Overall Rating: Excellent
|Departed From:||Lisbon, Portugal|
|# of Nights:||9-10 Nights|
Royal Caribbean Lisbon - Venice Cruise
This was our third cruise on RCI - it won't be our last. The nine-day cruise met and exceeded our expectations, and provided us with plenty of memories (recorded on over 600 photos!)
The Ship: The Splendour of The Seas is an older ship, a sister to the Enchantment of the Seas, which is currently being used for cruises out of Baltimore to Canada, New England and The Bahamas/Bermuda. She showed signs of age, a few rust spots on window frames and the like, but this fall she is due for a complete overhaul (for which she will be out of service for a month). When she returns, it will be with a facelift and a few more features. Stay tuned.
Our cabin was a balcony stateroom, which offered ample space and, thanks to the wonderful weather we enjoyed, fabulous lounging on the balcony itself. The toilette facilities were quite adequate, although I wouldn't want to be trying the shower if I were 100 pounds heavier!
The Itenerary: The cruise left from Lisbon, Portugal; proceeded to Gibraltar; Cartegena, Spain; Malta; Split, Croatia; and Venice, Italy. We had our doubts about a couple of these ports - they didn't seem like likely destinations for exploration and recreation - but all ports turned out to be interesting. Each port is covered in more detail below.
The Cruise: The cruising schedule had plenty of "running around" time, with three sea days interspersed. Like most of RCI's week-long cruises, there were two formal nights thrown in. The sea days afforded us with some time to catch our breath between the ports of call.
The Entertainment: Mostly, the entertainment provided was first-rate; the only exception was the broadway-spectacular type, in which the singers and dancers simply appeared to be physically tired and weary of doing the same show over and over. The musicical soloists were very good, and I would like to see them again.
A welcome addition was a lecture series provided by a retired professor of humanities, who took an enthusiastic audience through the history and culture of the various ports - a romp through the greek and roman empires, right down to the conquests of Napoleon and into World War II. I love it when you can get a history course without having to memorize a bunch of dates!!
Nowhere in sight were the talks on ports which turn out to be nothing more than pitches for jewelry shops and such. A welcome change, I must say.
The Spa: We had a little massage at the spa, which was well-appointed and efficient, if somewhat crowded.
The Food: The restaurants were limited to the main dining room and the Windjammer Cafe (although other restaurants will be added with the aforementioned overhaul and facelift this fall). The dining room menus were kept interesting by a mix-and-match sleight-of-hand, in which items were repeated, but with other options so that the same menu was never repeated. The seafood dishes were excellent, chicken and lamb were well-prepared and quite tasty, the beef dishes a bit less so. Windjammer had a good variety of dishes, but suffered in the cold drink department, offering only iced tea and lemonade. I missed the flavored water the Caribbean and Atlantic coast cruises provided.
The Crew and Staff: RCI has a reputation for friendly and helpful crew and staff. This cruise again proved that this reputation is well-deserved. As it turned out, our dining room table had the most compatible group we've ever encountered, and we became known around the dining room as "The Party Table". Our wait staff only added to the party atmosphere. Bravo, Royal Caribbean!!!
The Ports: As mentioned before, all of the ports were interesting, each in its own way. I would recommend arriving early and leaving late, which can be done for a fraction of the cost of the extended-stay cruisetour packages.
Lisbon: This is the port from which the Portuguese explorers sailed to discover the world. We visited the Torre de Belem, where the bishop would bless the explorers as they departed (some never to return). It's worth the little hop by tram, and it's also just a short distance from the pier that the Splendour sailed from. The city of Lisbon is quite hilly, reminding one of a European San Francisco. We stayed in Baixa, right in the heart of the city, which is kind of "in the valley". A few blocks away is one of the two elevators which connect Baixa to one of the upper areas, Barrio Alto. A must-see. We also caught a tram to Alfama, the "old city", where the views from the castle are magnificent. Allow a couple of days to tour the city, and be ready for some hilly walks.
