I'm a....well, let's just say middle-aged...recently single mom who went on this cruise (Solstice, 12 Night Mediterranean from November 4-16, 2011) with my 22 year old son. We both love wandering around museums and old ruins, and we both prefer cooler weather to hot weather, so this seemed like a great cruise for us! We have cruised before, but I have not been on a cruise in 6 or 7 years, and was last on a Mediterranean cruise in 2002.
Naturally as a young person recently out of college and working at his first "real" job, my son was particularly interested in keeping costs down. I'm just cheap, so that works for me!
One of the reasons we booked this cruise was the fantastic price for a guarantee balcony cabin. We wanted to keep organized shore excursions to a minimum, and so I did lots of research prior to the cruise on options for the ports.
We had a wonderful time on the cruise and would do it again without question. We were overall very happy with the ship and Celebrity. Here are some details of our cruise:
We flew in from our different home cities, meeting at JFK airport for our connecting flight to Barcelona, arriving at about 6:30 the morning of the cruise. The flight was fine and uneventful and on time. There was a minimal wait for passport control and luggage and the airport was very nice.
Which was a good thing because we had to wait for almost 4 hours for our Barcelona City Tour/Transfer to start. We enjoyed the tour as much as possible in our sleep-deprived state and were dropped off at the ship at about 2:45.
Embarkation was chaotic--there had been norovirus on the last sailing and due to the deep-cleaning needed they delayed embarkation. By the time we got to the ship and through the registration line we were able to walk right on, which was nice. However, cabins weren't ready yet (and ended up not being ready until shortly after 6 p.m.) so we parked ourselves on the comfy padded loungers in the Solarium, got some tasty and healthy lunch from the Aqua Spa Cafe, and promptly fell asleep. We were awakened several times by announcements in 3 languages that rooms were not ready yet and the crew was grateful for our patience. I'm sure the announcements were helpful for those who weren't trying to sleep!
Of course, given the norovirus situation I think Celebrity handled it all as well as possible. The cleaning must have been effective because I heard and saw nothing to indicate that there was any sickness on our cruise.
Our room was nice, and very well-designed, as was the whole ship, to make the most of every inch of space. We met our room steward but then rarely saw him during the cruise--he was obviously keeping track of when we left the cabin because he did a great job keeping it clean. LOVED the shower with a door after many previous Princess cruises where I was attacked by the shower curtain throughout each shower!
We chose Select dining and appreciated the flexibility it offered us to eat at whatever time suited our schedule each day. Since there were only 2 of us and we always asked for the first available table of any size, we literally NEVER had to wait for a table to become available. We met many nice folks at dinner. The food was perfectly fine, although you never really knew from the menu description what a dish would actually be! All the ingredients listed were always present, but the way they were combined was often not what I had expected. No complaints though--oh, alright, the salmon on the everyday menu was a little dry one night, and the done-ness of the beef dishes served often had little relationship to the done-ness requested. But we very much enjoyed the meals and service in the MDR.
We ate in Tuscan Grille one night and enjoyed it a lot (even though it did cost extra and I'm cheap!) Every other dinner we ate in the MDR except the last formal night we didn't feel like dressing up so ate in the Oceanview--the food there was okay but would get boring if we ate there every night.
Breakfast on each port day was via room service (it helped us wake up early and it was wonderful to enjoy it on the balcony--I HIGHLY recommend this!) Every day I wrote in a request for chocolate croissants and every day I got them! On sea days we ate in the dining room if we were up early enough, otherwise in the Oceanview. We ate a couple of lunches in the MDR but mostly ate in the Oceanview if on board at lunchtime.
We'd been upgraded to Concierge Class so had the expanded room service breakfast menu. I never tried the smoothies due to bad reviews of them on Cruise Critic, but did enjoy many of the other options on the menu. (Probably worth mentioning that beyond a rose in the bathroom and a spray of flowers in a vase in the cabin, and the few extra items on the breakfast menu, we saw no advantages in Concierge Class. We finally opened the sparkling wine the last night of the cruise so we didn't waste it, but I"m not a fan of champagne so only choked down one glass. We saw no sign of the "pillow menu" although we didn't ask for it. We never opted to get the canapes as we were eating PLENTY without them. We did get in a slightly shorter line at embarkation but it maybe saved us 5 minutes there. Our cabin was in a fantastic location though--1048 so it was on a high deck but one with cabins above and below so quiet, very close to the elevators but again was still very quiet. And we did like the footstools on the balcony! But I would probably not pay extra for a CC room in future--although I was thrilled by the free upgrade to it!)
