My wonderful wife decided to book this cruise to celebrate our anniversary. Since she has always been able to make our vacations memorable, I always let her pick the destinations and method of travel for any that coincide with major events (Holidays, Birthdays, etc.). This trip was our first cruise with Royal Caribbean, and I hope not our last. The only thing that makes me edgy about RCI, is the lack of communication about the itinerary change they made 1 week prior to our sailing that we only found out about through cruise critic (they have no trouble sending ads to us)!
The ship definitely makes its presence known. In each port we were in, we made the other ships look small with one exception, Norwegian Epic. The lines of Epic look a bit boxy, when compared to Liberty of the Seas. We arrived at the cruise terminal about 11:45 and were on board about 12:00. That has been the fastest we have ever been from our arrival at the terminal and getting on board. The down side to that, we couldn't enter the room until 13:00 (not a major problem as there were many things to see and do). The ship was very clean. The only part of our ship that showed her age was the balcony rail which could have used a few coats of varnish. The overall layout of the ship makes finding your way easy and the interactive displays are easy to use for those who need help, but the staff are always more helpful.
We had no trouble finding something good to eat in the Main Dining Room. The food was very good to excellent with the selection of cold soups far superior to those served on most of our previous cruises. We were on My time dining and never had a problem getting a table to share with interesting people. The food in Windjammer was typical of most buffets, if you timed your arrival correctly, it was very good, otherwise, fair. We ate there mainly for breakfast and discovered that the main dining room was not the only place on the ship we couldn't get crispy bacon. Seattle's Best Coffee on the ship made every other day great for me by serving Lemon Poppy Loaf!
The service staff work their butts off. It doesn't seem to matter to them if you are a first time cruiser or not. The crew treats you royally! All of them are friendly and a great asset to Royal Caribbean! Their hospitality makes me want to sail with Royal Caribbean again.
Ports of Call
Barcelona, Spain: We chose to leave for Barcelona the Thursday before our sail date in order to acclimate ourselves to the time change (9hrs.) and to be able to soak up a bit of Spanish culture. Between the time change and flying time, leaving at 07:00 from Phoenix, Az meant we would arrive in Barcelona, Spain about 08:30 Friday morning. Although our flight had a delayed departure, due to a valiant effort by the pilot, our flight touched down about half an hour early. This good deed did not go unpunished. As we made a turn to a taxiway after touching down, I heard an unfamiliar pop and the plane came to a fast halt. About 10 minutes later the pilot made this announcement, "Due to a hydraulic leak, the plane lost the ability to steer." Because we were towed, we made it to the gate about half an hour after we were due. I am grateful we didn't lose a different system.
Barcelona is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen! It has a wide variety of architecture and a great transportation system for tourists! The only complaint we had about this city is the beds which felt like sleeping on a thin rug placed upon a hardwood floor (they were the same in 2 different hotels in different parts of the city). The food here is good, but pricey.
Toulon, France: Our cruise information said we were going to Toulon, but we docked in La Seyne sur Mer, across the bay from it. No problem unless you wanted to do something in Toulon. But since it was a Sunday, there wasn't much you could do in either place. We opted to walk off the ship and checkout the things we could do on our own. We ended up crossing the bay to Toulon where we found that the bus we could use to go to the cable car didn't run on Sundays, the walk to the cable car took at least 45 minutes, and that real French Crepes make my wife very happy.
We then further discovered that although I remembered the name of the boat we had crossed the harbor on, it changed its route in the afternoon and we ended up going to the wrong side of the bay. It could have been a disaster, but we succeeded in getting to the right boat once we got back to Toulon.
That evening we had a good dinner and I had a wonderful Chocolate Soufflé for desert!
Villefranche, France: We took an excursion from the cruise ship for the first time in 6 years. It met my expectations, which is why I do not plan to go on another ship excursion. I was pleased with our guide and driver, but disappointed with how rushed the time felt. Overall I got to see the outside of several places I would have preferred to see the inside of.
I was not impressed with the Principality of Monaco. For as wealthy as the place tries to imply, what is displayed is greatly overpriced real estate and a pampas attitude that is stifling.
Eze was ok, it was and looked old. Nice was nice. Villefranche was a quiet town with a beautiful harbor. I enjoyed exploring the town far more than my excursion!
