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Good cruise, Great Itinerary
Europe - Western Mediterranean
Arrival: We flew through Heathrow from the west coast of the US. The flight allowed us to arrive the evening before the cruise which helped with jet lag. Pre-cruise stay was at Hotel Amister. When we arrived we were told the hotel was overbooked and we would be transferred to their apartments by Plaza Catalonia. While a pain at first the apartment met our needs and was in a good location. Cost of a taxi from airport to the hotel was about 20 Euros and Hotel Amister paid for the cab from the hotel to their apartments. We had dinner at Cata 1.81 in Barcelona that night. Great tapas and wine. We decided to sleep in the next day and go straight to the ship. Took a cab which cost about 13 Euros, based on other reviews I was surprised at the low cost. Even speaking some Spanish it took a minute to explain to the driver where we wanted to go. Luckily there is a picture of the port (Moll Adossat) on the taxi rate sheet on the window of all taxis. When in doubt just point. More
Embarkation: The computer system was down, which caused long lines and delays. Took us about an hour and a half to get on board from when we arrived. Once the computers where up things moved quickly.
Cabin: We stayed in a mini-suite which met our needs. No real perks for being a "suite" other than a larger cabin size. Room stewards were good, but failed to meet our requests to convert the third bed into a couch during the day.
Ship: The ship layout was good and everything seemed to be well maintained. I was pleasantly surprised with the size of the pools and they did not feel overcrowded. It was tough getting deck chairs by the pool (not so much of an issue in other areas), but I am not much of a sunbather, so it did not bother me. I had gotten the soda package with my booking and used it throughout the cruise. There were enough bars that getting refills was not an issue. Casino was nice and never crowded. Played in one poker tournament (during the day at sea) and one Blackjack tournament. I enjoyed the poker tournament, but the structure of the Blackjack tournament (7 total hands) was weird. We did not see any of the shows as they were not of interest to our family. My wife went to a wine tasting, which she enjoyed. My daughter enjoyed the kids' area (included in the cruise price until 10:30 pm).
Ports: We did all ports on our own using public transportation. More info on each port is available in my port reviews.
Restaurants: We ate in specialty restaurants 6 of the 7 nights for dinner. The food was good overall and I have no complaints about quality. Le Bistro and sushi at Jasmine Garden were my personal favorites. Cagney's was also very good. We had sub-par service at Jasmine Garden for the regular menu, but good service with the sushi. Tex-mex was not bad, but not worth the cover charge in my opinion. We ate in Alizar one night and the food was good, but below the quality of the cover charge restaurants. I will say however, that the best service we received other than at Le Bistro was at Alizar. We had the teppanyaki one night food and show were good, but not as good as land based teppanyaki restaurants (they cannot use fire). We ate at the buffet for breakfast every morning. I actually really liked the food and selection at the breakfast buffet. Getting a table was tough at times.
Debarkation: Was a pretty simple process. We chose to walk off the ship with our bags which made everything easier. There was a long line for cabs, so you may want to consider getting off as early as possible if you have to make a flight. We stayed in Barcelona for 3 days (details in my port review below), so there was no pressure for us.
Overall this was a good cruise with great ports. I did not mind the Hawaiian dEcor and did not feel nickled and dimed, although I went into the cruise with my eyes open on how NCL makes money. The service was hit or miss. Where good, it was excellent. However, there were others that did not care and just went through the motions. With the auto-tip policy this can be expected. I did appreciate those people that went out of there way to provide good service knowing that they would pool their tips with others that were not trying at all. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
After our return to Barcelona we stayed at the Olivia Plaza hotel in Plaza Catalonia. This is a modern decor hotel in a great location. I would stay there again. My only complaint is that the AC in the rooms is not especially strong. Cab from the Port to the hotel was about 15 Euro. Barcelona is a great city with so many options for sightseeing and, better yet, eating. Over our three days we visited the Picasso Muesum, the City History Muesum, Casa Mila, Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Las Ramblas and Tibidabo. Of these Sagrada Familia is the top of the list and Tibidabo was a unexpected surprise. I would also recommend a picnic at Parc Guell. We picked up sandwiches, fruit, sausage and other supplies from La Boqueria for about 20 Euro (for 5 people) and then took the metro to the Parc. The metro system in Barcelona is great and easy to use. Take the 5 minutes to figure out the map, buy a 10 trip ticket (7.70 Euro) and you can see the whole city.
