CRITICS: We are a couple in our 30s from Georgia, USA. This was my fourth cruise, and my wifes third. Previous cruises were on RCL, HAL and NCL.
BARCELONA - Arrived on Friday morning and were booked 2 nights at the Hilotn Diagonal Mar so upon landing we took the Renfe train to Passig de Gracia, transfered to the subway and then walked the 2 blocks to the hotel. No problem checking in early at 10am. Hotel staff all spoke english and gave us a great welcome pack with city map and guide book. Room was very nice with seperate shower and a soaking tub, large lcd tv and we had a nice view of the city. While not exactly in the middle of the action the hotel was only 2 blocks from the subway (get a T10 pass for easy ticketing) so we really didn't find it a problem to get anywhere. Stayed here free on points so can't comment on the relative value. There is a large shopping mall across the street. Had a great time touring the Gothic Quarter, Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas and Montjuic. Wish we had another day or two here actually.
CRUISE: Embarkacation was easy cheezy. Lines were very short at about 1230pm. There were seperate lanes for suite, balcony and latitudes members but we waited in the main line not more than 5 mins. Once aboard we got our mimosas and headed to Grand Pacific for a lesiurely lunch while waiting for our cabins to be ready. I toured around the ship after lunch to familiarize myself. One thing i thought was great was up on deck 14 forward they have wonderful cushined loungers you can lay in and look forward over the bow. We found ourselves up here a few times during the cruise. The ship layout is a little quirky at times and you get the "can't get there from here" feeling as a hallway will just end and you will need to backtrack or switch sides. One such oddity is the MDR, Grand Pacific which is on deck 6 aft but can only be accessed from deck 7, and then walk down the stairs. Magenta is likewise oddly placed midship. Room steward, Mr Mike, was excellent. Always had a smile and was very personable. We had an inside on deck 9 and could not be happier. While certainly not spacious there was ample room for us and having a sliding door for the shower instead of a "sticky" curtain was great. All cruise lines should follow this design. Clearance btw toilet and wall left something to be desired for this six footer but i managed. We did typically have a wait at the MDRs. Our waits were from 2 mins to 25mins. You are issued a beeper which entitles you to 2for1 well drinks at the nearest bar. Also, VERY hard to find seating at the buffet at all meal times. Quite simply nowhere near enough chairs. NCL should really consider relocating the Italian restaurant to somewhere else and freeing up that seating area. If the onboard displays are any indication the only specialty restaurant that was ever more than 10% busy was the Teppanaki so obviously there is room for space consolidation onboard.
FOOD: We ate at the buffet, both MDRs and once at Cagneys. Buffet was great for dinner, we thought the indian food was a great unexpected find. Also crepe station. There were several nights we left the MDR after dinner and came up here for our dessert crepes. We thought Magenta, the smaller of the two MDRs was better, not that the food was any different but just had a more intimate feel and was quieter and the decor more subdued. One night they had a pecan crusted halibut in a gumbo which was one of the best entrees i have ever eaten in my life...period. Other foods ranged from very good to just ok but nothing was actually bad except...we ate our last dinner at Cagneys. The crab cakes we started with where great. We ordered steaks and my medium rare came out closer to well done. I sent it back and while i was waiting for a refire the manager was walking through, noticed i didn't have a plate while my wife did. He asked if anything was wrong, i explained my steak was overdone and he said, "oh, ok" and walked off. Not even an apology or can i get you something while it is refired. Honestly the dining staff was just plain disappointing in all the restaurants we went to. They seemed there just to take your order and clean your plates and don't really have the desire to be congenial or social with you. Oh well.
ENTERTAINMENT: We only saw 2 of the shows, on our sea day the production show named Colorz. Basically the cast singing and dancing to american pop/rock songs that had references to various colors: red, blue, green, black, etc and a shadowbox on the stage changing color each few songs. Still trying to wrap my arms around why "Life is a Highway" is red? Also saw the magician, who was ok but he repeated all his lines 4 times in different languages which got a little old. Would have loved to see Second City but honestly with this touring schedule we were way to tired.
SEA DAY: NCL had set up our Cruise Critic Meet and Greet for this day. They had a small drink and pastry station set up in the Magenta dining room for us and they had all the senior officers show up, even the captain, for a brief welcome. I thought it was fabulous of them to take the time to welcome us so thank you NCL!! Also went to the latitudes reception which was basically a hard sell for the cruise rewards program but it came with free rum punch and canapes, some nice live piano and a few giveaways so i think it was a fair tradeoff for about 45mins of my time. Then went to the margharita tasting in the Bali Bar above the pool. $15 for 5 kinda midsized drinks wasn't too bad and it was fun meeting some new friends. We all agreed the purple one was the best - it had chambourd in it.
MALTA: There might not be a grander entrance into a port in the world. Just stunning. We had a private tour here with tour guide booked through Malta TravelNet. Our guide, Joan, was absolutely wonderful. Without a doubt the best tour guide i have ever had. Being a tour guide for 30 years she had her history down pat and sprinkled in enough personal stories and local information to keep us interested. We first travelled to the Hypogeum, an underground burial chamber dating from around 4000BC. An absolute wonder to see, definitely try to do this if stopping in Malta. Next up we drove to Mdina and did a walking tour of the medieval city. Then back to Malta where we visited the gardens overlooking the bay and St Johns Co-Cathedral. St Johns is just wonderful, an amazingly beautiful church with intracate detailing on the walls a fabulous fresco on the ceiling and wonderful art and sulpture along the side chapels. Just WOW!!
