B2B Barcelona / Venice Grand Med 12 days Sep 25, 2009 Venice / FLL Transatlantic 18 Days Oct 7, 2009
Princess Air: Routing - All Flights NWA + KLM. SFO / Detroit / Amsterdam / Barcelona. There was 2-hour layover in DTT and 90 min layover in AMS. Luggage was booked SFO / BCN and boarding pass with all seat numbers were given at SFO. All flights were on-time. AMS: There were self-serve kiosks for transfer (if one did not have seats for AMS / BCN). Longish walk from arrival gate to Immigration / Security. Be sure to stand in non-EU Lines! Took about 20 minutes. The nice attractive security lady asked me to open the carry-on, took out the travel umbrella and opened it. Took out the electronic luggage scale asked what it was. Then these 2 items went through the scanner again. At boarding a check-in lady went through the boarding line and took away many (including mine) carry-ons and tagged them and checked them. We got it at the regular carousel in BCN. BCN: We knew we would need carts because DW has an injured shoulder. We had between us 4 pieces of regular luggage (3 bottles of wine and chargers etc. take up space), and 2 carry-ons. We saw 2 small carts and were thinking of taking them downstairs to the carousel when a nice person tells us "Baja"and pointed and we see tons of regular luggage carts. We got 2 carts and exited. Princess Staff were right there and we gave our luggage to be loaded into the luggage bus and were led to the pax bus. At the port, there was security check first (20 minutes) and then check-in. We got our cabin cards and went next door to the Duty Free Shop that had good Spanish wines - bought 3 bottles and a simple corkscrew and charged them.
Inside the Ship: We went to our cabin (JJ Inside for first leg then BA for TA). The cabin steward Cerry came over as we are opening the door, greeted us by name, and opened the cabin door. Luckily, he was to be our steward for the full 30 days because the BA cabin was on the same deck 5 or 6 cabins away. We went to the Cafe Caribe for light lunch and then to the Sanctuary. We were disappointed that the Sanctuary is open only till 4:30pm so we did not make a reservation.
Port Sightseeing: We had a very active and sophisticated Roll Call with Ann & Ramah continually updating the Spreadsheet. So for some ports we had joined our CC members and some were with Princess.
Monaco: We just walked toward town. Finding the escalator was tricky. Naturally the main attractions were Grace Kelly related. Then we joined with another couple and took a cab to the Casino. But they would not let me in without an ID. We went to the casino next door and then walked down (about 30 min) back to the ship. Caution: remember to memorize some landmarks - we got lost in Rome and almost did not find our tour van. Rome: We booked the Princess Train to Rome and walked to the Basilica and looked for the Vatican Museum. There was a big line but there were many agents for guides offering entrance without waiting in line. We bargained the price down from 40 euros pp to 35. The agent gave us a slip with the price and took us to a guide who took us to a small office where we paid. There were about 12 of us with that guide and we by-passed the lines. The museum was very very crowded. We did not take a guidebook. To appreciate the Sistine Chapel one needs a diagram of the ceiling! Afterwards we went to the Basilica (no lines now). We then wandered around trying to get to the Spanish steps and then made our way back to the train station.
Naples: We just took the ferry to Capri, went up the cable car and wandered around. Try the small alleys away from the shopping street. We got 3 bottles from a small grocery store - the Barolla was excellent but the Monticello was disappointing. There are restrooms where the cable car comes up.
Athens: We joined the tour arranged by CC member Kathleen and it was excellent.
Istanbul: We booked the Princess Bosphorus with lunch. Very good value - gets sold out quickly.
Ephesus: We joined a tour arranged by Allen and it included the terrace houses which is a must. Remember to take bottled water - no food or drinks available after you enter the gates. Artemis Pillar - is it a hoax? Avoided carpet weaving. We did not go to the leather factory either - though others said that the leather jackets were a good buy. Venice: Princess After-Hours Tour of St. Marks. Expensive but worth it. Exclusive look at areas normally closed to tours. Got valporetto pass on first day. We has 2 nights on the ship. We found ATMs at both ends of Rialto Bridge - one did not accept foreign cards. The other one did.
Rome City Tour: Arranged by CC member Dorothy (&Joe): Marco of Romeconnection was superb. My Italian Lira dropped at Trevi brought me back after 40 years. Will the Euro dropped now bring me back? Remember to go down to the edge of fountain to throw your coin. Dorothy & Joe - may be we should have thrown some coins into your cabin to get us together on another cruise!
