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19 Dover to Europe - Western Mediterranean Cruise Reviews

My husband and I are both in our seventies and we have never considered a cruise with Saga before. The last five cruises we have have taken have been with Azamara or Oceania, but we were attracted by the idea of sailing on the Spirit of ... Read More
My husband and I are both in our seventies and we have never considered a cruise with Saga before. The last five cruises we have have taken have been with Azamara or Oceania, but we were attracted by the idea of sailing on the Spirit of Discovery as she seemed to incorporate all that we like about a cruise ship. We were absolutely delighted with the 14 day cruise around the Iberian peninsular. The weather was wonderful and everything about the ship lived up to expectations. We were collected from our home and driven to Dover, where embarkation was swift and we were shown to our standard twin cabin, which was very near the stern of C deck. I was a bit concerned that being so far aft might not be ideal, but the ship is so quiet and smooth it was not a problem at all. The balcony was a good size and was furnished with two upright chairs with cushions and a small low table. We wondered if there would be enough drawer space in the cabin, but there is so much room in the wardrobe we just hung most things up, as there were fifty hangers. Anything we didn’t have room for in the drawers stayed in our suitcases as there was lots of room under the bed for those. The bed was extremely comfortable with good quality sheets etc. It was nice to have a USB port next to each side of the bed and also a good reading light. After the safety drill, which for us took place in the Club, we went to make our bookings at the speciality restaurants. (It is also possible to book these by telephone at certain times during the cruise). There seemed to be no problem getting a table for two at each of the three restaurants. We enjoyed all three dinners very much, but perhaps we liked Coast to Coast, the seafood restaurant, the most. All the other evenings we ate in the Grand Dining Room on Deck 5, where the food was also excellent. We were able to have a table for two every night except one, when we sat at a table of 10. Breakfasts was either in the Grand Dining Room or, when we were in more of a hurry, in the Grill or the Verandah. The food was the same in both locations, and was very good. When the weather became very hot we tended to have lunch in the grill, where there was a delicious choice of salads as well as all the hot food which was also available in the dining room. We managed to resist afternoon tea except on a couple of occasions, but it was delightfully served every day in the dining room with a choice of teas and a glass of sparkling wine, as well as sandwiches, cakes and scones. It was also available in the Grill. We didn’t see all the entertainment, but we did see all three shows performed by the Spirit of Discovery Show Company; we thought they were very good indeed, with superb sets. We also saw two different shows done by the Opera Boys, and one evening when Jools Holland performed - all marvellous. The Playhouse is a beautiful theatre with room for over 400 people; the only thing that worried me was that there were a lot of people on board who had walking difficulties and they struggled with the steps in the theatre; perhaps space should be reserved for them in the back few rows. We did attend the very good destination talks by Alistair Guthrie, wine tasting with Oz Clarke, talks by cookery writer Jennifer Deeprose and talks by coroner Dr Peter Dean. The ORCA team gave a presentation about the whales and dolphins we might see and then they were on the observation deck during the days we were at sea. We had three sea days at the start of the cruise which gave us a good chance to explore the ship. The spa is beautiful; although we didn’t have any treatments we did use the lovely hydrotherapy pool. One of our favourite places to sit and read was the Terrace, which is at the stern on the Promenade deck. You can chose to be in the sun or shade there, and there are machines to help yourself to coffee or fruit juice. The identical coffee machine is also to be found in the Grill and in the Library. I have never had such good coffee from a machine before! The Library is a nice place to sit, and so are the Living Room and the Britannia Lounge. In fact, there is a huge amount of space, both inside and out, with masses of chairs and loungers on deck, in both the sun and shade. Our ports of call were Gibraltar, Cartagena, Sete, Barcelona, Alicante and Lisbon. We did not join any of the ship's shore excursions, but walked and made use of hop-on hop-off buses. All very enjoyable, but hot! We were interested to hear that the vast majority of passengers on board were all long time Saga enthusiasts and I now understand why. The crew are fantastic and look after everyone superbly. We very much hope to sail on this ship again in the near future; it really is lovely. Read Less
Sail Date August 2019
My wife and I sailed on the Star Legend leaving Dover and going to Lisbon. We stayed on the next cruise which was Lisbon to Barcelona. The first leg was a food and wine cruise which featured wine tastings every night and free wine with ... Read More
My wife and I sailed on the Star Legend leaving Dover and going to Lisbon. We stayed on the next cruise which was Lisbon to Barcelona. The first leg was a food and wine cruise which featured wine tastings every night and free wine with dinner. In addition there were free special events such as a fancy dinner at a top winery. The second leg also had special events as well. My wife and I have had over 30 cruises on many ships including Windstar and several luxury lines. We chose the Star Legend because of its itinerary, its small size, and we wanted to see how Windstar handled the Star Legend. There was a hiccup or two but in the end we felt it one of the best cruises we have ever taken. Guests on each leg of our trip were extremely friendly and the cruise staff were excellent. In particular, the Voyage Leader (Windstar's name for cruise director) Alina Moroz was excellent. She had an abundance of energy and made every guest feel special. If you sign up for a Star Legend Cruise make sure she is your Voyage Leader. Ram, our room steward was superb, as were the two ladies at the Reception Desk (who could handle any problem). Every one serving food and drinks were also great. A special shout out for Daddy, one of the senior food serving staff, who could always find your special foods. We enjoyed each port and the history that went with it. The deck BBQ's and dancing with the Officers were real treats. Read Less
Sail Date September 2015
for those of you considering a cruise with Fred Olsen, i can definately recommend it. I wasnt sure whether I would enjoy it or not - hence a mini cruise. The boat is not too big, but has plenty to do. The cabins are lovely and the one ... Read More
for those of you considering a cruise with Fred Olsen, i can definately recommend it. I wasnt sure whether I would enjoy it or not - hence a mini cruise. The boat is not too big, but has plenty to do. The cabins are lovely and the one we stayed in had Lots of storage space and kept beautifully clean. We dined in the Grampian and waitors there were so welcoming. The food was lovely with plenty of choice and the service was extremely good - best we have ever had to be honest. We had lunch in the palm cafe restaurant which is self serve, and enjoyed food from mussels to roast leg of pork, with cinnamon rice pudding, bread and butter pudding and peach cobbler to enjoy for dessert. Breakfast had everything you would wish for,and the cakes at afternoon tea were fantastic, although we only tried this once as we werent hungry after the first day. We didnt sample the late night supper but i am sure that would have been as good as the other meals. We dont normally go to the evening entertainment, but the start time of 10.30 meant we were able to get a seat ln both evenings and enjoyed some singing and dancing from musicals for the first night and then a really funny comedian the second night. We wanted to stay up and the watch a tribute to the jersey boys, but were just too tired, as it didnt start until 11.45. So if you are thinking of trying Fred Olsen - give it a go and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Read Less
Sail Date May 2015
This was our third "small ship" sailing and it did not disappoint. You get to know your fellow passengers and the staff so much better on these small ships than on the larger ones. The cruise was not without its challenges, but ... Read More
This was our third "small ship" sailing and it did not disappoint. You get to know your fellow passengers and the staff so much better on these small ships than on the larger ones. The cruise was not without its challenges, but was overall very delightful. We typically do Anytime Dining, but that is not available on the small ships. We were able to secure a table for 2 after the first night and had an excellent waiter who quickly learned our tastes and preferences and catered to them. Being a small ship with fewer entertainers, there wasn't a production number every night, but that was OK. The ones they did were excellent. Our 10 day cruise left Dover, and was scheduled to visit Le Havre (Paris), Algarve Coast (Portugal), Gibraltar, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Portofino and ending at Civitavecchia (Rome). This was our 4th European cruise and we stayed in London for 3 days before heading to Dover via a shared car. Departing Dover (and seeing the famous white cliffs!) was much nicer than departing Southampton. We did the Seine River cruise excursion in Paris which I highly recommend. Day two was a challenge - as we rounded Brest, France and left the English Channel we encountered several hours of very rough seas which caused the ship to shudder as we hit each wave and many passengers experienced some degree of seasickness. We had to skip the Algarve Coast (Portugal) due to a dockworker strike, but Princess quickly substituted Cadiz, Spain which we enjoyed. After enjoying Gibraltar, Barcelona and Monte Carlo we headed to Italy. The tendering at Monte Carlo was rather exciting as large swells came up in the afternoon which made it difficult to get the passengers back on board. Some people were on a tender for close to 45 minutes until they could disembark, but kudos to the Princess staff for handling it in a safe manner. Our next scheduled port was Portofino, but with high winds predicted and our tendering experience at Monte Carlo, the captain did not want another tendering incident so he quickly grabbed the last pier available at Genoa and docked there so people could still see Portofino via bus ride. Again, an excellent job of adjusting to daily circumstances! Unfortunately our scheduled excursion was cancelled so we rode the HOHO around Genoa, then headed back to the ship. After arriving in Rome we made our way to our hotel and enjoyed tours of the Vatican and Colosseum before flying home. ( With the two port changes, the shore excursion staff had their work cut out for them but they handled it very well and had replacement shore excursion information available in a timely manner. I do wish the buffet would keep desserts available later in the evening. When I'd go up for a late night snack around 11 pm, about all that was available was cookies. All in all, it was a very good voyage and Princess did well to accommodate the challenges as they arose. Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
we got a last minute cruise and paid for an inside cabin on the lowest deck because we have had some big bills this year ,but we were given an outside cabin, and it was lovely.people said we would not sleep at night for the noise , but we ... Read More
we got a last minute cruise and paid for an inside cabin on the lowest deck because we have had some big bills this year ,but we were given an outside cabin, and it was lovely.people said we would not sleep at night for the noise , but we heard hardly any , and the very low ""hum"" put us to sleep no problem. food was absolutely magnificent,as were the dining room staff ,the ship is beautifully laid out , and i found getting to different activities very easy..we got plenty of time ashore and even when we were put behind schedule due to having to go back into port due to illness, the captain made up the time and we arrived at our next port of call in good time. of the places we visited . ,toulon stands out as a really super place.with a fantastic supermarket and department store next to the footy ground , which is right next to the berth in the centre of the water front.,and swimmimg is a little town train ride for about five minutes. they go all day round the town ""hop on -hop off"". olsens ships may be smaller , but we met people every day ,from the day before , so most people knew each other by the end of the cruise . it was a great holiday .thanks fred. ..brian little Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
After reading the reviews on the Costa Deliziosa, we were worried that we wouldn't like it, but having already tried Royal Caribbean, Princess and Island Cruises I can honestly say Costa were far better than our previous cruises. The ... Read More
After reading the reviews on the Costa Deliziosa, we were worried that we wouldn't like it, but having already tried Royal Caribbean, Princess and Island Cruises I can honestly say Costa were far better than our previous cruises. The ship is immaculate, the staff were brilliant, very attentive and really nice, the food was excellent, good quality, served very efficiently and well presented and the entertainment was far better than RC or Princess. We embarked at Dover, with the cruise having started in Copenhagen, we were two of only 20ish english speakers on the passenger list out of 2600, the passengers were mainly italian and german, but we never had a single problem with language as a very large proportion of the staff were very good english speakers. We visited Le Havre (check out the awesome church), Vigo, Lisbon (stunning) Cadiz (where we went to Seville - again stunning) and Malaga, we ended up in Savonna where we flew back to Gatwick. Embarkation and disembarkation were very well organised. The highlights of the cruise were the animators who entertain the passengers around the ship with the hysterical Fabito who does candid camera stunts which are shown before the evening shows. The evening shows are glitzy, professional and nice with a crew x-factor type show which was lovely. The english hostess Rebecka was really attentive but not "in your face" and always available if we had a problem, which we didn't. I would really recommend Costa it is far better than the previous reviewers have reported. We will definitely use them again. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
This was my husband and mine third Disney Magic cruise but the first for our two daughters and their families. This cruise came about due to my mother leaving us a legacy when she died earlier this year and i couldn't think of ... Read More
This was my husband and mine third Disney Magic cruise but the first for our two daughters and their families. This cruise came about due to my mother leaving us a legacy when she died earlier this year and i couldn't think of anything more special than spending family time on a magical holiday Our first Tinkerbell sprinkling was our three cabins were upgraded from 3 gty Cat 12 cabins to 3 Cat 7 Navigator Veranda's - absolutely out of this world. Second Tinkerbell sprinkling was when we became Disney's family of the day and we were announced and we got to go through everything and be first on the ship - a very special event for all of us. The whole family just loved the cruise - both daughters are now blaming me for a new addiction - cruises!!! We loved the sail away party, us grandparents loved using Cove Cafe this time (we always do way but it was nice to get away and have some quiet time!!), the kids loved the kids clubs and the youngest grandson seemed to really enjoy the nursery. Our servers were fantastic and couldn't do enough for us - whatever we requested they went out of their way to deliver - the kids loved them and they seemed to love the kids. Our room steward was a star and he had an extra big tip for the way he looked after our three cabins so well. The shows that we went to were brilliant - the daughters really loved the nightclubs. Cherbourg was our first stop - didn't get off Vigo was second stop - see review Lisbon was third stop - see review Cadiz was fourth stop - I just LOVE Cadiz - its my favourite and my husbands too. love the back streets, the cathedral (don't miss going up into the tower for 4 Euros - the views are 360 and are incredible), the gardens, - just love it. This time we visited the beach as it was the first time any of the kids had been to the seaside - very hot but we had a lovely time. We were going to use the HOHO bus but there were other ships in port that day and the lines and wait time were stupid as there is no shade and we had three small children with us - so we got our money back and used taxis which worked out half the cost of the HOHO bus! Gibraltar was our final stop - see review Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
I have just returned from a holiday of a lifetime - it was fantastic!! As some of you may already know (I have mentioned it in plenty of reviews during the past few months , that I was going on a cruise) , and after waiting (impatiently) ... Read More
