I booked my 7 night Mediterranean cruise on Voyager of the Seas through a TA. I used an agent because I wanted everything handled and I used this because my parents used them for a cruise they took a few months before mine. Using an agent was a waste of time. No matter what I asked her, she never had an answer besides "I'll call Royal Caribbean" or "look online". Now if I wanted to do leg work for this trip I wouldn't have used an agent, and I could have called RC myself. I expected a travel agent to be able to provide me with expert advice on a hotel for before my stay, but she referred me to the internet. The one tip she gave me was that the RC sponsored hotel I chose was supposed closer to everything than the other RC hotel I was looking at, which turned out to be wrong. She also didn't know that I could buy a post cruise transfer after I did my own airfare and when I called to ask her she had to call the cruiseline. This agency specializes in cruises, how could she not know? Better yet, why couldn't anyone in her office tell her? In the end, when my final documents didn't appear, I called the agency to find out she no longer worked there (no surprise though a call from them to inform me would have been nice) and that RC no longer mailed documents as they were all online. The last time I spoke to my agent she told me to look for them in the mail so there was another thing she didn't know.
All I can say is that with RC's easy to use website and the uselessness of the agent I had I would book my next cruise myself instead of via "remote" control the way I did this time.
The hotel I spent 2 nights at pre-cruise was the Hotel Gran Havana in Barcelona. As I did my own air (saving $300 over RC's air) I had to get myself to the hotel. My friend the Spanish teacher assured me taxis were fine so that's what I took. I have some rusty Spanish under my belt (I was nearly fluent once) so it didn't bother me that the cabbies only speak Spanish, but the people behind me weren't so lucky. Be warned if you decide to use a taxi and don't speak Spanish. As the Havana is a hotel RC suggests for this cruise, I'll mention its highs and lows.
The Hotel Gran Havana was clean and nicely decorated. The lobby did look a little worn, but my room was in good shape. In a shocking turn of events, my flight arrived so after my unairconditioned taxi ride, I arrived at my hotel at 8:30 a.m. (the time I was supposed to land) feeling rather grungy. I didn't expect a room, but I thought they'd give me some place to clean up and change. No. They stowed my bags and told me to come back at 3:00! Jetlagged and dazed I stumbled out into Barcelona and roamed around for 3 hours until my sanity began to return and I realized I smelled, I hadn't seen a bathroom in about 5 hours and my feet were now bright red and twice their normal size. I went back to the hotel to relax in the lobby and whether a room freed up early or they gave me someone else's to get me out of the lobby, they gave me a room by 11:30 a.m. Breakfast is included for RC guests, but get there early or it gets picked over.
I'll also note that this hotel isn't that close to sights or food. Had I gone with one on Passeig de Gracia there would have been fancy and casual places to eat everywhere. The Havana was nearish to a few fancy places that I wasn't comfortable walking to in the dark as I was a woman traveling alone. The bad travel agent strikes again. This was a nice place to stay, but at least two blocks to the right would have been a better location. If I had it to do over, I wouldn't stay there again simply because everything was too far.
There was an RC agent at the hotel for a few hours a day, but they mostly were there to push excursions. I was interested in taking one, but none of them met at the hotel or anywhere near it. To do one I would have had to figure out how to get myself to the meeting place and then how to get back to the hotel. No thanks.
The transfer from the hotel to the ship was perfection. Bags by the door by 9:40 and meet in the lobby at 10:40. My bag was at my door by 9:20 and it was picked up immediately. Ten of us met in the lobby at 10:30 and were put on a huge, mostly empty, well air conditioned bus with 4 other people. We were on our way to the ship by 10:35. At the terminal things started out organized as you checked in via deck level line, but once you did that, no one knew where to go. There was a herd of people to my right so I went over and wasn't sure if they were the waiting to board herd or a herd trying to get a beverage from a slushy guy. As I couldn't get near his table and I wasn't sure if they were free or not, I hung back and waited until the herd began moving forward to board and slowly became a line. Lots of stops and starts along the way, but it didn't take as long as I thought because by 12:05 I was on the ship, had eaten lunch and was sitting up on deck.
