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Sail Date: November 2003
Radiance of the Seas Review Back to Back Cruise (Western & Eastern) taken November 16 and 23, 2003 Most reviews I have read have told what everyone has done from the time they have arrived at their port of embarkation until they have ... Read More
Radiance of the Seas Review Back to Back Cruise (Western & Eastern) taken November 16 and 23, 2003 Most reviews I have read have told what everyone has done from the time they have arrived at their port of embarkation until they have gotten off the ship. I'll try not to bore you like that. You want to read about the ship, the staff, the cabin, and the food so I will try to bow to your wishes. But first I would like to go out of my way to say this was the best cruise(s) we have ever been on. Personally I do not have anything I can complain about concerning the ship or the crew. Not everything was perfect but all problems were handled quickly and efficiently. Embarkation Nov 16th: We arrived at the terminal at 10:50 and were immediately greeted by RCI personal. He informed us that it would be another 15 minutes or so before we could board and showed us where to sit. Everything was pretty organized. They have rows of chairs set up and we were towards the front of the first row. They came by and provided us with the Compass so we could see what was going on when we boarded. They also made sure we had everything ready for processing. About 11:10 they started sending us through security and processing our boarding papers. Everything went quite smooth and we immediately boarded. We were in our cabin at 11:30. NEVER have we been on board this early. They were still cleaning the rooms, so we put our valuables in the safe, our carry-ons in the closet, and went on our way. Disembarkment & Re-embarkation on Nov. 23rd: WOW!!! Is all I can say. It was so easy. On Saturday evening we stopped by the Guest Relations desk, dropped off our documents for the following week, and picked up our new SeaPass cards. The next morning nine of us met down at Guest Relations in the Centrum at 9:30 and had about a half hour wait while everyone left the ship. The Manager of Guest Relations, Prasad personally walked us through disembarkment. Custom Inspectors looked at our passports and we were then taken downstairs where a gentleman collected our Customs Declaration forms. Back up the escalator on the other side to get our picture imprinted on the new SeaPass card, and back to the ship. Took about 10 minutes to get us off and back on again. And yes, we did have the option of going out for the day. Disembarkment Nov 30th: This went well also. This was our first time as Platinum members and we were able to wait in Chops Grille. They had coffee, tea, juice, and hot & cold water along with muffins, rolls, crescents, etc. As usual they had to locate a passenger or 2 but the wait was not very long. They started calling tags colors about 8:30. We were pink so it was closer to 9:30 before we could start the luggage hunt. Ft. Lauderdale is not set up like Miami where they luggage comes out on a carousel. This is like the old days where you look for your suitcases among the hundreds with the same color tags. It does take a while but I think it's faster than waiting forever for all your bags to be put on the conveyer belt. We grabbed a porter, walked right through Customs, and immediately boarded the bus. Here is where the only rub came in. We were flying American Airlines and they have something special set up for the cruise lines. ALL the cruise lines. The passengers are dropped off in the baggage claim area where American checks the passengers of the different cruise lines in for their flights. They have the boarding passes and luggage tags for everyone that has booked flights through the cruise lines. But for those of us who had booked our own flights, they had to call upstairs, have the documents printed, and walked down to us. It backed everything up and took forever to get checked in. Luckily we had plenty of time but it was very annoying, not to mention tiring, to stand there more than hour in a line that wasn't moving. American needs to do something to improve this check-in procedure. They have got it right in Miami but it sure hasn't carried over to Ft. Lauderdale. Cabin: We were in cabin 7532 at the front of the ship. This is an E1 with the large balcony. The room was nice. It has a loveseat, big enough for both of us, which I believe was a twin sleeper. Plenty of storage and I loved the shelves in the closet. The Eagle class has shelves too but you had to move the clothes to get to them. These have their own door and provide oodles of