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654 Southampton to Mediterranean Cruise Reviews

Who could not get excited about being one of the first to sail a brand new ship?  The smell of the new carpets and furniture and how everything shined and glimmered was just perfect and it was a pleasure to sail her. However her maiden ... Read More
Who could not get excited about being one of the first to sail a brand new ship?  The smell of the new carpets and furniture and how everything shined and glimmered was just perfect and it was a pleasure to sail her. However her maiden voyage was not plain sailing and we were stuck in Southampton due to bad weather in the Atlantic, thus missing the port of Lisbon and overnight stay.   Yes this was very disappointing but when you saw the forecast you could understand why the captain chose to delay departure.. why take a brand new ship through a huge storm!? The ship itself is simply beautiful.  As soon as you board you are greeted by the stunning Galleria and it took us the whole first day to walk around and discover the ship.   Although I know its big it was bigger than expected  The ship was kept spotless throughout the cruise and it the design throughout is stunning.  From the signature crystal staircase to the impressive Galleria with the LED roof and the lovely pool deck, everything is beautiful.    Food and Drink - Expectations were low as MSC does not get a good rap for food, however the MDR food was well above par.   Food in the Buffet restaurant was also very good.   We found the speciality restaurants a little overpriced and also you could not use your drinks package in any of them (unless you are on premium deluxe package) so adding drinks to the cost would mean around €50-€60 per head which is not worth it given the MDR was very good anyway.   Bars were all very nice.  We loved the British Pub which was very authentic and also the Sky Lounge which was the most relaxing bar on the ship with the best service.   Entertainment seemed always be shoved in the Grandiosa lounge and never anywhere else.   Drinks package was a bit confusing..  so we took the easy package which allows you to have any drink up to €6 value..  easy right?  Wrong..  So in the British Bar you can have a pint of Heineken for €6 but if you want a pint of Heineken Lite for €6 you can't because this is one of many exceptions.   OK so if I want a drink that's €6.50 (like most are) then I just pay the difference, right?  Wrong, you pay the full amount! Fancy a tea in L'Atelier Bistrot lounge, watching the world go by on the Galleria..  this will cost you, even though the very same tea is available for FREE in the buffet area or the same coffee included in your drinks package..  MSC just don't do easy!  Facilities - It was a shame this is a winter cruise as the facilities outside are fantastic.   Thankfully we had great weather when we were in off the coast of Portugal and the ships outside space came alive.  The rope walk is fantastic!!  Very scary at first and a lot harder than I thought but once I conquered it I did it again and again.. and the views are breathtaking!   The aquapark is also really good fun with 3 slides which would wow both adults and kids.   The indoor facilities such as bowling and the virtual race car all acquire an extra fee and a large one at that.   If you want to do them all you need to pay well over €100pp.  Bowling for a family of four is over €60 for one hour with show hire!!    Keeping a family happy on this ship will cost you! In the safari pool there are fusball and ping pong tables which are free however you need to go to the other side of the ship to ask for the equipment..  like a lot of things on MSC this did not make sense! Entertainment - This is a mix of amazing, good and VERY bad.Firstly the amazing -  We went to the Cirque de Soleil show 'Eccentrics' and loved it.   My only complaint is it was too short, under an hour.   However well worth it. All the theatre shows were very good but short (35 mins), from an amazing pianist to the general shows put on by the dancers and singers.    Theatre is a little small though so on busy cruises make sure you book.  (easy to do on the screens around the ship) Now the bad - the entertainment crew were AWFUL!!   They all congregate in the Grandiosa lounge and either shout and dance like drug fuelled teenagers or drag you up to dance and then instantly look uncomfortable and uninterested.  The whole thing was just cringy and uncomfortable to watch.   Activities during the day were either dance classes, which were actually done quite well by two dance teachers, or games put on by the awful entertainment crew.   Quizzes were terrible with the crew (around 10 of them)  screaming down a mic and yelling and dancing at any given moment.  They actually turned an art quiz into a rave!!  This was cruise number 16 for me and by far the worst, most immature and unprofessional entertainment crew experienced.    Cabins  - We were originally in a cabin on the 8th deck with obstructed view.   The view itself was not an issue and its compensated by bigger balconies, however we were above the British pub and my parents were above the TV studio bar and sadly there is NO sound insulation so the music thumos through til 1am.   AVOID these at all cost!!!    Another negative about the cabins (all cabins) is the lack of sotrage.   Cabins seem slightly smaller than the most ships and the storage is tiny!   12 hangers for 2 people on a 7 night cruise!!!   Pack some from home if you don't want to double up.  Beds are very comfy though.  Lastly I cannot write a review without mentioning ZOE, the in room virtual assistant!   MSC, what a huge waste of money!!   Unless they use it to listen in on you I cannot see why they thought this was a good idea.. it was so pathetically bad it was entertaining.   The only thing ZOE can say is ask customer relations or turn on the info on your tv!!    So overall, and despite the delay, we had a fantastic cruise on a beautiful ship.  I loved the ship but am not a fan of MSC.. if this ship was Celebrity or even RCCL it would be the best.  Our sailing was just over 2000 passengers so my experience was quite unique.  I don't think it would be the same at full capacity and I fear it would be awful when full.   Even with 2000 it felt busy at certain times.  Due to lack of entertainment I would say this is more a summer ship than winter ship but that all depends on what you want out of the cruise.    Read Less
Sail Date November 2019
The ship was beautiful, very sturdy and we'll maintained. The staff in general were excellent, the service good, but the food was a real let down. It was either bland or too salty and overcooked. The Britannia restaurant was poor so ... Read More
The ship was beautiful, very sturdy and we'll maintained. The staff in general were excellent, the service good, but the food was a real let down. It was either bland or too salty and overcooked. The Britannia restaurant was poor so was the buffet on the Lido deck. So disappointing. Of the three cruise lines I have travelled on this was the poorest. My accessible cabin was wonderful, everything I asked for was there. The three companions I was with were happy with the service and the cruise generally. I I did not book any excursions as I travelled with a mobility scooter. The first shuttle bus was acceptable and helpful but at Lanzarote my companions and I boarded the bus and were dumped at the end of the new port. (Why go to a place closed on Sunday?) There were no shops or cafes available, and we were told we had to walk 20 minutes into town to see if anything was open. Alternatively we could risk taking a 20 minute taxi to the other side of the island to a possibly open market. As we did not know if we could get back we just got back on the bus and stayed on the ship. Overall very disappointing. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
We have cruised with this cruise line several times. We had always had a good experience but since our last cruise I am a vegetarian and can only comment on the lack of vegetarian options are atrocious Lack lustre curry stir fried ... Read More
We have cruised with this cruise line several times. We had always had a good experience but since our last cruise I am a vegetarian and can only comment on the lack of vegetarian options are atrocious Lack lustre curry stir fried vegetables fried rice , or salad were the only option for meals and so the only meal worth looking forward to was breakfast There are no vegan options either. We met really lovely people, entertained by the Acoustic Soul brothers excellent!! And the piano virtuoso Ian West who tinkled the ivories like a legend. Some of the stops were by tender and can be slightly precarious for older persons however the staff were always helpful, some of the stops had very steep slopes so looking at the shore excursions need to be considered before booking The ship itself had a good variety of entertainment great swimming pool and cheerful staff. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
Ports we wanted to visit Service from most was acceptable but not from tours desk where we had a female total ignore us and then was not much help after that. Then to be ripped off for 111min on internet when it was clearly documented ... Read More
Ports we wanted to visit Service from most was acceptable but not from tours desk where we had a female total ignore us and then was not much help after that. Then to be ripped off for 111min on internet when it was clearly documented no use.... and to be told tuff luck. And to rub salt in you have to PAY for bottled water US$24.00 for 6x 1lt bottles where manufacturing costs are US$0.60per bottle. To make someone pay for a life supporting product is disgraceful. This ship is old . We were told it had had a refit in Jan. WHERE I ask. Cabins very small very outdated TV useless. Can't check your account. The shops are way way over priced you can buy cheaper retail on land then they add a 20% tax. The cost of this cruise was higher then any other we have done on much better & newer ships. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
We chose this cruise for the itinerary, and it did not disappoint. We knew the ship was tired and would be going into dry dock for retrofit. But I loved the size and layout of the Spirit. The staff and crew overall was amazing. The ship ... Read More
We chose this cruise for the itinerary, and it did not disappoint. We knew the ship was tired and would be going into dry dock for retrofit. But I loved the size and layout of the Spirit. The staff and crew overall was amazing. The ship was clean and well kept. The entertainment was very good to boring, but overall good. The Soul Sound Brothers were great and the Elements Show as I have seen on other NCL ships was excellent. Other shows in the theatre should either cut out the fog machine or use It lightly, as it was a distraction.However I was disappointed with the gift shops having over priced items and the extra 20% vat. We have never experienced that on other Mediterranean Cruises. The food was a little disappointing. We noticed cheaper less tender cuts of meat. Over cooked fish and the seafood was really so small. Too much repetitive in the menu. The vegetables, salad and fruit was plentiful and fresh. The last day of the cruise a new dessert was introduced, a Kula cream tart which was Devine. Hope they will keep it on the menu. The Asian restaurant and buffet were good, but there again disappointed in the meat carving as the cuts of meat were poor and repeated too often. We also noticed the linens on the bed were older and thin, not like other NCL ships. Hopefully this will be corrected after it is retrofitted. The specialty restaurants prices have gone up, or become a la cart so we didn’t bother, which was disappointing as we were celebrating our 50 Th Anniversary and wanted a special meal to celebrate. We treated ourselves to two special meals in Athensand Santorini instead. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
Hi. I really enjoyed my cruise and Rob Deane- a social director was outstanding. I found the ship run down and water leaked from the shower under the floor and soaked the carpet. I got a bad cough like most people on the ship. ... Read More
Hi. I really enjoyed my cruise and Rob Deane- a social director was outstanding. I found the ship run down and water leaked from the shower under the floor and soaked the carpet. I got a bad cough like most people on the ship. Otherwise, the entertainment was good or great and the staff was very nice. the cruise destinations were phenomenal. I really enjoyed to ports and that was a good part of what made me chose this ship. The food looked very good but sometimes was quite bland which, I think is why there was so much waste. Some of the Dining room service was vry rushed, even in the extra cost dining rooms. I wached 3 shows. Two were good and the last one was very good. I liked that there were club choices for after dinner entertainment including the piano bar, the night club and the disco. It was fun to enjoy the different themed nights in Galaxy. I would like to cruise again with NCL. thank you, Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
I chose this 15 day Mediterranean cruise because of the amazing destinations. If it hadn’t been for the amazing destinations we visited, we would’ve jumped overboard. Terrible... read on Great selection of food in the buffet & ... Read More
I chose this 15 day Mediterranean cruise because of the amazing destinations. If it hadn’t been for the amazing destinations we visited, we would’ve jumped overboard. Terrible... read on Great selection of food in the buffet & it tasted nice. The restaurants were average eg tough steak, poor menu selection. But if the rooms aren’t cleaned properly, is the ship kitchen clean... who knows... read on One power point in the main part of the cabin & one power point in the bathroom for a shaver etc & there’s a wall hair dryer. So if you need another power point for a CPAP machine or an essential power device, you’re screwed. So remember to bring your extension power cord & power board along. Ridiculous!! Poor design. The housekeeping staff don’t replaced soiled bed linen or towels. They just flip the sheet/doona cover around so you can’t see the stains & our dirty towels were re-hung again. Cost cutting obviously. And who knows the last time those mattress protectors (non-waterproof) were sanitised. Very unhygienic. Ewwww!! The toilet doorway opening was so narrow, you had breathe out & suck in your stomach to get in/out so, if you’re a fuller figured person, you’re screwed. You’ll have to go & find a public toilet on the ship to use. My partner is disabled, so major issues there. Even though we were told this ship caters for people with disabilities. Just something they say to get your money, then you’re screwed. The vacuum toilet blocked the first day of the cruise & overflowed onto the floor. And continually blocking throughout the cruise, even though we were careful with toilet paper amount. Apparently blocked toilets are a common issues on this ship. Carpet wasn’t vacuumed properly. And whatever you do, make sure you have plenty of spare money tucked away. The first night on the ship, my partner got a urinary tract infection. He went down to the medical centre/hospital & was treated with antibiotics (intravenously twice daily for the first 4 days-1 hour each time), then oral antibiotics, blood pressure check each time he visited the clinic at $150USD each time. Temperature check each time at a cost. Pulse check every time at a cost. Plus a blood test/results & any other routine examinations & routine services... all added up to $13,000AUD plus just for an UTI. If you need to use this service, you have to pay for the use of this service which they charge your credit/debit card each procedure each visit. So make sure you’re rich, just in case you become sick. And with a ship load of people, the chances are extremely high. One 91yo gentleman was being treated for pneumonia & told us that he can’t afford to have a holiday next year. Poor man, he was so sad. And then there’s the waiting times for the lifts at meal times, shore excursion times etc., which my partner had to use because he has Parkinson’s disease & can’t manage stairs. The disembark time with the lifts was so busy, I had to take our 2 full backpacks & manual wheelchair down 14 flights of stairs from level 11 to level 4, while my partner had to wait until one of the lifts had room for him to enter. The able bodied people could disembark at level 7. What a nightmare for people with a disability. And each time we had a shore excursion, these annoying photographers would try to get you to have your picture taken, just so they could add more cost to your onboard account, which you may not be aware has been charged to your onboard account, even though you don’t order a photo from them. And level 7 is another con just to try & suck you in to buying what you think is a discounted price, only to find the duty free airport stores have better prices. Just a money grabbing adventure from marketing team for Norwegian Spirit. And the amount of people queuing up for the Jacuzzi, which has everybody’s bodily juices eg. perspiration, body fat, dead skin cells, faeces, urine, sexual transmitted diseases & whatever else), NO WAY would I go in that concoction of unhygienic, hot, sizzling sludge. Vomit!! This was our first experience of a cruise ship & our last. And unless we made an effort to talk to other passengers, nobody bothered to make conversation with us. And yet, other passengers who didn’t know each other, managed to make conservations with other strangers. We will always be friendly to others unless they can’t be bothered with us. We will take our money & stay on land & spend way less money enjoying foreign countries where we can spend time in each place, at our own pace. Then everyone at the end of the cruise gets charged with a $15USD a day multiplied by 15 days of the cruise, for service to each cabin. And the housekeeping staff didn’t give us clean linen if soiled... ahhhh no way. What a rip off!! If you go on this cruise ship, you are feeding NCL & helping make them richer. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
