1. Home
  2. Cruise Destinations
  3. Baltic Sea Cruises
  4. Baltic Sea Cruise Reviews

5 Miami to Baltic Sea Cruise Reviews

We've done a number of cruises--primarily Celebrity or Holland America in the past--but have decided that NCL has moved onto our new "preferred" cruise company list. We had read some rather critical reviews about the Star ... Read More
We've done a number of cruises--primarily Celebrity or Holland America in the past--but have decided that NCL has moved onto our new "preferred" cruise company list. We had read some rather critical reviews about the Star and the Trans-Atlantic itinerary, but the price was too good to pass up. We usually travel with another couple with similar interests, and we select a cruise based on the ports and price. We book veranda staterooms because we feel it's worth the extra cost to be able to have a comfortable space to enjoy breakfast in our room, read a good book, or just relax--and we love being able to step out onto our veranda to watch our ship come into port. Our stateroom was a little smaller than ones on Holland America, Celebrity, or Carnival but it was certainly adequate, and the bathroom was actually better with a "real" sliding door for the shower and an additional sliding door to separate the toilet area from the rest of the bathroom if you wanted. The veranda was a little smaller also but still adequate for two chairs and a little table. We had adequate storage and closet space although it could have been arranged more conveniently. Our cabin attendant was very attentive and provided us with a foam "topper" for our bed upon request--and our room was always clean. Being from Seattle, we appreciate having at least decent coffee, so we were thrilled that our stateroom had a little 4-cup coffee pot for our use. We have found "cruise ship coffee" to be consistently awful, so we used it every day with coffee we brought from home and found that it saved us a ton of money from visiting the ship's coffee bar. We were a little hesitant about NCL's "open dining" policy since we enjoy the relationship with our "server" and expected that waiting for a table would be annoying. NCL has two main dining rooms--the Aqua and the Versailles--both with fairly lenient dress codes--AND a number of alternative restaurant choices. We chose the Versailles for almost ever dinner since we preferred the slightly more formal environment over the Aqua--although the menus were quite similar. We never had to wait more than a few minutes for a table, and the hostess made every effort to seat us in the area of the dining room--and with the server we preferred--whenever possible. One side of their menu included "anytime choices" that didn't vary--soups, salads, and entrees--while the other side of the menu changed daily. We had no problem finding things that we liked, and the food always arrived appropriately hot--which has sometimes been "hit-or-miss" on other cruises. Being on the Star for 23 days--14 of them being on the Transatlantic portion--we wondered if we'd find the food less than appealing, but felt that NCL did a good job with maintaining quality and variety. The buffet area was an exceptionally good option for breakfast since their variety was generally amazing--always lots of fruit available and there was rarely a significant wait for their omelet station or difficulty finding a place to sit--and they were able to accommodate a lot of people in a short amount of time. The choices for lunch were also good and changed from day-to-day. There were other food service areas that served a nice variety of foods for lunch--such as the BBQ area by the pool. We generally felt that the food available without an extra service charge was good enough that we weren't motivated to spend a lot "extra" at the many alternative restaurants. We did make reservations for their special "jazz" brunch on one of the sea days which was very good with wonderful menu selections and was worth the extra $15 per person. We also visited the Brazilian Churrascaria to celebrate a birthday--$20 per person, but was worth the extra charge because of the unlimited amount of meat provided. We don't generally cruise "for the food" but felt that NCL compared favorably to their competition. There were little things that weren't quite as good--salad dressings were "bottled" and breads didn't always taste "freshly baked"--but overall the value was exceptional for the cost of the cruise. Overall menu variety wasn't quite as good perhaps, but the quality was consistently good--and the foods items that we preferred on other cruise lines weren't significant enough to affect our future cruise selection. We had prime rib several times, and it compared favorably with restaurants we enjoy at home. Steaks varied in thickness but were usually cooked somewhat to our request --and the quality was again good. NCL did not use wine stewards in the dining room, but your server "tags" your bottle of wine and stores it in their central wine cellar and can access it from any restaurant upon request--which was a nice feature. They also allow you to take the bottle of wine back to your room if you prefer which we thought was an interesting option. Daytime activities seemed to be adequate and fairly typical for cruise ships--although it's not something that we generally care about. The biggest "negative" for us relating to activities was their Spinnaker Lounge--it was used for many of their activities and presentations--and was very unappealing. We were told that it had been moved to a lower deck to allow for more space for suites--and had apparently been poorly planned. It had no windows, was dark with very crowded/uncomfortable seating, had a postage-stamp sized dance floor, and smelled of mildew. I would hope that they will re-consider their decision to move it to this location or will--at the very least--find a way to make it more appealing. We also felt that their theatre needs some serious renovation. The seating is standard "theatre seating" but has inadequate "leg room," the seats are very uncomfortable (or actually broken), and the line-of-sight is poor. We'd like to see the renovations include a "re-design" that would make it more "conversational" with little tables and perhaps some couches rather than all "theatre" seating. We felt that the "feature" entertainment each night needed some improvement. Entertainment is not critical for our overall enjoyment of a cruise, but we were surprised that the quality wasn't better--especially when we had so many sea days. The music presented in the various bar areas throughout the ship was not as good as we have experienced on other cruises either, so we're hoping that NCL will put some effort into improving it before we return for our next cruise! General "policy" compared favorably in most areas with other cruises we have done. The Star was consistently "clean" and staff seemed to generally enjoy their jobs. Some staff that we talked with informally had "moved" from other cruise lines to NCL and were happy with their choice. Staff were always stationed outside dining areas spraying passenger hands with hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of "noro virus"--usually with a smile, saying "washi, washi." It must have helped since we heard nothing about an outbreak of ship-board illness on our 23 days. We also thought it was interesting that more women had responsible jobs on the Star than we have seen on other cruise lines. The only area of "policy" that we thought needed a bit more attention was their lifeboat drill. Obviously none of us enjoy this aspect of our cruise, but staff on the Star did not seem to take their responsibility as seriously as we have experienced on other cruise lines. Much of the instruction is on the TV in your cabin, but we felt that staff still needed to be more involved in getting passengers to the appropriate "muster station" and include more information about how they would proceed in the case of a real emergency. Even though we've done this LOTS of times, we thought that staff need to be more available in the elevator/stair area to direct passengers to their muster station--actually telling passengers "this way"... The captain and other high-level staff were visible throughout the day which was very nice. We had "daily updates" as to weather and anything else pertinent to our cruise progress. There was a medical emergency on board, and the captain came over the loud speaker system just moments after we first heard the helicopter approaching our ship to tell us what was happening and that a helicopter would be landing to transfer the passenger to a medical facility on shore. Embarkation and disembarkation was handled efficiently