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Celebrity Millennium Friday May 25, 2007 Venice to Barcelona Background Information: We're age 55 cruisers celebrating 35 years of marriage and live in New Jersey near New York City. Our three previous cruises were all in the Caribbean: 1995 RCCL Monarch of the Seas, 1992 Majesty of the Seas, and 1974 Sitmar Fairwind. We have had no prior experience in Europe. Our planning began November, 2006, with comparisons among the many cruise lines and vessels in the Mediterranean. Our selection of Celebrity's Millennium was based on recommendations from friends, positive press, schedule and ports of call. All of our travel arrangements were made via the web without a TA. Travel and Embarkation: We were able to fly nonstop from NYC JFK to Venice on Delta, the premium being a few hundred dollars. Our flight was delayed by 3 hours and the baggage claim at Venice was dreadful, with over 45 minutes spent collecting our luggage. Thus, we were almost 4 hours behind schedule by the time we reached the Venice airport exit. Luckily, an automobile taxi was easy to hire, and the drive from the airport to the maritime terminal was quick and easy (35 euros plus tip). Our taxi driver (male) sweet-talked an attractive young (female, heavily armed) security guard at the terminal entrance, but I think this was more for our enjoyment than furthering the cause of global security. I've never before heard the words "mi amore" used to gain secure entrance. Celebrity's embarkation personnel were more efficient than friendly and we were boarded quickly. Net, we were on the ship at about 1:30 pm local time and thoroughly jet-lagged. Stateroom: Our cabin was 9067 category CC, port side forward. Our cabin, closets and bathroom were sufficiently roomy and clean, and we enjoyed that deck 9 allowed us easy access to the pool, spa, and restaurants on deck 10. However, there was a large overhang that blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the cabin and a lower deck might be a better choice. The cabin contained a small loveseat and cocktail table; the balcony held two chairs and table, neither table was very large. The television had very few channels, not even CNN, so thanks everybody for keeping the world safe while we vacationed. Ship Info: The Millennium is well maintained but it's not new. We felt that the bi-level Metropolitan Dining room was beautiful, however the central galleria through the midships was plain and not to the glitzy standard we remembered from the RCCL ships. The theatre, nightclubs, casino, bars, disco were comfortable and well appointed. The exercise machines and treadmills in the spa were aged and several were broken. Elevators and stairwells have interesting artwork and were well-placed and speedy; we had no trouble "navigating" to locations on a timely basis. Apparently, some of the "quiet" spaces on the Millennium have been sacrificed for a new acupuncture spa and for internet cafes. The library remains a nice quiet space and it stocked some interesting material. Service: We expected excellent service, but we were disappointed when one of our four suitcases was delayed aboard ship for hours, and nobody could offer any reasonable explanation. We were dismayed as we had carefully overseen the retrieval of our bags from our taxi and watched them being placed in the cart for delivery to the ship. Finally, our junior stateroom attendant took the initiative and located the bag in a "holding area for bags that had been stripped of their Celebrity ID tags". I tipped him 5 euros on the spot. Beyond this, we felt that service was excellent. With rare exception, all personnel spoke excellent English and were eager to please. We routinely were delighted with our cabin stewards and one of the attendants at the pool who "attached" himself to us. Noteworthy is that the "Concierge Class" designation did not seem to mean anything outside of your cabin; we were given special "CC" tender tickets but there was no need at the times we tendered. Certainly, it is nice to have the CC champagne, fruit and flowers, but maybe it just means that you'll get the better stateroom attendants. Dining: Breakfasts, whether room-service, dining room, or buffet, were ordinary. We did enjoy the buffet lunches served on Deck 10; occasionally there was fresh seafood available (the mussels served after Athens were outstanding!). CanapEs were brought each afternoon to our room and our attendants learned to bring cranberry juice (to mix with our bon voyage vodka). Thanks, very nice. We scheduled the 2nd seating dinner; we had not requested special arrangements and were assigned to a table for four, with an interesting couple our age from London. The service in the Metropolitan dining room was excellent and our waiter generally steered us to the best choices on the daily menu. He often brought extra entrees that we could "sample". I found that the beef dishes were my favorites, possibly because beef holds up to refrigeration. Our sommelier was pleasant and he graciously served us the bottles sent as bon voyage gifts to our room. We reserved and were thoroughly delighted with the Olympic Dining room on two evenings. You must make your Olympic reservations quickly after boarding. The menu choices were limited but high-quality. On the first evening, we both chose the "Menu Exceptional" wine tastings menu and, while it was quite interesting, it did slow down the meal. I think the second evening was better when we chose (with the sommelier's help) a fine bottle of California chardonnay and informed the wait staff that we needed to be out for the 9 PM show (dinner started at 7 PM). We just made it! The Olympic's harpist (who we found out is married to the maitre d') had taken our request on the first evening for "Love is a Many Splendored Thing", our first dance at our wedding in 1972. She was able to rehearse and perform at our second visit to the Olympic (our 35th anniversary). Nice, thanks! The "Greek Night" buffet held by the pool (Santorini) was very special, as the sun is setting and if you have a table on deck 11 the views can be exquisite. I would recommend this as a more relaxed approach unless you absolutely, positively have to see the sunset from Oia (and then fight the crowds down the funicular). The chocolate midnight buffet was disappointing, and honestly none of the cakes, breads, or deserts aboard were tasty by our standards. We did not visit the gala midnight buffet held later in the cruise (12:30 am, yawn). Activities: Bon Voyage - Full liters of Grey Goose ($80) and Absolut ($60) can be ordered through the Bon Voyage program. If your friends did not get the hint, order the bottles for yourself. Spa: Madame enjoyed a 5-day massage package (it is important to confirm your massage schedule quickly upon boarding) and thought the massages were good value. The thalossotherapy pool in the Aqua spa was my favorite, especially after a hard day on shore. The warm, bubbling salt water rapidly dissolves the pain from your sore legs, knees and feet. I want to get one of these at home! Shopping: We enjoyed the humorous presentations by Jennifer, the young lady who operates the Millennium's shopping excursions desk. We used her recommendations quite a bit and came home with a "boatload" of stuff. As Jennifer says, if you're a "white knuckler" (definition: scary term used to describe people who would rather avoid the ship's packaged tours), you'll want to listen to her presentations as she's the only one aboard who knows the local transportation options. The ship's excursions desk as you might imagine is interested in selling the packaged tours and doesn't really know about other transportation. Photos: The ship's photographers are busy most evenings and we purchased several prints; however they make much use of artificial background screens; on the RCCL Monarch we had an