We are sailing on the Insignia on May 29. There are 7 of us. From California, My husband and son (20) and, from Texas, my sister and her husband and two daughters (17 and 15). I have been in most of the cities on the cruise (except the ones in Spain), but my sister and her family have not. So they will be doing the usual in Florence and Rome, but my family has a car and driver to go to Siena and San Gimignano out of Livorno, and then to Tivoli from Civitavecchia. Otherwise, the 7 of us are doing things together. I have arranged car and driver w/guide through Magical Spain for Cadiz/Coastal Spain, Sevilla and just a guide for Barcelona (which looks pretty easy to get around on public transporation; I am most interested in the Gaudi architecture there). We are doing Marseilles and Dubrovnik on our own and have rental cars for Ancona. I think that we are going to take the train from Monte Carlo to St.Paul de Vence on our own and then do an Oceania shore excursion boat tour in Portofino. The ship looks great, and the itinerary is perfect.
Where are you from? Is it just you and your spouse? Have you cruised before? We have done several cruises, but this is only the second for my sister and her family (Alaska being the other). We are definitely looking forward to the trip.
I would be very interested in hearing about your trip when you return....we are booked for the Lisbon-Venice sailing Aug. 25.
Having some trouble deciding which tours to arrange on our own, use Oceania's tours, etc. I have some quotes for the Monte Carlo, Marseille portion, but it's priced for a vanful and I wonder how successful one is in getting other people to join you in order to keep the cost reasonable.
Any thoughts you'd care to share, I'd greatly appreciate!
Insignia is a lovely ship. We had one of the suites in the bow and had some trouble sleeping with all of the movement when there were swells...not motion sickness, just noise. Otherwise, the suite, however, could not have been better. I enjoyed the spa, but was amazed that they wanted to charge $99 for each use of the Thassolotherapy pool if you were not having a spa treatment...even if you were staying in a suite (Celebrity provides free use if you are in a suite). As for the restaurants, Toscana was very good, the Polo Grill above average and Tapas on the Terrace good enough considering that it was so much faster to eat there than anywhere else. The service in the Grand Dining Room seemed very slow until we made a point of telling the Maitre D' that we wanted a table with the most efficient service...we had several in our group who just could not sit still for 3 hours for dinner, especially after a full and tiring day of touring.
We found the service overall competent, but sort of lackluster. I think that this is because we are accustomed to the fawning service on other cruise lines where the tipping is not automatic and where you have the same waiters every night. I sensed that the staffing was thin. While our butler did what we asked, he did not seem to have the time or perhaps inclination to go the extra mile. The reception and destination services staff was not helpful (but that is consistent with our experience on other ships); they just never seem to know anything. In this particular case, several communications (about a lost bag, about tender operations, etc.) were inconsistent and misleading. Despite assurances that staff on-board would help arrange transportation to our hotel near the Venice airport, the only information that I received was to check with taxis at the dock! I was not surprised at the lack of help and made limousine arrangements with a company that I found near the Piazzale Roma.
We used Magical Spain for van and guide in Cadiz and Barcelona. Our first day in Cadiz, we toured the white villages, particularly Arcos de la Frontera, which was delightful. Beware that the causeway to the mainland from Cadiz is a traffic nightmare. Our second day to Sevilla was not good. Traffic to and in Sevilla was horrendous...we had only about 1/2 hour in the cathedral and 1/2 hour at Real Alcazar before it was time to drive back; extremely disappointing. I would not recommend going to Sevilla at all, but would recommend sticking to coastal Spain, perhaps south on the second day. (About 750 Euros per day for a van for 7 and a driver)
Barcelona was the best. Oceania should consider doing one day in Cadiz and two in Barcelona. Insignia docked conveniently to everything, and we took public transportation to and from Park Guell. We met Joan of Magical Spain at the Sagrada Familia, toured it and then walked most places. We toured Casa Mila as well. Joan was an art history expert and had even written a chapter in a book about Gaudi and craftsmen. (about 450 Euros for the day for the guide)
We did the ship's tour to Avignon and Les Baux out of Marseilles....big mistake. Oceania dumped 5 buses at once at the Palace of the Popes, and it was impossibly packed. We abandoned our guide and group and raced through the Palace to get out of the crowds. We enjoyed Avignon on our own, particularly Rick Steves' recommendation to ring the bell at the synagogue; the rabbi spent almost 1/2 hour with us. Les Baux was lovely, but again, packed with cruisers. We had originally intended to just spend the day in Marseilles, shopping at Galerie Lafayette and Printemps, and should probably have stuck with that plan. (Ship's tour $139 a person)
Our driver in Monaco was first-rate. Georges of Limousine-Tours.com took us to St. Paul de Vence and Eze, which were both interesting. He also drove us around Cap Ferrat and Monaco for a very full day. (720 Euros for van and driver)
Portofino did not work out well, as we did not dock. The swells were pretty high, and tenders were canceled from about 10 a.m. (when we were headed out) until 2:30 p.m. (after my friends from Milan had already left). We had to cancel our lunch at Hotel Splendido, much to my disappointment.
From Livorno, we went to Montereggiano, Siena and San Gimignano with Papillion Service. We enjoyed the day, but the driver was a very scary Italian driver (lots of tail-gating and speeding), and he either did not really speak English very well or know much. (400 Euros for van and driver)
Max Leotta was, by far, the best driver that we had during the cruise (although Georges of Limousine-Tours.com in Monaco was a close second). The drive to Tivoli took about two hours to get there with a little traffic and about one and one-half hours back (if you subtract the time we spent in Rome on the way back!). We loved Hadrian's Villa and the Villa d'Este. Those were among the highlights of our trip. La Sybilla was wonderful, although $300 for lunch for 4 is pretty steep. But, we are not complaining. It was a fabulous day. (550 Euros for van and driver)
We did Dubrovnik on our own. The tenders were operating in smooth seas and let us off in the old port, so seeing the sights was very convenient.
We rented a car in Ancona. The Avis office was a 20 minute walk (and a $20 cab ride) from the port. We drove to Loretto to see the shrine there, which was fascinating, and then spent the afternoon at the beach in Porto Recanato. I think that the beaches in Numana and Portonovo were probably better, but Recanato was still good. ($170 for a 7-person car for the day, including full insurance)
We just did Venice on our own, as we had been there before.
All-in-all, I think that Celebrity is a better value than Oceania, but I did like the smaller size ship.