Celebrity Solstice: The same is true on Celebrity Solstice but here there are both open-seating and assigned tables according to guests’ preference. The Grand Epernay Restaurant (the main dining room) is a white-on-white beauty. The center is two stories high, making it feel even more spacious. For couples, there are plenty of tables for two on both sides. Three of the ship’s alternative restaurants cost extra.
Carnival Breeze: The Breeze has two main restaurants, Blush and Sapphire, giving guests the choice to eat at a set table and time or at a time of their own choosing. Both have an attractive Caribbean color palette. The ship also has three alternative restaurants with a fee. One thing I loved about Carnival is that every night the dining room had a “didja” (as in “did you ever”). It’s fun to order spicy alligator fritters, shark and langoustino firecracker rolls or frogs legs with Provençale herb butter — exotic dishes many people don’t usually get to try — either for just one person or enough for the table.
On 12-night Med cruises, both Carnival Breeze and Celebrity Solstice give their guests about 88 hours in port (each having three days at sea), just over 30 percent of the total cruise. Oceania offers a more port-intensive experience and on a comparable 10-night Riviera Med cruise, there are no full days at sea and 97 hours in port, about 40 percent of the time.
My three ships had many choices of shore excursions in each port of call. I’m going to use Livorno as an example. The port has gotten so big now that it’s not even possible to walk into town from where the ship docks — which is really OK since the town itself isn’t much. It’s really the jumping off place to go elsewhere, mostly Pisa and Florence.
Florence is one of the great cities, and naturally all three lines offer a lengthy tour with bus transportation. All include the same amount of time getting to and from Florence, allot free time for participants to walk around and eat on their own (no meals are included), and cover pretty much the same range of places visited — the Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Santa Croce Square, the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Leaning Tower in Pisa. (To climb the tower, guests must make reservations in advance.) All three ships offer a transportation-only option for guests who simply want to get to Pisa and/or Florence and go off on their own. First-timers should take the guided tour; there’s so much info to be gained from a knowledgeable guide.
From ship to ship, the costs do vary:
Carnival Breeze: “Highlights of Florence & Shopping” tour was $199.99 for 9 1/2 hours. Transportation only: $89.99.
Celebrity Solstice: “A Taste of Florence” was $99.75 for 9 1/2 hours. Transportation only: $89.75.
Oceania Riviera: The 10-hour “Fascinating Florence” tour cost $259. Transportation only: $169.
All three lines work hard to make sure their tour guides have good English-language skills and local knowledge. Generally speaking, the higher the quality of the line, the better the quality of the bus and guide. Also, when you get to luxury lines such as Crystal and Seabourn, they do not fill the buses completely, making the ride that much more comfortable.