Just so this is not a tl;dnr kind of thing...
Part 1: Overview
Part 2: Things We Liked
Part 3: Things We Didn't Like So Much
Part 4: Small Ship Cruising
Part 5: Hotels
Some of you may know that we have never traveled this way before - never booked a tour with a travel company, never gone on a cruise. Our sister-in-law and nephew travel almost every year, and were talking up this trip with Grand Circle Travel, a company they have made 6 trips with so far over the years. So we thought, this could be fun, and a different way to travel, and we had a our 25th wedding anniversary in August 2015 and that seemed like a good enough excuse, so we signed up.
Note: we've been using the "25th wedding anniversary" as an excuse for a bunch of things, but I think this should be the end of it. Maybe.
We have always planned our own travel, and I handled the bulk of the logistics - airfare, transportation, hotels, etc., and the itineraries have been a little loose, because you learn the hard way over the years about being overly-optimistic about what you can manage in a day, right? So this was going to be very different.
So, right from the start, I was far more stressed about packing for 15 days than anything else (note: I overpacked. More on that later). Grand Circle took care of flights, transfers, transportation, accommodations, itinerary, most of the meals. Boom.
I have to say, I could get very, dangerously, used to that. I mean, the only time I had to even handle my luggage was to and from the plane.
We were all taken very good care of from arrival to departure.
Basic schedule each day was the same. You were off for the day between 7:30 and 9 AM and gone for at least half the day, but usually longer. Each evening, especially once on the ship, included a short talk by the program directors about what was going on the next day. Some days included local guides and they were, on the whole, very good. During free afternoons, the program directors usually had suggestions on things to see, where to shop, where to eat, and in the case of Paolo, our PD, he often offered a free, optional exploration for anyone interested.
Optional day tours (in this case, a day to Monaco and a day to Chianti) were an additional cost. Special diets were accommodated (and accommodated well, according to the special diet folks).
The ship was also great - 50 passenger max (we had less), well-staffed, nicely appointed. Most of the sailing occurred at night, but we had some nice sailing views in the evenings from the sundeck.
Overall, I give the whole thing an A-.