and fairly easily. Passengers are given the option of flexible disembarkation if they are able to manage their own luggage--obviously within specific 'time" limitations. We disembarked the second time that we arrived in Copenhagen and found that independent transportation out of the port can be very difficult. The port where we docked was relatively new with virtually no services available other than limited taxis and a public bus stop. So we used one of their tours/airport transfers that included a four-hour bus tour that ended up at the airport. We thought it was expensive, but the convenience made it worth it. Itinerary Being a combined Trans-Atlantic/Baltic cruise, we appreciated that the cost was very reasonable and we were able to see a great variety of Ports. We sailed from Miami, so chose to fly in two days early since our flight landed in Ft. Lauderdale. The transfer from Ft. Lauderdale is fairly expensive, so it was cheaper to have a rental car for the 20-minute trip. We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn which we thought was a bargain for a two-bedroom/two bath suite since we were travelling with friends. We had six days out to sea before we hit Ponta Delgado in the Azores and all of us were looking forward to being on firm grand--in spite of the smooth seas we had experienced. There's not a lot to see or do in town, so would recommend a tour from one of the local tour companies. It's a volcanic island with lovely scenery--very lush and green and many lakes formed by the volcanic activity--and you would miss that aspect without a tour. We used GreenZones tours that was a good choice and reasonably priced. Many people chose to go to London when we docked in Dover, but it's a fairly lengthy bus ride and not a lot of time to see the sights. We decided to do a short (30-minute) train ride to Canterbury which was very fun. The Cathedral there is gorgeous and there are tons of nice little shops and cafes. That left us enough time to return to Dover, explore the castle/grounds there, and do the Operation Dynamo tour--well worth seeing. Our next stop was Helsingborg, Sweden--with most people heading across the channel to see Kronborg Castle. We tendered, but it worked out fine since it put as right in the center of town and near the ferry terminal. The ferry ride is quick and inexpensive and is a significant contrast from ferries you might take in the U. S.--very comfortable and fast. We knew that we would see other castles on this trip so limited our exploration to the grounds and exterior at Kronborg Castle before returning to Helsingborg. The town has some lovely areas to explore--be sure to walk up the hill to see the view, overlooking the city and channel. Copenhagen was the port for disembarkation/embarkation so we saw lots of people coming and going. As mentioned, transportation can be a challenge there. Public Bus #26 is a decent option if you don't have luggage with you but otherwise is difficult. It's about a 15-20 minute bus ride into the city, and NCL did not offer a specific transfer. We found that Copenhagen wasn't as easy to get around on our own as we'd anticipated--we'd recommend using a Hop On/Hop Off bus to get a good overview of the city and get you to the sights you want to see unless you are very skilled at using the Metro system. Nyhavn is a gorgeous area--be sure you take the little boat trip there to get the best view of the Danish boats and lovely buildings along the canal. Warnemunde was the jumping-off port for those who wanted to go to Berlin for the day. The Port is located very near the train and we could watch passengers boarding the train for the three-hour trip to the city. We decided that we wanted to stay "more local" and opted for a small-group tour (24 people) with SPB tours. We took the train to Rostock (which ended up being much more scenic than we'd anticipated) and then went on to Schwerin and the gorgeous castle there. Our tour included the cost of the train plus admission to the castle, and the cost of lunch. We felt it was a great day and was very economical. We had thought about tackling the train on our own, but found that most of the signs were in German and it was not easy to find people who spoke English. Tallinn was a lovely city with many cruise ships in Port the day we were there. It's a bit of a walk from the Port to the Old Town, and is up hill! We took a small group tour again as it included transportation from the Port--but it would be walkable if you're in good shape. There are tons of great cafes and shops as well as wonderful streets to explore. It's probably not a city that you need to have a tour if you're adventurous and have a good map but it was interesting to hear about their rather recent association with Russia. St. Petersburg is a Port where it's essential to have an organized tour of some sort. You can take one organized by the cruise line, but it's much nicer (and less expensive) to take one through one of the many recognized tour companies in St. Petersburg. We chose SPB Tours which was an amazing experience and worth every penny that it cost. They take care of all the paperwork for your VISA to allow you to enter Russia and are passionate about giving you a great experience. We chose to do a private tour (for the 4 of us) and ended up being significantly less expensive than it would have been if we had done a "bus" tour from the ship. Visiting Russia is something that we should all do at least once in our lifetime, and we are so glad that we had the chance to do so. The Port in Helsinki is a bit of a walk to town--and we had a short day there--so we took a taxi to save time. We took the ferry to Soumenlinna Fortress which was a fun place to explore, and then returned to town for the afternoon. There were vendors along the waterfront with typical souvenir options and great local food choices--fabulous salmon and herring among others. We thought it was quite expensive (3.5 Euros for a cup of coffee) although all of Scandinavia tends to be high. Take time to head away from the harbor for some wonderful shopping options. Cruising through the Swedish archipelago into Stockholm was probably one of the highlights of our cruise. It takes roughly 3 hours to make the trip, so be sure to get up early to enjoy it. (And you'll have LOTS of hours of daylight at this point anyway!) It was amazing to see a "parade" of big cruise ships making their way along narrow waterways between hundreds of small islands. We took the "Hop-on/Hop-off" bus from the pier to town which was very convenient. Our main goal was to see the Vasa Museum which was amazing. Get there early as the wait can be significant to get in. We enjoyed exploring Gamla Stam area of Stockholm and finding a little local café to sample typical Swedish foods--which was very fun. We had one sea day before returning to Copenhagen where we would disembark, so we appreciated the extra to organize our purchases and luggage. Our weather had been amazing during our 23 days, so having some clouds, fog, and a little rain on this last day made it a little easier to think about getting off! We felt that airport logistics are difficult in Copenhagen and that either a specific tour or transfer from NCL is worth the money--and we're used to being pretty independent when we travel. The airport itself was extremely busy and difficult to navigate. Much of the check-in process is self-serve which isn't difficult once you understand what they want--but we had some difficulty getting questions answered and the most of the instructions weren't in English. We would recommend that you allow plenty of time to complete the process there--although we thought that it was strange that on one ever asked to see our passport or other ID as we were checking in or going through security. We felt that our first experience with NCL exceeded our expectations and we wouldn't hesitate to book another if it compared favorably with cost and itinerary of our other "favorites." Read Less
Sail Date May 2014
I brought a group of 16 people for a short mini vacation with friends on the Ecplise. I was the group leader and handled the back office details for the group. I am not kidding when I say I spent at least 10 hours on the phone with the ... Read More
