Grand Princess 10-21-2011 Western Med 14 Day Roundtrip From Southampton B751 OS Aft Suite
Charles and Judy -â€" Colorado Springs, CO Ports -â€" Malaga, Alghero, Rome, Florence, Cannes, Barcelona, Gibraltor
Upon arriving at the port, we found we had been upgraded from our AB mini to the aft, 1 of 2, Owner's Suites. WOW! This was pretty incredible. (This was actually our 2nd upgrade. We booked an AE mini GTY, was upgraded to an AB and then to the OS.) What an incredible suite. B751 is one of two OS suites on the Grand. The other is opposite us on the Port side of the ship. The cabin is simply huge. We have a couch, a table with 4 chairs, a 10-12' long desk area, coffee table and chairs on one side of the cabin. Bed, dressing table and desk, with closet on the other side of the cabin. Typical 2 room walkthrough bath with shower, jet tub on one side, toilet and sink on the other. We could easily host a dinner party of 12-14 people and no one would have to sit on the bed. The deck has only one post in the center and slightly wraps around so you can see quite a bit on the side. The balcony is half covered which had two downsides. People from the back of the ship near the pool can look down on your balcony and at night during the deck washdown or rain, the loungers will get soaked from the runoff.
In Rome we did the expensive princess connoisseur tour which included the Trevi Fountain, the Coliseum, the Vatican museum, the Sistine chapel and St Peters.
WOW. INCREDIBLE. FANTASTIC. OMG!
We've never been before so we splurged and did we ever get our money's worth. It started with a bus trip from the port to Rome with Mario, the bus driver, and Sophia, the tour guide. About an hour we hit the famous Rome traffic. 1 Million people, 1.5M scooters, but honestly considering the size of the bus, we really never stopped. I've been in worse traffic in LA or on the beltway in DC.
The tour was quick paced, because we had a lot to cover and only one day. We started at the Trevi fountain, really interesting, then walked through the streets to catch our bus to the Coliseum. From the Coliseum on, things blur together. The sights, the sounds, the ability to skip around the long lines, Valentina walking us through various points of view, Sophia taking care of one of our group that was wheelchair bound. It's strange but the Coliseum looked smaller than I thought it would be playing field wise, but much taller and larger around the perimeter than I thought it would be. All through Rome I was having a bad case of Perspective Dyslexia, sizes seemed all out of proportion.
Anyway, from the Coliseum you can see one of the triumphal arches, Palentine Hill and a host of ongoing excavations. Valentina walked us through the whole thing from the upper decks of the coliseum and hit the highlights of what is going on around the area archeologically.
From the Coliseum we went to lunch as the Savoy Hotel. A private room on the top floor with a veranda overlooking the entire center of the city. A really breathtaking view, and what a contrast of roof styles, from the satellite and analog TV antenna infested row style house roofs to the domes and marble roofs of the various basilicas, cathedrals and churches stretching as far as the eye could see.
Lunch was great. The wine flowed and the food was really good. Oh, and I should mention that Judy, my pastaholic, loved the lunch pasta so much she had seconds instead of the main course. She states it was the best pasta she's ever had. It had better been, we were in Rome afterall!
From lunch we went to the Vatican, and once again went around all the crowds with Valentina flashing her official tour guide ID. We then traveled on a course of rooms and hallways that started in the museum in the hall of statues and tapestries, down, around and through various Pope's apartments filled with breathtaking frescos from Michelangelo, Rafael and all the other teenage mutant ninja turtles, to the Sistine chapel. Now I must admit, I was a bit underwhelmed and confused by the Sistine chapel as photos and even video do not do it justice, but Valentina walked us through the various frescos and I went away with a feeling of sheer awe at one was accomplished.
That lasted until we entered St Peters. It was like the entire tour was one amazing site after another, one more incredibly detailed fresco or tapestry or statue or painting to an entire ceiling of magnificent frescos, and then the crescendo that is St Peters.
OMG. We were floored when we stepped inside the entrance and looked down the central area of the basilica and up and around the pillars, the roof. Judy and I have seen Antarctica, Cape Horn, the Grand Canyon, the glaciers of Alaska, some pretty impressive natural sights that literally take your breath away. Nothing we have ever seen anywhere comes close to matching the overwhelming feeling of "presence", not in a religious sense, but in the sense of 'in the presence of greatness -â€" real greatness'.
Simply put, they just don't build them that way anymore. I've been in some pretty impressive building, walked across Hoover Dam, toured the capital in DC, but this was something extraordinary. I was personally moved by the scope and majesty of St Peters. From the basilica to the square, the grandeur, the sheer scale of the architecture and statuary was simply breathtaking. Even now, weeks later when I try and describe the scene I get emotional. It was simply that great.
