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Trip Report Barcelona to Rome

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We are leaving this weekend for some R&R. After reviewing the itinerary, we may need to get some R & R after the the trip. Originally, we wanted to book the 14 days Royal Princess Grand Med cruise but it was full. Upon further investigation, the first 7 days (Wed Med portion) is available with limited availability and the second 7 days (East Med portion) is wait list only. Since we've cruise West Med a few times, so it would be ports that we have been to so just booking the 7 days East Med is fine with us. The cruise is from Barcelona to Rome with stops in Cartagena, Gibraltar, Marseille, Genoa/Milan, Florence/Pisa. 5 stops, 1 sea day, add in Barcelona and Rome would be 7 ports in 7 days.

We will be staying pre-cruise and post-cruise so it will be land-cruise-land for a total of about 15 days, not counting travel days. We have booked private tours for Montserrat Abbey and Caves, a trip to Girona and Costa Brava, and of course, the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and La Pedrera for pre-cruise.

Since we have been to Rome a few times, we decided to do something off the beaten path for post- crusie and explore the Roman catacomb and undergrounds, Capuchin Crypt, along with Basilica of San Clemente, which we wanted to visit last time but didn't have a chance. We are also going to stop by the Colosseum for their Underground Chambers small group tour. To say the least, this Rome trip is going to pretty "dark".

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    For the port stops, we probably just wander around on our own. But we will visit the Concepcion Castle and the Punic Wall at Cartagena, take the cable Car at Gibraltar, probably taking in the old Siege tunnels and the museum as well. DW decided to go to Avignon and Pont du Gard while we docked at Marseille.

    Genoa proved to be a toss up. We will probably just stroll through Caruggi, the ancient harbor front, St George Palace, Cattedrale di San Lorenzo and that's about it. Time permit, we may make a quick stop at Chiesa del Gesu and Ducal Palace as they are either nearby or along the way.

    As to Florence/Pisa, I guess the tourist trap of the leaning tower is a must stop. I promised that I won't take any picture of me pushing it, holding it, kicking it etc ... We also plan to stop by the Dome, the Bell Tower and the Academy of Fine Arts and have lunch at St Croce Square.

    All in all, a relatively jammed pack itinerary.

    Stay tune ... and as someone had famously said it: I'll be back!

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    Yes! Thursdaysd, You are right. I meant East Med ports.

    I looked through your post and some of them are on our list. We are staying at 987 Barcelona Hotel which is centrally located. We are going to hit Gaudi's work all over, and Las Ramblas, Picasso Museum etc.

    We are still looking for a dinner theater for a Flamingo dance show in Barcelona. I thought we would just ask at the hotel concierge desk. Do you have any suggestions? I see you caught a show at Madrid.

    I wanted to get to Ronda but I think we may run out of time. Avila is also on our list but we won't make it there either so it will be the next trip, hitting Madrid/Avila, and then Malaga/Ronda.

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    Looks like your autocorrect has some odd ideas - flamenco, right? I would start by checking to see what's on at the Palace of Catalan Music. Also do a search here for a post by kimhe on flamenco.

    I hated the Ramblas this trip (wasn't great in 2004 but much worse now), just tourist central, and the market was too crammed to be worth visiting. Look for one of the other markets if they interest you.

    I visited Ronda back in 2004 and enjoyed it, but for me the single best sight in Spain is the Alhambra.

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    Its been since 2002 since we have been in the Ramblas so I can comment about it recently but then it was pretty cool. Lots of restaurants, street performers, etc. We enjoyed it then. It was our first cruise BTW and we spent three days post cruise there.

    I will like to know how you are treated by the hotel desk personnel. They seem to have a reputation for being haughty and we have seen this 2 of 2 times, once in Barcelona and again in Madrid. I raised hell and got 10% off our bill in Madrid and and apology and free bottles of Champagne, Muscatel and fresh flowers in Barcelona. The guys in Barcelona had a tour package but wanted to sell it to me first BEFORE letting me know what it included. Bunch of bums.

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    Las Ramblas was crammed, over touristed, vendors, etc when we went there about ten years ago. Walked a few blocks and left it. There is so much beauty in the city that it is a shame to waste your time there.

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    Well, it's over. Time flies. And a lot happened during the last 2 and half weeks while we were gone, Brexit, Istanbul, just to name 2. Weather was awesome, way too hot, 30+ every day, even for the cloudy days. Will start to post TR in a few days.

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    Thanks Larry .... it's always nice to be home, to rest up ... :D. I think I am getting old. :(

    First off, this trip is going to be action packed and go go go almost every day. This is a total opposite to our last "relaxation" cruise to Hawaii with so many sea days. To maximize the time that we are going to be there, we took a late flight to Barcelona so we would arrive early in the morning and "gain" an extra day. This will only work if you can sleep on the plane ride over.