NAPLES: We planned to visit Herculaneum and the Archeology Musesum here today. Right outside the port buy a transit ticket from the newspaper stand and take the T1 tram to the Garibaldi station, then the Circumvesuvia train to Ercolano Scavi. Walk down the road and you come to the entrance archway to the site. Much bigger than i thought it would be and a nice contrast to Pompeii which i had visited previously. We got audio tours (10euro for 2) and spent about 4 hours walking through the ruins. Definitely get the audio tours here, they really do enhance the experience and are well worth the money. We spent so much time here we didn't have enough time to make it to the museum so we just went back to the ship.
CIVITAVECHIA: Off the ship took the port bus to the entrance, then walked the short distance to the train station (basically from were the port bus drops you off walk directly straight out of the bus doors to the main road, cross at the crosswalk and take a right. The station will be ahead about half a mile on the left. It is elevated a bit from the sidewalk so when you see a wall start to rise from street level take the stairs to the left). Check the train schedules on the trentalia web site, we got on the 841 train but there were earlier ones. It takes a little over an hour to get to Rome, depending on what train you get and where you get off. We got off at Ostencie, transfered to the Yellow subway and got out right at the foot of the Colisseum. Seeing lines we first went to Palentine Hill and got the combo tickets that would allow us to enter the Colisseum later without waiting. We wondered through Palentine Hill for awhile, then went into the Forum and listened to the Rick Steves audio tour. Then made our way to the Colisseum and also did the Steves tour. Once finished we walked by the wedding cake on our way to Trevi Fountain. We tossed our coin in and walked to the Pantheon. Payed our respects to Raphael and went down a few blocks to the Torre Argentina cat shelter (some of the oldest ruins in the city have been blocked off and made into a cat santuary where volunteers care for the strays - worth a stop if you are in the neighborhood). From there we headed to Piazza Navona and then northward to the Tiber, across the bridge Castel San'Anglo and to the square of St Peters. Not quite enough time to go in here as we needed to get to our train which we were picking up at the Stazione San Pietro. Turns out we got turned around finding the station and missed our scheduled train at 417 but we had left a buffer in case of an emergency, the 459. That train ended up being late as we found out later the 417 was cancelled and the 459 was jammed packed of people. We somehow squeezed on, though i heard later not everyone made it. A nervous ride as we knew we were late but as we got closer to the port we realized nearly everyone on the train was going to the ship and they wouldn't have left all of us? In any event the ship didn't even leave until 11pm due to what was explained as an inspection by the port authorities.
LIVORNO: Heard this port was a pain to get out of so we went on a private tour here through RomeInLimo to Pisa and Florence with a quick drive through some of the Tuscan countryside as well. Pisa was fine, just a half hour visit to snap a few pics and walk around a bit. Drive through the countryside was beautiful, the leaves were begining to change color and the vistas of the rolling, grape-lined hills was wonderful. Stopped off at the hill above Florence first to get a magnificent view of the city. Stopped for lunch at a great local restaurant our tour guide recommended. Try the ribollita, a wonderful local dish, kinda like stew. Unfortunately we didn't have a whole lot of time here, only went into the duomo and the Accedemia and walked around Piazza del Signoria and outside the Uffize (lines were very long here) before having to head back to the port.
CANNES: Had planned to take a ship tour to St Paul de Vence but ended up going the private tour route with some other CCers for the same cost. We drove through Cannes to the older villages of Antibes (where we stopped off at a wonderful fresh market), St Paul de Vence and Tourrettes Sur Loup. St Paul is a sleeply little artist village which was very, very cute and picturesque. I would imagine during high season its small lanes could get busy but there were times we were fully on our own while wondering around. Tourrettes was even more deserted and just as cute. Cannes does not have a pier so we tendered ashore. No tickets or queues, just go down and get on a boat when you want to get off. We had no issues getting off at a little after 8am to meet our driver.
DISEMBARKMENT: NCL didn't make the first announcements until 8am i think, though you could walk off earlier if you wished. We had picked out later tags and had a leisurly breakfast at the buffet first. Got off right after 9am which proved to be well timed. The taxi lines really started backing up about this time. They seemed to release the taxis in "waves", about 10 would come and leave and then there was a gap of time until the next 10 came in. It was an easy drive to the airport and about 30euro if i remember correctly. Make sure you know which terminal you are flying out of, as there are two different ones at BCN.
LAST THOUGHTS: It was a wonderful, albeit very tiring, time. Up early each day to maximize our time in the cities got old, would have been nice to somehow have the sea day in the middle of the cruise instead of the first day. Being such a distance from Rome and Florence makes it a very long day of traveling and touring. Also, really wish we had a full day to explore Malta in more detail. In all though a great adventure that we would love to do again.
Plenty of space for our needs. Loved how the bathroom shower had a sliding door instead of a curtain. Could use a little more space by the toilet though. Some smoke filtration into the cabin was a problem though; unknown if it was from the hallway or neighbors to the side above or below.