I hope that this review is helpful and not overly detailed or boring! My DH and I have neither cruised before and selected this particular cruise for the destinations; cruising has made visiting Europe much more ... Read More
I hope that this review is helpful and not overly detailed or boring! My DH and I have neither cruised before and selected this particular cruise for the destinations; cruising has made visiting Europe much more affordable than land-based tours.
Our overall impressions: Ship-beautiful and still in good shape for its age. Cabin and private balcony were great, wish we had a bathtub! Cabin attendants were fantastic; we were in Concierge Class with our private balcony and really enjoyed it. Each day in port we had breakfast delivered in our cabin and this was the highlight of our food experiences onboard. Spring for the balcony, I cannot even imagine having gone without it. We spent much time there enjoying the sights in private.
Food-in the main dining room, presentation was stressed over taste. Some dishes were good but others just not hitting it. However, for the price we paid for the cruise and the amount of food served at dinner, it was fine. The early seating is too early; the late seating is too late: however, other food served during dinner dining hours is slim and hard to come by. Celebrity needs more dining choices for these port-intensive cruises where the hours are not ideal. The Normandie was perhaps worth the $30/pp, experience was fun but the food itself, although presented beautifully, was not tasty enough for 5 stars. I would say go there, my husband would not. ***NOTE: Some other cruisers on this particular sailing gave negative reviews but mentioned the coffee was good. Please note the coffee was horrible, thus those giving negative reviews but thought the coffee was drinkable are not trustworthy. That just makes me laugh! We relished each good cup of java in port as we could barely stomach the stuff served onboard.
Entertainment- My DH and I only attended one evening's entertainment, a Broadway revue. It was surprisingly wonderful, especially considering it was onboard a ship. I think Celebrity gets an A+ on the shows, although we only went to this one. With a very port-intensive cruise and late dining, the shows just don't get priority.
Ports-Barcelona on Oct31-Nov1 was rainy and cool. We just tried to sleep off Jetlag then spent the morning of Nov1 (sailing day) taking the subway to La Sagrada Familia (easy to get there, worth the visit) then wandering down by the port at the end of Las Ramblas. The taxi driver we hailed at the hotel (Tryp Apolo, very nice!), did try to scam us for 50 euros to get to the ship. I was very glad to have read up and been warned about this beforehand, he finally accepted 15 euros after negotiating with the bellhop but he wasn't happy about it. Overall, I wasn't really taken with Barcelona and will not likely go out of my way to go back there any time soon.
Nice -Nov2 was rainy/stormy in the morning. Our tenders really had a difficult time getting us over to Villefranche but the staff was wonderful and very helpful. We used Sylvie diCristo as our private guide in a group of 8. Sylvie was so friendly and easy-going; she tailored our sight-seeing to our wants and made adjustments according to the weather. Our lunch in a restaurant in Eze Village was unbelievable, even though the crepe place she wanted to use was closed. A rockslide along the middle corniche road caused us to have to turn around and use an alternate route but Sylvie's familiarity with the area worked out, we were not late back to the ship and had a great day along the French Riviera.
Tuscany- La Spezia was rainy. As you have probably already read, the ship's captain changed our port at the last minute from Livorno to La Spezia and there are many rumors as to why. Rome in Limo was great, although we weren't able to call them from the ship, several members in our private group e-mailed them and without any note of reply, our guide was at the NEW port the next morning. Unfortunately, this port is some distance from Florence and that coupled with the rain decreased our time spent in that enchanting city significantly. However, the guide was very knowledgeable (although I knew some things about Florence that he did not-I'm a history buff) and his connections with a trattoria owner allowed us to sit down and enjoy an authentic Tuscan meal in Santa Croce Square. Timing our entrance at the Accademia just right allowed us to get in to see David without any line. Unfortunately, we did not have time to tour the Duomo or Ponte Vecchio but were provided with a driving tour and explanation of most of the city (this is mostly due to the weather and change in ports). Pisa was mainly a wash-out.
