A Very Late Review / Serenade Med Cruise October 22, 2013

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#1
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
There have been many wonderful posts regarding Med cruises on the Serenade of the Seas, both recently and in past years by kanscocoa, windjamming, kreuzfahrtneuling, kirian, ace1zoe2, to name a few. I won't even try to come close to some of those wonderful reviews but think of mine more as a supplement to the others. We were on the same cruise as kirian from the Cool Girl and Crazy Mom review of 22 October 2013. When I heard Cool Girl was going to post a review, I figured why bother and besides I figured it would take me forever to finish a photo review. Who knew that it would take Cool Girl until July this year to start her post. I figured .... Well now I don't feel so bad. I can be late too! So thanks Melissa aka Cool Girl for not being timely and taking the pressure off me!!

So here's a review of that same cruise with a different perspective. I figure planners like us CC folks don't mind reading multiple posts about a ship or destination. Fortunately, I wrote some of this review last year when it was fresh in my mind.

We (meaning me) decided we should plan an autumn cruise to avoid the intense heat of summer. I want to extend my thanks to every past CC reviewer that reported on the oppressive heat of summer on their Med cruise reviews, otherwise I would have scheduled this cruise during the middle of July to celebrate my birthday. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for saving me from myself!

Our Story
We are Marla and Brian. DH and I have been cruising since 1989 when we celebrated our 10th anniversary. With 25 cruises under our belt, 24 of which on RCL, we hadn’t yet cruised in Europe. The kids are out of college and we aren’t getting any younger so I began thinking “What are we waiting for?” So late 2012 I decided it was past time we cruise to Europe. But, where to go? For forty years I’ve wanted to see Italy, so a Med cruise was the way to go.

We arrive in Barcelona
The plane hasn't even taken off and I already spill water on Brian. I can't remember if that was the Chicago to JFK or JFK to Barcelona flight, but I had a bad habit of spilling on him during 2013. The best was when I spilled red wine on his custom white shirt at Victoria and Albert's in the Grand Floridian that summer. I truly don't mean to do these things, truly I don't!



After the plane baptism, the flight went very well. We had lie flat seats that were positively wonderful. We hated to leave the plane in Barcelona. The walk from the gate to baggage claim was long and reminded me of the length you walk in YVR arriving on a US flight. Have your walking shoes on. It's a very lovely airport and a great airport to depart from as well. You can amuse yourself with all kinds of shops if you haven't already spent enough.

Our 12-night Cruise Itinerary:
Barcelona
Cannes
La Spezia
Civitavecchia
Naples
Day at Sea
Venice (overnight in port)
Ravenna
Dubrovnik
Day at Sea
Day at Sea

I am the vacation planner in the family and DH goes along for the ride and sometimes offers an opinion or two. DH loved the idea of five Italian ports because he loves to eat on vacation and loves Italian food. Regardless of where we travel, he wants to know about where we’re going to eat. He is happy as long as I offer a new dining experience or a beloved favorite during our travels. The place could be a whole in the wall or be known for fine dining, as long as they have good food DH is happy.

DH was a nervous flyer when we first married and wouldn’t think of going on a ship since he can’t swim. Bless him, he never let his initial fears stop him and now he is a veteran traveler. I am really proud of how he has relaxed over the years. In the early years of our marriage he hated flying. On every flight during those early years of marriage, he would hold my hand at take-off and say, “I love you, we’re going to die!” You have to understand that I married him for his sense of humor, so I don’t take what he says too seriously. During one of our Alaska cruises he accused me of trying to kill him because I booked a flightseeing excursion in a De Havilland Beaver (think six-seater propeller). He has since completed two such excursions. Hmmm, I wonder what he would think of the Mt. McKinley small plane excursion with the oxygen mask …..

Anyway, on with our show!

Pre-planning
Full disclosure --- I started thinking of this as the comfy cruise about a month before the trip. First class air, junior suite at hotel and grand suite onboard. We upgraded to first class with miles and used Starpoints for the hotel, so we were semi-frugal. Yeah, right. We started out booking this cruise with a junior suite but later upgraded to a grand suite. More on this topic later.

