I thought that I would write the outline of this review on my laptop during the cruise, but the time or inclination to do so was never there. I am sure that I can recall most of the details though and if I forget anything, it is surely not too important.
Let me start off by introducing ourselves. We are Roy (me), 55 years old and Val, 53, from Cape Town, South Africa. This was only our 2nd cruise; the first was 2 years ago for 4 nights in the Bahamas on Carnival Sensation. Also, I had been to Venice and Rome previously, but Val had not. One other thing to mention is that we were only going to be able to do this (or any) cruise after our trip to Toronto if we stuck to a relatively tight budget. This meant cheapest cabins, low-cost excursions etc.
Unlike our first cruise which had been organized by our travel agent, I researched all the possibilities as far as available cruises that would suit our dates and the places that we wanted to see. The one important factor was that we did not select this cruise at all based upon a cruise line or ship. We were returning from a wedding in Toronto on the 25th August and wanted to cruise in the Med, thus we required a cruise departing within a day or two from our arrival at Heathrow. Our first choice would have been a departure from Southampton or Dover, but I couldn't find an itinerary that suited us, particularly one that would include Venice.
This itinerary was the perfect match, even though it was going to mean travelling to Venice and then returning from Barcelona in order to fly home. In my research for the cruise, I discovered CruiseCritic.com and that really changed the way that the remainder of our planning was conducted. Instead of asking the travel agent to help us plan, I ended up telling her what we needed done. Through CC and the Celebrity website, I obtained 3 price reductions which the travel agent was unaware of.
We had initially considered taking the Eurostar from London to Paris and then an overnight sleeper through the Alps to Venice. Our idea was that this would allow us to see a bit more of the French and Italian countryside than we would by simply climbing aboard another short flight and arriving in Venice. Thanks to a great website (www.seat61.com), I gathered all the info necessary and came very close to booking the train trips.
Then in discussions on these boards and elsewhere, we came to the realization that all the train boarding, buses, taxis, re-boarding with 2 suitcases each was going to become a real problem. So, that idea was ditched in favor of simply changing terminals at Heathrow, flying to Venice and as a bonus, spending an extra night in Venice.
After an uneventful flight from Toronto to Heathrow, we changed terminals and took the 2 1/2 hour flight to Venice, arriving about 15:00 on Tuesday, the day before embarkation. We chose the cheapest way into Venice from the airport; €3.00 each for the blue bus to Piazzale Roma. I had booked a small hotel, Locando Salieri (no elevator, 8 rooms) very near P. Roma for €95.00. At one point we had considered leaving our 2 big bags at the baggage storage in P. Roma, but somehow we forgot to repack accordingly and so had to get to our hotel with all 4 bags. In reality this was not too bad, but at the time it was rather strenuous in the heat of a hot Venice afternoon with 2 small bridges to cross and then 2 flight up at the hotel. (Sorry Val).
I must just skip back to the bus trip. Purely by accident we discovered another couple on the bus were also arriving for the same cruise as ours, we chatted on the drive in, discovered we had a lot in common and before heading for our hotel, we had arranged to meet with at 6pm at Harry's Bar (the only sure landmark that I could remember, except for something ridiculous like "in the middle of St Mark's square.
Anyway, back to the remainder of our afternoon. We resisted the urge to lie down and have a quick sleep after losing so many sleep hours. I took a quick shower and then I had to go find conditioner for Val after discovering that there was none in the hotel. (Grrr... that an afternoon can be dominated by the need to find conditioner... it's not quite like the need to find toilet paper in the bathroom). As us men have learned, it is much easier to say "yes dear" and trot off to get the article in question, than to spend half an hour discussing whether it is really required and then still having to go get it. Enough said.
After we had both donned clean clothes for the first time in 2 days (well, only about 12 hours, but that's what flying east makes one feel like), we headed off to explore a bit of Venice before our 6 pm rendezvous at Harry's. We headed for the nearby Vaporetta stop and purchased a 48-hour pass for about €26 each. Although walking through Venice is delightful, there also comes a time when one needs to get from one end to the other a little faster (particularly when Val is there and there are clothing stores open) and in addition the water taxi ride is really the only way to see all the beautiful buildings down the Grand Canal.
In fact, we took the slow ride down the canal that stops at every stop; I think it took about 40 minutes from P. Roma to St. Marco.
Although we had arranged to meet Gary and Debbie at Harry's, we did not intend to have a drink there as a Bellini inside costs the same as a 48-hour Vaporetta pass. We ordered a glass of wine at a nearby cafe where we could keep an eye on Harry's and about 15 minutes later were joined by our new cruise friends from Chicago. After a drink there we strolled around St Marks and then decided to head for the Rialto Bridge. I was the only one to have previously been to Venice, which meant that as soon as we got lost, I was to blame. (I tried pointing out that they should have bought a map, but was assured that they had trusted me, so that was unnecessary). Of course, the truth is that you will get lost in Venice despite a map, but it is never for too long and is really part of the fun of being there.
After a lot of walking and dragging (the women away from designer shops) we decided it was time to eat. As we were nowhere near the real touristy areas, we ended up having a delightful meal that looked to be about half the price of other establishments that we had seen earlier. The only downside to eating in places off the beaten track is that the English of the waiters is not that good.
After supper we wandered around a bit until we chanced upon a sign pointing the way to a Vaporetta stop. Phew!!! We were no longer lost !! We then took the water taxi up the canal and a few stops later saw that we were just about to stop near the casino. On a whim, we informed our friends that we wanted to go look inside, so we hopped off the taxi, waved goodbye to them and then spent 10 minutes lost again before finding the entrance to the casino.
Of course we never wondered why we were getting strange looks as we entered the foyer, forgetting for the moment that we were still in shorts and sandals. Maybe they would have allowed us in, but when we discovered the hassle of paying €10.00 each just to get in, as well as the identification they required in the absence of our passport, we decided to just leave.
We took the Vaporetta back to P. Roma and just strolled around some more quaint streets before deciding that a final glass of wine would be a good idea. Before ordering though, we realized that we might order two glasses each though, and in that case it would be cheaper to order a bottle, which we did. However, that full bottle of wine looked so lonely without a plate of food next to it, we took pity and each ordered a small entrEe to help the bottle along. It was the end of a lovely evening and just a short walk back to our hotel, where we fell fast asleep till 7 the next morning.
Breakfast at our hotel was only between 8.00 and 9.00 the next morning, so after my shower I took a 15 minute, early morning walk for a cup of coffee and a bit more exploring. Of course I got hopelessly lost again, but managed to find the hotel after about 30 minutes. We had a delightful breakfast of cereal, croissants, rolls, jam, cheese and prosciutto, all washed down by several cups of coffee. Breakfast was in the restaurant adjoining the hotel and was included in the price of the room.
We then went upstairs to pack our bags, leaving them in the hotel to be collected on our way to the ship. Our morning was going to be spent exploring the Jewish ghetto.
Let me explain firstly that Val is Jewish, I am not. I love old buildings, famous places, monuments etc, Val does not. Val likes shops, I do not. Despite all these seeming differences, we have been together for 3 years and never had a single disagreement. Our secret? (well, mine, anyway) All that is required is to understand how a woman's mind works. Once you have that mastered, you will never have a problem. So, if you want to see St Marks Square, tell her that it would be fun to stroll past all these wonderful designer shops near St Marks Square, where she can do some great window shopping. Then arrange to meet her at a predetermined spot in half an hour and guess what - everyone is happy. (There can be problems with this arrangement sometimes, but you will need to wait till we are in Athens before we get to that - come to think of it, at this rate I don't even know when we are going to get to the ship, let alone leave Venice).
So, where were we? Oh, on the way to the ghetto. I had been to St Mark's Cathedral previously, as well as the Doges Palace and glass factories, and because there were no designer clothes stores in any of these Venice landmarks, Val was quite happy not to see them.
The Jewish ghetto was a good compromise, as I hadn't been there before and she was quite keen to have some photo's taken there to show her children that she had made the effort to visit the ghetto, even if it meant not getting to see the more famous sights. (As I already stated, understand the mind)
However, what should have been a delightful and relaxed morning before boarding the ship, turned into a bit of a nightmare. Halfway through the morning, after strolling slowly towards the Jewish quarter, she suddenly stopped me and pointed ashen-faced at her left hand. I could see nothing wrong at all, but eventually she managed to stammer "ring, ring"!! At that point I thought that her mobile was ringing in her bag and only after a sip of water was she able to tell me that she had left her ring on the bedside table that morning. I assured her that I had personally checked the room before we left and had thrown all the small, last minute items into her bag. So, at the side of a busy canal, we proceeded to look for the ring in her bag.
