Odyssey: a long, wandering voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune. Long voyage: check. Changes of fortune: check (we are much poorer now) but richer for the journey. Wandering? Not so much.
We knew that a 12-day Mediterranean cruise would not be a lazy, footloose wander. It was, in fact, a 12-day marathon of cities, activities, purchases punctuated by periods of uncontrolled eating and drinking. From the moment we stepped on board Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, a multi-floored floating resort, our schedules were no longer our own.
Cruising is a highly regimented way to travel and not for everyone. “Cruise Planner” sheets appeared in the cabin each night outlining the next day’s port of call. Containing maps, shopping guides, and information about each city, they emphasized RC’s available excursion packages. They always contained something called a “Port Advisory” – basically scare tactics. Yes, we know there are pick-pocketing gypsies in Rome, thank you. No, we’ll be fine. They made the transit strike in Salerno sound like the Seventh Sign of the Apocalypse. We’re not sure there really was a transit strike in Salerno as we nearly were mowed down by a city bus crossing the street.
Overall, the food on the ship was exceptional and plentiful (I’ve already stepped on the scale since I’ve been home- an unpleasant experience). The drinks on board were all doubles, I swear. Maybe it was the bracing sea air but I spent every dinner hour a very happy banshee and I slept like a brick every night.
The kids ate in restaurants every day for 14 days; it was good for them. They had to abandon their heathen ways, use utencils and manners. They loved “dressing for dinner.” They had the run of the ship and bounced up against their 1 a.m. curfew more than once. Hats off to the “Adventure Ocean” staff – my husband and I found ourselves dining alone more often than we have done since the kids were born.
The Med is the most dazzling colour of sapphire blue; the seas surprisingly rough. Note: Rough seas and rum punch will ruin one’s mini-golf game and also make for interesting tactics while playing pool.
Our cabin was wee but housed a king-sized bed and two bunks that folded down from the walls. Our large porthole afforded us fabulous views and the constant sound of rushing water. In the shower, there wasn’t room to swing a cat and I had to employ my meagre knowledge of yoga poses to shave my legs but we had an unlimited supply of hot water. Guests were asked to reuse their towels; however, there was not space to hang four towels in the bathroom. If we wanted dry towels, we had to replace them more frequently than we wanted to. I hope RC has their own plastic water bottle recycling depot somewhere; the amount used by the ship was staggering. Also, if we asked for “still” water in a city’s restaurant, a waiter unscrewed a plastic water bottle. We said tap water was fine but no one paid any attention.
Cruise lines have their passengers over the barrel in a number of ways; take internet access, for example. At $35 U.S. per hour, it’s highway robbery which is why this blog is happening after the fact. And, if you want a latte or a martini, that’ll be extra, thank you. The one area where we got a great deal was the duty-free booze. We bought tan obscenely large bottle of Grey Goose vodka for way less than half what we would pay here in Canada.
In truth, we treated our ship like a hotel room. We largely ignored the other guests and did not partake in Bingo, avoided the afternoon conga lines and “World’s Sexiest” contests, and stuffed cotton in our ears as we passed by the lounges with their truly abysmal musicians. The kids had fun, made friends, and were allowed to run free on board. Onshore, we were there to see Europe (a small piece) and see it we would, dammit!
Our odyssey: Barcelona (one day), to ship the following afternoon. Villefranche (Nice), France, Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Civitavecchia (Rome), Salerno (Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi), 2 days at sea, Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey, Piraeus (Athens), Santorini, Greece, 2 days at sea back to Barcelona where we spent an extra day before flying home.
With only one day (an avg. of 5-6 hrs) in every port, early starts were essential. We know we only scratched the surface. I’m amazed at how much we did manage to see – even with 2 children in tow who don’t necessarily have our enthusaism for history and ancient churches (or getting up early). They were troopers.
And so on a crystal clear afternoon, Brilliance of the Seas nosed her way out of Barcelona’s harbour. We stood at the bow railing with a few hundred others and let the wind catch our hair. We were nearly thrown to the deck by a blast from the ship’s horn (which was right over our heads). We all laughed. Wait staff handed out free rum punches. With a comfortable buzz going, I looked at my husband and asked, “Have you seen the kids?” He shrugged and said, “We know they’re on the boat and they know dinner is at 8:30.” I could drink to that, by God, as we headed east towards France.