First day and a half Barcelona harbor and the ocean:
They told us rooms were ready at 1:00, but as a previous cruise had shown me what management announces and what housekeeping does are 2 different things, I waited until 1:30 to go to my room and still found the entire hallway of rooms being cleaned. Once I could I put my bag in my room I did and went up on deck not to return until 5:00 when I wanted to use the bathroom before the 5:15 muster drill. Thus began my dance with housekeeping.
As I walked back to my room, I saw suitcases outside doors, but mine hadn't arrived yet. Within 5 minutes of entering my room, someone was knocking. It was my attendant with my bag. She shoved past me into my room and proceeded to inform me of her name and hours. She also told me to use the "please clean" or "do not disturb" cards regularly. To my way of thinking, if I was in my room for 5 minutes I didn't need the card nor would I need it if I was in there when she wasn't working. Turns out, to her way of thinking, she could barge in whenever she wanted if I didn't put the "do not" card in the door. Didn't matter if I literally ducked in to drop off a purchase or was reading on my balcony during her "off" hours, she was bugging me. I booked a balcony to avoid what happened on my last cruise where every time I sat on deck I was bombarded by "Bahama Mama" waiters. This time I was basically chased out of my pricey room and it's not like I was in there that much, after our one and only day at sea I was on excursions every day. I'm still not sure why my bag was brought into my room while I was in there when everyone else around me had their bag left outside their door. And I know she wasn't in there cleaning because that first day the carpet was stained and covered in what looked like bits of dry flowers.
Based on past experience and the looping video telling a muster drill began with the sounding of the alarm, even though I knew it began at 5:15, I wasn't going to go to my station until I heard the horn blast. So imagine my surprise when the same attendant was literally BANGING on my door 10 minutes after the bag arrived demanding to know why I hadn't left for the drill. First of all the captain hadn't sounded the alarm yet and second of all it was 5:10 and the drill was at 5:15.
After the drill I decided to investigate the water plan. I was paying 2 Euro (about $3) for half liter bottles of water at the hotel vending machine in Spain, so $28 for 8 one liter bottles sounded like a good deal, but here is where RC is sneaky. They don't tell you they slap the EU's VAT tax on top of that price so the charge on my bill was for $35. Not such a good deal. On land in the EU, the tax is already in the price not added on later and in the states they don't tax food (or at least not in my state) so that was a nasty surprise. I really felt misled.
I then returned to my room to clean up for dinner and no sooner did the door close and the attendant was up my butt again to give me my newsletter. That couldn't wait until I left for dinner? She wasn't even supposed to start working for another 2 hours. After that I started putting the card in my door even to sleep because I feared she'd barge in at 7:00 a.m. while I was sleeping if I didn't.
Dinner was another trial. I spent 2 nights sitting alone at a table for 6 and all the 3 waiters serving me would say was "I'm sure they'll be here tomorrow". I made jokes about it to all 3 of them and thought they'd catch on and move me to the table next to me that had 2 empty seats, but there's a policy that you have sit alone and be both embarrassed and put at risk (since it announced I was a woman traveling alone to like 1500 people) before they'll move you. In fact, they didn't suggest a move until I got up on night 2 to report them to guest services. If I were with my boyfriend I could see making us wait 2 nights as we would have at least had each other, but as I was totally alone they should have had more sensitivity. Night 3 I was moved and the people I was with were great.
I found the entrees in the main dining room varied and very good. The desserts were horrid every night and the other people at my table agreed. The sitting alone thing aside, the wait staff did prove very personable. As there were 3 teens at my new table, I got to see how the waiters interacted with kids and they really did a fabulous job, even the parents commented. Don't be afraid to ask for a kids menu, it's the same every night, but it has staples that the teens at my table were very happy to pick from instead of the adult food on the main menu.
