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Middle Aged Drama Queen's Eastern Med Review: Serenade, Pics, Surprises & Fun!

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Welcome! What follows will be a short trip report of our 12-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise on the beautiful Serenade of the Seas….


Wait. Who am I kidding? “Short” trip report?! Hardly. I spent over a year in the planning of this once-in-a-lifetime vacation for our family – over 396 days - and by golly, I’m going to squeeze every last second out of it. (396 days equals about 9,504 hours – but who’s counting??!) Even if that means writing a lengthy (but hopefully, interesting, funny, helpful, witty, informative, etc., etc.) treatise on it, that will take 9,504 hours to digest. But I promise to include pictures. :)


Along the way, you’ll find out how we stayed in the Royal Suite…met Paul McCartney…almost got arrested and thrown in Italian jail…worked long and hard at our ongoing very-important research project of finding The Best Gelato in All of Europe…singlehandedly jump-started the Greek economy…had a true International experience with the Euro2012 cup...along with many more adventures. With pictures, of course. :)


The high points (of which there were many), the low points (of which there were few), the scary points (of which there were some), and the funny points (of which there were too many at my expense)…they’ll all be included. With pictures. Oh – did I say that already? :rolleyes:


So – before we get started, let me introduce you to the cast of characters along for the ride on this wonderful adventure:


There’s me…the self-proclaimed Middle-Aged Drama Queen. I turned 50 years old the day before we left for this adventure, and it took me almost the entire 396 days to come to terms with the fact that I was turning a half-century old and would now be AARP-eligible, but I finally accepted it, embraced it, and celebrated it to the max on this cruise. I am a compulsive planner and organizer, and although I consider these character traits to be gifts, some in my family (cough, Hubby, cough), consider them curses…until they see how our vacations go like clockwork, and then they concede to my greatness and my wonderfulness. Oh yeah – I’m very modest, too, as you can see. ..ahem. When not cruising, I am a Disaster Services volunteer with the American Red Cross – so when all heck breaks loose, I can pretty much go with the flow. Which is a good thing to have while cruising in Europe, let me tell you.


There’s my Ever-Patient Hubby, who has learned over the years to just step back, get out of my way, and go along for the ride. Bless him. Hubby is an engineer/architect, and consequently, likes to sit back, observe, and study…for what seems like hours…which can drive me INSANE when I want to move on to whatever’s next in life. He loves adventures as much as much as I do – he just doesn’t like planning them. Yuppers – we are certainly Ying and Yang – but we’ve learned to accept each others’ differences. Most of the time. :rolleyes:


There’s Brad, the 22-year old braniac son, who just graduated from college with degrees in Religion, Philosophy, Spanish and Classics…yeah, all those things that will certainly land him an immediate job. Not. Ostensibly, we were celebrating his graduation, but secretly, we were hoping to use him as a free tour guide, as he knows everything there is to know about World History. On a side note, Brad can’t take a good picture to save his life – so excuse his grimaces, weird smiles and awkward photos. Sigh.


There’s Taylor, the 19-year old 6'5" son, who is in college but doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life, and should have been left back in the States to slave away at his minimum-wage job, but that would have been really unfair and made us the worst/meanest parents in the world, so we brought him along…and he ended up serving one useful purpose on this trip, which we’ll get to later….


…and last but not least, our 12-year old daughter, Mickey, who looks like she’s 17, which led to some interesting situations…which we’ll get to later. She seems to be under the misguided notion that she actually IS 17, and Hubby Mike and I have to continually remind her that no, she’s NOT an adult, and no, she will NOT get the same adult privileges as her older brothers do.



Braniac Brad, Mickey, Hubby Mike, Me, and Too-Tall Taylor


We live in the heartland of the United States – in Kansas City, Missouri, which is known for it’s “crazy little women”. (If you remember the song from way back when…???) Well, I’m one of those crazy little women, so bear with me as we get this trip report/review started.


One other note: Hubby and I have cruised before…always and only with Royal Caribbean. We have done the Mexican Riviera, several Caribbean cruises, and a Western Mediterranean cruise (in 2009). This was the kids’ first time in Europe, as well as their first cruise.