room. Even with 14 days of clothes and all our purchases, we still had some empty space left at the end of the cruise. The balcony is the plus. It was the standard width of the room but it was twice as deep, approximately 8'. Half of it is shaded by the balcony above you but the rest is open to the sky. Fantastic for watching a sunset, or working on that tan, and especially for stargazing. Also there is no real obstruction to see the ocean. The 6" rail for the window washer is the only thing between you and the sea. The deck chairs are not the typical white plastic but blue webbed sling chairs with the classic little table. We also had two smaller chairs in the plastic webbing like the deck lounge chairs. They made great foot stools. Lili, from Peru, was our cabin steward and what a jewel. She is all of 4'8", with a ready smile, who made sure everything was perfect. I drink bottled water and told Lili this on the first day. Each time she saw an empty in the trash I found a new one in the fridge. We had brought a stuffed animal as our jockey for the horse race which Lili fell in love with. Every day she would arrange the pillows after the morning cleaning and would include the jockey in the presentation. At the end of the cruise we gave him to her. Ship: This is the most beautiful ship I have been on. I was on the Norway not long after NCL had purchased and spent millions to refurbish her. Elegant ship at that time but the Radiance is miles ahead in class. We were also on the Navigator this last April and it is cold and impersonal compared to the Radiance. The Colony Club at the rear of the ship is marvelous. There is plenty of wood throughout the whole ship but the Colony Club has the feel of an old library/card/game room. From the crown moldings creating tray ceilings, to the multi-level seating, and the bar where the bartender is a step down so the bar stools are bar chairs. There is a card area on one side, chess and backgammon tables at the windows on another side, and the whole back end of the ship is floor to ceiling glass. The billiard tables are in a living room setting between the Schooner Bar and the Colony Club and are surrounded by books, several big screen TV's, with couches and coffee tables. The Colony Club was our favorite place to hang out in the evenings. They also do Karaoke here, bingo, the 50/60's sock hop, trivia, Capt Cocktail Party, among other things. Went to the Viking Crown (called Starquest on the Radiance) a time or two but it never had much going on till 11:30 or 12. Cool thing about the Starquest is the bar, bartender and all, rotates. The Solarium on the Radiance is stunning. It looks like an African jungle with elephants, tigers, waterfalls, and more. I love the bridge they have put over the pool. They have bird calls piped in during the day and cricket sounds at night. The dining room is quite pleasing to the eye from the white fabric wrapped columns, to the gorgeous mural at one end of the room, and the waterfall at the stairway. The Centrum has a lovely bar with a lighted glass stairway wrapping around it. There is a waterfall here too. Then there is the glass wall where you can watch the waves as you ride the elevators. This is way cool. And do not miss the animal relief outside the Spa. The Radiance no longer has Book, Books, and Coffee. They have turned that area into conference rooms. They had put a Latte-tudes on deck 5 overlooking the Centrum where they have seating next to the windows and computers scattered throughout the area. The Champagne Bar is across from Latte-tudes and it is decorated the same on all the Radiance and Eagle class ships. The Photo Gallery on deck 5 is quite large so everyone is not bunched up trying to find photos plus it is in a well traveled area. You must stop in at the Crown and Anchor Lounge on deck 12. There are 3 entrances to it. The main entrance is just off the stairway but you can also take 1 of 2 "catwalks" that give the lounge a floating effect. In the center of the lounge, you will find a large glassed "porthole" where you can look down the 7 decks to the Centrum. Yes it is made so you can stand on it to take pictures. Did I? No way! The ship is primarily non-smoking now. Smoking is allowed outside on the port (left) side of the ship and at the bars outside. Inside you can smoke in the Casino, at the bar only in the Scoreboard (sports bar), the aft area of the Colony Club, the left side of Starquest, plus your cabin. You can no longer smoke anywhere in the Schooner Bar. Food: We do not eat in the dining room so I can not comment on the food served there but our friends all said it was good and the wait staff, first-rate. We prefer to eat in the