I brought a group of 16 people for a short mini vacation with friends on the Ecplise. I was the group leader and handled the back office details for the group. I am not kidding when I say I spent at least 10 hours on the phone with the Groups department trying to resolve mistakes the back office made with payments, credit card refunds, incorrect documentation, etc. I could not believe all the problems - the response given by many representatives was sorry- We eliminated a department- and we were transferred all their mistakes.This was going on for months before our sailing November 17th. This was just a continuous headache. I kept an open mind upon boarding. I was really looking forward to our short vacation. Embarkation was easy - except everyone in our group who pre-registered online did not have their credit card information on file. A computer glitch I was told. The rooms were Aqua Class and were lovely. However, I do agree the storage situation and location of closet is poorly designed. I was only on a three day and there was barely enough room for our small amount of things. I can't imagine a 7 day with the amount of storage allocated. We went to Oceanview Cafe for lunch and ate outside. The food was well presented and delicious. I went to spa and booked hair appointments and a couples massage for trip. The salon staff was great and very welcoming. I then went to Blu to let them know we had a group of 16 for dinner that evening and wanted to give them a heads up regarding seating. They were great and very accomodating. Then I went to Murano to also discuss my group reservation which I booked through Captains Club for Friday evening evening at 7:30 PM. I knew they would not be able to seat us all together and that was fine. I brought my email printout with my confirmation for my dining reservation. I was then completely shocked to find out from the Maitre'D that he had no record at all of our reservation and quite abruptly told me "Sorry I cannot accomodate you" The restaurant is sold out and their is nothing I can do about it." I said, but I have an email confirmation printout. He said he didn't care I was not in "his" system.He then told me to lodge my complaint with Captains Club. I then spent another hour in the Captains Club office waiting with others and finally explaining my situation. They took a copy of my printout confirmation and told me they would get back to me tomorrow- but they couldn't promise anything. I left shaking my head and completely frazzled. My group were all huge foodies and their Murano reservation was at the top of their list. Everyone was upset and amazed at the callous treatment I received from the Maitre'D. I wasted an entire afternoon on a short trip dealing with this when I would have rather been having fun with my friends. The trip did not start off well for me. I went to the Salon for my hair appointment. I love the hair salon. The stylist I think his name was David from Tazmania was outstanding. He was completely charming and did amazing hair. I went to him every night before dinner. It was the best salon experience I have had on any cruise. Our departure was delayed until 7:00 PM which was a disappointment as it was dark and everyone was back in rooms getting ready for dinner. I always love the sailaway and totally missed out on this cruise. I stopped by for a quick cocktail at the Sunset bar before heading to the room. The service was atrocious. The bartenders were out of stock of everything-ignoring customers-terribly slow. The bar itself was littered with dirty glasses and overflowing ashtrays. Our dinner at Blu was wonderful. The space is gorgeous, service warm and professional. I had a bleu cheese souffle for appetizer, seared tuna for entree, and coconut creme brulee for dessert. It was delicious!! Everyone in our group was impressed. We went to the Sky Lounge for after dinner drinks and dancing. The band was good. It was too tame for our group living in Miami- but it was enjoyable overall. The disco was okay - The next morning we received a message that they would accomodate us at Murano on Friday but at 6:00 not our desired confirmed time of 7:30. We took the time as it was the best we could do in this situation. We had breakfast at Blu. It is a great place in the morning- bright, cheerful and relaxed with wonderful hot breakfast. We ate there every morning. It was that good. The day on the ship was spent exploring. The feeling at the pool deck was lame. There was absolutely no entertainment or pool side steel drums etc. It felt blah blah blah. Poolside music has been on other Celebrity ships. I don't know why they didn't do it here. It was sorely missed. There was a definite lack of festivity. Our group arranged to eat in the Main Dining Room that evening to check out the beautiful room and experience Formal night in the bigger more boisterous space. We were told there would be no formal night on this short cruise yet they put one in anyway. Our group had plenty of dressy cocktail clothes. It might of been a surprise to others that were not prepared. We stopped in at the Martini bar prior to dinner. The drinks were very good. The bartenders were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of guests. The service was rushed due to the crowded bar condition. Dinner in the MDR was excellent. Waiters were fun and service great. I had the rack of lamb which was a perfect rosy pink and as good as I have had anywhere.Our group disbanded- some went to the casino, some to the shows, some to the Molecular Bar -which was a rave for those that went. The next day at Nassau we went to the One and Only Beach Club. We had all been to Atlantis numberous times and wanted something different.The One and Only is very upscale and sits on a beautiful pristine stretch of beach. We dined at the Dune Restaurant. It is a John-George Vongerschen restaurant and overlooks the beach inside and out. The food is worth a side trip while in Nassau. The lobster sandwich is out of this world!! We rushed to get to our Murano reservation at 6:00 PM. What is amazing is that for 2 1/2 hours while we ate the restaurant was half empty. Oversold it was not and they even took in walk ins who were 1 1/2 hours late for their reservation. The food in the Murano was the most disappointing of the trip surprisingly. The food quality had definitely declined from past experiences. Wine and drink service was horrible. I waited for a good forty five minutes after being seated to get a glass of champagne I requested over and over again. Ports requested to accompany cheese service were forgotten. After dinner drinks were not much easier to obtain. Food was beautifully presented but lacked taste. Many of the dishes were bland and underseasoned. Fish was full of bones for one friend. Just not the Murano experience I wanted. Especially after everything I had to do to get the reservation. Disembarkation the next day was fine until you arrived at customs and immigration. The lines were long. There was a lack of direction from personnel. We waited an hour to get off the ship. It was very disorganized. Upon checkout certain people in our group received their promised onboard credit and others did not. More back office nightmare. Those that did not got it resolved after the cruise by contacting the Group Department. There were definite bright spots on the trip - but other problems did cloud the overall cruise experience. I am not as thrilled with Celebrity as I use to be. Read Less
Sail Date November 2010
My LBW (Lovely Blond Wife) Carol and I booked this trip through a group as we had substantial credit from a previous World Cruise with them. (They give a percentage of fare for what they term "Future Cruise Credit) Embarkation from ... Read More
My LBW (Lovely Blond Wife) Carol and I booked this trip through a group as we had substantial credit from a previous World Cruise with them. (They give a percentage of fare for what they term "Future Cruise Credit) Embarkation from Miami was relatively rapid with one exception. When clearing ticketing, passports, etc. we were given a colored piece of paper and told to go into the next room. It turned out that you were then boarded by color priority which we had not been told so that was rather confusing as people with different color boarding cards were not seated in any particular order and there were no marked areas. We found out only by going to what we assumed (mistakenly, we soon found out) was the boarding line, only to learn that it was only for the particular color which had already been called! Once aboard we found our cabin, #5520, oceanview class, to be well to the stern and very near the showroom which is at the opposite end from the Restaurants. Great for accessing the Show Lounge but not the restaurants, but hey, walk off any weight gain in advance, before you get there! Our room was literally one turn and a couple of cabins from the Showroom, which was beautifully decorated in and attractive Emerald green color. Sight lines were excellent and we never had an obstruction. We headed upstairs to the cafeteria style restaurant, the Garden Cafe. Very crowded is an understatement, but understandable