Make the most of your cruise vacation with information from

Discover the world of cruising

Get ready to cruise with Cruise Wear, Accessories, Luggage & More from
The Cruise Shop

 Cruising by the Book ~ Top Picks in 
Cruise Guidebooks

The favorite of serious cruise travelers:

 Cruise Travel
Cruise Travel

Have a question or a review to submit?

Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman

Renaissance R6
Venice to Barcelona
October 30—November 14, 2000

By Linda Coffman

What is it with our cats?  Fifteen nights and days of the Mediterranean’s most intriguing ports of call awaited us on this highly anticipated cruise.  The cats eyed our preparations with their usual suspicion.  Fortunately, the dog fell in love with her new pet sitters so we were comfortable leaving them for our lengthiest cruise to date.  Departure day dawned and Mel and I set off for adventure and romantic destinations on Renaissance Cruises' new R6.  After an uneventful flight to Venice and vaporetto transfer from airport to pier we were on board, unpacked, and energized.  Dining early in the Panorama Buffet, we pored over options for tours and decided our night in Venice would only be complete with a gondola ride and a moonlight stroll through Piazza San Marco.

Venice hadn’t changed a bit in the thirty-eight years since I was there as an au pair and its splendor delighted Mel.  What a joy it was to share these familiar sights with him and his reaction to the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a delight.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Our Venice Highlights tour the next morning took us to the Doge’s Palace, across the Bridge of Sighs and into the “five star” jail, and through St. Mark’s Cathedral.  We topped off the morning at Café Florian and the first of our coffee breaks.  I’m a coffee lover and there’s nothing like cappuccino in Italy and café au lait in France, unless it was the wonderfully brewed coffee in our next port, Dubrovnik.

Even our reading hadn’t prepared us for the sight of the old medieval city of Dubrovnik's seamlessly restored buildings and historic treasures.  After gaining independence in 1991, the city came under UNESCO protection and we were fortunate to be able to visit this jewel by the sea.  Welcomed heartily, we picked our way through the ancient streets in a drizzle and then a downpour.  Even slightly damp it was one of the friendliest ports we’ve been privileged to experience.

The lush green countryside of Corfu beckoned us next.  An unusual mixture of cactus and ferns dots the landscape and huge olive trees stand testament to the island’s major crop.  Rain held off as we strolled the serene gardens of Achilleion Palace, home of Elisabeth last queen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Corfu Town’s colonial atmosphere and esplanade invited strolling and quiet contemplation.  Even with the adjacent old fortress to explore, we managed a bit of relaxation under an arched colonnade with revitalizing java on the main square facing the Royal Palace.

Sunshine and warmer weather heralded the R6's arrival in Malta.  The variety of climates we encountered in the Mediterranean autumn made planning something of a challenge but everyone seemed to rise above it.  Once ashore we explored Valletta and marveled at the priceless tapestries in the Grand Masters’ Palace.  Then we were off to Mdina, the imposing walled city designed for the summer pleasure of the Grand Masters.  On a cool mountainside, it must have been a splendid respite from Valletta’s hot humid summers.  Just as they had two years ago, dockside vendors set up tables to display their wares beside our vessel and sold everything from tee shirts and filigree jewelry to hand knit sweaters that were a steal at only $30.

Country hopping, our next port of call in Messina, Sicily brought us back to Italy and we were off to Taormina to walk through the medieval streets and enjoy the view of Mt. Etna from the impressive Greek Theater.  With a free afternoon, back in Messina we explored the Cathedral and its Treasury full of religious artifacts and relics while waiting for the Campanile to mark the half hour.  A small crowd gathered to watch the figures move in and out of the elaborate structure as the clock chimed in the tower.

A fine morning greeted us in Naples and we set off for ancient Pompeii.  Hidden for centuries under the ash of Mt. Vesuvius’ 79 AD eruption, it was an astonishing sight.  Perfectly preserved frescoes highlight the mansions of the wealthy and the baths and markets offer insight into their daily lives.  Even the construction of the streets was carefully planned to control flooding.  Amazing!  After an excellent luncheon we admired Sorrento and the shops containing the fine wood inlay items for which the city is noted.

Unfortunately, our lovely weather didn’t last.  What a surprise it was to see tugboats gently nudging R6 into her berth in Civitavecchia, the port city for Rome.  Ominous clouds and high winds punctuated our arrival.  Tours went off as scheduled but I planned to stay aboard to do laundry since I visited Rome just two years ago.  Thus occupied, I missed the repositioning of our vessel to a safer berth while the weather further deteriorated.  My afternoon plans included taking the complimentary shuttle into the old city of Civitavecchia but driving rain convinced me to return to the ship almost immediately.  Instead, an afternoon of spa treatments was an inviting alternative.  As luck would have it, I had the next day to explore the old city, its fortress, cathedral, and market, as we were unable to enter the harbor of Livorno as scheduled.  In the interest of safety, we stayed put and many passengers were delighted with the opportunity to spend a second day in Rome.  Besides, even tied up at a sheltered anchorage we felt the angry waves and no one relished the idea of being tossed about at sea.

