Our recent voyage on the RCL Voyager of the Seas was very enjoyable: great weather, interesting ports, and nice ship.
TRAVEL TO PORT: To start, we traveled to Venice (VCE) from the East Coast, but nearly missed our connection in PHL, which really got the blood pumping.
Fortunately, we made the plane 9after running through the airport like maniacs and then sat on the runway for nearly an hour awaiting takeoff.
STATEROOM: Anyway, boarded without further problem and went to see our cabins: both on deck 8 but separated by several cabins since we booked last minute (it's too bad, as we DID have a connecting door to a cabin that would have accommodated us). One cabin had a "promenade view" which turned out OK, though I'm certainly glad we were on Deck 8 and not 6 or 7. The Promenade- view cabins essentially have a big window overlooking the interior promenade of the ship, which is the venue for at least 2 late-night (11p) noisy parades and other musical action, so not ideal for those who retire early. The other cabin was a standard interior with bunks, so seemed a bit tighter for space but actually had more storage areas. [I found the design of having the outward swinging closet doors and the bathroom door all colliding in the small entryway to be lacking, and the mirrored bathroom medicine door swung out the wrong way entirely.] No toiletries save bar soap and the shampoo/conditioner combo in the shower were provided. We never use the mini-bar/fridge except to keep the odd water bottle cooled, but ours never worked even after being replaced, and smelled funny if you opened it.
BARI: Bari was a pleasant surprise. I had read less than favorable things about this rough port town, while my husband had read that it was "a cruise-goer's dream". The cruise ship docked and we headed out of the terminal and to the left, around the city wall along the water. We then headed into the pedestrian-only old city center and just wandered about, enjoying the sights and smells of the city. The fish market was over, but the fruit and vegetables on display were beautiful (and far less expensive than at home!). We did head to the edge of the old town and venture several blocks into the new, but it seemed like any other big city with traffic, crowds, and shops, so we headed back into the quainter, though definitely lived-in old town. [Don't know how the atmosphere would be at night, but during the day there was no inkling of danger/pickpockets/hard sells or anything like you'd find in the Plaka, Athens.] All in all, a surprisingly nice visit.
DUBROVNIK: Our ship docked in the Port of Gruz outside of Dubrovnik, as it is a large vessel, and that necessitated either a long walk uphill to the old walled city or a local bus (we were getting good at this!). Unfortunately, as compared to the welcoming folks in Slovenia, the Croats struck us as surly and somewhat rude; it may be that just our several person-to-person contacts were this way and everyone else is really personable, but it's unfortunate that the entire visit was tinged with the feeling of being viewed as unwanted interlopers. First, the young woman at the bus station was grumpy and dismissive (note: don't wait in the long line for tickets; you can walk to the nearby magazine/candy kiosk and buy them from an equally grumpy woman). Then, having tickets, we began to board at the back of the bus (as many other countries allow this and have machines in back to stamp your ticket, so only people who need tickets go in the front) but the bus driver shouted quite angrily at us, and no amount of our smiling and apologizing when we got to the front caused his expression to change from baseline grim surliness. The wall of Dubrovnik can be climbed and walked along its 1.3km length (LOTS of steps up and down, not to be recommended in the heat of midday if you have a choice), but the entry fee is 15 Euros!! Wow. We bemoaned the fee but paid it anyway, by credit card, which really seemed to get the guy's goat (no smiles here). In general, Dubrovnik was far more expensive than our prior ports, and far less friendly. Rick Steves, in his 2008 edition about Eastern Europe, had raved about me in an way around and Dubrovnik but warned that one should hurry and come see it b4 the bloom is off the rose, and that time seems to already have come to pass. And now they are being admitted to the European Union!
VENICE: What can one say about Venice in a short blurb? The port was a walk and then short 1 Euro pp ride on a PeopleMover to the Piazzale Roma, where a huge line formed at the ticket booth for vaporetto and bus tickets. (Note: don't wait forever like we did, just keep walking forward and a bit left and there are more ticket booths/machines/magazine kiosks where you can purchase tickets more quickly). We took the #1 vaporetto heading toward Rialto, and this time did you list only way you frequently refer to our Rick Steves' Cruise of the Grand Canal chapter to be able to know what beautiful buildings we were passing along the way. Disembarked b4 getting to San Marco square as our plan was to see the Peggy Guggenheim Museum rather than the Correr or Doge's Palace, given our limited time. The museum was quite interesting and located right on the canal with a pretty terrace to watch the world go by. We only viewed the permanent collection of modern art and saw Chagall, Picasso, etc, and didn't visit the cafe or temporary collection. Then on through the narrow alleys, getting lost often but not minding, and ducking into little shops to see Murano glass jewelry, masks, candy and baked confections, on our way to San Marco. The square there is massive, lined by the 2 famous cafes, one with a live orchestra playing, and the huge obelisk was surrounded by scaffolding as work was in progress, and pigeons abound.
The largest mass of people was lined up to enter the San Marco Basilica, but following the wise advice of our guru Rick Steves, we detoured down an alley to dispense of our daybags and get a claim ticket, which allowed us to go to the front of the line and get right in. Felt like movie stars! [It IS true that the dress code is enforced and we saw more than a few women enshrouded with maroon tablecloth-looking material around their shoulders or their lower halves, as bare shoulders and any skin showing above the knee is discouraged. I saw one fellow wearing a wife-beater sleeveless T be turned away, as he deserved, but did see many other folks that were seemingly admitted by the skin of their teeth (does no one read easily accessible and clearly published guidelines b4 they head out into the wide world from their homes?).] Finally found the Rialto Bridge, which was a disappointment in that I don't need a bridge to be lined with shops, whose closed doors I had seen earlier in the day from the vaporetto were covered with graffiti. Many churches had entrance fees, which surprised me, and I would go in to inquire about pricing only to catch a quick glimpse of the interiors. All in all, a very quick visit to a city that would take a good 2-3 days to see the highlights of and could take a lifetime to appreciate fully. When we return . . .