Background We booked our cruise over a year in advance by utilizing Royal Caribbean International (RCI) certificate. (This provides for a discount on a future cruise; ship credit; and only a $100 deposit.) We asked our friends, Bill and Marsha to join us. Unbeknown to us at the time, they would be celebrating their 40th Wedding Anniversary at the end of the cruise. (How can I possible be old enough to have friends married this long??)
Later in the year, a good family friend, named Annie mentioned she loves to travel, but has a difficult time finding people to go with. We gave her our itinerary for upcoming vacations and welcomed her to join us on any of them. She jumped at the chance to go on the Med Cruise. We just made RCI Diamond Tier level on our last cruise. (Thanks mostly to some dear friends who are RCI cruise-aholics.) They told us about Cruise Critic,Roll Call, and Meet and Mingle. I must say, that this added to our experience. We got some great tips (See below); interesting information from previous cruisers; and got to interface with lots of fellow cruisers prior to the trip.
Tips: Tom's Port Guide. This guy has gathered tons of information about most of the port stops on this cruise (and others.) You'll find maps, train schedules, walking guides, and references to other useful sites. http://www.tomsportguides.com/portguides
Weather forecast. This site provides a 10 day forecast for every port on a cruise itinerary: www.cruiseoutlook.com
Armed with ideas of my own, Cruise Critic reviews, and Trip Advisor, I began to plan our excursions. Half the fun of the trip was the research. Did I make the right choices? Read on!
Husband Bob booked the cruise and coordinated flights using frequent flyer miles. To all in the know, the airlines do NOT make it easy to redeem miles. Surprise! There were no openings to use the miles for business class going to Barcelona. We live in Orange County, California. We elected to stay near LAX the night before, so that it would be easier to catch a 5 AM shuttle for a 7 AM flight to Newark, NJ. Annie also had an early morning flight on American Airlines, so she also stayed at the Hilton with us. United served soft drinks and coffee gratis for this 5Â½ hour flight. We were only able to check one bag free, so we both carried on one each, plus a backpack. Access to movies or TV was $5.99 for flights under 2 hours and $7.99 over two hours. In Newark, we changed to TAP, a Portuguese airline. They served 2 meals during the 8 hour flight and access to Movies/TV was free. We sat behind not one, but two couples with children under a year. Thankfully, they didn't cry much. TAP also served a sandwich between the 1Â½ hour Lisbon and Barcelona flight. When we arrived in Lisbon, we needed to go through Immigration and Security. We left Newark about 20 minutes late and arrived in Lisbon about 10 minutes late. This doesn't seem like much, but we only had 55 minutes. The design of the airport is such that we had to walk a long way to get processed and then a long way back to our gate for Barcelona. We were getting extremely nervous and were quite relieved that after only waiting 5 minutes, we were escorted ahead of a very long line. They held the plane for the late arrivals from Newark, (shew!)
The plan was for Annie to meet us at our gate in Barcelona, or we would meet her in baggage claim. And if necessary, she would take a taxi. Well, she wasn't at our gate, and after a long wait for our bags, she wasn't there either. We tried to look for her amongst the throngs of people at arrival, but could't find her. So.. We took the Aerobus and crossed our fingers she would find her way. The Aerobus was as easy as advertised for 5.95 euros. The walk to our hotel (Hotel Turin), took about 7 minutes from Plata Catalunya.
We were ecstatic that a room was immediately available at our noon arrival and that we did not have to wait until 4 PM check-in. We worried about Annie for a whole 10 minutes, until she arrived. We all decided to walk around to stay awake. Stopped and had Cappuccinos and a piece of pizza. Went back to the hotel around 4 and Bill and Marsha arrived around 5. After a bit, we went out again, sans Annie. (She was dead tired.) We walked through La Boqueria food market. We ended up eating at El Corte InglesÃ¢(EURO)(TM) department store top floor cafeteria. View was nice and the plates of food had generous portions, but so-so quality and price. We went back to hotel around 7 to try and get some sleep.
The Cruise Begins
DAY 1 31 May
We had to take 2 taxis to accommodate 5 of us with luggage. The cost was about 25 Euros each and we each gave a 5 euro tip. We arrived about 11:30 AM and it was not crowded. The person in front insisted that we all separate according to our status. Once inside, they said we could stay together. Our two couples each had Junior Suites, so we lined up in the Suite queue. For some reason, they only had one person working it, and all the other lines moved faster. We decided to go in the empty Diamond line, and they wouldn't let us. Does that make sense? Of course we headed straight to Windjammer. Even embarking on the early side, we could only find seats outside and to the rear. It was cool and breezy, but we were so excited to begin the cruise, we hardly noticed. When we went to our room at 1 PM, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our bags were already outside the door. It only took a while to unpack and our cabin steward, Dwayne from Jamaica-Man, introduced himself. We advised that we would like ice daily. (He dutifully refilled twice a day from then on.) Our next stop was to the Schooner Bar. (All RCI ships have them and all of them are great meeting places.) I couldn't wait to have a Coco Loco. It's a foo-foo drink that RCI serves on their Caribbean cruises, especially on their Coco Cay island. It was Yummy. Next we explored the ship. I couldn't even begin to improve on Middle Aged Drama Queen goes to the Med review of the ship and Med cruise ports, so I highly recommend it. It's well written, humorous, and informative.