as the bulk of the guests boarding were hitting it at once. Overflow guests can sit at tables on the adjacent deck tables, or go the alternative restaurant, Mama's, open only in the evening. Food quality here? We rated it as good to very good. The first night we dined in the Azure Restaurant but after this ate (hours and tours permitting) in Tsars Palace, which is more roomy and has a more (to us) attractive decorative motif. (Menus are the same) This room is done in the style of the Russian Tsars (no surprise, that is what they named it, didn't they...) with appropriate oil paintings hung on the walls and chairs decorated with the Eagle symbol of the period. I had notified the line at time of booking of a dairy allergy (my side of the couple) and when I notified the Ass't. Maitre 'D, a charming and caring young lady from Yugoslavia, Danijela Ivanovic, she pulled out all the stops to accommodate the problem. She took advance orders daily, called the kitchen supervisor while at our table to confirm what was possible or not (rarely was it not) and in no way could have been more helpful. She even furnished us with her phone extension in case of any problem. Food was of good quality with the only problem area seeming to be in overcooking seafood, even though I wrote a note to the Hotel Manager and later notified Danijela, at her request. This was never rectified and I can only assume that cooking guidelines are posted in the galley and are simply wrong. Fish cooked too long is invariably dry and tough. Do we like Freestyle Cruising? Well, there are two sides to it. We had traveled extensively in past years, when you sat where you chose at both breakfast and lunch, but had assigned tables for dinner. This worked very well for us as we got to know other couples in depth and could immediately go to our assigned tables at dinner time. But, with dinner being only Freestyle, there was often a jam-up at dinner with a line of people waiting at certain times for seating. The upside, of course, you meet more people and if you really hit it off, can of course arrange to meet them for a subsequent meal. Why not? Our room, near typical ocean view, was very suitable with several odd exceptions. The "Throne Room" was, I said to Carol, more like an airline facility, and she later remarked, more like a phone booth with a privacy door...I know that space is always at a premium on cruise ships, but this definitely needed better planning. Would that the architect him/herself had been forced to use it as part of a pre-completion focus group? Secondly, on one side of the bed (Carol chose wisely and acquired the opposite side) the desk/makeup area extended so far in the space to reach the bed that it required considerable agility, a quality I may have had in the past but not desirous of having to call upon at this point in life! Lastly, the room seemed exceptionally dark for an oceanview room. Lighting seemed poorly planned and placed and it was not practical to read in bed without literally leaning over to hold reading material under the light on the adjacent table...again, focus group? Now, on to a more positive note: Storage was excellent, with a number of available drawers plus a decent sized closet. I will comment further on the Garden Cafe...we liked the idea of various serving stations for different purposes, i.e., pastry and bread, fruit (better timed at being ripe than on many other ships, bravo, NCL) sandwiches, hot foods, desserts, even a vegetarian section. An option is the availability of freshly prepared vegetable (And in the A.M. OJ) juices at an optional price. We visited only one alternative restaurant, (some nights were 2 for 1 cover charges) The Bistro. A mixed bag. Service outstanding, appetizers and dessert excellent, but oddly, the entrees were both highly disappointing. My salmon, again, overcooked and dry, and I thought I could help it with Tartar Sauce, but was advised by the Maitre "d that...are you ready...the Tartar Sauce had butter in it! This is a new one to us. The only properly cooked spot was a tiny area in dead center...Carol's rack of Lamb was so tough as to be absolutely inedible. She tried to foist a piece off on me but I took one bite and graciously returned it under warranty. Though dessert was good (Dairy free chocolate Fondue with fresh fruit chunks) it was accompanied by the absolutely worst cup of coffee I may have ever been offered in my life...bitter and completely undrinkable. Why? I have no idea. I have not meant at any point to sound overly critical or to appear a nitpicker, only to mention a few things that might have been done better. In fact, I wrote three personal letters of commendation while on board. Staff were outstanding and seemed genuinely friendly and helpful, not artificially so. Many wait staff were from the Philippines and were always gracious and eager to please and to have the opportunity to do so. Entertainment was exceptional, with the exception of one or two solo acts. The production shows were first class and outstanding. The crew show, produced by and including cruise director Susie Atkins, was an absolute smash, the key number an absolute laugh fest. This was a cruise of Baltic Capitals; we flew to London and back on American Air, which was as comfortable as I suppose Coach class can be... Capitals visited were Copenhagen (Our Vantage rep. warned us that in our destination of Tivoli Gardens that the rate of pickpocketing is extremely high) Berlin (via the Port of Warnemunde, a 2 1/2 hour electric train ride for our chartered tour into our destination of Berlin) Tallinn, Estonia, St.Petersburg, Russia (two days) Helsinki and Stockholm. We were also warned not use Credit cards in Russia if at all possible as there is an extremely high rate of fraud. (we listened) I must admit that the weather in general was colder than we had expected for mid Sept., but we had prepared for the possibility; the only rain we encountered was in Tallinn, and all tours were handled professionally and without a hitch. All buses were comfortable in every regard with competent and very well informed guides. Post cruise? Included in the well done Vantage package, was at the Park Plaza on Addington St. in London, within view and easy access of the London Eye and the Jubilee Bridge. As we had early debarkation from the ship, Vantage having arranged their own scheduling and busing to London, this included a London tour before hotel checking in. Here again, a word of appropriate caution by our onboard Blue Badge certified guide. He advised us to be most careful where we used ATM systems and suggested those at major banks. We listened most carefully, having on a previous London stayover, used our bank card only one time and on our subsequent return home, found our bank account totally emptied by some enterprising criminal. We found to our mutual delight that the staterooms of Buckingham Palace were open to the public until month's end, and obtaining tickets from our hotel concierge, took advantage of this opportunity and found it an amazing and very worthwhile experience. We timed our visit to see and photograph the changing of the Guard. Security staff on entry were friendly, smiling and courteous, not always so in our United States, darn. As photography was not permitted, we were even offered a specially marked bag for my camera so that it did not have to be checked. And we were encouraged to keep the bag for future use! We found the audio presentation with earphones to be without doubt the most comprehensive and well though out of our experiences. Shall I comment on our hotel? An unexpectedly large and comfortable room, but again, a few odd quirks. All doors, including the shower, seemed to have been designed by left handed people! To open the front door from the inside a right handed person has to reach across themselves and open it into their own body, an awkward thing indeed...the same with the shower. And bath towels are on a two tier rack above the adjacent tub; so high that I, at six feet in height, had to stand on tip toe to reach the lower one of two! For shorter people this would be an impossible situation. Odd preplanning, it seems. Our stay included a daily buffet breakfast, thank goodness, as London is a very expensive place to live and to eat. Our Blue Badge guide mentioned an excellent snack chain restaurant which, fortunately, we found without trouble whenever hunger struck after breakfast. Named the Pret a Manger, it has a great selection of sandwiches made with often organic ingredients and homemade breads. as well as a homemade Soup of the day. We were very impressed with the help and service of our Vantage personnel, Chris, Dee and Carol. We were met at the airport incoming and taken in a private van (we were the only Vantage people from our flight incoming) and had much informative information presented both in group presentations and in a daily newsletter delivered to our cabins. After our group debarkation, with three buses chartered by Vantage especially for each departing group's destination and connection, we were taken to our American Airline's terminal, and walked inside by our bus representative and met by the Vantage Airport Representative, Susan Pacey, who helped us admirably with our luggage, boarding passes and procedures, and anything else we required. As we were the only passengers returning on American, we were quite impressed with this level of service. Would we do this trip again? Absolutely, but ideally at an earlier and warmer time of the year. Well done, all. ++++++++++++ Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