Of course there is no need to describe to anyone how long it can take a woman to search for an item as small as a ring in a handbag. She searched and searched. I searched and searched. Then, we both searched together. There was no ring in the bag. If you were guessing that it was on her other hand, you would be smart, but wrong. She wanted to rush straight back to the hotel, but I persuaded her that if we did that first, we might never get the pictures to show her children of her visiting the Jewish ghetto in Venice.
So, with a bit of encouragement from me, we proceeded to spend an hour or so exploring, but neither of our hearts was really in it. I even offered to walk with her to the shops near Rialto to help cheer her up, but she just wanted to get back to the hotel. Once there, we asked to get into the room, only to be told that it had already been cleaned and that there had been no ring found. Of course we could not accept that, and were taken to the room where beds and tables were moved in search of the missing ring.
The receptionist was asked to telephone the police so that we could report the ring stolen / missing. It transpired that if we were reporting a theft, then we would have to lay charges and remain in Venice till the case was resolved. I didn't think that missing our cruise over a ring was worth it. As I looked at it, our insurance would cover a lost ring, but not a missed cruise because of a lost ring (and certainly not both).
All this time I was sure that the ring would turn up in some item of clothing hidden away in our bags. (I was still convinced that I had put it into her handbag) It was just not appropriate to try and unpack four suitcases on a small landing in the hotel, so we headed to the ship with our luggage, hoping the ring would turn up in a suitcase once we were able to unpack.
After negotiating the 2 flights of stairs down and then the two bridges back to P. Roma, we searched for the shuttle bus to the pier that Celebrity promises. Of course, with Val still in a state over the ring, someone else had to carry her cases over the bridges and because none of the people around us offered to help, I had to do the 8 trips for each bridge.
Those of you that have been there know that P. Roma has lots of buses. They are all clearly marked with their destinations, but none of them indicated the pier or Celebrity. Eventually we started asking groups of people with suitcases if they were waiting for a ship shuttle. On about the 3rd group, we hit gold and found that this was the group waiting for the bus.
Unfortunately, there was no bus waiting for the group. It occurred to me that maybe the group was not waiting at the same place as the bus was waiting, and after several circuits of P. Roma, this proved to be the case. As the bus was unwilling to move to the group, we all moved to the bus, left our luggage beside it and boarded. Then we all filed off again when someone recognized a few words that the driver had been muttering the whole time. We had to load our own bags under the bus, which we did and then all boarded the bus again.
(For those that are going to be there soon, if you face P. Roma with the Grand Canal behind you, the shuttle bus is to be found across P. Roma on the extreme left).
It was a short 5 minute drive to the cruise terminal, where we were directed to the baggage drop-off (we still had to take our own bags out from under the bus), labelled our cases, and then walked to the check-in facility. Everything went quite smoothly at this point, which was quite a relief after all that had transpired earlier. Being South African, our check-in took a bit longer because we have Visa requirements for EU countries and for Croatia.
At about 13:00 on 27th August, we walked the plank (so to speak) to board the lovely Celebrity Summit.
Comparisons are odious (so they say), but we were a little underwhelmed by the grand foyer compared to the Carnival Sensation 2 years earlier. There was no 6 story atrium with glistening elevators but we were determined to accept that we were on a different ship, different cruise line and a different offering. The marble staircase looked good.
At this stage let me just pause and say that any and all negative comments that I may make in this review are to be taken in a spirit of observation rather than outright criticism. The bottom line is that we thoroughly enjoyed this cruise and would do it again at the drop of a hat.
I seem to recall that there was champagne and cordial after boarding, but we were not escorted to our cabin as I had been told we would be.
Once onboard, we headed for the nearest bar (remember, the ring was still lost) to calm distraught nerves. Because it is not wise to drink on an empty tummy, we also had a snack from the hamburger bar.
Have I mentioned that we are both smokers? This means (because I had read all the literature) that there are certain places where you can sit to drink and smoke. Generally speaking, there was no issue with smoking on this cruise. The smokers observed the rules and the non-smokers, for the most part, understood them too (more on this in a moment).
So, hoping that our bags were already delivered, we headed to our stateroom. They were not outside as we had hoped, but imagine our delight when we opened the door and found the 4 bags already placed in the room.
Needless to say, everything was rapidly unpacked in the hope that the ring would be uncovered. Item after item was hung up in the ample wardrobe space, but no ring. Clothes were unfolded, refolded and placed into drawers, but no ring.
Oh, forgot to mention our introduction to our cabin steward. Soon after we arrived at our room, J. was there to greet us and tell us he would be at our service for the next 12 nights. We asked him if he could please bring us 2 ashtrays, as there were none in the room. He then told us that we could not smoke in the cabin.
Huh??? Does he not read CruiseCritic.com?? Has he missed all the violent discussions that I have been reading about for 3 months? Does he not know what the current policy is?
I quietly informed him that we WERE allowed to smoke in the cabin; but that this would be changing from 1st October and we were glad to see that he had our health at heart and eager to implement the new policy, but please to just get the ashtrays. So off he went and returned with an ashtray. I pointed out that we both smoked and would each like an ashtray. He then told us we were not allowed to smoke in the bed, which I thought was a bit presumptuous on his part. Eventually we got our 2 ashtrays but there is more to this story later on.
All our clothes were now safely stowed in wardrobes, drawers and anywhere else that seemed appropriate. Still no ring to be found.
Finally we got to the last few items in Val's suitcase; the vanity bags, toiletry bags, cosmetic bags and other bags which don't have names including her other handbag. Other handbag? Like I have another mobile cover? Or another laptop bag? Anyway, she has another handbag. Ok, you all guessed correctly!! There, tucked away in a little side pocket, was the ring. I knew I had put it there!! I am to remember if the bag was brown or black? I am to know she changed handbags that morning? Enough said; ring found, everyone happy, so head back upstairs to celebrate.
Although we had planned to head back into Venice that evening, with all the excitement (and tears) of the day, we changed our minds and decided to eat onboard (remember our budget) and watch a show, leaving more Venice exploration till the next day.
It was casual dining that evening, meaning we didn't sit at our allocated table. We found ourselves at a table with two couples from England and we all got along fine and had a great dinner until the main course arrived.
There had been a lot of discussion on CruiseCritic.com of the passenger makeup for a Mediterranean cruise, both country of origin and age group. Our experience for this cruise was that the largest contingent was from the UK, with USA and Canada a little way behind. There were very few from Europe, certainly not as many as we had been led to believe that we would find. There were 69 children aboard (I didn't count them, the activities staff informed us). In fact, I can not recall seeing more than a dozen children. We were informed though that the sailing prior to ours had 480 children, which had worn the staff out completely.
The reason for this information just supplied is to better explain the incident that took place at dinner, after my grilled steak arrived. I had declined the horseradish sauce that accompanied the beef and politely asked if I could have some mustard. About 5 minutes later our waiter dropped a little jar of Dijon mustard in front of me and rushed off to attend to another table. I eventually managed to attract his attention again, and requested some hot English mustard. (We all call it Colman's hot mustard, but there are other makes).
He then informed me that they didn't have any hot mustard!!!! What??
The mouths of all six of us at the table dropped!! I was sure they just hadn't covered the hot mustard definition in his training program, so I asked him to just check with the assistant Maitre'd or perhaps with the kitchen. He returned to tell me that there definitely was no hot mustard on the ship.
We were flabbergasted. I know that the American readers are going to be unimpressed that I make such an issue of this, but British eaters know that hot mustard is always on the table. Every fast food place back home has hot mustard. Even the barrow vendors selling hamburgers and hot dogs have hot mustard.
There was nothing more I could do about it, so quietly finished my steak.
There was another issue that was slightly irritating at dinner. As soon as we were seated, our waiter brought us menus and a short while later someone appeared to take a drinks order. I ordered a bottle of wine but he informed me that he did all the drinks except for the wine, and that the wine sommelier would be along shortly. This was new to me as on our Carnival cruise one waiter managed drinks and wine quite adequately. His idea of shortly and my expectation were not quite the same and it was somewhere between the soup and salad that he finally arrived at our table.