I did one breakfast and one lunch at Windjammers. Lunch was ok, but breakfast seemed really dried out. The milk was awful. Then I found the Cafe Promenade and was hooked. On excursion days when I had to eat before 7 a.m., it was my only option, but as I prefer pastry and tea for breakfast I was fine. Cinnamon Danish were great. Also went there for lunch when I was on board for that meal. While other reviews bash the pizza, it wasn't the worst I've had and tons of people were eating it happily. On the last day of the trip when the butter and tea bags all different looking, the pizza looked and tasted just like Pizza Hut. They also had fresh made three bite sandwiches for lunch that varied in ingredients daily. I would eat a sandwich at noon and then get a slice of pizza around 4:00 since dinner was at 7:00 and I was starving well before then.
I came back from lunch on the first day to find items that weren't mine in my room. As the cleaning staff at work is forever leaving personal items on our desks, I assumed the gum and headband I found were the attendant's and left them on top the TV for her when I went to dinner. She put them back with my stuff. So the next day before I left for my excursion I left her a note saying they weren't mine. It wasn't until I left the ship that I thought to worry someone had been in my room. After a 9 hour excursion with over 2 miles of walking, I hurried off to dinner and then hurried back to my room as I was exhausted and had to be up early the next day for an excursion. So I was really annoyed when the attendant cornered me at my door for 10 minutes to explain she hadn't cleaned my room well enough before I got in it the first day and the proof was the mystery items she found behind my TV and thought were mine. If I reported her she'd get in trouble. That explained the dingy carpet, which was suddenly cleaner after she knew she was busted. She then proceeded to scold me for being in my room too much after I spent 11 hours out of it that day and had booked a balcony to have privacy. All in all, she managed to annoy me in every possible way during this trip.
It never occurred to me to go to guest relations about the mystery items, but I really should have as this dingbat later charged my room a $9.75 minibar charge because in her inattention to detail before my arrival she didn't check to see what the previous guests used. Guest relations tried to shrug it off by saying maybe she saw my water plan bottle in the trash and thought I took one from the bar, but the ones in the bar are smaller so that wasn't it. They also tried the "we'll look into it" method to get out of removing the charge until I went off about credit card fraud, then said they'd fix it. However I couldn't view my bill on the TV for 2 days to make sure. Had I reported her for not cleaning enough, I could have cited it when I said I suspected what happened with the charge. With everything that works off the seapass card, why doesn't opening the mini bar require a swipe of it? It would prove if a guest ever opened it or not.
The room was comfortable and had enough room, but things did look worn. Carpet needed to be replaced and the bedding had tears. However the mattress was thick and I slept great. No hall noise like on my last cruise either.
I spent little time on the ship once we hit the ports, but this cruise is about the ports. I had a blast the entire time. All the excursions I did were booked online via RC's site and they weren't the horrors I was warned of. Most had 30 people or less and all the buses were tour buses like we have in the US with great a/c on them.
This wasn't really a port of call on this cruise, it was the embarkation point, that you didn't get to see unless you went over early or your flight landed early before boarding. As I did Barcelona through RC I'll give it a mention. Two days was about enough time to see everything. Things are mostly walkable if you want to see a couple Gaudi buildings and shop. Other stuff will require a taxi (expensive) or the metro (confusing). I stuck to what I could walk to and between my roaming and the bus ride to the ship felt I saw a lot, Barcelona is very pretty and set up to be a walking friendly city. The end of July is their "sale" month and the Catalan word for it is Rebaixes, see that on a window and look out, it's like a feeding frenzy inside the store. However, while they say the stores open at 9:30 or 10:00 all over Europe, in all 3 countries I visited, that translated as about 10:10 and nothing anywhere is open on a Sunday. As in all the cities I visited, street signs are few, tiny and up so high you won't notice them unless you're using stilts so use a map and count the number of blocks you need to walk. There are also panhandlers, I felt really bad for them, BUT the scam is to see where you take money out of so their partner can take your wallet. This is not the time to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone you don't know. Keep walking if asked for money, directions or you're told there's something on your clothing, and if they persist, make a scene it scares them off. I didn't have any trouble, but I carried a zippered, locked purse cross-body and forgot the term good Samaritan existed.
