I am going to describe all of our holiday as there may be parts apart from the actual cruises that may be of interest, so feel free to skip paragraphs that you are not interested in! All comments are my opinions, so there! Getting to Barcelona We decided to try the 'eco friendly' way of getting to BCN and went by train. Northampton to Euston was no problem and it only took us about 15 minutes to walk to St.Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Paris. Although there is the inevitable waiting around, the trip so far was OK. We got to Paris Gare du Nord and headed off on the metro for Gare d'Austerlitz. This is where we had a few problems. Between my wife (Jane) and I we were pulling 3 bags on wheels and 2 holdalls (which were carried on top of the bags). We got down the escalators OK, but were confronted with a flight of stairs and no lift in sight. We got down to platform level after transferring one bag at a time down the stairs. We managed to get on the metro just before they closed the doors(!), which was no mean feat and got off at the 8th stop for Gare d'Austerlitz. The line here has just come over the River Seine on a bridge, so we were 2 floors above ground level and, yes you've guessed, no lift! So we humped the bags down 4 flights of stairs. By the time we got to the bottom I was knackered and had a good sweat on! It was a 2 minute walk into the station and we only waited about 10 minutes before we could board the overnight Trenhotel to BCN. We got on and the first shock was the size of the cabin. We had opted for Gran Classe(1st class) and for this we got a double room with toilet and shower. There is not a lot of room (swinging of cats would be tricky!) and our big bag had to go in the shower (so no shower in the morning) as I could not get it on the overhead storage shelf with the other two. We went for dinner (included) and sat with a couple from the US who were originally from the Ukraine. We were not alone in thinking the cabins small. As they said, if this is Gran Classe, what are the other cabins like?! Dinner was very good and we went off to get some sleep. However, the train had other ideas! I don't know if the its because the track is old or what, but we were thrown about from side to side most of the night (worse than the worse night I've had on a cruise ship in rough seas) and ended up regularly waking up. Got up for breakfast (croissant, toast, petit pain de chocolate, egg and mushroom concoction) and arrived at Franca station on time at 8.25am. Taxi to hotel was about 10 minutes and cost €13. Hotel Continental Palacete As long as you go with the attitude that this is not a 5* hotel you will be fine. The staff are extremely helpful, the place is clean (both plus points in my book!). There are only 19 rooms and 2 suites, but our room was quite spacious and well lit. The bedrooms are done out in pink and look a bit like a 'tarts boudoir', but are perfectly adequate. Each room has an ensuite bathroom, safe, TV, microwave and fridge, but no tea/coffee facilities. However, there is the 24 hr buffet. Whilst you could live off it, you probably won't as it is very samey every day. There is a hot sausage and bacon dish and a sort of ring omelette for breakfast, together with fruit, cereals and toast etc. You have access to unlimited bottled water, canned drinks (pepsi, fanta, beer), tea, coffee, milk, red and white wine. The lounge looks like it belongs at Versailles(!) and is made up of plastic tables and chairs, but these are all tastefully covered. All in all I think it was excellent value and only 5 minutes walk from Placa de Catalunya. There is a taxi rank opposite the hotel and the only real bad thing (if you have mobility issues) is that you have to climb about 10 steps to get to the lift to get up to the first floor of the building. The whole 'hotel' is on the first floor. After we came off our cruise, we had to kill 10 hours in Barcelona and they let us dump our bags at the hotel and use all the facilities free of charge. 4 days in Barcelona As our room wasn't ready at the hotel, we went off for a walk down the Ramblas to the old port and walked around the aquarium area and back to the hotel. This took us about 4 hours, so when we got back to the hotel our room was ready and we unpacked. 2nd day we did the HOHO bus. This was €20 for one day (2days €26). We had noticed the previous day that the queues in Placa de Catalunya get big very quickly, so you want to get there for about 9am. We did the red route first, then changed to blue route in Placa de Catalunya. When we did this, one side of the Placa was closed off so both buses were on the same side of the square. Normally the red bus is on the east side and the blue bus on the west, so you have to walk across the square to change. We did also do the green route, but to be honest there was not a lot to see on it. We stopped off and walked along the beach promenade (all redeveloped for the 92 Olympics) where there loads of different restaurants. We also visited Parc Guell, which is quite spectacular, even with the fountains all switched off for maintenance, but be warned...it is a very steep walk. Next day we went to Monserrat monastery. We did this via public transport and arrived back in Barcelona about 4.30pm. The views from the top of the mountains are spectacular, as is the cathedral at the monastery. On our 4th day we did a segway tour around Barcelona. We were the only 2 on the tour, so Buster (our guide) said we could go where we want. He