Posted August 27th, 2013, 05:41 AM
Last edited by windjamming; August 27th, 2013 at 05:59 AM
Thanks all for your kind words and encouragement!
Because we built in a good amount of downtime during the cruise, rather than posting a day by day recap, I'll be reviewing the ports and then the ship's dining, activities, and services.
As mentioned earlier, we only finalized our cruise booking in May, so we did not have a lot of time to prepare. In addition to reading up on CC reviews, I bought Rick Steves' Mediterranean Cruise Ports book, which was tremendously helpful in reading about highlights that can be achieved in a day, bathroom locations, and port services. Amazon has it for about $18. Tip: It is a big tome, but you can cut the book apart so that you don't have to bring all of Greece's pages with you while touring Italy. He even recommends it in the book!
Prior to the trip we purchased travel insurance from TravelGuard. Fortunately, we did not need to use their policy, but that also contributed to peace of mind while traveling.
In the last 2 Mediterranean cruises, we were determined to see as many highlights as possible and did full day tours, sometimes leaving as early as 7 and then going to 6 or 7. Although very enjoyable - and worth it - it was very exhausting and, truth be told, we were at times grumpy. Grumpy family members = not fun times.
This time, I was determined to avoid "mal de too much". For each of the ports, we'd do a half-day excursion, and then have free time in the morning or afternoon to do whatever - explore the city or just chill out on the ship. I planned for afternoon excursions for our first 2 ports so we could sleep in due to jet lag, but we'll see later that even the best laid plans sometimes don't go as expected - but it all still works out!
We bought all of our excursions through the ship. While pricier than DIY or outside private excursions, for me, it was about peace of mind while traveling with my parents. I also liked that RCI had recommendations on the level of difficulty (mild, moderate, strenuous) and number of meters/steps required. This allowed me to plan out the days better. Note: I found that they tended to be very conservative in their estimates.
Because of work, we flew in on the red-eye on the day of the cruise and booked the ship's transfers. In the name of comfort, we splurged and upgraded our seats, which made a huge difference! We all got a solid few hours of sleep, and we started the day feeling decently rested and fed. On our last Mediterranean cruise, we flew the red eye into Rome in coach, and we were zombies that whole day! On that cruise, we also decided to do the city tour combined with transfer, which turned into a nap on the bus. While we would have loved a Barcelona city tour, we thought about our Rome experience and nixed it. (In hindsight, though, we probably could have done it given that we'd had some good sleep). So, for older travelers, my recommendation is that if you splurge on something, do it on an upgraded flight. It really makes a difference.
Our direct flight from Newark landed early, and we had gone through immigration and picked up our luggage by 9am. Upon exiting customs, we were greeted by a small, friendly army of Royal Caribbean reps who took our luggage and told us that the transfer would leave at 10am.
The Barcelona arrivals area is clean and very busy! There would be 4 ships departing that day - the Liberty of the Seas, Norwegian Epic, Crystal Symphony, and us - so perhaps that was the reason. In the arrivals area there is even signage for cruisers (see upper left corner thing hanging off the ceiling):
The transfer was somewhat uneventful. They left, as planned, at 10am, and we were checked in and on the ship by 11 or 11:30. We were docked in the berth furthest from the port gate, and it was a sight to drive past 3 ships to get to ours!
Nothing really else to report for pre-boarding, but I'll leave a teaser for what we awoke to the next morning:
And I promise the next posts will have more pictures.