BRILLIANCE of the SEAS Transatlantic & Mediterranean Cruises April, 30 to May 26, 2004 By Mary & Vincent "Con te partiro` su navi per mari... (With you, I'll leave on ships for seas...)" as Andrea Bocelli sings, ... Read More
BRILLIANCE of the SEAS Transatlantic & Mediterranean Cruises April, 30 to May 26, 2004 By Mary & Vincent "Con te partiro` su navi per mari... (With you, I'll leave on ships for seas...)" as Andrea Bocelli sings, this is exactly what happened: We departed from Miami April 30th, after a slight delay when a routine engine check revealed a wiring oddity; however, we confidently sailed once again in the capable hands of our friend Captain Michael Lachtaridis (Samos, Greece). We had sailed with him last year on the Grandeur of the Seas from New Orleans to Harwich, England and then on to the Baltic capitals. This extremely competent master is beloved by the passengers for his droll and humorous daily noon reports on the ship's position and the weather. This cruise had calm seas all the way. Since we have already published a review of the Brilliance of the Seas' maiden Transatlantic Voyage (Sept. 2002), describing in detail the ship, this review will concentrate on service, food, activities and the many European ports of call. THE SHIP The Brilliance is the second of the Radiance class. The first was the Radiance of the Seas (2001), then the Brilliance (2002), the Serenade (2003) and finally, the new Jewel of the Seas, which will make her Maiden Transatlantic voyage from Harwich to Boston (Sept. 2004), with us on board, God willing! This Panmax ship is 90.090 tons, 962 ft. long, a beam of 106 ft. with a draft of only 26.7 ft. and a top speed of 25 knots. Several times Captain Lachtaridis announced that, if we were to make the next port on time, and we always did, then he would have to put the proverbial "pedal to the metal." Top speed is most obvious to the passengers when riding one of the four elevators overlooking the ocean: The sea rushes by horizontally as the elevators go vertically ---- This is a very heady experience, which many cruisers miss, since they, like robots, face front to the elevator doors. We are usually facing the sea, since it is difficult to turn the wheelchair around when other passengers are in the elevator with us. Oh, the unexpected delight of viewing life from a unique angle! The Brilliance can accommodate 2,501 passengers and she is just as beautiful now as when she was launched. She is kept in excellent condition and her service is top of the line under Hotel Director Gordon Shenk (USA) and Food and Beverage Manager Rinaldo Lemma (Italy). These two welcomed us and shared information about the new menus, dining times and other particulars about the ship; thus, we learned how RCI regards passengers' needs by adopting new menus and dining schedules to suit their customs and habits. EMBARKATION Crown & Anchor members never have to wait on line; this is the best reason for being a RCI repeater. After ten cruises you will be greeted in the C & A room and processed quickly. It makes a big difference if you are travel tired. We arrived at 12:15pm, were checked in shortly, and in our cabin by 12:30pm, left our hand luggage (rooms were not officially ready until 1:00pm) and went to the Windjammer Buffet. After lunch we always go by the dining room to check our table assignment for dinner. We met the very capable Maitre D' Paulo Barbosa (Portugal), who arranged a table for two for us near the entrance. Excellent! This stop is a must, or at dinner time you may find yourself in a long line of grumpy, tired and hungry people. SHIP'S PUBLIC AREAS As mentioned in our first Brilliance review, this ship is beautifully and tastefully decorated with light and dark woods, lots of brass and marble, and an eclectic art collection. The public areas catered to cruisers' needs and comfort. For a deck by deck description see our Sept. 2002 review at this web site. The eight deck tall Centrum was the center for some of the best music on a ship ever. The relaxing guitar of Voytek (Poland) was enhanced by his wonderful repertoire of classical songs. The "Romantic Strings" and "Frank's Company" were magnets for passengers. We kept saying that this was the best musical cruise we've ever had. This cruise began with Seven Sea Days, and we were never bored. Our routine began with breakfast in our cabin at 7:00am, then we went to the Solarium where Vincent enjoyed the Hot Tub and Mary the Lap Pool. At this time of day it was all ours. At 9:00am, when it was getting crowded, we would leave and visit Chris Hou in the Concierge Club (reserved for Suite occupants and Diamond members) for an espresso or cappuccino and a cream cheese bagel. There is always a brunch set up here. There are two computer stations, and the daily newspapers in brief. We like to compare how the news differs from various countries, (i.e., France, England, Spain and United States). Concierge Chris, is extremely capable and helpful by getting excursion and tender tickets, etc. From here we usually go to the Library on Deck 9 and pick up a daily Trivia Quiz to check it for errors. It's the habitual teacher thing in us that we can't control. Ah yes, lunch at the Sea View Cafe (Deck 12), fish 'n' chips, chili, soup, salad and apple pie or brownie; then an afternoon movie or nap. At times, before dinner, we would go to the Concierge Club where from 5:00pm to 9:00pm there is a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres set up; then dinner at 6:30pm, theater at 9:00pm, and after that we may go strolling on the Promenade (Deck 5). With a schedule like this there is no time for boredom or hunger, since there is always 24 hour room service (fast, friendly and excellent). Some of the crossing's highlights included the Captain's dinner on Day 2. There is no better place to dine than at Captain Lachtaridis's table: Crostini and mushroom tapanade, escargot with sautEed onions and fresh tomato concasse in puff pastry, Sea Bass stuffed with jumbo shrimp, and a dessert cup crafted out of caramel and almonds, filled with wild berries, rum and creme anglais. Captain Michael confided that on the very next Mediterranean cruise, he would accomplish a life long dream: to sail into Piraeus (Athens) as commander of a ship. As captain, he had sailed into many ports all over the world, but this would be his first time into the capital of his homeland. We wished we could have been on board with him. The last time we sailed there, the water was a beautiful blue with delicate, bridal veil like medusas (jellyfish) floating in it. Day 3. We had a plumbing problem which Chief Purser Tatiana Cortes Berglund (Sweden) handled with aplomb; that evening there was a red planet on the horizon at midnight. Breathtaking. Day 4. Tatiana moved us to Suite #7672 (2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 TV's, dining room, living room) in the rear of the ship and with white caps on the seas, we had a bumpy and noisy night. However, we do suggest this accommodation for a large family or group. Day 5. We moved to Suite 1542 and finally settled in for the duration. This was an excellent experience, since we became familiar with several types of staterooms. Day 6. The sea was tranquil all day and dolphins and sea terns were visible as we passed closely to two of the Azores' islands. The first was a volcano rising straight out of the ocean, and the second was a long, low lying island. At 7:00pm the temperature was 62 F. We had lost 20 degrees since Miami, and several hours by moving the clock ahead an hour almost every evening. That night we had dinner at Chops Grille with Gordon and Rinaldo, our interesting new friends. Chops has a terrific menu: crab cakes, New England clam chowder, interesting sides and salads, filet mignon, veal chops and Mississippi