The itinerary was great. Most serving, entertainment staff were great people that made this old cruise ship gaining a reputation for good friendly service. The highlight is a trios, Soul Brothers singing many 60, 70 and a few recents ... Read More
The itinerary was great. Most serving, entertainment staff were great people that made this old cruise ship gaining a reputation for good friendly service. The highlight is a trios, Soul Brothers singing many 60, 70 and a few recents hit without any preparations. Food although better than Pride of America is just pass the acceptable standard. Oriental food with the exception of 2 dishes were just not eatable. A Japanese salad appetiser and the fried rice in the buffet was of very high standard. But why the other oriental complimentary food is so bad, I just can’t fathom. Is it to force us to go to the other pay Restaurants ?!. Finally the captain report were so brief and uninteresting, may as well just read by a better English speaker. The drink packages were so expensive( because you and your cabin partner) must also buy the same package even though usually the wife is a non drinker) This policy is encouraging heavy drinking and single drinks cost is like a 5 star hotel range. Cocktails ave. $14 includes gra and etc. And finally for the low price of the cruise, NCL will recover from your shore excursions, as it is 30 to 35 % higher than land base excursions companies. The Filipino staff at the karaoke should be sack for being so rude to many non whites cruisers. Manager keeps an eye on angry man. BTY, an earlier review by other about Spirit (Southampton to Venice) missing port of call was incorrect. That was an Iceland cruise. I heard a Royal Navy ship (maybe a destroyer or ? no idea) listed 47 degree !!! at that storm. A fellow cruiser’s son was in that ship. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
Have been on two cruises before this one (Royal Caribbean, Princess) and this BY FAR has been the best food I've experienced - no complaints whatsoever. The food came out perfect everytime and was always delicious! Cagney's ... Read More
Have been on two cruises before this one (Royal Caribbean, Princess) and this BY FAR has been the best food I've experienced - no complaints whatsoever. The food came out perfect everytime and was always delicious! Cagney's was also amazing as was the Blue Lagoon, which was surprising for a cruise 24 hour diner section. Only issue I had with the ship was the lack of an indoor pool/spa and the towel station location/times. The towel station closed at 7 while the pools/spas remained open til 10, which I thought quite odd. Also made hopping into the spa on Deck 10 aft annoying as we had to make our way to Deck 12 mid ship just to grab some towels. Cabin was also very spacious! Was surprised at how the bathroom was organised - easily the biggest shower I've experienced on a ship and absolutely loved that there was a sliding door instead of an annoying shower curtain - made showering at the end of the day a breeze. Had no issues getting theatre seats at the second show and loved that we didn't have to stress about this. Staff were always helpful and polite - will miss a few of them! Overall - an old but charming ship that needs a few upgrades but definitely still worth sailing on. Can't wait to see what the Spirit will look like after next year's refurbishment. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
After looking forward to our second cruise with P&O, the first being on Oceana, I found myself doing lots of comparisons on the two ships and I must say that Oceana far outstrips Azura.. there is/was one particular reason for this... ... Read More
After looking forward to our second cruise with P&O, the first being on Oceana, I found myself doing lots of comparisons on the two ships and I must say that Oceana far outstrips Azura.. there is/was one particular reason for this... from day 1 on the Azura there was an almost constant smell of sewage on every deck which sometimes permeated down into main dining areas. Having spoken to several officers regarding the matter I never got any sort of logical answer other than the statutory "it's nothing to worry about, it's not harmful to your health". There was no way anyone on board could NOT have noticed the smell. On passing the Reception desk later on in the cruise I overheard one passenger complaining that they were unable to use their balcony due to the constant stink and the receptionist replied "what smell". A really good cruise was rather spoiled by both the smell and not getting explanations as to why it was there. There was also reconstruction work going on on the lido deck ( fitting new lift for disabled people) for the first week... this was not conducive to relaxation what with grinders etc being used. I am aware that these things have to be done at some point but it also had a negative impact on the holiday. Staff on board were very polite but waiters etc around the lido deck appeared less willing to interact with passengers as they were on Oceana. Read Less
Sail Date October 2019
We had really been looking forward to this cruise since we had booked it for a small fortune on a special loyalty members’ booking day almost two years earlier! Fred’s promo promised “some of the most unique and authentic sights ... Read More
We had really been looking forward to this cruise since we had booked it for a small fortune on a special loyalty members’ booking day almost two years earlier! Fred’s promo promised “some of the most unique and authentic sights and experiences Greece has to offer, this outstanding itinerary features an extensive array of highlights. Cultural gems, ancient archaeological treasures, postcard-perfect scenery and much more” including “fabulous food – all day, every day,” “dining with sophistication and style” on a ship where “timeless style flows throughout the interior,” a “tour to picturesque Alhambra Palace from Malaga” and lots, lots more! But Fred overpromised, overcharged and underdelivered. It was a real pity that our first experience on board this cruise was the poor service in the Thistle Restaurant for lunch. Although there weren’t many people seated and a large area of the restaurant was “mothballed”, there was just too few waiters. They just couldn’t cope with filling water glasses, clearing plates or laying tables. Sadly it was the same in every restaurant, every day at breakfast and lunch. The service at dinner was sometimes excruciatingly slow with second sitting queueing through the ship and up the stairs because restaurants just didn’t open on time. While the “Fred Olsen Difference” is supposed to be “service with a smile,” we saw one waiter running about serving dinner wiping the sweat from his brow on the sleeve of his jacket. The service in the bars was slow as well. The staff in the line-up at the captain’s farewell drinks looked frightened. The “tour to picturesque Alhambra Palace from Malaga” didn’t happen because we were late into Malaga. The excuse was ‘headwinds, currents, etc.” So many disappointed people! We were at first pleasantly impressed by the food offering and sirloin steak was really pretty good for mass catering on an Olsen ship but as the cruise went on, the food offering became pretty mundane. While there’s nothing wrong with bangers and mash, fishcakes, or “spag. boll” for a quick mid-week supper, it’s not what we had paid thousands and thousands of pounds for. We could have used the “speciality dining area” of the grill on the outside aft deck, at times when the weather wasn’t too cold, too windy, too wet or the sea was too rough but we couldn’t see why we should pay and extra £40 for something that’s included in the price of Fred’s competitors. The entertainment, including the show company, guest entertainers and lounge musicians was pretty good. Although, we did sit next to one chap who had seen a comedian so many times that he was able to tell his wife almost every single punch-line before the “comedian” was able to utter it. The real problem with entertainment is the lack of decent seating in the Neptune Lounge and in the Coral Club. Higher chairs are put in front of lower couches, and so many chairs have been crammed in that these areas have become painfully uncomfortable. The least movement is really difficult, sight-lines are seriously affected by pillars and despite having a thrust stage with the majority of the audience to the far left and far right the entertainers have to perform to a camera in the very front. We wouldn’t pay for uncomfortable seating, obstructed views and being seated almost behind performers in any venue on land. Excursions were often eye-wateringly expensive and sometimes the arrangements seemed to take us further and further away from the excursion bus. First it was a long walk along the length of the ship to pick up a sticker in the Neptune Lounge and then back again the length of the ship to the gangway and then back along the quay the length of the ship and… then a bit more to get to the bus. It seems so pointless to make passengers walk back and forward and back again when Fred’s competitors issue excursion passes at the top of the gangway and busses are often located at the foot of the same gangway. We’d paid a pretty high price for our cruise and for the same daily rate we could have booked into a decent country house and enjoyed far, far better accommodation, a fabulous dinner every night with a bottle of decent wine. In fact we could also have afforded theatre tickets for shows of the standard that Fred put on. On the other hand, we could also have travelled with one for Fred’s closest rivals in a far superior cabin, enjoyed immensely better food and been able to watch stunning shows in comfortable seats with unrestricted views in a proper theatre. Fred’s ticket price for this cruise was just the start. Hefty “Gratuities” are automatically added to cabin accounts... at the end of the first week about £280 was added to our bill and more was to come. WIFI would have cost another £300. On other ships ice-cream is included but Fred even changes extra for that. Spa treatments are in the region of £1 a minute. The drinks package offered onboard would have cost another £1,450. Fred’s “all inclusive” drinks package isn’t all-inclusive… I mean coffee is extra, branded spirits are extra, decent beers are extra, cocktails are extra, all bar one of the ciders are extra and even most of the modest wines on the list are all extra. A lasting memory of the Corinth Canal…. Being offered a couple glasses of champagne as we stepped back from the ship’s rail at the end of the transit. It was a very nice gesture we thought… but then, after we had sipped half of the bubbles, we were handed the bill. It was well over £20. Fred doesn’t miss a trick! Even my local posh gastro-pub doesn’t charge that much for proper champers! After having enjoyed so many cruises with Fred in years past, it is so, so sad and disappointing to now see that he’s charging so much more for so much less. Read Less
Sail Date September 2019
I read all the reviews before deciding on a holiday so only fair that I should leave my own objective review. This trip was our first time on Britannia and we had a fantastic trip. The food choices were really good, we ate normally in the ... Read More
I read all the reviews before deciding on a holiday so only fair that I should leave my own objective review. This trip was our first time on Britannia and we had a fantastic trip. The food choices were really good, we ate normally in the Oriental restaurant and were very well looked after with the waiters always offering more if we wanted it or to change things if they though we weren't keen. We also ate in Sindhu and Epicurean both well worth the extra cost. The grab and go sandwiches were perfect for daytime. We stayed in cabin F728 right on the back of the ship and absolutely loved it, it seemed more peaceful than the cabins on the side and we saw loads of dolphins and even a couple of whales - the downside however is that you can feel the engine vibrating more at the back and if the wind is in the right (or wrong) direction you do get soot on your balcony as mentioned on other reviews. Other comments on the cabin are that they could do with a good clean, there was mould in the bathroom in the shower and round the sink and the balcony was permanently dirty. I am not blaming the cabin cleaners I think because the ship goes straight back out it never gets a deep clean. I would only give the cabin 3 star at most In addition although maintenance seemed to be on-going the ship had a lot of rust on it and some machines in the gym weren't working a particular bug bear of my husbands. The entertainment was varied and loads of choice so something for everyone. One comment to note is if you are on second sitting there is never seats available in the live lounge. There were a number of celebrities on board but the price of £25 each to see them seemed a lot to me, this was included in the supper club but surely dinner was included anyway in the price we paid for the holiday. The guy from the Hollies was free and really well worth watching. We did our own thing in the ports as we don't need the hand holding the organised trips provided and had a great time in all the ports - Don't let Anfusa put you off by saying you'll miss the boat because trains are unreliable. We were disappointed we only had a half day in Gibraltar as it doesn't give you time for anything more than a whirlwind trip. We didn't have any problems with service anywhere on the ship everyone worked really hard Read Less
Sail Date September 2019
After a lumpy Bay of Biscay crossing, the rest of the cruise was excellent. The ship was going into dry dock at the end of this cruise for a spruce up. We had sailed on Britannia before so we knew our way round the ship. The lifts ... Read More
After a lumpy Bay of Biscay crossing, the rest of the cruise was excellent. The ship was going into dry dock at the end of this cruise for a spruce up. We had sailed on Britannia before so we knew our way round the ship. The lifts are still a bit of a problem, mainly as at either end of the ship they are smaller and often full at busy times. Considering the wear she has had, I thought she is holding up pretty well. I was especially pleased with the standard of food in the MDR, both in terms of service and quality. We eat in the Beach House for the first time and was pleasantly surprised at the quality and value for money. Cabins and balcony are ok but we knew that the balconies are smaller than on Azura. Cabin steward very good. Other than the 'Rat Pack' the entertainment was very good. P&O please leave Frank, Sammy and Dean on shore next time please. Looking forward to seeing the newly refurbed ship. Read Less