After selecting the Serenade of the Seas for our Mediterranean cruise adventure (special thanks to my friend Melanie for suggesting this itinerary and ship), I began planning our excursions and air transportation. Coming from the Chicago suburbs, we are very lucky to book non-stop flights most times. DH and I weren’t as much concerned about non-stop, as we were with using our American Advantage miles as upgrades to first class. DH really didn’t want to be flying in a tin can for > 8 hours feeling squished and uncomfortable. So we bit the bullet and upgraded to first class using my miles on American. For Europe they charge a not too small fee but I knew it would be worth it to us. Our plans had us going from Chicago to JFK and JFK to Barcelona on October 19 arriving early morning on the 20th in Barcelona. I also wanted to use Starwood points for our 2-night hotel stay in Barcelona pre-cruise so I booked that early on as well.

As for planning while in port …
If planning for an Alaskan cruise is the equivalent of getting your bachelor’s degree, then planning for a multiple country Mediterranean cruise must be the master’s program! It’s not the information overload that bothers me anymore, it’s remembering all the information I’ve taken in. Oh well, it keeps the brain working and is good for fighting off dementia. I must say I’m quite proud I am retaining most of the information I’m taking in. I also document some of the more important must see places in a Word document to keep track.

Web Sites
Since CC seems to delete the links, assume adding a “dot com” to the site names unless I indicate another such as “dot es” or “dot il”

I used many sites for a comparative overview:

Multiple destinations:
tripadvisor
tomsportguides
ricksteves
frommers
europeforvisitors

Barcelona:
Barcelona-tourist-guide
I found this site to be the most comprehensive site on Barcelona with links to everywhere else.

Italy Ports for Florence, Rome, Amalfi Coast:
romeinlimotoursharing

Books
I mainly stuck to the Rick Steves’ books. I borrowed each country book from the library for early research and later bought his Med cruise book to take on the cruise.

Apps
I loaded the Rick Steves' app but I have to tell you that I never used them. There was just too much running around to take time to listen. Oh well, maybe next time.

Theft Protection
As I began my research, I kept reading about pick pockets abroad especially in Barcelona and Italy. So I did some research and decided on some anti-theft products and went a bit overboard with my purchases. I bought a Scottevest for me, a Pac Safe wallet for Brian, a Pac Safe wallet around the waist wallet for me, and a Pac Safe purse that would hold my cameras. I have justified the cost of these purchases figuring we will use them on future trips as well. Hey, I can justify any purchases if you give me enough time to come up with a story.

Cash
I made sure I had at least the U.S. equivalent of $1000 €. I ordered this from Wells Fargo who doesn't charge a fee for orders above $1000 USD. That was a bit of a mess since I must have keyed in the wrong SSN in my order (darn iPad!). I had to pick up the money at a branch, otherwise the process would have been painless.

ATM & Credit Cards
Those 3% foreign transaction fees are a real racket. I got a Capital One checking account and ATM for € withdrawals in Spain and Italy to pay for our tours, as they require cash. DH got a Barclays Card for each of us to cover the plastic expenses.

Port Touring Plans
At first I thought we would need to book all excursions privately and then I learned about Rome in Limo Tour Sharing for three of the four ports in Italy. We had a wonderful Roll Call thread which really helped with tour sharing.

We booked shared private tours for the ports of Cannes, La Spezia, Civitavecchia and Naples. We planned DIY in Venice, Ravenna and Dubrovnik.

I think I will continue in the next post.
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Marla
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Serenade OTS Mediterranean Cruise October 2013 Review with Pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2141573
#2
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
Our Two Days in Barcelona
Barcelona Day Tours – City Tour
Early on, I booked Barcelona Day Tours to pick us up at the airport for a private four hour city tour. I was thinking, “What else would we do with an arrival at 7:30 am and the rooms not ready until mid-afternoon the earliest?” As it turned out, another couple from our CC Meet & Mingle thread was also on our same incoming flights so we decided to share the cost of the tour early on. As I got further into my research, I saw which attractions could be easily accessed via the Metro or HOHO bus and decided to focus more time on the sites that weren’t as easily accessible like Parc Guell.

We waited what seemed forever for our luggage upon arrival at the airport. We then proceeded to wait for our Barcelona Day Tours guide but he eventually showed up. We went to:

Parc Guell






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Serenade OTS Mediterranean Cruise October 2013 Review with Pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2141573
#4
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
After Parc Guell we were off to view the exterior of La Sagrada Familia. I'm including just a few photos since the church has been widely covered by other posts.

Outside La Sagrada Familia (I figured we would see the inside of enough churches in the next two weeks)





I'm just blown away by the use of color on the exterior.

