January 2-14th 2013
“Cruises are for the overfed and half dead” is the much thrown around phrase. And although I had spent a worrying amount of time watching cruise shows on TV and researching online to know that cruises are pure luxury I was still worried whilst I boarded my cruise in Barcelona. Would I be bored? Would I be seasick? Would I like the food? Would I meet Leo, fall madly in love and hit an iceberg? In the Med, not likely as were all of my above worries. In fact they were none existent.
So here’s the lowdown on the goings on for a first-time cruiser.
Firstly we booked our cruise through Liverpool Cruise company. There are many options when booking a cruise, from the cruise companies own website, to other cruising companies (such as Cruise 1st who have a great database for searching) Shop a round. That’s what I did. Liverpool Cruise turned out to be the cheapest for the cruise itself and gave us an outside state room for the same price that others were offering for an inside state room to the cost of £490 each. I choose to book our own flights to Barcelona and also checked us into a hotel for two nights before we boarded our ship. We went all out!
The one thing that they say about cruising is that you basically eat the whole time, they weren’t wrong! The dining is structured in that the Windjammer Cafe is a buffet open for Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks and Dinner. But you ain’t never seen a buffet like this! Whatever you want, salads, steaks, chicken,baked potato, mashed potato…you name it, its there. We mainly ate here except for on two occasions were we dined in Reflections, the main dining room. Dinner here was amazing but it was very designer i.e. small portions and Windjammer tended to have the same options as well as more for dinner. In the dining room you have three courses and were you literally waited on hand and foot. As my Mam observed “This is how I’d imagine the Ritz to be”. All food is included in the cost of the cruise. If you wants drinks such as coke,7up etc or alcohol you can pay as you go along or you can purchase a drinks package for a fee. We didn’t have a drinks package but water, ice tea, lemonade and teas/coffees are available free of charge.
We prepaid our tips when booking the cruise and this tends to be the thing to do. Depending on the cruise line its £60-£140. It takes the stress away from constantly having to tip, which isn’t the done thing.
The Ports of Call
Palma de Mallorca
I didn’t anticipate terribly much of Mallorca as I always associated it with being a holiday resort but I was pleasantly surprised, very much so. It was the most beautiful destination of the trip. Palma itself is lovely but the scenic views are out of this world. I would definitely consider returning and I never thought that I would say that.
Malta was the destination that I was most looking forward to. Although it was much cooler than I had expected it lived up to all my expectations and more. We didn’t have a tour booked for here but once we disembarked our ship we picked up a hop on hop off bus for €10 (*note* the blue tour guides that are further up from the exit where only €8!)
The highlight if my visit here was a fleeting stop in Medina, an enclosed fortress town. The island is actually very small and the bus tour covers a lot of it. I have no doubt that I’ll be back.
I liked Messina, but there was very little to do here. I think we were off the ship for a total of 2 hours, maybe stretching to 3! There are hop on hop off buses available here but we didn’t avail of them because there is so little to see. The views from Tempio Votivo di Cristo Re and Santuario della Madonna di Montalto were truly impressive. One of my highlights of my trip did come from Sicily though, witnessing the Bell Tower and Astronomical Clock (Orologio Astronomico) ring at 12pm. From the Lion roaring to the angles moving you can’t miss it if you’re in Messina!
We had booked our second excursion for Naples. Unfortunately Naples has a bad reputation, especially for tourists, and although it wouldn’t entirely put me off the place I wanted to see was Sorrento and Pompeii so that’s the destination that we choose.
Serrento, and that region in general, is not a great idea during this time of year particularly the first week of January because everywhere had shut shop. It was disappointing to say the least but it had some nice aspects to see all the same especially the Amalfi Coast. Pompeii was an incredible experience. I’ve always wanted to go there and it was great to tick it off my list. You could spends hours here and find a lot more. Our tour guide did a great job of showing us so much in such a small amount of time.