Mud pie for dessert. Excellent! Day 7. There was a Crown & Anchor Society cocktail party; the Champagne flowed freely and the hors d'oeuvres were hot. We were sailing through the remnants of a huge storm over Ireland, we felt some movement, not too bad, but just enough to make walking amusingly unsteady and to be gently lulled to sleep. Day 8. The sea was much calmer, the sun was out on this last sea day of the Transatlantic crossing: tomorrow Lisbon, Portugal. The ports will be discussed later. FOOD & SERVICE When people ask, "How can you stand being confined to a ship for seven days?" We answer that unless the port is new or worthy of many returns, well, there is no better destination than a beautiful ship. Maitre D's Paulo Barbosa (Portugal) and Emmanouil Kampanakis (Greece) go out of their way to please passengers not for just one meal, but for weeks on end. A table for two, just in front of the lovely stair case, being serenaded every evening by the melodic guitar of Vortek or the Romantic String Trio, is always a beautiful experience. Believe us, we never missed land. According to Gordon Shenk, RCI has instituted new menu initiatives which strive for uniformity in plating, ingredients and preparation. There is a new dining room luncheon menu listing the following: 2 soups, 3 salads, 2 appetizers, 6 different entrees and a "Tutti Pasta" set up, where one can choose a variety of sauces for pasta. Finally, don't forget the dessert, five including creme brulee. The evening menu offers even more varieties of meat, fish and fowl selections. Keep in mind this is only the menu in Minstrels main dining room. You may want to eat in the Windjammer Buffet (Deck 11) or the Sea View Cafe (Deck 12), pub style diner. During the transatlantic crossing, the Minstrels had a 6:30pm main seating and an 8:30pm second seating. However, in the Mediterranean, the formal afternoon Teas became Tapas on the pool deck at 4:30pm and the evening dining room hours were now 6:30, 7:30, 9:00 and 10:00pm, to accommodate the large number of European passengers who prefer dining late. RCI portions are generous. We keep begging for one-half portions. However, anyone can be satisfied by ordering more, less or sharing. Service at our table was excellent: During the transatlantic crossing, our waiter was Leane Kershaw (S. Africa) and Cetin Devrim (Turkey) her assistant. In the Mediterranean, waiter Hakan Pamukcu (Turkey) was wonderfully assisted by Kadir Oz (Turkey). Hakan was a competent teacher to his new eager assistant. Among the many courteous waiters, we remember Ismael (Mexico), who was always sociable and helpful in the Windjammer Buffet. The Minstrel Dining Room is beautiful with a birchwood balcony, a waterfall behind the curved staircase, and a two deck tall mosaic of wandering minstrels at the aft end. The blue, gold and green decor is elegant, while food, service and ambiance rival any four star restaurant on land. Food & Beverage Manager Rinaldo and the two maitre D's Paulo and Emmanouil are brilliant in their dedication to pleasing passengers. After all, as Gordon says, "That's what it is all about." This attitude radiates all the way down from the Captain, whose genteel manners made every passenger feel at home. We observed him even checking the pool water temperature on his early morning rounds. Great service is noted in the details; whenever we tendered or disembarked the ship's crew was exceptional in assuring our safety, especially with Vincent's wheelchair. CABINS We occupied 7110, 7672, 1542 and 7610. All were balconied cabins and the decor of 7110 and 7610 were exact. When entering on the left there was a double armoire with safe, a long mirrored desk/vanity, TV console, refrigerator and a sofa bed. When entering on the right there was a 6'X6' tiled bath, with mirrored medicine cabinet and safety rails appropriately placed. Then, there was a king sized bed, a large coffee table and a glassed wall to the balcony holding a small table, two chairs and a chaise lounge. Both cabins had the same two pictures: one was lemons and sunflowers and the other orange day lilies and red peppers. 7672 we've already described and 1542 was similar in size to 7110 and 7610, only there was a tub in the bathroom and the dominating picture was of a reclining woman in a white sun dress. Basically, the cabinets were maple wood with dark mahogany trim and the color schemes were variations of navy blue, maroon and gold -- very nautical. All four cabins were comfortable, but only 7110 and 7610 had automatic door openers for wheelchair accessibility. All of our stewards were excellent and efficient: Elvis, Florian and Anthony, thanks once again. ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Directors Peter Benfield (England) and Bill Brunkhorst (USA) were both friendly and engaging. The ship has sport facilities like rock climbing, basketball, golf, ping pong, shuffle board, swimming and a great gym and health spa, not to mention dancing all night. The RCI singers, dancers and orchestra performed Broadway style shows with energy. Headliners included violinist Gary Lovini (UK) who put on a spectacular virtuoso performance: WOW. Crowd pleasing were also two tenors: Frank Tenaglia (USA) had a wonderful voice (he should sing more and tell jokes less and his repertoire did not do justice to his great voice); and Renato Pagliari (Italy), whom we have seen before. Pagliari also sang in the centrum one evening and the eight decks of balconies were packed. Every one was impressed with his Caruso style performance. Bravo! "Dancing Fools" the Taylors, a husband and wife team, were sensational. At several ports there were local talents. But in Naples, most impressive was the mini concert by singer Roberto Rossini with his guitar accompanied by a mandolinist in the Centrum. He sang many of the classical Neapolitan favorites with style, and Vincent had tears in his eyes. RCI, please note: He is wonderful and really radiates Neapolitan musicality, a nice touch during the Mediterranean cruise. Other passengers said that he had also performed on the dock and drew admirers. The Brilliance also has self leveling pool tables, bingo, the Casino, sports bars, lounges and poolside activities ---- something for everyone. PORTS OF CALL Day 9. Lisbon, Portugal Arrival: 7:00am Depart: 3:30pm Departure was delayed for late passengers. We have visited here many times and we suggest that you watch your wallets and handbags. Every cruise the pick pockets warmly welcome the tourists, as they did this time. Our acquaintances had their bag stolen from their wheelchair (passports, wallet, cash and personal check book were all taken). We never bring these items ashore, and since American Express checks are safer, we never bring a personal check book. Try to travel with less valuables and as light as possible. Tour LSB1, City Panoramic Drive, $39, 2 hrs, is a nice tour for those with limited mobility and the first timers. More interesting is tour LSD1, $44, 4 hrs, visit to the village of Sintra with the old Royal Palace and the resort town of Cascais. Day 10. Malaga`, Spain Arrival: 11:30am Depart: 8:00pm This is the second time we have visited this resort on the Sun Coast and always on a Sunday; thus, we have no idea what real shopping is like here. It is the birth place of Picasso and the best tour would be to Granada. Some of the interesting tours: Tour MGA1, $118, 8 hrs, a drive through the Andalusian countryside and Granada and visit to Alhambra Palace & Gardens. Lunch is included. Tour MCE1 $42, 4.5 hrs, scenic coastal drive and visit to the famous Cave of Nerja. Day 11. Alicante, Spain Arrival: 9:00am Depart: 3:30pm Alicante is linked historically to Africa through trade; there is lovely Baroque architecture; all the tours were walking over uneven surface for over one mile, an impossible task for those with mobility problems. We took the shuttle to down town to the Bay Walk, a wide tiled promenade at the base of the terra cotta colored Castle on the Mount. Tour ALB1, $40, 5 hrs, this is a breath taking ride along a curvy mountain road through lemon and orange groves to Guadalest, a mountain top village with Islamic origins. Day 12. Barcelona, Spain Arrival: 7:00am We disembarked here for three days and booked a hotel in the 13th century Gothic Quarter in order to be in walking distance to Las Ramblas, but it was rainy and cold the first part of our stay. We did get to see much of Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia of Gaudi fame, the Gothic Cathedral and other sites. Interesting is tour BRF, $42, 4 hrs, visit to Monteserrat. This goes through the Cataluna countryside to the monastery, which has "La Moreneta" (the Black Madonna). PART