At 3 PM, we went to the Viking Lounge for an informal meeting with the Cruise Critic Roll Callers from which we had been corresponding on-line. I particularly wanted to meet the people who we were going on excursions with prior to the RCI sponsored Meet and Mingle to be held later in the week. About 30 people showed up and I did get to match some faces with screen names. Unfortunately, Law Chick, our first private tour organizer, didn't make it. At 5 PM we went to the Diamond Lounge for our first time as members. Bob had a beer and I had a glass of champagne. It was very nice and we were welcomed by a friendly host. (Who later sent a bottle of wine to our room.) We were only able to go one more time, because of our busy schedule and the rest of our party was not eligible to get in. We signed-up for the early Main Dining Seating, which is at 6 PM. (Second Seating was at 8:30 PM, which we thought was a little too late for this cruise itinerary. (We anticipated that we would be beat at the end of each port day, and we were right!) Dinner was nice, as always. I don't think the food in the dining room is top quality on RCI. (Believe it or not, we think Carnival has tastier food in their Main Dining Room.) It is just nice to sit in a beautiful room and be waited on. Our waiters were Pablo from Dominican Republic and our assistant waiter was Fabio. Monte, the area head waiter from India, also visited the first night, and stopped to chat for a few minutes each time thereafter. At 9 PM we played in the Welcome Back General knowledge trivia, except for Annie who could not wait to gamble in the Casino. We did not win the game. (We usually do well and end up with a bunch of the silly key chains by the end of a cruise.) We were too tired to go to the Welcome aboard Show, which featured Gauchos. Still suffering from jet-lag, we went to our rooms to rest up for our big day in Cannes.
DAY 2 Cannes 1 June
I apparently slept like death, because when I awoke, I discovered that we had had a fairly rough night at sea. Everyone was talking about it. Then it was announced by the Captain (first female captain of a cruise liner, Captain Karin Stahre-Janson from Sweden) that she had elected to go around the worst of the storm, which caused us to arrive in Cannes late. She also advised that they would give us an extra hour in port. Bob and I went to the gym, which is well equipped and was never crowded. On our way back to our room, we walked through the Solarium and the Park Cafe. We grabbed an orange juice and coffee. This was a real find. The juice was much better than in the windjammer. It did not taste watered down. They also have yoghurt, muffin sandwiches and breakfast burritos. Note: The Park Cafe also has delicious roast beef sandwiches and made to order salads. We certainly were happy that we elected not to take any excursions and to just walk around Cannes. We just happened to be sitting in the Schooner Bar relaxing and awaiting the 11 AM trivia game, when the queue began forming at 10:30 AM for the 11 AM tender ticket disbursement. One person could get up to 4 tickets. The line began to get long, but it moved quickly once it opened. After winning trivia and putting our key chains away, the line was short to obtain a group tender number. RCI began calling the groups a little before 1 and we were called before 2 PM.
The weather was great! We walked down La Croissete Blvd. We came across the main building for Cannes Film Festival. It has handprints (like Chinese Theater in Hollywood) of many famous international stars. Next to it is a casino. Annie had always wanted to gamble on the French Riviera. It was small and not as ornate as you might expect. (Once you have been to Las Vegas, it is hard to top.) She played a little on a slot machine and we talked her into leaving 5 euros ahead, so she could say she won. We window shopped and then strolled through an outdoor fair that sold used silver, some paintings, etc. After that, we stopped at a sidewalk cafe. We ordered crepes (chocolate and banana), and cappuccinos. It was lovely. We saw a couple of wedding parties drive down the street honking and waving. Everyone was happy to receive Wi-Fi here and connect with home for a bit. (Note: Nearly every restaurant we ate at had free Wi-Fi throughout the cruise.) Dinner was formal that night. We had just enough time to make ourselves beautiful by 6 PM. We had another nice (not great) meal. I went with Annie to the Casino while the others went to the room for a few minutes. I put $20 in the video poker machine and got 4 Aces on the third hand. Took my $200 winnings, and left. Believe we began to recover from jet lag, because we made it to The Rat Pack show in the Main Theater at 9 PM. Guess what this was about? We enjoyed listening to the standards. They did a nice job of capturing the essence of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis junior. As always in the past and on this cruise, I was impressed with the RCI band and am very pleased that they have live music. From here on, you can just assume that during our time on the ship, "we" means Bill, Marsha, husband Bob, and myself. Annie will have spent her time in the casino. After the show, we went to our rooms to rest up for our big day in Florence.