Sail Date September 2019
This was the infamous cruise which left 1200 passengers (including me and my wife) stranded in Monte Carlo. We even made the papers. Don't believe the stories about the weather getting worse and the passenger couldn't be ... Read More
This was the infamous cruise which left 1200 passengers (including me and my wife) stranded in Monte Carlo. We even made the papers. Don't believe the stories about the weather getting worse and the passenger couldn't be tendered back to the ship. The weather was just a light breeze and the transfer of passengers should have been perfectly OK. The problem was that their was an excess of large boats in the area due to the annual boat show. They caused the wake which made conditions in return back to the ship difficult for the able bodied and impossible for most of the elderly passengers. Communications were poor. After up to a 7 hour wait, the local police and on shore crew members guided us all to spend the night in Monte Carlo's basketball stadium. Sleeping on top of a cardboard box (after evicting the dead cockroaches) on the floor of the stadium was memorable. We were eventually tendered back to the ship the following day. A special mention must be made about the work done by the ships crew. Some worked all day and then all night and then the following morning again. Provisions and medicines had been transferred from the ship in dangerous conditions. One crew member feel overboard and that to luck and some quick thinking but the tender operator managed to survive with just bruising. P and O must really think hard if they plan to visit Monaco when the boat shows on. Regarding the ship. It was my 4th cruise and this ship was my favourite. It's due a refit next year which should bring it back to being one of the fleets top ships. The food on board was incredible. Breakfast was top quality both in the buffet and the restaurants. We had the odd light buffet lunch, where there was a large choice, from soups to snacks to full meals. And the evening meals were just as good. We went to the Sindhu restaurant and had fabulous signature meal. Unmissable. The on board entertainment was good. But after the problems at Monaco extra activities and entertainment were added to the schedule. There was even a show in the afternoon. We are independent travellers when we arrive at ports. However we decided to take the excursion to Seville. The guides knew their facts and managed to bypass the large queue when entering the cathedral. Well worth the cost. Read Less
Sail Date September 2019
We have been with NCl and Royal Carribean before. This itinerary worked for us and just trying something new. So Disappointing.The positives first. Embarkation was easy and well organised. Cabin L224 inside was fine. Staff were ... Read More
We have been with NCl and Royal Carribean before. This itinerary worked for us and just trying something new. So Disappointing.The positives first. Embarkation was easy and well organised. Cabin L224 inside was fine. Staff were very nice. Nightly entertainment was good . Plenty of outside space and sunbeds. Food was seriously poor. The mdr was terrible and the 4 times we were at it always someone at the table sent it back.(this is people who i do not know) The buffet food tasted fine but the selection was poor.You had a choice of tea coffee or water to drink except in the morning where there was orange and apple juice. Bars were totally under staffed. There was times i had thought they were brewing the beer. The staff new this and asked for this to be put into the survey. You had to go to deck 15 for a tea or a coffee or deck 5 and buy it at costa. No atmosphere on this boat at all.This may not be the cruise lines fault but the live music at the pool was good but for sleeping to. Ballroom dancing or knitting day time activities. Read Less
Sail Date September 2019
Mums 75th Birthday treat. Having not cruised with P and O for a few years I was surprised at how standards had slipped disappointingly. The food wasn’t anywhere near as good as it’s been on previous cruises with them. The ship ... Read More
Mums 75th Birthday treat. Having not cruised with P and O for a few years I was surprised at how standards had slipped disappointingly. The food wasn’t anywhere near as good as it’s been on previous cruises with them. The ship itself is noticeably tatty in places as well. Even the bedding wasn’t up to much, my pillow smelt, there were stains on quilts! The staff however were still great and very attentive, especially restaurant, bar and cabin staff and their commitment to their jobs noticeable. No blame is to be laid at their feet this was simply down to cost cutting on P and O’s side. Having cruised with Marella last year, the difference was quite significant now I think about it. You are totally mislead with the Steven Mulhearn show not as expected at all. Dance lessons however were great and good fun. The comedian was excellent and very funny. Not sure I’d cruise again with P and O given this last experience sadly. Read Less
Sail Date August 2019
Been on a few P&o cruises on ships Oceana, Azura and Brittania, so me and my partner decided to try Aurora and the Canary Islands. Overall we felt a bit dissapointed with this one. The ports were great and the excursions were great ... Read More
Been on a few P&o cruises on ships Oceana, Azura and Brittania, so me and my partner decided to try Aurora and the Canary Islands. Overall we felt a bit dissapointed with this one. The ports were great and the excursions were great but we felt that having a full day and evening in Tenerife on the Monday instead of a full and evening day in La Palma on the Sunday would have been better, as everything opened at 10:00 and shut at 14:00 in La Palma,so you were just on the ship until we sail away at 21:00. The ship was a great size, and the new refurbishment was great with new carpets and everything in communal areas seemed new, however you could tell it was built in 2000. A tiny TV, with only certain channels compared to the On Demand service you get on Brittania, also it was in a really awkward position in our cabin. There was only one plug socket in the whole room too, which in an era of technology isn't really the best. Although advitised as an Adults only cruise, it'll be better off advitised as a over 50s cruise. Myself and my partner are in our 20s, and managed to make friends with two other couples in their 20s. We all felt that the entertainment in the evenings was aimed at the over 50s. The only real act who engaged with the whole audience age wise was the comedian Phil Melbourne. One great act was the Irish lad who did acoustic guitar sets on the Lido deck and in the crows nest some evenings. The entertainment team were great, very welcoming and friendly. The Headliners this year I would say were below the expected standard. The vocalists really carried the show, as the dancers were quite poor. It seemed that the best vocalists and dancers go on Brittania and bigger ships. The shows seemed a bit dated too, compared to those we saw more recently on Brittania. Instead of a West End experience, it felt more like a Panto in your local theatre. The crew this year were great, from cabin steward to waiters. There was only one waiter we had a problem with as he got my starter wrong, giving me a mushroom sausage roll instead of Potted Shrimp, and heinsisted that was what I asked for, even though I don't like Mushrooms! If you're over 50 it's a great cruise for you, however if you're under 50 I'd aim for another ship in the fleet! Read Less
Sail Date August 2019
We chose a 12 day cruise with P & O on their Aurora ship this year as everyone we knew, who had cruised, said that they had always had a great time. This ship is now Adult only. We had a smooth and speedy embarkation at Southampton ... Read More
We chose a 12 day cruise with P & O on their Aurora ship this year as everyone we knew, who had cruised, said that they had always had a great time. This ship is now Adult only. We had a smooth and speedy embarkation at Southampton and having travelled from the North-east of England this was a very welcome start to our holidays. Our inside cabin was a moderate size but well furnished with a decent size bathroom (shower). Our cabin was immaculate with tea and coffee making facilities (replenished daily) and Sandesh, who looked after our cabin ensured that clean towels (and pool towels) were changed daily and bedding changed regularly. His attention to detail was very impressive. We were also impressed with the wide selection of food available. Food was available through the day as were refreshments. Food was hot and well presented. We dined in different restaurants as well as the self-serve areas (the Horizon) and one of our favourite places was the Medina Restaurant where we got exceptional service from Melwyn and Joel who really looked after us well each time we visited. When we did dine in the Horizon we were often looked after by Frauline who was a very friendly and funny guy and ensured that we had everything we needed to enjoy our meals. The entertainment was, in our opinion, 1st class considering the entertainment team have so many different shows and routines to perform so often. We were never short of things to do, the cinema showed relatively new films, the gym had modern equipment, there were activities to join in all day long and lots of different entertainment in lots of different bars onboard the ship. One of our favourite places to chill was The Crow's Nest. A definate plus was being able to visit a designated are for Costa Coffee on board. All the staff were very friendly and helpful throughout our holiday. We didn't go on any organised trips as we wanted to explore the ports ourselves and most were within walking distance although there were taxis available. One negative comment would be our visit to Lanzarote. We wondered why so many of the people we spoke to were not getting of the ship that day. Those of us who did were back on the ship within a very short time as there was little to do in the tiny resort we visited (most of which was closed). We now have the 'cruising' bug and are looking for our next adventure. Read Less
Sail Date August 2019
We have sailed with P&O since the nineties and last sailed on the Aurora during 2015 which was into the Mediterranean , so we were keen to try P&O again after having had four cruises with Celebrity . Cruise ... Read More
We have sailed with P&O since the nineties and last sailed on the Aurora during 2015 which was into the Mediterranean , so we were keen to try P&O again after having had four cruises with Celebrity . Cruise number R916 was to the Canaries and returning via La Coruna in Spain.The weather was fantastic and the seas were very calm the whole trip , we were very pleased with the whole experience. The ship is classed as mid size and is now child free after a part refit earlier this year . The ship was very comfortable and clean and the staff were very attentive and friendly. Our outside cabin was on the starboard side near the front and was well maintained by our steward Victor . The bed and bedding was a good standard as were the toiletries and the fluffy bath towels . The restaurants have either set times 6.30/8.30pm or any time dinning, we opted for any time since it is more flexible and you meet new people every night which we find more interesting.The food on this trip was first class and the waiting staff were very attentive, we never had to wait for a table , always willing to share with others preferring either a six or eight table size . The entertainment and the shows were the usual high standard and unlike previous shows they were not based on musicals, which were a change from the norm . The bars , bar staff and waiters were friendly and attentive and you found as soon as you sat down you were approached and served quickly. P&O now have a drinks package similar to the other cruise lines but this was not pressurised to buy and we found it was unnecessary since the drink prices are uk hotel prices ,not like the American lines which are very expensive plus service charge add ons . The Itinerary was the usual Madeira,La Palma, Tenerife Lanzarote and La Coruna on the way home . All the ports were easy to walk off and the people using walking aids , wheel chairs and electric scooters found this itinerary great since all harbours were near the towns . The only port that required a shuttle bus service was Lanzarote and the town supplied this to reach the centre also putting on a bus with a tail lift for wheel chairs etc , I thought this was a great facility to allow everyone to visit the town . The Aurora is only one of two in the P&O fleet to have a wrap round Prom deck which is well used for some fitness , this is a feature of more modern ships that is missing . Let’s hope the P&O fleet keep this size of ship but looks highly unlikely since they seem to be getting larger each time they are replaced. Read Less
Sail Date August 2019
Sail from Southampton was to be our first. 14 day western Med cruise. We are family of four so we booked a vista e733 and my daughters in a ocean view e709 close by. I had read bits about being above club fusion, but the suite was great ... Read More
Sail from Southampton was to be our first. 14 day western Med cruise. We are family of four so we booked a vista e733 and my daughters in a ocean view e709 close by. I had read bits about being above club fusion, but the suite was great and very quiet. It is a bit tired but very clean and very good balcony with no issue with the beam. We are regular cruisers with Princess, but our last was with Celebrity which was so good that I worried we would not go back to Princess. However the crew on Sapphire were so very very good, food was excellent and we are foodies, so well done Sapphire. Entertainment was first class, great singers and guest performers, best ever had on any cruise. The Sapphire is a smaller than Royal class Princess ships, but is a lovely ship, bathrooms do need complete refurb. Otherwise a great cruise and renewed my prefence to Princess. Booked onto Enchanted next summer as a result of this positive experience. Read Less
Sail Date August 2019
Princess Cruises is an American company and so I blame myself in part for not spotting the warning signs, even though I have visited the USA many times. Unlike the UK, where the price you see is the price you pay, every purchase made in ... Read More