excellent shoot with the ship's grand piano and foyer as a background. We were able to get a photographer to take our picture in the Olympic, just ask the maitre d'. Pool: Sea days we spent at the pool, in the sunshine, and it was crowded at times; the bar attendants always managed to "find" two lounge chairs in the sun for us before they took our order for cocktails. There are always "drinks du jour" for $4.95 and it's an effective way to get some chairs. Tip: order a bottle of Pellegrino sparkling water, it's just $3.95 and will last a few hours. The band plays during the afternoons but nobody got too wild, not even the folks from Brazil. Nightlife: The casino was always busy, however luck was not with us and after losing at 3-card poker, we decided to cut and run. We frequently enjoyed the Cova Cafe, Michael's, the Rendezvous Lounge, Martini Bar, and Aft Lounge which had some nice performers. The Disco seemed to always be "canned" music (no band, no DJ) and we avoided it. The Rendezvous Lounge seemed to have the most activity, including a couple of crazies and some beautiful people (if you were aboard, you know who I mean). Entertainment: Shows often included special guest, including Broadway stars, an Irish comedian, a magician / piano wizard, etc. who we thought were quite entertaining. To be kind, the Celebrity singers and dancers could not hold our interest; we would always sit upstairs (Deck 5) where we could easily exit the show (and often did). Shore Excursions: We looked forward to shore excursions and frankly, the reason for traveling to the Mediterranean has to be the ports of call and not the ship. We especially wanted to avoid too many canned tours, recognizing that learning, relaxation and fun occur in many different ways. We wanted to try to swim at all the beaches, talk to people and enjoy as many lunches off the ship as possible; we were somewhat successful at doing this. Excursion details follow below. . . Disembarkation: Quick and uneventful. We took a taxi to Hotel 1898 on Las Ramblas, for about 17 euros. The hotel was quite elegant, with a basement pool/spa and rooftop pool and bar. Our room included breakfast, a bottle of champagne, an outdoor veranda, and an elegant marble bath. The front desk staff were very helpful and the frankly everybody seemed happy. Note that the Barcelona airport has several terminals and it wasn't easy to figure out which one was Delta's (our taxi had to circle the terminals at additional expense for us). Delta's folks carefully weigh your bags, and they were ready to slap a 25 euro penalty on one of ours. We howled and they allowed us to rebalance (we had 4 checked bags and 2 carry-ons) but it was not a pleasant experience. The nonstop flight on Delta to NYC JFK was smooth and they had tasty food and free wine with dinner. Summary: We enjoyed the trip fully, and we think that the Celebrity Millennium offered us good value. It's hard to figure out where the competition stacks up and I suspect that all the cruise lines remain very competitive. As you know, the euro is killing the dollar right now. A friend warned us that the trip would cost $15,000 total, but he was wrong: it was more than $18,000. You might consider budgeting $8,000 for the CC cabin, up to $3,000 for nonstop air plus airport transfers, up to $1,000 per day for hotel plus meals either in Barcelona or Venice, $1,500 aboard the Millennium, $1,500 on shore excursions, and whatever you have left on gifts, souvenirs and your pre-cruise expenses for clothes, camera and luggage upgrades. Opinion: nothing will ever compare to thrill of our Sitmar cruise from 1974, but that was 33 years ago and we were only 22 years old: we didn't know how good it was. We might be tempted to try a line like Regent or Crystal for a next voyage as they should have smaller, more intimate ships that reach the smaller ports. Shore Excursions Venice: I thought Venice was a challenging port; it was hot and crowded, Celebrity charges $20 per person per day for water ferry service to Piazza San Marco, and we were jet lagged both Friday and Saturday. Nevertheless, on Friday we visited the Basilica San Marco which had allowed me to make a reservation through the web. We then wandered around a bit in the piazza, taking photos and admiring the pigeons; we had some nice gelato, but to be honest we were exhausted and needed to rest. Returning to the ship, we rested and later got some night photos of the other cruise ships in port. At about 10 am Saturday, we were back to the Piazza San Marco, where we wandered up through the shopping area to the RialtoBridge. There were lots of people in town, and I can't imagine what it must be like in peak summer months. We hired a gondolier near the Rialto bridge, and caveat emptor: we were promised a 30 minute 100 euro ride, we agreed, once in the boat he offered a "45 minute ride to see everything" for 150 euros, we agreed, about 35 minutes later, after being paddled through the foul back canals and seeing little of interest, we were back at the dock at the bridge with the gondoliers demanding 150 euros! Their explanation as to why we hadn't "seen everything" was "there was heavy traffic in the canals". OK. So why had the 45 minutes turned into 35 minutes and not 55 minutes? "There was heavy traffic in the canals". I guess it's more difficult to paddle the gondola at 1 mile an hour than 5 miles an hour. As it was the start of our vacation, I was reluctant to let this spiral out of control; I paid the 150 euros but please don't let this happen to you. We were upset with the gondola charade but decided to make the best of it. We bought some nice Venetian lace at a shop just off the Piazza San Marco, and enjoyed lots of window shopping and people watching. The last water taxi back to the Millennium is at 2:00 pm for the 3:00 pm sailing, thus our opportunities for a nice lunch were very limited. In summary, Venice is an interesting place and it pays to be well prepared or go with an experienced tour; we look forward to another visit with better planning on our part. The places we saw were highly commercial and everybody understood English reasonably well. Dubrovnik: Sunday had to be Croatia's national holiday as its president was in town, security was tight and the Croatian Royal Air Force was flying in formation overhead (no jokes, please). Celebrity ran buses to town ($12 pp) and I highly recommend a self-guided tour here as it is very straightforward. Life in the suburbs does not fully prepare you for a medieval walled city. Where are the green spaces? Where do I park? We intended to walk the walls but the prospect of negotiating our way through the crowds of people already up there (there were 4 ships in town!) held us back. Good decision. We walked through the Strada, out the back gate, and into the modern city looking for Banje Beach. After all, it was a nice day and the sun was inviting. We found the beach, but unfortunately it was closed until 1:00 pm (Sunday?), and quite frankly it looked much better in the photos. Up close, it's gravel and the facilities looked a bit run down; thus expired our last, best chance to swim in the Adriatic Sea. Back to town, we wandered outside the walls along the harbor; there were some street vendors (we bought nice Adriatic coral jewelry) and the sunshine and breeze were refreshing. We hit the churches and museums and found a nice lunch in an alley off the Strada. Fish, squid, white wine and beer! Not bad. Cost was 250 kuna which is just $50. In summary, Dubrovnik is a nice place to visit but we don't feel compelled to hurry back. It will probably still be here, unchanged, in the year 2107. The people were very friendly and in the commercial places, English seemed commonly used. Santorini: After a day at sea, we were rested and ready for Santorini. I was up before 6:00 am expecting a spectacular sunrise, but it was a bit foggy. We