This was our first cruise and we had a great time. We booked a balcony cabin and ended up on the 14th floor, mid-ship on the port side. Our room attendant was a treasure, friendly and helpful and most of the staff on board went out of their way to make our cruise a pleasant experience. The ship was massive but even with more than 5000 passengers and over 2000 crew it did not feel crowded. The ship is kept very clean and we found the amenities to be very good. We used the hot tubs but I found the pools too cold for comfort. If you want a lounge chair in the sun, you need to claim a spot early or get a spot near the smoking section which was disgusting.
Dining : Breakfast, ate every morning at the Solarium near front of ship (15th deck). I'm sure it did not have the selection that Windjammers did, but it was quiet, quick and efficient. Lunch, almost all of our lunches were off ship during excursions, but there was plenty of selection at Windjammers. Dinner, we ate every night in the main dining room and did not pay for the specialty restaurants. The menu had selection for all tastes and the food was delicious. If you do MyTime dining, book all your times when you embark.
Alcohol : We ordered 2 glasses of red wine on our first night and after realizing that the cost was 35$US, we did not order any more during the rest of the trip. We would have wine or beer on shore and content ourselves with water on board. The cost of the alcoholic drinks is frankly ridiculous!
Entertainment : All booked online before we boarded and most was good (Mamma Mia and Ocean Aria were excellent), skip the ice show and the Blue Planet. If you didn't book a ticket, no worries, they let people without reservations grab available seats 10 min before show time.
Port & Shore excursions : Save your money and do your own thing. The cost of the cruise line excursions are about 5 to 10 times the travel cost to the destination. The tour groups are made up of senior citizens who move slowly and complain about every little thing.
Day 1 (Sun) - Barcelona
We boarded in Barcelona around lunchtime. We took a taxi and waited in a very long row of taxis to get to the terminal. Word to the wise, wait until 2 or 3 when most of the traffic clears for those who are boarding. Embarkation was fairly smooth, and even though there were tons of people, the wait was not very long.
We went to Windjammers for lunch, then went down to the main dining room to book all of our dining times for the remainder of the week since we were on MyTime dining. The ladies who do the booking always looked stressed, but as long as you were friendly with them, they attempted to be pleasant.
Had an early dinner then went to see Mamma Mia which was fun. The theatre is huge, hard to believe it all fits into the ship!
Day 2 (Mon) - Palma de Mallorca
After a few hectic days of touring Barcelona, we wanted an easy day so planned to find a beach where we could relax. We ended up taking the shuttle from the cruise port to the city center for 5 Euro each. From there we walked to Ca'n Pere Antoni beach (about 20 min at a decent pace). Got there about 10:30 and just hung out on some beach chairs. We didn't bring towels so we just got our feet wet and soaked in some sun. We were getting ready to leave about 12 when a big brute of a fellow came demanding money for the use of the beach chairs and parasol. There was no sign anywhere! We paid the 20 Euro and got ready to leave. We sold our tickets to a Polish couple who were arriving. I think they only enforce the rentals of the chairs when the restaurant is open which is at noon.
Had a nice dinner then went to see Ice Games which was a disappointment. Though some of the individual skaters were quite talented, the costumes were gaudy and ridiculous. The storyline for the show made no sense and there was no continuity between the individual numbers.
Day 3 (Tues) - Marseilles to Aix en Provence
After much pre-cruise research, we decided to forego any tours and made our way to Aix en Provence on our own. We were amongst the first to disembark and then walked about 5 minutes to the free shuttle that the Port provides to get you to downtown Marseilles. The cruise line tries to sell a 23 Euro (each!) shuttle to downtown and tries to scare passengers from using the free one, but no worries, it works great (nice, new clean bus).
Took the metro to Gare St-Charles (2 stops) and then quickly bought tickets and took a 40 min train ride to Aix (10am, arriving 10:40). We followed the directions in the Rick Steves book to do a walking tour in Aix. We were lucky to come on a market day. This is definitely the place to buy macarons (we bought some back to the ship to eat onboard!) and bread, and just about anything else foodwise. Took the 2:20 train back to Marseilles, walked our way down the hill to the shuttle point by 3:45 and then back to the ship. Total cost to get to Aix and back for 2 people : 36 Euros.
Another nice dinner then down to the aquatheatre for Ocean Aria which was really neat. Incredible to see them dive and do all sorts of tricks on a moving ship.
Day 4 (Wed) - La Spezia to Florence
Prior to the cruise, we booked a Royal Carribean excursion when we realized how far La Spezia is from Florence (2 hrs) and we didn't want to chance missing the boat. We made our way to the meeting point and then the bus. Our tour guide was absolutely charming, unfortunately most of the rest of the passengers on our tour bus were not. One woman almost went into hysterics when we were told the air conditioning on the bus was not working (and it wasn't even that hot on the bus) and made the whole bus stop for her to use the bathroom on the way back even though all the rest of us had made sure to go before hand.