We never tried Bistro on Five (next cruise!) or Cafe al Bacio, and we rarely ordered drinks so I can't comment too much on those, but the one umbrella drink we each had was delicious! I found the free coffee to be bearable, and I'd brought some Starbucks Via packets, so even though we are generally coffee snobs, we managed.
We found all of the crew members to be helpful, friendly, etc. No complaints there. The only dissatisfier with the crew was when they announced that there was a transportation strike scheduled for Rome the day we were going to be there, and everyone should buy Celebrity shore excursions to avoid problems. As I'd been reading the port boards on Cruise Critic I was suspicious that all public transport would be on strike, especially when I found no mention of it on any of the news networks on the television. My son went down to ask if the regional trains between Civitavecchia and Rome would be on strike, and was told they would not, so we opted not to buy a Celebrity excursion. As it turned out, there was no strike at all except a partial one between 1-3 PM that was only for buses and metro in Rome itself, and we had no problems. Lots of people felt duped into buying a Celebrity excursion that day, though, and were not happy!
We were very lucky with weather on the cruise. November can be pretty iffy, and we had our share of rain and thunderstorms, but they all seemed to happen on sea days while our port days were dry, cool and usually sunny. Anyone who was hoping to get a suntan laying out by the outdoor pool would have wished they had sailed earlier in the season, though.
Florence was our first port, and we decided it was worth the expense to do Florence on Your Own rather than trying to mess with public transport in our jet-lagged state. I had gotten tickets for the Uffizi in advance, and had downloaded Rick Steves' podcasts for a walking tour of Florence and for the Uffizi, so we used those and had a great day. Our tour guide did a marvelous job of telling us about Florence and the area during the drive from the port, which made the ride go by quickly.
Next up was Rome, where we took the train in (walked from the terminal to the train station, which was easy and took about 15 minutes) and then walked to St. Peter's (lots of signs plus you can see the dome from the train station so it would be hard to get lost!) and took the Scavi tour of the excavations beneath the cathedral, for which I'd gotten tickets in advance through the Vatican. It was a fantastic tour although anyone with claustrophobia might want to think twice--we wound our way through a lot of dim, low-ceilinged chambers that were kept very humid to preserve frescoes. After the tour we went out the door straight into St. Peter's itself, and spent some time touring there before walking back to the train station and taking the train back. I'd hoped to see the Pantheon too but we had slept in that morning and didn't have time. Next trip!
Naples was the next day, and here our plan was to visit Herculaneum via public transport. It was relatively easy, following directions in Rick Steves' Mediterranean Cruise Ports book, although one of the buses referred to in the book apparently does not exist anymore (at least not on the same route) and there was a pickpocket on the bus--I felt a hand go into my pocket and quickly back out, but luckily he didn't get anything. Herculaneum was amazing, and having been there before in midsummer I absolutely loved the day there with very few other visitors on this cruise. The walk back uphill to the train station wasn't fun after walking all day, but was bearable. We did, however, get off at the main train station in Naples on the way back instead of the next, correct, stop. We then found our way to the station we should have gone to (on foot) but couldn't find the bus we were supposed to catch to go back to the port, so we started walking. It was dark, and with the crazy Naples traffic and the uncertainty over whether we were heading in the right direction it was quite an adventure! We made it back to the ship with 1/2 hour to spare, however, and I'm sure I burned off all the extra calories I ate that day! Would I do it on my own like that again? Absolutely. (If we hadn't gotten back to the ship in time I might answer differently!)
Next day was our second sea day and we once again attended the hot glass show. We loved this show--and how cool is it to have this on a cruise ship? We went to quite a few of them, and my son even won a vase made during the show at a raffle towards the end of the cruise.