I'm going to include a few photos of Casa Batlo even though we took these shots during a walk since it's still part of the Gaudi theme.

Casa Batlo



Casa Batlo and another interesting building next to it



A little more non-Gaudi architecture from our walk
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Serenade OTS Mediterranean Cruise October 2013 Review with Pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2141573
#5
1,947 Posts
Joined May 2004
Yay Marla!! You're doing a review of your Serenade cruise!! Great start, love the pics and planning details, and looking forward to reading about your days in the sunny Mediterranean (with undoubtedly fantastic Italian meals)!!
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2016-12 Anthem of the Seas - E. Caribbean (Christmas and New Years)
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#6
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
Barcelona Day Tours - Montserrat and Cava Winery
I also booked us for the Barcelona Day Tours all day group tour to Montserrat and a Cava Winery. This was a small bus tour that you pick up not far from the Hard Rock, a very short block or two from our hotel. There were at least three other couples from our M&M thread on the tour. We drove up the mountain to Montserrat first and ended at the winery.

Monserrat Monastery









Stained Glass --- according to our guide there aren't many pieces of art depicting Mary as pregnant



Black Virgin



I have a bit of a post cruise story here. From what I had read, folks touch the orb (not in glass) as they offer supplications. One of my employees had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, at age 40. Being the nice Jewish girl I am, I figured it wouldn't hurt to also ask The Virgin to heal my friend who is also a non-Catholic. Twelve months later, this young woman is cancer free and back to work after multiple treatments and surgeries. It gives me goose bumps to think how lucky we are to have her healthy and whole. If The Virgin had anything to do with it, that's all to the good. https://fundly.com/teamdanae

Okay, back to fun stuff.
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Serenade OTS Mediterranean Cruise October 2013 Review with Pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2141573
#7
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
After Monserrat we stop at a cava winery, Freixenet. They took us on an extensive tour of their winery and their deep cellars carved into the rock of the ground. Very cool. DH loves when I plan a winery in our travels.



We had a great day on our tour and I would recommend this to anyone who might find this itinerary interesting.

BTW, I pre-paid for our half day tour from the airport and our all day tour to Montserrat and the winery. I figured this would give me more €'s to spend in port.

Barcelona Hotel

I selected Le Meridien on La Rambla for location and the “niceness”. The stay required 24,000 Starwood points for a two night stay. In August, I decided to upgrade to a junior suite for an additional 5,000 points. Might as well be comfy. For some reason, I have no photos of the hotel. I was certain we took some, but perhaps not. This hotel's location was perfect and the junior suite was very nice. There was even some English language classes on television which DH was watching morning of embarkation. The class went like this:

"The phone is on the table." "The phone is never in the table!!" It doesn't take much to amuse him. He still repeats the script from this show to this day.
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Serenade OTS Mediterranean Cruise October 2013 Review with Pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2141573
#8
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
Oops. I forgot to add a few more outdoor photos of the area around Montserrat.

Montserrat Kitty


Brian is always taking photos of cats during our travels. I know there are Croatian cats coming up much later in the review. When we go to San Juan, which is once a year in January to cruise for two weeks and leave this cold, Brian is always visiting the cats in OSJ. Many times he brings Meow Mix to them.

Back to the Scenery
You can see that the sun hasn't burnt off the fog yet.




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#9
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
The Upgrade Fairy has Moved
It's Monday night before we leave and I asked my daughter and her then boyfriend/now husband (gee, a lot happens in a year) to join us for dinner that night since it's BOGO pizza night. So I'm sitting there with them, cutting up my Rick Steves' Mediterranean Ports of Call book (it nearly killed me to do that but that's another story) when my cell phone rang. I say out loud, "Who do I know in Eugene, Oregon?"

Well, apparently that's where the upgrade fairy is living these days. Would I like a complimentary upgrade to an Owner's Suite? Really? As if I have to think about this! Let's see .... a bigger bathroom and a dining table. Hmmm, do I really want a separate shower stall, a whirlpool tub and a bidet. I don't know, the balcony isn't as nice as the Grand Suite..... Yeah, right! Since my mother didn't raise a fool, I took it.

I'm thinking, maybe I should play the lottery .....