I know that it is a great idea to have a knowledgeable sommelier advising one of the correct wine to order for the dinner, but we are not wine connoisseur's and our method of choosing wine, particularly on Celebrity is very simple. (remember the low-budget?). We simply narrowed the choices down to anything that was less then $30 a bottle, which made for a very small selection. Overall, the discussion on these boards and onboard was that prices of drinks on Celebrity were higher than elsewhere and we certainly found this to be true. This applies to the $25 corkage as well if we had chosen to bring one of our two allowed bottles of wine to dinner. I believe that on some other lines there is no 2-bottle limit and that the corkage is $15.00, which certainly sounds more reasonable.
After dinner, we went dancing for a while and then attended a show at 10:30, which was not particularly memorable (meaning that I can't actually remember what it was).
We went up to Revelations for a while after the show and then decided to get to bed.
Val, cunning as she and every other woman is, remembered my offer of shopping at Rialto Bridge. It was an offer of mine, made in good faith to cheer her up the previous day, but I guess there is no statute of limitations on offers such as these.
So, we headed off the ship the next morning after grabbing a quick bite for breakfast at the Waterfall place. I love smoked salmon, so that set the tone of our breakfasts for the next 11 mornings. Salmon with toast, salmon with bagels, salmon with croissants, salmon with anything else that they had on offer!!!
After that we headed off for the trip to Rialto bridge and the shops. $20 dollars for the Celebrity water taxi to St. Marco for the day seemed unnecessary, so we did the 10 minute walk from the cruise terminal to P. Roma and took the Vaporetta (48 hour pass, remember) to Rialto. I needed about an hour on the internet (more about this later), so left Val to do her shopping while I found an internet cafe. We met up as planned an hour later, wandered around together for a while before heading back to P. Roma and the walk from there to the cruise terminal.
While in P.Roma, we bought a couple of bottles of wine from the delightful supermarket just next to the Vaporetta stop. There were such attractive local hams and cheeses, but we had to keep reminding ourselves that food was waiting for us back at the ship. (also, Val doesn't eat ham)
We had no issues boarding with our purchases and our wine, but that was set to change later during the cruise.
We had a light lunch at the Waterfall Cafe and then prepared ourselves for our departure from Venice.
This is now an appropriate place to introduce our CC roll call. The first post took place exactly a year before our sail date, but never really gained momentum till 6 months before. For a long time we weren't sure that we would get 25 people registered, but there was a late surge of people joining and we ended up with 33 registered guests for the Celebrity get-together. We also setup a website to share excursion information and to post our mugshots. http://www.freewebs.com/ardy53
We had also arranged an informal get together at the Mast Bar for 3.00 pm as we sailed out of Venice. About 18 of us were able to recognize each other from our pictures on the website and we had a great time enjoying a drink, meeting each other, enjoying a drink, snapping pictures, enjoying a drink, listening to Botticelli, enjoying a drink and waving goodbye to Venice. Such fun was had that we found it necessary to go have a little lie-down in preparation for the evening.
After I had enjoyed a short nap, I went to explore areas of the ship that I had not yet encountered. I found the library and checked out a book that I thought I would enjoy. There is a fair selection of fiction, hard and soft cover, but no organization or filing that I could determine, so one just has to scrounge each shelf, much like at a book sale. It was very cool in the library, so this was definitely a place to head for on a hot day.
We had late dinner seating at 8.45, so after a drink in the lounge we headed into the dining room to our allocated table. Our Chicago friends had asked us to try and obtain a seat at their table, but we left it too late to arrange for that evening and promised to make an arrangement for the next night. We were seated at a table for six, but only had 2 ladies as dinner companions that evening.
I thought that we would have an uneventful dinner after the mustard issue the previous evening, but that was not to be. After ordering our food and waiting the interminable 10 minutes for the sommelier to arrive at our table, I decided to break the self-imposed $30 limit on a bottle. On the dinner menu, there is a chef's recommendation for each of the courses, as well as a list of 4 or 5 recommended wines for the evening. I chose the Pinot Grigio listed there only to be told that it was not available.
Thinking that the wine had been so good that all 2,000 people on board had ordered it that evening, I asked the sommelier how many bottles they had loaded on board. Appears it hadn't yet arrived on board, which is strange, as I am sure it should only be recommended at dinner if a bottle or two from the same consignment had been tasted by the head sommelier.
I asked for an alternative dry white recommendation and a Riesling was suggested. This eventually arrived and was not bad, but then after half a glass, we found it really wasn't dry enough for us. I often drink a Riesling and can't ever recall that it ever comes less than dry. After managing to catch the attention of the sommelier, I told him that the wine was not really dry enough for us.
He then told me that certain Rieslings are definitely less dry than others, and this was one of them. After pointing out that we had asked him to recommend a dry white, he offered to bring us another bottle of wine and only charge us for the two glasses that we had half-consumed. By now the 2 ladies at the table were getting edgy, so I decided to drop the issue and finish dinner.
We met up with our friends at the late show, which was quite good and they persuaded us to ask the Maitre'd to get us shifted to their table the next night.
Then we headed to the casino for the first time. As smokers, we were glad to see that one half of the casino is smoking. Val did have an issue at a blackjack table with a gentleman who asked her not to smoke. She pointed out that this was the smoking half of the casino, but he said he wanted to play a $20 table, and there wasn't one in the non-smoking side.
She then pointed out that she really wanted to play a $10 table, but that wasn't available in the smoking section. He was adamant however, so like we so often do, she just moved away.
Have I mentioned the waiters at the bars yet?? If not, this is an appropriate time. It might seem that I have done nothing but complain so far and had nothing but trouble the whole cruise long. This is not the case however; we had enjoyed everything so far and a few hiccups along the way were not too serious.
I recognized the waiter in the casino from the pool deck earlier, but was amazed when he greeted me by name. Then I was nothing short of astounded when he asked if I would like a glass of Pinot Grigio, which is what I had been drinking earlier. Then I actually did fall out of my chair when he asked if Miss Val at the blackjack table would also care for a glass.
I had of course heard that the waiters got to know you by name, but I really hadn't expected it to happen so early in the cruise. (Of course, one of our rude friends pointed out that they are actually trained to spot those that are going to be ordering lots from the bars, and learn their names first).
I only play the slots, and they weren't too bad; very much up and down and I ended up an hour later perhaps $10 down.
By about 1.30 am we were ready for bed, which is what we did. Part II
We had not planned to do too much in Dubrovnik, where the ship was only due to arrive at 09:00, so were in no real hurry to wake up and rush ashore. Those of you that have stayed in an inside cabin know that once the cabin lights are switched off, it is impossible to tell whether it is day or night. It is really weird to wake up and not have a clue whether it is 04:00 or 10:00 in the morning.
I actually woke up early that morning and went upstairs while Val had coffee in the room. It was a beautiful morning watching the cliffs near Dubrovnik come into view and all the other little craft flitting around.
I decided to go have breakfast in the dining room, which proved to serve almost the same food as the Waterfall Bistro did. The only difference on the plus side was that there were kippers or haddock available, which I never saw upstairs. The other plus was the fresh juices that were served.
On the downside, unless you insist on a table for two and also insist that you are in a hurry, the breakfast takes quite a while to get through. This is partly because they wait till a table is full before even bringing menus to the table. Then they let each of the juice waiters, the pastry waiters and the coffee waiters have a turn at serving the table. I was able to get a coffee out of turn by grabbing onto a waiter.
We were not able to dock at the cruise dock, so were tendered in the bay outside the old harbour entrance. If we had docked, we would have required a taxi or else paid $10 each for the ship shuttle to the old town.
We left the ship at about 11:00 once all the queues had disappeared and had a quick lifeboat trip to the harbour. At this stage, there is no need to explain why we were splitting up for a while. We arranged to meet in the small square just inside the walls an hour later and I hurried off to an internet cafe for a while before heading for the wall. Because there were 3 large ships, more than 8,000 passengers ashore, the place was crowded. In the end I decided not to walk on the wall and instead walked for a while on the inside and outside, thereby avoiding the crush to get on top.
I then joined Val and we visited a few shops because I was actually looking for a specific item to buy. I didn't find the pair of shorts that I was looking for, but I did spot a rather stunning, short black cocktail dress. I asked Val to try it on and she loved it, so I bought it for her to wear to the formal dinner that night.
