Our family just got back from the 6/8 Med sailing. Just a quick recap of our trip for anybody interested.
Our five include three daughters aged 11, 15 and 17. We did all stops on our own with the exception of Rome which we used Rome in Limo. Tons of savings, but also some occasional frustration waiting on local transport. I’ll try to outline what worked and what didn’t.
We departed 6/4 from Chicago O’Hare on the only non-stop flight from ORD via Pakistan Air. Yes, an odd choice but with a savings of over $500 per ticket and the extra time savings…it was a great value. Both the check-in and the boarding process were a disaster. Long lines and no order, but the plane left nearly on time…about 30 minutes late. The flight itself had lots of families with young children which can always be a challenge. Additionally, the food was not terrific…they offer a Pakistani and European meal neither of which was terrific. However, the seats were decent and they do have a personal video player at each seat with several western film selections. We arrived on time and gathered our luggage and proceeded to our hotel the Barcelona Airport Renaissance.
Day 1 – Barcelona - The hotel is not ideally situated as it is about 20 minutes from downtown Barcelona. There is a free shuttle to the hotel (although if you arrive in terminal 2, you need to call the hotel to schedule pick-up). Because we arrived at 10:30 AM our room was not yet ready, but we enjoyed the lounge until our rooms were available. The hotel also offers a free shuttle service to Las Ramblas a couple times a day (and two or three other times per day for 5 Euro per person). But, instead we mostly used local transportation as there is a bus stop right across the street from the hotel. Bus line 65 starts here and as a result, there is almost always a bus available…on demand. We rode this bus to Placa Espanya where we grabbed the Metro (~30 minute ride). So, with a T-10 card @ .75 Euro per person (including a transfer) we switched to the L3 metro and rode up to the Vallarca stop where we ‘hiked’ up to Park Guell.
Park Guell was great, there was lots of activity with tourists, musical acts, human statues and plenty of ‘sales people’. We enjoyed the views and Gaudi’s design as we wandered about the park. From here we walked back to the metro and found a tapas restaurant and enjoyed a quick meal. Then took the bus back to the hotel.
Day 2 – Downtown Barcelona – Bus 65 again to the Metro and hopped off at the Columbus statue by the harbor. Wandered up Las Ramblas…grabbing some breakfast at La Boqueria. More wandering through Barri Gotic and visited the Barcelona Cathedral. Walked up to the Modernista Casa Batilla…then up to Casa Mila (La Pedrera) and went up to the roof. Great views of Barcelona and more Gaudi excellence. Back to the Metro (L5, I think) to La Sagrada Familia. Stopped for a pizza just outside the cathedral then toured the church. Back to Metro with a transfer to L3 and Bus 65 back to the hotel.
Day 3 – Day Trip from Barcelona – Decided to rent a car to explore outside Barcelona. Rented from Sixt which it turns out is much further from the hotel than I thought. I walked to the rental location which was probably about a mile away. (Should have chosen Avis which is right down the street from the hotel). Unfortunately forgot my passport so I had to go back to the hotel and pick it up prior to getting my car…oops. We went out to Girona, but the place was packed and I couldn’t find a parking spot, so we bagged it and proceeded out to Figueres. We went to the Dali Museum which is quite a spectacle. An interesting visit, but I was a tad bit disappointed as all the major exhibits are well covered by the various travel shows (that I am a junky for). The kids were a bit perplexed but I think they enjoyed it. Grabbed some lunch then proceeded out to Cadaques. The last 15 minutes of the drive are beautiful, winding and scenic. Unfortunately a rainstorm arrived about the time we did. We still got out and walked down to the beach as everybody else was heading home. My kids loved the rock beaches and the scenic white homes on the hill were beautiful. We had a wonderful Nutella crepe and skipped rocks into the water. Overall, everybody had a good time.
Day 4 – Embarkation – We took a couple taxis from the hotel (~20-25 Euro per taxi) to the pier. Somebody grabbed our luggage and said we could go into the terminal. There was a line, but I just walked in per the instruction to find nobody else in the terminal except a bunch of Disney folks milling about. We filled out our health checks and got our keys all alone in the building. They pointed us to the waiting room and about 10 minutes later others started to join us. About 11:30 they started boarding the Magic…we were on board around 12:00. We were directed to Parrot Cay and enjoyed lunch. Kids were off to explore shortly after and we milled around until 1:15 when we were allowed into our rooms. The rest of the day was pretty standard first cruise day.
