In 2009, my husband and I embarked on a 12-night Western Mediterranean cruise that took us through Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Dubrovnik.
In the summer of 2012, we're heading back...only this time, our three kids will be joining us, and it will be a 12-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise that will have us sailing through Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey.
This blog is a chronicle of our cruising experiences - the good, the bad, the ugly. It includes a day-by-day journal of what we did, how we did it, what we did right - and what we didn't do so right.
Not only do we use this to "remember" our adventures, but our hope is that our story will assist others in their own planning.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Day 1: Barcelona
Monday, June 15, 2009
Depart: Barcelona, Spain
Our alarm rings sharply at 7:30 am – time to rise & shine! I immediately lean over and smack the “off” button. Or so I think. Because 10 minutes later, another sharp ring – “time to rise & shine – again!” Darn it! Enough already. I pick up the Iphone and fiddle with the buttons, turning the alarm off once and for all. Oh no – my Iphone has other ideas – as 10 minutes later – you get the picture here. I obviously do not know how to work the alarm. Note to self – learn to do that before tomorrow morning.
After being so rudely woken up, I get out of bed and stumble to the shower, where I manage to ACE the shower test today! I may be Iphone challenged, but I’m not European-shower challenged any more.
Hubby gets up after me, and after we’re both dressed and reasonably put-together, we decide to hunt down breakfast. We leave the room and begin to stroll down Las Ramblas. I look at the little restaurants and café tables set up outside with envy – thinking, “That’s the way to eat breakfast while in Barcelona…watching the people…enjoying the fresh air…” But Hubby has other plans – he had spied a McDonald’s the day before and that is where he is heading. Are you kidding me? We’re in EUROPE and we’re eating at a McDonald’s?? I smile begrudgingly, and go along with his plan, but secretly I pout on the inside.
We walk about five minutes to the McDonald’s (darn, it was open!) and go inside – and Hubby doesn’t recognize any of the menu. Nothing stands out – he doesn’t see his beloved Sausage McMuffin or whatever it is – and to my eternal delight (thank you, God!) he decides we won’t eat at McDonald’s after all but will go in search of something different. I say, “Oh, honey – I am so sorry…I know how much you were looking forward to your McMuffin or whatever it is you eat here.” What a good & supportive wife I am…never complaining. (Celebrating on the inside, though.)
We stroll back down Las Ramblas and find a delightful little café that is not only serving an “Americano” breakfast (their words, not mine) of scrambled eggs and sausage, but also churros con chocolate…..ahhh, heaven.
That coffee cup on the left? Not coffee, honey – that is pure, thick chocolate – it was to die for. And the churros – another word for Spanish donuts – were excellent. I think I want to move to Barcelona.
Hubby gets his “Americano” breakfast; I get a European breakfast (and chocolate?? For breakfast? I love this place!).
We both get to watch the people stroll by; the motorbikes whizz by; and life is good along Las Ramblas on a Monday morning in June.
We are right across from the Hotel Continental, where our new friends, Pete and Susan, are staying. We see a couple having breakfast on the balcony that look suspiciously just like them – we snap a picture – and hope that we don’t appear to be stalkers. We really aren’t stalkers – but we just thought it was funny that we see our friends on the balcony. Or at least we think it’s them – it’s kinda’ hard to tell when we’re this far away. Plus, we’re jet-lagged. And slap-happy.
After our delightful breakfast, we stroll back to the hotel. It is 10:15 am; the taxi is due at 10:30 am to pick us up for the port.
We get to the room and are leisurely packing when the phone rings at 10:25 am; the front desk gleefully tells me that our cab is here. Yikes! We frantically throw anything that’s not bolted down into our bags – no time to organize – and rush downstairs. Checkout was a breeze – as I had paid beforehand on the Internet, they told me to go and have a nice day. Thank you! I will!
Aurelio is our driver today – wow, what a smooth talker. You can tell he is quite the player – he apologizes for not being our driver yesterday, saying that a family emergency had come up, and explaining how difficult it is to find drivers who can speak English. As we are driving, he gives us just a bit more information about the city. He tells us he hopes we got a picture of La Sagrada Familia, as they will soon be putting the underground metro under the church – and people are concerned that the church may tumble down (you think?!) We get to the port within 15 minutes and the ride costs $30 E. Hmmm… a little steep, but that’s okay. I am secretly glad that Aurelio was not our guide yesterday – although his accent is easier to understand, he drives with one foot on the brake and the other on the gas – I had a headache and a slight case of whiplash in just the 15-minute drive to the port. I couldn’t imagine spending hours with him yesterday.