While we were in the store, there was an unexpected cloudburst which lasted all of 5 minutes then disappeared. Val was not certain that it wouldn't turn around and come back though, so we decided to head back to the ship before that cloudburst saw her hair in Dubrovnik and came hurtling back to do maximum damage to an easy target.
There has been plenty written here on CC about bringing wine onboard at the ports. The policy states 2 bottles of wine at embarkation. Presumably this means that there is no problem in principle with enjoying wine that you have uncorked yourself in your cabin. So the reason for the policy is actually not provided by Celebrity, but there is plenty of speculation, the most common of which is that it is another great source of revenue for them.
In one corner of this debate there are the "believers in adhering to policy" no matter what the policy.
In the other corner, there are those who believe that their freedom to enjoy a wine of their choosing from a port or even wine estate that they visited that day is being curtailed.
Coming from South Africa where there was previously a "policy" that curtailed freedoms, it is pretty obvious where my sympathies in this debate lie.
So, the bottle of wine that we purchased in Dubrovnik was put through the scanner at security whilst boarding and we were told to head for the "bottles" table with our purchases. Of course this meant they would take away my bottle, so I gave that bag to Val, told her to go to the elevators and walked to the "bottles" table with the short, little black dress that I had purchased in a shopping bag. They took one look inside and then nodded me through.
So, now we had a new ships game to play each port day. We'll revisit this game a little later on.
We had lunch aboard and then spent most of the afternoon at the pool, because the rest of the ship was still fighting to get up or down or across the walls.
About 6.00 pm, we found the sushi bar and had a quick snack to tide us over till dinner at 9.00 pm. Although we didn't know it at the time, we suspect that the quick sushi snack was responsible for events that occurred the following day.
Our first Formal Dinner
Right after the sushi, we headed to the dining room to speak to the Maitre'd about changing our table. He took down all the details and promised he would sort something out by late dinner.
We proceeded to get ready for the evening and Val was particularly pleased with the new little black dress from Dubrovnik.
We enjoyed a drink and a bit of dancing before dinner, then went to see the Maitre'd (I keep saying that but I think it is actually the Assistant Maitre'd for the starboard side, upper level of the main dining room, but I'm going to just stick with Maitre'd and hope you will all understand) about our new table.
He gave us a new table number and assured us that we would be happy there and he would sort out the details about our old table.
We met our Chicago friends and their fiends, but there was another couple at the table who were not expected to be there. We were expecting a honeymoon couple, but instead found a couple our age from Australia. Our honeymoon couple, it transpired did not want to attend the formal dinner, not because they wanted to be alone, but because she had forgotten to tell him that a suit was required to be packed.
So now we were eight at the table, but two more were going to arrive the next night. So we went and had another word with the Maitre'd and he said he was really stuck to find a 10-seater, but he would try his best.
We then proceeded to have a fantastic dinner. I haven't made a note of what we ate each night, except for a few special items on the menu on a few occasions. What made every evening special was the camaraderie around our table. We ended up referring to our table as the "United Nations Table" and when we got home I even created a website for us. http://www.freewebs.com/table571
Although we now had a new waiter and a new sommelier, the issue of service in the dining room never lived up to our expectations. In comparison to our Carnival cruise 2 years earlier, the availability of the waiter was not as good and as I have mentioned previously, the sommelier really just took too long to get to our table each evening. We found an easy solution to that problem though. Before dinner we would sit down in the lounge for a pre-dinner drink and order a bottle of wine from the dining room wine list. Once we had assembled there with our dinner companions, we would ask for the bottle to be sent to our table and so once we were seated our wine would immediately be available at the table.
On another occasion, we left a half completed bottle in the dining room and the wine sommelier ensured that it was waiting there for us the next night.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the problem with Celebrity is around these issues. My feeling is that it could just be that our ship was quite full and the dining room was packed each night.
We had far too much fun on this cruise for any of the little issues to worry us. I mention them because they did occur and if they hadn't, we could have claimed that everything met our high expectations.
After dinner that night we headed off to a show which was pretty good and then headed to the casino.
This was the 2nd night that the casino was open and the captain had adjusted the little win meter percentage in the backroom, as everybody was winning on the slots. I think I came away $200 better off for the evening.
The people at the tables were also having a good time. However, the evening came to an end earlier than we thought, because they shut the casino before 2 am, no doubt because the house wasn't doing too well.
That reminds me of another difference between Celebrity and Carnival. After 12.30 or so the ship has nowhere to grab a bite to eat, other than room service. I had expected at least the pizza station to be open very late, if not all night. I guess it all boils down to the market that Celebrity is aiming at and the average age and lifestyle of their typical cruiser.
So once the casino was closed, we headed back to our room to order a late night snack. We were in no hurry to go to sleep as the next day was a sea day and we could sleep late. Our only arrangement was the Celebrity CruiseCritic party, scheduled for 10:00 am.
Little did we know of the trouble that would befall us the next day?
Our first Sea Day
We both woke up the next morning with the room still dark, so our first thought was that we should roll over and carry on sleeping till the sun came up. Then we realized that the sun might already be up, so checked the clock, only to discover that it was already 10:30 in the morning.
Oh no!!! We had missed the CC party!!! I dressed in a hurry and ran up to Michelangelo's where our party should have been, only to discover that it had already finished. (apologies again to all my CC friends).
I returned to the cabin to find that Val was extremely unwell. At first we thought it was perhaps a bit too much indulgence the night before, but it soon became apparent that this was something a bit more than overindulgence.
She basically spent the whole day in the cabin vomiting and we eventually decided that I should take her down to the hospital when it reopened at 17:00. They were very pleasant there (a fellow South African was the nursing sister) and they decided that Val was suffering from a bout of gastro-enteritis caused by an unknown virus. Could it have been the sushi the night before? Who knows, but I doubt that Celebrity would be keen to admit that any food they served could be off. We are also not pointing fingers anywhere, as I know how easy it is for things like this to spread.
She was given an injection and put on a drip for 2 hours to rehydrate, then released back to her cabin. She ordered room service, consisting of chicken noodle soup, grilled chicken and salad, whilst I went up to join our friends for dinner.
I must just add at this point that all our friends, CC and others that I bumped into through the course of the day were all very concerned about Val and I thank them all for being so thoughtful.
Our Maitre'd had managed to perform a miracle!!
At this point I am not sure whether I entirely believe his story, but if it is not true, I give him 10 out of 10 for a great yarn. He told us that there were no more 10-seater tables available, but he had got the ship's carpenters in to add an oval top to our previously round table. I almost tend to believe him, as it was a bit wobbly, which would not have been the case with a proper table.
Anyway, we now had our full complement with the addition of the Irish newlyweds. (Val was missing that night, but we were all there from the next night onwards)
Everyone at the table was of course very concerned about Val, but I assured them that she was feeling much better (a sure sign was the fact that she actually wanted to eat, for the first time the whole day)
After dinner, I checked in on Val again then headed to the casino for a while. The tables (or rather slots) had turned from the night before, and it didn't seem like a good idea to keep pumping coins into a slot that never returned anything.
After chatting to a few friends and spending a bit of time on the open deck, I decided to head back to the cabin in preparation for our arrival in Athens the next day.
Reflecting back on the day, where I spent a lot of time by myself just reading, sun tanning or people-watching, I realized that the ship was actually a great place to be. I found that on the sea day it was very crowded around the pool area and also on the deck overlooking the pool. It was actually very hard to find a deck chair at any time on that day. I believe that this is a common problem on all ships and the way it is handled by the crew varies from ship to ship. However, enough has been written about this topic so that I have no need to dwell on it here.
I found a particular spot that I loved on the port side (smoking) on the 4th floor, below the lifeboats. There are plenty of loungers there, no crosswinds and very few people. Depending on the time of day and which direction we were travelling in, one had the choice of sunny or shady, definitely quiet and perhaps one of the most peaceful spots on the ship.
I know that people want to know what the state of the ship was like. Well, I always saw crew working in various parts of the ship; painting, cleaning, varnishing etc. We really had no complaints at all as far as the condition of the Summit was concerned.
I hope that this is turning out to be a balanced review. Did we enjoy our cruise? Yes. Are there some areas that we were disappointed in? Yes. Would we do it again? Yes - but only before 1st October!!! Guess no more is needed to explain that comment.
We woke up the next morning rearing to go. Val was feeling fine, I was looking forward to Athens and it looked like a lovely day.