I have just returned from a holiday of a lifetime - it was fantastic!! As some of you may already know (I have mentioned it in plenty of reviews during the past few months , that I was going on a cruise) , and after waiting (impatiently) for almost ten months , the time arrived on Saturday 5th June and lasted until Saturday 19th June , and so my holiday has quickly and sadly been and gone! I had never been on a cruise before , let alone gone away from home for more than one week , let alone a fortnight , and now after a brilliant time , I am very sad that's it's over! So to help me get over my post-holiday-blues , I thought that I would share my experience with you!! (Just to warn you , it is going to be a very long review , as I have so much to say!) Right...where shall I begin............ from the very beginning I guess. So , last year , having never been abroad before , I was moaning that I wanted to go on a foreign holiday , so one day whilst out shopping , I walked into a travel agents and picked up a load of holiday brochures. My mum had always wanted to go on a cruise but hadn't been and so after flicking through a couple of brochures , was getting quite tempted to actually go. We then decided that it would be good if a group of us went (these were the very early days of the planning, and me like an excited child , was really hoping that the answer would be a great big yes!) So we discussed it with my sister and her boyfriend , and my aunt and uncle , and we were all (well I wasn't - I was all for it!) debating , shall we shan't we. In the end we decided on a two week mediterranean cruise with Royal Caribbean International. I was so excited when we had confirmed the booking , yet I still had ten months to wait for the time to come. When the day eventually arrived , we caught a bus not too far away , which was a 'link' to the ship itself. The journey to Southamton (we got on in Southamton , not Dover as I have put as the 'place of emarking' , it didn't have 'southampton' on the list , but wouldn't let me post my review if I didn't choose one of the places)took about four hours (I slept most of the way , and so I woke up just as we arrived at the port), there were loads of ships which we passed before we got to hours and I was thinking 'I think it's that one' , 'no wait , it's gotta be that one'. But when I finally saw the actual ship , Independence Of The Seas , I was gobsmacked - it was absolutely massive - in fact it was bigger than a lot of the big buildings by the port. I could not believe that something so big could sail the seas!) It was a beautiful ship ; very smart looking. * Boarding The Ship * Once we had got off the bus , we had to queue for a little while , and then check that our 'papers' and passports were correct before going to a desk where we had to hand in some paperwork. We were then handed our 'seapasses' (more of which I will come to later on). We then had to make our way through 'security' ; the same kind as you would in an airport , I expect ; putting your hand luggage through an 'x ray machine' and then walking through a kind of 'x ray frame'. We then had about a ten minute walk where we finally got to step onto the ship. Boarding was fairly straightforward and didn't take too long which was good news. We were told that it could take up until 9pm that night (by now it was around 4 o' clock) until we had our luggage , although when we found our cabin at about four , our luggage was there waiting for us outside the door. We had around thirty minutes in our room , and then we had to go to a 'safety thing' about how to put on a life jacket etc. Apparently the ship would not sail until everyone had seen the demonstration. As planned , we set sail from Southhampton at 4:45. When I first got on the ship and saw how big it was , I was a bit 'scared'. I was thinking 'oh my god - this place is massive, we're all going to have to stick together the whole time otherwise we may not see eachother for days. Before going , a lot of people who had been on cruises before had told me , 'it's so easy to get lost' and 'make sure you follow the corect carpet (if your room carpet is red , then follow the red carpet on the ship and then you will know that your cabin is in that area'. Well of course that panicked me , although after a couple of days , I knew my way around and so there was no way of getting lost. We were all on deck 6 and we were on one side and the rest of the group were on the opposite site. We had a meeting point which was the bit between the two corridors , this was the place that we always met , by the balcony overlooking the Royal Promenade. * Seapass* As I mentioned earlier , before boarding the ship , each person was given a little blue card which was known as the 'seapass'. This little card was the same size and made of plastic just like a bank card. On it , it had the name of the ship,your name , date of sailing , your cabin number, your designated area number (if there was an emergency etc) , the name of the restaurant you were booked at as well as your table number. So all in all this card held a lot of information about the passenger. Also , instead of using money , the ship uses a cash-free system. Whatever you bought onboard (food is included) , for example drinks , spa treatments or for buying souveniers in the onboard shops , you would pay for it by 'swiping the card' , which would then add the amount to your 'bill' which you paid at the end of the trip. I really liked the fact that you could use it to buy things , as it made it so much easier and meant you didn't have to carry money around on the ship with you at all. This card also acted as your room key , and also to 'clock you in and off' the ship. So it was very important not to lose it. * The Ship * The ship itself was absolutely massive , yet very smart looking. It is a fairly new ship , built in 2008 and cost £900 million to build! The ship is very smart in the inside , with a lot of artwork and paintings. There were a few glass elavators which were handy as sometimes if you were shopping on the ship's own street on Deck five and then wanted to go to the Windjammer (on deck eleven) for lunch it meant walking twelve sets of stairs. So taking the lift was the easiest option (although I did try and take the stairs when I could , until I twisted my ankle one day - being silly , I jumped off the bed and landed on a shoe - not clever at all). The ship had glass elevators so you could see the street and decks from the inside when you were going up and down. There were also 'closed elevators' where you couldn't see out , and I wasn't too keen on using these ones. At least if you broke down in the glass elevators (thankfully we didn't) at least people could see you panicking! The ship itself was very , very clean. There was always a member of staff cleaning the hand rails on the stairs or cleaning the floors. A couple of nights when returning to our rooms at about 11:30pm , I saw a member of staff hoovering the carpets - at that time of night -poor thing! * Cabin * Our cabin , was quite spacious. The room was spotlessly clean and tidy. The beds were the comfiest ever - I always find it hard to get to sleep at night and always sleep lightly , but on the ship , I don't know what happened to me , becaue the minute my head hit the pillow , I was fast asleep , and a deep sleep it was. I've never had such good sleep as I did on that ship - I think the slight movement helped). Because there were three of us , I slept on the 'sofa bed'. My first impression was 'oh no - it's going to be uncomfortable' , but that was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in! It did not look like a sofa at all at night - it was brilliant. The room had plenty of storing space ; a large wardrobe and plenty of draws and cupboards as well as mirrors with build in cupboards behind them on the dressing table. We had a shower (no bath) which was great , especially after a sweaty day in the sun - the shower was adjustable , and was easy to adjust (either hot or cold , and also you could choose which pressure you wanted). There was plenty of 'oomph' in the pressure of the water which was great. Tea and coffee were available in our bedroom , along with a mini fridge which included cans of coke , sweets and bottled water. To begin with , we were like 'don't touch the fridge - it'll cost us!' but towards the end , we had almost cleared all the sweets! We even had our own private balcony which was great , as you could see the sea , and whenever we were close to the ports , you could see the land getting closer and closer , and also when we were leaving the port , you could watch the sight of the land fade away. It was also a great place to relax outside , knowing that you had a 'bit of outside space to yourself'. No one could see you either which was nice , although if you popped your head round the side , you would sometimes see your neighbour if they were also leaning over the balcony. I absolutely loved the balcony , and would often sit there reading a book or listening to my music , not having a care in the world whilst watching the sea go by. The bathroom , although small , was still quite spacious with a huge mirror. We also had a hairdryer and tea and coffee making facilities which were replenished on a morning/night basis. We also had a televison with a great selection of channels ; sports , news , movies , music etc. The ship even has it's own channels including one which shows , events which have happened so far on the holiday ,as well as the shows , and also a morning programme with the ship's famous 'Joff' the cruise director , who 'presented' all of the shows. There was always an 'interactive' thing on the telly , where you could book an excursion , see what was coming up on the cruise , and even keep an eye on your bill , as well as loads of other things. You could even watch some of the latest movies for a price of $12. I watched Dear John. I had thought that $12 was quite a lot to watch a film , but then I realised , had I gone to my local cineworld which is an hours drive away , the cost of petrol combined with the £7 per person cinema ticket it would have cost around £30 for three of us to go to the cinema , and so for $12 , it was great value as we saved petrol , and all three of us got to watch the movie , so it worked out a lot cheaper than going to the cinema. We had our own room attendant , who was brilliant ; always friendly , professional and always had time for us. He did his job really well , and I felt sorry for him that every night he would have to turn the sofa into a bed for me , and in the morning change my bed back into the sofa , although when we returned from dinner at night , my sofa bed was always ready , and in the morning , we'd leave the room for about half an hour for breakfast , and then return to our room , and the bed would be back to a sofa. When returning from dinner , it was always a pleasure to see what kind of animal the room attendant had made for us using towels ; some nights we would have elephants , pigs , snakes and monkeys. * Food * The food on the Independence of The Seas was brilliant. The restaurants wee always very clean and the standard of cleanliness was very high. Before entering a food place, everyone had to sanitize their hands which I thought was a brilliant idea.There were so many choices of places to eat : * Romeo and Juliet Restaurant * This is the restaurant where we were automatically booked into when we booked the holiday. The restaurant was very posh looking and you could see the above restaurant 'Macbeth' above , and also the restaurant 'King Lea' which was above 'Macbeth'. It was like one big restaurant (3 floors - yet each floor had a different name and had a different menu and sometimes a different style of serving. ) It was in the Romeo and Juliette restaurant that we had our breakfast and dinner. Breakfast (Romeo and Juliette restaurant): You could choose where you wanted to have your breakfast each day. Most of the time we stuck to the buffet-style breakfast which was served in he Romeo and Juliette restaurant. Here , you helped yourself to the massive selection of cereals , pastries , fruit salad , cooked breakfast , cheese and meats and yoghurts. There was so much choice, and the food was always topped up right to the top. I am not a fan of cooked breakfast , although the rest of my group all had cooked breakfasts (bacon , eggs , mushrooms , beans , harsh browns etc) and could not praise the food enough. I myself would have fresh fruit (different fruits laid out in separate bowls ; different kinds of melons , grapes , pineapples - great for getting your five-a-day) , croissants , cereal such as Alpen and also there were muffins which I absolutely loved. Tea and coffee was brought to your table , and so was the orange juice. There didn't seem to be many other fruit juices available ; the waiter would come to your table and say 'would you like some orange juice' and if you didn't they would ask if you would like apple juice. I loved the orange juice though , as it was always fresh. Another 'toast waiter' would then come around with a basket of toast and ask you if you wanted white or brown. Throughout the cruise , the toast was edible , although it wasn't that nice - it was always really hard and had a funny texture , although I solved the problem by smothering it with plenty of butter and strawberry jam. Dinner (Romeo and Juliette) : We were a group of seven and had requested at the time of booking for a table of our own so that we could sit together. However , when we received our seapasses with the dining information on it , it stated that three of us were to eat in the Romeo and Juliette and the other four were to eat in the Macbeth restaurant. We went to see the restaurant manager who changed this for us and so on the first evening we had a table to ourselves. One you knew where your table was (at dinner , you sat at the same table every night , although breakfast , the waiters would find you a suitable table each day , and so for breakfast you sat on a different table each day - on the last day we had a window table which was fantastic!). So on the second night , we walked into the restaurant , making our way to our table , when we noticed a couple on our table , meaning that as the table was only set up for us seven, there wasn't enough room for all of us. The head waiter then came and explained to the couple what had happened (we couldn't hear what exactly was being said as we were too far away) , although the couple did not seem happy at all , although the head waiter was brilliant and we had our table back , which remained ours for the rest of the holiday. The food was brilliant at the restaurant ; of a very high standard. The menu more or less changed each evening although there were still items which remained on the menu most nights. There were about eight options for each of the three courses. The majority of the group are meat-eaters (including fish) and so it meant that they had a different starter and main course each evening , however , I am vegetarian and so is my mum , and we are quite fussy eaters too. I stuck with the ceasar salad most nights (consiting of crisp lettuce , parmasan cheese , yummy garlic croutons and a gorgeous dressing - I absolutely loved it!) and a pasta dish (I love pasta). On one or two ocasions there was other vegetarian meals available such as 'pastry tarts' which I tried one night - it was nice to begin with , but I found it became too much of the same taste and so I couldn't finish it. Although , there was nothing wrong with the food (we all agreed that it was wonderful) , it was just that I am a very fussy eater. On the other hand , the deserts were to die for ; sponge puddings , chocolate tarts , panacottas - they were all brilliant. Although , I love fresh fruit , I am not really a fan of fruity deserts , although I did try a 'berry mousse' one night - and it was one of the best deserts I have ever tasted! Also if you didn't want to put on too much weight during the holiday , there was also a 'special three course menu' where every starter , main course and desert all came to less than 800 calories - I tried this some nights and the food was of an excellent standard. * WindJammer Cafe * What a great place this was ; it was open from about 7am everyday for breakfast , right through for lunch and afternoon tea until 5pm and then it would open again at 6:30pm for dinner. The very popular , cafe is located on top of the ship at the back with fantastic views of the ocean. Foodwise ; there was so much to choose from. The food was served buffet-style and had something for every taste , whether you were starving or just in a 'picking' mood. Such food included roast dinners ,salads, pizzas , burgers , pasta , rolls , as well of a huge range of deserts. On days where we were getting off the ship to go exploring , we would sometimes get up early and go to the cafe for breakfast. Food available was served buffet style where you helped yourself. Although it was a great place , I prefered having breakfast in the Romeo and Juliet dining room as although they were both buffet style , at least in the restaurant a waiter would bring you juice,toast, tea and cofee and anything else you wanted. A waiter would come around with tea or coffee in this cafe , but it would be served tea-bag-in-a-cup style rather than in a pot like in the restaurant. I loved the Windjammer ; as it was always quick and you could go whenever you wanted ; there was always plenty of food to choose from and the dishes were always topped out ; they never seemed to run out of anything. The food was always of a high standard too. One thing which I did not like about the Windjammer , although this is by means no fault of the ship's , was the fact that some people were like pigs and would push in front of you even if you were queing. One day , I had been queing up for one of the deserts and as it was my turn , was just about to take a desert , when a man pushed in from nowhere , and said 'excuse me , can I just grab one of those' , and his attitude was so selfish ; he hadn't queued or nothing. People would very often push you out of the way too which was annoying. We found the nicest time to go was at about 4:30 as there wasn't that many people about then which was great. Also sometimes , at peak times , especially lunch time , it was hard to find a table , although there was always one waiter who would greet customers and get another waiter to find a suitable for us. They always found us a table very quickly and we were never left to wait more than five minutes. Once you found a table , the experience was great. What was also great was the fact that you could just grab a slice of pizza or a cake and then take it to your room or to the poolside to eat it. * Other Restaurants * There were also many other places were you could have food , such as 'Johnny Rockets' which was like an American-1950's style burger place. We went here one night for a change (there was an extra charge of around $4 per person at this place - most of the restaurants including the Windjammer and Romeo and Juliet restaurants as well as a lot of others were included in the cruise package which was good as it meant that you could eat as much as you wanted which was brilliant). If you like Italian dining , then there was an Italian restaurant onboard called the Portfino. Although to eat here , it cost $20 per person. I did fancy here but the rest of the group thought that beings as there were a lot of places that we could eat at , that were included in the price of our holiday , it would have been silly to have spent $140 between us for just one meal , and so we didn't go there. Although I would have liked to have tried it. There was also a 'meaty' restaurant called 'Chops Grille' which also charged around $10 extra , although being vegetarian , I didn't eat here. There are also numerous cafes down in the Royal Promenade , where you could obtain as much tea and coffee as you wanted for 'free'. There were also tea and coffee stands in various areas of the ships , although these were only available at certain times. * Bars * If you wanted a drink then you had many bars to choose from , and even at busy times , you would almost always find a seat. Some of the bars which we went to included the 'On Air' bar, which also did karaoke , where my sister and I sang a couple of times. They also had a 'private karaoke booth' where you could sing if the karaoke wasn't on. This place also showed the football on a big screen. Another bar which I loved was 'Boleros' ; a latin themed bar. There was a live latin band who performed there every single night and I loved their style of music and how they made their own 'Spanish sounding' versions of popular songs such as 'Sway' by Michael Buble. I also loved the Olive Or Twist bar which was located right on top of the ship and you could see 360 degrees around the ship ; it was brilliant. It was one of my favourite places to go in the day as it was always peaceful , and you could see all that was happening outside on the ship as well as the sea , so it was great. There was another bar called 'The Pyramid Lounge' which had an Egyptian theme. I didn't particularly like this bar ; there wasn't nothing wrong with it , just that it seemed 'out of the way' compared to a lot of the other bars which were located in the centre of the ship. When the football was on , this is one of the areas where loads of people flocked too to see a game - there was a good atmosphere here though, especially when England were playing. There were also a lot of other bars which you could go to , although the ones listed above are the ones which I went to the most. There was also a nightclub called 'The Labyrinth' on the show. I did step inside and it was full of smokers (one of the not too many places that smokers could smoke). I was really disappointed that they had made the club a 'smoker's place' as I love partying yet hate smoking , and because the club was absolutely full of smokers , I didn't go there again. * Staff * The staff were absolutely fantastic!!! They treated us as though we were royalty. They couldn't do enough for you ; always willing to help and nothing was too much trouble. They were always so professional , friendly , and a lot of them were also really comical too so that made our dining experiences entertaining. The service was always spot on , especially in the dining room. They would not let you lift a finger ; they wanted to do absolutely everything for you which was brilliant , although I did feel guilty at times especially when they said they don't get one day off and work all day every single day for six months!! We had two waiters at dinner who remained the same two throughout the cruise (for breakfast you always had a different waiter , depending where you sat) , the main waiter and an assistant waiter and they were brilliant ; so professional , yet very friendly. They really knew their stuff. Working in the hotel industry myself , I appreciate it so much more and with their excellent 'Gold Anchor service' I even picked up a few tips! The staff in the Windjammer cafe were also great ; always smiling and willing to get anything you wanted from the buffet (if you were too lazy to get it yourself). All staff aboard were great ; always friendly and saying hello if they met you in the corridor , even the ones you had never spoken too. Throughout our cruise we received a fantastic service. Everything about it was properly thought out and all