    We landed at 10 am and we got on our prearranged shuttle and arrived at the hotel by 11 am. Needless to say, rooms were not ready so we just left our bags at the hotel and ventured out on our own.

    Our hotel requirement was simple, be centrally located and walking distance to everywhere. We went to our trusted TA and she did wonders with our hotel pick, other than the price, which was not her fault.

    The hotel of choice was called the "987 Barcelona" hotel. We have never heard of this hotel before. The sign at the front was very small, a small plague of maybe foot and and half square and it read "Room Mate Carla".

    This is part of a hotel group called "Room Mate", and the one we stayed at happened to be called "Carla". There is also an Emma, and an Anna as well in Barcelona and they are appropriated called Room Mate Emma and Room Mate Anna. So what is the name of the hotel? 987 Barcelona or Room Mate Carla? The answer is well, both. It's confusing, isn't it?

    Oh yes, the price. We paid a relatively high price for our hotel. The reason? Timing. Nit de Sant Joan festival Barcelona 2016 just happens to be on June 24, it is also their biggest holiday of the year and the start of the summer holidays. Every hotel in town is booked solid. Live and learn.

    Larry, the front desk staff was friendly and helpful. They asked if we wanted to have our rooms upgraded to a suite but we stick to our "standard" room. They also offered us a breakfast package which is cheaper than what the restaurant operator charges.

    In the old days, the tradition for their Sant Joan day was on the night before the holiday (June 23), they will have huge bonfire at the street corner, and they would shoot fireworks into all hours of the night. The street corner bonfire were "limited" now due to fire hazard but we still managed to stumble over one. What they did with the bonfire was to burn everything they don't need or want, old clothes, old furniture, old books, anything old; in turn, it makes room for new things. I like that! Didn't get much sleep on the night of June 23, the fireworks were still going at 4 in the morning.

    Room Mate Carla (didn't it sound friendly and personal?) is centrally located with many restaurants and shops near by. It is only 2 blocks from Casa Mila, and block and a half to Diagonal. We walked around a 5 block radius and found all kinds of interesting places, including Museu Egipci de Barcelona, which was only 3 blocks away.

    After wandering the streets for a couple of hours, we had lunch and returned to the hotel and checked in, freshen up and took a stroll to Catalonia Plaza Catalunya (10 blocks?) and that's where we started our trek towards La Rambla.

    We spent most of the afternoon along La Rmabla. It was busy and there were lots of police presence. It was much better than I thought it would be after hearing all the stories. The stroll was pleasant, didn't buy much except for some cheapo souvenir and that's about it. The work displayed by the local artists/vendors were not interesting.

    We had dinner and a Flamenco show on our first night in Barcelona. We were surprised at the number of choices available, and after much deliberation, we took the advise of the hotel staff and they book us into a place at La Rambla. Not sure what the average cost is elsewhere but we paid almost 80 Euro per person for the dinner and show. The dinner was great, including all drinks such as wine and beer, along with a welcoming cocktail, pitcher of Sangria, and we were feeling pretty good before the show.

    Dinner started at 7:30 pm and it is early by Spain's standard, so it was the "early" seating. The dance show started at 9:30 pm and they moved us from the dining room to a separate performance room. We had front row seats, and glasses of champagne was offered. The show lasted about an hour, no photo or video allowed as it distracts the performers; except for the last 5 minutes, where they encouraged you to take pictures.

    With our front row seats, my ears were ringing after the show. It was loud: the stomping, dancing, singing, shouting, they were all loud. And when they dance, they were on top of us. Many times, the skirt narrowly missed us and I can feel their sweat flung towards us, not exactly sanitary but I guess that's all part of the experience.

    After the show, we wandered around some more along La Rambla and took a cab back to Room Mate Carla.

    As an aside, La Rambla (or Las Ramblas), came from an old Arabic word 'ramla' meaning sandy creek.

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    I'm with you on the older part. Getting bombarded with Medicare supplement plans these days. :D.

    Glad your hotel people were nice. Sort of restores my faith. Maybe their economic downturn has something to do with improved CS.

    I know what U mean about the noise. Had that in Delhi during Diwali. Glad I had ear plugs. :). There was so many fireworks that there was a smoke screen over the city in the morning. Bad for resp. Patients but helps keep mosquitos down.

    Wow that is cool about the Flamenco show. When in Madrid we saw a price of $200.00 pp! Skipped it! Probably should have asked the concierge for other options.

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    Larry, I guess the 80 Euro pp is cheaper than your $200 pp but it is a far cry from thursdaysd's reference above re Palau Musica performance from 30 to 48 euros for a 90 minutes performance. I would imagine the performance at the Palau Musica would be much better. The dates for the Paula Musica doesn't work for us anyway.