DAY 3 Florence 2 June
Thanks to Cruise Critic Roll Call, we joined up with Law Chick (Cindy) and her son Ryan from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She had posted that she was looking for up to 5 people to join a private tour she had arranged throughRomeinlimo.When I saw the posting, I immediately checked with the others and advised we were in. When RCI changed the port to La Spezia, RomeinLimo recommended that we take Pisa off the agenda, because it would be too rushed and too much driving for one day. We took a vote and agreed. We were also advised to buy tickets on-line to the Accademia, where Michelangelo's David is located, for 2 PM. (1400 hrs.) When we disembarked in La Spezia, we took a very short shuttle ride from the dock to another area. There we were met by Martzia. When I saw the sign she held up that said, "Cindy" I was relieved. All was going according to plan. We jumped into a Mercedes Sprinter, which can hold 8 people, and off we went. On the way to Florence (Firenze, as the Italians call it), Martzia regaled us with a wealth of knowledge regarding the history and current information about the area. The countryside was beautiful. After seeing our interest in the olive oil and wine industry of the area, she asked if we would like to make a side trip to a place that made their own wine and olive oil. We all agreed that it would be a marvelous thing to do while in Tuscany. Unfortunately, due to our Accademia commitment, we had to go to Florence and stroll around for about 1Â½ hours, go for wine tasting, and then come back to Florence by 2 PM. Fortunately, this addition was still a wonderful experience.
Upon arriving in Florence, Martzia gave us a map and told us where to meet. She had told us earlier that June 2nd (that day) was a special day in Italy. It is the day that all of Italy unified and voted for just one president of their country. (Each Provence previously had its own leader.) Lo and Behold, on Piazza della signoria Square (where the fake David is on display) there was a ceremony. A military band was playing and Italian soldiers were marching. Next, we went to Ponte Vechhio Bridge (saw locks on the statue). None of us wanted to miss anything, so we bought a piece of pizza and ate it while we walked. The time flew by.
Next we drove for about 1Â½ hours to a place called Fattoia San Michele a Torri. We were greeted by a charming woman named, Nola. Nola advised that the Florence area of Tuscany specializes in Chianti wine. She showed us the storage tanks and their large vats. After that we sat down at a large table with baskets of homemade bread. She placed bread on the plates and drizzled olive oil on them. Although Martzia had already explained the process, Nola told us again. We were told that the olive oil should be cold- pressed the same day the olives are picked and labeled accordingly. I thought that it would be delicious, even though Nola warned that they did not use salt in their bread. It had a peculiar taste. I looked across at Marsha sitting right next to Nola, and observed that she was also stifling a grimace. I had to suppress my laughter. When Nola was not looking, I put my finger in some of the olive oil on the plate to determine if the funny taste was the bread or the olive oil. Guess what? The extra virgin top of the line oil tasted yucky. Perhaps I am used to good ole Trader Joes in the US, but I just could not get into it. Others in the group thought it was good, so what do I know??? She explained that the farm was organic. Next she poured us each a bit of their least expensive chianti. Nola advised that this wine was not aged as long and was a bit sweeter. She also showed us how to swirl the glass to see the veins that run down to determine the alcohol content. She showed us how to look at the edge of the wine against white to see if the color was purple (new wine) or deeper burgundy (aged wine.) Naturally, we were given the opportunity to purchase wine and olive oil. The prices were pretty reasonable, but shipping was expensive if wanted to send to U.S. We bought 2 bottles of wine and elected to carry back. Bill, Annie and Cindy shipped their purchases.
We drove back to Florence, and got there at about 2:30. Martzia arranged getting our tickets changed and there was no problem getting in to see David. It really doesnÃ¢(EURO)(TM)t take too long to stroll through and we were all surprised that the statue was huge. Martzia highly recommended that we visit the Bargello museum, but there would be no time to shop. Bob and I went to the museum while the others strolled through the city and bought leather purses. The museum had a lot of statues by very famous artists ( Michelangelo, Bernini, etc.) and only cost 5 euros. It was very impressive and we were grateful to Martzia for this find. I intend to write a positive review for the Rome In Limo experience and our fabulous guide.
We got back to our ship a little after 5 and were exhausted after our long day. After dinner, we attended the Welcome Back Reception held in the Safari Club at 7:45. These are an opportunity for a free glass of wine or a rum punch. (Some people say it is watered down, but I like it.) There are always a few words from the crew and live entertainment. We were unable to attend the 9 PM show for the evening, which was a Royal Caribbean production about Broadway musicals that made it to movies.