Princess Cruises is an American company and so I blame myself in part for not spotting the warning signs, even though I have visited the USA many times. Unlike the UK, where the price you see is the price you pay, every purchase made in the USA will cost far more than its advertised price with all kinds of extras added - most significantly, tips. Which is why my extras bill following my 14-night cruise was approaching $2000, of which a significant proportion was "gratuities" On board the Sapphire Princess there are many examples of US influence, of which more later - but the first clue was when, as we stepped off the gangplank and entered the ship, we were approached by smiling Princess staff (as happens of other ships, of course) by the difference was that these staff were not there to guide us to our stateroom or even to point out the location of the lifts - that we had to sort out for ourselves. No, these staff were there to sell us extras - in this case drinks packages. By purchasing such a package we would be able to reduce the price of a bottle of wine to as "little" as $31 a bottle. And this selling of overpriced extras continued throughout the cruise. Of course, one can refuse them and that was the option I normally took. My partner also elected not to take any of the personal care extras such as the spa which, she assured me, was about three times UK prices (and doubtless would have required the payment of a gratuity). I have become used to the fact that drinks on ships are not cheap these days (when I started cruising they were UK prices or less) but the drinks prices on Princess were obscene. The glass of wine that would have cost Princess less than a dollar at wholesale duty-free prices was on offer to customers for $10 or more. And that's not all - every drink served attracted a non-optional "gratuity" of $14.50. So the bottle of beer that would have cost no more than $4 in a UK pub cost over $21 - of which probably $20 was clear profit to Princess. This rampant profiteering was actually counter-productive since those at my dinner table (and the other tables I could see) simply refrained from buying drinks and drank the free water supplied. Normally I would have at least one drink with dinner, as would have my companion. Had the drinks been half the price and the gratuity absent, Princess would still have made plenty of money on our dinner drinks; as it is they made next to nothing. The gratuity scam continued to the end of the voyage when a gratuity payment of $14.50 per person, per day, was added to my stateroom account. So that's over $400 just for tips - even though tips had already been added to many of the services. So I was paying tips on tips! So how was the cruise otherwise? Well, not bad - as it should have been for the money. My stateroom, with its balcony, was comfortable enough, although once again there were some issues related to the American ownership. I have never been on a cruise where the staterooms have sufficient electrical socket outlets and on a modern ship there is no reason why they should be supplied. After all, travellers will have such things as mobile 'phones, laptops, camcorders, curlers, hair-dryers and other things that need power. The Sapphire Princess provided 4 outlets and these were of US specifications, which had more disadvantages than that of simply being of the niggardly US voltage of 110V. US sockets are much smaller than UK sockets and thus, when an adaptor is used to convert the US outlet to the UK plug type, there is room for only one plug in each double US socket. So only two sockets can be used at any time. Of course, the obligatory bottle of mineral water was supplied at a high price ($2.36) should one not want to drink the warm tap-water. The on-board entertainment was good enough, although I have been on cruises where there is a greater variety. My major criticism of the entertainment was its timing. Passengers who had booked the second sitting for dinner, as had I, we simply unable to take advantage of many of the events as they started too early - 2030 or 2100 - when dinner rarely finished prior to 2200. I have never had this problem on other lines. But those intending to book with Princess would be well-advised to book an early dinner sitting. Of course, it would have been possible for us to have gone to the self-service restaurant - but when one has established a good relationship with one's fellow diners one wishes to maintain it. Overall the facilities were good and there were generally enough of them for all, although lounger-space around the pools was in short supply and some guests had taken to "reserving" a lounger with personal items - although this was supposedly forbidden. The "Movie under the stars" facility was impressive with its huge screen although it was a shame that nothing but the titles and ratings of the movies was given in the "Princess Patter" information sheets. So what is one to make of a movie entitled "Bohemian Rhapsody" if one has never seen its details anywhere. There was an in-cabin TV which gave some details of what was going on - but details of the movies were absent, although there was ample space to have shown such details in "Princess Patter" or on the TV. So would I cruise with Princess again? In a word, no, unless they do something about their prices. I can afford to pay them but I resent being ripped off - and, frankly, this is what Princess are doing. In conversation with our fellow travellers we found several who had been on multiple Princess cruises and were intending to pay a deposit for another one (on yes - the continuous on-board selling included forward bookings) but for me once was enough. Read Less
Sail Date August 2019
This was the second time that we’d cruised on this ship. Standards have certainly dropped. Firstly the good points. Embarkation at Southampton was excellent and totally stress free. The cabin was ready as soon as we walked onboard and ... Read More
This was the second time that we’d cruised on this ship. Standards have certainly dropped. Firstly the good points. Embarkation at Southampton was excellent and totally stress free. The cabin was ready as soon as we walked onboard and our room was very good. The ship has recently been upgraded and is very nice.Our cabin attendant was also very good throughout our holiday. Entertainment was also generally good. The bad points. The food was very poor in the main dining rooms and buffet areas. With the choice in the Waterside very limited. The payable restaurants were much better. The catering staff didn’t have any interest in the passengers and appeared sullen and unhelpful. I wonder if this is anything to do with the discontinuance of gratuities . I think that P&O need to ‘up their game’ to keep up with Celebrity and others. The overall experience has certainly put us off another P&O cruise. Read Less
Sail Date August 2019
This review includes information on our July 27, 2019, Mediterranean Explorer cruise on the Sapphire Princess. We chose this cruise because it included several less-visited ports that were of special interest to us. CRUISE ITINERARY: ... Read More
This review includes information on our July 27, 2019, Mediterranean Explorer cruise on the Sapphire Princess. We chose this cruise because it included several less-visited ports that were of special interest to us. CRUISE ITINERARY: MEDITERRANEAN EXPLORER (14 DAYS) Southampton, England; Portimão, Portugal; Cádiz, Spain; Málaga, Spain; Ajaccio, Corsica, France; Ceuta, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; Southampton, England ABOUT US John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our late sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I hoped to acquire a flag from Morocco, as well as local flags from Corsica and Ceuta. We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. We have cruised to or toured all seven continents, primarily in the Americas and Europe. On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, towers, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up for a good view. We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, with 675 days cruising on Princess. We have also sailed with Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Viking River and Commodore. ABOUT THE REVIEW Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, food etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including web links to tourist information sites and maps. In general, we prefer DIY port tours, private tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members or shared public tours. However, we will take a Princess tour when the logistics or cost make that a better option. Tour operator contact information is included in each port review. REVIEW OF THE CRUISE Precruise Days 1-7: Sat, 07/20/19 – Fri, 07/26/19 En Route to Portsmouth, UK Through Princess’ EZAir program, John and I had booked a mid-morning flight on United Airlines from RDU to IAD. That flight only takes about an hour, so we had a seven-hour layover at Dulles before the flight to London. We are Priority Pass Select members, so we spent most of that time in the Turkish Airlines Lounge. Over the two weeks prior to the trip, we had made a concerted effort to pre-adjust to British Summer Time, which is 5 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), by gradually moving our wake-up, dinner and bedtime three hours earlier. We also planned to sleep for most of the 7.5 hour nonstop flight from IAD to LHR. As usual, the flight was almost completely full. After arriving at LHR Sunday morning, we planned to spend five nights in London. We had visited there twice before but there was still a lot for us to see. Then we planned to take a National Express coach to Portsmouth and visit several attractions there. Finally, we would take National Express on Saturday morning to Southampton and taxi to the ship. London was a smashing success and it was especially easy to get to Victoria Coach Station for our morning bus ride to Portsmouth. The coach was comfortable, the ride smooth, relatively short, and the price really low! We planned our stay in Portsmouth in order to visit the Sherlock Holmes exhibits in the town museum and to visit the spectacular Mary Rose Museum. It is also a short coach ride to Southampton. Day 1 Saturday, July 27: Portsmouth to Southampton, UK We had stayed previously at The George Hotel (thegeorgehotel.org.uk), a small hotel and pub with small, quaint comfortable rooms. The George is convenient to the train and coach stations as well as to attractions like the Historic Naval Dockyard and the Mary Rose Museum. Our room was a little noisy since we were in front and had street noise. This morning we awoke to light drizzle after a relatively peaceful night. The street noise didn't bother me much and John said that the earplugs really helped him, except for some motorcycles that sounded like jets taking off. After a full English breakfast (included in room rate) of two poached eggs, grilled tomato, mushrooms, bacon, banger (sausage), baked beans (I skipped those), toast and orange juice, we relaxed in our room until it was time for the short walk to the bus depot. By then the rain had turned to a light mist. The 90-minute coach ride (5 GBP pp) to Southampton was uneventful. The taxi driver at the coach station was not enthusiastic about our asking to pay by credit card for the 6 GBP fare to the Mayflower Cruise Terminal. However, he finally agreed; after he dropped us off, he was able to pick up a group of Sapphire Princess crew members who were looking for a ride into town. Also in port today were the Independence of the Seas and the P&O Britannia. Check in was different from the usual procedure: we got our cruise cards, waited a short time for the Elite/Suite passengers to be called, went through security screening and boarded the ship. We were in our stateroom by noon, although not all of the cabins were ready for about another hour. We had originally booked a BF Balcony Guarantee and were assigned a BD Balcony on the Caribe deck, port side aft, a few weeks before sailing. Our cabin steward, Sonia from the Philippines, stopped by to greet us and dropped off a bag of upgraded toiletries (now in a blue bag and with slightly different contents). John called the Dine Line to make dinner reservations for tonight and tomorrow, as well as to inquire about the Chef's Table and any special wine events. There is no Winemaker Dinner on this ship but a Tuscan Wine Pairing would be offered if there was enough interest (there wasn’t). After that, I called Room Service to request some substitutes for our complimentary minibar items, two wine glasses and a lime. Those items were brought later in the afternoon, except for the lime because those were still in storage. I also called the other couples with whom we would be touring later in the cruise. After taking care of those issues, we unpacked our suitcases and put everything away. I had tried a new packing technique (Ranger Roll). As promised, the resulting bundles were a bit more compact than my usual rolling method but everything seemed more wrinkled. Maybe I just need more practice. I eventually visited the laundromat to press a few items. Sonia seemed concerned that we must be near death from starvation and was pushing the various luncheon venues. However, we were still too full from breakfast to have lunch at our favorite spot—Alfredo's Pizzeria. Not to worry; we would be putting the BOGO embarkation night coupon (from the coupon book gifted by our TA) to good use at the steakhouse later this evening. While exploring the ship we were happy to see that the Wine Bottle Package was being actively promoted; usually the existence of the package (when available) is treated like a state secret. Only Gold 7-, 10- and 12-bottle packages were offered for $217, $290 and $336 (plus 18% gratuity), respectively. Each punch is good for a bottle of wine priced up to $45. If you want a bottle costing me than $45, you are charged the full price (without additional gratuity) and a $45 credit is issued to your stateroom account John bought the 12-bottle package. The passenger safety drill ran late for some reason but we were back on our balcony in time to watch the 4 p.m. sail away. That was also delayed when the Captain announced that a guest was being disembarked from the ship. We went down to the Promenade Deck in hopes of seeing the police leading some international criminal mastermind away in handcuffs. Sadly, it was a medical emergency. The guy was sitting up on the gurney, so perhaps it was just an abundance of caution to send him to the hospital. Still it was better for him to get thoroughly evaluated before the ship departed for two days at sea, where a medical evacuation would be more difficult and dangerous. Although we chose Anytime Dining for this cruise, we generally avoid the first-night commotion in the main dining rooms by eating at one of the extra-charge specialty restaurants (plus we had the BOGO coupon). Tonight we chose the Sterling Steakhouse ($29 pp cover charge). On this ship, there is not a dedicated area for the steakhouse; in the evening a section on the aft port side of the Horizon Court is used (the corresponding section on the starboard side is used for the Crab Shack on certain nights). For starters, we both had the beef carpaccio followed by the black-and-blue onion soup for John and the shrimp bisque for me. As mains John had the rib-eye steak and I had the NY strip. With that, we enjoyed 2015 Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon. We ended the meal with raspberry crème brûlée for John and a chocolate peanut butter bar (one of Norman Love's Chocolate Journeys) for me. We finished dinner early enough to attend the Welcome Aboard Showtime, featuring a Celine Dion tribute act, Tracey Shield. The show was geared to a UK audience and we had only heard a couple of the songs before. Before the show started, the Cruise Director, Paul Chandler-Burns, announced that the 2900+ guests aboard represented 35 countries. The vast majority (>75%) were from the UK followed by the USA (<10%); Canada, Australia and New Zealand rounded out the top five. Back at the cabin, we were amazed to find a message from Michelle Loubser, the Captain's Circle Host, that we were the third-most traveled passengers on this cruise. We have never ranked so high before! She wanted us to stop by her desk tomorrow to discuss the benefits we would receive for spending so much money on Princess cruises all these years. Day 2 Sunday, July 29: At Sea Our usual sea day pattern is this: wake up, shower and get dressed, find a nice spot to read while Sonia makes up our stateroom, eat lunch (Alfredo's), read and enjoy a drink on our balcony, eat dinner, go to a show, read in the cabin/balcony, go to sleep. Occasionally we will add a walk, lecture, movie or some other activity to our busy day. Unfortunately, the weather on the two sea days leaving and returning to Southampton was not the best, so we were not able to enjoy the large balcony as much as we had hoped. This morning we camped out at Michelle's desk so that we could get those formalities over as soon as she arrived. It turned out that we would be recognized at all of the three Platinum/Elite Captain's Circle parties later in the cruise. We could attend the party of our choice, where we would have a designated table and drink server; we also could pre-order our desired drinks. The gifts were a bottle of Sonterini Prosecco, a plastic (!) souvenir box and a photo with the Captain. Unfortunately the actual Most-Traveled event would only be a cocktail party—not the sumptuous luncheon we prefer. With that taken care of, we headed to the Princess Theater for the port lecture on Portimão, Portugal. Destination Expert Debbie Shields had lots of details on the sights and good information for independent travelers. Because there were so many ports without intervening sea days, some of her lectures would be live and others recorded; all of her lectures would be available on the stateroom TV. The recorded talks were delivered in a monotone so they were not nearly as good as the live ones. After the lecture, we enjoyed our first lunch at Alfredo's; John had the Capricciosa pizza and I had the vegetarian. On