We originally booked a Junior Suite which is our usual cabin of choice. We like the extra room for relaxing in the cabin. I had been watching the prices for the Grand Suites and noticed a sale. I kept vacillating over whether I wanted to switch to a GS for the extra balcony and bathroom space and finally took the plunge. We've always enjoyed a GS in the past and thought the room service breakfast on the nice suite balcony furniture would be a real treat. Also, if we were really tired from touring one night, we knew we could order from the full dining room menu for dinner. I believe having a GS already probably made the difference with the OS upgrade. That and the fact that cruisin fever had to cancel their cruise. Since they're Pinnacle, I'm sure they would have gotten the OS but it went to us instead.

Boarding the Ship
We took a taxi from the hotel to the port. A word of warning, their taxis are small in Barcelona so pack accordingly or find a larger taxi. We opted for the larger taxi.

Our cabin, 1060.


The best part, a separate glass shower stall (no Star Trek transporter tube)




As it turns out, the OS balconies are really large on the Radiance Class Ships. I was thinking of Adventure OTS.


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#10
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
Cannes, Nice, Eze
We tagged along on a tour organized by KRUSA on our M&M thread. The plan was to visit Nice, Eze Village and Monte Carlo through Exclusive Riviera Tours. Advance warning --- it was rainy and overcast this day so don't expect sunny photos.

We drove through Cannes. Sorry no photos as the van wasn't moving slow enough to take photos. Then straight on to old town Nice.





Frankly, there wasn't much there that amused me in Nice which could have been in part due to the yucky weather. We had a half hour in Nice; we truly didn't need that much time. There was a downpour in Eze either before or after we walked the village so we stopped at Galimard, a perfumery, which was at the foot of the village. A lady took us on a little tour there. I bought a five or six pack sampler of French Parfum. Very nice! I will definitely be back there on a future trip. Their parfum has really grown on me.

Eze is a quaint and lovely hillside village, with the emphasis on hillside. This is where I noticed our tour guide Michel was a FAST WALKER. By the time we were done in Monaco, I was wondering if her was trying to lose us!

Michel running up the stairs to the village


It was quite slippery walking in the village due to the rains.







Next, the cactus garden atop Eze Village.
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Serenade OTS Mediterranean Cruise October 2013 Review with Pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2141573
#13
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
Next lunch and the small beer story.

Michel took us here. The food was very good.


All the guys ordered these large mugs of beer except poor Ernie (second from the right). His DW Peggy was the one to influence him on his choice and she didn't live it down the rest of the trip. Or, as you can see I am still talking about it 14 months later. Sorry Peggy, I just can't stop myself!



Here's our happy little table after we filled our bellies.


We're ready for the rest of Monaco.



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#15
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
Time to take a break from our travels for a public service announcement. I meant to mention this when I was writing about Barcelona.

The Need for Health Breaks (aka lavatories)
I just want to say there were bathrooms everywhere. We never lacked for a bathroom throughout the trip. Beforehand, I kept reading about folks having issues with finding bathrooms, paying for bathrooms, etc. Maybe it was because we paid for entrance into places and ate at sit down restaurants, but we never lacked for a lavatory and didn't have to pay --- not once. I have one piece of advice for those who take diuretics, if your health permits you may want to skip taking this pill when touring from a cruise port. We usually took these when we returned from touring which you will see was a darn good thing, especially going into Florence.

This also might be a good time to remind folks about the relationship between the pace of touring each day, especially for first timers, and dinner venues. We always book traditional, late dining on RCL ships as we enjoy meeting others. For this itinerary we decided to try My Time Dining since we figured we would be tired from touring each day. This turned out to be a good choice for us. We also enjoy the Windjammer for dinner from time to time on the Radiance Class ships and Serenade was no exception.

Also, I promise to get to the cruising part of this vacation much later in the review. If I don't keep posting these photos, I'll never get done.

Mother Nature Strikes
That evening it really stormed as we made our way to Florence. Brian was in heaven since he loves the rain and if you give him fog while cruising, there's nothing better. I mention the rain because this will become an important factor in our Florence touring schedule.
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Serenade OTS Mediterranean Cruise October 2013 Review with Pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2141573
#16
Plainfield, Indiana, USA
2,434 Posts
Joined Apr 2003
Great review!! I feel like I need to be taking notes. Thanks for listing so many great details. Other than the rain issue....how was the weather temperaturewise.
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Cruise Pictures:
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#17
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
Firenze and the Toll Booths from Hell!!
We are finally in Italy!!

