was quiet at night, close to EVERYTHING and had floor to ceiling glass with amazing views. Enough said!
Getting on/off the boat: We booked this cruise based on the amount of ports visited and really wanted to take More
advantage of every hour we were at port. I must say, embarkation and disembarkation was extremely organized and everything went smoothly. Each port was the same- we were off very quickly and never really had any long wait. This was a KEY factor in our trip as well.
Food: this is the one place where the ship was REALLY lacking. However I must note that I have traveled on Celebrity, Princess and Royal and I have never really loved the food. Breakfast was easy- we had yogurt and fruit delivered to our room. Lunch was horrible. We are both vegetarian and though the salad selection was very poor. Everything had tons of mayo and sauce on it. And how hard is it to get veggie burgers for the grill? Dinner was better- had a decent amount of vegetarian options- but still wasn't great. We had the first seating at dinner and were very lucky to have a wonder group of people (three others) we were dining with. There was a solo American traveler and a Turkish couple. We all got along fantastically, shared our stories and wines nightly.
Excursions: I think that what you do one you get to port can also make or break your trip. As a general rule, anything that the ship offers as an excursion, you can do yourself for a fraction of the cost. I have NEVER booked anything through the ship and never would. Extremely overpriced and you are stuck with a bunch of cruisers. Don't be afraid to make your own adventure.
With a little research, you can create your own itinerary and visit at your own pace. We used Trip Advisor and its forums extensively before the trip and were able to figure out exactly what we wanted to see. Also remember that if you are traveling in the summer, these places get HOT. Do you really want to walk around a city when you could be lounging on an uber fabulous beach??
Shows/on board stuff: really can't comment because we didn't walk into a single bar, club or show. I will say that unlike American cruises I have been on, you can get out to the deck at 10 am and STILL find a prime spot to lay out.
Overall: I must take a moment to comment on the reviews that refer to "rude Italians" and "rude Europeans and behaviors" on the boat. We were 2 of about 11 Americans on the ship (according to the American host on board) and at no point did we feel that people were being rude. Yes, there are many cultural differences between Europeans and Americans but one must recognize and know this before boarding. You are getting on an Italian ship! If you want everything to be "Americanized" that go to Disney Land. You take from the experience what you want and I decided to be happy and love my life because I was on vacation. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
I had been here before and seen all of the sights- an amazing city but really hard to see everything in a day. A simple itinerary: take the city bus from the port (one euro) and do NOT take the bus that the ship charges 19 euros for. The bus was waiting where we walked out and actually left the pot before any of the ship’s shuttles did. Get off the bus across from Las Ramblas (very touristy street, good to walk through) and walk the street until you get to the main square. From there we got a cab and went to Park Guell and also the Sagrada. We came back around Las Ramblas and walk around the gothic quarter, sat down for some major sangria and hit the food market off of Las Ramblas before going back to the ship. Probably the best food market in all of Europe!
A charming little town with not a lot to do. However, you can walk to the train/bus station from the ship (lovely 15 min walk through the town) and take a bus for about 30 min and get to the most amazing beach town called Varigotti. The sand is rocky, the water blue and it's packed with people, restaurants and charm. Anytime we felt we were going the wrong way, we simply stopped and ask someone. Everyone we spoke to knew enough English to assure us we were on the right bus, headed the right direction etc. We really had an amazing day at this beach. We took the bus back with enough time to spare before going to the ship. We headed to a huge market near the train station and did some shopping and had some local food.
I thought Mallorca was my favorite place until I came to Malta. The town of Valletta needs about a day to explore on its own but it was about 93 degrees and extremely hot and we didn’t want to walk around the city. Once you get off the boat, there are a ton of people trying to sell you tours. Since we didn’t want to do the town, we hired a driver for 5 hours and he took us were we wanted to go and waited for us at each place. We started out by having him drive us to the caves of the Blue Grotto. We paid about 7 euros and got on a very small fishing boat with 6 people and did a 20 min tour of the caves. There is a reason why they call it the Blue Grotto- the water is so clear and blue that you think it’s fake. After this, we went to the small fishing town called Marsaxlokk. We walked along the water, did some shopping at the outdoor stalls and decided to have lunch at one of the many outdoor café’s. The food was fresh and cheap. After this was the crown jewel of the entire trip: a visit to Peter’s Pool. All I can say is WOW. We spent about 3 hours swimming and hanging out here. There were not a lot of people so we almost had the place to ourselves. The water is surrounded by cliffs that many people jump off of to get into the water. I am of the faint of heart and opted to just go into the water the normal way! It’s very rocky here and good shoes are needed. There is very little shade and the water is the saltiest I have ever swam it but really, I would give up my left pinkie to be transported back there right now! After a few hours here the driver took us back to the boat. We paid 90 euro total for the driver- we had two people in the cab. The price would have been the same for 4. I guarantee this was better that the excursions offered on the boat.
This place was very disappointing. Palermo is very dirty and smelly. As a New Yorker, it takes A LOT for me to say that. The city did have some charm but the whole city needs a serious power wash. We took a 1 euro bus ride to get to Mondello Beach (the ship offers an excursion here for 60 euro. All you get extra is a chair and an umbrella). The beach wasn’t that great compared to the other places we had just been to. It was also excessively crowded as it was a sweltering hot Saturday. We barely stayed for an hour and we left. We took a bus to get to the Catacombs (another 1 euro trip; ship also has an excursion here). The catacombs were a little freaky. They said no pictures yet everyone, including myself, was snapping away. We stayed for about 20 minutes and left to go to the markets. Again, hot, dirty and just ok. We went back to the boat early. First time we have ever done that!
This was one of my favorite places and we fully took advantage of our day here. We were probably the first people off the ship and we went straight to the Cathedral. We got there so early it was closed. No worries, we had much more to attend to. We walked about 20 min through the town and got to the Espana Square were we bought a ticket for the train and took the one hour rider to the town of Soller. This was amazing! The train is 100 years old and takes you through the picture perfect country side of Spain. Soller is such a charming little town. From there we took another 15 min ride to get to the port of Soller. Seriously beautiful. And again from there, we bought a ferry ticket and took a 50 min ride to get to La Calobra. Please just google this beach so you can gasp at its clear blue waters and breathtaking beauty. It was WELL WORTH the train and the ferry to get there. Packed with people, gorgeous day and in one word, fierce. We spent a lazy day here. There was no rushing to get back to the ship because it left at 1 am. After the boat and train ride back to Palma, we walked around the city at night and had a fantastic dinner of Paella. We did everything at our own pace and got back to the ship at 11 am. Exhausting day.