DAY 4 Rome 3 June
I arranged a private tour through Rome in Limo, and noted on Cruise Critic that we had openings for 2-3 persons. Stacey and Pam (from Atlanta) joined us. They were a delightful couple celebrating their 20th anniversary. Annie elected to do Rome on her own. Our driver, Nicola was waiting at the pier at 8 AM and off we went. Driving in Rome is crazy, and Nicola did a great job maneuvering through the traffic and providing narration at the same time. Our first stop was Trevi Fountain and unfortunately, they were cleaning it and we could not throw in our coins. Nicola drove by many sights and explained the history of Rome and its architecture. Our next stop was the Coliseum. We had purchased tickets on- line for 12.00 euros plus a 1.50 euro on-line fee (as recommended by RIL) and were able to walk right in. (There was quite a line to purchase.) It was amazing! A must see. Next we went to the Forum and then the Pantheon. Nicola made reservations for us at a nice little restaurant prior to visiting the Vatican. (Sorry, I forgot to write down the name.) I had spaghetti Bolognese and everyone else had pizza. We paid about 10 euros each for lunch. We had made reservations on line (again as recommended by RIL) for 2 PM for the Vatican. The on-line reservation queue was very short and we by-passed thousands of people waiting to purchase tickets. We paid 16 euros plus a 4 euro on-line fee. We were advised that crowds were greater due to visitors and pilgrimages coming for the new Pope Francis. Once inside, it was horrendously crowded. The people basically pushed you through the tour. We elected not to get a private guide for the Vatican. Nicola told us what exit to take to be sure to get to St. Peters Basilica and it worked. The wrong exit leads you out with no way to get to the basilica. The Vatican is another must see, but it would have been so much better if it had not been mobbed. We had a whirlwind of a day. Rome was not built in a day, nor can you really see it in one day, yet we sure made the best of the time we had. We got back a little after 5 and were exhausted again. We met up with Annie, and she advised she had a very pleasant day in Rome just window shopping and people watching. She thought the transportation through RCI was fine. Again, I intend to write a glowing review of our RomeinLimo day.
After dinner, we were once again too tired to attend the 9 PM show. Brooks Aehron, a pianist, was the headliner. Guess I'm getting old, because I had to rest up for our next big day.
DAY 5 Pompeii, Sorrento & Positano 4 June
Bright and early at 8 AM, Vincento (Vinny) from RomeinLimo was waiting for us at the pier. This time, we were joined by 3 people from Las Vegas who responded to my post. (Gina, Rob and Wendy.) We all piled in the van and off we went. Our first stop was Pompeii. RIL recommended a private guide for Pompeii and we all agreed. The cost was 100 euros. What a great decision! Vinny introduced us to Roberta, who was fantastic! No way could we have learned as much, nor enjoyed our time without her. She had degrees in history and archeology. Roberta took our money (11 euros admission price each) and was able to go to a special window and get us right in. We were glad that we got there early, as we could tell that it would be crowded as the day went on. Next, we drove to Sorrento. What a scenic drive and a beautiful place! Vinny took us to a great place for lunch. (il Leone Rosso) This was the best meal we had the entire trip! The best Caprisi (mozzarella and tomato) Salad ever! Bob ordered a fixed price 3 course meal of veal, which came with dessert. His vanilla and chocolate custard cannelloni was scrumptious. To top it off, they served everyone free Limoncello at the end of the meal. (Local lemon liquor.) I thought it was good, some thought it was too sweet.
We had about 45 minutes to shop. Sorrento is known for its hand-crafted inlayed wood. Vinny pointed out the best store to buy it. I thought it was expensive, but mostly because I could not think of anyone, including myself that could use any of the items. I bought a few small bottles of limoncello and wished I had bought a few other souvenir things, because, Positano, our next stop, was very expensive.
The drive between Sorrento and Positano (The Amalfi Coast) was as beautiful as advertised. The houses on the side of the cliffs and the blue-green water are a sight to behold. Once there, we walked down to the ocean, put our toes in the Med, and walked back up. There wasn't time to do much else. Vinny didn't share as much history as Martzia and Nicola had, but he was very personable. He shared that he was about to get married and invited us all to his wedding. He also shared that he liked to cook. When we were about 5 miles from the dock, it started to sprinkle. When we got in line to check back into the Serenade, we observed that Pam and Stacey (from the day before) were soaked. They also went on a private RIL tour with Cindy, but they visited Pompeii last. They got stuck in a downpour. Wow! Timing is everything. At the end of the day, Vinny presented us with a bottle of Limoncello as a thank you gift from Rome In Limo. What a nice surprise! After three trips with Romeinlimo, I can highly recommend them, and this method of excursion. I recognize that Royal will not be held responsible if you are late or something goes wrong, but it sure turned out great for us!