made sense , which meant that everything ran smoothly. There was always plenty of staff around too , all working very hard. Everyone was lovely ; professional , friendly and ALWAYS willing to help which was great. *Tipping * Before we went on the cruise , a lot of people who had been before had warned us about the tipping of staff - apparently if you didn't say that you didn't want them to automatically add tips to your bill , at the beginning of the cruise , then they would go ahead and do this. So , at the beginning we made it clear that we wanted to choose the amount of tips we gave at the end of the cruise , as the suggested amount for each person (head waiter , waiter , assistant waiter and room attendent) added up to around $6 per person per day ,and did seem quite a lot. We were assured that unless we had signed a form in our room that said you wanted the tips to be added automatically to your room bill , then you wouldn't be charged. So on the last day , when we received the envelopes to put our own tips into. We all agreed on what we were going to give per person ( in total it added up to about $200 between the three of us for four members or staff). Although , later on that afternoon (before we had handed in our tips) we receieved 'vouchers' along with a letter type thing that said 'thank you for pre-paying your gratuities'. We weren't sure what this meant (there were four vouches which had our names printed on them so they were obviously for us). So we went down to enquire about it at the guest relations , and they said that we had indeed already paid the gratuities in the price of our holiday. We were a bit annoyed at first because we had preched and preached that we hadn't wanted this (although it wasn't the ship's fault , it was the travel agent's fault) , although when we added up what we had already pre-paid (around $60 from each of us between four members of staff) compared to the $200 which we were going to pay , it worked out less for us , and we were also relieved that it had already been paid as it meant we had more spending money left , and also , we weren't sure how much to give in the first place , so that solved the problem. We did however give the room attendent an extra $30 , especially when he told us that he would have to move all of the cases (there were hundreds of them , all laid out in the corridors outside people's cabins) in the night (and he had already worked most of that day). The staff worked so hard , so it was really worth every penny! So instead of putting money in the envelopes and handing them to each member of staff (4 in total) , we simply put our vouches in the envelopes and then gave them to them. I expect they would then have to hand in the vouchers in return for the money we had already paid for them. So although we were against pre-paying the gratuities , it did actually work out better for us , and also means you get it out of the way. Apparently the staff only get $50 per month (including their food and keep) , although they work very long hours , and for their whole contract (6 months , usually) they don't get one day off - so they rely on the tips as their income. * Shows * The Independence Of The Seas has it's own theatre called the 'Alhambra' , which is fairly big. Each night , there was a different show on. The ship has it's own entertainers simply known as 'The Royal Caribbean singers and dancers'. Whilst we were there they put on four different productions ; one was a circus , another one was about fairytales as well as others. The shows were brilliant and the performers were excellent. As well as the shows they did , they also performed in the street parades. The ship also had it's own live band ; who seemed to be involved with most things musical on the ship ; all of the shows , the street parades , the talent show etc. As well as the ship's own in-house-entertainers , there was also entertainers who had just 'called in'. Some of them were very good including a comedian who was very funny , and kept us laughing throughout the whole show. There was an elderly gentleman who sang , and he was brilliant too. Another good one was a comedy juggler , who was brilliant and so was the Motown band. There was one man though , who was an impersonator and he was really bad ; he was American and lot of the impersonations he did were of Americans from television shows and things like that , which we hadn't seen and ,so because we didn't know who these people were , we didn't know if he was good at impersonating them or not , and so the show was very boring. A lot of people even walked out that night. It was really cringy because no one was laughing either! Most of the time , the shows were fantastic , although my only criticism was the fact that they were too short. Each show only lasted around an hour and so they were over quickly. Apart from this , the shows were of a very high standard (apart from the impersontor man). There was also an ice rink onboard which also had their own shows , although because these were always on in the afternoon , because we had either been out in the ports all day we would go for a rest before dinner that evening and so we didn't go to see the ice shows. Also another factor was that , with the other shows you could just walk in (it was included in the price of the cruise) to the theatre , find a seat and watch the show. Although with the ice shows , you had to get a ticket in the morning of the day of the show , and so we had already gone out by then perhaps. One evening they did a show called 'The Love And Marriage Show' in the theatre. The show consisted of four couples hand-picked from the audience ; the men then had to answer embaressing questions about their other halves while they weren't there and then vice versa , and the other halves would have to guess what their partners had said. This was a very comical show!! * Activities * There were many activites taking place all day every day. Each night , you would receive a cruise newsletter called 'The Cruise Compass' which would tell you everything about what was going on the next day , including the weather as as well as certain onboard offers such as at the spa etc ,which was very good . There were hundreds of activites to choose from including ; Yoga , bingo , Quizzes , karaoke ; everything you could imagine. They even had a rock climbing wall and a Flow Rider which was a water thing which 'shot' out water so that you could surf. Great for kids! There was so much to do that in the whole two weeks , no way would you have had time to try everything! I had orginally thought when I saw that we had a few 'sea days' (days where we didn't get off the ship at ports) that we would be very bored with nothing to do , although there was soo much to do , that at times I actually prefered the sea days to the port days. We went to the karaoke one night and it was quite quiet there. There wasn't that many singers there. Me and my sister both sang , although I was disappointed with the songs available , as they were all pre 2000's songs and so there weren't many songs that we knew. We also went to the bingo session one afternoon. We go to bingo every couple or months or so , and so were looking forward to the session. Although we were really disappointed when we only played about four 'line' games and one 'house' game and so for about $30 we felt this was a bit of rip off as there was only about five chances of winning a prize. When we go to Mecca bingo at home , we pay about £15 and have about twenty-something games , so this one was a bit disappointing. Although I would have loved to have won the top prize which was to spend the rest of your holiday in the 'royal suite'. There were also other 'fun activities' which involved 'members of the public'. Such things included 'men's belly flop' competition , where they had to flop into the pool and the audience had to vote for who they thought made the biggest splash. The ironic part was , that there were five guys trying (four of which were quite big men) and a skinny guy and the skinny guy won which I thought was funny! There were a lot of sports facilities including table tennis tables , which we played a few times during our stay. You could also play football and basketball as well as go swimming in one of the many swimming pools. What was good was the fact that there were lots of little swimming pools and one section was for kids and then there was a more quieter area with pools for adults. There were also a few jacuzzis which were lovely and warm. There was also a pool bar which was good , especially at night as it was very quiet and relaxing. There were loads of deck chairs available on the top deck ; great for sunbathing , and most of the time we had brilliant weather. There was almost always deck chairs available , until the last day when there were hardly none left! There was also a 'help-yourself-ice-cream-machine' which I absolutely loved , and you could as many as you wanted! * Ports of Call * We went to some great places ; Gibraltar , Corsica , Cannes , Barcelona , Ibiza , Malag , Lisbon and Vigo. You could book excursions with the ship , where you could go on tours (you had to pay) or go to museums or things like football clubs. We never went on any of the ship's excursions and just did our own thing. I was really pleased with the places we went to especially ; Barcelona , Malaga , Lisbon and Vigo. The rest of the places we visited were good , although the ones I have listed above are the ones which stood out the most for me. When getting off the ship you had to use your seapass to 'clock out' and then on returning to the ship , you had to clock back in , and go through security checks ; you couldn't bring particular items such as food and drink onto the ship. * Photographs * There was always an opportunity for a photograph. The ship had it's own photographers , who were always buzzing about the ship. Whenever you stepped off the ship , the photographers would be waiting for you , (one would be dressed up in a special outfit depending on which place we were at - in gibraltar they were dressed up as a monkey , a bull fighter in Barcelona , a dolphin in lisbon etc) and you could have your photo taken with the 'mascot'. Your photos would then be available to purchase in the ship's own gallery which held loads of photos. You could also have you're photos taken every night around the ship with special backgrounds such as the ship , or on the stairs. On formal nights they would 'chase' you for a photo - sometimes even interupting your dinner for a photo. We had some good photos of all of us which we purchased at around $20-$30 per photo. Once we had purchased four photos , we had a 'free' photo album which was worth $39 so that was good! Throughout the cruise , they were always on about a dvd which the ship people had made during the fortnight and would be a great souvenier to take home as it contained great memories from the particular cruise (featuring clips from the shows , and the parties , and of the people). I thought 'oh wow ,that sounds good' and so bought a copy of the DVD for $30! However , I managed to watch it for the first time last night , and it was a load of old rubish! Yes , it did feature clips of the shows and clips of the passengers dancing in the parties and so on , although it was more like a 'promotional dvd' which you can get free if you request from cruise companies (I had had some free through the post from P&O cruises and Ocean Village , before we went) and this one was exactly like one of those as it said 'this is the so-and-so - we are open from 8-4 every day' kind of thing , and so I felt it was a complete rip off , telling me about what I already knew! * Royal Promenade * Believe it or not , the ship has it's own 'street' with shops and cafes. You would not believe that you were on a ship , but would think that you were really shopping on a real street. There aren't that many shops (just small shops such as a 'general store' which sold sweets , medication and souveniers , a women's clothes shop , a men's clothes shop , cafes , Ben and Jerry's Ice cream shop as well as 'travel agents' where you could book your next cruise' , and once you had been in them once , you'd seen it all. One good thing about the shops was the fact that they were 'duty-free'. The shops were sometimes closed whilst the ship was docked , and would then open when the ship was back at sea. At night , 'parties' would take place on the Royal Promenade. The first 'party' was good ; it featured two of the cruise's professional singers and they were brilliant. Although as the cruise went on , these parties became 'boring'. There were these bridges/stages that came down from the roof. There would be music playing (they would have special nights such as British rock etc) and then they would have members of the entertainment teams (not the actual singers and dancers - but the ones who would help out at events such as bingo and karaoke etc) and they would just be dancing and jumping up and down , and the crowd would just be looking at them , and so I thought that this was very boring and so I didn't watch these parades after. * Extra Points and tips * Beforehand , we had worried that we would get sea sick ; although it did take us a day or two to get used to the ship's movement , we were absolutely find. One or two nights it was a bit rocky although we felt safe onboard. We took 'travel bands' which really helped on the first day. Although sea sickness didn't affect us at all. We always made sure that we left at least an hour before we were supposed to get back on the ship , when visiting ports , as the ship wouldn't wait for anyone. When we visited Cannes , there was a group of people who weren't back on the ship at the time the ship was set to sail , the captain said that they would wait twenty minutes for them and no more (as the ship was being charged to park at the port). I don't know if they did get back on in time or if they had to fly to Barcelona to meet the ship the next day. So it's better to leave the ports a little early in order to get back onto the ship in time. Before the cruise I shopped and shopped until I was certain that I wouldn't be able to fit everything into my suitcase (luckily I was). I was sure I didn't have enough clothes for two weeks ; I took about eight different pairs of shoes and only ended up wearing the same two pairs throughout. I also didn't wear half the clothes that I took with me. There was also an onboard laundry where you could send your dirty laundry for a small price and then they would return your items to your room which was good. The best time to go swimming was at around 6pm as there were hardly no people there at all , just the odd one or two. However in the day it was proper busy and quite noisy at times too . If you are going to buy sovenieres then I recommend that you do so on the last day rather than at the beginning of your holiday , as there was a big sale at the end of cruise ,especially on jewellry and perfumes , so it is worth waiting. With over 4000 passengers onboard as well as over 1,300 members of staff , you would have thought that it would have been overcrowded , but the truth was it wasn't (apart from the Windjammer at busy times). There were some real great places which were very peaceful , including the very front of the ship , on the top deck after 6pm (when everyone had either gone to dinner for 6:30 , or gone to get ready for dinner at 8:30). Before going , a lot of people had said that a cruise was a holiday for old people ,so I was a bit like 'oh god', but I can honestly tell you that there were more people in their twenties and thirties than old people. Although having said that , there were people of all ages from , babies , toddlers , kids , teens , adults and seniors. It really is the perfect holiday for everyone! If you're in a group , it's a good idea to have a meeting point. So if you do happen to get split up from everyone , it's a good idea to say 'if we lose someone , head to the 'meeting point' (whether it be outside a shop or bar) on the hour' , so say that you 'lose someone' and it's 12:45 , then you would be at the meeting place to meet at 1 o clock , if that makes sense. Before going I was worried that I wouldn't have enough spending money to last a fortnight , and was thinking 'oh my god , I'm going to need at least £1000. In the end I took around 400 Euros with me and that was more than enough - I think during the whole two weeks , I only spent around 100 Euros , and that was off the ship , mainly buying tickets to go on tour buses , entries into places like caves and museums and for souveniers , and so that proves that you don't need that much money with you at all , although it wise to make sure that you do have enough. Everything you bought onboard the ship with your 'seapass' , which was linked to a credit card , was taken out of your bank account at the end of the holiday. * Overall Experience * We had a fantastic time ; all seven of us agreed that it was a brilliant experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything about it was wonderful ; the food , the staff , the cabins , shows , ports , ice cream machine , jacuzzi , bars ....everything was perfect!! We paid around £1300 each for a room with a balcony and it was well worth the money. At first it did seem a little expensive , although when we were actually on the ship it was obvious that it was well worth the money when you think about all that was included : Unlimited food : (breakfast , lunch tea , and dinner as well as 24 hour buffet) , including a three course meal every night (if you had gone to a restaurant it would probably have cost £20+ per person). All of the ice cream we had at the pool (if you would have bought it in a shop , each cone would have cost at least £2 each , and we had loads here) The top shows ; In all , I think we saw about nine shows. Imagine if you had gone to see a show at your local theatre it would have cost around £20 per person per show (actually more probably as the performers on this ship were World class). There was so much more included although the above are the main ones! So all in all it was excellent value for money! * Highly Recommended * I would definately recommend the Independence Of The Seas ; it was fantastic , a real holiday in a lifetime , and now that I have arrived home after two weeks onboard the brilliant ship...it's horrible , there was so much to do onboard , so many people and great company , and now it just seems really boring and lonely after being surrounded by so many people for a fortnight !I really can't wait to go again! Time to start saving some money for another cruise I think...........! Thanks for reading! Apologies for such a long review (it's not often I write long ones!) June 24th 2010 xdonzx Read Less
Sail Date June 2010
My wife and I just returned from a great two weeks in Europe with many thanks to the crew of the Carnival Splendor. We have sailed previously with Celebrity and Princess, and honestly, had some degree of apprehension about sailing ... Read More