    Based on the 80 euros pp we paid, In my mind, fair market value, I would say 20 for the food, 20 for the drinks, 30 for the show and 10 for tax and gratuities. Overall, we enjoyed the food, the drinks and the show so I guess that's all good.

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    With quite a few days in Barcelona prior to embark, we have the luxury to day trip to nearby areas. Many people visit the Montserrat Abbey which is not all that far away, some may visit the "Holy Cave" (Santa Cova) which sort of is part of the Abbey area but it is a bit off the beaten path and not too many people will venture out there on the trail. To walk from the Abbey to the Cave will take about an hour and a half one way but if you have the time, it is well worth it. It is picturesque and if you are religious (Catholics) you will enjoy the "path of the Rosary", and the path of the Rosary included work from Gaudi.

    If you do not feel like walking the whole way down to the trail head while the path of the Rosary starts, you can take the cable car, and you have the option of one way ticket or return ticket. If you take the cable car down, you might as well take it back up. Most will walk down and take the cable car up.

    Our guide timed it so that we are in the Basilica when the choir was signing. It was awesome but be warned that the Basilica will be jammed packed during that time.

    A little bit of an unknown and a little bit even more out of the way is the Coves del Salnitre (Saltpetre Caves) in the heart of Mount Montserrat by Collbato. When we booked the tour and asked for the guide to take us to the Abbey and the Caves, we were referenceing the Abbey and the Holy cave, we did not even know this Saltpetre Cave existed. So it was a complete surprise (and a very pleasant one) that we ended up in Collbato.

    We showed up at the bottom of the hill, our guide called on her cell phone and the local guide drove down from the top of the mount and unlock the gate to let our car through. We drove for about 5 minutes through a tight twisty and stop at a dead end with a small area where you can park only a handful of cars (definitely no buses as there is no place for a bus to turn around). We climbed probably a couple hundred steps to get to the entrance of the cave where the local guide unlocked the steel door and let us in.

    This place is open to the public on limited hours on weekends and holidays only, and you must be accompanied by a local guide. Self guided visits are not permitted. Since we showed up on a weekday, it was by reservations and special arrangement only. We were the only people (the 4 of us) to visit the cave for the day.

    I am lost for words to describe it as words cannot do it any justice. Too bad I cannot share any pictures here. (However, you can google Collbato Coves del salnitre and look at the images if you are interested). We spent about 2+ hours inside the cave, our guide act as an interpreter to the local guide who is explaining to us what we are looking at. He is very detailed in his explanation and he appears to be more of a naturalist/historian/geologist than a tour guide. The cave is part of the Montserrat natural Park, maybe he is a Park Ranger?

    The tour took us deep into the caves. Although there are "paths" (if you can call it that), there are sections that we literally have to crawl to get through. If you are a XX size person, you will have challenges going through some of the "shortcuts" and may have to go the "long way". This adventure is not for the physically challenged. We thoroughly enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.

    Needless to say, on the remaining days, we spent time visiting Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, Park Guell etc. I am not going to go into any details of these areas as I am quite sure the information is all over the European forum. The only thing that I will say is that I am impressed with the outside of Sagrada Familia, and I am underwhelmed by the inside.

    We also spent a day out at Costa Brava and Girona. It was a long day trip as we left at 8 am in the morning and did not get back until 7 pm. It was a long 2 hours ride out and 2 hours ride back. The beaches are beautiful, the people friendly at the villages, and the old town at Girona interesting.

    The taxi ride to the dock was inexpensive, and the terminal at Barcelona is probably one of the best laid out I have come across. It was very comfortable with nice couches and free wi-fi! Since we have priority boarding, we were led to the VIP lounge where there were refreshment ready.

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    Sounds like you saw quite a bit pre embarkation. Definitely worth it to make that effort and climb all these stairs to see such natural beauty. I did google it. Amazing stuff indeed. I can see why a guide is must. One could easily get lost in there I would think.

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    The local guide (historian/geologist) at Collbato Caves is amazing. He explained the history of the cave, the geological formation and how it is connected to the Abbey. Apparently the monks found the caves (and there are many, this is the only one that is "setup" and open to the public), mined the Saltpetre and sell it for cash as Saltpetre is a key ingredient for gunpowder. The wealth from the Saltpetre financed the construction of the Basilica and other facilities in the early years. There are also "holy objects" inside the caves (geological formations that looks like holy objects). And it was also said that Gaudi was inspired by what he saw within the caves and from that inspiration form the exterior design of Sagrada Familia.

    Knowing what we know now, we probably would not have spent the day at Costa Brava and Girona. Don't get me wrong, it is worth a visit, and it was a great day and we had a great time. The local seafood is amazing (especially the grilled Octopus and fresh fish), and the history of Girona interesting; but I think there are better places to visit, especially with limited time pre-cruise.

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    Interesting about this inspiring Gaudi for his SF. I can see that.

    Also interesting how the monks used the resources to make money and used that to build their basilica.