Today was the first port day and the second full day of the trip. I did the Amalfi Drive and Pompeii tour, and of my 5 excursions this was my favorite, a 9 out of 10. You definitely need a sun hat to see anything as the sun is blinding and sunglasses aren't enough. They give you a free bottle of water in Pompeii, but I drank it plus a bottle from the trip so bring extra if visiting in the summer. Make sure you bring Euros as there are 4 shopping stops before Pompeii that give you a discount for cash. Also don't sit on the driver side of the bus or you'll have a stunning view of rock the whole time.
Amalfi is gorgeous and unlike those who took the boat tour, we had several stops to buy inlaid wood products, ceramics and varied objects before lunch at a hotel. The first 2 stops had clean, free (they charge for the bathroom in Europe) places to use the bathroom. Lunch was good if a little heavy for the middle of a hot day. More coast views until we reached Pompeii. We stopped at a cameo factory first. There wasn't enough time to really look and thought I bought, I felt their prices were a little high for their talk of a "discount". I also learned here that sellers in Italy are high pressure. You can't look. The first thing you pick up is what they want to rush you to the register with. I might have bought a $500 item if I could have made my way to the back of the shop to find it instead of being pressured to buy the $200 one I looked at when I walked in. I left several stores in Italy because it was the only way to get away from the salespeople.
Pompeii wasn't what I expected. Worth a see, but mostly ruins and little art. I was confused as everyone says it's nearly perfect and I've seen art on TV that I didn't see there. Our guide, who I enjoyed, claimed we saw it all but the arena, however when I got home and looked online I saw we looped the forum about 3 times and didn't see any of the intact houses or temples. That is why this day is a 9 instead of a 10.
Most people do Rome on this day, but I did Tarquinia as the Rome tours were all about the Vatican and that didn't interest me. They talk up the Etruscan angle of Tarquinia, but the tour doesn't show you anything about them. Instead you walk through a medieval village that is still lived in and what isn't lived in is infested by pigeons and their poop. The first part of the tour is a waste and you again need a sun hat. Then you get an hour of free time before a hurried gelato tasting. I paid 6 Euro to view the Etruscan museum. It's hot, the stairs were made for horses so going up them is like going up hill and going down you feel like you are going to fall on your face, and all the signs (what few there are) are in Italian so navigation is hard. I did find the winged horses, which are stunning, but I was expecting a floor to ceiling statue and they were about the size of a large TV as they came off a temple's exterior. Really this tour should be about the museum and not about walking around the town.
The gelato was wonderful, like nothing we have at home. You pick 3 flavors, which you don't have much time to look at first. My favorite was the tiramisu. Then they make 2 flavors fresh in front of you. Ours were cherry and a dairy-free cantaloupe. I hate cherries, but loved the gelato with it in. I was still wishing I had done Rome (I changed my mind about what tour I wanted too late) until I got to dinner and heard nothing but complaints of crowding, being rushed and the dangerous traffic. Also I spent the next day with people I met on the Tarquinia trip so it worked out. This would have been my least favorite day if not for the waste of time in Nice and Eze, so that ranks this day as 4th.
Today I did the Pisa and Florence on your own excursion. Basically you pay $99 to be bused to Pisa and then to Florence. On the bus a guide tells you what to see in the towns, but you do what you want once you arrive. It was my third favorite day. We did Pisa first and while I'm glad I saw it, it wasn't the stunner I expected. Don't plan a day around it as the area is small and infested with street vendors. The first ones meet your bus in the parking lot (which is a half mile from Pisa) and follow after you until you leave the lot. The rest have booths along the Field of Miracles. It began to thunder while we were there and no sooner were we back on the bus and it poured. Sideways rain, wind and an electrical storm plagued us for almost the whole hour drive to Florence. What I didn't like was the hard sell to buy a listening tour of Florence or some other tour product for once we reached our destination. They passed out a brochure, which didn't list prices and made us watch a video of the products. No one bought and the guide commented that maybe she wasn't a good seller and maybe she would lose her job. I really liked her until then, but as we paid more than those getting a guided tour for this excursion, why pay more to make it sort of guided anyway? The listening tour should have been part of the price whether we decided to use it or not, not extra.