My wife and I just returned from a great two weeks in Europe with many thanks to the crew of the Carnival Splendor. We have sailed previously with Celebrity and Princess, and honestly, had some degree of apprehension about sailing Carnival. Most of our fears were unfounded. Our trip began with a day pre-cruise in London at the Park Plaza County Hall which we booked through Carnival. The transfers were first class (no bus) and the hotel was great location, friendly staff, nice room. Although our time was limited we got to see tons of sights, shop at Harrods, eat fish and chips at a pub, and ride the London Eye. The next day we took the Carnival transfer to the ship in Dover. Embarkation was incredible. No lines, no waiting, luggage handled by Carnival. We were on the ship and having our first "celebration" drinks before noon. We did not hear the announcement to not go to your cabin, so we did and found ours ready when we boarded. We had SPA cabin 1116, which we chose because it has an extended balcony. The cabin was pretty standard for what we have come to expect for a balcony cabin. THe access to the spa which it afforded was GREAT. We used the T-Pool and thermal suite at least once per day. We also did the couples Rasul mud treatment which was fun, and found the gym uncrowded all the time. We also enjoyed the spa bath amenities. Since we usually book aft cabins, it was amazing how quiet our room at the front was. The ship was clean, bright (to an extreme), easy to get around. We enjoyed the casino and never found it too crowded. We frequented the coffee bargreat coffees and sweets. Mini golf was very nice and fun. The main pool is the nicest I have seen...we were fortunate that they had the option to slide the roof closed for those cold days. However, the huge poolside tv shows nothing but Carnival promos most of the day and is only used for a few concerts and movies at night. Why not use it during the day?? The waterslide was fun. There seemed to be plenty of deck chairs to go around. The piano bar looked like fun, but was it FILLED WITH SMOKE. We were able to switch to a table for two in the Gold Pearl dining room late seating. We had excellent service, found the food to be OK (dessert was lacking), and we really (much to my surprise) enjoyed the singing and dancing of the maitre d and waitstaff. Our biggest gripe about the ship was the lack of food in the afternoon (when we typically returned from excursions). The buffet was open until sometime between 2 and 230 and did not reopen until 6. The grill and pizza were open but terrible. Room service was pretty bad too. So, after a long day ashore we would return to the ship at 4 and have nowhere to eat. We were also really surprised at the lack of activities on the ship during sea days. I figured Carnival would have way more to do!! Instead, the activities offered did not approach what we typically see on Princess. Finally, though we had one tender port (Cannes) Carnival did a terrible job with the tenders. It took way too long to get off the ship...no excuses. PORTS: Our first port was Le Havre (gateway to Paris) and we booked Paris on your own through Carnival. Since there was almost a 3 hour ride to Paris, we did not want to risk it through an independent. Our guide on the bus did a great job helping us plan our time in Paris. She showed us metro routes, and gave advice on the best way to see the most. Again, in our 5 hours there, we were able to see the Louvre, the Eiffel tower, the Arch, eat crepes, shop at Louis Vuitton, and explore the city. We were very happy with our day. In Vigo Spain, we chose to explore on our own. We found the town to be great. Easy to get around, lots of restaurants, most shopping closed due to it being a Sunday. We had a great seafood lunch, shopped for wine, and enjoyed the Powerboat race which was going on during our visit. In Lisbon, Portugal we began with some sightseeing along the waterfront and then took a cab into town for some shopping. We visited a port wine center to purchase some local product. We were not too impressed with Lisbon. Malaga Spain we did a walking tour on our own. We saw the Cathedral, the fort (what a long walk but worth it for the view), the bull ring, and lots of the city. It was very nice. We also visited a supermarket for some water (.30 e) and snacks. We went to the Picasso museum which was great. We found our first Dunkin Donuts (coffee). We did a tour through Carnival in Barcelona. Some good, some bad.. We enjoyed the trip to Cordoniu Cava cellars where we were able to learn about the winemaking process, saw the history of Cava, and were able to taste and purchase some of their cava. That part of the tour was great. The rest (a tour of the Olympic village) was kind of annoying. We did see Gaudi's cathedral, which was amazing. We loved the French Riviera and the port of Cannes. We explored the downtown area on our own in the morning. Went to the outdoor market, shopped, explored the marina. We took a tour to Nice and Eze in the afternoon which was great. We visited a beach, shopped, went to a perfume factory, experienced great views... We would love to go back for a vacation. In Livorno Italy, we took a tour of Pisa and then went to a winery. I could do without the tower. First, way too crowded. Second, not that tall. I always imagined this huge tower, not even close. We were not impressed. The winery was fun. We met some really cool folks from the ship and had a great time eating and drinking. We booked our first day hotel in Rome through Carnival, and used their transfers off the ship. Debarkation was pretty smooth, everyone was off the ship by 9. However, after having made no announcement for our debarkation group, John (CD) made an announcement telling us that we had 10 minutes to get off the ship..could have been done better. Our first hotel was the Parco Dei Principi. A first class (5 star) hotel which was nice, but in a terrible location. It was a 12 e cab ride to get to a part of the city where you could walk to the sights. Our second hotel, the Palazzetto degli Artisti Suites was in view of the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Though not 5 star, we couldn't have been happier with the location and experience. We were able to spend our first day in Vatican city, where we took a tour of the museum and sistine chapel. Day 2, we planned a walking tour of the sights and monuments. We were able to execute our plan with a map and some bravery in the face of Roman traffic. Rome is an amazing city, there is so much to see. We concluded our tour with a tour of the Coliseum and Forum which was also great to see. Overall, we had a great time. I am a beach guy who had almost no desire to go to Europe. After experiencing the sights, history, and food, my mind was changed. I am glad we took this trip. For their part, Carnival was well represented by the Splendor, which is a really nice ship. Though the "party crowd" would keep us from ever trying Carnival in the Caribbean, if we ever go to Europe or Alaska, we would not hesitate to use Carnival again. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
Embarkation This was the strangest one that I've ever experienced. I should probably say that first of all this cruise actually commenced 3 days earlier in Copenhagen but MSC were selling it as commencing in Dover for the UK ... Read More
Embarkation This was the strangest one that I've ever experienced. I should probably say that first of all this cruise actually commenced 3 days earlier in Copenhagen but MSC were selling it as commencing in Dover for the UK market. When I arrived at the port by taxi, I asked the driver where I should drop off my luggage and was told that it was normally just beside the entrance but it was closed. I then went in to the terminal itself, only to discover that there were no check in desks open (Check in was from 2pm onwards and I arrived at about 2.15pm). There were signs pointing to the ship and a steady stream of passengers returning to the ship. I decided that there was no other option but to follow them onboard along with my luggage. When I reached the port security just before the gangway to the ship, I explained that I didn't have my cruise card yet and there had been no one downstairs to check me in or take my luggage. He radioed to the ship and they told him to let me through as they were checking in onboard as they were only expecting 10 passengers in total to embark in Dover. As soon as I stepped onboard, one of the security staff came over to assist me, showed me where to leave my luggage and got another member to escort me to reception where they checked me in, in just a few minutes. Within 15 minutes of arriving at the port I was in my cabin. My suitcases were delivered to me 5 minutes later. Although this was the fastest embarkation that I've ever experienced it was certainly also the most unusual Ports of Call I don't do shore excursions. This is not a reflection on those provided by MSC but rather my aversion to getting up early whilst on holiday and being shepherded about in a group. I'm far too independent and I prefer being on my own or with a few friends to being in huge groups. I've also travelled fairly extensively in Europe over the past 30 years so my preference now is just to wander about for a few hours and feel the atmosphere of a place, rather than rush around trying to see every monument or tourist site listed in a guidebook. So anyone expecting lots of detailed information on any of these ports had best read someone else's review! After departing from Dover we had another day at sea before arriving at La Coruna on the morning of day 3. The seas had been a bit rough at times, but I was fully expecting this. La Coruna - we docked right in town. so no local transport required. It was only a few minutes walk to reach the waterfront promenade and as it was a lovely sunny day, I chose to wander along it for a few hours rather than head in to all the hustle and bustle of the shops in town. Lisbon - we were meant to arrive at 11am but didn't arrive until 12.30 as we'd made slow progress the night before due to heavy seas. The captain agreed to stay longer in port so we still had the same time in port. I've been to Lisbon many times before but this was the first time I'd arrived by sea and I particularly enjoyed the sail up the Tagus River which gave great views of the city skyline. It was amazing sailing under the 1966 Ponte (Bridge) 25 de Abril. As we approached it, it looked like we did not have much clearance room but we passed under just). I was standing on my balcony and being on Port side had a fantastic view all the way in. Lisbon is a beautiful and old city albeit extremely hilly. The best way to get up some streets is the trams or the public elevators dotted around the city. Most scenic tram ride is the 28 east from Baixa up to Graca and passing the magnificent 12th century Se cathedral and Igreja de Santo Antonio the 15 takes you along to the Torre de Belem and the fantastic Monasteiro de Jjeronimo (not to be missed). Other things of note are the Castelo de Sao Jorge (great views from up there) and the Panteao Nacional. If you are interested in things equestrian, you may also enjoy the Coach Museum which contains numerous Royal Ceremonial Coaches dating back several hundred years. If you have time to spare and are in port long enough, take the train out to Sintra. It's an absolutely beautiful place, so much so that it's classed as a world heritage site. There is a tourist bus service that leaves from the station and takes you up the very steep hill to first of all the Moorish castle ruins that have a great lookout over the valley below and then on to the fantastic Palacio de Pena (a Disneyland fairy tale castle has nothing on this) It closely resembles a many tiered pastel colored wedding cake. Unfortunately the inside is not as spectacular as the outside. It's very pleasant at the outdoor cafe on one of the esplanades near the top. The bus then heads back in to the town itself where you can not only enjoy the Palacio Nacionale but just wander around the many beautiful winding streets. You can also do the route by horse drawn carriage ride if you prefer. If you prefer the beach then catch the train along to Cascais or Estoril Gibraltar - didn't go ashore here as we docked in the evening and I didn't want to miss dinner and then later on didn't want to wander about in the dark on my own. We docked right in town and it looked just a short walk along the waterfront to the main part of town. I was a bit disappointed as it just seemed to have modern concrete buildings. Perhaps there were older ones with more character lurking behind! Malaga - we docked as expected at 8am, although I did not go ashore until later. I was glad I'd purchased a ticket for MSC's shuttle bus service (4 euros and you could use it as many times as you wanted to and from town). The docks were very large and industrial and I doubt that I'd have found my way out easily to the port Entrance. The ride in the bus (or rather buses) took about 10 minutes and ran every 15 minutes or so. Malaga is a very beautiful old city and I decided to treat myself by having a horse drawn carriage tour of the city and waterfront. It was well worth the 30 Euros. The commentary was in Spanish but I quite enjoyed this as I'm learning the language and was good practice for me. El Parador and El Castello were particular beautiful as were the many parks and the beachfront.... Another day At Sea followed and I stupidly had thought that now we were in the Mediterranean and well clear of the infamous Bay of Biscay, that would be the end of the rough seas. Boy was I wrong. We had the worse weather this day, so much so I ended up having to take seasickness tablets and lie down for a couple of hours. What was most annoying was it was the second gala night and I adore dressing up and having the cocktails, champagne and all the razzmatazz. I made it to dinner (minus the high heels, fortunately had a full length dress to hide the flat sensible sandals) but could not have any alcohol because of the tablets so had to forgo the champers. Dinner was great though Olbia (Sardinia) - as my research had informed me that Olbia was a commercial town with not much to interest a tourist; I'd planned on a taxi ride to a nearby beach. Unfortunately the weather although dry and sunny just wasn't warm enough for a day on the beach, so I decided to have a quiet lazy day onboard instead Genoa - final destination. As I've been here before, I decided to book a lunch time flight so I could get back to Edinburgh the same day without the need for an overnight stay in London. Cabin I booked a suite as these are the only cabins to have a balcony. It was located port side towards the front of deck 10. The balcony has 2 chairs and a table and is fine for 2 people but would be a bit of a squeeze if there were more than that. Unlike some suites it doesn't have a separate bedroom from the living area, just one long room (about the same width as a standard cabin but double the length) There is a sofa which I think converts to a sofa bed), coffee table, mini bar with cupboards either side and the TV. The bed is queen size (although can convert to 2 twins). It has a bedside cabinet either side. The wardrobe is much larger than the standard cabins and is the walk in type. There is also a dressing table that is fitted with 2 European and 2 US power sockets. The mirror opens out to reveal yet another cupboard and the mini safe. Along side the wardrobe are 2 further full height shelved cupboards with a large mirror and glass shelf unit in between. The bathroom is the same width as a standard cabin but longer, so has an additional cupboard in the vanity unit below the sink and has a bath rather than just a shower. The bath is not huge but at 5'7" was absolutely fine for me. I certainly appreciated it the days we had extremely rough seas, as I don't think I'd have managed to stay standing up having a shower! In addition to lots more space, other extras in the suite are a real hairdryer with diffuser attachment (rather than the horrible wall mounted variety with the bendy hose) and robes. I found the bed extremely comfortable and whilst I would have preferred a duvet rather than sheets and blanket, the bedlinen was of a good quality. The cabin was well maintained and my cabin steward kept it spotless. I liked having a fresh fruit bowl too which was regularly replenished. Bars and Lounges There are a number to choose from both day and night. La Canzone del Mare, La pergola & vitamin bar - all deck 11 on the pool deck and open air. La pergola opens from 7am- 8pm and the others open a little later. They serve a range of soft drinks, beers, virgin cocktails, cocktails and spirits and coffees. You can also get smoothies and juices at the vitamin bar. You can either sit at the bar or sit nearby and have waiter service. Coffee Corner - deck 6 aft above the reception area. Wide range of teas and coffees (including hot, cold and liquor). Also serves full bar menus of soft drinks, spirits and cocktails. It's a nice meeting point and a great place to people watch I strongly recommend the Amaretto cappuccino. Sometimes has live music in the evening. It's open 6.30-1.00am and is completely non smoking Lord Nelson Pub - deck 5, stern below the theatre. It closely resembles a British pub but I would not recommend it, unless you are a smoker as it is the smoking bar. Opens 7.00-1.00am The Beverly Hills bar - very pleasant lounge that has a programme of live music and other entertainment (musical quizzes, art auctions etc) It is surrounded by the shops. It has a small dance floor and opens from noon until 1am. I quite liked this lounge pre or post dinner as I enjoyed the live music, especially the classical trio that often played here. Non smoking Las Vegas Casino Bar - on deck beside the casino (as I'm sure you will have guessed) It also has live music, especially for dancing too. It has a reasonably sized dance floor. It's open from 7pm until late (anytime after 1am depending on how many passengers are still around). Although it doesn't serve drinks during the day, it's quiet a nice place to sit in peace and have a chat or read. Also non smoking L'Atmosphere piano bar - midship deck 6 handy for the smaller Ippocampo dining room and directly above the entrance to the main dining room la Bussola, It specializes in Martinis and has live music all evening (but just to listen to as there is no dance floor). Open 5.00pm-1.00am. This was my favorite as I loved the atmosphere (pardon the pun) of it. The bar staff were exceptional here and nothing was too much trouble for them. As well as having an extensive list of cocktails, they'd also create ones for you based on what they knew you liked. Non smoking. Lirica Lounge - the main show lounge directly above the theatre. Has live music and dancing every evening as well as a variety of other entertainment hosted by the young and energetic Entertainment team (cabarets, competitions, games, talent shows etc). The captain's cocktail parties are also held here. Opens 9.00pm-1.00am. Non smoking The Blue Club Disco - aft deck 12. Opens from 6pm until late (after 1am depending on when passengers leave). It has a chocolate bar. The disco music doesn't start until 11.30pm though. Drink packages Soft Drinks - 28 euros - 14 drinks Small beers - 32 euros - 14 beers Large beers - 63 euros for 14 Honeymoon Special - 2 cocktails, 6 non alcoholic cocktails/smoothies and a bottle of Asti spumante served in your cabin - 61 euros There are also wine and cocktail packages available but I did not note the prices. Restaurants and Food Breakfast - You can choose from continental served in your cabin 7-10am but needs to be ordered before 3am), buffet in le Bistrot on deck 11 (6.30-10am)or a la carte breakfast in the main dining room (6.30-9.30am). If you can't wait for your caffeine intake there is early birds coffee served from 6-6.30am or if you rise too late then try either the lord Nelson Pub or La pergola (deck 11) where they serve croissants and brioches 9-12.00, I didn't use the buffet at all on this cruise as I prefer waiter service of the dining room. The choice there was reasonably extensive with a variety of fruit juices (carton variety rather than fresh squeezed), fruits, cereals, variety of bread, rolls and pastries (I particularly recommend the pain au chocolate - avoid toast as they don't make it like you'd expect - stick to the fresh bread, rolls etc). You can have eggs pretty much anyway (the omelettes are very nice as is the scrambled eggs), bacon (bit on the crispy side for British tastes, ham, sausages, potatoes of the day usually sautEed), grilled tomato. They also have smoked salmon which you can have on its own or with cream cheese and a bagel. You can have pancakes too and they also have yogurts. Lunch - if you want to dine in the open air on the pool deck, then your choice is the pizzeria which makes a variety of excellent pizzas or the grill serving hamburgers, hot dogs, and salads both open from 12.00-6.00pm. There is also a gelateria at the opposite end of deck 11 serving a selection of fresh made ice creams (very good but are not complimentary) from 11.00-5.00pm. There is also the buffet on deck 11 from 12.00-2.30pm or the main dining room 12-1.30pm. or occasionally 2; Lunch in the dining room has a selection of 6 courses available - appetizers; salad; soup; pasta and rice: main; dessert. Meals at lunch time tend to be more international than in the evening. I particularly liked the variety of soups especially the chilled consommEs and fruit soups (very varied and absolutely delicious). Appetizers were invariably good and very varied. Pasta was always good too, although the rice dish which was usually some kind of rice salad, which could be a bit bland or dry on occasion. Main courses would always include eggs (e.g. omelette. Eggs Benedict; a fish dish; meat and a sandwich (which could be on ciabatta, foccacio or just bread) they always have hamburgers, cheese burgers etc available too. Desserts always include the ice cream of the day as well as sugar free alternatives and fruit is also