Then, we had Crete. This was a port that I felt was kind of "bleh" before the cruise, not seeing any shore excursions of interest and not finding anything in Rick Steves' book that sounded interesting. We took the 1.5 Euro bus from the port into Chania, walked around the harbor (lovely place) and visited the archaeological museum--well worth the fee. Then we spent a bit of time perusing the shops in the marketplace (didn't buy anything, as usual) and walked back to the bus. On the way we found an open-air archaeological site that was interesting to read about--thank goodness most signs there and in the museum were in English as well as Greek! All in all it was a very nice relaxing day and now I want to move to Crete!
Ephesus was next--rather, the port was Kusadasi but after a lot of dithering over whether to try the "do it ourself" route here, we signed up for a ship tour that included the Selcuk archaeological museum, a tour of Ephesus including the Terrace Houses, and a "roman style" lunch at a nice hotel afterwards where we were all made to wear togas and put wreaths on our heads! It was a very silly touch but the lunch was good and even though this was by far our most expensive tour ($119 each) we are very glad we did it. The tour also included the typical "carpet demonstration" and hard-sell but they did at least give us free drinks while we watched! I think this may have been our overall favorite port day. Ephesus and the Terrace Houses are absolute must-sees if you are going to port in Kusadasi!
Athens was next and we had planned a do-it-ourself day taking the metro into town and visiting the Acropolis Museum since we'd both done the usual Athens sites in previous visits. However, we decided instead to sleep in and when we finally did get up decided to just stay on the ship and relax. I would have thought someone was crazy if they told me they did this, but I have no regrets--we needed the "day off"!
Another sea day and then to our last port, Malta. I'd been there before but my son hadn't so he chose the itinerary for the day, and opted for a ship's tour that was to include a harbor cruise. Unfortunately the harbor cruise was canceled as it was quite a windy morning, so we had a bus-and-walking tour of various spots on the island. The tour had apparently looked like an easy day (although I seem to recall it was listed as "moderate activity level") and we had many elderly people on our tour--some with canes and crutches, and many who had trouble doing much walking. This sort of limited what our tour guide could do as we had to spend a lot of time waiting for people to catch up on the walking portions, and have several long pauses at public bathrooms as well. For that reason it was disappointing, but Malta itself is just gorgeous and the weather was nice so we enjoyed ourselves.
Oddly even though there was a sea day prior to Malta, our 3rd formal night was the night of the day we'd spent in Malta. This was the night we ate in the Oceanview, to avoid having to dress up. We definitely had "cruise fatigue" by that point!
One more sea day and we were back at Barcelona the next morning to disembark. Disembarkation went very smoothly except that Delta Airlines was checking people in for our flight at the port but had VERY few workers there so the line was quite long and slow-moving. We had plenty of time though to check in and drop our luggage off, then take a taxi to the airport and wait for our flight to board.
I forgot to mention activities--we attended several glass shows and really liked them. We also went to several of the lectures about various topics related to the places we visited (one on the Knights of Malta, for example) and generally liked those. They were quite well-attended and those that were held in Celebrity Central were often standing room only. We also attended about half of the nightly shows in the big theater. I'm partial to Broadway-style singing and dancing type shows, and this cruise had only a few of them. Most of the shows were solo performers of one sort or another--a comedian, a magician, several different singers and instrumentalists. Those I saw I enjoyed, but with such a port-intensive cruise it seemed that many days the show didn't sound interesting enough to be worth the energy to go see! The cruise director, Lisa, is a fabulous singer and wowed us with performances several different times. She ought to do at least one song every night! Beyond that we didn't do much as far as organized activities, but a couple of folks who we ate dinner with said there were very few night-owls on the cruise (they were disappointed that almost nobody went to the nightclub!)
As might be expected during the school year, there were very few children on this cruise. In fact, I'd say at least half the passengers were 75 or over. There were a decent number of working-age adults, although more at the older end of that range than the younger. Quite a number of international passengers--announcements were done in English, Spanish, and German, and I heard quite a few British, Irish and Scottish accents as well.
Once I get over my jet-lag I'll start planning my next cruise!