GEM Oct 11—18 Ports: Barcelona, Malta, Naples, Rome, Pisa/Florence, Cannes, Barcelona
I would like to start this review by saying I am not a real spontaneous person. Sure, maybe going out to dinner unplanned, or even a trip to the mall, but I always plan my vacations VERY far ahead. Well, this vacation broke that rule for me. Less than 24 hrs before take off, I planned the entire thing! I enjoyed this adventure from start to finish. I love the GEM, and everything about her. The staff was excellent as usual, the food was good to great, as was the entertainment. I made some new, albeit temporary friends, spent some quality time with my DD and enjoyed a getaway I desperately needed.
Pre-Cruise Flew from Newark to Brussels to Barcelona. Great flight, easy connects! Arrived in Barcelona on Saturday, check into the lovely Hotel Eurostars Grand Marina (full review on TA)—just one dock over from where the GEM docked at the World Trade Center. They graced us with a complimentary Cava while our room details and keys were prepared. From our window we could see the pier, and Sunday morning were able to see the GEM from our window. We were hungry and went "next door" to the shopping mall and had tapas and paella at TapasTapas. I know it seems sacrilegious to eat at a mall in such at beautiful city, but we were able to dine outdoors overlooking the sea on a beautiful sunny afternoon. The seafood crepes were divine, and the paella delicious—full of seafood. The white sangria was a little sweet, but the sunny afternoon assured it went down easily. From here we took the metro to Park Guell. We had not visited the Park on our previous trip to Barcelona, and were anxious to see it. From the metro, the walk was up a steep hill, but there were several escalators (yes—on the street) to help with the upward climb. Once you get to the park there are lovely hiking trails to get to the "famous" Gaudi bench area overlooking the city. The view is lovely, as are the wonderful mosaic benches. We continued up the trails to the castle area, with a walkway carved into the stone of the mountain. Gaudi's love for combining his art and nature are very evident here. We found our way back down to the metro—leaving by a less steep pathway than we took up and enter the metro closer to Las Ramblas. We got out at La Catalunya, and made our way down Las Ramblas, stopping at the famous market, where I purchased a bottle of Cava for the evening. We freshened up, and were talking about dinner, but were so tired, we completely crashed at 9pm. I awakened about 12am, and bored, but not tired, I made my way down to the lobby to take advantage of the free internet. Unfortunately, the computers were turned in for the night, so I spent some time chatting with a lovely couple from the Netherlands who had attended a wedding that day, and a gentleman from LA who was heading out on RCCL the next day also. Next day we had a lovely breakfast at the hotel. Large buffet that for some guests was complimentary. We were not one of those guests and paid 25E, but were still a bit tired and didn't feel like walking up to Las Ramblas to find the pastry shop we had planned on eating at. We checked out, they hailed a cab for us (after first trying to convince us to use their Mercedes car service for 50E—for heavens sake the ride all the way from the airport was only 24E!). A quick ride and we arrived at the pier
Embarkation Day At the pier there was a bit of confusion since we had only booked a few days before, and did not have a cabin # assigned. The supervisor at baggage, quickly rectified the situation, and off our bags went. We breezed through security, and easily found the Latitudes line. We had nobody waiting in front of us. We were through the entire process in less than 15 minutes. No sooner than we had our cards, than they announce boarding could begin! My DD commented that we had timed things perfect. We circumvented the "Welcome Aboard" photo line, and we were back on the beautiful GEM—sparkling wine in hand! We proceeded down to the Grand Pacific, only to learn that they would not open for another 15 minutes. So we went back to the Atrium, signed up my DD for the soda card, and headed back to the Grand Pacific for lunch. We had a lovely lunch, while sipping on my sparkling wine, and enjoying being back on the GEM. After lunch we went and enrolled DD in the Teen Club, and stopped by the front desk to see if I could purchase onboard the Honeymoon/Romance package. I was able to and went right next door to make reservations for that evening for LeBistro (DD wasn't sure if she would be available other nights to dine with me!) We walked around the ship to reacquaint ourselves with the layout, and before we knew it our room was ready. At 5pm the Muster Drill was conducted. After that we took a quick tour of the spa, and signed up for their raffle—DD won runner up $50 off any regular priced service! We headed up to the deck for the Sailaway Party. It was a pretty typical party, and the entertainment staff did a great job of getting lots of people up and dancing. We had an 7pm reservation for dinner, which was around the scheduled sailaway time. We had a lovely dinner at LeBistro, but by the time we finished we still had not sailed. Before dinner we had heard an announcement "code alpha alpha alpha". I commented to DD that this didn't sound good. At some point the captain came on and stated that there was a medical emergency, and sailway would be delayed. Unfortunately, the captain came on later and advised us that the gentleman had passed away and we would be off once the authorities in Barcelona arrived. We didn't end up sailing away til almost 8:30. How sad, this really hit home because I was using this trip to help me deal with the recent death of my father. On the plane my horoscope had specifically warned against doing any unplanned travel (EEK!!!). I worried, should I be concerned that this was just the start of what was to come? After dinner, DD headed off to the Teen Club and I went to the show that evening. The show was a new show that had been added since last year. The show was a music/comedy featuring three Spanish guitarists. I have mixed feelings about the show. Some of it was funny, but it was wayyyyyyy too long for what it was. There was a running joke that kinda of got played out fairly fast. It was a show that I would have more expected in the Spinnaker lounge, or as a featured act as part of another variety type show. I finished off the evening dancing to Prism (VERY GOOD—they also performed many days poolside) in the Spinnaker lounge.