I haven't commented much on the weather yet. We were told to expect sweltering hot days, but we had not yet encountered this. Venice was quite hot, but not as bad as the previous time I had been there, which was in June. Dubrovnik was hot to start with, but then clouded over with a few thundershowers, which cooled the day off. Athens looked as if it was going to be quite hot and we had been warned that climbing the Acropolis in the heat would be a real killer.
Well, we were in luck. There was actually a cool breeze blowing right after we docked in Piraeus, there was patchy cloud and I was suddenly convinced that the climb would not be as bad as anticipated.
We were off the ship after a quick bite to eat and were headed for the train station when we were accosted by a bunch of taxi drivers offering us a full day tour of Athens. This was not unexpected and we had been warned that they were very difficult to deal with. We bumped into another couple also headed for the train station and after debating the issue for a few minutes, asked the Greek taxi drivers if there was anyone that would take us to the Plaka, one way only.
All of them jumped forward offering a one-way ride, but promising that they could do a better deal for us than just that. So we just continued walking past them until one of them ran up behind us and told us that he would drive us to the Plaka for 20 Euros. We weighed this up against the 2 Euros per person train fare and decided the lack of walking, buying the ticket, waiting for the next train was probably worth it.
So we jumped into his Mercedes, were subjected to another string of attractive offers, which we ignored, and eventually found ourselves dropped off in the middle of the Plaka.
Our plan was that Val would have 2 whole hours of shopping while I ventured up the hill behind us. Being a Sunday however, many of the regular shops either weren't yet open or would not open at all. Nonetheless, we arranged to meet at the Starbucks in the middle of the main square in the middle of the Plaka at 12:30. If the other was not there within 5 minutes, we would return again half an hour later and again each half hour after that. It sounded like a great arrangement, which left each of us with plenty of flexibility to enjoy what we wanted to do.
I left Val peering into shop windows, quivering at the thought of at least 2 hours of uninterrupted shopping, and headed to the Acropolis with our shared taxi friends.
I have got to tell everyone that it is really a magnificent feeling to meet the Acropolis and the Parthenon in person after reading so much about them and looking at all the pictures.
It looks really daunting when you start out, but it ends up being not too bad if you take it slowly. We had two things in our favour, and one against. Firstly the weather, we actually ended up having a shower or two after we got to the top, so it really wasn't as hot as it could have been. Secondly, because it was a Sunday and also because we had no other large cruise ships in port that day, it ended up being nothing like we had been expecting as far as crowds go.
The downside was entirely my own fault - I had left the bag containing the water with Val so that she could stay hydrated and had forgotten to buy another one.
I bumped into 4 of our dinner companions (the "United Nations Table") at the top of the Acropolis, so we walked back down together, after admiring the stunning views of the city from the hill.
I then headed back to the main square in the Plaka to meet up with Val.
I didn't actually wait in the Starbucks, but sat in an adjoining cafe which had a perfect view of the entire Starbucks. Although I had enjoyed a refreshing coca-cola once we got down the hill (Nope, they are NOT paying me to mention their name), I was still very thirsty, so I ordered a refreshing local beer while I waited for 12:30.
By 12:45 I reckoned that Val was really enjoying the shopping and so I ordered another beer to wait for her. 13:00 came and went and I thought nothing of it as I was going by our arrangement that we would check every half-hour until we met up with each other.
By 13:45 I was getting a little concerned as I was also unable to reach her on her mobile. Around 14:00 I eventually received a message from her asking where I was. I messaged back (our phones were set to only message, not make/receive calls) that I was at Starbucks; when would she be joining me. Imagine my surprise when she said she was at Starbucks and had been waiting for me for over an hour. So I got up and walked into the Starbucks indoor area to meet with her, but she was not there!!!
Slowly it dawned on me that there might be more than one Starbucks in the Plaka and sure enough, after checking with the cafe owner, there was. By this time I was on my 2nd carafe of the house wine and had also ordered a plate of calamari, so after messaging her with the exact address, I sat down to finish my lunch and wait for her.
About 20 minutes later (did I mention that there had been another short thunderstorm?), a very tearful and bedraggled Val threw her arms around me and swore she would visit every ruin and monument with me in future, as long as I never left her alone again.
How on earth was I to suspect that, after asking directions to Starbucks, that she would not recognize the fact that she was not at the same Starbucks where we had last parted company??
(I hope she doesn't spot this entry, but how can someone who confuses the Parthenon with the Colosseum, ever hope to distinguish one Starbucks from another??)
Happily reunited, we shared another carafe of house wine and then decided to splurge on a taxi back to the ship instead of taking the train as planned. We had to haggle the cab fare down by 5 Euros, but then I ended tipping the driver those 5 Euros as he was such a delight, keeping us in stitches all the way to the ship. I found him genuinely funny; I think that Val was just laughing hysterically, glad that we had found each other.
(Her story is that she asked directions to Starbucks, sat and waited an hour and a half for me, and when I eventually messaged her the correct address, set out looking for someone to show her how to get to me. She even offered a waiter at Starbucks 15 Euros to walk with her to the other Starbucks, but he said it was too far, and just pointed her in the general direction).
All's well that end's well, and we got back on board the ship safely, ready to enjoy another great evening.
That night we were a full complement at our table of 10 and had a thoroughly enjoyable dinner (as always it was the companionship). I really can't remember if we visited the casino that night (probably we did) but we did end up having a fairly early night and were probably in bed soon after midnight.
Tomorrow we would be in Santorini, which we had heard so much about and were really looking forward to visiting. We had also made telephonic arrangements to have lunch on Santorini with one of our CC friends that we had not yet met (remember the missed party?).
You will probably have noticed by now that we were on this cruise to relax as opposed to a "cram as much possible as there is to see in one day at every port" type of holiday. Sure there were some things that were kind of "must see", like the Acropolis, but quite frankly there is always more to do than one could possibly get done, so there will always be things left out.
We started the day with a relaxed breakfast outside, watching the ferries heading to shore below those towering cliffs dotted with hundreds of little white buildings. It was truly beautiful.
Our plans for Santorini had been to wander around Fira for a while and then take the bus to Oia. Once all the queues for the ferries had disappeared, we headed down and were soon bobbing our way to the little dock. We boarded the cable car without any queuing and enjoyed the spectacular ride to the top.
We then wandered around together till 11:30, which was the time that we had arranged to rendezvous with our friends from Minnesota. We met outside the little restaurant next to the upper cable car station, were introduced to another couple of friends of theirs and arranged to meet back there at 13:00 for lunch.
There is no way to describe how quaint the little streets of Fira are; the views across the water are stunning, our little ship in miniature below us, the roofs of the white-washed houses. We had already discarded the idea of taking the bus to Oia, as there seemed enough here to keep us happy.
We had at one time even thought of renting a car or bike to explore the whole island, but it occurred to me that the less we ended up seeing, the more reason there would be to come back here again. Our Irish dinner companions did that; they rented a quad bike and spent the day driving around the island, which they thoroughly enjoyed.
I needed to spend some time on the internet, so arranged to meet Val at the restaurant at 1.00 pm and spent an hour catching up on emails etc. (luckily there was not even one Starbucks on the island)
As I was wandering slowly back to the restaurant for lunch, I saw a man sitting on the steps just outside one of the tourist shops. Although we had seen a few beggars in Athens, I didn't expect to see this in Santorini and was planning to just walk by. As I drew level with him, he muttered "please help" and held out his hat for a donation. I refused to make eye contact and continued walking.
Only after I had passed did something strike me as odd and out of place and I realized that it was his clothes. He looked just like a holiday-maker. I turned around for another look and realized I had been caught, hook, line and sinker by one of the four people we were due to meet with for lunch!!!
Fred had seen me walking up the narrow street where he had been sitting on the steps, waiting for his wife who was inside the shop. Not even thinking that he would fool me, he held out his hat begging style and then watched in amazement as I refused to catch his eye.
He could not get over how I fell for it, and this story was recounted many times over the next few days.
We had a great lunch together with some delightful local food presented to us and some lovely wine produced on the island. We were in no rush to get anywhere else and it was just so relaxing sitting there with the most beautiful views around us.
After lunch we went shopping for some souvenirs and I bought two bottles of Santorini wine as well as a gift box of Ouzo for a friend. We headed back down the cable car and by 3.00 pm we were back on the ship. We did at one point consider walking down, but all the stories I had read about the donkey mess on the stairs put us off that idea.