The drive was pretty and watching all the Carrera marble quaries by the road made me want to bring some back. We had to stop at a leather factory apparently to use the free toilets (big waste of time where the lady made sure to delay us all by taking her sweet time shopping) and then we witnessed a car accident right in front of the bus. We were only delayed 5 min, but several buses behind us must have been delayed quite a bit more. So, then we finally made it to Florence around 12:30 (docked at 9 but with gathering the group, bus ride and toilets, 3.5 hrs to Florence).
The excursion included 2.5 hrs with the guide and 2 hrs to explore on your own. We started off at the Duomo (the exterior is all you need to see) and came to the conclusion that we would be better off on our own for the rest of the afternoon since the rest of the group moved at a glacial pace and we could barely hear the guide through the headset. We used the Rick Steves book to head to San Lorenzo church, seat of the Medici family. The church is interesting, but what you really want to see if the Chapel of the Princes at the back (where all the Medici family are buried) and the museum. It is fascinating and has terrific pieces of art (admission is reasonable, a few euros if I remember correctly). We then stopped for lunch and then headed to Ponte Vecchio. It was packed! Hard to move around, then we went to the Galileo museum which I highly recommend. All sorts of interesting artefacts regarding the scientific knowledge of the renaissance. Met up with the tour group about 4:30 and headed back to the ship. A late dinner.
Cost of cruise line excursion 150$Cdn each
Day 5 (Thurs) - Civitavecchia to Rome
We ordered room service so we could have an early breakfast and be ready to leave the ship as soon it docked. Unfortunately, even though we docked at 7am, they did not let anyone off until 8:15am. More and more people just kept coming down to the gangway and it was packed and uncomfortable. They should have made an announcement that there had been a delay opening the gangway.
We boarded a free shuttle to downtown Civitavecchia which brings you to the port gate. From there it was a 20 min walk to the train station and we caught the 8:44 train to Rome. Note if you are using the Rick Steves book, he says 3 blocks, but it was more like 10 blocks as it wasn't the same stop as he was using. Got to San Pietro at 9:30 and walked to the Vatican (10-15 min) and the security line took about 20 min. We did a self-tour using the Rick Steves book. After mailing off a post-card to the kids, we walked over the Tiber river on Ponte San Angelo into Rome and made our way to the Pantheon on foot. We stopped to have a fantastic pizza and caprese salad lunch (the mozzarella was light as air) and then back to the Vatican Museum to meet up with our private guide (booked ahead) for a 3 hr tour. It was packed and we really got our money's worth out of our private guide (Agata - Blue Italy Tours) who answered all our questions and tailored her tour to meet our interests. Ran back to San Pietro having just missed the 4:45pm train, and caught the 5:02 train which was late and ended up coming at 5:25pm. Standing room only until near the end of the ride back. Got to Civitavecchia at 6:10 and back on the ship at 6:45. Late dinner
Cost : Travel to Rome approx 30 Euros, + 170 Euros for the private guide (3hrs)
Day 6 (Fri) - Naples to Sorrento and Pompeii
Hot, humid day where we took a non-cruise line tour (Can't Be Missed Tours) to Sorrento and Pompeii. It was also supposed to include Positano but there were forest fires and the roads were closed so it had to be skipped. It's recommended in the Rick Steves' book, but I wouldn't recommend it. The bus was old and smelled and the tour guide tried to steer you towards shops and restaurants where he obviously got a cut. We started off in Sorrento and did another self-walking tour from the Rick Steves book. Bought some souvenirs and had lunch before meeting back with the tour group where some people were invariably late. Made our way to Pompeii and our guide brought us through the ruins. It was sweltering but at least it was built to maximize the cross winds as there was always a breeze. Make sure to bring a water bottle and you can refill it at will at fountains throughout the site. It was packed so it was hard to see the famous plaster casts behind the throngs of tourists.
Cost : tour 156 Euros for 2
Day 7 (Sat) - at sea
We grabbed a few deck chairs right at the front of the ship and lounge while we sailed between Corsica and Sardinia. You want to be out of the wind as it's quite cold even if the sun is hot. We took part in various ships activities and had dinner before going to the Blue Planet show which can be skipped.
Day 8 (Sun) - Barcelona
Disembarkation was easy as we just walked off with our luggage. The cab ride to the airport was frankly terrifying when we saw the dial notch past 140 km/h.
Nice, clean and functional.
We arrived 2 days before our cruise to tour Barcelona and it did not disappoint. Only wish we had more time. Stayed a great little hotel (Hostal Grau), great location!
Headed to Ca'n Pere Antoni beach
Marseille is forgettable, but Aix is lovely and easy to get to by train. Don't spring for the 23$ shuttle, take the free one offered by the port (just follow the green line on your way out of the port and you'll make it to the shuttle stop).
We left the tour group once we got to Florence as it was slow. Best to go off on your own with a good guide book.
We made our way into Rome (San Pietro) by train and it was fairly painless. Too much to see in one day so focus on 1 or 2 things.
A fairly good tour of Pompeii, but packed with tourists.