    Did you have any paella while you were there?

    We stayed in Barcelona after our cruise. One days after we were out all morning and into the afternoon in the hot August sun we stopped for lunch. Well on or MT stomachs and already bit dehydrated we ordered a pitcher of Sangria with silly me thinking its just fruit juice a little wine. Well it has a LOT of brandy too. We drank it down like it was lemonade and before our food came we were kinda lightheaded. :D.

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    Larry, we only had paella once, at the Flamenco dance dinner. We love fresh seafood and just too good to pass on grilled whole fish and Octopus. I know, it's not everyone's cup of tea. I think we had grilled Octopus at least 4 times. :D

    We had more than our fair share of Sangria too, with temperature reaching 90 plus daily. We had it during lunch and dinner and all hours of the day ... some are stronger than others but we hardly notice the difference. That's the usual order as soon as we sat down. Normally, DW hardly touches any alcohol but she was downing a fair bit of Sangria with us and not feeling any pain (or heat). :)

    We drank a lot more fluid than usual to keep hydrated. We also drank a fair bit of Fanta Lemon (or orange). They are far more popular over there than here.

    Needless to say, between the Sangria and Fanta, way too much sugar. :(

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    Hey you don't have to convince me about octopus. I love it, Squid too.

    Alcohol is dehydrating actually. When I play golf when its hot no beer for me. Just H2O and gatorade. However a nice draft afterwards in the clubhouse is in order but then I am resting, sitting, eating, in the AC and usually drink a lot while playing so its ok. Luv the summer shandy!

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    If I can only use one word to describe embarkation in Barcelona, the word is comfortable. They probably have the best couches and seating arrangement at any terminal I have seen, and as I have mentioned before, free wi-fi. That should be a standard nowadays.

    We ordered a cab for 10 am and we arrived at the dock within 30 minutes. At 10:30 am, there was already a small group of people gathered, probably a few hundred.

    We went through the security line, filled out the health questionnaire and was directed to the VIP lounge for priority boarding. There is refreshment (food and drink) available but the room is small and does not have enough seating. On the other hand, the general waiting area is spacious and plenty of seats, still empty.

    It is a good thing it didn't take long for them to start boarding. It wasn't even 20 minutes after we arrived at the terminal and they make the boarding call. I didn't even have a chance to visit the refreshment table yet!

    Less than 5 minutes later, with cruise card in hand, we are on board. We went straight to the cabin and drop off my back pack and started to wander around.

    The Royal Princess is the first of the "Royal Class" ships, the successor to the all familiar Grand Class. Comparing to the Grand class, the ship is about 130 feet longer, marginally wider, and holds 3600 passengers; which is lots, but not really. Grand class holds 3100 passengers and RCCL's Oasis class hold 6300!

    The ship's layout is very similar to the Grand class so we felt completely at home with where everything is. The cabin's layout is identical to the Grand class cabins, size, amenities etc, with 2 notable difference.

    First off, the flat screen TV is huge, and the entertainment system built into the TV is intuitive. That is a big step up from before.

    The second thing is the shower. I guess you can get rid of the old cruise ship small shower stall jokes now. In comparison to the Grand class showers, it is down right spacious! There is even a small ledge (inside the shower) where you can put your foot up or "rest/lean" your butt there while you are cleansing, making the shower more user friendly. It is a small thing but a nice touch.

    To put more seats into the main Theater, they get rid of the aisles along the walls at the top seating area. Instead of 4 aisle-ways, there are now only 2. I think they are wider, but it created a huge traffic jam at the end of the shows. On the lower deck of the theater, the rows are uneven and have indentation along the center aisle so that you can park a wheelchair at the end of the middle aisle on every other row. This is nice as the old style theater has wheelchair spaces at the very top only, far far away from the stage.

    We used to be able to tell Port or Starboard based on the color trim of the hallway carpets, but not any more as the carpets on both side looks identical. However, they have a new color scheme to let you know if you are are at the front or the back or mid-ship.

    The Piazza is larger, and a lot more seating area. They also moved a few things around in the common area such as putting the Wheelhouse Bar and the Crown Grill together. All I can say is I liked the old Wheelhouse better. The gift shop is decided bigger and occupied some prime real estate.

    The pursers' desk (Guest service) and the Shore excursion desk are now both located on Deck 5, tugged away neatly behind the Piazza and opposite each other, with a small access and lobby area. They also locate the Spa to the same area at deck 5 as well, just past the guest service desk and at the very front of the ship.

    The Skywalker lounge is gone and is replaced by Club 6. New addition to the Royal Class is the TV Studio (Princess Live) where they do all the game shows "live", and broadcast it to the cabins' entertainment system where you can watch it live or at a later time.

    With the coffee card, you get 15 special coffee drinks, as well as "unlimited" premium tea and coffee. They now added free premium ice cream to the card. Other than International Cafe, there are also 2 more places to get specialty coffees, including one at the Lido deck.