I had expected that we were going to encounter problems with our wine at security again, so this time we put the 2 bottles in Val's handbag and left the Ouzo in the shopping bag. However when they asked us to go to the "bottles table" and I presented them with the boxed Ouzo, they waved me through. I was quite disappointed; I actually wanted them to look after this in case I was tempted to open the bottle in the cabin.
For those of you that haven't sailed in the Med, there is traditionally a Greek themed "White Night" party on the pool deck as one leaves the last port in Greece, known as the Flava night.
Traditionally, the wind always blows like crazy on this night and it did not let us down. Despite that though, it was very well organized and the buffet style food did make a change from the 5-course dinner.
There were various food stations with a little flag denoting the food style; I recall French, Italian and of course Greek, but the might have been another one too.
There was some great music and performers were dancing on the pool stage and we actually rather enjoyed the evening.
Because we were in a great party mood (well, we were every night) we decided to go up to Revelations a bit earlier than usual and spent quite a bit of time dancing there.
We then headed down to the casino for a while, discovered we were hungry after all that exercise and so we went to our cabin to order room service.
The next day would be a sea day so we retired knowing that we could sleep late the next morning.
This was to be another lazy day (which is why we were here in the first place). The only item on our agenda for the day was a second CruiseCritic get-together that I had arranged.
Our first meeting (the official one, which we had missed), had failed to be attended by about half of the registered members. Fearing that they may have suffered the same fate that we did (oversleeping), I asked Guest Relations to drop a note to all the CC registered members that we would be holding another informal gathering at 4 pm on this sea day at the pool bar on deck 10.
They were very obliging and printed out an invitation card which was placed in our cabin the day before. There are so many areas that Celebrity is just great at, that it really bother me to report incidents that caused us irritation.
We had a really peaceful day at sea, marred only by several "deck chair incidents" and were looking forward to meeting a few of our missing CC friends.
Surprise!! Nobody that had not been at the official gathering turned up at this get together (except for Val and I). We did subsequently learn that there were some of our roll call that would have liked to attend, but it clashed with other functions, like a meeting with the Captain. That can certainly be forgiven!! Out of the 32 roll call members signed up we only met 16 of them during the cruise. I often wonder if the others actually were there or not.
Tonight was another formal night and we decided to go see the 7:15 show before dinner. This was one aspect of cruising that always struck me as a little strange. I fully understand that if one is going to be dining at the late seating and then expect to see a show afterwards, that it would be a really late night performance for the artists concerned.
It is time to have a small diversion here to talk about the entertainment on board our cruise. There is really nothing much to say. Nothing that we went to watch was really bad, nothing was really gripping; the rendezvous lounge band was OK to listen to as one walked by (I think they only played 5 different songs the entire cruise). The extravaganza shows were pretty OK, but nothing that I would go back to watch again. The bottom line is that it was OK but could have been a lot better.
The formal dinner was once again not attended by our honeymoon couple because he didn't have formal dress for the evening. Whilst we did see a number of people not formally dressed, it was certainly only a handful.
However, because the dining room was so full and hot, almost all men removed their jackets immediately upon being seated. By this, the 2nd formal night, many men were carrying their jackets over their arms into dinner, especially those (like us) that had been dancing for a while in the lounge.
So we decided that our honeymoon couple could just as easily have joined us if he just wore a borrowed tie. Really, could anyone care less? We certainly would not.
There were even some men that got dressed up in skirts for dinner!!! (only kidding; there were about 3 or 4 Scots dressed in their formal kilts and it really looked great)
The memorable part about dinner that night was my first time seeing frog's legs on a menu. I was really in two minds about the idea of eating them but I thought that I would be adventurous, so I did. They were really lovely!!
I offered Val a taste of mine and she also enjoyed it. So then, everybody at our table that had not tried them ordered Frog's Legs as a second starter.
It is worth mentioning here that the waiters are extremely obliging when it comes to choosing items off the menu. Earlier on all the ladies at the table had decided to place a standing order of shrimp cocktail for starters. This in no way meant that they could not also a starter off that night's menu, which they did.
Also, if there was a really difficult choice between two attractive starters or main courses, the waiter suggested ordering both and managed the delivery of food very well.
After dinner we visited the casino for a while and decided to get off to bed in anticipation four consecutive days of ports to be visited. Part III
As I have previously mentioned, we had not booked for any ship or private excursions and so basically decided what we were going to do each day when we woke up and saw what the weather looked like.
We bumped into our Australian friends at breakfast and agreed that we would take the train to Ercolano to visit the Herculaneum ruins. From there we would take the train on to Sorrento for lunch and then return by Hydrofoil to Naples.
Of course, as with all our plans, they never turn out the way that we originally plan them.
Another couple from Mexico, two ladies that we had previously met, joined us as we were leaving the ship and so the 6 of us set out for the train station, which can be reached by bus, taxi or a bit of a walk.
We tried the taxi option, where we were inundated with all-day offers, much like in Athens. We eventually opted for an offer to drive us to Herculaneum, thus saving us the hassle of catching the train and the long walk in Ercolano from the station to the ruins.
On the way to Ercolano, we discussed our driver’s offer to wait in Herculaneum for us, drive us to Sorrento and then bring us back to Naples any time in the afternoon. At €30 per person each it actually sound like a good deal for us, meaning no hassles finding stations and trains and also cutting out a lot of walking. So we accepted his offer, which actually worked out perfectly for us.
After spending about an hour and a half in Herculaneum, which I found fascinating, we met up with our driver and then sped to Sorrento.
Italian taxi drivers all think that their Fiats are actually F1 Ferrari’s and they only know two speeds; Fast and flat out!!!
Somehow we managed to arrive in Sorrento without suffering any physical damage. En route, we had stopped at a couple of scenic spots for photos (and a quick cigarette) and the trip only took about half an hour.
In Sorrento we all parted company, arranging to meet our driver in the main square at 3pm. The two Mexican ladies went off by themselves while Val and Felicity headed for the shops and Richard and I strolled around together for a while before settling down to enjoy a lovely cold beer.
We had considered going down the hill to stroll along the beach, but it really was quite hot and probably looked nicer from the top of the hill than down at the bottom.
About 2pm, Val and her friend joined us and we had a lovely outdoor lunch. They really were a fantastic couple and we spent all our further port trips exploring together with them.
After our lunch, the waiters brought us Lemoncella on the house; at least 3 glasses each before we realized that it was just about time to meet our cab driver.
He was there as promised (of course he would be, he hadn’t been paid yet) and soon we were on the formula one track back to Naples.
Al in all we had a really enjoyable day, saw enough of what we wanted to and were glad that we had taken the cab ride instead of on and off trains all the time. I was a little sorry that we had missed out on the Hydrofoil back to Naples but we will return to take it to Capri next time.
Later on we spoke to several people that had tried to do all three; Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii and they all indicated that it had been such a rush that they later regretted trying to pack too much into one day.
At this point the evenings start fading in my memory, but they almost invariable followed a standard pattern.
We were convinced by now that the sushi had not been the cause of Val’s illness earlier, although she was still a little wary. However, our evening routine was to stop by the sushi bar at about 5.30 (actually, that is when it opens) for sashimi, as I really think that sushi is overrated – most of it is just rice, which I am not fond of, while Val would quite often have a little Asian stir-fry.
After taking the edge off our appetites, we would head for a bar to relax with a beer or a glass of wine. After that, depending on how warm it still was, we would either enjoy a dip in the pool or hot-tub outside or else relax for a while in the thallasotherapy pool.
I haven’t yet made mention of the spa. Nor can I, because we did not even set foot in it. We are not Gym types nor did we really find the need to do the massage thing at any stage. We did however enjoy the t-pool on numerous occasions.
After that we would either hurry to our room for a quick shower and to get dressed before heading to the 7:15 show or else skip the show and have a short lie-down or relax with a glass of local wine in our cabin.
Dinner would be the highlight of the evening (except for the night that I hit the jackpot on the slots), as much for the food and atmosphere as for the company at our table. We were invariably amongst the last to leave the dining room.
After dinner we also followed one of two routines. This was a show such as the comedian or contortionists and then the casino or else the casino first, followed by whatever was happening in Revelations that night.