had scheduled the ship's volcano/hot springs tour at 09:00, which was interesting and provided quite a bit of exercise. Yes, we made it to the top but God bless anyone who did not have good sneakers. The second half of the tour brought us to the volcano "hot springs" where all were invited to dive off the boat and swim towards shore. Unfortunately, the captain announced that the boat was anchored in 8 meters of water (I'm not a strong swimmer) and it appeared to be 50 meters to shore. Haha, so my wife got to enjoy the hot springs without me. She said they were not so hot after all but I have the photos and it sure looked like fun. The boat then took us to the Santorini docks, where we had been given funicular tickets as part of the tour package. It was quick and uncrowded at that time (noon). We never got to see the poor donkeys (rumor has it that evil people are reincarnated as Santorini donkeys!). The views from Fira are spectacular! We went looking for the bus to Kamari Beach, without any luck, but found ourselves at a taxi stand where we negotiated to share a car with a couple heading out to the airport, 10 euros. Kamari beach is special and we loved it. There is a little town, with hotels, shops, and plenty of restaurants (and what looked like late night hotspots). The beach has thatched umbrellas and lounge chairs; rent was 7 euros for the two of us. Speaking of volcanic rocks, whoever said Kamari had "black sand" must have a lifetime poetic license. But the blue water was beautiful and the views are totally awesome! Finally, we were swimming in the Aegean Sea. We grabbed lunch right next to the beach: Greek salad, Santorini white wine, and some nice fish; about 45 euros. A serious nap on the beach was next. Santorini is a great day as the ship doesn't set sail until late. We taxied back to Fira and enjoyed bargaining in the fairly expensive jewelry shops. Unfortunately, we found no deals but the salespeople sure were polished. We enjoyed cocktails looking out across the many ships in the caldera and took some memorable photos. Based on the morning's sunrise experience, we opted not to wait in Fira for the sunset but headed back to the ship. The Greek night special buffet was set around the ship's pool decks, very nice with lamb and a whole assortment of specialties. We again enjoyed some Santorini white wine, unfortunately Millennium's price is about double what we paid at lunch. Sunset was ordinary, the fog preventing us from experiencing the advertised spectacular sunset. In summary, Santorini was a great place and well deserves a return visit. Food and drink prices were not bad when compared to Italy, France and Spain. The people were happy and understood English without much trouble. Athens: We were determined to "go it alone" in Athens based on Tom Ogg's excellent instructions at website www.europeportreviews.com and we were not disappointed. Note that the walk from the cruise ship terminal (past literally dozens and dozens of aggressive taxi drivers) was lengthy (about 30 minutes, at least 1 ½ miles) but we easily found the pedestrian bridge which leads directly to the Piraeus Metro station. We purchased 24-hour passes for 3 euros each. The metro runs quickly to Victoria station, and a short walk leads to the National Archeological Museum. We spent about 90 minutes, nice photos and an interesting learning experience. We backtracked on the Metro to the Monastiraki station, which leads directly to the Plaka and then the Acropolis. First stop on our agenda was to be lunch at O Platanos, highly recommended by no less than the New York Times. We were not disappointed in any way; delicious lunch including a 750ml bottle of Athenian white wine was less than 40 euros, and we were entertained during that time by an assortment of look-alike cats begging for table scraps and a sad-eyed little boy playing a single tune on a bouzouki. We gave the boy a euro and he moved to another table, but later I had regrets about supporting what should be considered child abuse. Near O Platanos, we happened to be consulting our Celebrity shopping map when a young woman in a carpet shop, recognizing the map, motioned us inside! She was exceptionally pleasant, her shop was on Celebrity's approved list of vendors, and she offered us multiple glasses of her father's homemade wine. We succumbed. About 30 minutes later, we emerged with a 65 euro silk and wool rug, about 40" x 60", which was rolled up so tightly that it fit neatly into my backpack. Prices started in the hundreds of euros for a roomfull of rugs so be sure to bargain carefully for only what you really need. By the way, the rug looks really nice back home and we're glad we bought it. We wandered through the Plaka and surrounding ruins and made our way up toward the Parthenon. It was getting hot, and along the way we met an assortment of folks coming down looking tired and bedraggled. As we neared the entrance to the Parthenon (14 euros each) we started having second thoughts about the "necessity of climbing another 300 steps to see the grandmother of all western civilization". Well, you probably guessed that we didn't do it and you're right. Instead, we scaled a nearby (and free) hilltop and got some great photos. Reversing direction, we made our way back through the Plaka, the Monastiraki flea market (disappointing) and back via the Metro to the ship. The thalossotherapy pool felt good that evening! In summary, Athens was great and we look forward to a return visit. The Metro was easy to use, the people were friendly and our English was readily understood. Naples: There are so many options in Naples that you can make yourself crazy. We had been warned that Pompeii was hot and dusty and that Sorrento and the Amalfi coast were significant drives. The simple option for us "white knucklers" was: see Capri! We walked a few minutes to the Molo Beverello terminal (just north of the passenger ship terminal) and attempted to navigate the crowds surrounding the ticketing windows. There was a 9:10 hydrofoil scheduled to Capri, but the queues and general disorganization seemed daunting. Luckily for us, a street urchin grabbed me by the hand saying, "Where you going?", we said Capri, and he led us around the corner to the correct window. A few minutes and 30 euros later, we were boarding; I gave the little boy 2 euros and he smacked me on the behind. Apparently, he was expecting some folding money. Maybe he was training to be a gondolier! Capri was exquisite, but we were paranoid from reading too many travel guides, and immediately bought our return tickets for the 2:10 pm hydrofoil (too early!). We took the funicular up to the top, and proceeded to tour Capri town. There are people in abundance, and there are churches to be seen, but the major touristic occupations seem to be shopping and eating. We did not resist, and several hours and hundreds of euros later we found ourselves at the Gardens of Augustus, a beautiful space overlooking the faraglioni. Apparently, it is possible to walk yourself down the mountain to the "beach", and maybe it helps if you are spiderman, but we did not attempt. We just made the 2:10 return, and back at Molo Beverello we opted to see why folks call Naples "gritty": true grit, apparently, is required just to cross the street along the waterfront, where 5 lanes of automobiles, insane motorcyclists plus trolleys target you, the touristic pedestrian. We just did make it, toured the Castel Nuovo and the downtown opera house, the church and various big old buildings. Certainly, some investment should be made here as the location is sadly rundown but appears to have been magnificent at some time in the past. Returning to the Millennium, we found that happy hour had started without us, and the thalossotherapy pool beckoned. In summary, Naples is a top port of call and I think a return visit is warranted; maybe a short stay in a