Our port was Livorno which is a massive industrial port. Because of the Jade's 8am arrival time, we decided to rent a car rather than take the train (we did not want to wait until the 9:11 train). Rented from Sifracar the local Hertz outlet in advance for 120 Euros including GPS and Insurance. They were waiting right off the ship and the paperwork took less than 15 minutes. We had a Peugeot automatic with a child seat for my daughter. Drive to Florence was simple on the highway. Driving in the City is tougher, but not too much different from Boston, New York or San Fran save for the scooters. Parked under the train station for 13 Euros. Parking was easy. We walked to the Duomo and climbed the Bell Tower (all 414 steps) -- great views, but I would not recommend this if it is hot out or if the tower appears crowded. We had lunch at "I Fratelli" which was a great deal. Sandwich (best of my life) was 2.50 Euro. Went to the Uffizi after luch with pre-booked tickets. For me this was a must see, but is not for everyone. If you are going, you should pre-book. After the Uffizi we went back to the care and drove to Pisa. The drive was easy and Pisa is much less difficult than Florence. Plenty of parking near the Field of Miracles that is outside of the ZTL (locals only driving zone). We spent about 45 minutes in Pisa, mostly taking pictures. Drive back to Livorno was simple, but we did hit some traffic on the way out of Pisa. Hertz was waiting at the dock to get the car and we walked right on the ship.
We walked off the ship in Monaco and climbed the stairs to Monaco-Ville on the Rock. Climb is tough but there are great views. Easy to find, just walk towards the cliff from the pier. There are elevators down the block, but we decided to walk. Went to the Oceanographic Museum first. This was a good value and we enjoyed our time there. It takes about 1 1/2 - 2 hours to see the entire museum and aquarium. After the Museum we walked through the small old town area and saw the Cathedral and palace. There are many places to eat, although we bought sandwiches and ate outside the palace. We ended up not going to the Casino. Monaco was a nice first stop.
Naples is a bit hectic and harder to navigate compared to Florence and Rome. Cab drivers in Naples are very aggressive at the port and it can be a bit intimidating just walking out of the port building. We took the ferry to Sorrento. However, because the signs at the port were wrong and there was no one to help, we missed our intended 9:00 am ferry. If you are doing this on your own, keep your eyes open and don't assume the signs are correct. We took the 11 am, and it turned out to be plenty of time. We paid 1 euro in Sorrento to take the bus from the port to Piazza Tasso in the middle of town (no steps this time) Sorrento is a great little town and we particularly enjoyed the lemon grove. We ate at the San Antonio restaurant and had great pizza, pasta and wine. Just walking through the town and visiting the shops was a nice break after our two sight filled days in Florence and Rome. We caught the ferry back without a problem and were back on the ship with plenty of time to spare.
After a day at sea we had no real plans for Palma and walked off the ship without any idea of what we wanted to do. As a result we almost hooked up with a cab driver for a tour, but the price of 80 Euros for only 2 hours seemed steep, so we looked into public transportation. While we were figuring out what to do the HOHO bus (bus #50) pulled up right outside of the port building. It was 15 Euros for the adults for the entire day and hits all of the major sites in the Palma area. We got off at the Cathedral, which is a must see. For 4 Euros to enter, this was probably the best buy of the trip. After the cathedral we visited the Arab baths which are interesting but small. Only 2 Euro to enter. We walked to Plaza Major, and the walk through Plama was very pleasant with a good mixture of shops, cafes and public squares. We ate tapas about 2 blocks from Plaza Major and then got back on the HOHO bus to Belver Castle. After that we took the bus back to the Port. For those without set plans in Palma (i.e. the beach, Soller, caves, etc...) I would recommend the 15 Euro investment in the HOHO bus.
In Civitavecchia we took the free port shuttle from the ship to port entrance and walked to the train station. Walk is easy and took about 5-10 minutes. Our goal was the 8:59 train, which we were able to catch. When you get to the station be sure to check all of your options for buying a ticket and do not just settle for the long line to buy tickets from an agent. There are auto ticket machines and you can also buy tickets from the tobacco shop in the station. We purchased the BIRG ticket for 9 Euro so that we could use the metro as well. Remember to validate the ticket in the yellow box. Also check the track for the train to Rome. We took the train to Roma-San Pietro and then walked to the Vatican. We pre-booked Vatican museum tickets online. However, because it was a Wednesday (the day of the papal audience), the line was short even if you did not have tickets. Museum is amazing, but is too much in one day. At some point we broke down and just headed for the Sistine Chapel, which was amazing. We also visited St. Peter's, which is a must visit. After the Vatican we had lunch on Borgo Pio. My rule in tourist areas is to pick the quietest looking restaurant, which we did. I forget the name, but the food was good. After lunch we walked across the Tiber and to the Pantheon via Piazza Navona. After getting seeing the Pantheon and eating some gelato, we made the neccessary trip to Trevi Fountain to make our wish. We took a cab to San Pietro station (about 10 Euro) and caught the 5:35 back to Civitavecchia. This was cutting it pretty close as we walked back on the ship at about 7:15, with a 7:30 all aboard time. Rome was worth every second. There was a cab at the Civitavecchia station offering rides directly to the ship for about 10 Euro/person.