II May 14th. Barcelona, Embarkation Depart: 6:30pm Barcelona has fine modern port facilities. The porters were fast and efficient. Going back on board, we felt like we were returning home. So, we began the second leg of our cruise by sitting on our balcony contemplating a slender silver moon. Day 2. Villefranche, France Arrive: 10:00am Depart: 11:00pm We booked Tour VFG1 $49, 3.5 hrs, Scenic French Riviera, which departed from the old port's Citadel on the Lower Corniche road slowly climbing to the Middle Corniche and finally the Grand Corniche. From here we viewed Cap Martin, Monaco, Italy and Nice. Our driver Gianluca and tour guide Sophie were terrific and very knowledgeable in both history and current events. The Monaco Grand Prix preparations and time trials were going on and we got close enough to see and hear the racing cars. But, Monte Carlo was cordoned off, so we had to be satisfied with an aerial view from the Grand Corniche. We also saw a collection of former Grand Prix winning cars. Sailing out of Villefranche was beautiful with the golden lights of the town offset by bright white shafts of light coming from the lighthouse on the promontory and again that slender white crescent moon. Day 3. Livorno, Italy Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 6:00pm There were tours to Pisa and Florence from here, but we've been to both before; thus, we settled on the Tuscan countryside: Tour LVF1, $52, 4 hrs, Scenic Drive and Wine Tasting. There were bright red poppies all along the road side and beautiful huge roses in many garden. We drove through medieval towns with olive groves and vineyards. At the Michi Villa we met Wanda and Vincenzo the owners and toured the villa gardens and the winery. They produce cold pressed virgin olive oil, a lesser red wine, and a finer white vin santo (dessert wine). Vincent spoke with the loquacious, elderly Vincenzo. They talked of using the chestnut casks for the young wines and the oak casks for the finer aged wines. The Michis planted the vineyard after WWII and enjoy the visitors. Sail away was after 6:30pm and by 8:30 there was a glorious sunset. We passed Elba, the island of Napoleon fame, and at 10:00pm there was the very bright Venus in the NW sky. Day 4. Naples, Italy Arrive: 8:00am Depart: 8:00pm There are many beautiful tours departing from here: The Isle of Capri, Pompeii Ruins, Herculaneum Excavations, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Drive. All of which we have done, since Vincent was born near Naples. Instead we were met by relatives and friends who treated us to a lovely private concert during a drive along Naples' "Lungo Mare" and Posillipo, then topped it off with a great dinner at Giorgio Rosolini's "La Cantinella." This picturesque restaurant, with a view of the bay and the Vesuvius, served exquisitely prepared seafood: Spaghetti e vongole, delicate sautEed fillet of sole, and delicious rum baba. At sunset we sailed out of the port of Naples with a beautiful red sunset in the west. "Vedi Napoli e poi muori" (see Naples and then die), as the old adage goes, once you have seen the beatiful Naples, you've seen it all. Day 5. At Sea After four port days in a row, the passengers were happy just to stay on board and relax. Days 6 & 7. Venice, Italy Arrive: 1:00pm, Overnight, Depart 5:00pm The Captain's cocktail reception for Platinum & Diamond Members was set for 10:30am on the second day in Venice at the Starquest Disco on Deck 13. This was the perfect vantage point from which to view the unfolding panorama of Venice, as we slowly sailed by the wonderful buildings and canals spread out before us: The Campanile, Dogi Palace, St. Marks Cathedral and the Bridge of Sighs. There are terra cotta roofs, trees, canals and the music of the Romantic String Trio: Bellisima. Never mind the camera, savor the passing splendid view. We have to thank the Captain for this slow measured entrance into this magnificent city, when repositioning the ship on the second day. We have visited Venice before, so we went out on our own. In order to get the vaporetto (water bus), we had to traverse two bridges, since we went off forward. We strolled through St. Mark's Square early in the morning before it was glutted with tourists. We went to Cafe` Florian and saw its many beautiful rooms. Then we ate at "Al Chianti" Ristorante Pizzeria, on Calle Larga S. Marco, near Piazza San Marco. This is where the Venetians eat. We had Frittura mista of fresh Adriatic sea food, Spaghetti vongole, almond pie for dessert, a beer and a lemon soda. All this for only 34.30 euros. On the return, we took the vaporetto (3.50 euros) to the exit past the ship, and only had to traverse one bridge. A great day for sights and memories. Day 8. Dubrovnik, Croatia Arrive: 9:00am Depart: 6:00pm We sailed into this perfectly preserved medieval town, which looks as if Disney could film fairy tales here without making any changes (a walled city with charm). The main street, Placa Stradun, was paved in large smooth stones. It was neat as a pin. The very narrow side streets had hundreds of stairs leading up to the mountain. The Croatian Kuna was six per dollar, and they accepted both euros and dollars. Prices here were very reasonable and the people sweet. The ship had wonderful tours, priced reasonably, but alas all included strenuous walking; thus, they were not for us. We entered the old town, which is a pedestrian island, and got around with the wheelchair easily. When we sailed out of Dubrovnik, Captain Lachtaridis blew the ship's horn to acknowledge the friendly waiving by the Croatians, who were flying their national flag from the ancient city walls. That night the ever crescent moon was beautiful over a very bright Venus in the NW sky. This was picture perfect. Day 9. Corfu, Greece Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 7:00pm This island 18 miles wide by 36 miles long is one of the most beautiful of the Ionian isles --- it is densely populated and lushly vegetated with olive, fig and citrus trees. We took the shuttle bus to the Old Fort, from where we walked down Dousmani to the center. Very nice ambiance with outdoor cafes and some good shopping. Both Dubrovnik and Corfu had an abundance of shore excursions all of which involved walking over rough terrain; thus we enjoyed both cities and eschewed the country sides. Day 10. At Sea We passed through the Straits of Messina and by Reggio Calabria (near Grotteria, the birth place of Mary's father). Later on we sailed nearby the volcano Stromboli with clouds shrouding its peak, and a tiny town at its feet. Day 11. Civitavecchia (Port of Rome) Arrive: 7:00am Depart: 7:00pm We have lived in Rome, so we had a reunion of family and friends planned at Ladispoli, a sea side resort near Civitavecchia. Nineteen of us ate at the Grazia Deledda Ristorante (moderately priced). We all enjoyed the delicious seven course dinner, reminisced, laughed and when it came time to leave, we all cried. Arriverderci Roma! The ship's tours here are many: Tour CVA1 $179, 10.5 hrs, Rome the Eternal City. Basically, it visits Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican Museum, and the Sistine Chapel, lunch at a local hotel or restaurant, then a drive through the city to the Colosseum. Tour CVB1 $150, 10.5 hrs, Imperial Rome. It visits the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and St. Peter's Basilica. Our new acquaintances, the Neimarks took this tour and enjoyed everything seen, but were dismayed over the included lunch. They felt that in Rome lunch should have been at a "local restaurant" as the description states. Instead, they were taken to Best Western and served what someone thought was American fare, with overcooked pasta which no Italian would want to eat. They felt it would have been better to have a local pizza, than the inedible meal provided. Only the "rosette" (Roman bread rolls) were good. When in Rome, eat as the Romans eat ---- after all Americans may eat at Best Western any day at home, but these cruisers were in Rome for only a day. Tour CVC1 $82, 9.5 hrs, A Taste of Rome. This guides the tourist to a partial independent exploration of Vatican City, St Peter's, the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Here lunch is on your own! Tour CVE1 $52, 5 hrs, Panoramic Rome. This is probably the best brief tour of the Etruscan countryside and the highlights of Rome, including the Vatican, Villa Borghese, Via Veneto, the Colosseum, etc. and lunch on your own. Sailing away from Civitavecchia, we enjoyed a spectacular sunset, while admiring the promontory of Argentario, the islands of Giannutri and Giglio. The visibility was so good that we could see the profile of the distant island of Monte Cristo. Late in the night we passed the straight of Bonifacio, between Sardinia and Corsica. Day 12. At Sea Day 13. Barcelona Arrive: 6:30am Disembarkation in Barcelona was a dream and very orderly. Those in need of assistance waited in the Centrum until their baggage color was called and then, they were handily dispatched. There were many porters to assist with the luggage and taxis were assigned on a first come first serve basis. Make sure the taxi driver uses the meter and doesn't con you. CONCLUSION We love these back-to-back cruises which include one leg with many sea days and the other with port intensive itinerary. This was the second time we have booked a transatlantic crossing followed by a European cruise. Both trips we had sufficient sea days for rest, relaxation, enjoying the ship and the sea, and then the excitement of visiting beautiful and historical ports. It surely made a superb long vacation. Now we look forward to enjoying an Alaska cruise tour on the Island Princess (July 2004) and then another transatlantic crossing on the newest RCI ship, the Jewel of the Seas (Sept. 2004). Happy Cruising! Please enter your review. Read Less