this ship, the menu only consists of pizza, with no antipasti, salads or other dishes. However, some of those items could be brought in from the nearby International Cafe. While we were eating, we saw a large fish (tuna?) jump and later John saw dolphins. When we returned to the cabin for a glass of wine, we had a phone message from Philip (P&T), who had organized a taxi tour to Carcassonne for eight members of our Cruise Critic roll call and a private transfer to LHR for six of us. He suggested that all of us meet this afternoon in the International Cafe so we could start putting names to faces. Tonight was the first of three formal nights in this cruise. Perhaps because of the large number of Brits, a higher proportion of men than usual (maybe 1/4 to 1/3) were wearing actual tuxedos or white dinner jackets (like John). The Captain's Champagne Waterfall was held between the two traditional dinner sittings. We skipped that in favor of dinner at Sabatini's ($29 pp cover charge). We both started with the artichoke soufflé, which is one of our favorite dishes here. For the pasta course, John chose the penne with short ribs and I had the spinach manicotti. For our main course, we both chose the daily special, veal Milanese. As we entered the restaurant, we were tempted by the cheese cart and decided to have a cheese plate for dessert (Pecorino, goat cheese and a lovely, runny Gorgonzola). The wine tonight was 2015 Prunotto Barolo. Even with taking time for a leisurely dinner, we were able to attend the first of four production shows, "Bravo." Although this show had been offered on several of our previous cruises, this was the first time we were able to catch it. It is a bit hard to describe this show—the musical numbers ranged from movie theme songs to opera. Of the four featured performers, the three sopranos were much better than the tenor, who got drowned out by orchestra. The soprano, Shelly Rivers, who sang the operatic pieces, was superb. Day 3 Monday, July 30: At Sea This morning the port lecture was about Cádiz, Spain. We had to leave before it was over in order to meet with the Maitre d', Neville Saldanha, about the Chef's Table. Unlike other Princess ships, there seemed to be no interest in accommodating people with dietary restrictions. Only two Chef's Tables would be offered on this cruise and there was a waiting list of 20 people. We would be notified of the date of our dinner 48 hours ahead. Pizza at Alfredo's was the Sapphire Princess for John and Romano for me. In the afternoon, Shelley Rivers gave a matinee performance that we attended. Tonight was the cocktail party in Skywalkers nightclub for the 40 most-traveled passengers with Princess. Even though this is not an actual meal, the heavy hors d'oeuvres served easily take the place of dinner for us. The assortment included bacon-wrapped sea scallops, lollipop lamb chops, potatoes filled with caviar and other tasty treats. Drinks made to order were also freely supplied. This was all very nice, but a luncheon is much more special. Maybe next time!! At least we got a nice photo with Captain Paul Slight. We were not excited about the ventriloquist act in the Princess Theater tonight. Instead we shivered out on the open deck watching the magic act, Amethyst, perform various escapes. Day 4 Tuesday, July 30: Portimão, Portugal (Tender) 7 AM-5:30 PM This was the only tender port; the Sapphire Princess anchored off Portimão in the estuary of the Arade River. The ship's tenders (called water shuttles on this cruise for some reason) berthed at the ferry terminal. There was a complimentary shuttle bus from the ferry terminal to the city center. Portimão (www.planetware.com/portugal/portimao-p-faro-port.htm), on the Algarve Coast, is noted for its dramatic limestone cliffs and many sea caves and grottos. The ship did not offer any boat tours to the sea caves, so John booked one independently. Even though our tour was not until 9:30 a.m., we took the first tender ashore. That gave us enough time to walk to Praia da Rocha, a beautiful beach studded with huge rocks, in an area dense with high-rise resorts. (Portimão is an extremely popular vacation destination and there are resorts everywhere.) We did not think that we had enough time to walk to the miradouro (overlook) above the beach at the Fortaleza de Santa Catarina de Ribamar, so we walked back into town. The Clube Naval de Portimão, the departure point for our tour, is only a sort distance from the tender dock by water but about a mile away by land. There are a number of companies offering similar boat tours from the same pier, so there was a lot of confusion. We had hoped to take the boat tour early in the morning when the sea is calmest. However the jeep portion of our four-hour combo land/sea tour with Algarve Discovery (www.algarvediscovery.com) came first. Seven of us piled into an open top jeep with our driver, Bruno. Portimão once was home to many fish processing plants and their chimneys are now topped by stork nests; we saw many during our drive through the city center. Bruno drove us across the Arade River to Ferragudo, a quaint fishing village on the other side. We stopped at the Igreja Matriz de Ferragudo (Main Church of Ferragudo) and admired the view of the river and Portimão from its terrace above the sea. We could also see the Fortaleza de São João do Arade, which is now privately owned, and the Santa Catarina Fortress across the river. The crossfire from these two forts protected the Arade River from pirates. We continued east to the resort town of Carvoeiro, stopping briefly above the town for a view of its popular beach. There is a short (570 m) clifftop boardwalk that runs east along the coast from above Carvoeiro to the Algar Seco cliffs. From the parking lot at Algar Seco, there are steps down to some fascinating rock formations. The stairs on the right lead to a small cave with two large holes, like eyes, looking out to the gorgeous blue ocean. The cave is called “A Boneca” (the doll) because, from the sea, it resembles a doll’s face. The stairs on the left lead down to an exposed sinkhole where seawater has entered to form a swimming grotto. Continuing from there on a rough trail to the ocean, we came to a spot that is popular for jumping into the water and also encountered a fisherman, who had already caught three fish. We had about 30 minutes to enjoy scrambling around on the rocks. We spent our last few minutes there climbing up to the boardwalk for an elevated view of the area. Then it was time for the drive back to Portimão by a faster, inland route. Back at the pier, Bruno turned us over to Mauro, the boat driver, and Luis, who would provide commentary on the tour of the sea caves. This company uses a motor launch, which is larger but faster than the zodiacs used by some other companies. It is also possible to kayak to the caves and some can even be reached by swimming from a nearby beach. The boat tour follows the coast in the same direction as the jeep tour but goes farther east. The tour description promised that we would enter a minimum of four sea caves but we entered at least three times that many. In several caves, we could enter through one opening and exit through another. Some of the openings and passages between the rocks seemed too small for the boat to go through, but Mauro knows the area in detail and could provide us with some thrills. Luis provided another sort of thrill: teasing us about snakes that might fall from the ceilings of the caves. Of course, he eventually tossed a rubber snake into the group. When the boat reached Algar Seco, we could see the Boneca cave that we had explored earlier and watch a couple of people brave the jump into the cold water. The final cave, Benagil, is the highlight of the tour. It is quite large and has a huge opening in the ceiling. The popular beach inside can only be reached by boat, kayak or swimming from another nearby beach. On the ride back to the pier, we had more opportunities to take in the gorgeous scenery. We enjoyed this tour immensely and recommend it highly. We considered walking around the center of Portimão after the boat tour but decided that we had seen enough during the jeep tour. We walked back to the ferry terminal to find a gigantic queue of passengers waiting to return to the ship. Even though the Sapphire Princess was running tenders continuously, there was only one berth; each tender had to offload its passengers and board a new group before another tender could dock. It took us an hour to get back on the ship. Dinner tonight was in the Pacific Moon dining room. We were happy to discover that it was Italian Night, featuring some of our favorite appetizers: seafood antipasto, eggplant parmigiana and garlicky Penne all’Arrabbiata. For the main course, we had scallops and shrimp. John had zabaglione ice cream for dessert and I had tiramisu. The wine was a 2018 Pouilly-Fumé. Tonight Amethyst gave their main performance. I usually enjoy magic acts a lot but didn't find this one to my taste. Amethyst didn't seem to have the same sort of flair and stage presence as other magicians (e.g., Gaetano Garofalo) we have seen on Princess. During the night the clocks would be set forward one hour to be correct for the ports in Spain and France. Day 5 Thursday, July 31: Cádiz, Spain 7 AM-6:30 PM Also in port today was the Explorer of the Seas. On a previous cruise that was scheduled to call at Cádiz, we had hoped to take a shared public excursion to Seville. Unfortunately, bad weather in the Bay of Biscay caused that stop to be canceled. In Seville, we especially wanted to visit the Alcazar and the Cathedral de Seville. Because of the anticipated holiday crowds, we were concerned that neither an independent tour nor the ship's "Seville on Your Own" tour would allow us sufficient time to visit both. Consequently, we booked the ship's expensive "Small Group" excursion that promised to deliver both sights. Our "small group" of 16 headed off on the 90-minute drive to Seville (www.visitasevilla.es/en/official-webguide-seville) with our driver, Carmen, and guide, Silvio. Along the way, Silvio told us more that most probably wanted to know about Andalusia. Things got more interesting as we entered the city. We drove down Av. de Maria Luisa, a wide boulevard lined with a number of interesting buildings that were once the country pavilions at the 1929 Exposicion Ibero-Americano. Silvio also pointed out the Royal Tobacco Factory, the setting of Bizet's famous opera “Carmen.” Carmen dropped us off across the street from the Jardines de Murillo, where we were issued Whisper sets so that we could hear Silvio at a distance. Although it took a while to get everyone properly connected, the sets ultimately proved beneficial when we could wander off to see other parts of a site (while Silvio droned on) and then find the group later. We crossed into the gardens, where there is a monument to Christopher Columbus. Interestingly, the only names on the monument are Isabella and Fernando—the sovereigns who sponsored his voyage. We walked through the shady park, with lots of trees, including a 100-year-old rubber tree. Silvio then guided us through the narrow streets and pretty squares of Barrio de Santa Cruz, the former Jewish quarter. We finally arrived at the Royal Alcazar (realalcazarsevilla.sacatuentrada.es/en). The original palace was built for Pedro I in the 14th century and modeled on the Alhambra in Granada. Over the centuries, other monarchs added wings to the palace in the architecture of the times: Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque. We first visited the Chapel of Our Lady of the Navigators, where sailors (likely including Christopher Columbus) prayed before undertaking a voyage. The altarpiece depicts Mary floating between Europe and the New World, blessing the people of those continents and an assortment of sailing vessels from the Age of Discoveries. There is a model of the Santa Maria and the coats of arms of prominent trading families, including the Columbus family, hang on the walls. We next visited the main part of the complex (the part built for Pedro I), which is laid out like a typical Moorish palace: entry hall, welcoming fountain court, hall for dignitaries to wait and audience chamber. Those rooms are surrounded by many smaller rooms for the king and his family. The rooms are not furnished: the attractions are the fantastic mosaic tile work, intricate plaster decorations and ornate wooden ceilings. It was here that the Whisper sets really proved their worth: John and I were able to explore multiple rooms, courtyards and gardens while Silvio pontificated in another room. Next the group toured the gardens, with fountains and pavilions. It was almost noon, so Silvio hustled us over to the unusual 17th-century Hydraulic Organ; which plays a tune every hour. There are only three other such water-powered organs left in the world. After visiting a few more rooms in the palace, we headed to the nearby cathedral. The main attraction of the Gothic 15th-century Cathedral de Seville is the elaborate tomb of Christopher Columbus. That features statues of four kings bearing Columbus' coffin. Silvio said that the remains in the coffin had been confirmed to be those of Columbus by DNA comparison to his son, who is buried elsewhere in the cathedral. Although filled with art, this cathedral was not as impressive as others we have visited, primarily because of the poor lighting. The immense altarpiece above the main altar, for example, is only lit intermittently. Although most of the group took up Silvio's offer of a guided tour, John and I looked around on our own. Unfortunately, our free time here was not long enough to climb the famous Giralda tower. After a walk back through the old Jewish quarter, we returned to the park and surrendered our Whisper sets. Following a short bus ride, we reached our lunch venue at the Restaurante San Marco (restaurantesevillasanmarco.com). Lunch was a green salad, chicken breast in mushroom-cream sauce with patatas bravas (potatoes in tomato sauce), and profiteroles for dessert. There were a liter of water and a bottle of house red wine on the table for every four people. It was all decent but nothing remarkable. After lunch we drove a few blocks to the final attraction, the Moorish-themed Plaza de España, Andalusia’s pavilion for the Exposicion Ibero-Americano. This stop, for a photo op and limited free time, turned out to be an unexpected delight. The semicircular pavilion has two levels of galleries and towers at each end; it played the British headquarters in Cairo in the film "Lawrence of Arabia." A lagoon for boating follows the curve of the façade. Several bridges cross the lagoon to the plaza, which is quite large and scenic and has an attractive fountain in the center. In retrospect we probably could have been happy with the “Seville on Your Own Tour”, but we could not know in advance that the crowds were not going to be that bad and the ticket lines relatively short. We went with the guarantee of seeing the essentials. Because of the large lunch, we decided to dine tonight at Alfredo's. The Supervisor there, Pedro, made Caesar salads for us to go with our pizzas. He also obtained a wine list from one of the dining rooms so that we could enjoy a bottle of 2015 Numanthia Termes, a delicious tempranillo from Spain. We skipped the Comedy Showtime tonight; it featured a British performer and we feared that his jokes would be so geared to a UK audience that we would not enjoy them. Apparently the audience at the first show did not enjoy them either (we read on Facebook that many walked out). Later that evening there was an announcement that the second show was canceled and a movie would be shown instead. Day 6 Friday, August 1: Málaga, Spain 8 AM-5:30 PM On a previous cruise, our ship called at Málaga and we took a shared public tour to the Alhambra in Granada. This time we planned to tour Málaga (www.malagaturismo.com/en) on our own and also take a market tour with a company that we had used twice before for food tours in Barcelona. It was an easy walk from the cruise terminal, along the marina and through a pretty park to the entrance of the Alcazaba fortress. We arrived before it opened at 9 a.m. and had time to view the adjacent 1st-century Roman Theater (opens at 10 a.m.) from the street. We planned to return later to tour the theater and go to the viewpoints at either end. Buying tickets for the Alcazaba (www.andalucia.com/cities/malaga/alcazaba.htm) was an odd experience: there is a ticket agent who helps you put cash (euro coins or 5, 10, 20 euro bills) into a ticket machine. The senior entry fee is 3€ pp or 4€ pp for a combo ticket with the Castillo Gibralfaro (1.5€ pp, senior rate), a companion fortress. We did not think (then) that we would have time to visit the Castillo, so we only bought tickets for the Alcazaba. Málaga is one of Spain's oldest cities; the Alcazaba (11th century) is older than the Alhambra (13th century) and is the best-preserved Moorish fortress in Spain. It is not as large or richly decorated as the Alhambra; however, it has been nicely (but not completely) restored and there are great views from the walls. Because we were the first persons to enter, we took lots of great photos while the fortress was empty. The gardens and water features are also very nice. We spent about an hour at the Alcazaba, then headed to the Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación (malagacatedral.com/cultural-visit/). There are various ticket combinations; we chose the basic tour for 5.5€ pp (senior rate), which includes a very well-done audioguide. The basic ticket also includes the Episcopal Palace, but that was closed while we were there. We enjoyed this cathedral even more than the one in Seville, primarily because it was much better lit and the audioguide was so good. We had plenty of time to tour the cathedral before we had to meet the market tour. We had booked this market tour (foodlovertour.com/malaga/market-lover-tour/) several months in advance and had been concerned that the minimum number of participants might not be reached. However, we got an email reminder a few days before the tour, so we thought all was well. As requested, we were at the meeting point (entrance of the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga) 15 minutes ahead of the 11:30 a.m. start time. Then we waited and waited and waited. When no guide had shown up by noon, a staff member at a nearby sushi restaurant was kind enough to let me use his phone to call the contact number on our reservation. Imagine my surprise when the person who answered said that he had not worked for Food Lover for over two months! He said he would try to contact someone at the company’s office in Barcelona. After waiting another 15 minutes for a return call, we decided to leave and continue our sightseeing, having wasted 1.5 hours of our limited time in port. To add insult to injury, a few days later we received an email thanking us for taking the tour and asking us to review it on TripAdvisor! After we returned home, John contacted the Barcelona office and learned that the Málaga tours had been temporarily suspended and our reservation had somehow slipped through the cracks. Of course, our deposit was refunded and we were offered a complimentary tour in the future. Nevertheless, this was a great disappointment by a company that had provided such excellent service twice before in Barcelona. After giving up on the market tour, we returned to the Theatro Romano (www.andalucia.com/cities/malaga/teatro-romano.htm). There is a panoramic overlook of the theater near the Alcazaba’s entrance and a higher one at the other end of the theater, behind the Visitor Center. The entrance to the theater (free) is through the Visitor Center and there are some displays of Roman artifacts. This is a small site and we had already viewed it from the street, so we did not need to spend a lot more time here. We had considered taking a tour to the roof of the cathedral for views of Málaga. However, we realized that we would get much better views from the Castillo Gibralfaro (www.andalucia.com/cities/malaga/gibralfaro.htm), which is higher up Monte Girbralfaro than the Alcazaba. The two fortresses are connected by a fortified double wall along the Coracha ridge; unfortunately, that route is not open to the public. From the Roman Theater’s exit we walked up Paseo de Don Juan Temboury, which follows the Alcazaba’s outer wall. That street joins a cobbled path that follows the outside of the Coracha wall up to the Castillo. Along the way, there are great views of the city, the port and the bullring. Despite the heat, we were able to manage the 40-minute climb in 17 minutes. Buying a ticket to the Castillo (1.5€ pp, senior rate) involved the same ticket agent/ticket machine procedure as at the Alcazaba. Once inside, we took a little rest in the shade to cool down and then spent about an hour exploring the monument. To return to the ship, we walked back down the path to the zigzag steps which lead down through a series of pretty gardens back to the waterfront. To console ourselves for missing the market tour, we dined tonight at Sabatini's. This time, John started with the calamari, while I had the veal tonnato; that was followed by the penne with short ribs for both of us. For mains, John had the veal rack and I had the special, saltimbocca; those were accompanied by Gaia Promis Tuscan 2016. John thought the wine was kind of young and maybe overpriced but he wanted to try it. We again ended the meal with a cheese platter. After that delicious dinner, we were able to find seats for the production show, “Born to Be Wild.” Day 7 Friday, August 2: At Sea Today gave us a chance to recuperate from three straight days in port. Lunch was Capricciosa pizza for John and a Sapphire Princess pizza for me. Tonight was the second of three formal nights and we again enjoyed dinner at the Sterling Steakhouse. We both started with the seared shrimp, followed by the shrimp bisque for John and the black-and-blue onion soup for me. John’s carnivorous instincts were satisfied by the filet mignon and mine by the double lamb chops. Those were enjoyed with 2017 Donnafuggata Nero d'Avalo—excellent but young. Dessert was the chocolate peanut butter bar for John and a lemon tart for me. During dinner we were treated to a great sunset and the ship was buzzed several times by a low-flying private jet. The performer tonight was Phillip Browne, a singer who has starred as Mufasa in “The Lion King” and in many other productions. He was outstanding, with real stage presence, and delivered a pleasant evening of rock and show tunes. Day 8 Saturday, August 3: Ajaccio, Corsica, France 8 AM-4:30 PM Corsica (ee.france.fr/en/discover/corsica-5) is a department of France and the capital, Ajaccio, is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte (2019 marks 250 years since his birth). Of course, there are numerous statues of Napoleon and the house where he lived and the cathedral where he was baptized are now tourist attractions. We would walk by some of these sites later in the afternoon. First, however, we would drive, with three other couples from our Cruise Critic roll call, to several of the island's major sights. We gathered everyone in the Art Gallery to divide up the 450€ (112.50€/couple) cost of the tour. It was a relief for me that everyone had brought either the correct change or small bills. We were outside the cruise terminal early but we didn’t have to wait too long for Xavier of Authentic Tour (www.authentictour.net) to show up. Xavier drove us along the western coast of the island, stopping several times for stunning vistas of the gorgeous beaches along the Gulfs of Liscia and Sagone. We were really glad that he was doing the driving on the twisty, narrow mountain, coastal and village roads! We stopped for refreshments (a croissant and a glass of the local rosé for us) in Piana at A Casa Corsa (www.acasacorsa-piana.com), a small cafe perched on the cliffs above the Gulf of Porto. We continued along above the Calanches de Piana: precipitous red granite cliffs nearly a thousand feet high. Erosion has carved dramatic rock formations reminiscent of Bryce Canyon NP in Colorado. There was not enough time today to drive the entire road to Porto but Xavier dropped us off at the top of his favorite section so we could walk down for about a kilometer, enjoying the fantastic views. The Calanches are part of the Gulf of Porto UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the return trip, we stopped in Cargèse, a picturesque village we had bypassed earlier. Cargèse is also known as "the Greek Village" because a large Greek community settled here in 1676. The two noteworthy monuments are the Latin (Roman Catholic) and Greek Byzantine churches. The churches are about 300 feet apart, on opposite sides of a shallow depression in the hillside. Thus each is best viewed from the terrace in front of the other. Xavier dropped us at the Greek church so we could admire its beautiful murals and the icons that were brought here with the original Greek settlers. The highlight of the Catholic church is its interior featuring “trompe l'oeil” paintings. Both churches date to the 19th century. Xavier was waiting for us at the Catholic church for the ride back to Ajaccio (www.ajaccio-tourisme.com). After this great tour with good, enthusiastic commentary along way, we had the choice of being dropped off at the cruise terminal or at Place Foch in town. We all chose to go downtown and walk back to the ship on our own. Xavier gave us advice about what to see in this small pretty town. John and I walked to Place DeGaulle, with an equestrian statue of Napoleon, then along the promenade above a crowded beach. We tried to visit the cathedral but it was still closed for the midday break and would not reopen for another hour. We returned to Place Foch, where there is a statue of Napoleon dressed as a Roman emperor. I also found a Corsican regional flag, which features a black Moorish head with a white bandanna above the eyes; this symbolizes the liberation of Corsica from Genoa. We then walked along some of the major streets, passing Casa Napoleon, before heading back to the ship. Dinner was in the Savoy dining room. John started with gravlax and Fettuccine Alfredo and I had Caesar salad and spinach-ricotta ravioli. We both followed that with veal scallopini and chocolate caramel nougatine tart. Tonight’s wine was Frescobaldi Nippuzano Chianti Rufina 2015. We skipped the show, an Adele tribute act. Day 9 Sunday, August 4: Sète, France 7 AM-4:30 PM In her lecture on Sète, our Destination Expert had given a good synopsis of the history of the Cité de Carcassonne, the double-walled fortress that occupies a hilltop above the Aude River. The hilltop was first fortified by the Romans around 100 BC and later by the Visigoths, Saracens and Franks. In the 11th century, the Trencavel family became the rulers of Carcassonne and built the Château Comtal and the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus. During this period the Cathar religious movement was spreading in the Languedoc region. The Cathars were a Christian sect that espoused two gods: a good god who ruled the spiritual realm and an evil god who ruled the material world. In the early 13th century, Pope Innocent III tried to stamp out this heresy by sending missionaries to convert the Cathars and pressuring the local authorities, who were considered much too tolerant of the movement, with excommunication. Eventually Innocent launched a 20-year crusade to wipe out the Cathars once and for all. Carcassonne, then ruled by Viscount Raymond-Roger de Trencavel, was besieged; the siege ended within a week when the Crusaders cut off the fortress’ water supply. While negotiating his city's surrender during a truce, Raymond-Roger was taken prisoner and died not long after under suspicious circumstances. The people of Carcassonne were not killed but stripped of their possessions and expelled from the city. By the mid 19th century, the fortress had fallen into such disrepair that the French government planned to demolish it. However, this announcement caused a public uproar and the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was put in charge of restoring the fortress to its medieval state. In the 1960s, the conical slate roofs of the D-shaped Gallo-Roman towers were replaced with shallow-pitch terracotta tile roofs to restore their original appearance. Carcassonne is Europe's largest and best-preserved medieval fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of France’s top tourist destinations. It has also been the filming location for several movies, such as Kevin Costner’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” Philip (P&T) had organized a taxi van tour from Sète to Carcassonne for himself and his three traveling companions plus John and me and another couple from our Cruise Critic roll call. Booking was a frustrating experience because Nancy at Absolutely Southern France (absolutelysouthernfrance.com) had requested the full 480€ payment from Philip in advance. Also, she insisted that port calls are never canceled at the last minute due to bad weather and required 24 hours notice to cancel with a full refund. She refused to budge on the cancellation policy but finally agreed to take separate 120€ payments from each couple. It had been so hard to find an independent tour option at a reasonable price that we all finally agreed to take the chance that the ship would call in Sète and to rely on our travel insurance or a credit card charge back if it did not. All of us met in Crooners bar an hour before the tour’s 8 a.m. start time. We needed to allow so much extra time because the Sapphire Princess was docked in an industrial area with no pedestrian access allowed. The required complimentary shuttle bus ran more frequently than expected, so this was not a problem and we arrived at the port gates well ahead of time. Fortunately, Philip had the driver’s (Arnaud) phone number, so we were able to get on the road much earlier than we had anticipated. [Note: Arnaud has his own business, Sète Grand Tour, and can be booked through the Tourist Office (www.tourisme-sete.com/sete-grand-tour-sete.html).] It is a 1.5-hour drive from the port to Carcassonne. We arrived at the Porte Narbonnaise (the main entrance) a little after 9 a.m., well ahead of the hordes of tourists. John and I were a little disappointed at first when Arnaud told us to be back at the van by 12:30 p.m. to allow for possible heavy traffic on the drive back to the port. Ultimately, however, 3.5 hours was plenty of time to see all the sights. Entrance to the medieval town within the walls is free but there is a charge to tour the Château Comtal and the ramparts (www.remparts-carcassonne.fr/en/). All eight of us had bought skip-the-line tickets ($10.20 pp) online from Viator. The Château did not open until 10 a.m., so John and I took advantage of our early arrival to explore while the fortress was relatively empty. After walking counter-clockwise between the outer wall (14 towers) and the inner wall (24 towers) and briefly seeing the medieval town, we exited by the Porte d’Aude and walked down the cobbled ramps to the lower town (www.tourism-carcassonne.co.uk/maps-and-guides). Parts of the barbican (semicircular gate fortification) here were destroyed in 1816 to build the Église St-Gimer. We continued along the Rue de la Barbacane to the Place de la Barbacane, where we could access the Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) that crosses the Aude River. This structure was built in the early 14th century. There are fantastic views of the fortress from the bridge. At its far end is the tiny Chapelle Notre Dame de la Santé, which is the only surviving trace of the city’s oldest hospital. We walked towards the Pont Neuf (New Bridge) and found a spot on the riverfront where we could get a great view of the Pont Vieux with the fortress behind it. We retracted our path up to the Port d’Aude and from there to Basilique des Saints Nazaire et Celse. The Basilica is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Among other beautiful stained glass windows, the central window in the choir dates to 1280 and is one of the oldest in the south of France. There is also a gorgeous rose window and a 17th-century organ. By now the Château Comtal was open, so we got into the line, which moved quickly. Visitors first enter through the castle’s barbican; the ticket office and reception area are in a simple wooden structure that lines the barbican. Once inside, we could go directly to the entrance with our voucher. Rick Steves had dissed the audioguide (3€), so we skipped that; there was sufficient signage in English. We crossed a bridge across a dry moat to the main courtyard (Cour d’Honneur). The self-guided tour starts in the keep with a