We flew into rainy Barcelona the day of the cruise and started off by having our debit card "eaten" by the ATM machine in the airport. Luckily, we were able to use a credit card to take a taxi to the ship, but were unable to board due to the previous cruise having a massive outbreak of norovirus. We availed ourselves of the free Celebrity shuttle to Las Ramblas in order to try to figure out our money issues.
Long story short, I couldn't buy a phone card with dollars or a credit card (they only take euros) and I couldn't make a toll-free call to the bank to find out what the problem was without a phone card. After spending two hours in the pouring rain trying different pay phones and ATM's we finally found an ATM that would accept another card I happened to have with me, even though we hadn't called them to preauthorize a foreign transaction. Whew, that was stressful.
We went back to the place where the shuttle dropped us off (and where they told us to go) for a ride back to the ship, only to see every other shuttle but Celebrity there. After another 20 minutes in a downpour, we noticed a Celebrity bus driving on the other side of the parking lot and chased it to the far corner in order to grab a ride. The fun continued once onboard the ship,as we were told it would be another couple of hours before we would be allowed into our rooms, since the crew needed to sanitize the rooms thoroughly because of the norovirus. All the public spaces were packed, and we finally found seats in the casino where we slept on the blackjack tables until about 6:00 pm when we finally were let into the rooms.
We used the next (rainy) day at sea to recover from our jet lag and that night we had quite a storm. The boat was really rocking and rolling, and we were mid-ship! The thunder and lightning went on for hours. The next day in Florence our guide told us that they had torrential flooding in Genoa and three people had died. Florence was overcast but we never really had rain again for the rest of the cruise. We had a brisk, cloudy day in Athens, but the rest of the ports had temperate, mostly sunny weather.
The first four or five days of the cruise the crew had to serve us everything, to prevent any further outbreak of norovirus. It's a huge pain, for the crew and passengers alike. You can't even put your cream in your coffee or grab a napkin, they have to do EVERYTHING for you. It diminishes the eating experience, to be sure, but is a necessary evil. After five days they went back to self-service in the Ocean view and it must have worked. I didn't hear of anyone getting sick.
Overall the cruise was wonderful. A very nice mix of port days and sea days. We did seven ports last year on a 10 (as opposed to a 12) day cruise and it wasn't nearly as relaxing. We booked all our shore excursions in small groups through Cruise critic roll call and it all went very well. We used Rome in Limo in Florence and Naples and they delivered a great experience in both places. We did Chania, Crete and Valetta, Malta on our own, definitely the way to go. We had been to Kusadasi (Ephesus) and Athens before so we did the Turkish bath in Kusadasi (awesome experience) and a countryside tour to
Corinth, Mycenae and Napfplion with Jordan Daioglou who met us at the port in Pireaus. We really enjoyed that too. We ended up staying on board in Rome, since they told us there would be a public transport strike and we had planned to use the train (as we had been there before too). Turns out the strike was limited to the buses and only for a few hours.
The Celebrity service, as always, was top-notch. Granted, the first five days were a bit trying and I did observe the occasional crew member snapping at a passenger who tried to help themselves to a spoon or a piece of food. As I said, it was stressful for all of us. We chose select dining and it worked beautifully. Some nights we ate alone, others we joined a group, but we never had to wait for more than a couple minutes to be seated. The waiters were all so friendly. Even though we were given different sections to sit in, our previous waiters would stop by and say hello. The food was definitely good, but not outstanding. The quality is fine, but most of it is predictable and bland. It is meant to cater to older, perhaps less sophisticated diners. Very few dishes had the intensity or variety of flavor that I expect from decent restaurants in the U.S. I would love to see more ethnic food and food that features the regional specialties of the areas we are visiting. One other thing I noticed is that the coffee on board has really improved. They use actual ground coffee now (I assume they used liquid coffee syrup before) and I could really tell the difference.
We went to a couple of shows and two port lectures and they were fine, but nothing exceptional. In general, we found our fellow passengers to be friendly, interesting and well-travelled. There was a nice mix of nationalities and we always enjoyed our mealtime conversations. Oceanview was often crowded (everyone seemed to be on the same schedule) and tablesharing was usually a necessity, but as I said, it was fun to meet and talk with other passengers. We met several couples that we hit it off with and met up with them throughout the cruise for drinks or meals etc...
We didn't spend much time on the balcony as it was a little chilly, but did enjoy using the hot tubs in the pool area almost every day. Others commented that they hadn't thought to bring a bathingsuit in November, but we were really glad we did.
I noticed that the ship security didn't object when passengers brought on a bottle of local wine or limoncello on port days. I really appreciated that. They were much stricter on our last Med cruise on the Equinox, not sure why. Also, the port of Barcelona has a duty free shop after security, and I was able to bring on several bottles of cava with no problem.
Disembarkation was smooth, as always, and we spent three days post-cruise in Barcelona. What a fabulous city. We had a wonderful time there and can't wait to visit more of Spain in the future. We stayed in a cute Bed and Breakfast (Casa de Marcelo) in the Borne district. It was a wonderful location and very interesting neighborhood with lots of fabulous restaurants.