available. On the whole I enjoyed most meals. Sometimes the food was warm instead of hot. I was less keen on the chicken dishes, simply because they do not use boned pieces and I can't be bothered trying to get the meat off the bones, especially when it is smothered in a sauce. Afternoon tea - is served 4-5pm. They have a selection of teas (Prince of Wales; Assam; English; camomile; peppermint and a few others) Coffee is also available. The cakes, and biscuits are Italian and may not be what Americans or the British are used too. Dinner is served in the dining rooms at allocated tables. There are 2 sittings; I chose the second at 8.30pm as the first at 6.15pm was too early for me. Dinner also has 6 courses available which are less international, usually with the food from a different region of Italy each night (although on a longer repositioning cruise of 18 nights earlier this year, they did do themed dinners from other countries e.g. Mexico, Asia, France, Spain etc) they also have grilled salmon, chicken or steak available every evening and spaghetti Bolognese, if you don't fancy the main courses available. We had 2 gala dinners in the 8 nights we were onboard. I had a fantastic waiter who looked after me extremely well. I was closest to his station, so this may well have been the reason that my food was far hotter than I'd experienced on previous cruises with MSC. I'm also pleased to report that the beef was greatly improved. I was almost reluctant to order it as I'd experienced the shoe leather variety on previous sailings but am pleased to report that I had it 3 times (filet mignon; cooked in wine and cold roast)( and it was tender and tasty on all occasions. Like lunch my favorite courses were the appetizers, soups and pasta although I also enjoyed the risotto too. Most main courses were either good or ok. I rarely had a dessert but when I did, usually the ice cream or something lighter like mousse or crème brulee, I enjoyed them. Midnight buffet - served from 11.30pm every night had a different theme. Can't comment on this as having just finished 4 or 5 courses an hour earlier, could not contemplate eating again. Crew For me the real stars 9as always on MSC) were the dining room, bar and cabin crew. My waiter was exceptional, he always was waiting to greet me and assist me to be seated. He went out his way to make me feel special with a variety of napkin sculptures rose, peacock to name but a few). If I left anything on my plate or seemed to be eating slowly, he'd be over in a shot, offering to get me something else. One night, I stupidly told him that crème brulee was my favorite dessert and ended up with 2 which I just could not mange after 4 other courses). He'd always give me recommendations as to what was best that evening. One night my main course arrived at his station a little bit early as I was still finishing my previous course. Rather than serve it anyway, it was discarded and he sent for another one, to make sure I had a hot meal. The bar staff were exceptional too, especially Arif in the piano bar who made friends with all passengers regardless of age or nationality. He was very skilled at making cocktails and would invent a few others for his regulars. He also made animals out of straws and played games with the children. He managed all this and kept the bar running incredibly efficiently often unaided by his assistant who was sent away on breaks or to help out elsewhere. My cabin steward done a great job too, cleaning my cabin twice per day and regularly replenishing my fruit bowl (he noticed which kinds I preferred and started to give me more of those and less of the others) and always took time to talk to me. Even the other stewards on my deck always spoke when you passed them (and usually more than just a Good Morning or Afternoon). They would ask what sort of day you'd had and when the weather was rough if I was feeling ok. Form previous cruises with MSC I knew that the Italian Officers and Reception staff were usually aloof and often unhelpful. However on this sailing that had improved too. Whilst I would not say that the reception team were as friendly as the other crew, they'd certainly thawed their frosty attitude to pleasant and were also helpful and polite. I also had to see one of the officers about my account and he was absolutely charming. Entertainment There were 2 showings of the main show in the Broadway theatre each evening to coincide with the end of each dinner sitting. The theatre itself is beautiful and has good sight lines regardless of where you sit. The shows had to cater for 6 languages so tended to be either visual acts (such as cirque oleil style acts; magicians; dancers; or musical (also includes a classical concert). I only went to a few shows but enjoyed the ones that I went to. My favorite was the classical concert which consisted of a good Italian tenor accompanied by a trio from Eastern Europe (pianist, violinist and flautist). Have to say this was my favorite. There is live music ever evening, throughout the evening in a variety of lounges. Some just to listen to and some to dance to. On the whole they ranged from ok to good. There was usually some kind of entertainment hosted by the very energetic group of young Italians forming the Entertainment team going on day and night. Day time tended to be dance lessons, quizzes and bingo (in 5 or 6 languages); competitions and games on days at sea there were also Italian lessons, arts and crafts and other demos and talks) Gym, Spa and other facilities The gym had only 3 treadmills (and 1 was broken) and 3 bikes, so you often had to wait a while to get on them at busy times. They had a good range of free weights and weight machines and here were never queues to use them. The gym is situated right at the front of deck 11 beside the spa and you got great views from up there. It did however mean it also felt the motion of the ship the worst when the sea was rough. Next door was a sun lounge which most passengers had not discovered as it was usually always quiet. The sauna and steam room were here too. I used the spa a few times and can recommend the Balinese massages especially the hot stone one. Not cheap but very good. Watch out for specials in the daily programme. They have a hairdresser too, the pool is salt water and not heated, so is fine when in hot weather but can get a bit chilly. The pool area itself and deck above have lots of sun loungers available (which are all fitted with an adjustable face shield). At busy times it can prove difficult to find a bed as passengers hog them by leaving towels on them. It can also get fairly noisy around the pool area as much of the day time activities take place here. If you fancy some peace and quiet, then head for the small deck areas aft from deck 8 upwards to 12. It is much easier to find a bed there. There is also a small library (although only a small selection of English books) card room, very well equipped medical centre (with extremely proficient and friendly staff), casino; slot machine area; cyber cafe; photo shop and a variety of other shops (clothing; Colombian Emeralds; duty free; perfumery; electronics and a limited range of toiletries) There is also a children's club on deck 11 but as I don't have children, can't tell you anything about it. There is no self service laundry onboard, but they do have a laundry service which is quick and good. They do a special on the last few days of the cruise where they drastically reduce their prices in their (let us do your laundry for you before you go home promo) Disembarkation We were supposed to vacate our cabins and be in our meeting points by 9am. Breakfast was being served from 6.30 onwards in the dining room as normal and slightly earlier I think at the buffet. Room service was suspended that morning (which is the norm with MSC). We docked at 9am as expected and they started allowing groups to leave around 9.30am. I knew that I was in one of the last groups, so expected to have a bit of a wait. My group was called at 10.15am. getting off was relatively simple as the system of only allowing so many off at a time, stopped hold-ups at gangways and in the baggage hall, so all went relatively smoothly up to this point. The next part was a complete nightmare. I made it outside the terminal and headed for where I'd been told the taxi ranks was. Only it wasn't a rank with the usual orderly queue of passengers waiting. Instead it was a complete free for all with no qs - and taxis stopping all over the place and just picking up whoever managed to push themselves to them first. As one of the few single passengers and with 2 cases and slightly visually impaired, I had absolutely no chance against the groups of passengers. I lost count of how many times I was pushed out the way. At first, I was not too worried as I thought "well, I'm just going to have to wait until last". However more and more passengers kept coming out of the terminal and I needed to be at the airport by around 12 and it was already just after 11. At this point I started to get really worried and a bit upset that I was going to miss my flight and have to find a hotel for the night and hope that I could buy another flight for the following day. Fortunately at this point 3 Italian ladies noticed that I was getting upset and offered to share a taxi with me as they were also going to the airport. Now that I was part of a group of 4, we got a taxi within 5 minutes and I arrived in good time for my flight home to Edinburgh via Gatwick. So anyone making their own arrangements to leave from Genoa be prepared to do battle in a scrum or be incredibly patient if there are a lot of passengers also making their own arrangements to get home. Overall Opinion Great cruise despite the sometimes uncooperative weather. Had exactly what I wanted a very relaxing time, being waited on hand and foot by fantastic friendly staff who could not do enough for me. Also pleased to observe the improvements in the quality of the food especially the beef) and the temperature at which the food was served was much hotter than previously. Only small blot on a wonderful experience was the debacle at the taxi rank in Genoa which MSC could hardly be blamed for. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
We thought our Carnival Splendor vacation was awesome! The food was good, the shows were great, our cabin was spacious, the staff was perfect. We could not have asked for a better cruise. The Carnival Splendor decor is not as bad as some ... Read More
We thought our Carnival Splendor vacation was awesome! The food was good, the shows were great, our cabin was spacious, the staff was perfect. We could not have asked for a better cruise. The Carnival Splendor decor is not as bad as some people think. Yes, its very pink but I liked it alot. The pictures along the cabin hallways were cute. Like old fashioned pictures from the 50's or something. We spent most of our time in the casino and sports bar on sea days. Our weather was not as warm as we would have liked so we only spent one day by the pool in the jacuzzi and thought it needed to be a little warmer. Sept is the perfect time to cruise, the weather was nice and not alot of kids running around. We only had 31 kids on board and probably only saw three of them. The ship itself is very nice although our group decided we liked Royal Caribbean's Voyager class better. The Splendor seems to have alot less deck space since they use alot of it for the retracting roof. I think this would make a good Alaska Ship since the majority of things to do are indoors. Even the Lido pool seems to be indoors when the roof is retracted. The adult only pool in the back was crowded the whole time. I was surprised by how many people were in the pool. I would have thought the water would have been very cold, but I never tried it. The water slide looked fun but not as big as some of the other carnival ships and the water park area was hidden between two walls and I never saw a single child playing in it. One of our few complaints from my boyfriend was that the Sports bar did not show any american sports. The bartender said that the satellite wasn't able to pick them up. So we watched skynews the whole time. With it being football season we had one unhappy camper in our group! Embarkation and debarkation were both a breeze. We did their self-disembark and basically were the first 4 people off the ship. Totally the way to go if you can carry your own bags. We did do the Pinnacle super club and thought it was a little overdone. The food was good and if you're into all the presentation of food etc you'll like it. We all ordered the surf and turf and my boyfriend wanted the larger NY strip steak instead of the 4 oz filet and they wouldn't budge on that so he went away hungry. The Lobster had a good taste but it was tiny. We all thought the ceasar salad in the main dining room was better then the one they fixed in front of you. The deserts were ok, but nothing that special.. Boyfriend ordered apple pie thing and said he thought the apples tasted bad. My desert had four little dishes and they were pretty good. I can't remember what it was called. The ports of call that we had were Lehavre, Vigo, Lisbon,Malaga, Barcelona, Cannes, and Livorno. Vigo is probably the prettiest port of all. Tall hills on either side with lush trees and doesn't look industrial like the other ports at all. We did a tour of Vigo and Bayona which was alot of fun. Lisbon we just walked around the shopping district and got bored and ended up back on board early. Malaga we did a panoramic and tapas tour. It was good. Barcelona we hung out on La Ramblas people watching and drinking beer. Cannes we did a tour to Nice. It was nice but rainy. Livorno we did a wine tasting tour which was a load of fun. So overall it was a great vacation. Well worth the money and we would definitely do it again! Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
First time cruising for both my husband an me....Trepidation of what to expect!! Arrived by car to Southampton to be faced by the 'mother of all liners'. Transfer from car to ship was efficient and effortless, even when my ... Read More
First time cruising for both my husband an me....Trepidation of what to expect!! Arrived by car to Southampton to be faced by the 'mother of all liners'. Transfer from car to ship was efficient and effortless, even when my husband had to return to shore after realizing he'd left his wallet in our car (men for you!). Baggage took a number of hours before it arrived at our stateroom, which incidentally, was totally practicable and comfortable (exceeding a lot of 4* hotels we have stopped in). Food and Dining - Firm believer in having the opportunity to 'dress up' for evening dinners, the Independence has the structure perfectly set up with 3 formal nights and 2 smart casual and the rest being casual. Ship and facilities - Beyond belief!!! The Independence promises so much in the brochures and delivers with aplomb. Three days of intense investigation (never mind the shoe leather), just to gain an impression of the ship and what it has to offer. It is beyond description!!! Destinations - Some good, some indifferent. Villefranche was the showstopper with Cannes and Monaco, Vigo was extremely disappointing especially as this was the last port of call before arriving home. Entertainment - Luxurious surroundings in the Alhambra theatre sadly let down by the quality of the live shows. We could never quite understand why better quality of entertainers could not be engaged by RCI. Disappointing!!....Never mind the multitude of different bars and their associated themes made up for this. Staff - Overall, more than I expected. Majority of staff were kind and courteous and always presented a smile on their faces. Only area that did not reflect this was during the breakfasts in the main dining area, service there was occasionally lax bordering on the disappointing (wrong orders, late service of tea....And the toast...Yuk!!). Evening dining - Probably our biggest grievance (see below). Positives - The Independence of the Seas promises so, so much in the brochures and only just fails to deliver across all spectrums. RCI have a wonderful asset to their cruising portfolio with the addition of this ship. Whether you are a couple or a family with children, then the ship will deliver the majority of your aspirations with ease. This, I can only applaud RCI for. Negatives - Surprisingly few. However, the area around dining is a fundamental concern. Catering for upward of 1500 guests per sitting at dinner did represent challenges to RCI that sadly they missed. This was not reflective of their wonderful chefs or the supporting waiter service but is a more deep routed problem around Logistics. The bigger they build these ships the greater the logistical challenge faced...One that I feel they are destined too lose, especially with the advent of their latest liner next year! Overall - If you are happy o accept the few culinary failings then the Independence of the Seas is the holiday for you. It is magical beyond belief..... Would I do another??...Darn right I would! Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
We left Los Angeles around 6 p.m. Saturday and arrived in London at Noon on Sunday. The flight was uneventful (the best kind) and all our luggage arrived with us. Spent the night at the Sheraton Heathrow (Internet Special of 48.5 pounds) ... Read More
We left Los Angeles around 6 p.m. Saturday and arrived in London at Noon on Sunday. The flight was uneventful (the best kind) and all our luggage arrived with us. Spent the night at the Sheraton Heathrow (Internet Special of 48.5 pounds) and it is a perfectly decent place to spend a night. The next day we took the Hotel Hoppa back to Heathrow and picked up the NCL coach to Dover. Check-in had an issue in that there were so many Latitude Members that check-in in that line was actually longer (we went over to the regular check-in; however, we boarded early with the Latitude group). They should have redirected some personnel to address the issue or directed the Latitude members to use the regular check-in lines. Once aboard ship we were able to store our carry-on luggage in our room and began to explore the ship, it's big and beautiful in a rather gaudy way (lots of bright colors and some funky furnishings such as bright yellow velvet lounges for two in the Spinnaker Lounge). The tennis/basketball court is full size with bleachers! The bowling alley is four lanes in the midst of the Bliss Lounge (a nightclub atmosphere) We had lunch at the Garden Cafe. DH had fruit and I had a taste of their Indian Vegetarian offerings (Dal, Baigan Bharta, Rice, Papadum and some Cilantro Yogurt), which were quite good. The Garden Cafe is set up for many things to be prepared to order and there are a couple of coffee stations with machines to make regular and decaf Lattes, Espressos and cappuccinos (there is also one of these machines in the Outdoor Grill). Another nice touch is the Soft-Serve machine in the Garden Cafe and Outdoor Grill; however, they either broke down or they ran out of ingredients as they were both "out of order" about halfway through the 11 day cruise. Our inside cabin is small, but adequate for two. I don't think I'd want to have someone using that third bed. The bathroom has a real shower with a sliding door and the closet had enough hangers for all our stuff (perhaps we have finally learned to pack light). We ate dinner at the smaller Main Dining room called Magenta (rather bright in daylight hours; however, quite attractive in the softer evening lighting). The two main dining rooms share a menu and the other included restaurants are the Garden Cafe, the Italian restaurant (La Cucina), the Tex- Mex Restaurant (Tequilas), the 24-7 restaurant (Blue Lagoon), the Tapas Bar and all the outdoor facilities (open as weather permits). For extra you can eat French (Le Bistro), Steakhouse (Cagney's), and Asian, which includes Fusion, Teppanyaki & Sushi facilities. Anyway, we split a bottle of Spanish Cava (the Spanish answer to Champagne) and I had a Mushroom Caramelized Onion Crostada (outstanding), a Mixed Green Salad, Skirt Steak, Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bavarian Cream cake and a cappuccino. DH had a Smoked Salmon appetizer, Caesar Salad, Grilled Mahi Mahi with polenta and 3 scoops of ice cream. Parts of the meal were outstanding (the appetizers) and nothing was bad, however, the skirt steak was a trifle chewy. Of course, this is the very first "long" cruise of the Gem, so some kinks are expected. We had some free Champagne at the Art Auction (bought nothing) and went to the evening's entertainment (introduced one of the Lounge Acts, a guitar playing singer, and the magician who will have a longer show later in the cruise. Generally we had breakfast in the Grand Pacific. The menu is the same every day and while there are a variety of choices, we missed the Cooking Light breakfast selections that used to be available on NCL. We also had breakfast on a few occasions at the Garden Cafe and enjoyed their made to order omelets. On our first sea day I went to the Cruise Critic meeting where I had a long conversation with the Cruise Director and put faces to the names of several people from the message boards. I had another lunch of the Indian Vegetarian dishes (Garbanzo Stew and a Cauliflower dish) from the buffet and DH waited for the appetizers from the Latitudes party. This one had more than the usual free champagne and rum punch as they added wine and beer to the offerings. However, it was still too early to drink for us (we are officially middle-aged!). We are having the good fortune of calm seas in the Bay of Biscayne (rather unusual, even the Captain commented on our luck). We had a lovely dinner at La Cucina (one of the included specialty restaurants). It started with selections from the antipasto trolley and was followed by sharing a California pizza (goat cheese, artichokes, peppers, sausage, pinenuts and other yummies) and pasta pesto. DH had salmon and I had manicotti. We could not eat everything and had to skip dessert! Shocking, shocking, shocking. In Vigo we took the excursion to Pazo de Oca and Santiago de Compostela: Up early for a quick breakfast and then it was hurry up and wait as we had to dock very slowly due to low water. This caused a 40 minute delay in setting out for Pazo de Oca and Santiago de Compostela. The Pazo comes from the same root word as "palace". However, it is a Country Manor house of the Galician nobility. This one has a lovely Garden that the "oversell" by calling it the Galician Versailles. We drove from Vigo (Europe's largest fishing port, but not a lot of sights) through some lovely green countryside (Galicia is the part of the country known as "Green Spain") to get to the Pazo and take our garden stroll. From there we went to Santiago de Compostela. This is the third holiest pilgrimage in Christendom after Jerusalem and Rome as tradition states this is where St. James is buried. In any case, it has a beautiful cathedral and many pilgrims still walk, bike or ride a horse a sufficient distance to become official pilgrims. We saw lots of pilgrims at the cathedral as we arrived during noon Mass and the place was packed even if this is a Wednesday. This was followed by a traditional Galician lunch. Tapas of grilled peppers, fried cheese with ham, the Galician sandwich (onions & chicken), followed by salad with tuna and eggs, roasted beef, potatoes and veggies all served with both red & white wine and ending with coffee and their traditional almond cake plus the traditional spirit (similar to Italian Grappa; however, steeped with coffee beans and fruit) It is known for the "burning" and it is said to drive away the bad spirits and witches. In any case, it is strong stuff. We actually would have preferred to have them take a few dollars off the price of the excursion and to make it on "on your own" lunch or roam around the city period. Oh well. We were not that hungry for dinner after that big lunch so we decided to go to the Blue Lagoon for a "light snack". Of course, that snack turned into a dinner of some very yummy Chili and a plate of fish & chips (tasty; however, the fish had clearly sat on a steam table as it had lost its crispness. To be fair they offered to make up some new fish fillets for us). In Lisbon, we took the excursion to Evora as we have toured Lisbon before. Evora is a UNESCO world heritage site as most of the Medieval City has been preserved. This is the place where the St. Francis Church has one chapel completely decorated with Human Bones. It is supposed to be a place of meditation and states at the front "Our bones lie here in wait for yours". There is also a Roman Temple, a Cathedral that goes from Gothic to Romanesque, lots of other churches, palaces and forts and remains of the city walls. Plus the maze of streets (thank goodness, we had a guide to orient us). After we saw the main sites, we were on our own and we tried the local specialty for lunch. It is a Fish Soup that is also full of garlic, coriander and olive oil. Back on the ship we had dinner in Tequilas. We both had Tortilla Soup (absolutely delicious) and Vegetarian Enchiladas (made with flour tortillas, so really more of a Burrito or a Flauta). DH also had a Caesar Salad (extra anchovies, of course). We had some Dos Equis with this meal. I had the yummy Berry Tostada for dessert (almond wafer cookie filled with mixed fresh berries that at our waiter's suggestion was topped with vanilla ice cream. FYI: Thomas our waiter was someone we first met on the Spirit and he is just terrific). DH just had some Coffee ice cream. Dinner was followed by the evening's entertainment, a juggler who is an 8th generation performer going back to the very early Circuses. He was very good and very funny (a bit politically incorrect in his banter). DH thought he was not as good as the juggler who performed on our very first NCL cruise several years ago (this is our 5th NCL cruise). Gibraltar: This was a short port day (11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). Therefore, even though we have been here before, I signed us up for a Gibraltar in Depth Tour. We had a great guide, 10 years in the British Army and the mother of 5 boys, so she knows how to keep a group in line! She also really knows her history. We took the cable car up to the Top of the Rock and there were lots of monkeys hanging around including a family group with a 7-week old infant. One member of the group apparently did not hear the guide when she said to eat your food in the Cafeteria and not walk out to the deck with it. She came out eating a Mars Bar and it was a scene from "When Monkeys Attack". The Monkey won and just gobbled down that Mars Bar. DH referred to the event as "the Monkey Mugging." We also went into St. Michael's Cave and The Great Siege Tunnels with lots of walking between the Top of the Rock, the Caves and the Tunnels, so I got my exercise in. Anyway, either I forgot a lot from a trip in the early 90s or this Guide was just so good that much of what we saw seemed new. We went back to the Italian venue tonight as the Main Dining Room menu just didn't strike our fancy. Once again the meal was quite delicious and the soup (Pasta e Fagioli) was outstanding. The comedian who performed tonight was rather funny (at least to Americans, I understand that many of the Brits on board were not amused). At Sea: I had another nice light Indian vegetarian lunch at the Garden Cafe. Today there was a Dal (Lentil) and a vegetable dumpling in gravy along with Lemon Rice. Of course, one of the outdoor grills (the weather has been great, knock wood, so all the outdoor venues have been operating) has a German/Austrian buffet today with an Oompah Band playing. So if I wanted something really heavy, there is all this goulash, wursts and kuchen available. They also have a Soft Serve ice cream machine (one in the Buffet and one outside that run pretty much 24-7 and regular ice cream will be scooped for you from lunch through the evening). I found a book that I wanted to read in the Ship's Library. The day continued with relaxation and fun, Bingo, reading, playing games and eating. We had dinner at one of the main Dining Rooms. We both had French Onion Soup and Caesar Salad. Bob had the vegetarian main dish (an eggplant, lentil thing) and I had Corvina (a white fish) with roasted fennel and crushed potatoes. We both had Chocolate Cheesecake. I think DH is finally getting the hang of vacation as he also decided we need to head up to the buffet and taste a few more desserts (bread pudding, carrot cake and ice cream). Tonight was one of the production revue shows. This one had a 70s theme, which will be followed by a Disco party later tonight. However, we were sleeping by the time of the Disco party. Earlier in the day, I went to the comedian's "lecture" that was about the healing nature of laughter and the things that are funny in real life. Day 8 -At Sea: It was another day of reading, relaxation and eating. Tonight we went back to the Tex-Mex Restaurant where our waiter from the Spirit (last year's cruise ship) is now working. We shared an order of Mexican Spring Rolls and we both had the Tortilla Soup. We then had a dinner for two called El Popo. It's basically a fancy presentation of Fajitas. The norm is made with Chicken & Beef; however, for us, it was made with Chicken and Shrimp. We also had a bottle of Cava (Thomas remembered from last year that we liked Cava). I had another Berry Tostada with vanilla ice cream. DH held out for tonight's Chocoholic Buffet; however, he was disappointed in the offerings. We went to the show and ended up leaving early. We really enjoyed The Second City last year; however, the troupe on this ship is very lame. We had a lovely day in Naples. We took the Corsa Italia from Naples to Sorrento, past the beautiful views of the Bay of Naples and the picturesque villages hugging either the coast or the cliffs. Glad someone else was driving. Although that road was never really made for a tourist motorcoach. We spent some time walking in Sorrento, which is quaint and almost a movie version of an Italian village. We went to a farm in the cliff area to see the Lemon and Olive Trees and learn about the making of both olive oil and cheese. They fed us lunch at the farm (3 kinds of cheese representing different levels of aging, some cured meats, crostini, tomatoes and pasta with tomato/ricotta sauce, followed by Lemon cake). They also included their wine and tastes of the liquors made on the farm, which included Limoncello and Cream of Melon (you can really taste the cantaloupe flavor). From there we went to Pompeii. It is quite amazing and certainly was incredibly preserved by the volcanic eruption. We've now completed the "three great preserved Roman cities" as we've been to Ephesus in Turkey and Jerash in Jordan. Pompeii is definitely the most complete of these cities. I know we only touched on the edges of all there is to see in Pompeii. Then again the excavation began before the USA was even a country and it is still not finished. Because we had such a substantial farm lunch, we just had some beers and Tapas in the Ship's Tapa's Bar for our dinner before going to the show. We enjoyed tonight's entertainment, it was a salute/recreation of a Nat King Cole show. The singer was very talented. Civitavecchia (Port of Rome): We had a "do it yourself" day. We got off the boat around 8:30 a.m., walked to the train station and caught the 9:02 train from Civitavecchia to Rome. It took about an hour and ½ to reach Rome's main train station. The trains from Civitavecchia use the last few tracks that we could not figure out how they connect through the main station, so we ended up walking outside the station. In any case, we got to the front and began our walk around Rome. We found the Trevi Fountain (it was in scaffolding the last time we were here), the Spanish Steps (only had a "drive-by" sighting on our prior visit), the Pantheon, the Victor Emmanuel/Unknown Soldier Monument and other sites of interest. We also got a real feel for the city just walking around its very busy streets. I don't think I ever heard so many sirens (DH says there were more in NY). However, given the way people drive and walk (both ignore the traffic signals), I'm amazed there are not more accidents. I played "travel guide" in Spanish! I don't know why this woman thought I spoke Spanish; however, she came up to me and asked "El Pantheon, es cerca?" Anyway, I told her how to walk there. We had our favorite European ice cream bars (Magnum) for "lunch", a Double Chocolate and a Vanilla with very dark chocolate. We hopped the train back and were back on board around 5:30 (all aboard was 7:30; however, we were not going to "risk" a later train, so we had about 5 hours in Rome). We were supposed to leave port at 8:00 p.m.; however, 6 people were still missing (we saw 4 of them arrive in a speeding taxi when we went outside to walk on the deck, not sure if the other two ever made it, they might have needed to take an overnight train to Livorno to meet the ship the next day). We had a really delicious dinner in the Magenta Main Dining Room, we both had Spinach Salad with Candied Walnuts, grapes & pears, Bob had them make an appetizer serving of the goat cheese ravioli and I had a really wonderful Mushroom Bisque. I followed my soup with Chicken Stew and Bob had Braised Cod. We both had the Chocolate Lava Cake and vanilla ice cream. YUM! Day 11 - (Livorno for Pisa and/or Florence) Excursion to Pisa & Lucca: We got up early and left for our tour of Lucca and Pisa right after breakfast (this time I had the healthy oatmeal and DH had an omelet). Lucca is where Puccini was born and lived. It still has these huge city walls (with a park and a street on top of the wall as a result of changes made by Napoleon's sister who he put in as the ruler of this city). She also opened up several squares by removing buildings and such, including removing the houses that had been built in the middle of the old Roman Amphitheater (she left the houses that were built into the walls (using the walls of the amphitheater as one of the walls of the house). It is another one of those medieval cities of tiny, winding streets that create quite a maze. Lucca was a very rich city due to silk and there are 99 churches in a very small area (some are right across from each other; they were not needed, it is just a status thing). We visited the Cathedral, it seems Pope Alexander II was from Lucca so when he became Pope they began really making a fancy cathedral with a different facade. However, it did not get completed as the Plague hit Lucca and 3/4s of the city died as a result. There is a crucifix in the cathedral that was said to be made from the wood of the original cross. After it was sent for carbon dating, it was found to be only 1200 years old (as opposed to 2000 years), so now it is just a legend. One of the other signs of status in Lucca was building tall towers on your house. A law was passed that no house tower could be higher than the tower of city hall or the cathedral. This led the family that was the richest to build a tower as high as allowed and then to plant trees on top to make it taller! From Lucca we went to Pisa. Our "lunch" was some incredibly delicious Gelato. Mine was Bacio (chocolate & hazelnut), Bob had "plain" chocolate. So rich and wonderful. Of course, what can one say about Miracle Square with the Baptistery, Cathedral, Leaning Tower and Monumental Cemetery other than to say that it is truly a beautiful collection of buildings. The road from Pisa goes by an American base on the way to Livorno. Sitting on Plastic chairs between the road and the fields are various "professional" women waiting to "greet" the troops. One had a trailer, the others must just get in the car with the soldiers driving by and head for somewhere in the fields. They were waving to the bus as we drove by. Dinner tonight was outstanding. We ate at La Cucina, the Italian venue, which very nicely does not have an additional charge. We started with our selections from the Antipasto Trolley. I had marinated mushrooms, mozzarella & tomato with basil, Parmesan with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. DH had the same plus sardines (poor baby, no anchovies). We both had the Pasta e Fagioli soup (the soups on this ship have been excellent). We shared an order of Linquini Putanesca (about the best we have ever eaten) and also a Pizza Sierra Nevada (pesto sauce, olives, arugula and other stuff although we replaced the air-dried beef with pepperoni). We shared a bottle of Cabernet and also had some yummy desserts. I had Tiramisu and Bob had cheesecake. We also split some Macadamia nut ice cream We really got decadent tonight. The crew did their "Norwegian Family" song tonight and we caught it at the end of the first show as one of our Room Stewards was performing it at the first show. We caught the rest of the production show at the second performance. In Nice we took the city tour and Excursion to Eze Village. We tendered into Nice. Fortunately the seas are calm and the sky is sunny so no problems in the tender process. We began with an orientation drive of Nice, driving by the seaside Promenade (the English Promenade, named for the first tourists), the Negresso Hotel, the two casinos, the war memorial and the beautiful villas. We visited the Russian Orthodox Church which was built by Russia's last Czar for all the Russian immigrants living in Nice. It is quite a beautiful structure. We stopped at the Flower Market in Old Nice. It is really an open air market where they sell everything. Although I have to say that the flowers are beautiful and the blooms are quite large. We also walked along the promenade and checked out the Nice's first theater and some of the other nice buildings as well as the fountain in Messena Square. This Square was recently redone because they had to rip it up to put in a tram. It was a good thing we arranged a tour today as the trains are on strike. We even got to experience a demonstration of the strikers. It looks like they are against privatization and want to be paid more. From Nice we drove up the mountains to the Village of Eze. There are two hotels in this village. You have to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up. One hotel uses donkeys to bring up your luggage and the other uses porters. What surprised me was that until 1930 or so when an American paid for the building of a public fountain, the only water in the village was brought up by donkeys and there was no running water in the houses or shops until 1952, a year after I was born! (guess, that makes me officially "older"). While it could be quite charming, some of the effect was diluted by the shops. They also did something odd, they put in bricks in the middle of the cobblestone "roads" as those are less slippery, except that if you used the handrails (where those existed), those were on the sides forcing you to walk on the slippery cobblestones! Anyway, I would not have included Eze in my list of the 1,000 places to see before you die; however, it is in the book and now we have seen it. I cannot imagine living in Eze and walking those winding, mountain, cobblestone, medieval streets on a daily basis. I would probably fall at least once a week (no, I didn't fall today). We were going to have another ice cream lunch in Eze; however, the proprietor never came out to scoop the ice cream and the small grocery called Mini-Casino was closed at lunch. We had a lovely dinner in Tequila's, the Tex-Mex venue where our favorite waiter is working on this ship. We split the Latin Spring Rolls (sort of an extra big chicken taquito or a small fried burrito) and we both had the really yummy Tortilla soup (the soup maker on this ship is outstanding). DH had Cesar Salad and the Seafood Kabob and I had a salad tostada (without the chicken) and shrimp fajitas. We had a bottle of Prosecco (Italian Sparkling Wine) to toast our final night aboard ship. We both had the Berry Tostada (fresh berries, creme anglaise in an almond cookie shell) with vanilla ice cream. DH and an espresso and I had a cappuccino. Back in the room we split the small bottle of cream of melon liquor that I bought DH back in Sorrento. I went to the Passenger Talent Show and then met DH for the last night's entertainment (a piano player). Then I packed up and put the main luggage outside our room before we went to bed. Barcelona: After disembarkation, which went very smoothly, we caught a cab (and were probably overcharged about 10 Euros for the trip) to our hotel, which is a converted convent on a side street off of Las Ramblas. It has a beautiful courtyard/atrium. The rooms are quite Spartan (perhaps as originally designed for the nuns); however, it's a great location and the price is right (75 Euros per night). We oriented ourselves to the city by taking both routes of the Bus Touristic. We also walked Las Ramblas, spent some time in Placa Catalunya as well as a visit to Barri Gothic and the Gothic Cathedral. We also spent time in La Bogueria yesterday. What an amazing marketplace. Although I think that I would end up a vegetarian if I tried to purchase meat where whole dead pigs, chickens and rabbits are on display. Dinner was Sangria and Tapas (DH also had a Beer). Barcelona Day 2: Today was devoted to Gaudi. We had breakfast of Churros & Chocolate at Cafe de Opera. Tomorrow before catching our plane we'll just eat the continental breakfast that is included at our hotel. However, we thought we should not leave without having some Churros and Chocolate. We spent the morning at The Sagrada Familia. That Gaudi masterpiece will not be finished in my life time. The midday was spent at Parc Guell and the afternoon at La Pedrera, that apartment building of curves, wrought iron and a most interesting roof. Tonight we had another Tapas dinner although this time we split a bottle of Spanish white wine. Later we had some Gelato (not as rich as the Gelato in Italy, more like American ice cream. Earlier in the day, when I was in the room, DH tried to arrange for a taxi to the airport; however, the clerk on duty did not speak English and DH does not speak Spanish. When I got there, it was clear there was a communication problem. DH stated that he was having trouble arranging for the taxi. I turned to the Clerk and said "Buenos Dias" to which he responded by asking "Habla espanol?" I said "algunas" and was then told the following: "Por favor, habla con su esposo en ingles y habla conmigo en espanol, porque su esposo no entiende nada." So I now have proof that DH "understands nothing." Barcelona, return to Los Angeles: After breakfast at the hotel (an included Continental breakfast of muffin, two rolls, juice & coffee) we took a cab to the airport and caught our flights (Barcelona to London, London to LA). One piece of our luggage did not arrive with us (it was delivered two days later). Anyway, it was a great trip. We enjoyed the Gem, all the ports and our few days in Barcelona. Now we just have to pay the bills (really bad because the dollar is weak and the Euro and Pound are strong) and plan for next year's trip. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