Day 2—Sea Day Since this was the only sea day, the schedule was PACKED! There were so many activities that I would have liked to attend, but so many of them conflicted. After a solo breakfast at Grand Pacific, I headed for the pool to do some reading before my proposed schedule. There was a special Oktoberfest buffet at the Great Outdoors, where I headed for an early lunch. There were several German specialties. It was ok—but it was sooooo windy that chairs were blowing around, so I ate quickly. There was no official M&G on this cruise, but several CC'ers were meeting at the JAVA cafe at 1pm to discuss tour sharing. I met with a family who I had emailed on Thursday night to share a private driver in Rome. The itinerary sounded good, and they had a 13yo DD, so it seemed like a GREAT plan. I quickly darted off to the Spinnaker lounge for the Latitudes party at 1:30. I arrived around 1:35, and all the hors d'eaurves were already distributed, but I was able to enjoy a cocktail, and won 100 min to the internet cafe.! From there I was off to the Margarita Tasting at Bali Hai. There was only one other couple there, but they allowed us to have the tasting, even though we fell below the threshold of 10 participants. The Margaritas were tasty, and I made some news friends—a newlywed couple from BC. ? After the tasting, I was ready for my next NCLU class. There was an informative seminar about the history of Malta. The information was good, but the presentation was a little dry—instead of photos, the presenter showed a power point of his narrative. Ready for more excitement, I was off to NCLU class #3—Martini tasting at Shakers. Arriving a bit early, I looked on at the NCLU Beer and Food pairing seminar. The presenter had a great knowledge of beers, and even though I wasn't imbibing, I enjoyed his presentation. Lindsey, the head bartender at Shakers was giving the presentation. He was also very informative (STYLE card!) and made some GREAT Martinis! I also made some new friends here—5 friends from CA, a group of friends from LBI, NJ, a few singles, and a few newlywed couples, including my pals from the Margarita tasting. I met up with my DD who while having fun at the Teen Club, was disappointed that most of the teens only spoke German. We had dinner together at Magenta, and parted ways. I spent some time at the internet cafe, and signed up for my 100 minutes. I was concerned that I had forgotten my voucher for my free minutes, but Neil of the cafe assured me I could bring it at any time. I headed off to the show—Colourz. Nice show, good music. I had some time to kill, so headed to the Casino. Didn't take long before I was ready for the PUB CRAWL!!!!! The Pub Crawl was probably the most fun I had on the entire cruise. Lots of the friends I had made were there, plus some new ones. 5 bars, 5 (well more than 5) drinks, crazy games, and LOADS of fun. I will not discuss the details to protect the GUILTY!!!!! The Crawl ended up at Spinnaker's where the White Hot Party was going on. GREAT WAY to end the night—dancing and partying—the night ended with a BANG!!! Day 3, Malta Needless to say, I woke up on Tuesday feeling less than energetic. I went up to the buffet and got some breakfast, and brought chocolate croissants and juice back down for DD. Around 9:30 we made our way out to Malta. Having been here before, we decided we would like to see the ancient Temples and caves, and had a plan to take the busses. As soon as we were off the ship, there were taxi drivers and HOHO bus sales people. Since I was feeling uninspired, DD and I decided to take the HOHO bus. Unfortunately we choose the wrong tour (oopps!), which did not go to the Temples. We instead went to the glass factory and Mdina. Beautiful glass works, and the ancient city of Mdina was breathtaking. My only complaint was that the driver said to be back to the bus at a certain time. Well, we waited about 20 min. Finally our bus arrived. However, it was already full and we were told to wait 5 minutes for the next bus, which arrived a half hour later. I would have loved to have spent the extra hour or so exploring Mdina. Oh well. Last stop was Valetta, and since we were tired and had seen Valetta before, we decided to head back to the ship. When we got back on the ship we had a late lunch at the Great Outdoors. DD then headed off to the Teen Club, and I headed off to LeBistro for the French Wine and cheese tasting. The head sommelier was well versed in the wine and cheese selections, and how to pair and why. I sat with another lovely newlywed couple from San Diego. After the tasting was over, we sat at LeBistro for quite a while chatting, until the pretty much threw us out—LOL! I met DD and we headed out to the Grand Pacific for dinner. It was dress up or not, and we both decided to dress up. There was a long line for portraits, so we passed. We arrived at Grand Pacific, only to find there was a line. Our name was taken and we were given a beeper. We went back to the Atrium—yippee—no line to have portraits with the Captain! No sooner was our photo taken, than our beeper went off. Dinner at Grand Pacific was nice. I couldn't decide between the Beef Wellington and the seafood extravaganza (lobster tail!), so the server offered to bring both. I asked for just the lobster tail on the side, but the entire dish was brought. This was unfortunate—I ate nearly the whole thing! DD headed back to the Teen Club, and I headed to the show—Magic and Comedy. Once again, I enjoyed the show, but found it may have been better suited as PART of a variety show, not a headliner all by itself. I went to the Casino for Monte Carlo night. My favorite—roulette—table was completely packed. A little slot play, and I was done. I headed in for a (relatively) early night.