Rome-weather was glorious and our Rome in Limo driver, Antonelo, was waiting on us as we disembarked. We set aside the entire first day in Rome for a complete Rome tour & overview. Antonelo delivered what is undeniably the most comprehensive one-day Rome tour that could be imagined. We elected to take the train back to the ship, giving us more "tour time" with Antonelo in the city. Day 2 we reserved a small group to tour Vatican City with Angel Tours, our Irish guide was a graduate art student, and was entertaining and thorough. Although I realize there is so much to see and do in Rome, our 2 days there left me feeling as if I had an idea what this city is about and I did not leave feeling as if I had missed out on much, like we did in Florence. ALWAYS chose a cruise with an overnight in Rome, if possible.
Naples/Amalfi Coast- again had a private tour with a group of 8 and we used Drive Amalfi. Salvatore picked us up at the ship very early and skirted the city of Naples, explaining the high rate of crime and other social issues, making it not a desirable location to visit. Our first stop was at Pompeii, Salvatore had arranged an archaeological guide there for 2 hours and Vinny was very entertaining and informative. We continued our tour of the Amalfi coast, stopping many times along the coast to enjoy the view and take pictures. Highlights included an inlaid wood factory in Sorrento (I just happened to see it and asked to stop, which Salvatore obliged) and a fruit stand in Positano. The weather was iffy throughout the day with broken clouds and threats of rain but mid-afternoon it began to break up and we had glorious views during our late lunch in Pontone. Salvatore had taken us to a family-owned restaurant there and we were the only patrons this time of year. The food, wine and limoncello were exquisite! Last stop in Ravello with some time for exploration and shopping in the piazzas then a short drive back through the mountains to Naples and on to the ship.
Athens-we chose to "do it on our own" with a few other couples from CruiseCritic.com here in Athens. A significant walk to the train station, which was fairly easy but lengthy, and then off near the Acropolis. The maps and explanations provided by previous cruisers and the ship's "daily" are not very good, our group got lost climbing the Acropolis, which forced us to go down again then make the ascent a second time and then wander aimlessly trying to find the Plaka, which should have been easy. As we were there on Sunday, getting into the Acropolis was free and breath-taking! The weather was sunny and cool, but not cold, making for perfect weather to visit this site. Shopping in the Plaka was a let-down after all the build-up but we really enjoyed a nice lunch of gyros and baklava. My advice: join a private or ship's tour for Athens, I really didn't get to see/experience as much of this city as others by trying to do it "on my own." Sure-cheaper, but not as good!
Istanbul- our entrance into the port area was magical, rain clouds clearing and sun peaking through adding shots of yellow around the scene. Our second rainbow of the trip appeared here, photographs were awesome! Once docked, an authentic Turkish band in full costume began playing to welcome us to the city! For the first afternoon, we took the ship's tour bus to the Grand Bazaar with a small group of friends. Trying to rush to Topkapi Palace that afternoon did not seem worth it, so we missed this landmark as it was closed the next day. However, haggling at the Grand Bazaar was so much fun and I went home with some really great memories. That evening, my husband and I joined a college friend of mine that is from Istanbul at the Istanbul Modern Museum's restaurant for dinner. If you have a chance to explore this museum or enjoy their fine dining, please do! The restaurant has a great balcony overlooking the Bosphorus where views of both Sultanhamet/Europe and Asia can be seen.
Day 2- I had arranged a private tour for a group from Cruise Critic with a guide recommended directly to me by my aforementioned friend. Selin was very knowledgeable and eager to show us her city. We started with a tram ride to the ferry station and short ride across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul, as none of us had been to Asia previously. There isn't really anything to do over there, but watch commuters hurry to and fro but it was fun to take quick pictures then ferry back over to the European side. We took the very new and fun tram up to Taksim Square (Istanbul's version of Times Square) then walked down the pedestrian street, Ikstiklal for a few miles. This was a great way to watch a great mix of residents of Istanbul as well as tourists and visit many shops along the way. We ended up in the Galata neighborhood and visited Galata Tower (14th century), where the view over all of Istanbul from the top was worth the entire trip!!! We continued with a delicious lunch at a local's favorite meatball shop in the old neighborhood, Sultanhamet, then on to tour Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia). We arrived at the Blue Mosque just in time for call to prayer, so a glimpse inside but we chose not to wait the hour until visitors would be let in again for tours. We spent some time nearby in the Hippodrome then decided to head back to the ship. Istanbul is really very beautiful and interesting, a surprise for us all.