took us all over the city and way down towards the Forum at the NE end of the beach. We had a good 4 hrs on this tour. On returning to the hotel, we went and did a bit of washing at a local laundromat which was very clean and well maintained. Cruise 1 (15th - 19thMay) Got a taxi to the Moll Adossat to join the Navigator. We arrived about 11.30 am. There was about 20 other people checking in, so in about 5 minutes we were walking onto the ship. Others we met on the ship who arrived at the 'correct' time of 2pm waited for an hour or more. Moral: get there early!! We went up to our Junior Suite on deck 9 and were very pleased with the amount of extra room (this was our first time in a JS to get double points, so that by the end of holiday we would be Diamond). Bags arrived just before muster drill. OK, so nobody really likes doing muster drill, but it could save your life. So why don't the crew have a go at those who insist on not wearing their life jacket. I'd let them all drown! I bet they would be first on the lifeboats in a real emergency! We walked round the ship to get our bearings and headed of for dinner. Now on this cruise there were around 120 US, 500 UK ...and 1200 Spanish. As has been said on other boards, meal times have been moved to suit the Spaniards, so we opted for the main (6.45) sitting. All 4 days we were on a table for 10 by the captains table and we were the only 2 on it. Now many of you would say this probably got boring and maybe it did, but it is amazing how critical you can be of other people when no one else is around! We commented on people not sticking to the dress code (why bother having it?) and the amount of people who came to dinner late. I don't mean like 15 minutes or so, but nearly every night a Spanish group of about 20 came in at 8.30 and were served!..bearing in mind that they do not open for second sitting until everyone from main has gone. I think this is just plain rude to other guests, but especially to the wait staff. I don't know why they are not just refused entry. We even mentioned this to the maitre d'. The CD was Kieron Buffery from Dover and we met up with him a few times. I think his humor was slightly lost on the Spaniards, but hey ho thats their loss! As we were going to be on for 3 cruises we decided to watch all the production shows in the first cruise, then if there was anything really impressive, we could watch it again on a subsequent cruise. I'm never very impressed by the 'singers and dancers' shows and although they were quite good, I can't get over singers who think shouting is better than singing well. The 'trapeze' act, (Jimmy and Anna?) were very good (they must get to the gym more!), as was the Charlie Frye (juggler). If you see this act, watch his wife...she is the best bit (and I don't mean in looks!). Ice show was stunning as usual...how do they manage in that small space. Villefranche Went to Monaco for the day. Plan was to go by train, but joy of joys, the French train drivers went on strike! This did not stop the station selling one couple a ticket before telling there were no trains! So, we managed to muscle our way onto the bus (no 100) to Monaco. Took about 25 minute to get there. It started raining, so weather wasn't the best, but we walked up to the palace (and watched guys putting up sheets of steel so no one could overlook next weeks Grand Prix), walked down past the Cathedral, Oceanographic museum and gardens (where guys were put up chain link fencing so no one could camp out on the grass during the Grand Prix) and tried to walk round Monaco, without tripping over armco barriers stands erected for the Grand Prix. Got up to Casino Sq, where a large TV dominated the area for the GP fans and decided to go back to the ship.Went to get the bus back (along with about 50 others!) and watched the first (full) bus go sailing by! Plan B...walked up the road to the next stop. Got the second bus and sailed past all the people at all the bus stops. All in all, the trip which had taken us 25 minutes in the morning took 3 hrs in the afternoon. I think they extended last tender time by an hour to get everyone back on! BTW, Monaco has the cleanest public toilets I have ever seen. You could eat your lunch off the floor. Oh, and they have a Grand Prix!! (in case you hadn't noticed.) Ibiza Arrived 5.30 pm, left 5am. This stop was really for those who wanted to go clubbing. It was also our introduction to RCI's latest money spinner...the $6 each way shuttle bus. If you want to go to town this is really the only way (save a taxi) to do it as the ship docks way out on a new breakwater. We wandered round town for an hour and came back! Personally, with hindsight, I wish we had just walked up round the lighthouse and down the road towards town and come back. In my opinion, this was a total waste of a port. Barcelona On returning to BCN, we got the port shuttle bus (€2 single,€3 return) to Colom monument, walked up Ave Parallel and caught the funicular and cable car to the top of Montjuics. Walked back down by a circuitous route to catch the shuttle back (now about 2pm). There were lots of people waiting for the bus, many Spaniards for the next cruise toting bags. It was a mad scramble for the bus and luckily I heard the driver saying 'those with tickets'. As we had our return tickets, we managed to shoulder our way on. The bus then crawled in the traffic jam all the way to the port...must have taken 40+ minutes. Cruise 2 (19th - 24th May) 800UK, 500US, 800 Spanish Cannes ..was packed