A porter comes up to help us with our luggage and directs us to the doors of the terminal. We walk in and there is already a long line for the regular check-in; the Suite Line has about 9-10 people (about 3 families); and the Diamond & Platinum line has no one in line. A no-brainer decision - we step into the Diamond/Platinum line.
As we wait in line, we have to fill out a health questionnaire that asked if we had had any flu-like symptoms in the past 2-3 days….the H1N1 police are out and checking, which is fine with me. We are then handed a sheet of paper that said on the previous cruise, several cases of chicken pox had broken out….so be forewarned - especially pregnant women. Yikes, I thought – I would hate to come all the way over here, pregnant, and then have to worry about this!
We still have to wait about 5 minutes while the people already at the check-in line go through the process. You could tell they had at least 100 questions for the agent (okay, perhaps I exaggerate here) – but my thought is, “Okay folks – you’ve obviously cruised before if you’re checking in at the Diamond & Platinum line – so you would think you would know the system by now!”
Eventually, we get up to the counter; I hand over my pre-printed SetSail paperwork & passport and credit card; she keeps the passports and gives us our SeaPass cards. Ours is gold with giant “SUITE” on it – hmmm….a little obvious, you think? No chance in being discreet. I am pleased to see that my pre-paid coke sticker is on my pass. However, I am a little not pleased to find they are keeping our passports until after our last stop. I guess this takes care of the, “Should I take my passports ashore with me?” question.
We walk towards the ship and are stopped by a man who wants to see our SeaPass card and says, “Ahhhh….My Time Dining.” I had signed up for MTD awhile back online – and it is printed on my SeaPass card as such. He then pulls us over to his table and explains how it works (which I wanted to say, “I read Cruise Critic – I KNOW how it works!”) but I let him do his spiel, and he then asks what time we’d like to dine that night. I ask for 7:15 - he smiles funny and says “How about 7:00 or 7:30?” Fine; we’ll go with 7:00 pm.
Once we get past the MTD police, we are stopped at the gate – they are not letting anyone up the escalator to board. It is just a few minutes after 11:00 am. We stand in a general group and wait – rather impatiently – as the minutes tick by. So close, and yet so far. There are duty-free shops here, and several people take advantage to go buy some liquor – but I do not want to give up my place in line and so I stay put.
At 11:20 am, we are sprung free as the gate is removed and the huddled masses surge towards the beckoning escalators. Up we go – we get to the top and have to stop almost immediately for the Welcome Aboard photo paparazzi. Now – this presents a problem – we’re stopped – and yet there are masses of people coming up behind us on a moving escalator. The law of physics says those people have to go somewhere – as in OFF the escalator – and yet we’re stopped and cannot go any further. The people begin piling on top of us and much grumbling ensues – and comments of, “Hey – this wasn’t smart” as well as, “Hey – this is kinda’ dangerous.” You think?
Someone at the bottom of the escalator gets wise and stops sending people up into the “crush trap” – and calm settles once again on the crowd. We try to sneak past the Welcome Aboard photographer – but oh no, that can’t happen! No one is getting past her! She stops us in our tracks and all but demands that we get our photo taken. As soon as she snaps the camera, I say to Hubby, “My eyes were shut in that photo.” (Sure enough – when we saw the photo later – my eyes were sealed shut. Like we’re going to buy THAT photo.)
We’re getting closer!
We can actually see the gangplank – so close, and yet so far!
Once past the photo op, we get to Security where we take the lovely mug shot for our Sea Pass account….and then – finally – we are ON the ship! Hallelujah! I never thought this day would come! (Note: as we boarded the ship, there were hand sanitizer machines as you stepped onboard – and crew members required everyone boarding to use them.)
Finally getting to get on the ship!
We all but have the ship to ourselves at this point – and so we take the elevator up to Deck 11 to check out the Windjammer. Dang – it is only 11:40 am and it is not due to open until noon. That honey-stung chicken will have to wait.
We walk around the pool and there is not a soul there.
We then wander into the Solarium and again – not a soul there. Okay, maybe one soul – I do see one person there on the left – but that’s it. No one else. Nada.
We decide to take advantage of the solitude and so we stretch out on some loungers and close our eyes and just take it all in. Hubby quickly goes into a coma…but he looks really relaxed.
At about 11:50 am, I notice that the doors to the Spa are now open – and so I leave Hubby happily dreaming happy cruise thoughts and I head over to make some appointments. Yes, I know the prices are outrageous – and I know they sometimes pressure you into buying the products – but I’m a heathen for pleasure and I can’t wait to have a massage and a seaweed wrap. I don’t know what a seaweed wrap really is – and I’m not sure at this point if it is something to eat – but it sounds good (I’m hungry, remember) and so I book it. Yay for me. Little did I know the problem that would result later – but that’s a later story – not for today.