Day 4, Naples/Sorrento We started the day off having breakfast in Grand Pacific, and were off the ship by 9:30 am. Our plan was to take the ferry to Sorrento and then the bus to Positano (since we had already seen Pompeii). We walked from the ship to the ferry station, past the numerous OBNOXIOUS taxi drivers and beggars (do not look at them or engage them in any way—they are relentless and our friends from Kentucky were taken advantage of one of these "gypsy" cab drivers), we found that the next ferry was not leaving for Sorrento until 11. I guess it would have been helpful to get the ferry schedule the day before (oh well). We went back to the ship because we had no desire to explore Naples. An hour later, we went back to the ferry and enjoyed the 40 min trip to Sorrento—the scenery is beautiful. When we arrived, we were not in the mood to wait for the bus, so we climbed up the stairs to the village area of Sorrento. Be warned this is NOT for the faint of heart!!! We found our way to the bus stop, only to watch the bus to Positano pulling away. The next one did not come for another hour, so we decided to spend the day in Sorrento. Sorrento is lovely with many shopping and eating areas, all with a beautiful backdrop. We found the wonderful restaurant we had eaten at last year and my DD had the pasta Bolognese she has been dreaming of for the past 1+yrs. We wandered around for a few hours and headed back to the ferry (easier going down the steps!) to Naples. Since I was dining solo, I cleaned up and headed to Salsa for dinner. I have to say, I was very happily surprised. I love Mexican food, but do not think of it as the most gourmet style of food. My meal was the BEST one I ended up having all week onboard(yes—it was better than LeBistro and Cagney's). After dinner, I went to the show—Get Down Tonight. This is a fun show if you grew up in the 70's like I did. The music made me feel nostalgic, and there was even a (corny, but cute) segment saluting the sitcoms of the 70s.
Day 5 Rome This was the day we shared a private driver with the family from Kentucky. I would like to thank Michael again for setting this us. And to the entire family for sharing the day with us. Our driver Alexander was excellent and got us around to see so much! We hit a great deal of traffic heading into Rome. This did not stop him from getting us to all fo the following: Fountain overlooking the city, Square featuring the Tomb to the unknown soldier, the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon (where we lunched—yummy!), Trevi Fountain (where we had gelato—also YUM!), Spanish Steps and the Vatican. We did not get to see St. Peter's Basilica, the line was way too long, and we were concerned about traffic going back. All I can say is WOW what a day! After all the walking—a soak in the hut tub felt wonderful! That night I dined alone at Grand Pacific—another wonderful meal. I then went to BOTH shows—Kwame Remy (singer par excellance). He mentioned that he and several others were leaving the GEM on St for their hiatus, and weren't sure what ship (if any) they would be returning to, so it seemed like a poignant performance for him. Second City also performed that evening. It was completely different from the last two times I saw them on the GEM (both of those were the same). Great improve—I give these guys credit making this stuff up on the fly.... Ended the night in Bliss Lounge, dancing the night away with two sisters from the Netherlands.
Day 6 Livorno/Florence Began the day again with room service—ordering non breakfast items since neither one of us are big breakfast eaters—it was great—just what we needed to start our day. Although Pisa is considerably closer than Florence, we decided to bypass Pisa and go straight to Florence. Our time in Firenze last year was spent entirely in the Accademia and Uffizi, and there was so much more we wanted to see.