When we got back to our room, we had an invitation to have dinner with the Captain the following night. (We were invited to the Captain's table on our last cruise on the Monarch. This was mostly due to our high standing friends. Seamus, Monarch's maitre de was charming. We asked him if it was possible to arrange for our friends to dine with the Captain on the Serenade, as a 40th Anniversary surprise. Seamus, sent off an email to Vitor. When we found Vitor, he was not aware of the email and told us that the Captain makes the decisions. He advised that he would speak to her, but there were no guarantees. Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised and Bill and Marsha were delighted.)
We ate at Chops Grille at 7:30, which is $30 per person, but includes all the food on the menu and tip. The meal was excellent. I love crab cakes and was not disappointed. At the end of this very long day, we were so happy that we would finally have a sail day to recover. We did not attend the show, which was a singer named Michelle Murlin.
DAY 6 Sea Day 5 June
It felt great to sleep in and go to the gym. At 11 AM, we went to the Meet and Mingle gathering. This is an event that is sponsored by RCI if more than 50 people sign up through Cruise Critic. It was hosted by David of the cruise director staff. He was lots of fun. They served non-alcoholic drinks and snacks. They also gave each attendee a pouch that can hold passports, money, etc. They can hang from your neck to hide under your shirt and also have a loop to slide onto a belt. We had won these on a cruise before. Bob actually used one when we were in Barcelona and in ports. It has secure zippers and Velcro closures. (Tough to pick-pocket.) Several prizes were given away at a raffle. It was very nice of them to do this. I just would have liked to have met everyone earlier in the cruise.
Annie was the only attendee at the solo travelers lunch. There were lots of activities throughout the day. I elected to lounge by the pool. Although the stated policy is that saving chairs is not allowed, it is not enforced. Unfortunately, I have learned that I need to place a towel on a chair by 10 AM, and even at that, it will not be close to the pool. If you want a nice padded chair in the Solarium, suggest you place your towel by 8 AM.
At 5 PM, the Captains Champagne Toast was held in the centrum. This conflicted with Trivia held in the Pub. As one might guess, there were a lot of Brits in the pub all the time. We lost the game, but enjoyed a beer.
At 8:20, we were instructed to meet at Vintages Bar prior to the Captains dinner. We joined the maitre de and 2 other couples from Canada. It turns out that they were all celebrating their 20th anniversary. (They had met while planning their weddings at the same church on the same day, and had been friends ever since.) Dinner was fabulous and was served with red or white wine. The dessert was a yummy chocolate bottomed almond tart filled with fresh berries. Best dessert of the cruise! Captain Karin shared her history and was nice company. (She confided that while in port, they would be working on plumbing problems. We heard that the cruise which followed us was delayed in Citavechhia/Rome due to those problems. I noticed sewage smells here and there throughout the ship during the cruise, so I was not surprised. Glad we booked for this week. Each person who attended the dinner was presented with a picture of those attending with the Captain and with a copy of the menu. Bill and Marsha loved it! Once again, we missed the show starring Hanna Starosta, a singer. (We usually see all the shows, so this cruise was quite different for us.) After dinner, we joined Annie in the casino. (Unfortunately, she was not invited to the Captains table. I truly wanted to decline and stay with her, but she insisted we go.) We went to bed around midnight looking forward to our days in Venice.
Day 7 Venice 6 June
At 11 AM we went to the Progressive Trivia Game, which were held on sea days. We missed the first game in the series of four, due to the Meet and Mingle. We asked a nice couple (Sara and Jacoma) from India if we could join them for the remainder of the series, since they had played the first round. The host of the game was Bjorn, from Jamaica. (Name doesn't fit, does it?) He was very friendly and we enjoyed his humor throughout the cruise. We were not scheduled to arrive in Venice until 3 PM, but got there early.
At about 2 PM, we could begin to see the beautiful Italian coast and the islands. Unfortunately, our cabin was not on the side of the ship for the best view. Bob and Bill went upstairs and took lots of pretty pictures. The view of St. Marks square is amazing! Marsha and I were happy with the lesser view from our balconies.
