"You'll be disappointed" warned my better half, eyes raised to heaven as I stayed on the internet night after night reading CC and every other internet site with the word "cruise" in the title. It isn't very often that she is wrong, so let's get the gloating over and done with. I wasn't!!!
Our travel agency had arranged early morning flights to BCN from Dublin (I know, CC Rule #1 broken already), which went off without a hitch, and we landed at Barcelona at 10.15am, walking into what can only be described as a wall of heat. The RCL transfer to the ship was speedy and comfortable, and check in at about 12.15pm was a breeze. The check in agent asked if this was our first time cruising, and then complimented me on how well our set sail passes we filled out. I flashed DW my "Whose laughing now?" look, and off we went to get our photographs taken and board the Navigator for real. Now, since last September, I've watched dozens of YouTube videos, looked at hundreds of photographs and read numerous posts, so I thought I was ready. I wasn't. For the next hour, we walked around the ship taking the Lord's name in vain and uttering naughty words. Wow. I won't go in to loads of detail about the facilities etc., they are well documented elsewhere and it's all true. And then some! Getting lounge chairs on deck was never a problem, and the queue for the miniature golf was never excessive. I played my 14 year old son daily. I actually beat him once! The food was superb, and all I can say is people dissatisfied with the main dining room must be eating in amazing restaurants on land. We were placed on a table for four in the Arabesque section of Nutcracker, and our wait team was the perfect combination. Petro, our waiter was a model of efficiency and professionalism, while his assistant Nestor was a bundle of enthusiasm. Many of you will know him as the morning greeter at Windjammer "Good morning, happy happy people". He saw we had soda cards. We asked for Diet Coke once, and our glasses were constantly filled for the whole cruise. Embarkation day was our son's 14th birthday, and we'd ordered a cake online. Head waiter Enrico and his team delivered it bang on time with some side plates of ice cream, sang happy birthday and embarrassed him totally. Result!! Marius our stateroom attendant also deserves a special mention. He seemed to develop an uncanny ability to read our minds, usually providing what we needed before we got around to asking for it. Our two teens were in an inside across the hall from us, and still talk about the towel animals.
Tendering to Cannes was easy and the day onshore was relaxing. Livorno was not as picturesque, but a trip to Pisa on the train went without any problems. The shuttle bus at $6 each way each caused a few grumbles, but we got over it. Returning, we were ravenous, and this is one of our few quibbles. We were on late seating, which was 9.15 to suit the sizeable Spanish contingent. No problem there. However, our habit was not to eat lunch on shore, but grab a bite when we returned to the ship in the late afternoon. We were by no means the only ones doing that, and the only food outlet open was the Cafe Promenade. These were the biggest queues we faced, and the options were limited. Our preference would have been for Windjammer to be open at that point. However, I must give Cafe Promenade a big thumbs up for their sandwiches, rolls and cookies. Lovely! My beloved's other quibble is that while pizza was in plentiful supply, there was never any garlic bread to be found. Next day was Rome, when we got together with a gang from Cruise Critic to walk the Eternal City. Now, anyone can get together with a gang from their own ship, but I have a habit of going against the grain. I had met up with Preds (Mike) on the Europe forum where I posted about our walking plans, he realized we were in port on the same day and suggested we join up. However, he had signatures turned off, and presumed we were on his ship, Norwegian Gem. No, but why let a little detail like that get in the way. We met up at the fort in Civitavecchia, and what a delight Mike and his family proved to be. Indeed, they are such friendly and gregarious people that they'd already made friends with half the Gem, and brought some of them with them, so a big shout out to Matt and Kristen, Don and Louise and Jose and his family. We had a great day tramping around the sights of Rome, my walking masterplan worked fine until I got lost, but we found our way to the Pantheon via some back streets, threw our coins into the Trevi Fountain and walked the Via Sacra through the forum. The heat was unrelenting, and in retrospect, perhaps we should have used the metro and bus system more. A truly memorable day, and the smiles and experience we shared will remain burned in our memory long after the heat has passed into oblivion.