for the film festival.We spotted the castle tower from the harbor and decided to climb it! The road up is very steep, the there is 150 odd steps inside the tower, but you get wonderful views from the top. We tried walking along the beachfront avenues, but got peeed off with 'wannabee' celebrities getting in the way as if they owned the place. It was almost impossible to find a cafe to get a coffee or anything (and I bet they hiked the prices too!), so we headed back to the ship. Livorno (Pisa) Another $6 each way shuttle bus dropped us in Livorno. We decided to walk to the station, which took about 25 minutes. Got the train (€1.70 each way..same to Florence), then walked from Pisa station to the Field of Miracles. To be honest, Pisa is pretty shabby, but then you suddenly come upon this..amazing place! Walked all around until our pre booked tower climb. Got half way up and were just about to pass out (!), when they gave us a rest stop! The tour ahead of us then comes down, then we carry on up. You can get right on to the top of the tower, but after about 5 minutes (maybe less) a guard tells you to go back down, so make sure you get your pictures as soon as you get up there. Walked straight back down. Its 301 steps (well, thats what I counted!). We walked back to the station a different way and got the bus from Livorno station back to the shuttle bus. Civitavecchia (Rome...at least that was the plan!) The previous night I went to bed a bit heady and by morning had a stinking cold. As I didn't feel too good, we decided to stay on the ship and save the $24 shuttle fares. At about noon, we found out (with another couple) at Guest Relations, that there is a free shuttle bus and you can walk out of the port if you want. We had 'words' with Guest Relations saying why have you lead us to believe you have got to pay? They were non committal (surprise, surprise). So, we walked out of the port (about 20 mins), found a laundromat about 100 yds from the gate and did the laundry! (Yes, we do know how to live!!). Got the free bus back..and that was Civitavecchia! Barcelona...again! After our fun on the bus 5 days ago, we decided to stay on the ship and go and sunbathe. Opened the curtains in the morning and, yes you've guessed, it was peeing down! Still, at least we weren't in the line for taxis!! Cruise 3 (24th -29th May) This was the half term week for UK schools and I think a lot of people were trying a short cruise as an experiment. There were over 1500 Brits on board. Marseilles Entered dock on the Sunday and were warned that all the shops are closed on a Sunday. Again it was raining, so relatively few people got off the ship. Some extra activities were put on and the Monaco GP was shown in most of the bars on the ship (Oh, did I forget to mention Monaco has a Grand Prix?). About 20 minutes before we slipped our moorings, the sun came out, so I got some nice photos of the coastline and the Chateau d'Ife. Cagliari Another short port. Only there for 4 hours. We did our only RCI excursion at this port. We did the Cagliari Panoramic which took us round various sights and ended up at a restaurant where we had a few 'local' snacks and wine. I ate too much and just had to force down that evenings dinner! Palermo Plan was to take the HOHO bus, but someone told us they do not have many buses and there are often long queues. With a Costa ship and MSC ship in, we thought this would mean 8000 odd people trying to get on 3 or 4 buses, so we went for a walk. The weather had gone from one extreme to the other as it was about 32C in the shade...and there wasn't a lot of that! We walked down toward the fishing harbor and came back. Palermo is another place that real needs to spend some money on sprucing the place up. Got back on the ship and it was like walking into a fridge! Barcelona.. again,again! Changed our tags so we were one of the last off. The ship has the most efficient disembarkation I've seen and everyone is off by 9.30am. Had to wait in line for about an hour to get a taxi back to the Palacete to dump our bags. We walked down to the Aquarium and went inside it, then just walked around and went back to the hotel to kill time until our train left at 9pm. The meal on the Trenhotel was nothing like as good as when we came down (main course..veal chopthat could have been cooked a bit more and 3 slices of courgette!). Slept a bit better, but not brilliantly. Arrived at Paris on time and this time got a taxi to Gard du Nord to catch the Eurostar to London. Eventually arrived home in Northampton at 4pm. In Conclusion It might sound like we didn't have a good time, but we did! How can you not have a good time on a cruise ship? We met loads of really nice people (and a few who weren't!), got to know the CD and most of the staff who were great, won all but one of the trivias we went in for (so came home loaded with tags, pens and bags of various sorts), had a free go at the jackpot bingo and won $66!, got a few free drinks from one of the bar staff we befriended and all in all had a great time. However, we don't think we would do 3 short cruises back to back again. You miss out on different shows, the dining rooms menus start to repeat and there is only so much you can do on each return to Barcelona, so you are wasting a day on each cruise. If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them. Now, where shall we go on our next voyage?? Simon
Great JS. On the hump,so view both ways. 10seconds to the stairwell/lifts, 15 seconds to the Concierge Lounge!