I head back to the Solarium and wake up Hubby and tell him that it is now after noon and we really must rush over to the Windjammer – beat the rush – and feed our grumbling tummies. My Hubby is a saint – he sighs, lifts himself off the comfortable lounge, and accompanies me to the WJ.
The WJ has hand sanitizer machines at the entrance where everyone is asked to squirt down…which we do…and we are then confronted with a vast array of colorful and beautifully-displayed food….ahh, the joys of a buffet on a cruise ship. So many choices, so little time. Oh wait – I’m on a cruise ship – I have nothing but time! Life is good.
I decide to head over to the dessert buffet – nothing like plunging right into “cruise mode” with the food, right? Besides, I’ll have 12 days to go to the gym and work this off. Yeah, right.
As I am studying all of the delightful choices, I bump into Kathleen – and so we sit with Larry & Kathleen for lunch…out back…in the delightful sunshine. (Okay – it was overcast and a little breezy – but indulge me as I take a few liberties with the story.) We chat and laugh and sample and eat and drink…and before we know it, it is after 1:00 pm and time to head to our cabin. We part ways, promising to meet back up at the “unofficial” CC party later that afternoon.
We head to our stateroom, 1556, on Deck 10. This is a Grand Suite, right on the hump, next door to the Royal Suite.
Here’s a shot of the sleeping area – as you can see, no life jackets on the bed; no greeting from our Cabin Attendant.
Our C&A coupons are on the bar area, as well as my coke cup and a packet from the concierge.
We settle in and lay down to take a nap when the doorbell rings – it is someone delivering a bowl of fresh fruit. How nice – but it would have been nicer if it had been accompanied by wine or champagne!
We take a short nap and are awakened at 2:15 pm by the doorbell; it is our luggage arriving – wow, aren’t we surprised? And aren’t we thrilled? We found out later that some people still didn’t have their luggage until 9:30 or so that night.
We unpack and I decorate the cabin with birthday decorations I had bought back home and packed in the suitcase. I will be celebrating a birthday on this cruise and I intend to make the most of it – and what better way than making the cabin festive?!
Around 3:00 pm, our phone rings and it is Portofino, telling us that the Mystery Dinner was cancelled. No explanation. So sorry. Would we like to book another evening at their fine restaurant? Uh….I’ll get back to you. A little disappointed in the dinner being cancelled. Especially with no explanation. We find out later that we were one of the few people notified about the cancellation – many people were never contacted and went to Portofino that night, only to be told the bad news, and now missing their time for dining. The excuse was, “Well, we TRIED to get ahold of everyone – but we may have missed some people.” NO excuse! If that had been me, I would be upset.
We lounge some more and 5:00 pm comes all too soon – time to “muster” up and head to the Schooner Bar for the lifeboat drill. Our lifejackets are not laid out on our bed, as had been in the past. We actually have to – gasp! – get them out of the closet ourselves and struggle into them. We DO have to wear our life jackets, darn it – but we were early enough we could find a seat in the Schooner Bar and it was nice and air-conditioned. Life is good.
Hubby, wearing a lovely orange-colored ensemble, designed by…well, I don’t know who designed it – because if I did know who designed it – I would tell them to not make it so puffy because it is really hard to walk down the stairs and SEE over this thing – and who picked orange anyway? – because really, everyone knows that orange doesn’t go with ANYTHING in my closet….oh…..I digress….sorry.
It appears that some people did not show up at their appointed Muster Stations – naughty, naughty! - as I could see the crew scurrying around and doing roll calls – and the Captain came on with several announcements on how it was mandatory. This rudeness on the part of some guests caused a delay for everyone, thank you very much. We had to sit just that much longer on these lovely, foul-smelling, puffy, bright orange vests. Shudder.
After the drill…and after listening to the obligatory announcements in every language with the exception of Swahili (actually, for all I know, it COULD have been said in Swahili), we get to discard the jackets back in our room and let the party begin!
It is now almost 5:30 pm, and so we quickly change into our party clothes and walk across the hall to the Concierge Club, where we introduce ourselves to Katherina Valenzuela, our Concierge for the week, and chit chat, all the while indulging in some delicious appetizers and a tasty Screwdriver. Why am I always so hungry on a cruise ship?? And why do I develop a sudden craving for anything alcoholic? Is it in the air?
