After our experience with our flights to China last year, we decided to go first class all the way. USAir has the “Envoy” business class of service which sounded great and it lived up to its hype when we got on board for the Philadelphia to Barcelona, Spain leg of our flight. The service was ok, but the seat was fairly comfortable to where we can actually sleep. The food was fairly good, hot and tasty. We received the use of Bose headsets with the flight entertainment system. We did not feel as tired getting off the plane as we did last year in China.
After immigration, we had to hunt for the NCL personnel to find our bus transfer to the ship. They were not clearly identifiable like the Royal Caribbean representatives, our reps had their NCL logo was hidden behind their clip boards and their lack of English made the situation worse. After finding out where the bus was, we got on the first one even though there was no room on the bus for our luggage.
Airport to port transfer
Even though we paid for the airport to port transfer via NCL, the bus company they contracted was awful. They wanted to take everyone on a 3 hour excursion of Barcelona before taking us to the port. After the first stop, everyone on the bus revolted and we demanded to be taken to the ship. Upon the arrival to the port, NCL were embarking passengers so there was no need for the bus to not allow us to be at the port until after 1:30 pm.
Since we were in the Haven suites, there was a separate line to get our photos and ship ID cards. We were whisked away to the Haven meeting room and then escorted to the ship. We got a brief tour of the Haven amenities and then we got our suite. It is smaller than depicted on the NCL website but it was spacious enough for the two of us. Plenty of storage space to put away our clothes. We found the coffee maker really didn’t produce any good coffee but at least it provides hot water for our tea each morning. Our luggage showed up with the room steward and he introduced himself to us.
We met the butler and later the concierge personnel. We went over the list of items with the butler and then unpacked. We then ate at the Epic club restaurant and retired to our suite. Jetlag got the best of us as we both nodded off in the balcony/solarium waiting for the room steward to turn down the bed.
We woke up early as usual to a beautiful sunrise. Breakfast arrived as the butler sets everything up. Other than the coffee, it tasted great. We went to the Cruise Critic meet and greet meeting to see if our fellow riders of our shore excursions will show up. We met some of our share a shore ride mates for lively conversations. We explored the rest of the ship and gambled a bit. There are quite a bit of slot machines in the casino area, more than any other ship we’ve been on. We tried the slot tournament but neither of us were in the running for the top prize. Played 3 card poker with no luck there either. We booked the Cirque dinner and show and we were not disappointed with the venue. We decided to not sit on the floor but instead in the balcony so we wouldn’t strain our necks and be able to see everything much clearer from above. Our hats off to the performers to do the show in such a confined space. The contortionist was amazing, we call her “pretzel” girl as she puts her body in positions we thought were impossible. All in all, we highly recommend this show.
We met part of our group in the Atrium Café area and waited until the last minute before heading out to meet our driver Franco. The rest of our group finally showed up and we hopped into 8 passenger van. The roads in Naples were very narrow and very curvy. We drove up into the mountains to Alfani, Sorrento, Palistro, and Capri. We stopped in mountain side restaurant for lunch and it was delish with lots of food courses. The lemon shot was insane.
Our last stop was Pompeii with our tour guide Patricia. She is very knowledgeable as she guided us through the ruins. The rocky roads during the tour just about did us in with uneven rock roads and lots of walking. Back on the ship, it was Chinese medicine night.
We went to the Legends in Concert show after dinner and it was just an OK show. Music way too loud and much of the music is not our cup of tea.
After gathering up our group, we met the driver, Max, on time. The van was more spacious this time around. What was amazing was all the farm land on our way from the port to Rome on our 1 hour drive. Our first stop was the Coliseum. Max provided historical information throughout our tour which was very good. He dropped us off in front of the Coliseum and then came back to escort us inside to bypass the ticket lines. We spent about a half hour taking photos and videos. We waited for the last of our group to show up at the meeting point and of course they were late. Max reminded everyone to be on time as other places do not allow him to park the van for extended periods. We drove to the Circus Maximus or what is left of it before heading to the Trivi fountains. It was utter chaos, so many people. We then stopped for lunch to finally get a taste of the real Italian pizza and gelato. The pizza was good, basic taste with no overbearing ingredients. The pistachio gelato was very yummy. Next stop is the Vatican museum. St Peters Basilica, and Sistine Chapel. We met our guide Roberta and toured the Vatican museum. She is an excellent tour guide. A brief stop in the Sistine Chapel and then to the huge church. We never made it to the Pantheon nor the Arch of Costantine. Afterwards we boarded the van for ride back to the ship.
All of us got off the ship in plenty of time to meet the driver, however, the port is chaos in terms of drivers, taxis, and other operators. Our lazy driver decided to wait in the van until 10 minutes prior to our meet time while we all stood around looking like stupid tourists. Finally Marco shows up and we hopped in the van. His English is terrible which is probably an omen for the rest of the day. First stop was Pisa where we spent an hour taking pictures with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Very light crowd so were finished looking at things quickly. Next, he drops us off near the tourist sites in Florence and told us to meet back in 4 hours. One of our fellow riders printed off a map so we have some sense of where things are but we all parted ways going off in different directions. We took pictures of the church exterior and walked around a bit but then met up with one of the couples as they looked for a restroom. We decided to have lunch together so we found a little restaurant. We ordered a pizza and it was fantastic. They ordered pizza plus a salad along with red wine. Afterwards we decided to hunt for the so called “Market”. We found something that looked like a market and I taught her the art of bargaining. At this point, DH looked tired so he rested on the steps of a church while we continue our shopping. Then we all headed to the rendezvous point on the Pontevecchio bridge full of jewelry stores. We got some banana gelato while we waited for the driver to show up. Last stop was the Church of Santa Croce but we decided to just park ourselves in the van while the others went into the church. After the St Peters Basilica, the other churches just seem so ordinary. This was by far the worst excursion on this cruise. We basically paid for a taxi driver and we did all the walking around. We were pooped so we decided to try the “Taste of the Orient” theme at the Garden Café buffet. The food was so so but the amount of unruly children was just too much. We won’t be doing buffet anytime soon on this trip.
We decided to not do any excursions so this is our “vacay” day on the ship to recharge our batteries. I went to get a manicure which took an hour. The rest of the time we played cards and rested. We went to Cagney’s for dinner, it was ok as we had better on other ships. After losing some more money playing 3 card poker, we called it a night.
We booked the NCL “Magical Train to Sollar” tour but it was not anything magical about it. We got a bus with 50 of our closest neighbors and drove around stopping at a church, then a village with a monastery where Chopin wrote his music. Then to Sollar to catch a train back to Palma. The train ride was just that, nothing spectacular, way below our expectations. We should have skipped this excursion.
We decided to get off the ship as early as possible so we had our stuff packed pretty much the night before so we had some bananas, packed the remainder of our things and got off the ship in speedy manner. We got on the transfer bus and headed straight to the airport. After 14 hours, we made it home safe and sound.
In summary, our decision to go first class on the flights was the best idea along with Bell transportation to and from the airport. Having water bottle carriers was great to have on tours.
• Do not use Rome Limousine or NCL sponsored tours.
• Do not use the airport transfers unless your flight is within 3 hours of ship departure.
• Do not book NCL cruises.
• Do not use RFI blocking wallet, sets off security alarm at checkpoints.