We flew from Newcastle to Palma and were transferred by coach from the airport to the dock to get onboard Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas.
First impressions of the ship were great- it was spotlessly clean and very well maintained. The Grandeur is a very impressive ship despite being one of the oldest in Royal Caribbean's fleet having sailed her maiden voyage in 1996. That being said, the ship is going into dry docks next year to be refurbished and at this time the technology onboard will be brought up to date with what passengers have come to expect having sailed on some of RCI's newer and more modern ships. Speciality restaurants are also being added to allow passengers more choice of where to have their meals onboard.
We found the staff onboard to be very friendly and helpful throughout and couldn't pick fault with them at all. The food onboard was delicious and there was a great choice whether it was in the buffet style Windjammer for lunch or in the main restaurant- The Great Gatsby- for dinner. RCI offer some standard choices which remain on the menu every night for passengers who may not like the choices on the menu which change every night and are normally slightly in accordance with what country the ship has visited that day (escargot after a day in France for example). I think this is an excellent idea and something which I found RCI to be doing better than P&O who don't offer the same choices anymore.
After a disappointingly cloudy day at sea our first port of call was the famous Cannes in what is commonly referred to as the French Riviera. Whilst we were there a yacht show was taking place so Cannes was particularly busy and we took the opportunity of escaping the bustle of Cannes for the quiet, relaxing town of Villefranche-sur-Mer. This pretty little town can be reached easily by train from Cannes and is the perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon.
Villefranche used to be a very quiet fishing village and still retains much of that charm with beautiful houses perched on the hillside with stunning views over the bay. A great place to have lunch or dinner is Les Corsaires which serves up everything from tapas-style starters to traditional French food and also has the most delicious crepes for desert! This can be found on the main front street of Villefranche.
After a relaxing day in Villefranche we headed on the train back to Cannes. We have used the train service in the south of France on many different visits there and have always found it to be cost effective, efficient and safe although it can be quite crowded at times. On arrival back in Cannes we did a spot of shopping and then went back onboard the Grandeur.
The next morning we were anchored in the Italian town of La Spezia. Having visited La Spezia on a previous cruise we decided to hop on a train to Santa Margherita in the province of Genoa. The train journey itself took around an hour and walking outside the station and down the steps brings you straight to the front street of this beautiful town. A castle built in the 16th century as a defence against attacks from North African pirates has been restored and can also be found on the front street.
After a leisurely stroll around the town and seeing the castle we had a delicious seafood lunch in Ristorante Colombo (Via Pescino 13, 16038 Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy +39 185 287058) which I would highly recommend if good quality, fresh seafood is something you like.
Santa Margherita is within a few miles of Portofino and it can be accessed by hourly boat from the main promenade for around 20euros or by taxi for around 35euros. We didn't chose to do this ourselves as we were a little short on time but would definitely do this if we were lucky enough to be back in the area.
On arrival in Civitavecchia there is always a port transfer by coach to take passengers to the edge of the port. From where the coach drops you off a right turn and a few minutes walk brings along the front street brings you to the train station. From here Rome is around an hours journey away, although some trains are faster and slower so be sure to check timetables. Return journeys are usually around 10euros per person. For first time visitors to Rome I would recommend getting off the train at San Pietro station as from here the Vatican is around two minutes walk and is well sign posted.
Queues to enter the Vatican can often be hours long in the busy summer months so if you wish to go inside I'd advise you to get there as early as possible and be prepared for a long wait.
As we had already been inside the Vatican on a previous trip we headed straight from here across the Sant' Angelo bridge and to the Piazza Navona.
The Piazza Navona was built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian which was built in the first century AD and is now a lovely open square with cafes and restaurants and artists painting and selling their paintings in the centre. It is a great place to have a drink or a bite to eat and do a spot of people watching.
From here we headed to the Pantheon which is around two minutes walk from the Piazza Navona and definitely a must see whilst in Rome.
The Pantheon is a huge circular building with a large dome with an open centre which lets in natural sunlight. The natural light that comes in shines onto different points of interests inside the Pantheon at different times of the day and also serves as a very effective timepiece because as the sun moves through the sky during the day it moves around the dome inside and tells the time.
After visiting the Pantheon we walked another two minutes to reach the famous Trevi fountain. The area around the fountain is always very busy and crowded but the fountain is a must see while you are in Rome.
Don't forget to throw coins into the fountain to ensure your return to this beautiful city!
Another two minutes walk from the Trevi fountain takes you away from the crowds and we found a great place to have lunch. The Vineriail Chianti (Via del Lavatore 81/82 A, Tel 06 678 75 50) is situated in a little courtyard and has both outdoor and indoor seating. The food is great and it was very reasonably priced.
From here it is only a 5-10 minute walk to the main train station in Rome, the termini. Trains leave from here to hundreds of destinations across Europe and as such it is a very busy train station. Trains back to the port of Civitavecchia normally leave from platforms 25-29 and it is worth noting that they are around a 5 minute walk from the main station entrance so it is best to leave yourself with plenty time to catch your train.
Our final port of the cruise was the bustling Sicilian city of Palermo. We decided just to go shopping in the centre of town this day in morning and then get back on the ship in the afternoon to take advantage of the lovely sunshine. The city has a great deal of good quality shops if shopping is what you're looking for.
Another passenger also told us about some beautiful botanical gardens which she highly recommended. The entrance to the gardens can be found on the Via Lincoln, on the west side of the city, and are supposed to be well worth a visit to escape the busy main streets of the city.