Whew. Got all of that out of the way…so…stay tuned for the first report…and keep in mind…although the cruise was 12-nights, we extended our cruise by several days – so there will be lots and lots of things to report on. With pictures. :D

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This trip report will be broken down day-by-day...sorta' like a blog/journal...with not only what we did, but how I feel it went. A blog/journal REVIEW, if you will. :)


Here was our itinerary - with where WE went on our shore excursions in parenthesis:


June 19th Travel Day

June 20th Barcelona

June 21st Barcelona

June 22nd Embarkation

June 23rd Cannes, France (Nice, Eze, Saint Paul de Vence, Cannes)

June 24th Livorno, Italy (Pisa, Florence)

June 25th Civitavecchia, Italy (Rome)

June 26th Sea Day (Finally! Meet 'n Mingle, Cabin Crawl)

June 27th Sea Day

June 28th Piraeus, Greece (Athens)

June 29th Kusadasi, Turkey (Ephesus)

June 30th Santorini, Greece

July 1st Sea Day

July 2nd Salerno, Italy (Pompeii, Amalfi Coast)

July 3rd Sea Day

July 4th Debarkation (Barcelona)

July 5th Travel Day

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D-Day. Departure Day.


It’s HERE!


After 396 days from booking, and over 9,000 hours of planning later – it’s finally arrived. The day we embark on this adventure.


Our plans are to fly from Kansas City to Atlanta, and then from Atlanta to Barcelona, on Delta Airlines.



I had already patiently explained to our three “furry” children why they couldn’t go with us on this adventure, but that didn’t prevent them from giving us the Martyr Look as they saw the dreaded suitcases come out. I can only imagine the guilt complex they will try to force on us upon our return, but I can’t worry about that today. If I could have packed two kitties and a small dog in my suitcase, I would have – but I can’t. So there. Don’t LOOK at me like that, kitties, and we’ll all get through this.




Oh yes. The "Look"...trying to induce a sense of guilt. Not working. Nope.



Rounding up my NON-furry family is like herding cats, but eventually, we get all of the luggage settled in the minivan, and away we go.


We’re off!




Mickey and I on the plane...



We arrive in Atlanta at 3:50 pm EST, and our connection, Flight #114, isn’t until 5:15 pm EST. That gives us an entire 85 minutes to grab a quick bite to eat; however, if you’ve ever navigated the labyrinth of the airport at Atlanta, you know that’s not a lot of time. Knowing we’ll get a meal on the airplane alleviates my mind somewhat, but knowing I have two hungry boys is still somewhat niggling at me. And actually, by the time we get off of one plane, navigate the underground Atlanta railroad through the airport to get to our gate, there is NO time to eat. Sorry, kids. Let's pray the plane food is tasty.



We are seated in Business Select, which is a little pricey, but certainly the way to go when settling in for a 9-hour flight. Mickey is intrigued by the TV screens, where she can play games, watch movies, or listen to music. I have to remind her that after we have dinner, it will be necessary to settle in and try to catch some sleep, as we’re going to lose 7 hours. She would rather play with her TV screen. Sigh.




"Enough already! Get some sleep!!!"



I hate flying. I really, really hate it. The least little “bump” will send me into a panic attack, and no amount of therapy, education, alcohol or sedatives (cough, Valium, cough) will ever make it easier for me…and so, I did not sleep. SOMEONE needed to stay awake the entire time – in case the pilot needed to consult with me about all things flying-related. Not that I would have been able to give him advice, but the backseat-driver in me just couldn’t relax. So…I begin this incredible adventure…exhausted.



June 19th ends with the entire plane...except for me (well, perhaps the pilot & crew, as well)...sound asleep...in the dark skies over the Atlantic as we wing our way across the pond to Europe, where our adventure truly begins....



