A flight cancellation by American Airlines changed our original plans putting us on a red eye flight to JFK from Los Angeles with a nine hour layover followed by a second red eye trip to Barcelona. We decided to make lemonade with the bowl of lemons we were handed and I located "Family in New York", a tour company that offered layover tours into New York City. I am so glad that we did.
Scott, the owner, was our guide. He was there waiting when we landed and whisked us off for coffee and bagels before we could blink. For the next six hours we weaved our way throughout the city as Scott shared a bit of the history of the area and we visited the "must see" sights. I would love to return for a longer visit. He had us back at the airport in plenty of time and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
We arrived in Barcelona at 8:00 am local time and took a taxi from the airport to our hotel, the Barcelona Universal. Luckily for us the hotel had one room available so we were able to check in early and take a nap before heading out to enjoy the city. That evening found us participating in a wine and tapas walking tour led by Daniel from the "Spanish Trails" tour company. Even the light rain couldn't keep us from having wonderful time. I highly recommend this tour if luck finds you in Barcelona. The next morning we purchased tickets for the blue Hop On Hop Off bus. This turned out to be a perfect option for us. We were able to tour the city stopping at places of interest to us, walk and explore, and then get back on to head for a new area. It is worth noting that the narration was available in 8 languages heard through headphones included with the ticket.
The next morning found us walking to the port to begin our cruise. We hailed a cab for the final leg of the trip once we realized that a long bridge stood between us and our ship, the Spirit. Embarkation was a breeze taking no more than a few minutes. We were excited to see the reservation desk for the specialty restaurants in the terminal and we along with some new Cruise Critic friends quickly reserved our spots at the Chef's Table and the Jazz Brunch for our 2 sea days. After boarding we headed for Windows for lunch and shortly afterwards to our room on deck 9 (9680).
The room was small but adequate for our needs on this trip. I did miss not having a refrigerator in the room however. The balcony, our first, was a delightful addition. We enjoyed opening the curtains and the door as much as sitting outside. The fresh air and the view were wonderful. Arnold, our room steward, did a fantastic job of taking care of us and a great job of decorating the room for my husband's birthday. He never failed to greet us and ask about our plans or our day.
The trip, as the brochure says, is definitely port intensive. Do not expect this to be a relaxing 12 day trip. You will be on the go 10 of the days whether you take excursions or explore the ports on your own. Most evenings we fell into bed shortly after dinner. This was the first cruise ever( this was #10) that we never made it to a show or an evening activity. A couple of nights we even ate dinner in the buffet because we were too tired to change clothes after a day off the ship. We did enjoy Windows, the Garden, sushi, Le Bistro, the Blue Lagoon, the Chef's Table dinner, and the Jazz Brunch while on board. We had no complaints about the food anywhere and I can't say enough about the Chef's Table dinner. The 3 1/2 hours we spent enjoying the nine course dinner and the wine pairings went by in a flash. The dinner was only offered 2x on this cruise and we felt fortunate to be among the 12 at our seating. We also enjoyed the Jazz Brunch and felt it was a great bargain at $15 pp. although it seemed a bit disorganized.
NCL should consider the Captain, Lars B., one of their greatest assets. In another life he could have been a stand-up comic. We actually waited for his announcements, "Well, good news tonight. All the chickens made it home to roost." It is obvious the crew feel privileged to be under his supervision. The Spirit is the happiest ship we have cruised on. Everyone seem to love their jobs and enjoy conversing with their guests from the top on down. I am sorry they won't be returning to U.S. ports because we would be using our Cruise Rewards to book a trip from anywhere closer to home.
We alternated private excursions with self-guided tours (Rick Steves Guide to the Mediterranean Ports was invaluable). We chose "RomeinLimo" for Rome and Florence, sharing the van with 4 of our roll call members and "Ephesus Shuttle" in Izmir with just 1 of the couples. Both companies did a wonderful job at a more than reasonable price and we would highly recommend them. These stops would be difficult to manage without an excursion of some kind because of the distance from the port. On the other days we toured the town on our own; walking, riding buses and metros, and taking water shuttles. These were actually my favorite days because we got a better feel of the town, met many wonderful people and ate fantastic local food. In Naples for example, an older gentleman rode the bus with us just to make sure we made it to the Archaeology Museum without a problem. He spoke no English and we no Italian but it is amazing what you can express through gesture and minimal words. In Istanbul we shared lunch at a local restaurant with a couple from London visiting the area for a few weeks before heading to their summer home in France.
The ports are amazing! We were unable to stop in Athens but Crete was substituted and we had a fun day there shopping and eating the local food. I wasn't brave enough to experience the pedicure with the fishes nibbling at your feet but saw many women and men taking advantage of the 10 euros trial offer. We did find some oregano flavored Lays potato chips at a food stand that were delicious, wished they sold that flavor in California! Take time to read a little bit about the history of the areas you will be visiting. I wish I had brushed up a little more before this trip. It is awe inspiring to be standing in and near areas thousands of years old. Do wear a money belt and be careful of your belongings. Fortunately we had no problems with pickpockets in any of the cities we visited. I brought along several travel skirts with hidden pockets and my husband and I both had jackets with inside security pockets. I did not take a purse off the ship and had no need for one as the pockets provided plenty of secure space to carry a camera and phone.
Our trip ended in Venice with the fastest disembarkation procedures we have ever experienced. We wisely had made reservations to stay an extra night and I wished we could have stayed longer. Our hotel, the Arlecchino, was located just a people mover ride from the port and very near the bus and train stations in Plaza Roma. The Grand Canal was just a short walk away. We really enjoyed the location away from the crowds at St. Mark's and appreciated the included breakfast. The bus ride to the airport took about 25 minutes at a very reasonable cost of 6 euros each.
All in all our trip was wonderful. We have memories to last a life time, thousands of pictures, and many new friends. The Spirit was a lovely smaller ship, immaculately cared for, with good food and a delightful staff. What more could we ask for? If you are considering this itinerary do not hesitate to book it. You will never regret your decision.