Day 5 – Day at Sea – We got up late and then ate and ate and ate. I attended the lecture on Rome which was terrible. Not particularly informative and even less interesting. I also attended the Imagineer lecture which was better, but not stellar. The well versed Disney fan didn’t have a lot to learn at the lecture, but much more entertaining than Rome. Perhaps my biggest quibble on the cruise was a lack of interesting adult options. Lounged about the rest of the day, until time to dress up for formal night.
Day 6 – Malta – We were one of the first families off the boat and took the hike up the hill. Found the 81 bus at the terminal and rode out to Rabat. Followed some locals who pointed me over to Mdina, but apparently I didn’t follow the instructions quite right. We wandered about Rabat for about 20 minutes until a quick stop in a convenience store pointed us in the right direction. We entered Mdina and enjoyed a stroll around the old medieval city. We decided to do the Mdina experience which was sort of informative but probably not worth the time or money. We went to St. Peters and were impressed. Eventually made it back to the bus and my youngest and wife went back to the boat. My other two daughters proceeded onto Valletta. We were really impressed by St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Then tracked down St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church, but it was actually closed mid-day (but we still got a peek inside). Grabbed some local snacks (delicious pizza and pastry). Back to the boat and Palo for dinner. We left the kids and enjoyed an outstanding meal at Palo…the kids were delighted as our servers brought them every dessert on the menu to share.
Day 7 – Palermo – I was a little disappointed that Tunisia got dropped from our itinerary (and very disappointed by the required 18% VAT now required with all EU destinations). I didn’t put a lot of effort into planning Palermo and as a result we didn’t have a great time. My kids didn’t want to go the Crypt and a little church fatigue was already starting to set in. So, we wandered to Piazza Pretoria stopping along the way at some local stores including a department store that the kids bought some things. Made our way to the local market and picked up some fantastic Italian loaves and focaccia bread. The back to the ship.
Day 8 – Naples – Off the boat and straight to the ferry for Capri. Caught the 9:00 AM boat and arrived on the island to find out the Blue Grotto was closed due to rough water. So, we took the bus up to Anacapri (long bus line that thinned out gradually as next bus was over 15 minutes late to arrive). The buses are very small and can only hold ~25-30 people, so plan accordingly if you see a long line. In Anacapri we headed straight for the lift and took a chair ride up to Mt. Solaro. Amazing panoramic views of the whole island. We elected to only take the lift one way and walk back down. I think we were the only ones to do this since, in about 5 minutes it felt like we were the only ones on the island. Not another sole around. It took us about 30 minutes to walk back into town, not sure how much the kids enjoyed it, but they do remember it! It’s a fairly steep hike with lots of loose stones on the grounds. Being hungry for the first time since we had been on the cruise, we enjoyed some Napoli style pizza in Anacapri. We did a little shopping (Somehow, I forgot to visit the San Michele church) then decided to avoid the bus and take a taxi back to Capri (20 Euro). We enjoyed some gelato and shopped around a bit with the masses before taking the funicular back to the Grand Harbor. Caught the 3:00 PM ferry back to this ship.
Day 9 – Rome – Our driver (Rome in Limo) Maurizio was waiting for us right at the pier. Despite some heavy traffic on the way in, he was terrific taking us all around Rome…we saw Circus Maximus, the Forum, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Castel St. Angelo. He took us to an excellent local restaurant (we arrived at noon and pretty much dined alone) as well as an outstanding gelato shop. Additionally, he did a terrific job of explaining some of the history and brought us to some great photo stops with fantastic views of the city. I know Rome can be done by yourself pretty cheaply, but I was not disappointed that we had a guide at this stop.