    The milkshakes at the ice cream bar is gone. The ice cream bar is strictly soft ice cream. It cuts out the waiting as making milk shakes take time and created long line ups.

    The buffet layout are slightly different and is more wide open. The Grand Class ships has 4 distinct enclosed buffet areas and the Royal Class Ships has 1 large central buffet area with 4 identical sets of counters. There is a new "pastry shop" where special pastries/desserts are located. The pastry shop is considered part of the buffet area and is free.

    The food quality was exactly as we have remembered. The portion size of the appetizers and salads at the MDR are smaller, and they have remove the striploin from their everyday selection and replaced it with a specialty burger. There are still plenty to choose from, with local favorites and improved vegetarian selections.

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    One really bad habit that we picked up while we were in Barcelona and we carried it with us onto the ship was having a very late dinner. While we were in Barcelona, like the locals, we don't have lunch till 2 or 3 pm and dinner is around 8 or 9 pm. Needless to say, it is totally opposite to what we are accustomed to. We typically have dinner at 5:30 pm so we have the whole evening free to explore and enjoy the ship.

    On the first night, we didn't even think about dinner until it is almost too late. We strolled into the MDR at 8 om looking for food. To say the service is awful would be an understatement. It was beyond awful. That was probably the single worst we had ever experienced on a Princess ship since we started cruising with them almost 10 years ago. The server probably wouldn't cut it for the buffet clearing tables if I'm in charge. I can't even describe what went wrong or I can't even identify one thing that went right. From the orders were wrong, missed food delivery, food just sat at the station and getting cold, poor tableware setting (he delivered a fork for my dinner as I have none and he sort of "placed" the fork on the table and it ended up having the handle of the fork sticking out of the table), if you can hear a "thud" when a knife is placed on the table, it is not done properly; when dishes were clanging so loud next to your year when the table is being cleared, you know it is not done properly. If you can name it, it would be just done wrong. The ice cream was melting, the souffle had harden, it's just bad and I knew better that the kitchen is not the one to be blamed. Being the charity sort, we didn't say a word, just try quickly ate our dinner and get out, but we can't even do that. As it took him almost 2 and a half hours to take our order, delivered soups/appetizer, entrees and dessert. DW was tempted to walk out before the entree.

    Thank goodness that we were on anytime dining. Since we didn't like the server we had, we made reservations for the next day and asked for a different corner of the dining room and see if our luck would change. This time around, the service was like night and day. The servers were attentive, the timing for the food delivery was perfect, you hardly noticed that they were around serving us. They joked around with us and that was probably one of the better dining experience we had. Our faith had been restored. Funny how it is that on the same ship, in the same dining room, the service would be that much different. We asked to sit at the same table every night and they gladly accommodated us.

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    Yes that should be the standard for embarkation lounges but sadly it is not. The worst embarkation we've ever had was in Miami getting on the Oasis. I get that its big but the attitude of the attitude of the employees was horrible. I felt more like a prisoner that a guest about to get on the largest ship in the world. Once we got past the loud mouths we were treated well however. Nothing like someone with a million dollar attitude with an apparent 10 cent education.

    I like the fact that they did not build this ship to be so huge. Nice concept I think compared to whats out there now though honestly one on board the oasis it really did not feel like a 6k passenger ship. Good design for flow patterns I suppose.

    How big was that TV?

    If we are ever on that ship I will know to sit in the back of the theater so we are not in a jam to leave. I did not know that princess used different colored carpeting for P and S and do like the idea of a color scheme to let you know if you are F or A.

    I do like the additions to the coffee card and more places to use it. great idea. Too bad about not have the steak as a daily. I wonder if they would make it anyway? How much is the coffee card now? Any increase?

    Too bad about that terrible server. I assume you mentioned this to the head waiter as they are on a mission to please people. We had ATD on the Oasis and met a fun couple and asked to have a table with them very night at a certain time. No problem. They aim to please.

    Still following.

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    Larry, the Barcelona Embarkation port is first rate, from friendly people to comfortable facilities. You are right, I wish all port terminals are more like that.

    3,600 is big enough for me. I have never felt any Princess ships being too crowded with the exception of life boat drills. There are lots of public area and I felt that the Royal Princesses offered even more public area than the older Grand class ships. With the ships having mostly balcony cabins and some interior rooms (not ocean view cabins at all), there seems to be less people occupying the public open deck areas.

    The TV is at least 48 inches, and could be even bigger. It is almost the width of the double size bed, and less than 3 feet from the end of the bed.

    With the Theater, go to deck 6 for easier access, and go in from the port side as most people enter through deck 7 starboard side.

    On the Grand class ships, the hallway carpet has the same pattern and looks almost the same but one side has a red color trim and the other side has a blue color trim.