nice hotel. English certainly seems the second language of choice and we had few problems communicating. Rome: Note that both Civitavecchia (Rome) and Livorno (Florence) do not provide convenient port arrangements for passengers wanting to tour independently using public transportation. In Rome, we had made advance arrangements through Cruise Connect friends for a 9-hour private driver, who picked up the 8 of us promptly at 8:00 am. Unfortunately, none of us (including the driver) realized that Saturday, June 2nd is a national holiday (the anniversary of the republic). While the drive to the city was quick, the city itself was congested, with roads closed for parades and too many people enjoying the apparently "free holiday admission" to the many public places. We made the best of it, seeing the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the multitude of Egyptian obelisks, etc. and arrived at the Vatican Museums for our pre-scheduled tour which included a professional guide. It felt good to unload a whole bunch of euros to avoid the miles-long lines, but frankly our guide was more interested in impressing us with her incredibly detailed historical knowledge than in quickly escorting us "through the stuff". Excuse me for saying this, and I will undoubtedly burn in hell for all eternity, but the Sistine Chapel was decidedly less beautiful than the photos led me to believe (seemingly no artificial lighting) and thus the high point of the tour was a disappointment for me. It seemed like we spent 4 hours at the Vatican yet didn't get to see St. Peter's Basilica, so some better timing and brisk action would have helped us considerably. At the Coliseum, the crowds were waiting for me, Sistine Chapel blasphemer, to be thrown to the lions. We circled and circled, looking for the pre-paid entry, finally realizing that our "reservations" from Select Italy were good for nothing on the holiday. Rather than wait in line, we walked through the Roman forum and enjoyed the ruins on what was a beautiful spring day. In summary, I think we managed through a situation that was beyond our control, and the limousine company and Select Italy refunded an appropriate amount of their fees. Frankly, 8 or 9 hours is way too short a time to enjoy the splendors of Rome, and a return visit (perhaps 2-3 nights in a nice hotel) seems well worth the trouble. We enjoyed Rome, and certainly I have not seen a more cosmopolitan city; our English was easily understood. Florence: We booked the ship's "Florence on your Own" tour, which consisted of an escorted bus, well air conditioned; with a clean morning rest stop that included a "shopping opportunity" at a leather factory. Several passengers were annoyed at this but happily, as it was a Sunday, traffic was very light and we arrived in Florence before 10:00 am. We had advance tickets to the Uffizi (through Select Italy) with a timed entry of 11:00 am. However, the delays were simply unbelievable and if we hadn't paid in advance, I would have walked away. I'll simply say that we stood from approximately 10:30 am until 11:45 before we were admitted. I'm still flabbergasted that they sell advance, timed entry tickets and then refuse to let you enter at that time. Fast forwarding through the museum, we exited just after 1:00 pm and proceeded to locate the shopping recommended by the Millennium. Similar to Santorini, the recommended shops were expensive and offered little value. However, we discovered a great little leather place with an elegant Florentine gentleman, who spoke to us in Italian slowly and softly as if we could understand better that way. His leather handbags were excellent and Madame purchased three for the bargain price of 115 euros. Now we were happy! Recharging with some walk-away pizza, we circled the duomo (Sunday mass being said, we were not able to enter) and headed for the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. Although some of the famed jewelers were closed (Sunday), the remainder seemed to offer decent value although we did not make any purchases. We enjoyed some cocktails before the afternoon bus; the return from Florence departed at 3:30 pm and we took the scenic way out of the city. In summary, Florence seems like a nicely compact little city, easy to walk (i.e., flat) with interesting sights. A return visit seems worthwhile, leaving plenty of time for lunch and less time for museums! Villefranche: I was conflicted about visiting France; our daughter had had an unhappy high school trip to Paris that included some rude behavior by restaurant waitpersons, etc. I tried to learn a few words of French before the trip, but fortunately for us, everyone we met in Villefranche and Nice were pleasant and professional. We tendered in relatively early, walked to the railway station (note the trains seemed to run on the wrong track compared to America) and caught a 9:50 am train into Nice. Note, that the machine selling tickets accepts euro coins only and is in French, good luck. Within a few minutes we debarked at Nice-Ville station, and walked up the street to the main Avenue Jean Medecin, which I'll describe as the "5th Avenue" of Nice. We enjoyed the approximate 1 mile walk to the sea, stopping at the Basilique Notre Dame, and the Nice-Etoile town center (shopping mall). Naïve student of humanity that I am, I'm always fascinated by the fact that malls sell the same things everywhere on the planet. We toured the Promenade des Anglais, stopping at the Hotel Negresco for terrific photos of their decidedly weird artwork. Lunch was beyond our credit limit at the Negresco, but we found an excellent lunch at the plage Beau Rivage, about 72 euros plus tip, right on the beach. Note well that actual sand is in short supply and that the female clientele believe topless applies to all ages. There was a terrific flea market active in Vieux Nice, and we spent quite a bit of time looking for bargains. We returned via the bus station at Gare Routiere, a short walk from the old town. In Villefranche, we enjoyed some nice photo opportunities but we thought that the shops were much too kitschy even for us. We tendered back to the Millennium and enjoyed some canapEs and martinis while enjoying the tres bon Villefranche views. Summarizing, we enjoyed very much our brief visit to the spectacular south of France; our lunch was possibly the best of the entire trip, on or off the ship. Our lack of language skills did not interfere with our visit. Barcelona: A day at sea precedes debarkation, and we spent plenty of time enjoying the ship (and packing our bags). Our hotel (the Hotel 1898) was centrally located and, in retrospect, we probably spent too much time relaxing in the hotel and people watching on Las Ramblas. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the 2-day pass on the Touristic Bus and spent quite a bit of time at both the Sagrada Familia and the ancient cathedral in the Barre Gotic, in addition to all the other Gaudi stuff. There is terrific shopping in Barcelona and we got an excellent deal on Omega watches from a recommended shop. The Barcelona beaches are endless and spectacular! Actual sand, probably imported from New Jersey, and crowded with young people. The restaurants that we visited were OK, offering acceptable seafood and wines, and prices were more moderate than France or Italy. I found Barcelona offered the best pastries and coffee, and we also enjoyed a simple al fresco snack of bread, cheese, and wine that must have cost 7 euros total. Summarizing, a return visit to Barcelona is a definite must. The city provides an array of activities that we could only touch upon, given our fairly exhausted state after 12 days of cruise ship. The people were friendly but English did not seem to be as common a second language as we expected. It is a very cosmopolitan city, and seemingly has terrific nightlife for those able to enjoy it.

