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!
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:
Day at Sea
Venice (overnight in port)
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!
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.
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:
I found this site to be the most comprehensive site on Barcelona with links to everywhere else.
Italy Ports for Florence, Rome, Amalfi Coast:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Serenade OTS Mediterranean Cruise October 2013 Review with Pictures http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2141573