Windjammer, or the Seaview Cafe, Portofinos, or Chops Grille. We were always too busy to make our early seating and late seating is too long to wait. The Windjammer food was very good and we were never disappointed in the quality or the variety. Mornings were the characteristic scrambled eggs, turkey and pork sausage, bacon, and all the trimmings. The omelet man was always busy but I never tried one there. We also had breakfast on our balcony several times and had them deliver coffee most mornings. The food came hot and delicious and the omelets were wonderful. Plus it always arrived within the half hour time frame we had requested. Lunch/Snacks were either in the Windjammer or the Seaview Cafe (open from noon till 3), if we did not eat in port. I had read that the Seaview Cafe was like Johnny Rockets. No! They take your order at the door and then delivery it to your table. No singing, dancing, or Johnny rocket cherry cokes. Yes they have hot dogs and hamburgers with fries and onion rings but they also have much more. Dear husband enjoyed the Cuban sandwich and I though the fish and chips were good. The only problem I found was they do not have ice tea except in the can and I like mine with lemon and no sugar. You had to go down a level (stairs right outside the door) to the Windjammer and picked up tea, lemonade, or coffee. They did have beer and wine available though. Lunch in the Windjammer was the standard hot dogs, hamburgers (both excellent for archetypal lunch food), pizza, soups, a variety of sandwiches, salads, and desserts. We never had a problem finding a place to sit either, inside or out. The Solarium Cafe served pizza and snacks, and was open from 11:30 - 6:30. For dinner the Windjammer was open from 6:30 till 9 and had most of the same items found in the dining room plus sushi, Asian cuisine, and a wonderful salad selection with fruits and cheeses. The food was well prepared and they were always checking to make sure that you had whatever you needed. The Seaview Cafe opened again at 9 PM when the Windjammer closed and stayed open till 2 AM. Their menu never changed. They had several buffets. The first evening they had an All American Buffet and on Monday they had the Chocolate Decadence Buffet, the Caribbean Buffet pool side on Wednesday, and the Gala Buffet on Friday. Other evenings they would bring finger sandwiches and sweets around to the bars and public areas at 11:30. These buffets were on the same days for both itineraries. Portofino was very good and we enjoyed it as usual. Now the Portofino on the Navigator was just a touch better, food and service, but don't get me wrong, it was well worth the extra $$'s. The lobster is bigger than you get in the dinner room and the veal medallions were very tasty. Chops Grille was our favorite though. We ate here 3 times in the 2 weeks. We tried the Prime Rib, Fillet, Strip Steak, and Veal Chop. The best was the fillet which you could cut with your fork and the veal chops the least favorite. Not bad, just a little fattier that we would have liked. Husband loved the crab cakes and I thought the bread pudding was to die for. One thing though -- when watching the channel on the TV that shows the Compass activities and the dining room menus, don't believe the menus. They are not always correct. Sometimes, they weren't even close! Glance at the menus posted outside the dining room to double check. Suggested Attire: Western Caribbean Sunday - Casual Monday - Formal / Capt Cocktail Party Tuesday - Casual / '70's Disco Wednesday - Casual or Toga Thursday - Formal Friday - Smart Casual & 50's Sock Hop Saturday - Casual Eastern Caribbean Sunday - Casual Monday - Formal / Capt Cocktail Party Tuesday - Casual / Country Western Wednesday - Smart Casual / Caribbean Thursday - Formal Friday - Casual / '50 Sock Hop Saturday - Casual Entertainment: I'll be brief because these are always changing. Steve Bruner - Comedy / OK Nick Lewin - Comedy & Mystery / Lame Hill Brother - Comedy & Jugglers / Lame Toxic Audio x 2 - Acappella Music / They were on both weeks and were outstanding. If you get the chance to see them, DO NOT MISS IT. Burt Leigh - Comedy / Very funny Did not see either of the production shows plus we missed both farewell shows. There was just not enough time to get everything done some days. Activities: Western - Late Night Adult Comedy The Challenge, which is a survivor type "game" where you play pool, mini golf, climb the rock wall, etc. They pick 8 people to play during the week and the audience during the evening show times "votes" a person off each day. '70 Disco Party Love & Marriage Game Show Toga Party Dart Competition Battle of the Sexes (Family feud - girl's vs the guys & quite funny) Sock Hop Quest Owners Horse Race Cooking Demo Karaoke Idol Championship Eastern - Majority Rules Games Show '70 Dance Fever Wild West Dance Party Mini Golf Tournament Quest Caribbean Fiesta under the Stars Love & Marriage Game Battle of the Sexes Sock Hop Horse Racing Win a cruise bingo Cooking Demo Karaoke Championship Most of the same things were going on each week like the Bar Tricks demo, bingo, wine tasting, art auctions, and more. I was just trying to hit the highlights of each week. If you have any questions of dates or times, I have all the Compasses for each week. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Shore Excursions: I did not give a high rating to the one excursion we took this cruise.. Generally we go out on our own but we had never been to Costa Maya before and decided to take the Dune Buggy Tour. Do not waste your time. The dune buggies are falling apart and ours was leaking gas. Yeap, I was green by the time we got to the beach. They did get it fix somewhat for the ride back. They take you on a concrete road for about 30 minutes and you only go down a dirt road for about a mile to get to the beach. Where the pop and water wasn't chilled and they served chips with cheese sauce from a jar. his for over $120 for the 2 of us? I think not. Stay in the plaza that is right off the ship. They have created a great place to shop, eat, drink, or enjoy the beach. The is a huge free-flowing pool which wanders around one side of the plaza with a restaurant on one side and a bar on the other you can swim up too. We had friends who spent the day here and had a great time. Staff: Here is where this ship excels. How can I explain the pampered service we received everywhere. I wish I had the time and the space to mention everyone like Michael, Vinney, Jesus, Iwaylon, and their boss Lloyd. I have already mentioned our cabin steward, Lili who always had a moment for you with a smile on her face. To Frederick the head bartender for the Schooner Bar and the Colony Club who opened the back bar just for the Cruise Critic Boarding Party for the second weeks group. He provided us with our 2 favorite waiters (Jerome & Gusti) and bartender (Rada). These guys took extra special care of us always, making sure we always had whatever we needed no matter how busy the Club was. And the nights of Quest and the Sock Hop, it was VERY busy. To Inyoman in the Schooner Bar who always had a smile and a big welcome even though, as smokers, he knew we won't be spending much time with him. To Dirk and Mindi in Chops and Kristina in the Windjammer who went over and above in service. Thank you to all the wonderful people whose name we did not learn but had a smile and a friendly word or two for us each time we met. And the cruise director(s) - we had 2 -and their staff who were the greatest fun. Angie was with us the first week and Bill took over the second week. Each had time to say hello each time they saw us. Gennie, the asst CD, we had met on the Navigator, and is the sweetest thing. To Kirk and his trivia, Giovanni and his dance moves, Jennifer with her bubbling personality and such a great collaborator with Gennie, and Collette the new kid on the block with her big smile. Then there's PK, the manager of Guest Relations whom I had mentioned earlier, who bent over backwards to handle the problem we had with the on-board credits. To the Staff Captain, Gustavo whom we had met him earlier in the cruise, and stopped what he was doing as we were leaving the ship to shake our hands, ask about our vacation, wish us a good trip home, and to invite us back to his ship. I don't think we could have been treated better if we had been in the Royal Suite. Yes, we were very impressed with the ship and everyone on it, as you can tell. Was everyone working there smiling and happy - no, but we didn't let a few people effect the general mood of the ship. Everyone is entitled to a bad day. I cannot stress enough, if you are looking for one of the most beautiful ships and the friendliest staff to sail the Caribbean and points west, please book the Radiance of the Seas. I don't think you will be disappointed. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2003
I sailed on the Oosterdam on October 2, 2003 for a 12 night Western Med cruise. I had only been on one cruise before, which was Carnival, and Holland America had come highly recommended to me by friends, who were with us on the cruise. ... Read More