I had wanted to visit Europe for a long time and I figured a cruise would be a great way to get a sampling of a lot of different countries. I'm 27 and traveled with a friend who is 33. Since we were leaving from Dover and I have ... Read More
I had wanted to visit Europe for a long time and I figured a cruise would be a great way to get a sampling of a lot of different countries. I'm 27 and traveled with a friend who is 33. Since we were leaving from Dover and I have always wanted to see London we spent 3 days in London before the cruise. We flew direct from Houston on Continental. Since I knew it was a long flight, I splurged and we flew BusinessFirst Class. So glad we did. Since we got sleep on the plane (the seats extended nearly flat) we were ready to go as soon as we landed at Gatwick. We took the Gatwick Express train into Victoria Station. One big tip is take a cab from Victoria Station if you have a good amount of luggage. We took the tube and it was a nightmare. Not all the stations have lifts, so I was left to lug my 50lbs suite case up many many stairs. But I have to say that a few London gents helped me out. Our hotel was The Grand at Trafalgar Square, also known as Club Quarters. Fabulous hotel! Just off Trafalgar Square on a quiet street. It is half way between two tube stops, Charing Cross and Embankment. Our room had a fridge and microwave which helped us save some money. There is also a small Tesco right near the hotel that sells prepacked meals and snacks. We spent the next few days exploring London. I can't wait to go back. On Monday it was time for us to leave and head to Dover to meet the Gem. The Charing Cross station was an easy walk from our hotel, even with my large luggage. We left London around 10am and were in Dover by 11:30 or noon. We met some people on the train that were heading to the ship that did not know were they were going. Since I researched this trip like crazy, I knew exactly were to go and for showing them, they paid for our cab ride to the port. Really nice people! The port was very well organized. They took our luggage and we were off to check in. I saw the line and figured it would be awhile before we got on the ship. When we went to check in they asked if we were in a suite and since we were, we were taken to a special check in that was fabulous. We were all checked in in about 10 minutes. The others at the check in desk recognized my name from our CC role call and they ended up being in the room right next door! Claudio, the concierge, greeted us and took us through the security line. Since the rooms weren't ready, we headed to Cagney's for lunch, great perk for suite guests. We ended up eating breakfast and lunch there every day we were on the ship and not on excursions. After lunch we took our things to our room, aft AE suite number 8130. Best room I have ever had on a cruise. We had plenty of room, even for two girls worth of clothing! The double sided closet was great as well as the vanity area. The tub was also a nice perk. There was also a small sofa and table and chairs. The balcony had some really comfy chairs that were great for reading. After exploring the ship, taking a tour of the spa and checking our Bliss (we referred to it as the Velor Palace) it was already time for dinner. We took our time getting ready and headed down to The Grand Pacific dinning room. Got in with no wait. The food was really good. During the cruise we ate at Grand Pacific 3 nights, Maganeta (same menu as Grand Pacific) 2 nights, Cagney's 1 night (went early for the 2 for 1 deal), Tequila 1 night, ordered room service 3 nights and the last night we went to Orchid Garden with some friends we met through the CC meet and greet. All the food was fabulous. I still miss my peppermint tea after dinner every night! I digress back to the first night. We went to the show at 9:30, it was a variety show of all the shows to come on the ship, and then turned in for an early night. Since I was lucky enough to catch a cold, the fact that our first day was a sea day was great. I rested in the morning. Then we went to the cc meet and greet. It was at Le Bistro. Very nice. Since the average age of the guests on the ship was 56, my friend in I were looking for some other guests our age to hang out with. At the meet and greet we met another CCer that was traveling with her husband and daughter who was our age. They were so much fun! We hung out with them the rest of the trip. From the meet and greet we went to play bingo and then off to get a day pass for the spa. The steam sauna was great for my cold. The day pass is $20 and I think it was totally worth it. There were heated lounges, whirlpools, saunas and steam rooms. With the day pass you can go as many times as you like during that day. They also sell a cruise length pass. If our voyage was not as port intensive, I probably would have gotten that. But with all of our excursions, I knew that when we got back to the ship we would be too tired to use it. The next day was our first port of call, Vigo Spain. While eating breakfast at Cagney's, Claudio was at Cagney's every morning. It was so nice because he could answer questions, he would make our dinner and spa reservations, and he was just a really fun guy! I cannot say enough great things about him. How he remembers everyones names, I do not know! When we got back from port, he always wanted to know what we did, and what we bought. He took time with us and never seemed rushed. He called us "His Ladies." But when he slept, I don't know! He was at breakfast and partying with us in the Spinnaker late at night! Claudio also had maps for us for some of the ports. For Vigo he pulled out the map, showed us two things, and told us that was really all there was to see. He was a hoot! We went into town and just wondered around and were back on the ship in time for lunch at Cagney's. Spent the rest of the day on our balcony, in those comfy robes, just reading. Later that night we headed to dinner (Magneta, really good food) and the show. Next day was Lisbon. Claudio had maps again which was so helpful. We just wondered around again. We took one of the little trollies up to a fort. Great views! Then we headed back down, shopped and took the tram back to the ship. That day it was about 80 degrees. (That was why I had so much luggage. We went from being cold in London, to sweating in Lisbon, to really freezing in Paris.) After we got back to the ship, I put on my suit and heading to the pool. It was really nice. All my other cruises were to the Caribbean with lots of children onboard. It was so quiet and relaxing being that the ship had an older crowd. Later dinner at Cagney's. We went to dinner early so that we could take advantage of the 2 for 1 deal. The food at Cagney's was fantastic and the staff was great as well. We had already gotten to know a lot of the Cagney's staff from breakfast and lunch. I had the Ahi tuna (biggest portion of tuna I have ever seen) and my friend had the fillet. We could decide on desserts so we got 3 and shared. The chocolate obsession was so good! Then the early show at 7:30. I wasn't feeling so hot so I spent the rest of the night in the cabin. My friend went up to the Spinnaker for the 50's sock hop and she had a blast. Gibraltar was on tap for the next day. Due to my cold we didn't go up the rock. We went shopping but since there were 3 other ship in port it was so crowded that we were back on the ship by 12:30 for lunch at Cagney's. The rest of the day was spent at the pool again. Dinner at Grand Pacific. It was the only time we had to share a table, but the people we shared with were really nice. Late show and then we went to the Spinnaker for the County night. The entire cruise host staff would be at the Spinnaker every night. The cruise director (Clint) and his staff were great. They got people involved and tried to make sure that everyone was having a good time. During the day, they had Nintendo Wii on the big screen in the Atrium. I think due to the lack of children on our ship, they had a tough time getting people to play, but not for a lack of trying. Joe, the cruise host in charge of the Wii, tried his best to get people to play, but had very few takers. In his attempts to get people up though, he was pretty funny and that was entertaining in itself. The next two days were sea days. Just rested up for Italy and took advantage of a special they had in the spa, 3 20 minute treatments for $100. Yeah, they tried to sell us stuff ($120 bubble bath, I don't think so) but a simple no was all it took. That night was 70's night in the spinnaker and it was a lot of fun! We even had Claudio out there dancing with us. The next night was Ship n' Mates, a take off of Chippendales. It was so much fun. Some of the older ladies were really really into seeing the staff strip down! Our first stop in Italy was Naples. We hired a driver through aptours.it. Great tour! We first went to Herculanium. We had hired a guide through the same company. It was great with just the two of us and the guide. Then it was off to Sorrento. Lorenzo (our driver/guide) took us to a great restaurant. The best gnocchi I have ever had. After a little shopping we heading to Positano. We made a few stops along the way and Lorenzo pointed out a lot of really interesting stuff. Positano is beautiful! Back to ship after that. Dinner was at Tequila, try the Il Popo, and the churros was so good I had them three time during the rest of the cruise. Later off to the show and spinnaker then off to bed to rest up for Rome. My friends headed to Bliss and hung out with for a while. At least while we were on the ship, you could have turned Bliss into the crew bar. That morning, Claudio gave us a call to let us know that our guide was ready for us. Rome was fantastic. Marco was the driver/guide that we hired. He is the owner of ROMECONNECTION.COM. He was the best guide and driver. When I go back to Italy, Marco will be my first call! Marco had lots of great information and since he grew up there he knew all the short cuts. We probably got to see twice as much with him versus a ship tour because he could drive right up to the entrances where the busses could not. He also hired a guide for the Vatican for us. On our way back, Marco took us for gelato and he took us by a beautiful hotel that Claudio had told us about. It was straight out of a 1960 cinemascope movie. One tip for those doing Rome on there own. The Italian trains truly do run when the Italians feel like it. Our friends did the train thing and ended up having to take a cab back to port because there wasn't enough room on the train for everyone to get back on time. I think they ended up paying around 50 euros per person. Thats nearly half of what our tour cost. That night we ordered room service from Tequila. Great perk for suites is that we could order room service from the restaurants. Florence and Pisa was a good day. We got to Pisa before all the busses did. We didn't go up but we got some really great pictures. It was really cold that morning! After Pisa we headed into Florence. Our guide took us around town, then we went to see David. After that, Vincchio our guide, took us to a truly local place for lunch. The only person who spoke english was the bus boy so he took care of us. That was truly what we wanted. Real Italian food. It was really good. After lunch we went to Ponte Vecchio. With the long drive back to the ship, we headed back a little early. Dinner (room service, from the regular menu, really good), show, spinnaker then to Bliss for a little while. Our last port of call was Nice. I had wanted to head up to Monaco. I'm a huge Grace Kelly fan. But due to a train strike in France, there was a lack of taxis. So we walked around in Nice. Went to the flower market. It was wonderful! Stalls of flowers, spices, candies, fruits and vegetables. Great day in Nice. It was a short port day. We had to be back on the ship by 2:30pm. This was also the only port were we tendered. Very smooth process for tendering. We were back on the ship for our last lunch at Cagney's. Not only was the food there really really good but the staff went out of there way to make sure that you had everything you wanted. Every day they have a different hamburger. They were HUGE and really good. Also every day they offered a different hot and cold soup every day. We met up with our friend at Cagney's that day. Since she and her parents were in a Courtyard Villa we asked if we could see and she showed us around. Wow, when I have the money I will be up there for sure. The private pool and sun deck were really nice. They also had access to saunas for CV guests only. They also had a snack bar that they had access to, when ever we would meet up we always asked our friend to bring us some gummy bears and m & m's from the snack bar. It was nice that Nice was a short day because it gave us time to pack. We met our friends for dinner at Orchid Garden. The food there was really really good. There were not that many guests there that night. Besides having to pack up, the sea was very very rough that night. After dinner many of us, myself included, had to lay down for awhile. It smoothed out around 10pm and I headed down to Bliss to meet up with my friends. Usually after Bliss, we went to The Blue Lagoon. It is the 24 hour restaurant. I always had the chicken fingers and my friend always had the tomato soup. Both were really really good. Barcelona was our disembarkation port. Freestyle makes it really smooth. We got up, had breakfast at Cagney's, said good by to our friends and got off the ship. The suite guests can disembark whenever they fell like it. That was really nice. Also, the suite guests luggage is sectioned off so you don't have to wait for it on the carousel. Claudio was there and we said our good byes to him. I would book a trip with the Gem again solely because the staff on the ship was so great. We spent the day in Barcelona on the hop on hop off bus. Then took the night train to Paris. Never ever again will I take that night train. I splurged and got a room with a shower, which completely flooded our room. We spent two nights in Paris. Little did we know that it was the Rugby World Cup final game in Paris. That doesn't mean so much to us Americans but it is a huge deal to everyone else in the world. We spent a day at the Louvre then we had a dinner cruise on the Seine. We had a little trouble getting there due to the trains being full due to the rugby game. But luckily our hotel was not that far and we walked it. On the walk back, I don't think I have ever seen so many drunk english guys in full rugby fan mode. What makes it even funnier is that England lost! But they were still out there having a good time! We flew home from Charles DeGuille. It is a very unorganized airport. We thought we left enough time to check out the duty free shops but after turning in our VAT forms, checking in and getting through customs we got to the terminal just as boarding started. Flight home was great. They served lunch right away. A few hours later, you could smell fresh baked cookies! And we were also served a snack right before we landed. Continental sure doesn't let you go hungry! Went through customs in Houston. Not bad at all. But it was so nice to be home. The trip was really great. If I had to do it all over again, I would book the Gem in an instant. Our suite was really really comfortable. Room 8130. I loved the aft balcony. We heard a little bit of noise but nothing major. The staff on the ship was fabulous. The only thing we would do different was I would do Paris, then London and then fly home right after the cruise. The reason for this is that you get so used to being pampered on the cruise that it's tough to go back to land travel were you have to worry about dinner and where everything is and how you are going to get there. Where on the ship you don't have to worry about any of that. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
Background - NCL Gem inaugural cruise, retired exec traveling with wife, 20th cruise, 3 previous freestyle cruises on Princess and AIDA, first freestyle with NCL, 2nd cruise with NCL, 2nd inaugural cruise first with Island Princess ... Read More