Next: Our first day pre-cruise in Barcelona…where we take a whirlwind tour of the fabulous city, and spend the evening wandering the backstreets and enjoying a delightful taste of tapas tour…

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Yay Sherri! I want to re-live this whole trip again because I refuse to believe its actually over. :(


For everyone reading this, you MUST tune in to see what happens in Florence! It had everyone on our Roll Call laughing for the rest of the cruise..... and then some! :D

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Yay Sherri! I want to re-live this whole trip again because I refuse to believe its actually over. :(


For everyone reading this, you MUST tune in to see what happens in Florence! It had everyone on our Roll Call laughing for the rest of the cruise..... and then some! :D


Oh, sure...laugh that I almost ended up languishing in Italian jail. :rolleyes:

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This is going to be good - can't wait for the show to begin (with pictures)! ;)

What a nice looking family, too!!!




Thank you. If you only knew what dire threats of punishment I had to enforce on the kids to get them to dress up for the formal picture...I will forever be in therapy. Again, though, I proudly hold the title of the meanest parent in the world.

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Again, though, I proudly hold the title of the meanest parent in the world.


I would say after taking your 3 children on a 12 night Med. Cruise that title is forever long gone!


Looking forward to the rest of your review! Your writing is amazing so far!!

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What a great and entertaining writer you are! You have me hooked. I can't wait to see what happens in the ports of Santorni and Ephesus since those are 2 of the ports we will be visiting for our Med trip 9/1.;)



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Wednesday, June 20th


...(but who really knows, because I didn't sleep a wink the previous night, and between trying to clean the house, pay the bills, pack five people, reassure the three furry children that we WILL be coming back, locking up the house, etc, etc - I was EXHAUSTED!!!)



Flying over the Atlantic, we lost seven hours…that I could have spent SLEEPING, but oh, no – not me. I stayed awake the entire time, mentally reviewing all of our upcoming plans and praying/hoping/willing everything to work. Ack – the pressure of being the planner was getting to me a bit...I wasn't about to give my Hubby a chance to knock me off of my Greatness & Wonderfulness Throne. I am Woman. Hear Me Roar.




Scheduled to land at 8:20 a.m. Barcelona time, the flight attendants cheerily came through the cabin around 6:45 a.m., waking everyone up and beginning breakfast service. (They had a sadistic side, it was easy to see.) The rest of my family appeared fresh as daisies, while I was a wilted rose. I consoled myself that I would be on solid, firm ground later that evening; no pilots would need my all-things-flying-related knowledge (of which I have none); and I would sleep on a nice, soft, beckoning mattress and catch up on my zzzzz’s at that time. Ha. Little did I know.



Anyway, a quick landing, a quick stop at Immigration, where we all get our fresh-inked “Barcelona” stamp in our passport books, a brief walk to pick up our luggage (and it all arrived – yay!), and then a brief stop at Customs. Wait. Back up. There WAS no Customs. Seriously, we kept looking for Customs and before we knew it, we were out in the “public” lobby of the Barcelona airport, and we had never gone through any Customs. Weird. But nice.



The plan is to be picked up by a taxi service, Barcelona Day Tours; go for a half-day tour of the city; and then be taken to our apartment, where we can rest and relax for a bit before an evening Tapas tour.



If it had just been Hubby Mike and I, we could have easily just ran outside the airport and hopped in any one of the numerous cabs…but being that we had brought our Klingons with us, who each had a large suitcase of their own, it made logistics a little trickier. Cabs in Europe are…well…um...dinky. I needed a MONSTER VAN that could accommodate the five of us, as well as our STUFF. And we had a lot of STUFF, believe me. I had thought about renting a POD for all of our stuff and having it air-lifted by helicopter to the ship, but someone on Cruise Critic (cough, Steve, cough) shot me down on that, saying he didn't want his precious helicopter pad on the Serenade ruined with Sherri's Pod in residence.



Knowing that our apartment (not really OUR apartment - but gee, wouldn't that be nice? To have your own apartment in Barcelona? No...this was someone else's apartment that they kindly rented to us) wouldn’t be available until 3:00 pm – I needed to find things for us to do (although my vote was for sleeping, but I knew I had to tough it out as long as possible to get my body clock in sync with European time). A half-day tour of the city fit the bill perfectly. Barcelona Day Tours was able to provide us a taxi AND tour for a measly (!) $59E per person.