I sailed on the Oosterdam on October 2, 2003 for a 12 night Western Med cruise. I had only been on one cruise before, which was Carnival, and Holland America had come highly recommended to me by friends, who were with us on the cruise. Embarkation The cruise did not get off to a good start as we were held on the transfer from the airport for over an hour in warm temperatures waiting our turn to be let into the terminal for check-in. We found the terminal to be very crowded with not even enough seating to accommodate everyone. They took the wrong picture on my sign and sail card which was not discovered until the first port of call. Once on-board the ship, Holland America's excellence in service started to show. Immediately upon boarding the ship, we were greeted by a uniformed crew member who warmly greeted us with a smile, took our documents, and escorted us to our suite. At the suite, he took time to show us around and how things worked and what to do if we needed assistance. We found beautiful robes in the suite and a stocked refrigerator (added to account)plus the "Heavenly Beds"...which were heavenly! There was one reservations only restaurant on board ship and it was well worth the extra charge to eat there. The quality of the food was extremely superior. They brought our steaks out raw prior to the meal, explained what the cuts of meat were, and had us select what we wanted for them to take and custom cook to order for us. The food in the restaurant was the best any of us had ever had. The food in the dining room was also exceptional but clearly not as good as the reservations only restaurant. The food for the 1000 seat dining room had been pre-cooked and plated to the set menu, and brought out as we made our selections. One thing we all noticed in the dining room was the portion sizes, clearly reduced since any of us had sailed last. Not a good impression when they bring you a large plate with a small, so small to be noticeable, portion on it. However, the waiters quickly brought us second servings whenever we asked. All of the breads and rolls on the ship are baked fresh daily and they were delicious. The pizza was also fresh baked and very good, although it seemed out of place with so many elderly people on board that pizza may not appeal to. The buffet was always fresh with much variety. There were waiters at the end of the buffet line who carried our trays to the tables for us and there were fresh flowers on every table. Entertainment on the ship was very good and enjoyable. One night there was a deck party along with many other activities that were fun for us to join in on. What really stood out to us was the crew. They were wonderful to us and provided exceptional service. They called us by name, which we wondered how they would remember! They were Indonesian and Filipino and one night they even put on a show in the showroom!! The service on board this ship was superior. The crew really seemed to care and make sure we had a great cruise. The only thing that was disappointing to me was the clearly lopsided age of the passengers. It was an "80's and beyond" cruise with many elderly people on board. Being 39, I felt out of place on such an "old" cruise. There was only one child on the cruise of 1600 passengers and that was the child of a crew member. Holland America is an excellent choice for a cruise if you have any type of disability or need assistance of any kind for being physically challenged, they go out of there way to assist those who need help. However, young to middle age couples and/or families with children may want to think twice before booking on Holland America. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2003
First, I have noticed some reviews for the Oosterdam dating back to the Spring of 2003 here on Cruise Critic. The Oosterdam's maiden voyage was in August/September 2003, so either these people sailed on another ship or they got their ... Read More
First, I have noticed some reviews for the Oosterdam dating back to the Spring of 2003 here on Cruise Critic. The Oosterdam's maiden voyage was in August/September 2003, so either these people sailed on another ship or they got their dates wrong. Anyway, we were on one of the very first sailings of the Oosterdam (Rome, Monte Carlo, Marseilles, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Malta, Loutraki, Corfu, Dubrovnik, and Venice) on October 26, 2003, and we had a wonderful time. There is so little to complain about and so much to gush about. We are even sailing again on the Oosterdam in October 2004! This was my third cruise and my husband's first. It had been a long time since my first 2 cruises (10+ years), so I guess we were really both new to cruising. We loved the HAL demographic--older--even though we are late 30s (me) and early 40s (husband). There were maybe 6 kids on the cruise and they were all younger than school age. The food was divine. Of the 