Oh Rome, how I looked forward to visiting you yet again and instead you had to open the heavens! Truly, I have never been so soaked in my whole life. We didn’t book a tour for this stop instead we got the train from Civitavecchia to Rome San Pedro,which is 5 minutes from the Vatican for €12 each return.This was my second trip to the Eternal City and my Mams first. I redid everything that I had already saw, The Vatican, The Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel. The rain got very heavy and although we wanted to get back to the ship we pushed on and saw Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, The Monument (my favourite) the Form and I got to see the Pantheon when it rained, one more to tick off the bucket list! We had an overnight stay in Rome but after the day before we decided to stay on the ship.
Our last day trip was booked for Florence/Pisa. As you dock in Liverono if you want to be independent you must decide between Pisa or Florence because on your own they’re both impossible to do, which is why we opted for the tour. We hit up Pisa first for an hour. I would have liked longer there but alas, places to go, people to photograph. Florence is more metropolitan than I had expected but wonderful all the same. We made a spontaneous stop at museo Gucci which I thoroughly enjoyed.
As mentioned we booked three tours before our cruise. Although you can book through Royal Caribbean before or during your cruise Liverpool Cruise Club directed us to Cruise Excursions via their website. They offered us three trips for €103, a fraction of the cost of RC. We had a wonderful time on each excursion and will defiantly be availing of them again. In Mallorca we were driven around in a taxi with a lovely couple whom we became great friends with on our trip. Our driver, James, took us all over the island and we saw so much more than was advertised as being part of the tour. James runs his own tours of Mallorca (info here) Our tour guide in Sorrento/Pompeii was Fabricio and he was so informative. He personally chaperoned us around Pompeii and I got so much out of the experience because of him. He runs his own Pompeii tours (info here). And finally in Florence/Pisa we had Marco who was great and gave us lots of information on the area to Florence and gave us a mini tour once we got there. All our guides met us as soon as we got off the ship. If there was a terminal they had to meet us outside because only RC guides were allowed past there so if someone isn’t waiting for you once you get off the ship go outside the terminal.
Serenade of the Seas Features (deep breath)
Mini Golf Course
Four speciality restaurants (extra cost)
and my mind is already a whirl!
As I’ve said I was very anxious about whether I’d enjoy the cruise or not. Ten days is a long time to be stuck on a ship but I can honestly say without doubt that it was the best holiday that I’ve ever been on so much so that a week and a half later I’m still pinning for it and already going about planning my next cruise. (Hello Brazil!!)
It was so unbelievably relaxing and I’m not a great traveler but I could never even feel the ship moving except for once or twice when we hit a storm. Boredom wasn’t a factor either. I read a lot and took part in lots of activities such as card and jewellery making as well as napkin folding (I can now make a boot and a candle!). When I go again I’ll make sure to get even more envolved. I met some great people and we’ve already been in contact post cruise. Part of me would lament the lack of Internet for ten days but it was lovely to just unplug for a while and not be a slave to Twitter.
Cruising is great if you’re looking for a very relaxing easygoing time. My Mam had been a bit unwell towards the end of the year and it was a lovely break for her that you don’t get on a city holiday. There were a number of people on the ship who had difficulty getting around normally who could finally go somewhere without the stress and hassle. Another great thing that I saw on board were the food choices. My close friend Michelle is a celiac and its made me more aware of how limited eating options are for people. On the main dining room menu were always gluten free options and vegetarian options. I met a lovely lady on the ship who couldn’t eat wheat or diary and at every meal time they made her something special. If for any reason you find normal holidays a challenge cruising is the way to go. There are also special tours if you have mobility problems.
The things we found on the last few days! The ship can be a bit nosy for reading, try the club from 11am. Also Park Cafe has salads, crisps and lovely cakes throughout the day and nachos past 9am, all completely free! Make sure you get a stateroom that’s away from the Centrum as its noisy (you can select your cabin and see a plan of the ship when booking). Don’t feel that you have to partake in the formal evenings. Its nice but it was a pain to drag my heavy heels over. We did one out of the three nights.