movie about the history of the castle and its restoration. We decided to skip the movie to get ahead of the crowd. We next walked the outer walls of the castle for great views. Particularly interesting were the reconstructed hoardings. These temporary wooden sheds were built on the ramparts of a castle during a siege; they allowed the defenders to shoot along and down to the base of the walls of the castle. There is also a well-preserved section of stone and brick fortifications from the Gallo-Roman period. The ground floor of the castle has a museum with statuary, effigies, sarcophagi and wall paintings; one of the wall paintings depicts a battle between Christian and Saracen knights. Another treasure is a large 12th-century marble ablution fountain. After returning to the main courtyard, we climbed up to the Gallo-Roman north ramparts, which extend to the Porte Narbonnaise. The stairs up to the ramparts are not exactly obvious, which may explain why we saw so few people up there. We enjoyed the ramparts so much that, instead of exiting at the Porte Narbonnaise, we followed them back to the main courtyard. We also wanted to walk the medieval west ramparts but we found them closed. We decided to walk the north ramparts again, this time exiting at the Porte Narbonnaise. We still had plenty of time to wander, so we walked clockwise through the gap between the two city walls. For those who prefer to ride, there are horse-drawn wagons; the horses wear cute white crocheted caps. We were eventually blocked by a construction zone; perhaps that was why the west ramparts were closed. We re-entered the medieval town by the St-Nazaire Gate and continued our ramblings until it was time to meet the group back at the van. Although the town was practically deserted this morning, by noon it seemed that everyone in the south of France was here. There was not as much traffic on the drive back as Arnaud had feared. Since we had extra time and he is a Sétois (someone from Séte), Arnaud took this opportunity to give us a brief tour of his city. Locals call Séte the "Venice of Languedoc" because of its many canals. On one of them, we saw two of the special boats used in the local sport of water jousting. Next we drove to the observation platform atop Mont St. Clair for panoramic views of the town and port. We could even see the oyster farms in the Étang de Thau. There is also a small chapel there dedicated to Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette. Next to the chapel is a building belonging to the Missionaries of La Salette with another viewpoint on top. Despite the issues dealing with Nancy, Carcassonne was amazing and Arnaud was an excellent driver. Dinner tonight in the Vivaldi dining room included bacon-wrapped pork terrine, crab-artichoke dip, oxtails with wagon wheel pasta and roasted pork belly; the wine was 2016 Bel Glos Pinot Noir—rich and good. Desserts were rhubarb Napoleon and apple-walnut spring rolls. After dinner we listened to Chris Watkins, AKA “Fireworks on Four Strings,” whom we have enjoyed on other cruises. Day 10 Monday, August 5: At Sea This was another good day to recover from two port days. We went to a port talk on Lisbon and enjoyed more pizza. Before dinner, we went to the Captain's Circle Cocktail Party in Club Fusion; this was one of three parties just for Platinum (849) and Elite (627) members. The most traveled passenger had 743 days; second place was 672 days and third place (us!) was 661 days. We were the only ones from the top three to attend this party. During the party, we had a dedicated drinks server; they should have had someone making sure we got some food to soak up the alcohol. We both started with a double cognac. John followed that with two extra dirty gin martinis; I had an extra dirty vodka martini and a spicy Bloody Mary. Everything was fine until we had a bottle of 2016 Navarro Gewurztraminer with dinner at the Pacific Moon. We were too buzzed to make it to the production show (“Let Me Entertain You”) after that! I can’t remember what we ate for dinner (it was probably duck breast but could have been bread and butter) and John can't remember brushing his teeth. We need to show more restraint in the future but at least we weren’t driving! Day 11 Tuesday, August 6: Ceuta 9 AM-5:30 PM Ceuta (www.ceuta.si/home) and Melilla are part of Spain; these two port cities are all that remain of Spanish Morocco. Ceuta lies across the Strait of Gibraltar from mainland Europe and the mountain above the town, Mount Hacho, is thought by some to be the legendary African "Pillar of Hercules" (with the Rock of Gibraltar being the European pillar). Many passengers took this port as an opportunity to cross the border into Morocco and visit one of the picturesque villages there. Because of the distances to the sites and likely long delays at the border, we did not even consider arranging a private tour here. Instead, we chose the ship's "Best of Chefchaouen" tour. Two buses were assigned to this tour; we were in bus #2 and our guide was Mohamed. While driving to the border, we each needed to fill out entrance and exit forms for Morocco; we would have to leave those two forms and our passport with the Moroccan authorities until we were cleared to cross back into Spain. Mohamed collected all the passports and negotiated the crossing formalities for us. The border was heavily fortified with guards, fencing and concertina wire to prevent illegal immigration into Spain. Traffic in both directions was a chaotic mix of motorcycles, cars, trucks and buses, going every which way; occasionally someone would get out of his/her car to wander around among the vehicles. Despite the number of officials standing around, there was not much of an effort to impose order on this mess. The border crossing took our bus 40 minutes and the drive to Chefchaouen took another two hours, with no scheduled toilet break. Several people became desperate and Mohamed had to improvise a pee stop or risk a mutiny or embarrassing accidents. We arrived in Chefchaouen (visittanger.com/fr/villes/chefchaouen) and were dropped off in the new city near Plaza Mohamed V. An old guy dressed in blue approached the bus and started yelling at it; he looked a lot like Yoda. We thought he was a local “character” but it turned out that he was our local guide, Ahmed. The tour description promised Whisper sets, but those were not provided. Instead, we had a busload of people following Ahmed (who spoke English with a heavy and barely intelligible accent) through the narrow streets of the town. Naturally the group (this was full bus load!) became strung out for a long way and we blocked streets; people at the rear of the group couldn’t hear anything! Mohamed tagged along at the end, trying to keep people from getting lost. The visit was supposed to start with a walking tour but some people in our group couldn’t wait for another toilet break, so our group went to lunch first. From Plaza Mohamed V we walked down Boulevard Hassan II to the Bab El Ain, the gate into the medina (old town). Chefchaouen is known as the “Blue City” and the buildings were indeed painted in a myriad of blue hues. We trailed through the narrow alleys and stairways of the medina, which is lined with colorful shops and tables offering various food items and souvenirs like rugs and slippers. After walking about half a mile, we arrived at Restaurant Tissemlal (www.casahassan.com/en/tissemlal-restaurant/); by this time several in our group looked ready to collapse from the exertion and the heat. John and I joined three other couples at a table in the pretty courtyard, while others were seated inside the restaurant. Lunch included a soft drink or bottled water and started with a salad. Next came Chicken Bastilla, shreds of chicken cooked with onions and spices, then wrapped in a flaky pasty crust and baked. This was followed by Kefta Mkaouara (Meatball Tagine), meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce with poached eggs on top. These dishes were accompanied by Khobz dyal Zraa' (Moroccan wheat bread, similar to pita). These dishes were all delicious! For dessert, there was a mixed fruit compote. Entertainment was supposed to be a local music folkloric performance: that consisted of four musicians playing in another room of the restaurant. While we were waiting for the group to gather after finishing lunch, John walked up the street alone to get some uncrowded photos. One of the shopkeepers offered him “Hash? Weed? Pills?” Uh, no thanks: alcohol, caffeine and theobromine for us! Once everyone had said goodbye to the toilets, we headed off for the actual walking tour. The medina is really quite pretty, with many horseshoe-arched gates and windows, intricate window grilles, colored tiles and terracotta tile roofs. Even though we were near the front of the line, we missed most of Ahmed’s comments. He did point out the Hammam El Harras (Turkish bath) in one square and called our attention to the lovely courtyard in the Maison de la Culture. Then we stopped at Dar Moulay Idriss, a place selling various types of rugs and handicrafts, for a sales pitch. I guess we were lucky; the other bus also went to a shop selling lotions. I’m sure there was a lot more to see (there certainly was more listed in the tour description) but we were only in Chefchaouen for about 2.5 hours. Then it was back on the bus for the two-hour drive to the border, punctuated by another improvised pee break. Especially given Princess’ older clientele, it is unconscionable to design an all-day tour with only one opportunity (at the restaurant) for people to use a toilet. This time the border crossing only took our bus 20 minutes. Those on the other bus told us it took them an hour each way. Our bus driver dropped Mohamed off to retrieve our passports. He then wended his way through lines of cars and barriers and was all the way to the final checkpoint before Mohamed returned. No one checked us individually but they did look in bus’ baggage compartment for stowaways; on the other bus, some men had tried to break into that and set off an alarm. We made it back to the ship right at all aboard time. We would probably rate this tour in the bottom ten percent of all tours we have taken over the years. As we were getting cleaned up for dinner, the Captain announced that there was bad weather moving in from the west. The ship would make top speed to Lisbon, where we would arrive and leave earlier than scheduled, which would allow us to avoid the worst. Tonight’s dinner was a real highlight of the cruise: the Chef’s Table ($95 pp cover charge), prepared by the Executive Chef. We have attended this event on a number of other ships and it is always something special! Tonight's group of 12 gathered at the International Cafe. We were led to the entrance of the Santa Fe dining room, where we were greeted by the Maitre d', Neville Saldanha, and helped into white jackets or lab coats. Then we were escorted into the Galley, where we scrubbed our hands thoroughly. We were introduced to the Executive Chef, Alessandro Carrer; he and Neville pointed out all the food preparation areas and explained how everything was organized to work smoothly. After that, we were moved to a table in an out-of-the-way corner, which was decorated with a large ice sculpture of a chef and carved vegetables. There we were served Nicholas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne and four special appetizers prepared by the Executive Chef. After enjoying the appetizers, we were escorted to a special table in the Savoy dining room. At one end of the table was a gorgeous display of fresh vegetables and at the other, a large bouquet of lemons. In the middle was a model of the Sapphire Princess, floating on a blue sugar ocean off an island with a mountain made of spices, complete with a breakwater and lighthouse. In front of each couple was a marble slab with chunks of mortadella, salami, prosciutto and cheese; there were bowls of artichoke hearts and olives to share. Black and white napkins had been folded into the shape of tuxedos for the men and flowers for the ladies. All very impressive! Before being seated, a group photo and a photo of each couple were taken with the Maitre d' and Executive Chef. The antipasti were followed by a wild porcini mushroom risotto spiked with truffle oil and topped with a grilled Tiger Prawn; that was served with 2016 Crio Torrontés from the Uco Valley, Argentina. Next was a strawberry and black pepper sorbet palate-cleanser splashed with Grey Goose Vodka. The main course was surf and turf: lamb chop Provençale, beef tenderloin, sea scallops and a poached lobster tail. This course was served with 2015 Vall Llach Embruix from the Priorat region of Spain. The cheese course was a Bartlett pear poached in Port wine with Stilton, walnuts and a balsamic reduction. Finally, desert was a Norman Love Bittersweet Chocolate Dome with Salted Caramel Cream and Crunchy Milk Chocolate; that was served with Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs from California and house-made Limoncello. Those with any appetite left were presented with a tray of the Chef’s homemade gourmandises (chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate truffles, marzipan, macarons and other cookies) accompanied by coffee/tea. Needless to say, this five-course meal and accompanying wines were outstanding and served with appropriate pomp and ceremony. After the meal, we received copies of the 50th Anniversary Edition of Princess' cookbook (Courses, a Culinary Journey), the photos and a souvenir menu; each lady was presented with a long-stemmed red rose. Wow! What a great meal! Although the Chef's Table ended early enough to catch the late performance of the show (featuring Chris Watkins and Phillip Browne), we were too satiated to do anything else but retire for the evening. Tonight the clocks were set back an hour to be correct for the remainder of the cruise. Day 12 Wednesday, August 7: Lisbon, Portugal 10 AM-7 PM The fog horn sounded throughout night and this morning as we cruised up the Tagus Estuary to Lisbon. When the weather is clear, the sail-in provides excellent views of a number of Lisbon’s famous monuments—the Tower of Belem, the Monument to the Discoveries, the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, the Ponte 25 de Abril, the Cristo Rei statue—but not today. The fog was lifting as we docked at the at Jardim do Tabaco pier and the rest of the day was beautiful. Also in port today was Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2. This was the fifth time we have called in Lisbon (visitlisboa.com/?locale=en). That is more often than any other city in Europe; we are starting to know our way around without maps! One thing that was different is that the new cruise terminal is now open and there are some tours available there. Also, the area around the terminal has been developed so it is not just an ugly empty lot anymore. For today, John had arranged a tasting of Portuguese wines and food and I had planned a walking tour of the Chiado and Bairro Alto neighborhoods. Because of the ship’s earlier arrival, I was not sure whether I had included enough sights to fill the time until the tasting. We had briefly visited the Bairro Alto on a previous cruise and had taken the historic Elevador de Santa Justa (1902) up from the Baixa, the flat downtown area. This time, we planned to climb the hills, seeing various sights along the way. We started by walking downriver along the waterfront, past the Praça do Comércio. Some sand artists were making sculptures on the narrow beach. When we reached the Cais do Sodré train station, we turned away from the river; the Mercado da Ribeira is behind the station. One side of the market is classic: wooden stalls of flowers, vegetables, seafood, meats and every other type of foodstuff. A fishmonger’s stall was decorated with painted tiles featuring fish. The other side is the gentrified “Time Out Market” and is home to more upscale shops and eateries. There was a stall selling Lisbon’s famous pasteis de nata (custard pies) but we thought we would be able to get one later. After touring the market, we visited the small park next door, Jardim Dom Luis, with a monument to a 19th-century Portuguese politician in the middle. Now we started climbing up the steep streets and stairs of the Chiado, a scenic upscale residential zone, to the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. There are views from here of the