Ocean Princess Cruise Review by darienill: Iberian Peninsula and Italy.
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Iberian Peninsula and Italy.
Dover to Barcelona to Rome
This is our 5th Princess cruise and we are in our 60's.
Booked with Princess, used FCC's then moved it to a TA and got free trip insurance through the TA. Started booking in December for a Sept 1 cruise and was waitlisted, as were many. I got shareholder benefit of $250 for a 14 day cruise plus $100 OBC from the FCC's.
This was a two segment, 17 night, expensive, once in a lifetime cruise for us starting in Dover and seeing Normandy or Paris, Bilbao Sp. Lisbon, Portomao, Gilbraltar, Barcelona, Sete Fr., Portifino, Florence, Tunisia, and Sorrento then Rome.
Flew to London LHR on an overnight from Chicago nonstop, about an 8 hour flight time, arrived at 9 AM. Took out 200 GBP from an airport ATM, grabbed a cab to the Radisson on Bath for 10 GBP. Had asked for an early check in and were in the room at 10 AM. Room was 100 GBP (bfst incl). Concierge got us a car to take us to Windsor Castle for a visit. Another option is to More take a bus.
The Castle was 15 GBP PP over 60 rate. Were back about 4 PM and went to dinner about 6. Should have gone to McDonalds which is right next door. Lasted till about 7:30 before we both crashed and slept through the night. Next morning we grabbed a cab back to the airport for a 9:30 AM pickup on the Princess transfer bus. The ride is about 1 ½ hr. and can be very expensive to book on your own . With the transfer you hand your bags to the driver and don't see them again till they're in your room. That alone saves a lot of tipping and handling. The ship was ready for us and we were on board before 11:30 in our cabinette. We had a level 7 balcony room forward.
Small with 680 passengers, clean well kept a short walk to everything. Tender time was always short, would do it again. The casino, casino bar, and lounge were all together which allowed me to have a drink, watch the piano player and keep an eye on my wife. Buffet was 9 aft had a coffee bar and some outside seating. Lotus was 9 forward as was the cyber cafe.
MDR was on 5 aft. Shops were 5 mid. Lido had 2 small hot tubs one pool. Cabaret lounge was never packed, always had a good seat.
We got to meet a whole bunch of people due to the size of the ship. There were one or two buses per tour so you would run into the same folks. We were always bus # 3 or# 7 or# 8. While in Piza I looked at the tags on some folks from those mega ships and noticed they were bus #27.
Liked the shows, they changed the shows and had different acts join the ship. The usual comics, singer, magic act.
MDR was kinda bland. Nothing special and on Lobster night the Lobster/Prawn combo had good prawns but mushy lobster both times. Went to Sabitini's and that was good. They didn't drag out a bunch of things you didn't want but you can order anything on the menu you wanted. So we did our own thing and tasted a few things plus our entrEe. Went to the steak house with two of our table mates for steaks. They were served with brown gravy on everything, even the rack of lamb. Sent it all back to remove the gravy. I let Princess know about that via the follow up survey.
Sabatini's and Sterling Steakhouse are two different restaurants on deck 10 and they alternate being open. The Panorama Buffet is set up as the Bistro on sea days with waiter service for dinner. Eggs to order and afternoon pizza are served from the same window in the buffet area. Burgers are out by the pool.
Being small we pulled into smaller docks and were closer to the center of some towns. Barcelona we were next to the World Trade Center, Portifino we were a short tender ride from the yacht club pier. Lisbon across the street from the bus station and train station. Tunis two blocks from town.
Le Havre France:
All tours left before 8 AM and ours was 10 hours long. Choices were Paris or Normandy. We spent a week in Paris once so went to Normandy. IMHO I think that Paris deserves a lot more than 5 hours in the city which included some shopping and a river boat ride.
Everybody I've talked to wanted to know about Normandy. "Everybody".
We visited Omaha beach, the US cemetery, the bunkers on the cliffs that the Rangers attacked and the June 6th Museum in the town of Arromanche where they constructed the artificial harbor. All of it amazing, glad we went, wouldn't miss it. Had lunch at a French farmhouse/hall which was great. A two hour bus ride each way. $480 for two.
In town there is the Guggenheim, It was Sunday and some places were closed. We opted for the bus tour of Basque country which was just OK, nothing special. Saw Bermeo and Guernica, the city that Franco had the Germans bomb during the Spanish Civil War in the late 30's.
On our own, we got lucky. The first line of cab drivers try to sell you a city tour for 100 E. Across the street is the train station and bus stop. The Yellow HOHO bus was there and for 20 E we got a day pass which allows you to ride on any public bus plus the HOHO. Every town has a fort and a church to see so we took the yellow bus into town center and transferred to the smaller #87 bus which took us up to the Castelo S. Jorge. We toured the fort and grabbed the #87 back down to Miradouro Sta. Luzia church. Toured the church and #87 back to central square. Here we walked down Rua Augusta pedestrian mall and visited a wine shop, bought some Port. Had lunch in a cafe, bought some trinkets from Fatima and Lisbon and walked down toward the dock. We ran into a HOHO rep and she pointed us to the bus back to the ship. Got lucky this time and only walked down hill. LOL.