Florence is full of narrow streets (that flood terribly) that don't go in a straight line so it's hard to navigate. It was designed to be so to fool invaders, but none of the maps they gave us on the ship or the bus reflected the twists. Written directions, like "turn left when you see a statue of a man on a horse", would have been nice instead of pictures that didn't match what you saw on land. We had about 10 minutes before the rain started and 10 minutes after that the lightning started. Of our 3 hours and 45 mins in Florence, we spent 30 hiding under an overhang and 45 eating lunch to escape the storm. I had the best tiramisu of my life there. I did get some gold shopping down on the Ponte Vecchio and in town. I found all the leather overpriced and most felt like cardboard. Call me crazy, but if the leather is made in Italy, why isn't "made in Italy" written in Italian? I only found one of the RC recommended leather shops and it was closed, but their gold store was WAY overpriced and didn't have anything I couldn't find at home. It also had 14kt gold mixed in with the traditional 18kt Italian gold to trip up anyone who doesn't know 18kt is stamped 750 in Europe.
Welcome to France! The view out my balcony of the harbor town was breathtaking. My excursion to Nice and Eze wasn't until the afternoon so I roamed the ship and then took the tender ship over. I walked around the harbor a little and then met my tour. The guide was awful. Not only did she mumble, but she rarely shut up. A few minutes of quiet would have been nice particularly since she said nothing of importance. I could never find the stuff we were supposed to see out the bus window because she talked about it a mile before we got to it and never pointed it out once we reached it. Our driving tour of Nice was basically, "there's a building, there another building, Princess Grace honeymooned here, isn't France great". I'm serious.
She made a big deal about using our ear sets once we got off the bus for the walking tour portion. We got off the bus and walked down several streets and around several corners all waiting to hear what she had to say through our ear sets. For as much as she rambled on the bus, she barely said a word in the ear sets. Rather, she barely said a word to us. When she spoke, she carried on a personal conversation in French with the bus driver and the rest of the time all we heard was her breathing. We reached an arch and she told us to our left was a flower market and to our right was shopping. Our meeting spot would be...where we left the bus and not this central location we could easily find. The flower market was a couple picnic tables with common plants on it. Nothing I couldn't buy at home, not that I could take them back on the ship. The shops were full of tourist T-shirts and magnets. Back on the bus, they tried to sell us overpriced water and soda.
I saw Samantha Brown's episode on Eze and really wanted to see it for myself. Maybe there's another Eze, because I didn't see what they showed on TV. More horse stairs made slippery by the rain. A woman at my dinner table got her arm scraped up in a fall on these stairs and it's not like she had any walking difficulties either so be careful. Thing about Europe is they don't have a disability act or many safety codes so for those of us used to everything being easy access or marked as "watch your step" because an injury will result in a lawsuit, it's tricky. I can't tell you how many step-ups I missed or a huge step-down I almost broke my ankle on. None are marked. Knowing a lot of Americans are on this cruise, RC should at least give you a heads-up in their daily newsletter that every store's entrance is like running the gauntlet. Or at least have the guides mention it since every excursion I took was through RC.
It was cool outside as it was rainy and we were in the mountains, but the shops (all Eze is, is a series of stores) were abominably hot and so small 3 people could barely fit in them. Our guide insisted on the ear sets again and yet again didn't use them. Our tour consisted of walking up some stairs to a church, going in the church and then being told to walk around as we couldn't get lost there's only one way down. Those who went to the top had to pay 5 Euro if they wanted to see the garden, which should have been included in our tour price.