river, the Cristo Rei and the 25 de Abril Bridge. The miradouro is being renovated, so we could only view the back of the statue of Adamastor, a mythical sea monster from the epic poem "The Lusiads." We continued climbing to Calçada do Combro, a main thoroughfare in the Chiado. An advantage of the ship’s early arrival was that some of the churches that normally would be closed from 1-3 p.m. were open to visit. One of these was the 17th-century Igreja de Santa Catarina, built in the Baroque style with an ornate rococo stucco ceiling. The main altar and those in the side chapels are heavily gilded as is the wooden organ. No photos are allowed in this church. Calçada do Combro becomes Largo Calhariz and then Rua do Loreto. As we walked along, we were enjoying the busy street scene, the colorful tiles (azulejos), wrought iron balconies and blooming trees and flowers. At Rua da Atalaia, we took a brief detour to check out the location of the wine bar for our tasting. We returned to Rua do Loreto and followed it to Manteigaria Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata, which Rick Steves says is the best place in town for custard pies. It is certainly popular—the long line stretched out the door. We again postponed getting one of these treats. We had now reached busy Praça Luís de Camões, the transition zone between Chiado and Bairro Alto. It faces Largo do Chiado, where there are two Baroque churches. The blue Igreja do Loreto was built on the site where the city walls once stood in the 14th century. It is also known as the Italian Church (Chiesa Italiana della Madonna di Loreto) because it was constructed for the many Italians who came from Genoa and Venice to Lisbon during the Age of Discoveries to establish trade. The main altar and side chapels here are much plainer than at Santa Catarina. However, the rococo ceiling features a lovely painting of the Virgin of Loreto. The exterior has a statue of the Madonna and Child that is attributed to Borromini. Across the street is the yellow Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, which was closed. From here we walked along Rua da Misericórdia, passing Lisbon's oldest restaurant, the opulently gilded Tavares Restaurant (1784). Now we came to one of the main attractions of the Bairro Alto: the Church and Museum of São Roque. A small shrine was originally built on this site to house a relic of St. Roch brought from Venice during a plague in 1505. The shrine was demolished by the Jesuits later in the 16th century in order to erect the present church. Its plain Renaissance façade conceals a sumptuous interior—richly embellished with marble, azulejos and gilded woodwork. The church (free) is renowned for its elaborate side chapels, each a masterpiece of Baroque art. The Capela de São Roque is particularly noted for its gorgeous azulejos, the oldest in the church. However, the most famous chapel is the Capela de São João Baptista, known as the "world's most expensive chapel." It was designed and built in Rome from the most costly materials available (ivory, agate, porphyry, lapis lazuli, gold and silver), blessed by the Pope, disassembled and shipped to Lisbon. The chapel's three altarpieces are not paintings but micromosaics—made up of incredibly tiny pieces of glass. John and I could not believe these were actually mosaics and not paintings; I guess you have to see them close up to tell. Many items formerly found in this chapel are now on display in the adjacent church museum. In addition to the chapels, the church’s majestic ceiling is the only painted ceiling from the Mannerist period (about 1520-1600) in Lisbon. The Museum of São Roque (free for 65+) houses sacred art and other treasures from the church. Although we visited the church first, it would have been better to go to the museum first to obtain the nice English guides to both. The route through the museum follows the history of the church. The ground floor contains four panels from the shrine of St. Roch and the original relic of St. Roch. The remainder of this floor and part of the upper floor contains statues, reliquaries and art from the period of the Jesuits, including some oriental art and furniture. A separate section is devoted to the Capela de São João Baptista, including a model of the chapel, enormous bronze-and-silver torch holders and its former altar, decorated with lapis lazuli scenes of the Apocalypse. The final section includes art donated to the Santa Casa da Misericórdia, the religious society that took over the church after the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal in 1759. We spent a lot of time at the really interesting São Roque before heading up Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara to the garden and miradouro of the same name. This viewpoint was also under renovation but we still got some nice views of the Castelo de São Jorge on the other side of the Baixa. Across the street from here is the Convento de São Pedro de Alcântara (free). Only the funeral chapel of Cardinal Verissimo de Lencastre (1690s) and the church (1681) can be visited without a guided tour; these two Baroque rooms survived the 1755 earthquake that devastated Lisbon. The chapel is just inside the entrance; it has intricate Italian-inspired marble floors, a painted ceiling and walls covered with inlaid marble. The lower walls of the church are covered with 18th-century blue-and-white tile panels, depicting scenes from the life of St. Peter of Alcantara; even the confessionals are made of these tiles. This is a small site that is worth visiting if one is in the area. From the convent, we made our way to the picturesque Largo do Carmo. The square is shaded by ancient jacarandas trees and at its center is the ornate Chafariz do Carmo fountain, once the main source of water for the district. On November 1, 1755, a violent earthquake, followed by a tsunami and fires, destroyed two-thirds of Lisbon. The Church of Santa Maria do Carmo was one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Lisbon before the earthquake. Now the roofless nave and transept are a permanent monument to the disaster. The choir of the church is home to the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo (www.museuarqueologicodocarmo.pt/info_en.html; 4€ pp, senior rate). The nice museum contains a number of tombs, including a Roman tomb carved with reliefs depicting the Muses. The tomb of King Ferdinand I has scenes from the life and miracles of St. Francis on one side; the other side has a number of figures, including that of an alchemist in his laboratory. There are many other artifacts here, such as part of a Visigothic pillar, ancient tombstones and South American mummies. At the end of the tour, there is a nice movie about the history of the ruins. However, the most interesting aspects of this site are the evocative ruins themselves. As we walked back towards Praça Luís de Camões, we happened upon the Basilica of Our Lady of the Martyrs. This church was dedicated to the English Crusaders who fell in the Siege of Lisbon during the Reconquista; it houses a statue of Mary carried by the Crusaders. After the 1755 earthquake, the church was rebuilt in the Baroque style. The most stunning features are the frescoes in the ceiling that depict the victorious battle against the Moors in 1147 and the use of green as the dominant color in the decoration. Finally it was time for the highlight of our day in Lisbon: wine tasting and snacks at the Lisbon Winery (www.lisbonwinery.com). Our “passionate wine experts,” Alex and Adriana, were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We started with a tasting of three distinctive olive oils, paired with a 2016 Regueiro Alvarinho. That was followed by a large platter of artisanal cheeses, paired with a Verdelho. Next came a large platter of Iberian pork charcuterie, paired with Cabrita Negra Mole. Finally, we were served silky Pata Negra ham with a fantastic red, 2011 Colinas Bairrada. To top it all off we had an amazing Blackett 20 year Tawny Port. Adriana was superb in her information, provided large clean glasses for each wine and gave generous pours! We were served wonderful unusual Portuguese wines (wine from Algarve!!) that broadened our experience. We thought we knew wines from this area but that's why we do tastings. And the food was a great accompaniment. A fantastic way to spend 2.5 hours! On the way back to the ship, we passed the pie shop again and the line was still out the door. Oh well, maybe next time. From Praça Luís de Camões, it is a straight shot down Rua do Alecrim to the riverfront. Dinner in the Pacific Moon was light after all the food we had at the tasting: pork terrine, goat cheese soufflé and scallops. The wine tonight was Domaine de la Perrière Sancerre, 2017. Day 13 Thursday, August 8: At Sea This morning we went to a talk on "Tall Ships" by the Enrichment Expert, Terry Corner. This was the only lecture by him that we attended. We should have taken it as a bad sign when the audience numbered only about a dozen people besides us. Then he announced that he didn't know anything much about tall ships but he had Googled the topic. The result was a rambling, disorganized mess that contained a number of factual errors (e.g., he said the USS Constitution is berthed in Baltimore, not Boston). He did have some nice photos of sailing ships. Lunch was Sapphire Princess pizza for John and vegetarian pizza for me. The Princess Grapevine ($9.50 pp) wine tasting was held later in the afternoon. As Elite Captain's Circle members, John and I received complimentary invitations; this is the first time we were asked to call and confirm that we would attend. Today we started with Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine from California. That was followed by two white wines: 2016 Martin Codax Albarino from Spain and 2016 Crio Torrontés from Argentina. The last two wines were reds: 2013 Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from Oregon and 2015 Spellbound Petite Sirah from California. Tonight was the third and final formal night; we dined in the Savoy dining room. We both chose the Escargots Bourguignon and broiled lobster tail with arugula risotto. John had an appetizer serving of the Fettuccine Alfredo and I had ricotta ravioli in a carrot cream sauce. For dessert, John finally succumbed to the NY Cheesecake and I had the chocolate-pistachio dome (a Chocolate Journey). To drink, we enjoyed a bottle of the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs that was served earlier at the Grapevine wine tasting. Tonight was also the final production show, "Do You Wanna Dance? ". This is an energetic medley of dance styles from around the world. We have seen this show before and enjoyed seeing it again. Day 14 Friday, August 9: At Sea As we were getting ready this morning, we had some excitement when there was an announcement calling the fast response team to the Engine Room. That was followed by series of announcements from the Captain: smoke was detected in the Engine Room; there was a small fire in the insulation; the fire was put out and the area was being checked further; the response team could stand down. All's well that ends well! [Note: On one of the first days on the ship we had a similar assessment announcement. In that case, we had a smoldering kettle (yes, we have cabin kettles) in a cabin.] Events that looked interesting today were the Culinary Demonstration and the Backstage Tour of the Princess Theater. We decided to skip those in favor of lunch at Alfredo's (Margarita pizza for John and vegetarian pizza for me) and an early start on packing. Tonight we dined in the Santa Fe restaurant, which is split between Anytime Dining and Club Class Dining. We enjoyed a favorite meal: mussels in a white wine sauce with frites. Wine was a nice white 2016 Bordeaux from Château de Cruzeau. We skipped the show tonight, a Take That Tribute act. We had never heard of Take That, a British pop group, but they were undoubtedly familiar to the Brits onboard. Day 15 Saturday, August 10: LHR to IAD to RDU Philip (P&T) had arranged a private transfer to LHR with Exec-Merc (www.exec-merc.co.uk). The cost for six, including tip, worked out to 30 GBP pp, which was about half the cost of a Princess transfer to the airport. We had received an email from United Airlines that new TSA regulations prohibit carrying more than 12 ounces of powders (including coffee and tea) in carry-on luggage and any electronic device larger than a cell phone must be removed from its case for screening. I had planned to get some tea for the nice lady who is taking care of our plants and was able to get some at Harrods after security. We spent the time before our flight in the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 2. We were able to score a love seat in a little alcove with a table. There was plenty of good food (especially the Madras Chicken) and drink, so the time passed pleasantly. During the flight to IAD, we were served dinner and a hot sandwich. Global Entry again proved its worth as we skipped the long immigration lines. The only real problem came at RDU, where the luggage from five flights was sent to the same baggage carousel. It took longer for our luggage to come out than the flight from IAD to RDU had taken. We arrived home at about 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, glad to be back sleeping in our own bed but already looking forward to our next adventure. Read Less
Sail Date July 2019
After reading a negative review we felt we had to contradict everything from the so called worse cruise ever. The food in the restaurants and the horizon court was of the normal high standard. There were curries but what was left out was ... Read More
After reading a negative review we felt we had to contradict everything from the so called worse cruise ever. The food in the restaurants and the horizon court was of the normal high standard. There were curries but what was left out was that there were another 9 or 10 choices. The entertainment was of high quality apart from one comedian, the cruise director was always informative and it was not his fault if the comedian bombed, everyone else including the princess dancers and singers were excellent, the assistant cruise director also performed and it is no exaggeration to say that she should have a spot in the princess theatre. The rest of the crew and waiting staff along with the stewards all done an excellent job, so much so that two days after being back we as a family booked a cruise for 2020. T he itinerary was good and if you look at other cruise lines bare in mind that princess has won more awards, and for good reason, some people just have to try and moan about anything, so just be realistic and take all that with a pinch of salt. Also the embarkation and disembarkation was so so easy and so fast, we arrived at the mayflower terminal and was onboard in 10 minutes and was in our hotel in 15mins after leaving our cabin. Read Less
Sail Date July 2019
Sadly our reasoning for the choice of ship and cruise line was determined by the lack of available and desired cruise destination with our usual cruise provider, cunard. The following are the few good points : Embarkation and ... Read More
Sadly our reasoning for the choice of ship and cruise line was determined by the lack of available and desired cruise destination with our usual cruise provider, cunard. The following are the few good points : Embarkation and diaembarkation Balcony room steward Customer service desk Waiter service at dinner The following are the negative points : Wines, spirits and beers massively and for the quality of the wines in particular, overpriced. Service slow, and non existant if you were not lounging near the pool. Food quality at dinner, not fine dining by any stretch of the imagination, poorly plated and presented and regularly undercooked. Wine waiter knew nothing about the wines on offer and was only interested in constantly overfilling the glass to push sales. The entertainment was average at best,,, we only managed to access one show at the 10.15pm slot (we chose an 8.00pm dining time) as the theatre was full from earlier diners remaining seated along with there sleeping children, preventing any opportunity to gain a seat, i refuse to stand to watch any show for this reason. Overall a poor shipboard experience. NEVER to be repeated. Ruined the holiday Read Less
Sail Date July 2019

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