Background - NCL Gem inaugural cruise, retired exec traveling with wife, 20th cruise, 3 previous freestyle cruises on Princess and AIDA, first freestyle with NCL, 2nd cruise with NCL, 2nd inaugural cruise first with Island Princess Embarkation - very good Internet information with documentation provided on the NCL web site, and very smooth and well-organized travel to London and smooth connection and bus ride to Dover. Embarkation formalities completed and on board in 10 minutes. Well done NCL, fastest and smoothest embarkation ever. The ship as expected on an inaugural cruise was super clean. The decor was 21st century garish in places (fluorescent green roll seaters and plastic pseudo crystal roof in the Atrium), and heavy wood finish throughout the boat, but was generally (just) acceptable to us. Good walking areas onboard and found plenty of space on sea days to be alone and quiet. Cabin - mini suite deck 11 amidships. Unfortunate to have New Zealand family with two wild, unruly children on one side next door (obvious members of the child freedom culture? - note, you may be oblivious but it spoils it for others). Complained to NCL who did best to correct problem, family were not responsive, but as ship full could not move us or them. Fortunately only a daytime problem but inhibited our use of balcony. We pre booked 4 months ahead, why cannot NCL be sensitive to family demography and allocate suites accordingly - get with it NCL. Suite was average size compared to others we have sailed in. Good sized balcony but spoilt by having 2 cheap tacky standard chairs (no loungers) and a very small (12 inch square) table. Nice to have a full glass wall facing the ocean. Cabin dEcor is not the brightest we have been in, the fairly dark simulated wood and the wall tapestry were a little too oppressive for our taste. Drawers and cabinets were ample for two for an 11 day cruise, only complaint was that the closet doors could not open fully as the closet was at the side of and too close to the bed. What happened to the concept (as on Princess) of walk in closets? The beds were great and the large extra pillows, provided without asking, made for good sleep. The towel animals on the bed every night were fantastic, a superb touch and greatly appreciated. Lighting was good, and we found no difficulty accommodating our mixture of 115v and 220v appliances. Bathroom was small. My wife found it nice to have a female friendly hand held shower. The separate, glass partitioned toilet cubicle was a good idea but it is narrow. If you are broad of beam (as I am), it makes for an uncomfortable visit, and susceptible to "accidents" in rocky seas. The mini bar was kept well stocked at all times, but beware, only the first bottle of water is free, the rest cost and are expensive. Food and dining - this was our 4th freestyle dining cruise, first on NCL, and we were very interested to see how it compared to others we had been on. We took into consideration it was an inaugural cruise but could compare it with similar inaugural cruises on Princess and AIDA. In general we found it only average, on a par with Princess, better than AIDA, with some faults in some areas. We used the buffets in Garden Cafe and Outdoors for many breakfasts and lunches when not on shore excursions, and for snacks. The quality of food here in general was good, but in many cases lacked variety. A large portion of the buffets was taken up by fixed hamburger, hot dog, pizza, salad, deli and sandwich bars, which did not change much over the day and from day to day. The carvery, pasta and fish stations did change daily and were very good. Two complaints registered by both us and others were that there was only one fish dish served per day and no seafood, strange considering the high fish area we were sailing in. We were told this was a cost factor with food menus dictated by head office. The other complaint was that all the food was highly salted. We only suffered one occasion when we found it hard to get a place to sit in the Garden Cafe/Outdoors - a far cry from the crowded freestyle dining situation on AIDA boats. Eating in the Outdoors cafe under the awning gazing out to sea was definitely the hit for us on the cruise. A big plus for NCL was the many free self serve coffee/tea stations around on deck 11 available 24 hours with Cappuccino available at the stations. No ordering or having to pay extra here. Also free ice cream was available in the Garden Cafe, and free soft ice cream machines at the buffets on deck 11, disappointingly these machines were not available after the first day, the joke going around was that NCL had discovered a new flavor going by the notices on the machines - "Out of Order". The specialty restaurants - we love Italian food and La Cucina Italian restaurant was a disaster. The Veal Marsala (one of my favorite dishes) was served up like roast beef and gravy, with a thick brown tasteless sauce. Investigation showed the chef was Indian and kitchen staff all Indian, not an Italian in sight. We gave it a miss for the rest of the cruise. Cagney's Steak House (prime rib) was excellent, although had to ask for horseradish, Le Bistro (Duck a L'orange) was superb with excellent service, ambiance and dEcor, hard to imagine we were on board a boat. Blue Lagoon good for snacks (fish and chips), likewise the Grill. Main dining room food was average with basically the same food on offer as at the Garden Cafe but with good service. Didn't get to any of the other restaurants. The nightly shows in the Theatre were above average with good variety, the Theatre was always full. Tendering to shore was well organized and efficient. Shore excursions were excellent, well organized with in the main good guides, but were very, very expensive. We prefer to reward good service personally ourselves, and object to the NCL policy of adding $10 pp/day to the bill to be distributed to all service staff. There were the odd service people who perhaps were complacent in this policy and who we felt annoyed that would be rewarded. Here is a tip for other NCL Gem cruisers. Accordingly we went to Reception (one can go up to the next to last day of the cruise) and filled out a form with the reason we wanted to withdraw (for personal choice reasons), and withdrew from the automatic charge, and got envelopes and made our own rewards. NCL do not publicize this, but were happy to comply with our wishes. Disembarkation was smooth and painless but we did not see the free and easy disembarkation style NCL advertise. We were hustled and even though we were the last group to disembark and our flight was not until 2.30 pm, they still had us off the ship by 9 am. Overall rating of the cruise and would we go again - well above average, and NCL Gem is on our acceptable list. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
This cruise package included an inclusive arrangement to park the car at Heathrow for the period of the holiday. When parked up we caught the shuttle bus to Terminal 3 and met up with the NCL representative who soon had us boarded on a ... Read More
This cruise package included an inclusive arrangement to park the car at Heathrow for the period of the holiday. When parked up we caught the shuttle bus to Terminal 3 and met up with the NCL representative who soon had us boarded on a coach for Dover. Upon arrival our Latitude membership gave us fast track boarding on to the ship where our Stateroom awaited us, this was spotless and inviting with a fruitbowl and flowers to welcome us. Feeling a little hungry after our journey we went to the Garden Cafe where a magnificent hot & cold buffet awaited us, we were spoilt for choice. Prior to the ship sailing the Captain briefed everyone on our departure and the necessity to participate in the Lifeboat drill which was completed very efficiently. The Freestyle Daily Newssheet kept us informed on all shipboard activities while the in-cabin multi channel TV kept us up to date with the ships progress and briefings on the ports of call. The meals in Grand Pacific and Magenta were of the same high standard menu and waiter served, while the Blue Lagoon provided a simpler menu but still with waiter service.The Great Outdoors and the Garden Cafe provided both hot and cold meals of a high standard on a self service basis. There are seven other speciality restaurants to choose from albeit that there is a supplement per person to be paid on some ranging from $10to$20 per person on each occasion of use. The food in all outlets was of an extremely high standard with something for all tastes. Staff tipping is taken care of by NCL adding $10 per day to each adult account so all staff benefit, as many different members serve you throughout the voyage. It is a good idea to ask for a copy of your shipboard account the day before your cruise finishes in order that you can check it at your leisure. The final accounts arrives at your cabin around 4am on the day of your disembarkation thus time is limited for checking and queries. There appeared to be a considerable number of queries on the accounts and there was quite some wait to get them resolved before departure home. The cruise was most punctual with each port arrival on time and a good choice of tours to choose from at each destination. The Shore excursion staff were most helpful and showed great enthusiasm for their tasks. the crew overall were without exception helpful and prepared to go that extra mile. This is indeed a happy ship commanded by a fine Captain & officers who were friendly and approachable. The Entertainment in the ship`s theatre was of a high standard with only one exception that being a comedy troupe who were not appreciated on one night however the other ten night`s entertainment were first class with the ships resident Showtime cast delivering exceptionally high performances.The Casino,Sports facility, Fitness Suite and Spa were all first class. The Kids Club kept the youngsters busy and happy,they even had there own small servery in the Garden Cafe. All in all this cruise delivered what it advertised.The disembarkation process was smooth and unhurried we stayed in our cabin until called around 9am unlike our last cruise on a different line where we had to vacate our room at 8am and wait in public areas for some hours prior to being allowed to leave the ship. The trip to the airport was efficient and the flight home uneventful. It was a good cruise, our fourth with NCL and we have just booked up for the Panama Canal cruise with them for Apr 08. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise Views of the newbies We decided on the Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise when it became difficult to fly long haul and thus got our first sight of the ship on the coach from London to Dover. The embarkation ... Read More
Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise Views of the newbies We decided on the Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise when it became difficult to fly long haul and thus got our first sight of the ship on the coach from London to Dover. The embarkation was painless with the photo being taken as we embarked after losing the luggage to the porters. Some minor formalities and we were onboard looking for our Mini Suite 11538. We had seen a lot of postings about comparisons between Balcony staterooms and Mini-Suites but were very pleased with ours especially the two "zones" both with their own temperature controls and with a large heavy curtain that could be pulled the width of the suite allowing one to read and the other to snooze, excellent and used every day. The balcony was a good size, with comfortable loungers and a table. The bed was very comfortable and an excellent size, with good quality pillows. Because we had the "luxury" bathroom there was a lot of room for two and the bathroom was perfect with a good shower and all the facilities you would need. A 15" flat screen TV, bigger than in the Balcony stateroom and a coffee maker were there along with a complimentary fruit bowl and still Evian water, one refilled the other not. The Roll Call meeting the next morning when we met Captain Mikael Hildern, Klaus, and Claudio and Clint plus officers was an excellent treat and very informative, leading to many nods and chats later in the cruise from people we met that morning. We would recommend everyone to use Roll Call for that reason. Now onto the food, fabulous, we tried Le Bistro twice, Cagney's twice, Grand Pacific and La Cucina twice and Orchard Garden, Magenta, Tequila once each. We had Short Rib and Tenderloin, Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, Rib Eve and New York Strip sirloin and all were historic. The rack of lamb was exactly pink, the Il Popo (in Tequila and for two) was superb and the only meal to struggle to meet excellent was the Coq au Vin in the Magenta. Pasta in La Cucina was excellent and the Orchard Garden was superb. Breakfast collected from the Garden Cafe and eaten in the Great Outdoors was always a pleasure and we grazed through lunch when onboard at the Garden Cafe. The chilled soups were out of this world, Chilled Granny Smith Bisque, yum. We had an invite to Cagney's for breakfast one day and will very seriously consider a Penthouse or above next time just for that pleasure. We tried the Champagne bar mostly but the Maltings did have a cask strength single malt that was a treat. The bottle of wine following you was a good idea but ours always died at the table. We went ashore at Gibraltar, big mistake with three cruises in port, and at Naples, Pompeii Excavations was very interesting, A Taste of Rome didn't work for us but the Pisa and Wine Tasting was the best of all with an excellent visit to Pisa and an excellent wine tasting and meal. The Cabin staff were always smiling and the Towel sculptures were something we looked forward to every night. Every where you went people smiled and seemed pleased to see you, obviously proud of the ship and the staff. Disappointments, only when we disembarked at Barcelona, the flawless professional service fell apart after we got off, come on NCL spread your excellence to everyone involved until we get to our front door, as the shock of the real world was unsettling. Will we cruise with NCL again, you bet, we made a lot of good friends both amongst the crew and the passengers and Freestyle cruising certainly worked for us. Fabulous. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
My husband and I were lucky enough to be on the 13 night inaugural voyage of the Norwegian Jewel around the Mediterranean this summer (August 2005). An easy, swift and orderly embarkation procedure at Dover was soon to be followed by the ... Read More
My husband and I were lucky enough to be on the 13 night inaugural voyage of the Norwegian Jewel around the Mediterranean this summer (August 2005). An easy, swift and orderly embarkation procedure at Dover was soon to be followed by the materialization of the colourful ribbons and jewels that adorned the Norwegian Jewel herself. (We had some idea of what to expect - yet only artist impressions of the ship!). On first inspections we were amazed by the vivid and modern interior throughout the ship that was highlighted with contemporary armchairs in many of the bars and restaurants. On closer scrutiny we started to notice however subtle accents of 50's and 60's in some of the furniture choices in the bars. Outside there was an energetic feel around the pool area incorporating the theme of the circus that appealed to the child within. There were also many large colourful palm trees that bejeweled the jewel at night. The interior theme throughout the stateroom decks incorporated mahogany wood and turquoise that flowed effortlessly into the staterooms. We resided in a category JJ inside stateroom which was designed with storage as top priority. There were seven ample storage shelves, and a roomy wardrobe. Of course other features were a separate dressing table with hairdryer, safe, fridge, a well laid out bathroom and TV (although not flat screen as in the more superior staterooms). All over the ship there were many strategically placed flat screens displaying information about all of the ten restaurants and their occupancy - rating from busy to full. This proved vital in avoiding the rush at the Garden cafe (buffet style restaurant) and to generally gauge busy eating times. As Norwegian Cruise Line prize themselves on their freestyle cruising we attempted to sample some of the ten restaurants - ranging from Cagneys steak house, Mama's Italian kitchen, Le Bistro French restaurant and the Chin Chin Asian restaurant (including a sushi bar!). The booking of the desired restaurants proved easy at first using the reservation desk at reception, however as word got out amongst fellow guest there were many queues and block booking of meal times over the two weeks. Another point to make here is that many of these speciality restaurants had a cover charge ranging from $10-$15 which would have to be considered with large groups. These cover charges had been reduced by $5 per person from the original printed prices on the menus. Overall the speciality restaurants provided excellent service, using more experienced and efficient staff. Only on one occasion the booked dining time of 8.00pm was made later due to large numbers and hence we were offered a complimentary bottle of wine which pleased us. The main dining restaurants differed in design from being modern as in the Azura restaurant and grand as in Tsar's palace. Both were equal in terms of broad taste/themed menus and good service. The chocolate buffet was the best that we have ever experienced on a cruise and we were stunned by the artistry shown in the chocolate "Big Ben clock" and ice sculptures. The bars and lounges were regularly called upon throughout the two weeks and we were most impressed with the efficient and friendly service throughout. Most drinks were reasonably priced however some of the speciality cocktails and alcoholic smoothies were over $9. "Bar city" on deck 7 compromised of many of the Jewels unique bars - Malting's beer and whisky bar, Shakers Martini cocktail bar and our favourite -Magnum's Champagne bar which offered a deluxe range of champagnes to be indulged on formal nights. However the night always ended in the Spinnaker Lounge on deck 13 which had live music and then a DJ. Overall the entertainment from many of the performers around the bars and lounges was excellent and could not be faulted. The dance company produced two impressive shows with acrobatic expertise. There was a hugely talented comedian on board and some great lectures provided during the day. There were a good range of activities provided during the day and many art auctions to tempt you to part with cash. The assistant cruise director had a jovial personality and created many quiz nights (jeopardy, Mr & Mrs, The weakest link etc.) for guest participation - which were hilarious. There are very few if any negatives that we can find with the Norwegian Jewel. Given the fact that this was the inaugural voyage and lots of mistakes could happen we and NCL we fortunate. It was clear that there was good management and swift action throughout to prevent any guests from having a good holiday. We would wholeheartedly recommend the Jewel to fellow cruisers and hope you have an enjoyable time as much as we did. Read Less
Sail Date August 2005
My husband and I chose a cruise for our honeymoon, and it was a dream of ours to cruise the Med. It was an amazing experience being on an inaugural cruise in the Mediterranean on our honeymoon! There were some wonderful aspects to cruise. ... Read More
My husband and I chose a cruise for our honeymoon, and it was a dream of ours to cruise the Med. It was an amazing experience being on an inaugural cruise in the Mediterranean on our honeymoon! There were some wonderful aspects to cruise. The embarkation was a breeze, the quickest that I had ever encountered. We had splurged and got a room with a balcony which was incredible. We were very happy with our room. The cruise director's staff was amazing, they really kept us entertained. The excursions were fantastic, it was really hard choosing, you could not have gone wrong with any of them. The staff at the excursion desk were very helpful and professional, and knew what they were talking about. The spa was very professional and what a treat! Well worth it! (just make the appointment well enough in advance, especially on a sea-day). The entertainment was spectacular, especially their 'Cirque Bijoux' show. Very talented performers were on board. The decor on the ship is beautiful, very colorful, each area being very unique. There was not a wide variety of artwork however, mostly photos. I found that there was always somewhere to go and something to do. We had spent a lot of money on this trip, especially coming all the way from Canada, it was disappointing to hear that there were discounts given to other passengers. My husband and I noticed a lot of young children on-board. We figured since it was holiday season, that we just picked to cruise at the same time as several families. What was unfortunate was the behavior of some of the children. I had to yell at two young boys to stop throwing their shoes around on the staircase, they could have hurt someone! Their father was at the elevators totally oblivious to the fact that his kids were acting inappropriately. The cruise staff it seemed were helpless to do anything either. It was difficult getting a reservation to the specialty restaurants i.e. Mama' Kitchen and the Tepanyaki, you pretty much had to make the reservations on the first couple of days on the cruise. A suggestion to NCL would be to work on improving the service and food selections in the main dining rooms. However I have been on an NCL cruise before, this wasn't the case, therefore this might be just something that will work itself out with experience. Since we were on our honeymoon, and spent quite a bit, it was disappointing that the cruise line didn't do anything to help us celebrate our honeymoon. My sister bought us a honeymoon package, but if it wasn't for that, you would have never known that we were on our honeymoon. No upgrades what-so-ever on the plane; NCL hotel; cruise itself. And no special "little somethings". It was on our second last day on the ship that we discovered that there was a laundry room with an iron. There was absolutely no mentioned of this ANYWHERE. Not even a sign outside the door. What would help is if NCL mentions this on their website, or includes in on their floor-plan! We ended up paying for ironing services! In the end we figured that since this was their first sailing, that all of the wrinkles still needed to be ironed out. However, since it was our honeymoon, it was difficult to get angry. We pretty much had smiles on our faces the whole trip. :) I would recommend this ship to anyone considering it. Read Less
Sail Date August 2005

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