Gibraltar: Everybody knows Gibraltar. It remains a British posession, guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean. It also houses the Barbary apes, which are chimpanzee-sized monkeys with absolutely no fear of mankind. They are not good citizens, and will steal anything colorful or shiny right out of your pocket. Keep your distance. Although tours are offered through RCI, the obvious tour is also quite simple - walk right down to the cablecar stop, buy a ticket and proceed to the top for the views. The apes' hangout is at a midway stop if you want to make their acquaintance.
Cartegena: Before going on this cruise, I looked up Cartegena, Spain. There is almost nothing on it that is Google-worthy. It's a nice stop, though, with a now-unused bull ring and well-preserved ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. Again, expect to climb up quite a hill. After the sightseeing, it's almost impossible to miss the shopping area, which is restricted to pedestrians. Upon returning to the ship, you may wish to take time for ice cream or cold drinks along the waterfront, which is bright and cheerful. There is nothing here that would require spending the money for a tour package.
Malta: There is something to see in almost every part of Malta. This place has plenty of history, since it is where the Knights of The Hospital of St. John ("The Hospitallers", "The Knights of St. John", "The Knights of Malta", etc.). wound up after the expulsion of the crusaders from the Holy Land. Like Manhattan, Malta's building has expanded upward, not outward. There are ample tours offered of the interesting cities of Malta, as well as its gardens, fishing villages and resort areas, or one can simply rent a taxi to drive a couple or a group around to the major cities like Valleta, Vittorioso and Mdina. Do not miss going topside upon arriving at and leaving the harbor, as the views are fabulous.
Split: I guess that Split was our biggest surprise. I'd never heard of the place, but it turns out not only to be one of Croatia's largest cities, but it houses one gem of a historical treasure, the ruins of the palace of Diocletian. The city grew up and around the palace, so that anachronisms like ATM machines are tucked into ancient walls of the 2nd century. Here we did take an RCI tour, to the 1st century BC town of Salona (now uninhabited) and to the Gothic town of Trogir. Salona has impressive ruins of a Roman graveyard and the foundations of the town itself, situated a short downhill walk away. It is peaceful, if perhaps a little crowded with bus after busload of tourists. Trogir's streets are too narrow for vehicles, so the tour walked through the city and church tour. I was amazed at how the streets wandered through twists and turns, sometimes passing underneath dwellings. In the end, though, every street or alley finds its way to one of the town gates.
Split was the only port of call which required tendering.
Venice: The cruise ended up in Venice, and here we had booked an extra three days at our hotel at the foot of Ponte Rialto. It is amazing to take a bus to the Piazzole di Roma and find that here is the last place you will see a car or bus until you leave Venice. Streets and alleyways are abundant; canals abound; but there is no passageway for road vehicles. Venetians walk or take the vaporetti. Buy a vaporetto pass at any of the newsstands that surround Piazzole di Roma. The passes are used by holding them up to a validation machine at the entrance to any vaporetto stop. You only need to validate once. Your pass will be good for as long as the length of pass you purchased. A good map is a necessity in Venice. Either have one when you arrive or buy a good one at the newsstand. The sights are legion, and well-known, so I won't detail them here. My only advice is to visit St. Mark's Square early in the morning, before the Basilica and the Palace open up. After that, the square fills up quickly. We arrived at the Doge's Palace right at opening time and had no wait at all. During the day (when the hordes of tourists crowd into the Square) we went to Isla San Giorgia, across the canal from San Marco for wonderful views of the Square, the Lido and the surrounding islands. We also used the during-the-day hours to visit Murano (where the glassmakers are) and to take a vaporetto ride around the islands. One last thing: with all respect to the New Yorkers, these guys in Venice KNOW how to make a pizza!
Overall: This was a wonderful cruise. The ports were well-chosen and memorable. We would do it again in a heartbeat (and if our bank account were flush).