By 3 PM, we were able to disembark. We walked to the people mover (1 euro), then to a station to buy a 36 hour Vaporetto (water-taxi) pass which cost 25 euros. The advantage of the water taxi was that we could catch them at several stations throughout Venice and could also take it to Murano the next day. (RCI sold 2 day water shuttle passes for $40. It was closer to the ship and went straight to St. Marks Square. From there we went to St. Marks Square and walked around. I found a stand that sold ice-cold belinis in a bottle. It hit the spot. We found a nice little restaurant for dinner near the Rialto Bridge. After dinner, it was twilight and the lights on the canal were beautiful. We saw a gondola station and went for it. We paid 80 euros, excluding tip for a Â½ hour ride. Our gondolier took us down many quaint side canals and pointed out historical points of interest. It was well worth it. We made our way back to the ship around 10 PM. (There was no show that evening for us to miss, which was smart of RCI. They showed movies.)
DAY 8 Venice 7 June
We wanted to get an early start and left the ship at 8:30 AM, so we could be at St.Marks by 9 AM. We waited in a short line to see the lovely Basilica. Then we waited in another short line to buy tickets for Doges Palace. There was an art exhibit in the apartments, so we elected not to see that part. The remainder of Doges was impressive.
Next, we took a water taxi to Murano, famous for its glass. We looked in lots of shops. One store had a free glass blowing demonstration. A while later, we paid two euros each to see another glass blower make a vase and a horse. We had a nice lunch in Murano. I bought a set of six shot glasses. Marsha bought 3 candy dishes. We took the water taxi back to crowded St. Marks Square. We observed that there were long lines for the gondolas; that there were lots of them in the waterfront; and that the route just did not look as nice as our ride near the Rialto bridge. The boys had figured out how to walk to the casino for Annie. It cost 10 euros to enter, but then she was given a 10 euro voucher to play. She only visited for about 20 minutes while we rested our feet.
After that, we shopped a bit. Annie and I bought nice leather purses for souvenirs. We were really beat when we returned to the ship around 7. We ate an OK meal at the Windjammer. At 8 PM we played, What's That Tune game and lost. Afterwards, we played cards with Bill and Marsha in their room. Annie went to the Casino, naturally. At 10:30, there was Masquerade Party at the Safari Club.
DAY 9 Ravenna 8 June
The ship arrived in Ravenna early. Annie and Marsha elected to stay on board. Bill, Bob and I bought round-trip shuttle tickets at 9:30 AM ($14 ea.) into town, which takes 15-20 minutes. (It would be a very long walk and more expensive to take a taxi, if there were any.) The bus stopped in front of a high school. It was their last day of school and the kids were spraying shaving cream, soap and water at each other. We found our way to the Basilica of Saint Apollinare Nuovo. We bought a combo ticket for it and Saint Vitale for 11 euros. This was a smaller church with beautiful mosaics. From there we walked to Dante's tomb. Lastly, we went to the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and Basilica of Saint Vitale. The mosaics in these places were vibrant and impressive. We were glad that we went. I stopped in a market and bought some local olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and spaghetti for souvenirs. Afterwards, we headed back to the drop-off point. (I was impressed that the school was already clean.) We returned to the ship at about 2.
We wandered into Ritas Cantina and ordered excellent guacamole and chips (worth the $2.95 charge) and margaritas. We were pleasantly surprised about the buy 2 get 1 free special and that they were only $6 each. It is located just outside the Windjammer and we were the only ones there. At 5:15 we played trivia in the pub and won. We finally had dinner in the Main Dining Room and enjoyed Pablo and Fabio. At 9 PM we played TV tune trivia and lost. At 10:15, Jack and His Magic Beans aerial show was at the Centrum. I saw the rehearsal earlier in the week, so did not attend. It only lasts about 15 minutes, and it is entertaining. (There was another aerial show in the Centrum earlier in the cruise. I forget which day, but it was also good.) The headliner that night was Paul Hazell, a hypnotist. I do not care for them, so we did not attend.
DAY 10 Dubrovnik 9 June
The ship arrived a little earlier than 10 AM. The Dalmation Coast of Croatia is beautiful! Who knew?? We all bought shuttle tickets for $12 each and left around 10:30 AM. We were dropped off just outside the wall/pile gate. We bought tickets for about 11 euros to walk on top of the wall. Annie only went a little ways. Marsha and I went half way, and the boys walked all the way. The view from the wall was fabulous. The Adriatic Sea was a perfect light blue. Back on the ground, the city within the walls has lots of little cobblestone streets, shops, gelato, and eateries. There is a church and a monastery. We were told that scenes from HBO's Game of Thrones were shot here. We bought a couple of T-shirts and stopped for a beer. Annie had pizza. We got back to the ship around 4 PM.
At 5:15 we won the trivia game at the pub, again. We enjoyed our dinner and then played and lost another tune game in the Schooner Bar. For some reason, we did not attend the Royal Caribbean show that night. We did attend the 10:15 Rock and Roll party in the Centrum. The cruise director and his staff put on quite a show. We could watch from our 10th floor. It lasted around Â½ hour.