Celebrity Millennium - Eastern Mediterranean

Celebrity Millennium Cruise Review by oradellian

Trip Details
Celebrity Millennium Friday May 25, 2007 Venice to Barcelona
Background Information: We're age 55 cruisers celebrating 35 years of marriage and live in New Jersey near New York City. Our three previous cruises were all in the Caribbean: 1995 RCCL Monarch of the Seas, 1992 Majesty of the Seas, and 1974 Sitmar Fairwind. We have had no prior experience in Europe. Our planning began November, 2006, with comparisons among the many cruise lines and vessels in the Mediterranean. Our selection of Celebrity's Millennium was based on recommendations from friends, positive press, schedule and ports of call. All of our travel arrangements were made via the web without a TA.
Travel and Embarkation: We were able to fly nonstop from NYC JFK to Venice on Delta, the premium being a few hundred dollars. Our flight was delayed by 3 hours and the baggage claim at Venice was dreadful, with over 45 minutes spent collecting our luggage. Thus, we were almost 4 hours behind schedule by the time we reached the Venice airport exit.
Luckily, an automobile taxi was easy to hire, and the drive from the airport to the maritime terminal was quick and easy (35 euros plus tip). Our taxi driver (male) sweet-talked an attractive young (female, heavily armed) security guard at the terminal entrance, but I think this was more for our enjoyment than furthering the cause of global security. I've never before heard the words "mi amore" used to gain secure entrance.
Celebrity's embarkation personnel were more efficient than friendly and we were boarded quickly. Net, we were on the ship at about 1:30 pm local time and thoroughly jet-lagged.
Stateroom: Our cabin was 9067 category CC, port side forward. Our cabin, closets and bathroom were sufficiently roomy and clean, and we enjoyed that deck 9 allowed us easy access to the pool, spa, and restaurants on deck 10. However, there was a large overhang that blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the cabin and a lower deck might be a better choice. The cabin contained a small loveseat and cocktail table; the balcony held two chairs and table, neither table was very large. The television had very few channels, not even CNN, so thanks everybody for keeping the world safe while we vacationed.
Ship Info: The Millennium is well maintained but it's not new. We felt that the bi-level Metropolitan Dining room was beautiful, however the central galleria through the midships was plain and not to the glitzy standard we remembered from the RCCL ships.
The theatre, nightclubs, casino, bars, disco were comfortable and well appointed. The exercise machines and treadmills in the spa were aged and several were broken. Elevators and stairwells have interesting artwork and were well-placed and speedy; we had no trouble "navigating" to locations on a timely basis. Apparently, some of the "quiet" spaces on the Millennium have been sacrificed for a new acupuncture spa and for internet cafes. The library remains a nice quiet space and it stocked some interesting material.
Service: We expected excellent service, but we were disappointed when one of our four suitcases was delayed aboard ship for hours, and nobody could offer any reasonable explanation. We were dismayed as we had carefully overseen the retrieval of our bags from our taxi and watched them being placed in the cart for delivery to the ship. Finally, our junior stateroom attendant took the initiative and located the bag in a "holding area for bags that had been stripped of their Celebrity ID tags". I tipped him 5 euros on the spot.
Beyond this, we felt that service was excellent. With rare exception, all personnel spoke excellent English and were eager to please. We routinely were delighted with our cabin stewards and one of the attendants at the pool who "attached" himself to us. Noteworthy is that the "Concierge Class" designation did not seem to mean anything outside of your cabin; we were given special "CC" tender tickets but there was no need at the times we tendered. Certainly, it is nice to have the CC champagne, fruit and flowers, but maybe it just means that you'll get the better stateroom attendants.
Dining: Breakfasts, whether room-service, dining room, or buffet, were ordinary. We did enjoy the buffet lunches served on Deck 10; occasionally there was fresh seafood available (the mussels served after Athens were outstanding!). CanapEs were brought each afternoon to our room and our attendants learned to bring cranberry juice (to mix with our bon voyage vodka). Thanks, very nice.
We scheduled the 2nd seating dinner; we had not requested special arrangements and were assigned to a table for four, with an interesting couple our age from London. The service in the Metropolitan dining room was excellent and our waiter generally steered us to the best choices on the daily menu. He often brought extra entrees that we could "sample". I found that the beef dishes were my favorites, possibly because beef holds up to refrigeration. Our sommelier was pleasant and he graciously served us the bottles sent as bon voyage gifts to our room.
We reserved and were thoroughly delighted with the Olympic Dining room on two evenings. You must make your Olympic reservations quickly after boarding. The menu choices were limited but high-quality. On the first evening, we both chose the "Menu Exceptional" wine tastings menu and, while it was quite interesting, it did slow down the meal. I think the second evening was better when we chose (with the sommelier's help) a fine bottle of California chardonnay and informed the wait staff that we needed to be out for the 9 PM show (dinner started at 7 PM). We just made it! The Olympic's harpist (who we found out is married to the maitre d') had taken our request on the first evening for "Love is a Many Splendored Thing", our first dance at our wedding in 1972. She was able to rehearse and perform at our second visit to the Olympic (our 35th anniversary). Nice, thanks!
The "Greek Night" buffet held by the pool (Santorini) was very special, as the sun is setting and if you have a table on deck 11 the views can be exquisite. I would recommend this as a more relaxed approach unless you absolutely, positively have to see the sunset from Oia (and then fight the crowds down the funicular). The chocolate midnight buffet was disappointing, and honestly none of the cakes, breads, or deserts aboard were tasty by our standards. We did not visit the gala midnight buffet held later in the cruise (12:30 am, yawn).
Activities: Bon Voyage - Full liters of Grey Goose ($80) and Absolut ($60) can be ordered through the Bon Voyage program. If your friends did not get the hint, order the bottles for yourself.
Spa: Madame enjoyed a 5-day massage package (it is important to confirm your massage schedule quickly upon boarding) and thought the massages were good value. The thalossotherapy pool in the Aqua spa was my favorite, especially after a hard day on shore. The warm, bubbling salt water rapidly dissolves the pain from your sore legs, knees and feet. I want to get one of these at home!
Shopping: We enjoyed the humorous presentations by Jennifer, the young lady who operates the Millennium's shopping excursions desk. We used her recommendations quite a bit and came home with a "boatload" of stuff. As Jennifer says, if you're a "white knuckler" (definition: scary term used to describe people who would rather avoid the ship's packaged tours), you'll want to listen to her presentations as she's the only one aboard who knows the local transportation options. The ship's excursions desk as you might imagine is interested in selling the packaged tours and doesn't really know about other transportation.
Photos: The ship's photographers are busy most evenings and we purchased several prints; however they make much use of artificial background screens; on the RCCL Monarch we had an excellent shoot with the ship's grand piano and foyer as a background. We were able to get a photographer to take our picture in the Olympic, just ask the maitre d'.