Free shuttle takes you into town then stops at the beach then back to the ship. We were going to take a boat tour of the grotto's but missed it cause we got a late start. Option two was a boat trip up the river to Sintra with a fort and a church so we took that. Nothing thrilling, visited the cork shop which has a bunch of strange cork products. Back to town then the bus. Turns out the beach was a better bet because that was the tourist / resort part of town and all the shops were open. We missed the Grotto's but as the ship pulled out of port and headed to Gibraltar we passed all the grottos on the port side. We got to see more than the tour although from farther away.
On our own again. Walked off the ship into a cab driver offering a tour. This one we took up on the deal. He had an 8 passenger and there was 8 of us including two kids that he charged half price for. I think is was $25 PP which included tickets to the sites. That's about half of what the ship wanted. Drove us up the rock to the siege caves. Went in there. Went to see the monkeys which were very funny. They do bite. Saw the lookout site and back to Main Street for some shopping. Went to the glass blowing shop and a cafe and a linen store. The private cab was smaller than the ships buses so at each location we were closer to the attraction, less walking.
The instructions on getting back to the boat weren't clear and it took us a while while waiting for the cabs that were assigned to the boat to show up at the pick up spot. They were scheduled to be there at 4 PM but were late. We had to pay for the cabs but it was a fixed rate. This was were I unloaded the last of my GBP's left over from London.
Barcelona is a major cruise starting point and we arrived on a Saturday. There were 7 ships in according to a cabbie. The place was so packed with people that it was hard to move in some places.
On our own again. We got on the HOHO Red bus into town center to transfer to the Blue bus to get to La Sagrada Familia. So did 300 other people. The line to board had 200 people in it but did move right along. When we got to the church there was another monster line. We walked around the outside and left. Shoulda taken the tour. Big mistake.
Went back to La Rambla ped walkway and strolled along there. Visited the market place which was swarming with people. The Palau Guell which was beautiful to see although it was hot in there. Stopped for lunch had the Black Pig ham with some wine and bread. Walked and shopped some more, looked at all the street performers etc. Skip the bus, cab back to the ship. Barcelona requires more time. So much to see. Must go back. I was armed with a Frommers walking tour guide so I had an idea of what to see in the big cities. I also used the CC port guide to let me know about each ports highlights.
Sete France; (Didn't set the alarm, almost missed the tour.)
Took the ships wine tour which included the city of Montpillar which was beautiful. Our bus was blocked by a stray parker and we were delayed while having him towed. Had a coffee and crepe snack in town square. Wine tour of an old winery at Chateau de Flaugergues. Bought 2 bottles of Cuvee Rose for 6E each and 1 Cuvee Sommeliere red (Wine Spectator 92 points) for 10E. The red we took home. No problem bringing it back on board. Everybody seemed to be buying wine. We had sampled 3 different wines. The guide said that Montpillar was not bombed during the war because it wasn't a port and wasn't a strategic location. Good tour. Stopped in Sete on way back and there really isn't much there to see. A little fishing village is about it.
Doesn't everybody want to go here? Tender to town. Not very big and not a lot to see. Walked up and down the harbor front and then decided to see the church and fort. Talk about a climb up the mountain. I wouldn't do it again. A lot of work and not that great. Took a ferry to Santo Margarita and walked around there. The church in town was a beauty, the shops were closed from 1-4 and we had lunch at Palma's. Back to the boat.
Florence + Pisa:
Took the "trolly" tour to Pisa. A lot less walking with the trolly. The bus drops you off and a trolly picks you up. Saw the tower which has recently been restored so it looks like new. Got tickets to tour the church and baptistery. We didn't get into the tower because the next time slot was after we left. The tour guide should have managed things better and we could have gone in the tower given enough notice. The church was worth seeing, the baptistery, save your money. This was a half day tour but we had been to Florence before so we did this one instead.
Another tour, went to Carthage Roman ruins, American Cemetery, and the Souk market. Tunis is where Rommel made his stand and lost Africa. The cemetery has grave markers covering about a three year span. The Roman ruins are huge here. The market I could have done without. In your face vendors. There is an enclosed market at the pier when you get back that has all the same stuff with better prices and no haggling. Everybody was late getting back and I think we left a little late,
Were here 12 years before and had planned some shopping and lunch. Ship provided a free shuttle to town. Last minute decided to visit Capri. Took the ferry over walked around and went back. Didn't care to see the grotto, or take the tram up the mountain so without a specific reason to go there it was a waste. So much for last minute decisions. Back to Sorrento, into town at Tasso square, visited some shops bought some glass trinkets and went to a leather store for a purse and a belt. Had lunch at Caruso's just off the square which was great. A great finish to a great trip.
Rome: Been there three times.
Dock to airport, FCO to LHR, LHR to Chicago. 12 hour trip. BA business class is another story.
The whole trip it was hotter than usual. 85 and up some days. Tires you out walking. Got home and people were wearing jackets. Remember that Rome and Chicago are both 42 degrees North. It was about 65 in Chicago. After visiting all these places, it's great to be back in the Midwest on FLAT ground.
Got my Platinum card midway through the trip. Showed it off to our table mates at dinner, made jokes about it for days since everybody else was Gold. I asked the waiter if I could see the Platinum dinner menu. Everybody got a laugh out of that, even the waiter. Told everybody there was a midnight buffet for Platinum members but you had to know where the secret door was to get in.
They tell you to take your passport with you. Only had to show it at Gibraltar. At a few places I asked for a senior discount and we got one. Then I had to show my passport for ID.
One lady got picked in Paris. If you have a purse, a cane, and a little green sticker on your shirt, you're a target. They got her wallet, charge cards, money and passport. Less
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