Sail Date April 2004
We are just back from 26 day Miami -Barcelona cruise aboard Regatta. Perhaps our expectations were too high, but this cruise line did not live up to the rave reviews we had seen posted. A number of incidents on this cruise that made it ... Read More
We are just back from 26 day Miami -Barcelona cruise aboard Regatta. Perhaps our expectations were too high, but this cruise line did not live up to the rave reviews we had seen posted. A number of incidents on this cruise that made it less than enjoyable for us. The following experiences and impressions are the personal observations of my wife and I only, and certainly may not reflect the feelings and experiences of other people on the same cruise who were more lucky than us. We do a great deal of cruising and had booked on Regatta because of the positive reports, and the fact that Joe Waters from Crystal had and interest in the operation, and that this line was going after a niche market priced below Crystal but offering similar luxury. We were upbeat and excited when we arrived at the Oceania desk in Miami - as we all know it is always an effort to get packed, travel and finally get to the ship. To our dismay the girl at the Oceania desk never looked up, only grunted instructions like "passport", "tickets" etc. we were taken aback by the gruffness - so we boarded the ship with the wind taken out of our sails. Little did we know that this was only a precursor of what was to come. We sailed at 9pm after a 3 hour delay, caused by some passengers who experienced a flight delay from Vancouver. We were pleased with our cabin, but unlike other cruise ships our steward never came by to introduce himself. I made a point of introducing myself to him the next day, he was a fine young man and, as it turned out, did an excellent job. We were in cabin 7049 and although we had a veranda, the plastic "Wal-Mart" chairs were so uncomfortable that it made use of the veranda for more than 10 minutes at a time difficult. Two days out of Miami, I decided to have a massage - $99 plus $15 tip. The next night on everyone's bed appeared a flyer offering $20 off "for the rest of the cruise" on the very massage I had the day before. I felt this unfair & went to the Spa suggesting that if they would refund the $20 it could go directly to my cabin steward. I did not want the money, but out of principle it just did not seem right. The Spa turned me down flat. I went to the front desk to plead my case, never thinking I would have a problem. I repeated my proposal to the lady at the desk who was most understanding. She brought out the General Manager, Mr. Volpe, who took an immediate confrontational attitude saying, and I quote his words exactly "I approved that, and I don't know why you are getting so upset over such a small thing. For example if you booked a cruise today and we dropped the price tomorrow you are out of luck". I gave up at this point and walked away. Now I was angry and depressed, thought that we still had to endure over 20 more days on this ship. One of the reasons we go on a cruise is to relax, and here I was being aggravated no end by the employees. That was the end of this matter, there was no follow up by the General Manager, who obviously had a "don't care" attitude. We had similar "attitude" shockers from the Destination Services desk on a couple of occasions. The casino staff were not a happy lot and most unfriendly. Example: One fellow, who had a personality clash with the manager, was in the casino every day for hours. All of a sudden toward the end of the cruise the casino would not cash his travelers cheques because the manager said all of a sudden his signature didn't match that on the cheques. He showed them though - he won $1,800 on one machine and $2,500 on another - he didn't need to cash any travelers cheques after that. This is far from my definition of the luxury cruise line that had been advertised. I kept justifying my displeasure by telling myself "you get what you pay for". This was a relatively inexpensive cruise compared to the luxury cruise lines. I should not try and compare the two for it would be like comparing apples to oranges. I say it was inexpensive, but by the time you get finished paying for every little thing (other postings show it as nickel & diming) I'm not sure how much less expensive it really was from a luxury cruise. We love sea days, and having done consecutive sea days often. For instance: New Orleans-Hawaii; LA-Hong Kong. There were always activities if you so chose to participate. Regatta is about destinations, so on our first segment which involved crossing the Atlantic it was boring, very boring. There were lecturers but the topics were poor (Reorganizing the Pentagon" & "Transforming the Army") so unless you wanted to take bridge lessons or play bingo at $15 per card, there was virtually nothing to do for 8 days other than read, eat, drink and hang out in the casino. Most nights there were long waits to get into the dining room if you went around 7:30 to 8pm. We solved this by eating at 9pm, but then missed most of the shows which started at 9:45pm. There is no extra charge for the specialty restaurants. This is understandable, because the food is equally good at all three venues, Toscana, Polo and the Main Dining Room. We went to Tapas only one night, because we are not fans of buffets for dinner, but the food there was also very acceptable. We differ with the claim that the food is "the finest at sea". I think it is good and compares favorably with Crystal and Raddison, but a notch below some of the best specialty restaurants like the "Olympic Restaurant" on Millennium. The service was inconsistent in that Oceania was apparently staffing Insignia at the time and half of our crew were new, and although they were trying hard they were definitely on a learning curve. The second segment Lisbon to Barcelona was better in that we had numerous ports to occupy our time. I heard complaints about the cost of the tours, but I can't comment because we have not cruised in this part of the world before and cannot compare the tour prices on Oceania with those of other cruise lines. Examples of a couple are: A 90 min bus ride to Seville and back with a tour of a cathedral and a couple of hours free time to shop was $125US pp and the Vatican was $150US pp for the day. We took seven tours, and found the guides ranged from good to mute (hardly talked). Speaking of ports, I noticed on various postings here that shortly before we boarded people complained of a virulent upper respiratory virus infecting many passengers. With this in mind we were surprised (or perhaps not surprised) to see there was no disinfecting of hands when boarding the ship at various ports and no disinfecting of handrails on the gangplank as has been done on the 5 cruises we have been on since the SARS outbreaks. The shows were done on the cheap, but we thought they were very good. Singer, John Paul Almon (who ran the shuffleboard during the day) did a couple of shows and was sensational. The pianist from the Martini bar did a show a couple of nights and the assistant social hostess Diana Dimarzio did a show, as did a group from the Orchestra, plus the Orchestra itself did a show. In all our years of cruising, we have never counted the days until the end of our cruise - this time we had a countdown going before the cruise was half over. The highlight of our cruise was the day we disembarked. Read Less
Sail Date March 2004

Find a Cruise

Easily compare prices from multiple sites with one click