Pool: Sea days we spent at the pool, in the sunshine, and it was crowded at times; the bar attendants always managed to "find" two lounge chairs in the sun for us before they took our order for cocktails. There are always "drinks du jour" for $4.95 and it's an effective way to get some chairs. Tip: order a bottle of Pellegrino sparkling water, it's just $3.95 and will last a few hours. The band plays during the afternoons but nobody got too wild, not even the folks from Brazil.
Nightlife: The casino was always busy, however luck was not with us and after losing at 3-card poker, we decided to cut and run. We frequently enjoyed the Cova Cafe, Michael's, the Rendezvous Lounge, Martini Bar, and Aft Lounge which had some nice performers. The Disco seemed to always be "canned" music (no band, no DJ) and we avoided it. The Rendezvous Lounge seemed to have the most activity, including a couple of crazies and some beautiful people (if you were aboard, you know who I mean).
Entertainment: Shows often included special guest, including Broadway stars, an Irish comedian, a magician / piano wizard, etc. who we thought were quite entertaining. To be kind, the Celebrity singers and dancers could not hold our interest; we would always sit upstairs (Deck 5) where we could easily exit the show (and often did).
Shore Excursions: We looked forward to shore excursions and frankly, the reason for traveling to the Mediterranean has to be the ports of call and not the ship. We especially wanted to avoid too many canned tours, recognizing that learning, relaxation and fun occur in many different ways. We wanted to try to swim at all the beaches, talk to people and enjoy as many lunches off the ship as possible; we were somewhat successful at doing this. Excursion details follow below. . .
Disembarkation: Quick and uneventful. We took a taxi to Hotel 1898 on Las Ramblas, for about 17 euros. The hotel was quite elegant, with a basement pool/spa and rooftop pool and bar. Our room included breakfast, a bottle of champagne, an outdoor veranda, and an elegant marble bath. The front desk staff were very helpful and the frankly everybody seemed happy.
Note that the Barcelona airport has several terminals and it wasn't easy to figure out which one was Delta's (our taxi had to circle the terminals at additional expense for us). Delta's folks carefully weigh your bags, and they were ready to slap a 25 euro penalty on one of ours. We howled and they allowed us to rebalance (we had 4 checked bags and 2 carry-ons) but it was not a pleasant experience. The nonstop flight on Delta to NYC JFK was smooth and they had tasty food and free wine with dinner.
Summary: We enjoyed the trip fully, and we think that the Celebrity Millennium offered us good value. It's hard to figure out where the competition stacks up and I suspect that all the cruise lines remain very competitive. As you know, the euro is killing the dollar right now. A friend warned us that the trip would cost $15,000 total, but he was wrong: it was more than $18,000. You might consider budgeting $8,000 for the CC cabin, up to $3,000 for nonstop air plus airport transfers, up to $1,000 per day for hotel plus meals either in Barcelona or Venice, $1,500 aboard the Millennium, $1,500 on shore excursions, and whatever you have left on gifts, souvenirs and your pre-cruise expenses for clothes, camera and luggage upgrades.
Opinion: nothing will ever compare to thrill of our Sitmar cruise from 1974, but that was 33 years ago and we were only 22 years old: we didn't know how good it was. We might be tempted to try a line like Regent or Crystal for a next voyage as they should have smaller, more intimate ships that reach the smaller ports.
Shore Excursions
Venice: I thought Venice was a challenging port; it was hot and crowded, Celebrity charges $20 per person per day for water ferry service to Piazza San Marco, and we were jet lagged both Friday and Saturday. Nevertheless, on Friday we visited the Basilica San Marco which had allowed me to make a reservation through the web. We then wandered around a bit in the piazza, taking photos and admiring the pigeons; we had some nice gelato, but to be honest we were exhausted and needed to rest. Returning to the ship, we rested and later got some night photos of the other cruise ships in port.
At about 10 am Saturday, we were back to the Piazza San Marco, where we wandered up through the shopping area to the RialtoBridge. There were lots of people in town, and I can't imagine what it must be like in peak summer months. We hired a gondolier near the Rialto bridge, and caveat emptor: we were promised a 30 minute 100 euro ride, we agreed, once in the boat he offered a "45 minute ride to see everything" for 150 euros, we agreed, about 35 minutes later, after being paddled through the foul back canals and seeing little of interest, we were back at the dock at the bridge with the gondoliers demanding 150 euros! Their explanation as to why we hadn't "seen everything" was "there was heavy traffic in the canals". OK. So why had the 45 minutes turned into 35 minutes and not 55 minutes? "There was heavy traffic in the canals". I guess it's more difficult to paddle the gondola at 1 mile an hour than 5 miles an hour. As it was the start of our vacation, I was reluctant to let this spiral out of control; I paid the 150 euros but please don't let this happen to you.
We were upset with the gondola charade but decided to make the best of it. We bought some nice Venetian lace at a shop just off the Piazza San Marco, and enjoyed lots of window shopping and people watching. The last water taxi back to the Millennium is at 2:00 pm for the 3:00 pm sailing, thus our opportunities for a nice lunch were very limited.
In summary, Venice is an interesting place and it pays to be well prepared or go with an experienced tour; we look forward to another visit with better planning on our part. The places we saw were highly commercial and everybody understood English reasonably well.
Dubrovnik: Sunday had to be Croatia's national holiday as its president was in town, security was tight and the Croatian Royal Air Force was flying in formation overhead (no jokes, please). Celebrity ran buses to town ($12 pp) and I highly recommend a self-guided tour here as it is very straightforward.
Life in the suburbs does not fully prepare you for a medieval walled city. Where are the green spaces? Where do I park? We intended to walk the walls but the prospect of negotiating our way through the crowds of people already up there (there were 4 ships in town!) held us back. Good decision. We walked through the Strada, out the back gate, and into the modern city looking for Banje Beach. After all, it was a nice day and the sun was inviting. We found the beach, but unfortunately it was closed until 1:00 pm (Sunday?), and quite frankly it looked much better in the photos. Up close, it's gravel and the facilities looked a bit run down; thus expired our last, best chance to swim in the Adriatic Sea.
Back to town, we wandered outside the walls along the harbor; there were some street vendors (we bought nice Adriatic coral jewelry) and the sunshine and breeze were refreshing. We hit the churches and museums and found a nice lunch in an alley off the Strada. Fish, squid, white wine and beer! Not bad. Cost was 250 kuna which is just $50.
In summary, Dubrovnik is a nice place to visit but we don't feel compelled to hurry back. It will probably still be here, unchanged, in the year 2107. The people were very friendly and in the commercial places, English seemed commonly used.