    The coffee card is now $31 (plus gratuity), still reasonable price for 15 specialty coffees, plus the free brew coffee and specialty tea and premium gelato. You can still use your old cards for specialty coffee as long as you have holes left. For the free brew coffee, premium tea and on on, you have to have the "current" card for the voyage.

    I chalked it up as an "oh well" moment. I am quite sure there will be others who will complain. First rule for happy travel: don't let any bad experiences affect you. There is going to be glitches and don't let the glitches ruin your entire vacation. Just let it go. I mentioned the incident for the simple reason that the service experience was so polarizing. The server team who served us for the remainder of the cruise were rewarded accordingly. We had a group of 8 and between all of us, we were so happy with them that they probably received at least a couple hundred $$/Euros extras from us. The Matri'D held the table for us for the entire time (without reservation) as well, sometime we stroll in at 6, sometime at 7 and the table was always open.

    Forgot to mention that there are 2 separate entrances to the any time dining MDR. One for walk ins and one for with reservations. We were told just to go in from the reservation entrance and go directly to the table. With that, why complaint? Maybe that server was having a very bad day.

    Next up, the entertainment.

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    The Princess entertainment line up did not change all that much through the years. The changes mostly has been evolutionary, with more "game shows" (reality TV?), and more elaborate Stage shows, mix in the comedian, magicians, vocal acts at the main theater. Different lounges with a variety of music for singing, dancing and listening pleasure such as piano players, jazz band, dance band, DJ, mix in with Karaoke and their "voice of the ocean" (used to be a simple Karaoke contest) and that's about it.

    I am happy to report that the string quartets are back on this cruise after not seeing them on the previous 2 Princess cruise. This time, they even have the string quartet playing with the Princess Stage Show band on one of the production show, as well a featured show on their own.

    Typical cruise ship entertainers are a mixture of "had been" and "wannabe" up and comers and Princess's offering is no different. The featured Comedian Scott Harris's act is quite unusual, not quite PG13 but without the profanity. He was nominated for best stand up comic in Canada which didn't say a lot.

    The magic act is Jonathan and Trisha Hawley, eliminated at the quarter final on America Got Talent. It really isn't all that magical as the tricks are all old tricks, maybe with a twist here and there so there really isn't anything new.

    We truly enjoyed the Westend Men (not boys) a vocal quartet from West London, UK. They are a bunch of no names (at least I have not heard of them before) but together, the vocal combination is fantastic.

    Late last year, with much fanfare, they unveiled "magic to do" by the Oscar, Grammy and Tony Award winning composer Stephen Schwartz. We did not heard a beep about this show on this cruise.

    The two production shows were both decent. One is called "What the World Needs Now", and the other one is called "Spectacular". Your usual popular tunes, choreography dancers, except to different themes. Although they always suggested no video recording, you can find them on youtube if you want to see the shows "second hand". I'll give both shows a passing grade.

    The Royal Princess has a "dancing water show" at he pool deck. I'll leave it at that. It's a much smaller (maybe 1%?) scale of dancing water shows like that on the Bellagio. It'll keep a handful of people interested. I'll call it a distraction rather than attraction.

    The movie line up at the movie under the stars was good, which is typical what see on the airlines and pay per view. Seeing the new Star Wars movie on the big screen is always good as it's something you can't do at home.

    With the addition of the Princess Live TV Studio as one of the venues, they take the game show at sea to a new level. Not that there is anything new, but they are always fun to watch as the contestants can blurt out something totally unexpected. From the usually trivia games (movies, tunes, etc) to TV show knock offs like Liar's club, Where is the world am I, Majority Rule, Marriage Match (think Newly Wed except it is older married couples and sometime honeymooners), they could be fun to watch. They actually taped it like a TV studio and broadcast it to the cabins live and re-run.

    One thing that they did that was somewhat unusual was the "Ye Olde Pub Night" at the vista lounge. I think they billed it as a pub night sing-a-long with the crew. What actually happened was more like a full scale production show sprinkled in with the audience participation. The cruise director staff were all there as part of the show, as were all the ship's dancers and the singers. I thought it was quite well done. The room was full (seats maybe 500+?) and everyone enjoyed it. That was a lot of fun. Song sheets was provided just in case you don't remember the words were not British.

    With so many port days and early arrivals, we didn't stay too late. Our routine was dinner, a couple of shows and then going to bed.

    The line up at the Piazza has always been a mix bag. The string quartet is back as a regular daily feature, 3 times a day. There was a guitar player, a juggler, and they "feature" (rotate) different acts from the entertainment venues into the Piazza at night and they also hosted some of the "dance party" there as well.