My major disappointment was not seeing Florence again.  But Mel had never been to Pisa and we simply couldn’t NOT see the Leaning Tower up close.  It was a good decision as he was awestruck and our tour also included Lucca, a positively fascinating walled city.

Good weather held as we headed for France and Ajaccio (birthplace of Napoleon) on the island of Corsica.  We set off in the morning for a walking tour—a repeat of our visit two years ago.  Lazing at a seaside café and shopping for French fashions occupied the afternoon.  Mainland France welcomed us with even better weather.  Morning dawned sunny as we arrived in Nice and headed up the scenic Riviera coast for a stroll around Cannes.  Traveling inland we stopped in Grasse and continued our French fashion experience—this time learning the secrets of perfume making, which naturally included the opportunity to buy some heavenly scents.  After lunch, St. Paul de Vence afforded the chance to visit artists’ studios tucked into the buildings of a fortified town that is virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages.

From the old port of Marseille, we explored the city and remarked how much it reminded us of New Orleans.  With ornate, filigreed balconies and delightful markets, its neighborhoods exude a small town flavor in the midst of a big city.  A half hour climb from the Old Harbor past markets and through residential areas rewarded us with scenic views from the imposing Palais Longchamps.  Crowning the hilltop, its fountains and gardens are an unexpected delight and certainly worth the walk.  From sidewalk cafés along the harbor, the Notre Dame de la Garde Cathedral reflected sunshine and tranquility on the city below as we sipped coffee and watched strollers on the esplanade.  Our day in Marseilles and Provence passed all too quickly as we sailed in the early afternoon for Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Known for the manufacture of Majorca Pearls, Palma greeted us with the sunshine and warmth for which this resort island is also noted.  After enjoying the stunning view from atop the round, Gothic-style Bellver Castle, we headed through the countryside for Valldemosa.  It’s easy to see why its most famed residents, Frederick Chopin and George Sand, favored it.  Michael Douglas wisely chose this lovely village surrounded by neatly trimmed olive and almond groves to build a villa.

To complete our marathon through the Mediterranean, we arrived in our final port of Barcelona.  One of our favorite cities, we enjoyed a stroll through Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter before packing for home.  This was truly an ambitious itinerary.  With so many ports of call and different options for touring, it was often difficult to choose which sites to visit.  Mel and I felt we made good selections from the Renaissance tour offerings and we did some independent touring—conserving our energy when necessary, yet hitting many diverse cities and villages.

How did we fare with a port a day for 15 days?  By day 11 we felt a bit bedraggled and ready to go home; however, when it came time to pack we were wondering if we could stow away on the next cruise... 

The Renaissance R6
It’s small wonder that 42% of their guests return to Renaissance Cruises.  As past Renaissance passengers ourselves, we discovered a few surprises on board our beautiful new R-Class vessel.  First off, the Category “B” suites have been eliminated in favor of the very popular “C” staterooms with balconies.  More balcony staterooms and yet still fewer than 700 passengers.  Nice going, Renaissance!  The sumptuous Owners’ Suites are still available and remain one of the best-kept secret bargains afloat.

The biggest changes we noted were in the Casino Bar area.  Sadly, the piano is gone and the cozy seating arrangements have been scaled back in favor of gaming options.  The expanded Casino was a big hit with other passengers who were pleased with winning at the tables and machines.  On the other hand, a huge improvement is that the Sports Bar has been dubbed Horizons Lounge and the somewhat intrusive slot machines located there on previous sister-ships are gone.  More late-night entertainment options were offered in Horizons and it was the fun spot to be after enjoying dinner and the variety of shows and activities in the Cabaret Lounge. 

An Internet Café operated by Digital Seas is standard on R-Class vessels.  Guests enjoyed a complimentary introduction and “surfed at sea” for the remainder of the cruise, although satellite connections were somewhat slower than on the R2 last April.  Savvy past passengers were seen with books in hand from the beautiful library even before luggage was delivered in Venice.  Just a suggestion—if you pack your own paperbacks, leave the ones you finish behind for the crew.  They really appreciate this thoughtful gesture. 

Food!  I’m not a terribly picky eater, but Mel has some unusual dietary considerations.  His request for cottage cheese as an appetizer and plain lettuce salad was never a problem.  Dinners in the Grill and Italian Restaurant were excellent (and the menu changed during the second week), however the Club Restaurant remains our favorite.  I can’t help but rave over the seafood cannelloni we enjoyed one evening in the Panorama Buffet as well as the chocolate mocha desserts.  It may sound strange but Renaissance serves up some of the best French fries I’ve ever tasted and several of us shared platters of them with lunch more than once.  I don’t want to go near a scale for a while… Kudos to the chefs, Head Waitress Gillian, and the servers who made dining a pleasure.  Did I mention the crispy bread sticks, fabulous breads, flaky croissants, and pizza?  Afternoon tea, late night sweets, 24-hour room service… I’m definitely not going near a scale!