Santorini: After a day at sea, we were rested and ready for Santorini. I was up before 6:00 am expecting a spectacular sunrise, but it was a bit foggy. We had scheduled the ship's volcano/hot springs tour at 09:00, which was interesting and provided quite a bit of exercise. Yes, we made it to the top but God bless anyone who did not have good sneakers.
The second half of the tour brought us to the volcano "hot springs" where all were invited to dive off the boat and swim towards shore. Unfortunately, the captain announced that the boat was anchored in 8 meters of water (I'm not a strong swimmer) and it appeared to be 50 meters to shore. Haha, so my wife got to enjoy the hot springs without me. She said they were not so hot after all but I have the photos and it sure looked like fun.
The boat then took us to the Santorini docks, where we had been given funicular tickets as part of the tour package. It was quick and uncrowded at that time (noon). We never got to see the poor donkeys (rumor has it that evil people are reincarnated as Santorini donkeys!). The views from Fira are spectacular! We went looking for the bus to Kamari Beach, without any luck, but found ourselves at a taxi stand where we negotiated to share a car with a couple heading out to the airport, 10 euros.
Kamari beach is special and we loved it. There is a little town, with hotels, shops, and plenty of restaurants (and what looked like late night hotspots). The beach has thatched umbrellas and lounge chairs; rent was 7 euros for the two of us. Speaking of volcanic rocks, whoever said Kamari had "black sand" must have a lifetime poetic license. But the blue water was beautiful and the views are totally awesome! Finally, we were swimming in the Aegean Sea. We grabbed lunch right next to the beach: Greek salad, Santorini white wine, and some nice fish; about 45 euros. A serious nap on the beach was next.
Santorini is a great day as the ship doesn't set sail until late. We taxied back to Fira and enjoyed bargaining in the fairly expensive jewelry shops. Unfortunately, we found no deals but the salespeople sure were polished. We enjoyed cocktails looking out across the many ships in the caldera and took some memorable photos. Based on the morning's sunrise experience, we opted not to wait in Fira for the sunset but headed back to the ship. The Greek night special buffet was set around the ship's pool decks, very nice with lamb and a whole assortment of specialties. We again enjoyed some Santorini white wine, unfortunately Millennium's price is about double what we paid at lunch. Sunset was ordinary, the fog preventing us from experiencing the advertised spectacular sunset.
In summary, Santorini was a great place and well deserves a return visit. Food and drink prices were not bad when compared to Italy, France and Spain. The people were happy and understood English without much trouble.
Athens: We were determined to "go it alone" in Athens based on Tom Ogg's excellent instructions at website www.europeportreviews.com and we were not disappointed. Note that the walk from the cruise ship terminal (past literally dozens and dozens of aggressive taxi drivers) was lengthy (about 30 minutes, at least 1 ½ miles) but we easily found the pedestrian bridge which leads directly to the Piraeus Metro station. We purchased 24-hour passes for 3 euros each. The metro runs quickly to Victoria station, and a short walk leads to the National Archeological Museum. We spent about 90 minutes, nice photos and an interesting learning experience.
We backtracked on the Metro to the Monastiraki station, which leads directly to the Plaka and then the Acropolis. First stop on our agenda was to be lunch at O Platanos, highly recommended by no less than the New York Times. We were not disappointed in any way; delicious lunch including a 750ml bottle of Athenian white wine was less than 40 euros, and we were entertained during that time by an assortment of look-alike cats begging for table scraps and a sad-eyed little boy playing a single tune on a bouzouki. We gave the boy a euro and he moved to another table, but later I had regrets about supporting what should be considered child abuse.
Near O Platanos, we happened to be consulting our Celebrity shopping map when a young woman in a carpet shop, recognizing the map, motioned us inside! She was exceptionally pleasant, her shop was on Celebrity's approved list of vendors, and she offered us multiple glasses of her father's homemade wine. We succumbed. About 30 minutes later, we emerged with a 65 euro silk and wool rug, about 40" x 60", which was rolled up so tightly that it fit neatly into my backpack. Prices started in the hundreds of euros for a roomfull of rugs so be sure to bargain carefully for only what you really need. By the way, the rug looks really nice back home and we're glad we bought it.
We wandered through the Plaka and surrounding ruins and made our way up toward the Parthenon. It was getting hot, and along the way we met an assortment of folks coming down looking tired and bedraggled. As we neared the entrance to the Parthenon (14 euros each) we started having second thoughts about the "necessity of climbing another 300 steps to see the grandmother of all western civilization". Well, you probably guessed that we didn't do it and you're right. Instead, we scaled a nearby (and free) hilltop and got some great photos. Reversing direction, we made our way back through the Plaka, the Monastiraki flea market (disappointing) and back via the Metro to the ship. The thalossotherapy pool felt good that evening!
In summary, Athens was great and we look forward to a return visit. The Metro was easy to use, the people were friendly and our English was readily understood.
Naples: There are so many options in Naples that you can make yourself crazy. We had been warned that Pompeii was hot and dusty and that Sorrento and the Amalfi coast were significant drives. The simple option for us "white knucklers" was: see Capri! We walked a few minutes to the Molo Beverello terminal (just north of the passenger ship terminal) and attempted to navigate the crowds surrounding the ticketing windows. There was a 9:10 hydrofoil scheduled to Capri, but the queues and general disorganization seemed daunting. Luckily for us, a street urchin grabbed me by the hand saying, "Where you going?", we said Capri, and he led us around the corner to the correct window. A few minutes and 30 euros later, we were boarding; I gave the little boy 2 euros and he smacked me on the behind. Apparently, he was expecting some folding money. Maybe he was training to be a gondolier!
Capri was exquisite, but we were paranoid from reading too many travel guides, and immediately bought our return tickets for the 2:10 pm hydrofoil (too early!). We took the funicular up to the top, and proceeded to tour Capri town. There are people in abundance, and there are churches to be seen, but the major touristic occupations seem to be shopping and eating. We did not resist, and several hours and hundreds of euros later we found ourselves at the Gardens of Augustus, a beautiful space overlooking the faraglioni. Apparently, it is possible to walk yourself down the mountain to the "beach", and maybe it helps if you are spiderman, but we did not attempt.
We just made the 2:10 return, and back at Molo Beverello we opted to see why folks call Naples "gritty": true grit, apparently, is required just to cross the street along the waterfront, where 5 lanes of automobiles, insane motorcyclists plus trolleys target you, the touristic pedestrian. We just did make it, toured the Castel Nuovo and the downtown opera house, the church and various big old buildings. Certainly, some investment should be made here as the location is sadly rundown but appears to have been magnificent at some time in the past. Returning to the Millennium, we found that happy hour had started without us, and the thalossotherapy pool beckoned.