Promptly at 9:20 a.m., our driver, Carlos, appeared in the airport carrying THE SIGN…you know – the one with our name on it. When doing private tours in Europe, you come to LOVE seeing THE SIGN. It means things are going as planned. It’s when you don’t see THE SIGN that you know you’re in trouble. We’ll get to that later.



So...we headed to our mini-van for the afternoon...and spent 30 minutes literally stuffing it with all of our STUFF. That van needed to be just a teensy-weensy bit bigger - or we should have brought a teensy-weensy bit less STUFF - but we made it work. And Carlos? I wish I had taken his picture; imagine the actor, Hector Elizondo (the guy who played the hotel manager in "Pretty Woman"), and you have Carlos. And although he was a fabulous guide - with an extensive knowledge of all-things Barcelonian (and Catalonian), he was...um...well...not the best driver. He would veer over into other lanes, causing other Barcelonian drivers to give us gestures that I'm sure meant only goodwill (or that's what I told the kids, anyway). At one point, Too-Tall Taylor looked at me with a bit of apprehension; I reassured him that this was typical driving in Europe, and silently said a prayer that we'd make it safely through the afternoon.



Now…here’s a tip. DON’T let the person who hasn’t slept all night be in charge of the camera while touring a beautiful European city. I'm just sayin'....


Because…if you do? You’ll end up with photographs like this one:




What the heck is this? And why did I think it was important enough to take a photo of it? {shrugs}



Or this one:




...a Barbie car? Really? I'm in one of THE most beautiful cities in the WORLD, and I find a pink Barbie car photo-worthy??!!





Anyway, my memory is a bit punchy on this tour, but I DO know we made a stop at Barcelona Camp Nou, the 3rd-largest football stadium in the World (after the stadiums in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Mexico City).





This was to appease Too-Tall Taylor, who is an avid jock and ESPN-addict. The ONLY souvenir Too-Tall Taylor wanted on this trip was a Barcelona football jersey…so, Carlos obliged by taking us to Camp Nou. Where we shelled out over $95E (YIKES!) for an “official” Barcelona jersey, because after all, they ARE the defending world champions. Too-Tall Taylor was warned, in my best stern-parent voice, that this jersey WAS IT as far as souvenirs go. Think I kept to that??



Driving haphazardly through the streets, we then visited Montjuic, which translates in ancient Catalan to "Jew Hill" - but if you're from Kansas City, this is a freakin' MOUNTAIN. It offers an incredible view of Barcelona:





But you wouldn’t know that, because it was ME who was taking the photos. (I promise the pictures will get better as I catch up on my sleep. Bear with me.)




Hey…remember the movie, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”? You know...the one where he says, "Phone home"???!! I always thought that E.T. returned to his alien home (wherever that was) at the end of the movie…who knew that, according to Carlos our Guide, E.T. actually lives in Barcelona??



Maybe you have to be really tired to appreciate this sculpture...



We then visited another overlook of the city, where we could see Torre Agbar in the distance.




This is the water tower, and has a variety of nicknames. You think? Carlos kept calling it “The Pickle” – but I had a few other names for it. The kids just giggled. We were REALLLLLY jet-lagged at this point.


Up next: Part Two of our Whirlwind Day in Barcelona

Edited by KansCocoa
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After leaving E.T., we headed over to the port area, where Carlos took the obligatory family photo:



All eyes open? Yes? Then it's a GREAT photo of us!



This is where you can hop onto the iconic Port Cable Car, that cuts across Barcelona’s skyline.




It looked intriguing, but Too-Tall Taylor has a phobia of heights. I had already been working/consoling/preparing/bribing him for the cable car that we were going to have to endure in Santorini – so there was NO WAY, JOSE he would step foot in this “floating death trap”, as he called it. The cable car supposedly has a capacity of 20 people – but they must have put 20 of the world’s most anorexic models in there while measuring – because that cable car looked PACKED with a mere 12 people or so. And those 12 people looked...average-size. Between the sardine-factor, as well as the heat-factor – not to mention the fear factor – perhaps Too-Tall Taylor was right on the money with this one.


We skipped the Floating Death Trap.



