Background My wife and I have just turned 50 (ish) and this is our 8th cruise, previously one cruise on Brilliance of the Seas and all the rest on Princess ships. We go for the destinations and are not shoppers and we don't use the onboard Spa's or the Casino. This cruise was for our 30th wedding anniversary and so we added the 4 night pre cruise tour of Madrid & Barcelona (we only do this on special occasions).
Madrid and Barcelona A good start with a half empty BA flight from Heathrow, chauffeur driven car from airport to hotel where we met Katia, our tour manager for the next four days. Madrid was hot but worth the trip, we did a city tour and then had free time for exploration. On day 2 a coach tour to Toledo then transferred to station for high speed train to Barcelona (2.5 hours for 360 miles), very smooth train ride and well worth it. We had a coach transfer to our hotel which is where I met my first small problem. The air conditioning in the room would not go below 22.5 C. As a Northern European (Yorkshire, UK) I like to sleep in a cold room (10 to 15 degrees C). I did complain but nothing was done and indeed other people did say they had trouble sleeping (outside daytime temp was 29 degrees C). The rest of Barcelona was wonderful, I highly recommend a few days there pre-cruise.
The Ship We had a concierge class cabin on deck 8 towards the stern. First impression was it was smaller than a Princess mini suite and I didn't like the fact that there was a large overhang from the main deck which left us almost permanently in the shade. Otherwise nice room with just about enough wardrobe/drawer space (cases fit under beds). Our steward was Ivan who was very efficient and friendly - on our anniversary we had room service breakfast and ordered the half bottle champagne, Ivan came with a full bottle explaining the half bottle wasn't on the menu anymore but there would be no charge. Overall ship impression. I felt that this ship was poorly designed, the cinema, conference/boardrooms are a complete waste of space.The conservatory was not at all how the brochure described it. It was just a florists with no seating. The foyer area was dark and not much happened there, I felt sorry for the musicians who normally played to a small number of people in the coffee/pastry area. The ship sorely needs a smaller functions room on the lines of Princess Vista lounge as some of the theatre acts played to very small audiences which was a little uncomfortable in such a large venue. There was the usual towels on sunloungers scenario with the crew doing nothing about it. Dining Waterfall grill - nice seating but horrible servery. With its trays and runners in front of the counters it felt like a motorway service area and trying to ask for things through the screens made it very difficult. We mostly had room service breakfast because we didn't like the waterfall. Evening dinner was a very nice experience, we had a table for six with Geoff and Christine from Australia and Mark and Gill from Alberqueque who only came three times. I should point out that we hate fixed dining and believe it to be an outdated system which should be removed as soon as possible. 6.15 is too early and 8.45 is too late but we picked late as lesser of two evils. The Normandie is a wonderful venue and everybody should try it at least once, the service and quality of the food is outstanding. The ships captain was the most boring person I have ever heard speak on a tannoy and became the but of our jokes over dinner. The cruise Day 2 at sea. As Villefranche is so close the ship sailed really slow to give a day at sea, this made the ship roll a little and I would hate to be in this position on a rough day, we were only travelling at 5 knots. Day 3 Villefranche. Royal Caribbean arrived first but tendering process was smooth and there were no crowds in the port. We took the buss to Nice (1 euro each) and then the bus to Eze (1 euro each). Eze is a very nice hilltop town, you could pass two hours here, longer with lunch. Public toilet behind tourist info (not free). We spent some time in Nice which was ok but Eze was better.