We didn't need another holiday - it was just that the weather was so lousy in England all summer, we decided on a last minute bargain. Flew out the day before and stayed at the wonderful Eurostars Gran Marina (£173 on eBookers). The cab from the airport was €26. We strolled into town for dinner. Prices have certainly gone up with the rise of the € - tapas and a bottle of wine at Teller de Tapas in the old town was €70. After a great night's sleep we woke to find Celebrity Century berthed right next door to the hotel - so handy if you were on her - not this time! We caught a cab to the port for €7 at 11.25 and were on board by 11.40. Very efficient boarding process in Barcelona with all the desks clearly signed for Platinum and above, suites, and then by deck. The lifeboat drill was in the Ixtapa Lounge, some people would not keep quiet, and the Captain's address was drowned out by the ripping of velcro in their haste to get outta there. There were two seatings for dinner - 6.15 and 8.45 but you could arrive up to 15 minutes later than this time. This did not stop the table next to us turning up every evening at 9.15 - so rude! This meant that the shows were now after dinner at 9 and 11pm each night (with a few exceptions) We had a D1 balcony right at the front, the bed was near the balcony (as opposed to the sofa), there was a large sofabed, the curtain between the bed and sofabed only drew about 3 feet so not too good for sharers who were not too intimate! Balcony had 2 chairs and a very small table. The dividers could be opened if you wished. The room also had an adjoining door but we never heard a peep. Saturday: a sea day. Breakfast in the Windjammer where the 'secret tip' of taking your plate to eat in the Chops doesn't seem to be too much of a secret any more. We took the Bistro 30 lunch in the main dining room. A good selection, and the first of our dinners in Chops. After dinner we found the ship to be deserted - how do they hide 3,200 people - the answer was easy - the theatre was packed with everyone enjoying the great entertainment provided by Soul Sensation. If these guys are ever on your ship go and see them - they are fabulous! Sunday: Messina, Sicily - Sicily on a Sunday is closed, basically, so we had to take the 'Taormina on your own' tour for $49pp, which drove you on the 50min drive, and we had around 3 ½ hours to explore the Greek/Roman amphitheater (€6pp entry fee) and have lunch at a little place called Da Rita which is down a side street opposite the 'outlet' shop (which did not have the sort of outlet prices I am used to!). Lunch consisted of a caprese salad, 2 pizzas, ½ litre of local wine, and coffee and water for €31. For the first time in our plentiful cruising history we ate in Windjammer. I dislike this area intensely because of the lack of trays! The Jade section had sushi which I had not seen before on RCI, and very tender beef satay. There were napkins on the table but no tablecloths, the lighting was dimmed, but it was still just eating in the Windjammer! Clocks went forward an hour that night. Monday: another sea day For the C&A party that night there were over 750 attendees - but unfortunately this clashed with the Murder Mystery evening held in Portofino ($49.50pp), it was the Curse of the Dark Star Necklace, and we started in the Cosmopolitan club with the scene setting and then moved on to the restaurant. Unfortunately we were seated at a table with people who took no part in the proceedings so the evening was not as much fun for us as it was for others. I won't say 'who dun it' Tuesday: Thessaloniki - we had breakfast on our balcony and then took a leisurely stroll to the White Tower, then we went to the Archaeological Museum (€6pp entry fee) - this is the building with the razor blade sculpture out front - the gold exhibits were fantastic with many intricate pieces dating from 5000 BC. We strolled round a few churches and then had a typical Greek lunch in a square seated in the sunshine. €27 got us 2 beers, greek salad, haloumi, squid and souvlaki. There was an on deck buffet at 11.30pm and the dress theme was 'white' But as RCI don't let you know there is going to be a 'theme' beforehand many were not prepared! Wednesday: Istanbul - the sail in at 11 was fantastic, shame the weather did not cooperate - it was a steady drizzle all day. There were 5 ships in port so depending on where you were you just walked out in either direction. The main road with the tram line is very close. If you were the 5th ship exit the port and turn right to find the Findikli stop, if you were in the middle aim for the big mosque and the Tophane stop is right there, and if you were closest to town then the Karakoy stop was just before the bridge. At each station there is a booth marked 'Jeton' which is where you get your token. Current cost is TRY1.40pp ($.75c). Compare this to the $20pp that RCI were charging for their transfers! Trams are quick, efficient, and air