As more people wander in, we chit and we chat and then it is a little past 6:00 pm – time for our unofficial Cruise Critic Sailaway Party that I had arranged. I had coordinated our Cruise Critic Sailaway Party with the ship’s party – which was at 5:45 pm on Deck 11. Our own CC party was to start at 6:00 pm at the Sky Bar – on Deck 12. I had told everyone on our Roll Call that I would be wearing gold mardi gras beads that had a tiny martini cup attached – and everyone found me! Go figure!
We had a great time meeting fellow CC’ers – it was nice to put faces with names! While we’re partying, Captain Hakan lets loose with the ship’s horn - and we are under sail! Yay – we’re moving! The screwdriver I had had in the Concierge Lounge is having a HUGE effect – I thought the ship was moving before it ever really was – and so I’m sure my fellow CC’ers got a kick out of me.
We met some important people at our Sailaway Party. We are going to go on 3 private tours with the following 3 couples over the next 3 days - so it seems only appropriate that I introduce you to them now:
Bill & Amy
Chris & Laura
And, Erin & Bryan
At 7:00 pm, it is time for our MTD…we head down with several other CC’ers and all sit together at a large table. We had Dejan (from Croatia) and “Princess” Phumza from South Africa. They were very, very good. We liked them so much we requested their table every single night for the rest of the cruise. Dejan was going home at the end of this cruise - and in September, he is moving to the Oasis. If you see him there, tell him I said hello!
I had the cheese plate as an appetizer – and the blue cheese was to die for. For dinner, I had the Vitality offering – the salmon – and again, I thought it was excellent. I always start a cruise off with good intentions – choosing the Vitality offering – but this will be short-lived. For dessert, I was good, and went with the sugar-free chocolate pudding. Ummmm…bland. Susan also had the sugar-free stuff, and Dejan ended up (without asking us) bringing us a strawberry puff to split. It was good…and we all laughed that he had read our mind. So much for good intentions – never again on the cruise did I order the Vitality offering OR the sugar-free dessert. Hubby had the pork medallions which he said were way too thick and too tough to eat…he then had the chocolate cherry cake, and as he demonstrated to us non-believers, was so hard you could have used it as a cutting board. Hubby is famous for always choosing the wrong things at dinner, and he did not disappoint once again.
At 8:30 pm, we finished dinner and went and made reservations for same bat channel, same bat time the next night. We enjoyed our service and wanted to repeat it. We then made our way to the theater for the Welcome Aboard Show – it had actually began at 8:15 with Kieron Buffery, the Cruise Director, welcoming everyone – but we missed his spiel due to our dinner running late. The entertainment was an acrobat, Jean Claude, who was like a one-man Cirque du Soleil entertainer. Because we were late – and because there was only one show tonight for all guests – there was not an empty seat to be had in the theater. We stood along the wall for awhile and grew quickly bored – and so we left. Jean Claude was okay – but if you’ve seen a Cirque du Soleil show – then you will be disappointed in a “one-man” show. Just my humble opinion.
It was now sunset – about 9:30 pm - and it was beautiful. It was so windy, though, that there were only a few other brave souls on deck to enjoy it as we did. Everyone had their camera ready to snap the awesome pictures. I was wearing a dress – and the wind was creating a few too many “Marilyn Monroe” moments for comfort– and so I quickly went back inside. I didn’t want to start the cruise with a reputation as being “THAT girl” who flashes everyone.
At 9:30 pm, we went to the Colony Club where we played the “Where in the World Are You” trivia game – where we did horribly. Apparently, we have no idea where in the world we are. A couple from London nailed this game, and walked away with valuable Royal Caribbean Rubbish – as in a key chain. We found out later they have cruised over 50 times – well, heck – they’ve probably played this same game 45 times and have the answers memorized!!! No fair!!! We then stuck around until 10:15 pm for the “Name That Movie Tune” game – where we did a little better – but not quite good enough – to win one of the coveted key chains. If we had only known the Austin Powers theme song, we might have won. My quest is to have – in hand – a key chain before this cruise is over. I will not rest until the key chain is mine.
It was now getting late and we headed back to the cabin so we could turn in. Our bed had been turned down – but there were no chocolates on the pillow and no towel animal. And still no sign of our cabin steward – we have yet to see him (or her). We also have yet to receive our invitation to the official Meet & Mingle Party, although several other CC’ers had said theirs was in the room already. Oh well….we’ll check on that later…or perhaps, we aren’t being invited on purpose??! Egads – has my reputation preceded me?
First day impressions: ship is beautiful; service in dining room was excellent; food was hit-or-miss; cabin attendant is currently the “Phantom” and nowhere to be found; people are friendly – life is good and we’re on vacation.
We settle in our nice comfy beds and dream about tomorrow, Cannes.