We left the ship around 9 and took the bus to the bus to the train to Florence. We arrived in Florence around 11am (yes—that is how long it takes between the bus rides and waiting for the train, unless you luck out and the train is leaving shortly after you arrive at the station). We saw several lovely Palazzos on the way to the went to the road where the vendors are (can't remember the name)and enjoyed looking in the booths—"window" shopping. I really wish I had budgeted extra cash to buy some nice Italian leather coats and boots, but when you vacation on the fly—there is no budget! From there we went to the Duomo—magnificent! By this time we were well past being ready for lunch and had another wonderful lunch in Italia! From the ristorante, we went to the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and walked along the river back to the train station. Magnifico! We both slept on the hour long train ride, and then the bus to the bus...... That night, I dined alone (again) at the Grand Pacific. Yet another wonderful meal. I went to the World Beat show (nice), and then up to Spinnaker's for Second City scriptless. The opening bit was VERY funny—they took suggestions from the audience, wrote them on paper, put them in the middle of the floor and did their skit from there. Once again—I am amazed how they can do this off the top of their head. The other skits were fun, but some of them were a bit of a stretch.... A quick drink and some time at the casino, and I was hungry. At around midnight, I went to see fi there was anything left at the Chocohalic Buffet—sadness—it was all closed up. I went downstairs to the Blue Lagoon and had a not so light snack! I was WAY past being ready for bed by this time!
Day 7 Cannes I pre ordered room service this day, but it wasn't to DD liking, so she went to the buffet and brought me back the delish chocolate croissants. This was the only port with a tender, and the only location we had not been to (last yr's cruise tendered in Ville Franche.) We got to the tender around 9:30 am—no wait—went right onboard, and were off in minutes. Cannes is a beautiful port, but the most "US" feeling—with the least amount of English spoken. WE thought about taking the HOHO bus, but when the public bus pulled up, we hopped on! (LOL). The bus went all the way down the Blvd De la Croisette—to Palm Beach. We enjoyed the view and about ½ way back, we exited the bus, since DD saw some shops she wanted to go to. We walked the rest of the way back, disappointed that it wasn't warmer out, so we could enjoy the beautiful beach. There were shops, bistros, outdoor vendors, amusement areas for young children, and of course the facility that houses the Cannes film festival. All around the area, there are cutouts where you can place your face next to movie stars. DD refused to take my picture with any of them! I kept trying to tell her I needed her to have my pic w/Brad Pitt in Ocean's 11!!!!!!! She wasn't feeling well, so we went back to the ship by 1pm, and I had lunch with a lovely woman I had met on the spa tour at the Garden Buffet. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading by the pool and soaking up the sun. It was a beautiful day, and I really wanted to see sunset. Since we were heading directly west, Spinnakers seemed like an obvious choice, but alas the blinds were all down with BINGO in full swing. Tried the Star Bar—ok , but not in the front of the ship. Then it occurred to me—the bridge observation room! It was perfect. I had one glass of champagne left from the bottle with the Romance Package, and I toasted to the sunset, the cruise and the captain and his staff. It was a beautiful sunset, and it was fun to see the captain arrive just in time to enjoy it. I also found the GEM "IT" girl's home here, and the nice dedication by CC's own Coka! Since DD was going to the final Teen Club dinner, I decided to go to Cagney's for dinner. Only reservation I could get was for 8:45. Went down to Shaker's for a cocktail while I was waiting and bumped in to some friends I met, and before I knew it, it was time for dinner. Enjoyed Cagney's, but I don't think that it really lived up to it's hype. I enjoyed one last dance at Spinnaker's and it was off to bed.
Day 7 Disembarkation/Barcelona DD and I stayed in bed late, and did the late walk off. Easy as pie! We took our bags to the airport and headed back to Barcelona. We headed straight to Sagrada Familia—via the metro—this was a great choice, since there was a special festival going on. There were performers making human replicas of the Sagrada Familia—with accompanying music. It was really a sight to behold! The church itself, although unfinished is equally amazing. Gaudi's love of nature and God is evidenced in even the smallest detail. We had lunch in a nearby cafe—very disappointing—but I just ordered the wrong thing.Back to Placa Catalunya, one last stroll down Las Ramblas, and off to the train back to the airport. Our flight took off at 9pm and landed in Brussels at 11pm. Since our next flight was not until 10am the next morning, we procured at hotel at an internet cafe on Las Ramblas--Campanile Brussels Vilvoorde—a Spartan hotel that provided us an inexpensive place to sleep (full review on TA).
Day 8 Home Again We had a wonderful uneventful flight home, made it through customs and package claim in record time, and were back home within less than an hour of landing. I now have to wait over 10 months to be back on the beautiful GEM—did I hear somebody say CTN???? On yeah—that was my onboard credit burning a hole in my pocket.
Cabin 11522 is port side and has a great view coming and going from these ports. Near the forward elevators made it a quick trip to the gym (had I used it), spa, Spinnakers and pool. Heading toward the aft, the next bank of elevators brought you right to the buffet area.
Also close to the bridge observation area.