conditioned and seemed to run every 2 minutes. Check your change as we were short changed by TRY5 at the first stop we used. Heading to town you take the tram marked Zeytinburnu and trams back to the port are marked Kabatas. For the Topkapi Palace get off at Gulhane (despite the tram signage saying that you use Sultanahmet) and just walk up the hill a short distance. It really is much closer. For Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque use Sultanahmet. Turkey is another country that has put up its prices since we last visited! Entry to Topkapi is TRY20pp and to the Harem is another TRY15pp. Entry to Aya Sofya is also TRY20pp. The Blue Mosque is free (still!) After sightseeing we walked up the main road with the tram line in the middle, to the traffic lights and then turned right, down the hill a bit and then took the first road on the left Nurosmaniye Caddesi - which took us straight to the Grand Bazaar. Nuromaniye is where the RCI busses were dropping off - close to the shops. After this we walked back down to almost back at the bridge, where we got Turkish Delight at the Hafiz Mustafa shop, then we caught the tram back up the hill to Sultanahmet and we had dinner at a great place called Pasha (almost opposite McDonalds). Dinner for 2 came to TRY152. We took a few pictures of the mosques by night and then hopped on a Kabatas tram back to the ship. The next day it was much better weather, so after breakfast we went back into town. The grounds of the mosques seem to be home to dozens of stray cats - many of which enjoyed a breakfast of RCI-donated sausages that day...! Everyone back on board for our sailaway at 1.30. We had dinner in Portofinos that night. The food was good as usual but I was not happy with the drop in adherence to the rules and dress code. The girl next to me wore flip-flops, another looked like an ASBO teen complete with hoodie, jeans and Converse trainers; then the final straw was when a jean wearing couple were allowed in pushing a pram. After about 10 minutes the child started screaming, and they had to remove it and I believe arrange for their dinner to be taken to their cabin. Not impressed at all. Drinks in the 14th deck Cosmopolitan lounge that evening to watch the sail through the Bosphorus/Dardanelles and to see the war memorials lit up at night, which were wonderful Friday - day 8 already and nearing the end of our cruise. There was a brunch for C&A in the dining room which was nicely done. We spent the day in the solarium. It was the 2nd formal night - I would say 40% in tuxedo and the rest in suits. We won $225 in the casino which compensated slightly for the $180 that had been swallowed up by the Wheel of Fortune a few days earlier. Clocks went back an hour tonight. Saturday: Malta - another sunny day and another fabulous sail into the harbor. We had breakfast in the main dining room. I am not sure about the buffet set up in the middle, and they no longer offer pastries at the table. The Eggs Benedict are still good though. We took the tour of Valetta and Mdina $43pp and wish we had not! It appeared to be very easy to walk up the hill to the bus station which is at the roundabout outside the famous Phoenicia hotel and catch one of the old fashioned yellow and orange busses to Mdina ourselves. Mdina is just a beautiful city and I would have liked more time there. We ate again in Chops that night. Sunday: at sea - our last full day. I went to Johnny Rockets for the first time - wow what a place and wow what fabulous burgers and onion rings! Even better that it was free with our C&A voucher. It was a beautiful sunny day, and that evening it was warm enough to sleep with the balcony doors open with the sound of the waves. Monday: back in Barcelona! We strolled off around 8.30, collected our luggage from the airport-style conveyor belt and waited about 20 mins for a cab. There was a blue T3 Portbus that seemed to go over the bridge but as we had no idea where it stopped we did not catch it. The RCI transfer to Estacion Sants was $20pp - our cab cost €15. We had lunch with friends who were boarding her that afternoon, and then time for the airport and home. General observations - there were no hand sanitizers at the restaurants, there is a flower stall set up on the Royal Promenade each evening, demographic on board was 50% Spanish/European, 25% British and 25% Americans. Catholic mass was available every day. Announcements in English and Spanish. Approx 40 children on board which were obviously kept well entertained as we never saw them. Did not get towel animals until the 4th night of the cruise. There was a $20 laundry special on night 7. In summary a very enjoyable cruise. The ship was in excellent condition, our stewardess Luciana worked her socks off, the crew were great. Dining room was OK, not great, which accounted for us eating 4 times in the speciality restaurants, and Boleros was the place to be each night with the great salsa band.