The highlight of the day was being trapped on the dock on the way back to the ship because Madonna, yes that Madonna, was filming in the harbor and our tender ships made too much noise. We did get to see a scene being filmed and I did get one too far away picture of Madonna.
Do yourself a favor and take a tour that goes to Monaco or explore Villefranche town on your own instead of doing this tour. Least favorite of the trip and I wasn't the only one saying that.
Interesting thing is that the waiters didn't find out we weren't going to Toulon until the night before. When I booked the trip and my excursion it said Marseilles so I wasn't surprised. This was a port I had no expectations for and it wound up being my second favorite day. I picked to visit Cassis and almost changed it to a Marseilles city tour. Thank god I didn't. Marseilles, as I saw from the bus, was another art nouveau European city, Cassis was a wonderful fishing village where they only spoke French. First we went to a national park overlooking the village. We were the first tour in weeks to get up there as it was closed for fear of fire. I smelled the pine, felt the wind and heard the cicadas they are so thrilled about that every shop has soap, toys and sculptures of them for sale. The bus took us back down and a tiny electric train took us from the parking area to the town as they limit vehicles. My only regret is that I didn't think to walk down to the ocean instead of just taking pictures of the beach. It is a topless beach, so parents be warned. We had two hours to explore and I used every minute. This was a great final day for the cruise.
When we got back to the ship, several tiny stalls of goods had opened next to it. While some had tourist junk, one had actual paintings of ocean and landscapes for 10 Euros. So imagine my surprise, after all the shopping I told you about, that my dinner companions complained they never got to shop on this cruise. There was always a chance to buy non-tourist goods and tourist junk. I really can't say how they missed everything including the tiny shops right next to the ship.
Now we come to the transfer to the airport to go home. As my flight was at 10:35 a.m. I was in the first group to leave. It was supposed to be off at 6:45, but it was 7:00 when we were called. Because my parents were delayed getting to the airport after their cruise when their luggage was sent to the wrong side of the terminal, they told me to carry my own bags with my short time before my flight to hedge my bets. I did and it was useless. I was put on a bus to wait until all the slowpokes who don't know what "on time" means got their bags out of the terminal and dragged themselves to the bus. I really wished I hadn't done the transfer and had used a taxi, I would have left 30 minutes sooner. When I got to the airport the lines were long and I didn't have time to search for the VAT office to get my tax free coupons stamped. Best tip I can give is, the taxis in Barcelona are perfectly safe, use them. Cost will be about $45, but RC's transfer was $30 and I'd pay an extra $15 to just get going.
RC made it sound like the customs officer that stamped us out of Barcelona would stamp the VAT vouchers. No. There is a separate office that is only mentioned on the back of the form the store gives you. I was the only person who knew what to do, but I wasn't the only person the EU screwed over because I couldn't find the right office. No one could. The office isn't marked and everyone tells you it's somewhere else. Once I got through security and went to the info desk, the guy smugly told me it was before security. My choice was to eat the money or leave the airport and come back in. As they over sold my flight and interrogated me about my bag before I checked in, I wasn't risking it; plus RC cost me a lot of time with the wait to leave the parking lot. I thought the customs officer stamping me out would help, but I got another smug smile. They want to keep our tax money, don't believe the "it's easy" hype. If you don't have the stamped form mailed back within 21 days of the purchase date they put the tax and an unspecified fee on your credit card. Pay in cash as the stores don't have to report that they left the tax off on cash transactions like they do with credit cards and if a form isn't involved they can't tack it onto your credit card because they don't have it. I think a call to my credit card company has this little scam taken care of, but we'll see.
Also don't waste your money on the ship's internet to check into your flight for a better zone. Not only did my gate agent check me in again making the zone 3 I paid $8 in net fees for a zone 9, but they board by row in Barcelona and it's a long process as they grill everyone for a second time about your bag's path to the airport.
I had a great time, I told you what to look out for so it sounds a bit negative, but they are things that had I known would have made my total trip a 10 out of 10 instead of a 9 out of 10. I really did love this trip as the 618 pictures I took prove.