In summary, Naples is a top port of call and I think a return visit is warranted; maybe a short stay in a nice hotel. English certainly seems the second language of choice and we had few problems communicating.
Rome: Note that both Civitavecchia (Rome) and Livorno (Florence) do not provide convenient port arrangements for passengers wanting to tour independently using public transportation. In Rome, we had made advance arrangements through Cruise Connect friends for a 9-hour private driver, who picked up the 8 of us promptly at 8:00 am. Unfortunately, none of us (including the driver) realized that Saturday, June 2nd is a national holiday (the anniversary of the republic). While the drive to the city was quick, the city itself was congested, with roads closed for parades and too many people enjoying the apparently "free holiday admission" to the many public places.
We made the best of it, seeing the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the multitude of Egyptian obelisks, etc. and arrived at the Vatican Museums for our pre-scheduled tour which included a professional guide. It felt good to unload a whole bunch of euros to avoid the miles-long lines, but frankly our guide was more interested in impressing us with her incredibly detailed historical knowledge than in quickly escorting us "through the stuff". Excuse me for saying this, and I will undoubtedly burn in hell for all eternity, but the Sistine Chapel was decidedly less beautiful than the photos led me to believe (seemingly no artificial lighting) and thus the high point of the tour was a disappointment for me. It seemed like we spent 4 hours at the Vatican yet didn't get to see St. Peter's Basilica, so some better timing and brisk action would have helped us considerably.
At the Coliseum, the crowds were waiting for me, Sistine Chapel blasphemer, to be thrown to the lions. We circled and circled, looking for the pre-paid entry, finally realizing that our "reservations" from Select Italy were good for nothing on the holiday. Rather than wait in line, we walked through the Roman forum and enjoyed the ruins on what was a beautiful spring day.
In summary, I think we managed through a situation that was beyond our control, and the limousine company and Select Italy refunded an appropriate amount of their fees. Frankly, 8 or 9 hours is way too short a time to enjoy the splendors of Rome, and a return visit (perhaps 2-3 nights in a nice hotel) seems well worth the trouble. We enjoyed Rome, and certainly I have not seen a more cosmopolitan city; our English was easily understood.
Florence: We booked the ship's "Florence on your Own" tour, which consisted of an escorted bus, well air conditioned; with a clean morning rest stop that included a "shopping opportunity" at a leather factory. Several passengers were annoyed at this but happily, as it was a Sunday, traffic was very light and we arrived in Florence before 10:00 am.
We had advance tickets to the Uffizi (through Select Italy) with a timed entry of 11:00 am. However, the delays were simply unbelievable and if we hadn't paid in advance, I would have walked away. I'll simply say that we stood from approximately 10:30 am until 11:45 before we were admitted. I'm still flabbergasted that they sell advance, timed entry tickets and then refuse to let you enter at that time.
Fast forwarding through the museum, we exited just after 1:00 pm and proceeded to locate the shopping recommended by the Millennium. Similar to Santorini, the recommended shops were expensive and offered little value. However, we discovered a great little leather place with an elegant Florentine gentleman, who spoke to us in Italian slowly and softly as if we could understand better that way. His leather handbags were excellent and Madame purchased three for the bargain price of 115 euros. Now we were happy!
Recharging with some walk-away pizza, we circled the duomo (Sunday mass being said, we were not able to enter) and headed for the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio. Although some of the famed jewelers were closed (Sunday), the remainder seemed to offer decent value although we did not make any purchases. We enjoyed some cocktails before the afternoon bus; the return from Florence departed at 3:30 pm and we took the scenic way out of the city.
In summary, Florence seems like a nicely compact little city, easy to walk (i.e., flat) with interesting sights. A return visit seems worthwhile, leaving plenty of time for lunch and less time for museums!
Villefranche: I was conflicted about visiting France; our daughter had had an unhappy high school trip to Paris that included some rude behavior by restaurant waitpersons, etc. I tried to learn a few words of French before the trip, but fortunately for us, everyone we met in Villefranche and Nice were pleasant and professional. We tendered in relatively early, walked to the railway station (note the trains seemed to run on the wrong track compared to America) and caught a 9:50 am train into Nice. Note, that the machine selling tickets accepts euro coins only and is in French, good luck.
Within a few minutes we debarked at Nice-Ville station, and walked up the street to the main Avenue Jean Medecin, which I'll describe as the "5th Avenue" of Nice. We enjoyed the approximate 1 mile walk to the sea, stopping at the Basilique Notre Dame, and the Nice-Etoile town center (shopping mall). Naïve student of humanity that I am, I'm always fascinated by the fact that malls sell the same things everywhere on the planet.
We toured the Promenade des Anglais, stopping at the Hotel Negresco for terrific photos of their decidedly weird artwork. Lunch was beyond our credit limit at the Negresco, but we found an excellent lunch at the plage Beau Rivage, about 72 euros plus tip, right on the beach. Note well that actual sand is in short supply and that the female clientele believe topless applies to all ages.
There was a terrific flea market active in Vieux Nice, and we spent quite a bit of time looking for bargains. We returned via the bus station at Gare Routiere, a short walk from the old town. In Villefranche, we enjoyed some nice photo opportunities but we thought that the shops were much too kitschy even for us. We tendered back to the Millennium and enjoyed some canapEs and martinis while enjoying the tres bon Villefranche views.
Summarizing, we enjoyed very much our brief visit to the spectacular south of France; our lunch was possibly the best of the entire trip, on or off the ship. Our lack of language skills did not interfere with our visit.
Barcelona: A day at sea precedes debarkation, and we spent plenty of time enjoying the ship (and packing our bags). Our hotel (the Hotel 1898) was centrally located and, in retrospect, we probably spent too much time relaxing in the hotel and people watching on Las Ramblas. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the 2-day pass on the Touristic Bus and spent quite a bit of time at both the Sagrada Familia and the ancient cathedral in the Barre Gotic, in addition to all the other Gaudi stuff. There is terrific shopping in Barcelona and we got an excellent deal on Omega watches from a recommended shop.
The Barcelona beaches are endless and spectacular! Actual sand, probably imported from New Jersey, and crowded with young people. The restaurants that we visited were OK, offering acceptable seafood and wines, and prices were more moderate than France or Italy. I found Barcelona offered the best pastries and coffee, and we also enjoyed a simple al fresco snack of bread, cheese, and wine that must have cost 7 euros total.
Summarizing, a return visit to Barcelona is a definite must. The city provides an array of activities that we could only touch upon, given our fairly exhausted state after 12 days of cruise ship. The people were friendly but English did not seem to be as common a second language as we expected. It is a very cosmopolitan city, and seemingly has terrific nightlife for those able to enjoy it.
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