Perhaps Too-Tall Taylor was looking a bit pale from his Close Encounter with the Cable Car…or perhaps we were all looking a bit green from Carlos’s driving…but for whatever reason, Carlos decided that a trip to a hospital was now necessary.


Well. In full disclosure, we went as tourists…not as patients. Carlos took us to the beautiful, ancient Hospital de Santa Creu I de Sant Pau…which began in the 11th century and is still open today. The hospital celebrated its 600th birthday in 2001, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.





Now. If you’ve been paying attention…you will have realized, at this point, that we are dreadfully missing something – or someone – that is SO important to all-things Barcelonian. As in the famed architect/artist, Antonio Gaudi. Don’t fret, Dear Readers. I have an entire DAY of Gaudi planned for the next day of our adventure, so we had asked Carlos to skip all-things Gaudi…and after he picked himself back up from the floor from his dead-faint and recovered from the shock, he kindly obliged us.


To a point.


Not being able to resist showing us at least one-thing Gaudi, he took us to something small…something unique…and something that is normally missed in the standard Gaudi tour:




The famed Iron Dragon Gate at the Guell Pavillions....


Hubby Mike and I had been to Barcelona previously, in 2009…and we had never seen this. Wow. This is really a not-to-be-missed attraction if you are a Gaudi aficionado. Seriously - it is way-cool. For both parents and too-cool kids.


Speaking of too-cool kids. Each one of the kids had been given their own camera, so that they could record their own memories of this possibly once-in-a-lifetime trip. I had spent months stressing the beautiful art, architecture, and scenery that we would be seeing, and I had emphasized the importance of capturing the memories...the essence...of all things European. Every now and then, I will post a photo (or two) of what my kids took on their own cameras...so that you, Dear Readers, can see the trip through my kids' eyes.


So...without further ado...I will now post a couple of photos taken that beautiful afternoon in Barcelona, by Brainy Brad:








And another one:







Pigeons. Oh, but not just ANY pigeons. These are Barcelonian pigeons.





Eventually, all good things must come to an end…including my energy and ability to stay awake. I had hit the wall – the kids had hit the wall – and it was time to bid farewell to Carlos and head to the apartment.


Let’s talk about the apartment. Finding a hotel in Europe is never easy, but the Internet Gods have made it somewhat less of a pain. However – finding a hotel in Europe for FIVE people…with lots of STUFF…is next-to-impossible. This is where I probably spent a good bulk of my time in the planning; researching, price-checking, etc our lodging options. Hotel rooms in Europe are…um…well…dinky. We could have gotten two hotel rooms, but the cost was looking a bit prohibitive.


About the time I was ready to throw in the towel and give up, and convince the family that sleeping on a park bench under the stars in Barcelona would be a really-cool adventure that they’d remember their entire lives, inspiration struck. How about renting an apartment??!! We’d have rooms for all of the kids, with perhaps a living room/salon to relax in…and it wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg??!!




Renting apartments for a night or two (or longer) in Europe is easy, convenient and extremely affordable. When I did cost comparisons to reserving hotel rooms, the apartment always came out on the better end of my budget. And – as a concerned mom, it was a load off of my mind to know that all of my chickadees (or should I say, "pigeons"?) would be roosting under the same roof at night…behind ONE locked door.


I secured the apartment last June (2011) with a small deposit, and so, we were set. But…would this apartment meet our needs? Had I made a mistake in not going with a hotel? We were soon to find out as we whisked over to pick up our key.


Up next: Our apartment in Barcelona…and our wild & crazy evening with wild & crazy Jo….

Edited by KansCocoa
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Really looking forward to this. Great sense of humour, fantastic pics and we've booked a 12-day on the Serenade for next summer (with two sons who'll be 20 and 21 then). This review is going to be very enjoyable, I can tell :D

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Enjoying your review. Nice to see you can laugh at all the "non-perfect" events/people.

We will be in Barcelona, for the first time, in October doing a Western Med cruise and a TA. I've already picked up some good ideas from you.


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Thanks, everyone! I'm glad you're all along for the adventure...and can appreciate my rather twisted, snarky sense of humor...if you can't laugh at yourself and laugh at life, then...well...that would suck. :)


More to come...obviously. ;)

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