Mykonos-I hadn't been overly excited about this destination, it was just on the itinerary, and I wasn't disappointed. This is my first Greek island but it was very brown, arid and lunar-esque. The small town itself was quaint and easy to wander around; we just hopped the ship's shuttle bus for the short drive. A lot of the shops had closed for the season by the time we arrived, but it was nice that there weren't too many tourists. We walked to the windmills then along the waterfront, finally stopping at the Music Cafe for lunch. Greek coffee may be strong, but it's fantastic! We did see Petros the Pelican nearby and got his photo. A lot of the buildings are beautiful and make great photos; the gardens and plant-life are surprisingly bright and colorful as well. I still wish we had gone to Santorini instead; Mykonos just isn't all that interesting or exciting as far as I'm concerned. But it did make for a nice, relaxing break after all of our whirlwind touring.
Split, Croatia-didn't happen, as I'm sure you've read or heard. We lost an engine and missed this country entirely. I did get some nice shots of the Dalmatian Coast as we sailed by, and Celebrity provided a cabin credit for the missed port, but I'm still disappointed. However, I would have preferred to visit Dubrovnik over Split if given the chance.
Venice-due to our extra day at sea and missing the Croatian port, we did not arrive at Venice when scheduled, but a few hours early. Unfortunately, this meant missing that famous "sailing into Venice" experience so many people talk about and I hate that it didn't happen ( well it did, but about 4 am). Disembarkation was smooth and we easily got to our hotel. We chose to stay at the Marriott Courtyard near the airport so that it would be easier to catch our flight at 6:20am the next day. Check-in took well over an hour as the staff there did not seem prepared for both check-ins and check-outs at the same time. If possible, store your luggage at the port, do your sight-seeing in Venice then check-in to the hotel in the evening. We signed up for the free airport transfer for the following morning and I showed up 10-15 minutes prior to scheduled time, but was so far back in line that by the time we got to the airport we almost weren't allowed to check-in and board...the people behind us were denied boarding! So, perhaps schedule your own airport transfer or be in the lobby 45-60 min before the scheduled pickup. The bus DOES pick up right outside the hotel and takes you straight to Piazza Roma, where crossing over into Venice proper is then very convenient and easy. No reason to pay for a taxi or other transportation from this hotel into Venice. Now about Venice itself, we formed a group of friends from Cruise Critic and chose to "do it on our own" again, here. Thankfully, we had two people with us that had been to Venice before and another person that was somewhat decent at reading the crazy Venetian maps. We certainly know there is too much to see in one day, but we did our best! I really enjoyed just walking in and out of shops, visiting with the locals and findings great photo-ops. We enjoyed the Ponte Rialto (Rialto Bridge), Grand Canal, St Mark's Basilica & Square, the Campanile, Doge's Palace, Bridge of Sighs, and an evening Gondola ride. St Mark's Square had been flooded early that morning, but the water was gone by the time we made our way there and it was sunny & gorgeous. The view from the top of the Campanile is a MUST and is very inexpensive. At this time of year, the lines to get into the Basilica were short and it was worth it. Unfortunately, the Bridge of Sighs was mostly under scaffolding for renovation so it wasn't very visible and we didn't have time to tour the Doge's Palace. Our evening meal was spent in a trattoria near Piazza Roma, we did have to pay a cover charge on the meal but it was very good and we all enjoyed it. The night shots of Venice I took are really fantastic.
Cruise Critic- What can I say? I have never been on a cruise before until this one, and the information gathered from Cruise Critic was irreplaceable and worth its weight in gold. I had so much fun getting to know people and sharing private tours. I even took the initiative to design a website for our Cruise Critic group that was quite popular (http://www.freewebs.com/summitnov1/) and is still helping other cruisers on similar itineraries. Overall, our private tours/excursions cost less than the cruise line's excursions because the groups were 6-8. The CC party was held our first sea day (the first day) in the morning, and was attended by the most CC members they had had all season, so said the activities director, Rich. We had a good time but there were two problems: 1) Too early, about 9:30 am, so that some people that were jet-lagged or tired simply didn't get up in time to attend and 2) Coincided with the shopping discussion about the first ports and many wanted to go to that. Later in the day, there were fewer activities and more people would have attended that had intended to go. I would like to say that Celebrity was fantastic all-around and that this trip wouldn't have been as amazing as it was without Cruise Critic and all the friends I made here and all the helpful hints and information gathered-Grazie! Read Less