We're a family of four from Florida. Our daughter, a May college grad, has studied abroad in Europe twice. The rest of us were Europe rookies. We've cruised many times, but always in the Caribbean. We travel a few times per year as a family and at least once per year as a couple. We had sailed RCCL once before and were not impressed. We chose AOS for the itinerary, not the ship, and set sail with low expectations for our time on board.
We flew from Florida to Malaga, Spain two days before embarkation. We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel near the historic city centre, the Vincci. The ride was 20 euro. The hotel was new, bright and modern and well situated for exploring Malaga on foot.
We spent a day exploring Malaga, enjoying some of its many cafe's, touring its lovely Cathedral, the Picasso Museum (birthplace of Picasso), dipping our toes in the clear and cool Mediterranean, and hiking the foothills to tour the Alcazaba. Beautifully clean town and a very enjoyable day.
The Port is a bit of a challenge to get to...another 20 euro taxi ride from our nearby hotel. Cars must take a series of zig zagging roads to get to the Port building. The building itself is modern and new and our embarkation was easy. As reported, plenty of duty free shopping before you board.
We had two rooms...a balcony room and an inside across the hall...on deck 9 starboard aft. The rooms were ready when we boarded around 12:30. Our luggage arrived by 3. We spent the sunny afternoon relaxing by the pool and reading about our week ahead. We had booked excursions online ahead of time, but there seemed to be plenty available on board, as well. Also, we reserved late dining (9:30) and a table for four. At embarkation, we were told we were changed to early dining...not acceptable. On board, we were able to change back to late seating. A bit of a pain, but resolved to our satisfaction.
The ship is ten years old and the decor is certainly dated. Lots of teal and rose colored chairs and carpets and gold accents and blond colored wood everywhere. Ew. BUT, all seems clean and well maintained and we were able to look beyond the dated accents and enjoy all that the ship had to offer. Number one for us was the friendliness of the staff. We were greeted by smiles and friendly hello's all over the ship (very different from our one previous RCCL cruise on MOS years ago.) Our room steward and waiter, in particular, were responsive, positive and competent young men. We appreciated their service all week.
First stop on our itinerary was Valencia, Spain. Our daughter has a college friend from Barcelona and she and her parents traveled to Valencia to meet us and give us a tour of this charming town. It was a bit of a mystery how to get from the ship to the Port building (about a ten minute bus ride)...no one on the dock was able to help...but eventually we hopped a yellow bus (no air conditioning and standing room only) and made our way to the Port building to meet our friends. From there we went to the historic city center and toured the Cathedral, plaza and other historic sites. Then off to the beach for a lovely lunch of paella (born in Valencia), sangria and calamari. Perfecto! After lunch, we headed to the new and modern City of Arts and Sciences and spent a few hours at the aquarium. A little like SeaWorld Spain...but no worries, a wonderful day.
The next day was at sea. It was sunny, but cool, and we enjoyed a leisurely pace all day. Our son (age 8) loved the putt putt, arcade and ice show. My husband and I enjoyed a very special meal at Portifino's that evening. As our ship sailed between Sardinia and Corsica (restaurant window's looked out at Sardinia) we ate a delicious Italian dinner and shared a nice bottle of wine. Breathtaking perfection (tip...book dinner around 7:30...restaurant almost empty and you see the sunset during dessert!)
The next day was ROME! We were on a ship's tour (Rarely do ship tours, but thought it would be easy for a first trip to Europe. We were right.) Our tour was ten hours and left the ship before 8am. EARLY morning but worth the lack of sleep. The drive to Rome by bus was under two hours including a rest stop just outside the city. We had an enthusiastic on-bus guide (Gabriella) and a wonderful driver (Stefano, aka Banana!), as well as a well informed city guide, Francesca. We all wore "whispers", little transmitters that picked up whatever Francesca said about what we were seeing. An efficient way to distribute information to all of us at once. We spent time at the Trevi Fountain, the Forum, the Colosseum, Constantine's Arch, 3 course lunch, and the Vatican. An amazing day! There aren't enought positive adjectives.
The next day was Florence and Pisa. Again, an early morning and a ship's tour. On bus guide was Giovanna and city guide in Florence was Paola. Both very good. Wore whispers once again. Visited the Duomo (didn't go inside), a square with a copy of David (didn't see the real David!), Santa Croce Square and the Uffuzi gallery (again, didn't go inside.) Not as impressed with the Florence portion of the tour as we had been with Rome. Then on to Pisa. Such a tourist trap...but the bell tower, baptistery and cathedral are spectacular! Plenty of time for pictures and shopping. Another great day!
Awoke the next day to find we were docked in a picture perfect Port...Corsica! Beautiful bay and city center. Spent the morning exploring on our own...finally a Port where you could walk off the ship and straight into the action. Enjoyed an early lunch at a quaint cafe and dusted off some rusty high school french to order. Then we had a ship's tour with the wonderfully informed guide Katrine. She took us to the Fesch Museum and shared her extensive art knowledge with us all. Off to Napoleon's birth home (Corsicans have never forgiven him for leaving and not bringing more wealth and fame to the Island) and the town's Cathedral. On our own we made a dash for nutella crepes and then back to the ship. Only complaint about Corsica was that we didn't spend more time at this quaint stop.
Final day on the ship was at sea. Again, sunny but cool. We used the time to rest and reflect on our wonderful vacation. We spent a week in Spain (in Marbella) after the cruise and then a few days in London before coming home. Spent the last day on the ship making plans for part two of our trip. The internet cafe was well used by us!
Debarkation was early (8:30), but painless. Off the ship and to a taxi in less than a half hour. We were dropped at the train station in Malaga where we rented a car from Hertz (great train station, easy car rental.) Overall, we found the cruise a great "cheat sheet" way to tour Europe...a chance to see a lot in a relatively painless way...surrounded by people who spoke English and were always willing to help. AOS is a clean and well maintained (although dated) ship. We'd recommend this itinerary and will definitely take another Mediterranean cruise in the next few years (longer next time...probably a 12 night.)