I am 26 years of age and I was traveling with my parents (mid 50s). This is our 9th cruise together, including cruises to Alaska, Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, Canada/New England, and Hawaii. Overall, I would have to say that this cruise ranked near the top, especially in terms of the port included in the cruise.
We reserved this cruise back in May 2005. When Royal Caribbean opened up bookings for 2006 Mediterranean cruises, we went for it and booked this cruise the week that bookings started. Therefore, I had 14 long months of waiting and research ahead of me. One thing I must say, when traveling to Europe, I think doing research in advance is an absolute must. Even with the tons of research I had done in advance, there are always hiccups in plans and there’s so much to do and see that you can’t possibly understand it all or take it all in, if you haven’t learned a little bit about it in advance. However, without doing research, I would have been completely lost, especially in cities where we decided to explore on our own.
Our itinerary for this included stops at: Ajaccio, Corsica; Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy; Naples, Italy; Mykonos, Greece; Kusadasi, Turkey; Santorini, Greece; Piraeus (Athens), Greece; Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy; and Villefranche, France.
We decided that in order to lessen the impact of jet lag and due to the fact that there were no direct flights from LAX to Barcelona that we would fly into Barcelona 2 days in advance. On all of our previous cruises, we had always arrived the day of the cruise and we had never had any problems before. However, traveling to Europe is much different with a lot more variables and potential for things to go wrong. In our case, I am glad that we ended up arriving early, or our problems could have been a lot worse.
Since our cruise departed from Barcelona on a Saturday night (July 22nd) at 7:00 pm, we decided that we would fly out of Los Angeles on American Airlines on Wednesday night with a change of planes in London’s Heathrow Airport for an Iberia Airlines flight to Barcelona to arrive Thursday night. To make a long story short, when I arrived in Barcelona, my bags did not. However, Iberia informed me that my bags were simply on the next flight scheduled to arrive in 1 hour to the airport and that the bags would be delivered to my hotel the next morning. I had no reason not to believe them. However, the next day rolls around and only 1 bag shows up at the airport. After about 5 phone calls, half the agents tell me they have no idea where my bags are, and half tell me that my bags are on a delivery truck to my hotel. After much nail biting and a wasted Saturday morning sitting around the hotel waiting for bags they the promised would be delivered, we ended up showing up at the ship with no luggage late Saturday afternoon. Low and behold, right before the ship set sail on Saturday, our bags were delivered to the pier. It certainly made me feel better that my bags would make my vacation with me, but left me steaming mad at Iberia for their lack of competence. If I can avoid it, I will never fly Iberia again. Just so you know, over 100 passengers on our cruise ended up with lost luggage, some didn’t end up having luggage delivered to them until more than halfway through the cruise, others never got luggage at all.
Then things went from bad to worse. We arrived in Barcelona with about 200€. We planned that we would use ATM’s to get the rest of the Euros we would need for the trip. When we exited the arrivals area of the airport, we walked to the far left wall (if you are facing the street) where there is a whole bank of ATM machines. We had 3 debit cards, all using the Star system by MasterCard, which means that it will work with any Star (in the US only), Cirrus or Maestro machine. There were 2 machines in the airport that were Cirrus/Maestro machines. We tried each of our cards on those 2 machines, and each time our ATM cards were rejected. Sometimes it seems like it would work, but then we would get error messages before we were able to get our money. We couldn’t figure out what to do, so we used the public pay phones to call our bank (there was a number on the back of the card for us to call collect with problems while outside the US). The bank told us that our cards were active and that there was indeed a message in the system that we would be in Europe so that our cards should work. We figured that perhaps there was something wrong with the airport ATM’s and that we should just try our ATM cards at a machine inside the city. Once at our hotel, we decided that the first order of business was trying to find an ATM to get Euros as we would need money soon. As you walk down Las Ramblas, the street is filled with ATMs on both the right and left side of the street. As we strolled down Las Ramblas looking at all the pantomimes, sidewalk artists, little shopping stalls and trying to dodge crowds, we tried our ATM cards at about 10 more machines only to find that our cards didn’t work anywhere. We were starting to get freaked out at this point about how we were going to get Euros as we didn’t want to get a cash advance from our credit cards as we would pay dearly for that. We finally gave up trying the ATMs and figured that since the next day was Friday, we would walk into a bank and ask them to help us. We found out that banks in Barcelona open at 8:30 am, so right before 8:30 am we headed out to find the nearest bank. Once inside, the bank receptionist for Deutsche Bank (who spoke wonderful English) told us that the problem wasn’t our cards, but that at that time, all of the ATMs in Barcelona were having connection issues. What that meant was that the ATM couldn’t connect with accounts outside of Spain and therefore couldn’t verify that we had funds in our account, which is why we were unable to get cash from the ATM. She suggested that we cross to the other side of Placa Catalunya to a large BBVA branch, go inside and they would be able to help us. So we did just that. The teller at the bank confirmed the same story to us that there were connection issues, but that she could try contacting MasterCard for us and see if she could get them to authorize a cash withdrawal for us. She was wonderful, she took all 3 of our debit cards, contacted MasterCard and got authorizations for all 3 cards to take out our maximum limit of $500 per day, that translated to 390€ per card. She was a life saver for us. We had calculated that the amount we got that day would be about 60% of the cash we would need for our trip, as we had private tours booked and they wanted to be paid in cash at the end of the tour. Since we could only withdraw $500 per 24 hours, we knew that was all the cash we would get that day and figured we would worry about the rest later.
HOTEL CONTINENTAL LAS RAMBLAS
We decided that in order to get to our hotel, Hotel Continental Las Ramblas, we would take the Aeroport Bus from the El Prat Airport to Placa Catalunya (the main square in Barcelona) from there, it was a one block walk to our hotel, made lighter by the fact that we had no luggage. Once we exited the airport, the bus was right there at the terminal. The fare for the 20 minute ride was about 3,75€ per person. Very reasonable. If you take the Aeroport Bus, Placa Catalunya is the 3rd stop after Placa Espanya and the University.
Our hotel was located right at the north end of Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian street in Barcelona. At night it’s easy to identify. If you are at Placa Catalunya and you transition on to Las Ramblas, the hotel will be on your left hand side about 3 or 4 buildings from the corner. You can look up and see the lighted “Hotel Continental” signs that hang from the balconies. The hotel is actually on the 2nd floor the building. You enter the building into the lobby and directly onto an elevator. Once off the elevator on the 2nd floor there is a sign indicating that Hotel Continental is on your left at the end of the hall. There is a black door, and on the other side of that door is the reception of the hotel. Its all security controlled and monitored 24 hours a day. We had made reservations for 2 nights pre-cruise at a rate of 110€ per night for a double room, plus a rollaway bed for the 3rd person. Check in was a breeze, we were assigned room 255 and soon we were in our room. I knew in advance that the room would be small. But it was clean, had a private bath, had really cold air conditioning, a TV inside, a nice sized closet, a chair and makeshift table/dresser and a small safe. For its location, it was worth the price. In addition the hotel offers 24 hour free cold soft drinks, bottled water, coffee, juice and beer, as well as free internet and a free snack bar. Can’t get much better than that. On a really hot and humid day, it’s great to have those free ice cold drinks! The way the hotel works is that when you come in, they give you a key to the room, when you leave the hotel, just drop your key at the front desk and they will hold it for you until you come back.
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