    I think Princess has always done a good job with their "education" component. My brother-in-law totally enjoyed the Discovery at sea (star gazing) and we thoroughly enjoyed the port talks. He actual come out and say don't go to this place or that place as there were nothing worthwhile to see, which was surprising. HE didn't plug any shopping or dining places either. For those who likes to go off on their own, he offered a wealth of information on how to get around on your own, time/distance walking/car from places to places, what to watch out for etc. The slide shows really helped as it illustrated the distance much better than a map. He wan't the mouth piece for the shore excursion desk as most people would think that's what his role would be.

    I hate to say it, after so many cruises, we don't go to the sail away parties, pool party, mid-summer new years' eve ball, the captain's events etc as they are almost always the same.

    The best way I can put it is that on a larger mega-ship, there are plenty of things to do. In our group of 8, there were 2 first time cruisers (26 yrs old) and they were busy running around to try to hit as many venues and shows as possible, and bemoan that there were too many conflicting schedules and they can't take in everything. BTW, they mentioned that the single mixers were boring and they can only handle so much of the immature "younger" kids. LOL.

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    48"! wow that is huge. Were y0u in a suite or jr. suite or is that standard now?

    Its so nice that you let that issue with the server roll off your back. I mean hey you are the big beneficiary and yes he's human. When you think of how many hrs. they work its surprising it doesn't happen more often. Bravo to the maitre'd for treating you so well. That is what I have come to expect from Princess.

    Your summary of the entertainment is spot on and it seems the same on most other cruise lines a swell more or less. I don't expect entertainers you will recognize but for the most part they do a very good job and of course they are hoping to move up in their field. There are more interactive venues like games as you listed and they are fun. Again its about having an attitude that you are there to enjoy and if you don't they maybe try harder. :S-.

    The guest educational lecturers we have seen are really pretty good for the most part. They had a very enlightening guy for our PC cruise and I learned a lot.

    We usually do the same as you. eat, hit a few shows, maybe walk around a bit have a highly overpriced drink and hit the sack. Then start all over. :D.

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    Larry, I have a regular balcony cabin. Besides, 48 is cheap nowadays, you can get them at Costco for less than $300, and imagine you are buying thousands of them at time. We have settled into a routine when we cruise and we need to add a bit more variety. We are keeping more to ourselves and less interaction with fellow passengers. With so many people on board, unless you see and meet the same people all the time, it is hard to build any rapport.

    And now, the ports.

    Cartagena was a blur. It's barely been a month, and we have no recollection of it. I have to look at the pictures to remember what we saw. We can see the Concepcion castle from the ship, and that would be one of our destination.

    Our guide took us to the Punic wall museum (??) where you can see the "remains" of the original Punic wall. We spent an hour there but easily could be only half an hour. The guide was quite passionate and went into some details of each exhibit. Next, we took a leisurely stroll up hill to the Concepcion castle. It was a long climb. The wild roaming peacocks kept us entertained and semi-motivated. There were a lot of stairs and steep inclines and this tour is not suitable for the unfit. We climbed to the very top of the castle where you have a great view of the surrounding area. The guide explained the history of the castle, the water storage system, and quite a few other things. In the end, it wasn't really all that interesting compared to other ancient sites. Took us about 1/2 hour going up, and another 1/2 hour coming down. The old city was okay, nothing spectacular. Maybe we have been spoiled by our time spent in Barcelona or maybe it was our previous adventures through ancient Rome and ancient Greece that render the place less memorable.

    Gibraltar is the only stop that we encountered some foul weather. It was foggy and we never did see "the rock" except peeping it through the cloud and fog. We took the Cable Car all the way to the top and visited the monkeys. I think they were over-hyped. The scenery from the top was the best part. With the fog entrenched, we only got glimpses of what the view night have been. The fog lifted ever so briefly for a few seconds to tease us with what's below and then the fog rolled back in again. We did managed to see the airport and how it was built in the middle of a freeway.

    We also stopped at the Siege tunnel (built in 1782) and the Gibraltar Museum before we headed back.

    I have been told that Marseilles is not particular a very nice place to visit. We never find out as we did not spent any time there. We got on a car and went straight to Le Pont du Gard. The car ride was more than an hour and a half and mostly freeway driving. Finding a pit stop was difficult except at the toll booths.

    We spent a fair amount of time at La Pont du Gard and admired the ancient Roman aqueduct bridge that stood for almost 2000 years. Funny thing is, our modern bridges don't even last half as long. This is an engineering feat even with today's technology. It was well worth the time spent to get here.

    After La Pont du Gard, we stop at nearby Avignon and explore their Medieval city streets. With limited time, we decided to skip lunch and spent a few hours visiting the "Palace of the Popes" instead. Needless to say, we were quite famished when we returned to the ship.

    Genoa is a relatively small place, everything close by and within walking distance, and venture off on your own is easy; although walking off the dock towards the old city was a bit challenging. We stopped at the old water front, San Lorenzo cathedral, Chiesa del Gesu and Ducal Palace. Make sure you pick up a local map at the information center, which is at the old waterfront, very close to the aquarium.