Most nights when I was not doing too well at the slots, I would take a walk while Val was happily ensconced at her blackjack table (the obstinate non-smoker never appeared again). My favourite spot was the aft deck bar where I would sit and watch the wake of the ship trailing behind us.
This was really where I made friends with a lot of others and had some really interesting conversations. There were a lot of people that I saw time and again by themselves, either at a table for two in the dining room or sitting by themselves at various places around the ship.
I often wondered if they perhaps wanted to meet new people and enjoy the company of others or just preferred to be on their own. Many times I would join them if they nodded a greeting, but just as often it appeared as if they wanted to be by themselves.
There was a very nice singer that performed each evening at the aft bar between about 6 and 7. I never saw him anywhere else on the ship, but of course he may also have been in areas such as the Cova Café, which I never visited.
The plans for this day had been made as far back as the previous evening, so at about 8.30 am we got together at disembarkation with our Aussie and Irish friends to spend the day in Rome.
It was a short 10 minute walk to the train station, which was quite busy, but after a while we discovered a short queue in the newsstand next door also selling train tickets. The tickets were €9.00 which was an all day pass to Rome and back as well as travel on the metro in Rome. I’m not sure how often the train runs (every half hour, I think) but with 2 or 3 minutes we had one arrive and were on our way.
I seem to recall that the trip to Rome was actually just less than an hour, but I could be wrong. The first Rome stops were definitely less than that, but we had planned to go all the way to Termini, the last stop.
Once out of the station, we debated taking a cab to the Spanish Steps but eventually decided to walk. Our planning the evening before had been as follows; walk, shop, Spanish Steps, walk, shop, Trevi Fountain, walk, shop, Coliseum, walk, shop, train back. Well, that was the plan of the ladies.
As it turns out, they only found one area to do some serious shopping, while the guys sat around in the sweltering heat waiting for them, but in the end it put everyone into a good mood. We spent quite a bit of time at each of the places that we stopped, just soaking up the atmosphere that we found there. After we had finished at the Coliseum (we walked around, didn’t go inside) we found a lovely sidewalk café where we had some ice-cold beers, wine and a lovely meal.
We had not planned to go to the Vatican as three of us had been there before, two of us were planning to return another time to do that, and one of us doesn’t like doing places like that.
After our lovely outdoor meal, we headed for the nearby Metro and took the underground to Termini, where we were just in time to catch a train back to Civitavecchia.
On the way back to the ship we split up. I went to spend some time in an internet café, Val and Felicity went to browse through some touristy shops and the others were off to buy some wine. (Actually, I did that too)
I got back to the ship just before 6 pm to find that Val had got back shortly before. We went to have a drink at the aft bar and reminisce about our day in Rome.
We once again had a lovely dinner with our friends and then headed for the casino. Luckily it was not so busy there that night; I think that the past 2 days had tired a lot of people out.
I had been about $100 down at this point in the cruise and then that night I hit the top jackpot on the “Bulls Stampede” machine. It was a great feeling as I had never done anything like that before. Unfortunately it was actually a very small paying machine and I only collected $400 dollars for my win.
I was so excited though, that I ordered drinks for all my friends that were in the casino (thank goodness it was a quiet night, as I said) and then settled in to play a bit more. Val was also having a good evening at the blackjack table and we eventually had to leave when they switched off the lights.
We had so enjoyed our trip to Rome with our Aussie and Irish friends, that we decided to stick together again for our outing today.
I was ambivalent about Florence, but definitely wanted to go to Pisa, the Irish couple were not keen on Florence as they were going to come back to Tuscany soon and the Australian couple had been to Florence before. Val was quite happy to go to Pisa because we accidently forgot to tell her that the shopping in Florence is great.
So, Pisa it was to be. When you get off the ship there are taxi’s waiting to nab you or a ship shuttle that takes you to the town centre for $10. We opted to get a taxi shared between 8 of us to take us to the train station, because from the town centre it is still quite a way to get to the station. The cost of this was €20.00 shared between 8 of us.
We bought our tickets to Pisa (about €3.50 each return) and waited about 20 minutes for a train. I don’t think that I have mentioned this before, but once you have got your ticket you must ensure that you have it validated before you board the train. This is done by inserting it into the little yellow boxes that are dotted all around the platforms.
Failure to do so results in an immediate fine on the train. We only once in all our train trips had a conductor ask to see our tickets and we were so glad that we had remembered to have them validated.
Once in Pisa, we decided to forego the fairly lengthy walk to the tower and took another cab at less than €2.00 each.
Then we enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the tower, the cathedral and other monuments. We all posed for the obligatory picture pushing the tower up straight again, then split up to wander around by ourselves.
At our pre-arranged time (13:00, I think) we met up again to find somewhere to eat. I suppose it is like this everywhere, but for every 50 metres farther away from the tower one goes, the cost of a beer or a slice of pizza falls by €0.50. So we ended up around the corner, out of sight of the tower, at a lovely restaurant and enjoyed another great Italian lunch.
All of our lunches at the ports had been great, with food choices mostly being pizza, calamari, mussels, pasta or just salad.
All of our lunches were also taken at a leisurely pace, with lots of time for laughter and conversation. Some of our other friends, particularly those on ships tours, complained about how rushed their lunch stops were, with no time to really soak up the atmosphere of the places that they were eating in.
After lunch we took a cab back to the station and from there a train and cab back to the ship.
I think it was this day that our Irish friends had a major hassle bringing their 2 bottles of wine from Pisa onto the ship. At security, when they were told to move to the bottles table, I tried to switch their bag with mine, but the wine police spotted this sleight-of-hand and recalled them. They claimed that the policy stated 2 bottles at embarkation and as they were embarking, they could take their 2 bottles aboard.
The wine police were adamant however, but our friends said they were off to their room with the wine and if there was an issue with this they would be available to discuss it in their room with an officer. Needless to say no officer ever arrived.
If one reads all the threads on CruiseCritic (there are several active now) concerning this issue, it seems pretty obvious that this is a policy that is sometimes enforced and sometimes not, and the more that people read about it not being strictly enforced, the more likely the chances are that many people will disregard the policy, which makes one question what it is really all about.
Although we had not done a tremendous amount of walking today, the cumulative effect of 3 port days had made people quite tired. One of the most common problems encountered was swollen ankles, which both Val and I and many of our friends were suffering from, coupled with a strange rash on the ankles.
We asked the nurse on board but she couldn’t give us an explanation and suggested that we see the doctor. The problem did not seem to warrant seeing a doctor, but this has just reminded me that I left out an important part of the story when Val was in the hospital.
If you recall, she had been vomiting all day and I took her to the hospital at about 5 pm. She was given an injection to relieve the nausea and then put on a drip for 2 hours to rehydrate her, before being sent away with some tablets for the next day.
The next morning we received the account for her brief sojourn to the hospital. It was $454 for that little trip. We found that to be extremely high but luckily our insurance is covering it with only a $50 surcharge. Many people commented however that they also found it expensive.
We must have had a fairly uneventful evening that night as I can’t really recall what we did. Just the usual, I guess, which was always enjoyable.
When we woke up and went on board, it was to see the delightful village of Villafranche lying in front of us. We were tendered in the small bay with little villages and houses practically surrounding us. The look was so different to that of Santorini, although it was probably about the same size.
We joined our friends for breakfast while we decided what to do for the day. The unanimous choice was to take the bus or train to Monaco, followed by a visit to Nice, then back to the boat.
We boarded the ferries once the crowds had cleared and headed for the small port. Once there, we tried to sift through the conflicting advice of whether the train or bus was the better option.
Eventually we opted for the train and en route to the station we were introduced to a couple of ladies from Arizona that two of our friends had previously met. They decided to join us for the day, so now we were eight.
We bought our train ticket and waited about 15 minutes for a train to arrive. It was a delightful 15 or 20 minute trip to Monte Carlo, with villages on the cliffs above and below us, as well as plenty of short tunnels.
In Monte Carlo, we walked down the hill in the direction of the Casino, marvelling at the number of expensive cars and expensively dressed people that we saw. One thing that was truly amazing, apart from the views, was how clean everything was.
This applied to everything, from the parks and buildings to the monuments and even the streets. I am referring to more that just not litter lying around. It looked as if someone actually came round and scrubbed and polished the street each morning.
From the casino we ambled along the promenade in the direction of the palace, stopping at a small supermarket to buy some pastries and cool drinks. It was a beautiful day in Monaco, quite hot with a scattering of cloud to keep us from burning out.