Livorno, Italy: We had breakfast in the Windjammer Buffet in preparation for a full day of activity. We met our driver at 07:15 and headed off to Pisa.
There were gasps from several in our van at their first sight of the Leaning Tower. It is an awesome sight, far more beautiful when seen in person than any photograph can convey. The climb to the top was worth the pain I endured, as it is at least a once in a lifetime achievement!
We then explored a bit of the Tuscan countryside prior to heading to Florence! The fields of grapes, olives, and other produce made a wonderful sight as did the castles, estates and the Arno river.
We stopped on an overlook for a glimpse of Florence and a bronze copy of "David". What a view! I am hoping I can create a panoramic view of the city that does it justice.
There is a tremendous amount of art crammed into a small area, if you consider about 64 blocks a small area!
I have now seen firsthand works by Renaissance masters. Inspiration to work harder on creating better photographs I hope has occurred. Botticelli, Bellini and Brunelleschi were particularly inspiring! I had always ignored their works before, but will not any longer.
All in all, I had a most satisfying experience due mostly to a driver that made what we were seeing come to life via his knowledge of Italian history!
If you are going to Italy, I highly recommend Fabrizio's "All Around Italy" and be sure to ask for him personally! He is prompt, courteous, knowledgeable, and has a wonderful personality.
Naples, Italy: Our arrival at this port being about 3 hours later than it would have been had it not been changed. The day started off on a bad note. We had breakfast in the main dining room for the first and last time on this cruise. The bacon that was supposed to be burned or very crispy was about 1/3 done and the sausage Susan asked for never made it.
This was the only port call where my wife and I were going to separate destinations. We kissed goodbye and went on our journeys. Then my excitement began! Having found that I didn't have a good signal for my gps, I decided to rent one from Hertz. They tried 3 of theirs with no luck. I set off to go to Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Mount Vesuvius with an incomplete map, a vague set of directions, and a little bit of nervousness.
There is only one thing that makes me feel Boston has worse drivers than Naples, Italy, in Boston the majority of the cars have automatic transmissions which take less skill to operate. That said, in order to survive driving on roads marked worse than any I have ever driven on before, requires undivided attention and an ability to recognize an error in navigation and figure out a way to correct it when the streets are very narrow, one way, and do not necessarily permit you to return to the area you thought they would.
It took about half an hour to get on the highway out of Naples to go to Herculaneum. When I got to that exit, there had been an accident on the ramp and the police were closing it off. I decided to go straight to Pompeii instead. Upon arriving there, I discovered that there were no free parking spaces and if I wanted to be close to a entrance the price varied between €10 and €20. I had already topped off the gas tank which had been given to me 3/4 full for €23, knew the entrance fee was €11, and I had to pay tolls on the way back, so I chose a cheaper place to park. Such is life! I then spent way too much time there, but found the history of the place and the size of it deserved the attention.
Since I only had the car until 18:00 I chose to head back to Naples instead of completing the journey up Mount Vesuvius. I now know what rush hour is like in Naples. Unlike most American cities (bumper to bumper at a crawl), the traffic here moves franticly or stands still. What makes it very dangerous for most Americans is the volume of scooters and pedestrians you must dodge on lanes that provide only a few inches of clearance.
I survived, with no damage to the vehicle!
Civitavecchia, Italy: our port of call for Rome, is a working port that docks cruise ships along its sea wall. Today we were the biggest one. Deutschland, Noordam, Ryndam, Ocean Pearl were the others. It made for a very crowded train ride to Rome. We took the train to
Rome which stops at St. Peters Square Station. The walk to the Vatican was nowhere near as long as the line of people waiting to go in. After taking a few photos there we caught the HOHO bus and toured Rome taking photos at the stops that we found interesting. The amount and variety of art and archeology this city offers is far too substantial to take in during a single 7 hour visit. We will have to return here. I will look for a cruise that stays here more than a day.
The few shows we were able to catch (it's hard for us to walk all day and still be awake late at night) were as good as most of the ones I've seen on land. The ice show, "Encore", is one I found very entertaining, and "On Air" was a real treat!
Based upon the itinerary, the ship and more importantly, the ship's crew, I highly recommend Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas, Western Mediterranean Cruise! Why not, get out there!