Naples: Joined CarolynR tour with Fabrizio (Allarounditaly). Great guy. Fabulous Lunch Barcelona: Sagrada Famila with CarolynR. As soon as we docked, 4 of us got a cab to Sagrada (20 euro total with tip). So we got there and were in the front of the line for the ticket office to open. Toilets are under the Sagrada (if needed). Join the line immediately for the elevator - gets longer and longer. 2 (or maybe 4) euros for the elevator. What a marvel. We read about how it took 100 years to build many of the cathedrals - Sagtada will take 50 years. From Sagrada took a cab to Las Rambla. We strolled the Las Ramblas, ate lunch, went to the market off Las Ramblas, then took cab back to ship. Cabs were hard to find at Las Ramblas.
Food: Rome - pasta with white truffle (20 euro - the most expensive pasta on the menu) but such a wonderful delicate taste. Athens: I asked the tour guide - she recommended Lamb Fricassee. The heavenly sauce. After I told her what I thought, the tour guide said it is a specialty in that restaurant and she always orders it. Naples Fabrizio's choice of the restaurant near Positano perched on a hill with a magnificent view and a 6-course lunch to match (only 25 euros with wine). Murano - wandered into a restaurant with a courtyard. Superb fried seafood platter - one of the best fried calamari. Las Ramblas - cannot be in Barcelona without trying Paella Marinara. On the ship: lamb chop, Pate (at breakfast in Cafe Caribe), and omelets with Jalapeno. Ship food was very good but not memorable. Our waiters - Napoleon and Sunil were excellent. And on the first leg - Maitre D' Generoso (so special) and cheerful Istvan (Headwaiter) made each dinner a joy. They both left the ship in Venice. Our tablemates on the first leg were a honeymoon couple from Spain - and we enjoyed our Spanish dinner wines with them.
Ruby: Our first time on this class of ship. Sailing into Venice watching from the deck - all teary-eyed pax. Captain Charming Tony Yeomans -- if you write your memoirs title it "Parallel Parking The Ruby Princess". We all held our breaths as the captain maneuvered it between 2 docked ships in Venice! Skywalkers: We were regulars here especially for sailaways. Vinod always welcomed us. The appetizers - especially freshly made carpaccio and guacamole. Do not miss going through the Rock of Gibraltar from a high deck.
Vines: About 20 of the 30 evenings we were here before dinner. On our first evening, Florian the Sommelier gave us a warm welcome and we were hooked. Florian knows his wines. And then there was the sashimi and ceviche superbly crafted by sushi chef Sajid for us. Oh! What a treat! We ordered wine by the glass and also by the bottles. Our favorites - Luce $90 with gratuity (for our taste it out-classed Opus) and our regular pinot noir Calera - a great value at $40.
The Piazza and the aft end of Ruby are different from the Grand Class Ships- the views from the golf link is great.
We get back from Rome and were walking to our cabin. A cabin door opens and a hand thrusts a bottle of Champagne into my hand and the door closes. I keep walking to our cabin a few doors away wondering. There are 2 glasses of champagne in it. DW tells me - it was Raymond (and Pam). We laugh and drink it in the balcony.
We are going to the Coop in Venice and run into our Steward Cerry. So I ask him if we can get him anything - embarrassed he says "Some Mints". We bring mints and some chocolates in a nice small light transparent plastic container. He looks at it and says - "I will take it home - my family must know that I have nice pax."
We meet a couple in Horizon Court. The wife tells us that they are enjoying the cruise. But they have a worried look. Her husband left the hearing aid batteries on their kitchen table. He has only one battery left and they are on these excursions and cannot get batteries. I tell them we will look for the batteries in Lisbon our next port. That evening we find a sample battery and a note in our mailbox. So in Lisbon, we find a watch store. No -- they don't have it - then I point to my "ear". "Ah" says the guy and comes out and points further down the street. We try another pharmacy - she points and says "Up". I tell DW there are only apts. above the stores and no stairs. DW says she saw stairs. So we cross the street and push a slightly open door. There are stairs. We go up and we are right in front of a Hearing Aid Store! We give the batteries to the couple late that evening. Next day we run into the couple -- she hugs DW and starts crying. She says "Now - my husband can hear." We tell her that she had faith in 2 total strangers and her faith led us to the store. She says it is Mitzvah. They send us flowers.
Cabin Get Togethers - wonderful wine and appetizers and conversations.
Thanks to everyone on our Roll Call that made the whole trip so memorable. Each one has to find what gives them joy and bring that way of life to their cruise.