DAY 11 At Sea 10 June
I finally got around to watching the morning show with Casey Pelter, Cruise Director. He outlines the daily events and reads Jokes of the Day submitted by cruisers for a prize. Marsha submitted a joke, but did not win. We went to the gym and then decided to have breakfast in the dining room to kill time until 11 AM trivia. The meal was the worst one of the cruise. I ordered cream of wheat and it had the consistency of glue. Others complained that their eggs, pancakes and toast were not tasty and not warm. We were glad we only tried it this once.
At 1 PM, Bob entered the $10 slot tournament. He made it to round 2. Later on, we went to Ritas Cantina again, and indulged in guacamole, chips and margaritas. At 5:15 we played the trivia game in the pub and won.
This was another formal night. We had 7 PM reservations for Giovannis Table, so we dressed nice, but not quite formal. The food was very good and cost $20 extra. (Tip included.) The appetizers were delicious. Due to our dinner conflict, we were not able to go to the Exclusive Top Tier Event at 7:45 PM for platinum members and above. This is typically like the Welcome Back event. We did not attend the show starring Bruce Parker, but I would have liked to. Heard he was good.
DAY 12 At Sea 11 June
I submitted the answer to Casey's question to name each member of his staff and where they were from. I won a pouch with a key chain, pen and highlighter, which was delivered later in the day. He read my joke, but it did not win. By 11 AM we were ready for the final progressive trivia. We ended up winning by 8 points, with great help from our Indian partners. More "crap to pack", as Casey would say. We took pictures and exchanged emails with them. After that, I laid by the pool for a while. We started packing in the afternoon. Even though we did not buy much, we were glad that we brought a zippered bag to carry some of our merchandise. (Including 2 cartons of yucky cigarettes we bought my mother as her souvenir. Duty free lowers the prices greatly.) I like that tips are taken out automatically, but we like to reward extraordinary service. We gave a little more to Dwayne, Pablo and Fabio and Monte. We also usually bring a few one dollar bills to give to drink servers who are special. We only ended up doing this a few times, because we were in port so much more of the time. We enjoyed our last meal and we finally caught the last Farewell show. The headliners were Duo Amnr. They juggled, and did some aerial things. The Royal Caribbean singers and dancers sang a couple of numbers. At 10:30 we were treated to a British Invasion rock fest in the centrum that lasted about Â½ hour or so. We got back to our room in time to put our bags out by midnight.
Barcelona 12 June
Disembarkation began at 6:30 AM. We had booked a private tour for 8:30 AM, so we were not in a hurry. (Since we could not check in until later in the day, we thought it was a good way to pass the time.) We got our bags at 8 AM and waited Barcelona Day Tours was punctual. Georgie introduced himself and away we went. We stopped at Mountjeric (Hill overlooking the city and the location of a fountain where they have a weekend show for free.) We also saw the stadium built for the Olympics. Next we drove out of the city and up a curvy road to Montserrat. I had read that the childrens choir sang at 10:30 AM, but it was actually at 1 PM. Georgie was very nice and said he did not want us to miss it and that we could extend the tour a bit. He advised us to get inside the monastery Â½ hour prior to assure a good view. Montserrat was not very crowded when we got there, but it grew and grew. Bill and I decided to take the Funicular and visit Santa Covy (Holy cave). It is said that the virgin Mary appeared to two children at this grotto. After the ride down the hill, there is a walk (up and down with lots of stairs) to the cave. Along the way, there are 15 statues that were commissioned between the late 1800s and 1930 that depict the 15 mysteries of the rosary. Many of the artists are famous. (Gaudi, among others.) We were not aware of this gem and were very glad that we happened to see it. We made it back just in time to meet up with the others and go inside the monastery. (Bill almost missed the funicular and we would have had to wait another 20 minutes.) There was a really long line, which I assumed was for the choir. It turns out that it was for a close-up view of the Black Madonna. (It turned dark because it was hidden underground during their civil war.) It was also very crowded to get in to see the choir. We ended up at the back, but we did have a view. They sang beautifully. We met Georgie and he took us directly to our Hotel Turin. He insisted that he did not want more money for the extra hour. We tipped him generously. I will write another positive review for this company. (RCI also had an excursion to Montserrat, which dropped you off a Plata Catalunya. This was the most competitive excursion I saw.)
We went to our rooms for a few minutes and went right back out to sight-see. We walked through Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) and to St. Marys Cathedral by the Sea. Then we walked back toward our hotel and noticed that there was a La Caixa machine at Plata Catalunya. We went in and bought tickets for La Sagrada Familia the next day. We all agreed that we would like the option of an English speaking guide (for same price as audio guide). It cost 18 euros each plus 1.30 euro fee. We found the gelato place we liked from the first night in Barcelona. This time, I had vanilla with almond and chocolate chips. Umm-Umm! For dinner, we ate tapas at a little place near the hotel. A while after that, Annie and I went back out for dessert. We found another close place and ordered Barcelona's famous hot chocolate and churros. The hot chocolate is a little thicker than ours and the churros are small finger-shaped sugar donuts. We retired around 10 PM.