Our ship docked in La Spezia. We were originally scheduled to dock in Livorno, which is closer to Florence but the port changed months prior to departure. The Cinque Terre would normally be a better choice for this port but for a girl who has wanted to see Florence since she was 18, Florence won out.

The plans for this day were with Rome in Limo, with a tour share started by KRUSA on our roll call. There were eight of us this day also. We were to visit Florence and Lucca this day. I wanted to bypass Pisa for a future visit and get myself to Florence with plenty of time for shopping as well as touring so the itinerary appealed to me. Hah!! Mother nature had other ideas. We met our tour guide Mauro and we were off to a good start, or so we thought.

Two hours and 45 minutes after leaving the Port of La Spezia we were still waiting by a toll booth!! Yes, folks I timed it. I have never been in a traffic jam like this in my life.

Traffic was at a total standstill due to the previous night's rain, as we came to find out later. Apparently, everything was backed up going into Florence. After returning to the ship that evening, I found out that the cruise ship excursion buses made it through a whole lot faster than Mauro did! He was a rather relaxed kind of young man and I also imagine he didn't know any detours. I will say he did try to call the Rome in Limo office to find out the cause of the hold-up, but they didn't answer since they phone problems due to the weather. More on that later.

We sat there forever.

People watching at the traffic jam was a hoot. It seems that people like to get out of their cars a lot during a traffic stand still in Tuscany. First, there was truck driver with the amusing hand gestures. The funniest was another truck driver that got out of his truck, assessed the situation, got back in his truck and proceeded to speed in reverse without hitting anyone!

Needless to say, there was nothing we could do but joke about the whole incident while standing still in traffic for hours. We were all good-spirited about the whole thing which made the waiting all that more bearable. If we were thinking unkind thoughts or getting truly aggravated, none of us showed it.

Once we passed the toll booths from Hell, we arrived at the Piazzale Michelangelo. It was worth the wait!

The Duomo with a telephoto shot


Brian got this shot with the small point and shoot


Our only shots of the Arno were from the Piazzele Michelangelo. Shopping for gloves got in the way.


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#18
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
Post-traffic jam power touring!
Next we stopped at the Ponte Vecchio, Piazza Santa Croce, Lunch, the Accademia, the Duomo, in that order and then on to Lucca. Whew, I'm out of breathe just thinking about all that running around!

At the Ponte Vecchio, the rest of the group went to look at the River Arno while your intrepid reporter and her DH went across the street to Madova for leather gloves. Hey, I have my priorities! I measured everyone's hands in my family so I would walk out with the right size. I was all prepared. I researched and researched for the best place to buy. How could I miss the opportunity to purchase fine leather gloves in Italy? I was so impressed with this place. They knew my glove size by just looking at my hand. They had these wonderful little, cushy pillows to rest your bent elbow on as you tried on gloves. I walked out with six pairs of the softest leather gloves on Earth in record time! One each in black for DH and DS; one in grey for DD and three colors for me (red, orange and royal blue).


Success!
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Serenade OTS Mediterranean Cruise October 2013 Review with Pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2141573
#19
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
Piazza Santa Croce

After the all important glove purchases, it was onto the Piazza Santa Croce and lunch at a restaurant in the square.
Lunch was 31€ for the two of us.

The Church
Do you see the Star of David at the top? According to Mauro, the architect was Jewish, hence the star.






Our restaurant, left side of the piazza with the church to your back. Fine choice. When we return to Florence we'll eat there again.
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#20
Illinois
2,463 Posts
Joined Feb 2001
Onto the Accademia to see The David and then to the Duomo.

Here's the embarrassing part of the story for a planner such as me. I realized I forgot to buy tickets for the Accademia! What a maroon! Mauro saved the day and took me to a little booth where I could quickly make my purchase.

No photos of The David were allowed. This is terrible to say but, I'll say it anyway....Frankly, it didn't look much different than the one in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Don't get me wrong, I was still glad to see the real thing and the other art within.

After the Accademia, we were to spend ~20 minutes at the Duomo. I wanted to order a custom made purse at Cellerini so we quickly snapped photos and Mauro droveus to the store a short distance away. I made my purchases within 15 minutes and was done. Purse ordered and I even found a beautiful wallet I liked. Again, I'm out of breath thinking about my power shopping!!

Photos of the Duomo. It's more beautiful in person; I grasped that right away during the three minutes I stood there, that is.






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Serenade OTS Mediterranean Cruise October 2013 Review with Pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2141573