    A lot of people took the time to head out to Milan. For us, there was enough in Genoa to keep us busy.

    Livorno is the port gateway to Florence and Pisa for almost all cruise passengers. Is it worth almost 2 hours one way to go all the way there? You wouldn't like my answer.

    Okay, everyone wanted to go to Pisa and took pictures of the leaning tower, either holding it up or knocking it down. There is actually a whole lot more to see there other than the leaning tower. Unfortunately for us, they were all closed and we can only admire from the outside. The inside of the tower was open but you have a pay to go in and walk up. We decided to pass.

    Despite of the fact that we have tickets with an allotted time to gain entrance to the Accademia and see the statue of David, we still have to wait in line for almost 30 minutes in the heat to get in. The line up was long and it appeared to be unavoidable. We spent maybe an hour and a half in the museum due to time constraints, lining up for 30+ minutes to see an attraction is a very long time. You decide if it is worth the travelling and waiting time.

    We walked around the old town for quite a bit with stops at Ponte Vecchio bridge, Piazza St Croce, Giotto's Bell Tower and the Baptistery. Pay special attention to the bronze door panels located on the east side, and have lunch at one of the many restaurants lined along the river with a view of the bridge.

    The return trip to Livorno took only 90 minutes.

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    The final installment:

    Disembarkation was a breeze, we picked 9 am disembarkation with a private car booked to pick us up at 10 am.

    They were ahead of schedule on disembarkation and they called our group at 8:30 am, almost half an hour early. It took us all of 5 minutes to go from the MDR to the luggage area. The bags are already there waiting, no immigration and next thing you know, we are outside the terminal, more than an hour early, having to wait for the car.

    The Civitavecchia port had gone through some major renovation, it's been going for a couple years now, and I am not sure if it is all completed or not. This is what I know for sure: the main entrance to the port facilities is now located at the north end of the whole place. The cruise lines run a free shuttle to the main gate. The old main gate used to be on the south end by Forte Michelangelo, and from the Forte Michelangelo, you can see the train station, where you can take the train to Rome for cheap. Now that the main entrance is on the other end, it will be a 30+ minutes walk from the main gate to the train station.

    If you book a private car and they are licensed (like a taxi) to enter the port facilities, they will drop you off or pick you up right at the berth dock side. If you have a friend picking you up, that would be at the main gate.

    A couple of little things that I did not mentioned earlier:

    The Royal Princess Seawalk: it's cool but it wasn't scary as the whole walkway is not entirely see through, you can only look down in the middle of each pane. The edge of the pane was sort of "frosted".

    While we were on the cruise, the news of the Istanbul airport explosion was on. Istanbul was to be one of the port and there were discussion if it will actually dock there. We were on the 7 days so we are getting off. Those who booked for the 14 days would have Istanbul as one of the ports.

    The security was much more "in your face" during this trip, and we started to notice it after the Istanbul news. There were armed military presence, on foot patrols and Humvee, at every Italian destination. They were on the dock by the gangway. They were at the gate of the port facility. They were outside the Cathedrals, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Colosseum, Museums, Basilicas, Trevi Fountain etc. They were at all the major destinations. Not sure if it is something new, or been in place for a while, or was it in response to the soft target bombing in Istanbul. Either way, they were everywhere, in plain sight, in full camouflage, with fingers by the trigger.

    We have also noticed the cost of fresh food is getting much higher at the local markets. We went to Campo de' Fiori food market and the fresh produce was expensive. A fresh squeezed juice at a food stall was 3 euros!

    That's all folks! Feel free to comment or ask questions.

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    As beautiful as peacocks are is the degree to which the sound they make is like a shriek of of hell! During one of our trips to India we heard them wailing outside my BIL home at like 0300. Unbelievable sound.

    We were in a siege tunnel in Acco, Israel. It led to the med. Pretty cool to be there actually given the history of this city.

    Ive always wanted to visit Gibraltar and see that runway thru the city roads. Ive read that the traffic tie ups are horrid, at least at times.

    Our very first cruise way back in 2002 was on the Splendor of the Seas to the Med R/T Barcelona. We took private cabs at all ports and did the Pisa-Florence trip. This is where I learned that ships tours are way over priced. way over!

    In 2012 we disembarked in Civi too and like you it was a breeze. I had to wait at least 45 mins for our prearranged ride as we were done so early. This was on the Equinox. Our driver was quite emotional too when we got stuck in traffic. :).

    Not sure why fresh produce has spiked up. Maybe due to a weaker Euro?

    Well thanks for a great TR. I enjoyed tagging along wth you.

    BTW our cable system just added the Smithsonian channel and tomorrow they are showing a segment all about the construction of the X Quantum. We have a cruise planned for 12/17 on the Ovation, its sister ship out of Sydney.

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