Day 10 – Pisa/Cinque Terre – My kids really wanted to do Pisa and I really wanted to see the Cinque Terre. I made online reservations to climb the tower at 10:20 AM and was a little bit nervous to get there via train. In order to try to both, I decided to rent a car here. I wasn’t sure exactly where the Hertz office was in relationship to the tender drop-off…as it turns out about 1.5 miles. Dragging the family through the narrow La Spezia streets wasn’t ideal but worked out just fine in the end. Picked up our car and an easy drive down the highway to Pisa, we arrived by about 9:30. Took the shuttle from the parking lot over to Field of Miracles and exchanged our reservation for tickets and were standing in line at the tower by 10:00 AM. We did the tower climb took our photos and were back on the road by a little after 11:30 AM. My plan was drive back and park at the La Spezia train station and train into the Cinque Terre, but I couldn’t find any parking. I thought there was supposed to be parking at the train station, but I sure couldn’t find any. So, we switched plans and took the rental car to Riomaggiore. We made it into town around 1:00 PM only to find there was no parking there either. So, we re-routed to Manarola where we found some parking. Unfortunately, I only had enough coins for to park until 5:00 PM. So, we took the steep climb down into town which was a lot of fun. Didn’t run into any tourists until we got down by the train station (amazing how quick an uphill hike can thin the crowds). We enjoyed the town immensely and grabbed some lunch (amazing pesto focaccia bread). We walked down by the water and the kids hiked amongst the rocks and took some amazing photos of the beautiful natural harbor. Eventually, we made our way to the walk along Via Dell’Amore and enjoyed the hike back to Riomaggiore. It’s a really easy walk and amazingly scenic, the kids loved this walk. We went down to the harbor and spent some time on the beach collecting shells and sea glass. Eventually, made our way to take the short train ride back to Manarola. Very disappointed I didn’t make it to Vernazza or Monterossa but I’ll definitely be back one day. An easy ride back to the tender to drop off the family. Then I returned that car and made the walk back to the tender myself.
Day 11 – Ajaccio – Unfortunately, my 15 year old started to not feel so good today. So, my oldest daughter and I were the only ones on tour today. We walked right into town and ended up at the local marketplace where we picked up a few tasty snacks. We wandered about trying to find Napolean’s birth house, but first ended up at the Musee Fesch. It was on my list of things but to see, but upon arrival it didn’t look that inviting and we decided to keep on walking. We finally found the house, but inexplicably closed at 11:30 (scheduled to close at noon). Oh well, didn’t appear that we missed much. Wandered down by the water to see the beach. Back to the market to pick up a few goodies for those not on tour, then back on the boat.
Day 12 – Eze/Monte Carlo – Everybody back on tour today, we made the first tender again and walked up the hill to catch bus 100 back to Nice. Made a mistake and took the bus all the way to the end, then had to hike back to a previous stop to catch the 112 bus up to Eze. Eventually, made it to Eze around 9:00 AM. Explored the town and enjoyed the Exotic Garden and its fabulous views. Eventually made our way back down and to the local Patisserie from some croissants, pastries, and quiche. Then walked down to the perfume factory…didn’t do the tour but visited the gift shop. Made our way back to the bust stop where the bus was about 45 minutes late (the family was not pleased with this wait, but couldn’t even find a taxi to take us…sigh). Took the bus to Monte Carlo where it was an easy walk to the casino and harbor. Eventually grabbed the 100 bus back to Villefranche.
Day 13 – Day at Sea – Uneventful relaxing day at sea.
Day 14 – Disembarkation – Because this was an all EU cruise, no need to go through customs. So, it was literally only about 10 minutes to get off the boat, grab our luggage and out the door. I had scheduled transport for 9:00 and so we lounged around through breakfast and re-distributing luggage in the terminal until our driver picked us up. Back to the airport to find a much shorter Pakistan Air line (less than 40 people picking up the flight in Barcelona…the rest already on from Karachi). The PIA boarding process again, very messy. They actually make everybody get off the plane and go through passport control then re-check them through security body/bag search. It’s a ridiculous process but eventually on the plane and another direct flight back to Chicago.
Observations – It takes a co-operative family to manage all the transport on your own, but there are some amazing savings that can come from this and you can typically see far more than if you are touring through cruise shore excursions. Overall, I was very pleased with the cruise itinerary and the activities we decided to. I would make a few changes…if I were going to visit Girona/Figuerues again I would probably take the train, but Cadaques made it worth the effort (too bad we didn’t have better weather). To do it again, in Malta I would grab a taxi at the harbor and go their blue grotto, then bus or taxi to Mdina. There is plenty of time to that as well as Valletta. I really wish we had been able to do Tunisia, but Disney probably made the right call to skip it. I should have made better plans in Palermo as that stop was thoroughly unmemorable. I don’t have any regrets about visiting Capri, although as mentioned before I would probably do the grotto in Malta as it seems to be more reliable. Next time, I would probably visit Herculaneum (having already been to Pompeii) and then Ravello, Positano, Amalfi and check out the beautiful Amalfi coast drive. In Corsica, I would just plan to spend the day at the beach as it is a quick walk and at this point in the cruise everybody is already pretty tired.
Overall, a fantastic trip…Disney service and the experience on the boat were great. An exhausting, but rewarding itinerary. Happy to answer any questions.