Barcelona 13 June
We enjoyed our breakfast at the hotel. Then we found our way to Gaudi's Casa Milo (La Padrera) and Caso Batllo. The architecture is quite unique and is a must-see. We were not too far from our hotel, so we elected to go back for a short rest. Big mistake, because Annie and Marsha were tired and decided not to go back out. Bob, Bill and I took a bus to La Sagrada Familia for our 1300 or 3 PM tour. There was a long line to purchase tickets and we were glad we bought them in advance. We met with our guide in front and she took us on a very informative 50 minute tour. Her narration was transmitted via radio headphones. She explained the reasons for the various structures. She pointed out that one of the stained-glass windows was just completed the prior week. After the tour, we were welcome to go back inside and view again at our own pace. It is very large inside, and did not seem too crowded. She pointed out where we could buy tickets from the inside to ride the elevators in one of the towers, to avoid the long line out front. Yeah! (There was no option to buy entrance with a guide and a tower in advance, but you can buy non-guide with tower. Humph.) It cost 4 euros. Once at the top, the view is great. We also got a close-up of the construction still being performed. We were informed that the goal is to finish the basilica by the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death. This would be June 2025. This is another must-see!
Next we went to Parc Guell. (pronounced Gway). We read that the best way to get there from La Sagrada, was to take a taxi. We found one across the street and it was less than 6 euros. He dropped us off at the entrance. It would have been a long mostly uphill walk. The park was beautiful. (Have I used this word a lot?) We walked up to the terrace and saw its lovely view across the city and to the ocean. The entire design is something to behold. It was very crowded, as advertised, but not so much so that you could not see. We walked downhill from there to catch a bus back to our hotel. It was probably Â½ mile or more away.
Marsha and Annie were waiting in the lobby. We decided to walk a bit and find a place to eat. Annie had mentioned that she went to a good local place for lunch. She said they had great lemon pie. We did not find anything that looked any better, so Annie agreed to eat there twice. The food was good. Most of us had stone-fired pizza. Rather than have dessert there, Annie and I took the others back to our place for hot chocolate and churros. We headed back around 9 PM to pack and get ready for our early start the next morning. We did not do Barcelona as I had thought. There is a lot of nightlife, but I guess we just got too old and tired to partake. We did make the most of the days. We had booked a room with breakfast without knowing that it began at 7. We spoke to the hotel about an adjustment and they said they would make it. The night before we left, they delivered bags to us for breakfast the next morning. (Apples, yoghurt, breads, juices.) We were told that this was instead of price adjustment, which would have been fine with us. Later we found out that an adjustment was also made. How nice was that???
Journey Home 14 June I had arranged a private transfer from the hotel to the airport through Barcelona Day Tours since all of our flights were within an hour of each other. They told us they would pick us up at 6:30 AM, for a first flight of 9 AM. They were just a few minutes late, but were responsible by calling the hotel to let us know they were running behind. Annie had a flight that went from Barcelona to Madrid then to LAX via Iberia. Bill and Marsha had to go to London, then Chicago, then Champaign. They had no problems. Although our bags made it with the tight Lisbon/Barcelona connection on the way to Barcelona, they did not make it on the way out. Our bags did not arrive in Newark to clear customs. We were told that we would have to file a claim at LAX. This was bad, because we took advantage of being allowed to check 2 bags free with business class and all we had with us with was a few items in the bag and our backpack. (No toiletries.) We stopped by my mother's to pick up our dog and got home around midnight Friday. The bags were finally delivered to our house at 4 PM Sunday.
Summary I highly recommend this cruise and itinerary. The crew and staff were friendly and attentive. The Serenade of the Seas is a lovely ship that is well maintained. The ports were fantastic. I think that private excursions through Romeinlimo and Barcelona Day Tours were definitely the right choice, for both seeing the sites and best values. I recommend going to their websites and comparing them to RCI's excursions. It was fun to run into fellow excursion mates and Cruise Critic members in the ports and on the ship. My main recommendation to RCI is that they improve the food in the Main Dining Room. I did not care for much of the new menu and miss many of the old items. (No lobster night, no crab cakes, no cherries jubilee, for example) I also think that they should not charge for the shuttles in Ravenna and Dubrovnik, when there is no other option. I recommend going to Barcelona a day early to acclimate and assure that the bags make it. We are definitely considering another European cruise through RCI. This was a great vacation!