More kudos go to Cruise Director Craig Cusanelli and the entertainment staff for the variety of diversions available, even though they had to scramble with a revised itinerary.  There really was something for everyone's taste, from dinner music in the Club and evening piano interludes in the lobby to magic and illusion and high-energy cabaret shows by the Paramount Performers.  Piano and jazz concerts, trivia contests, Bingo, Karaoke, a passenger talent show, and in-room movies were all appreciated.  Art auctions are a new feature on Renaissance ships.  The spa and gym are still first-rate.  If anyone was bored, it was really their fault.  It was often hard to find a seat in the card room and library and I even had company in the steam room—a blessed haven for those of us who suffer from sinus problems.

Service on R-Class ships has always been excellent, but special mention has to go to the housekeeping and wait staffs of the R6.  Exceptionally hard working, I’ve never seen so many smiles and no request seemed too outlandish for them to try to grant it.  

Getting Around
The shore excursion staff naturally works hard on a destination-intensive itinerary and in this case they worked miracles to satisfy our needs during that second unexpected day in Civitavecchia.  Complimentary or inexpensive shuttles from the pier to town were available in some ports.  Our assigned berthing wasn’t always the most favorable location, but it was astonishing to overhear someone complain that major sights were too far away… sorry, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and there’s no way to move it any closer to the coast.  Passengers experiencing problems were generally those who were uninformed or ill prepared.  Some European cities are making an effort to be more accessible for the physically challenged, but there was no excuse for a gentleman who groused that he couldn’t walk very far on what was clearly described as a walking tour of Valletta and Mdina.  Shore Excursion Manager Lisa Anderson and her staff were never too busy to cheerfully answer questions and offer assistance. 

Each night a map highlighting major sites in the next port was delivered to staterooms with the daily Great Times program.  Detailed maps were available either at the Reception Desk or from nearby Tourism Offices ashore in most ports.  We were generally very pleased with the Renaissance shore excursions we took.  All guides spoke good English and gave in-depth historic and cultural commentary.  While there are less expensive ways to see what’s important to you, we found ship’s excursions to be comparably priced to those we did on our own.  For instance, the ship’s excursion to Valldemosa, Mallorca was cancelled so three of us shared a taxi to tour.  For three hours, we paid $45 apiece and the ship’s tour was $40.  In Marseilles a tour would definitely be more cost-effective as major sightseeing venues are spread out and taxis rather costly.  “Rome on Your Own” transportation at $80 may seem pricey but, compared to Royal Caribbean’s similar option two years ago at $62, it certainly wasn’t outlandish when you consider today’s higher cost of petrol.  Personally, my comfort level doesn’t extend to public transportation, especially Italian trains.  In Ajaccio and Marseille, mini sightseeing “tourist trains” took visitors past sights of interest at low cost but with no explanation about what they were seeing.  The Bus Turistic in Barcelona passes dozens of interesting sights and was running in November, contrary to what I read previously.

Currency exchange was not a regular feature on the R6 but we had no problem finding exchanges and banks ashore.  Some vendors and shops accepted our dollars in lieu of missing a sale and VISA and MasterCard are widely accepted in shops and ATMs.  Oddly, American Express was only usable in ATMs in Barcelona and the currency exchanges there offered better value than the banks, which charged high commissions for exchanging small amounts of pocket cash.  The opposite was true in France where we got good rates and no commission at banks.  Italian currency exchanges charged commissions as a small percentage of the transaction.

Wrapping It Up
Our journey was about to end as we began packing for the trip home.  Many of our fellow cruisers acquired additional luggage during the cruise and we were no exception.  Our treasures will always remind us of the wonderful cruise and fascinating destinations we experienced.  Some moments to remember... seeing old friends Anita and David Potter and making new ones too numerous to mention, meeting eGroups members on board, seeing another "traveling" chicken, our delight with small towns and villages we explored, discovering the frescoes in Pompeii, celebrating birthdays with Brad Ball and Marcia Abramson, and especially Mel and Brian Major performing Karaoke as "Sam and Dave."

But before we leave, "a dark and stormy night" proved ominous one evening during after-dinner cocktails.  The R6 suddenly shuddered and bucked quite violently.  Rumored to be 40 feet high, a "rogue wave" apparently hit us.  Aside from some broken china, no one was injured.  But it was quite a jolt and we tilted noticeably enough to reach out and hold on to anything within our grasp.  What a good feeling to know that we were on board such a sturdy and safety conscious vessel.  Was the wave really 40 feet high?  I don't know for certain, but it sure felt like it.

Each time we cruise with Renaissance, we wonder how they can possibly top our experiences.  Somehow they always manage and we're looking forward to more Great Times and varied itineraries.  A very special thank you to our Master, Captain Dimitrios Flokas and his officers for our safe passage and to Hotel Manager Robert Steginga we offer our appreciation for a comfortable voyage under his ever-vigilant watch.  Last, but not least, we can't forget Nadia, our beautiful and patient cabin stewardess.  Thank you all for your hospitality!

Finally, I would like to express our gratitude to Brad Ball for hosting the R6 Inaugural Season press tour.  We wish you calm seas and happy sailing for many years to come. Bon Voyage!

Copyright © 2000 Linda Coffman

More Renaissance Cruises Reviews