From the promenade it was actually a fairly exhausting walk up the hill to the palace. Once there, we watched the changing of the guard and then wandered around the curio shops, before deciding to find a table for 8 in the shade somewhere.
Several of the establishments would only seat people if they were planning to eat, which we were not. We continued till we found a nice shady spot that would serve us drinks, only to suddenly decide that we were actually hungry. As we were in no rush to get anywhere, we ordered some light food such as pizza and seafood and enjoyed several glasses of wine.
This would now be the fourth day in a row that we had enjoyed a protracted lunch in the town or village that we found ourselves, and I can honestly say that it came close to being the highlight of each of our days in port.
Sometimes our café would include stunning views, such as at the Coliseum or Pisa, but other times it was tucked away in a quaint little street. It was the charm and friendliness (mostly) of the locals that went a long way to ensuring that we always enjoyed our lunches.
After lunch we wandered back to the train station and yours truly decided he knew which platform the train would be arriving on for our trip back to Villefranche. Of course I got it wrong, but we only realized this as a train arrived on the tracks across from where we were and suddenly recognized some faces from the ship about to board.
We started running down the subway to get to the platform, waving our arms and screaming at the driver to hold on another 30 seconds, but when we were within 30 meters of the train, the doors closed and he pulled away right under our noses (he received a number of rude finger gestures from us, but I guess he was used to that).
We waited 20 minutes for the next train to arrive and debated whether to travel on to Nice or get off at Villefranche. The other option was to get off at Eze and explore a little bit there.
I had read a lot about how pleasant the village of Villefranche was, so that’s what we did.
Below the station was a lovely beach and some of our group decided that they had to wade in the water there. Being in the south of France, there were of course a great number of topless sunbathers on the beach. We decided to split up again after that, as the ladies wanted to do a bit more shopping, and I wanted to find an internet café.
This might be an appropriate time to talk about the internet. I had brought my laptop along as I needed to check-in with email every couple of days or so. I have a data card that I have used for roaming before in Europe, the USA and in Australia. For some unknown reason I could not get it to work on this trip, which meant that my choices were limited to connecting through the ship wireless, using the computer on the ship or using an internet café on shore.
The costs for internet on the ship were extremely high and from all accounts of passengers we spoke to, extremely slow. I find it very irritating that if someone is charging for usage on a time basis rather than a traffic basis, they can have anything other than decent broadband speed.
It’s like charging for your trolley of food at the supermarket based upon how long you spend in the store, not how much is in your trolley, but then only opening one till to be served at.
The option of using the internet cafes worked out fine. The cost there also varied, but in the region of €1 – €4 per hour, compared to the cost of $20 to $40 an hour on the ship, depending on the package purchased.
The internet café in Villefranche was actually expensive, perhaps because it was the only one there. It is however situated in a pub where they offer happy hour between 16:00 and 19:00, so we thought that was a great place to relax while waiting for the ladies to meet us.
When they eventually did, we decided to order some tapas to tide us over till dinner time. The ship was only departing at 20:00, an hour later than usual, and it was glorious sitting watching the sun drop over the Mediterranean from our café in the south of France.
Tonight would be our last formal dinner and we would be joined by our Irish honeymoon couple who had borrowed a tie and jacket for the evening. It was also our “lobster” night at dinner, which was pretty good – Val ordered a second serving but strangely enough that night there were two other main courses that were very good too, so I ordered one of those (I think it was quail)
As usual on formal nights, and especially before a sea day, the ship was a lot livelier, both in the casino and at the other venues. I think that was the night we went to the Karaoke and I was persuaded to stand up and sing out of tune. It could not have been too bad, as I got a decent round of applause and the next day we bumped into someone who said he had heard me sing, and it sounded better than the 5-song crooner in the lounge.
The last Sea Day
This was to be a great day for just relaxing. I seem to recall that this was the day that there was a brunch served, but it may have been the previous sea day. Nonetheless, we decided to attend it and found it a lttle strange trying to decide whether to have the bacon and eggs before or after the lovely shrimps and rare beef.
It is a great idea and the display of the food was rather nice, but I think you need to decide if you are going there to have a late breakfast or an early lunch. It was open from 11 am till 1 pm, so it was really more like an early lunch with eggs on the menu. Now that I think about it, it was actually on the previous sea day, and they only did it once on the cruise.
They also had these wonderful ice sculptures, but I missed the other occasion when they did even better ones.
That afternoon we had signed up for a wine tasting, which was one of only 3 activities that we participated in. The other was a trivia game early on in the cruise, which was only attended by a dozen people; the other was a darts competition, which I won first prize for. This was not too difficult, as I was the only contestant.
We actually never attended any of the bingo games; they always seemed to clash with something or else took place when we didn’t feel like playing. I think the bingo may have been well attended, but I got the feeling that most other activities were not.
About 100 people showed up for the wine tasting and it proved to be very informative and enjoyable. A lot of effort was put into the program for this and it was well worth the $10 per head.
It was slowly dawning on all of us that the cruise was going to be coming to an end very soon. You can always tell this is happening, because whenever you speak to someone, there is always an exchange of telephone numbers and email addresses.
We had made an enormous amount of very good friends and had also made friends with a lot of other people that we will probably never see again. However, they all contributed to an amazing cruise, that will always be remembered fondly.
Most of the last day was just spent in a very relaxed fashion. One problem that we encountered that would be unlikely to occur on other cruises is that the ship sailed between Villefranche and Barcelona at a snails pace. We had one day and two nights sailing to cover what the ship could probably do in 5 to 6 hours.
This resulted in us cruising at less than half the normal speed. As a result, there was much more roll to the ship that day. I realize that they could not sail at normal speed without covering a lot of unnecessary sea miles, hence using a lot more fuel.
What I would have preferred is that the ship tendered overnight in Villefranche and only set sail for Barcelona later in the day. I’m not sure if that would be practicable, but it sounded like a nice alternative.
Late afternoon we went to pack our cases, keeping only one of our four bags for the last minute items that we would require.
Then we headed for our last sundowners at the aft bar before making our way to the dining room. We had a pleasant dinner; made sure we exchanged all the last minute email addresses and then headed to the casino for the last time.
I don’t think that we spent too much time there and were soon in our cabin for our last sleep.
This was to be the only day that we were booked to take a ships excursion. The reason was that we were flying to Heathrow at 16:00 and wanted to see a bit of Barcelona without dragging our suitcases everywhere. The alternative was to find a luggage storage somewhere, leave our bags there, walk and/or taxi to the places we wanted to see, then get back to retrieve our bags and then still get to the airport.
For only $50 each, we were able to load our bags into the coach, be escorted to the 3 places of interest on the tour and then get dropped with our bags at the airport.
The day started with us having breakfast with a few friends at 7.30 and then to the theatre for our disembarkation slot at 8:15.
This was very well organized with our colour-coded tags, but then we had to wait a very long time for our bags to actually appear.
Soon we were on our bus and headed off for a city tour, with the first stop at the Sagria Familia. It was rather impressive and our guide certainly knew the history of the building and of Gaudi, the architect. Too much history actually, we never thought he would stop talking.
He then gave us 20 minutes in an adjacent tourist gift shop; I guess he gets a cut of the commission because he warned us to stay near him in that shop and not to wander off anywhere else.
From there, the bus took us to the Gothic quarter and we spent an hour there, including a tour through the Cathedral, which was splendid.
Our last stop was on the hill overlooking Barcelona and that was also rather stunning. We would have loved to stay an extra day or two in Barcelona, as we had heard from friends that it was really a great place.
Alas, we were not able to, and so we were soon heading out to the airport, which we reached precisely at 13:00 as planned.
We had almost 3 hours to wait before boarding our plane, so we bought some Spanish rolls (they looked like Panini’s, which I thought was Italian) and local beer and settled on a bench outside the airport (the smoking thing, remember) to wait. The beers were really good, so we ordered another round and soon it was time for our flight.
It is always hard to pinpoint exactly when one’s holiday ends. It could be said that it is when you walk inside your front door, but for us, I think this was the moment, as we left Barcelona and started our long journey home.
It was just a short flight to Heathrow and then another 2 drink wait (almost 2 hours) for our 9 pm departure to Cape Town.
The 12 hour flight back home was uneventful, but certainly filled with sadness that our glorious holiday was finally over.
Roy Alger Read Less