To my engineering mind, trying to grasp for a reason for this emotional response, it is problem with proportion. The statuary is larger than life, the roof is so high, the pillars so far apart and yet it seems so cozy, so welcoming, but so impressive at the same time. When Valentina pointed up to the Golden Letters around the ceiling and stated that those were 6' tall, I couldn't believe it. When she pointed out that the altar is 120' tall and that the entire area can house 60,000 people, I was blown away. Walking through St Peters, you seem to walk and walk and walk, and yet you don't really move that far.
It was literally too much to comprehend in just the 45 minutes we were there. Michelangelo's Pieta was incredible. John Paul the II's chapel area memorable and then when we left the same issue with perspective hit in St Peter's square. It turns out the statues lining the two "horns" or "arms" of the square are 20' tall, yet perfectly proportioned. As you walk away from the basilica into the square, you seem to walk forever before you can get one photo of the entire face of the basilica.
Absolutely incredible day. Worth every penny, that's for sure.
Our Barcelona tour was pretty forgettable, primarily due to the tour guide who did not know how to smile. The only advantage was being able to get into La Familia through the group entrance and not through the individual entrance who's line stretched around the block.
Also did a tour of Parc Quell. I just did not get it until halfway through the tour! Oh, a development gone south and taken over by the government. Gee, we probably have thousands of those in the states thanks to Freddie and Fannie! (Sorry, my cynical side seeps through everyone in a while.)
It was Sunday in Barcelona and a lot of shops were closed. The church is pretty impressive, more so from the inside than the outside, and when it is finished in 2030, the stained glass windows will be pretty incredible. Don't quite get the architecture though. Personally the interior columns are too close and too numerous to create the soaring ceiling perspective, but then beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Worth a look see, but I can't recommend the Princess excursion on this one.
We also did the Connoisseur tour of Florence and Pisa for 10 hours. It really suffered in comparison to the Rome tour with Valentina. Our tour guide was good, a little bit too much on the art appreciation side rather than the art history, but she wasn't even close to Valentina's personality, wit or charm.
Florence actually started out pretty good with a walking tour of the various squares, churches and government buildings. The museum tours were ok. The Academia was my favorite, the Uffizi just ok. The Academia was small, but the most impressive for me were the unfinished statues of Michelangelo. Those, and David, were really impressive.
In the Uffizi, the tour guide did a lot of art appreciation lecturing, which went right over my head. It was hard to make out when she was asking a real question or asking a rhetorical question, which made for some pretty awkward silences.
We had lunch at a hotel on the banks of the Arno River. Wow did that name ring a few bells from my Latin and History classes. Lunch was pretty good, with the Risotto being the highlight. But due to traffic and scheduling we only got 30 minutes at Pisa, but the tower is pretty impressive. funny how an oopps became so famous. I would have liked more time in Pisa and less time in art appreciation class.
Gibraltar was really interesting and really good. We took the tour that hit almost all the highlights and we had a good tour guide. The bus could have been more comfortable, but oh well it's a very small place. We saw all the sites except St Michaels cave. I wish some of the excursions would have included the WWII tunnel systems as well, but we saw all of the tunnels and major gun positions from the "Great Seige". Wow - pretty incredible. At one point in the battle 42 French and Spanish ships came in to bombard the Rock, and 24 hours later they were all sunk. Look out of the various gun positions, you can see why. What a perfect natural fortress.
Had a good tour guide as well. Unfortunately fog covered the top until later in the day, so our trip to the top in the cable car was enclosed in fog to the point that you couldn't see 40 feet.
Oh and the apes, well one took a liking to Judy's hat and wanted it. She didn't want to let it go, so the ape climbed on her back and tried to pry it off her head. I'm taking photos and she's arguing with it. Nice set of pictures.
The princess tour on this one is very highly recommended.
Monte Carlo was ok. Wanted to see it, been there now, probably won't be back. The problem, once again, is that the excursion suffered in comparison. After being in the Vatican and in Florence, the small rooms that make up the palace were like moving from our OS suite to an inside cabin. There were some interesting historical points, but overall it was one of those ok excursions.
Lunch, on the other hand, was horrible. Salad, bread, chicken breast with French fries and a dessert that I can't remember. One glass of wine, yuck, and one dainty cup of the most horrible coffee known to mankind. You had to chew it.
And this was advertised as a gourmet French lunch. I don't think so...
After lunch we went to the Monte Carlo casino. That took all of two minutes. But it was quite funny. As we passed by the gaming tables, about 10 of them, I noticed that the Blackjack table had a 25 Euro minimum. Geeeze, and followed the crowd to the .02 and .05 slot machines. I threw away 5 Euros on video poker, used the restroom, it was free for once, and headed out into the square for some shopping.
Back on board the ship, it was Chef's table night. Jeremy, the head chef, made up for April's "so-so" Chef's Table we had with him on the Golden. Food was pretty incredible, wine selection good (but they are still pretty chincy with the wine compared to a couple of years ago) and the presentations and service was excellent. Not quite sure if its worth the extra $40 or not. Jury is still out on that.