12 dinners we had on the ship (we ate in the main dining room--late seating), just one was less than spectacular. The service was great--our wine steward Rod was particularly good. We had two dinners in the Pinnacle Grill and loved that place too. The crab cakes are great and it is worth the $20 per person surcharge. We didn't do the casino, but spent significant time in just about every other venue. The disco was a favorite, as was the Oak Room (my husband is a cigar smoker). We caught most, if not all, the shows and really found the entertainment first rate. Our cabin was a partially obstructed view, which was fine for us. I don't think the weather would have allowed us to use the balcony much anyway. The cabin was on the smaller side, but perfectly fine for two people. We had a full bathtub too, not just a shower stall. Most impressive was HAL's embarkation and debarkation procedures--it worked great, with little wait and no hassle. Also, we were totally blown away by how organized and efficient HAL was at the ports. With just one exception (Venice), they had tour buses waiting for us at the port that took us into the heart of town, free of charge. It was great and saved everyone significant taxi fares. We took a few shore excursions (in Loutraki and Marseilles) and they too were very well run--no complaints at all. As I recall, there were only 2 negatives that we put on our review sheet at the end of the cruise: (1) the smell of sewage on the Observation Deck (aft). I don't think I ever smelt it down in the Aft Pool area, which is right below, but we didn't spend much time there either because of the weather. This wasn't such an issue for us because sailing to Europe in late fall, you really didn't want to hang out on the deck for long. But, on a Caribbean cruise, this smell could be a big issue. I have read that others noticed this too, so I am not sure what the problem is and why HAL hasn't fixed it. (2) being awakened by announcements in our cabin that were not worth being awoken for (meaning not life or death). Most annoying was a port lecture on Venice that was broadcast on the promenade deck just below us and it went on and on and on. This hadn't happened for other ports and we got no good explanation why it happened for Venice. We called to complain as it was happening and the front desk said that it wasn't being broadcast on the promenade deck, which it clearly was! Well, if those were the only two "issues" then you know we had a pretty good cruise! Really, the service, accommodations, food, ambiance, etc. and so on, were well above our expectations. We had a great time and can't wait to sail on the O-dam again on October 31, 2004!! Read Less
Sail Date: October 2003
Celebrity Cruise Lines - Millennium 12-Night Mediterranean Legacies Cruise October 14-26, 2003 PREFACE The travelers: Two women, widowed, one approaching retirement, the other already there. We've both cruised before (HAL, Royal ... Read More
Celebrity Cruise Lines - Millennium 12-Night Mediterranean Legacies Cruise October 14-26, 2003 PREFACE The travelers: Two women, widowed, one approaching retirement, the other already there. We've both cruised before (HAL, Royal Olympic and Carnival), but this was the first cruise on Celebrity for either of us. The Millennium was selected because the itinerary was one we were both interested in, was port intensive and at the outer limits of the time we had available to travel. PRE- AND POST-CRUISE ARRANGEMENTS Although some people enjoy making their own travel arrangements, we opted to assign this task to Celebrity, eliminating the potential need to make last-minute changes or risk overlooking something. Teresa and I live in different states and flew separately to Venice. She arrived about 8:30 AM Tuesday; I arrived two hours later. Celebrity representatives met arriving passengers, and buses shuttled us to the ship. Check-in was simple. The difficult part was trying to stay awake until shortly after noon when the ship was ready for us to board. Our return to the US two weeks later was frustrating. Teresa's plane was apparently overbooked, and passengers were offered six hundred airline dollars as an incentive to move to other flights. She declined the offer, did get checked in to board her flight and reached Dallas at the scheduled time. I arrived at the Barcelona airport on Celebrity's shuttle bus 2-1/2 hours before the plane's scheduled 1:00 PM departure. I was ticketed on Air France from Barcelona to Washington, DC with a change of planes in Paris. The Celebrity package also included an E-ticket on United to fly from Washington to Cleveland. When I was sixth in line and after standing in line for two hours, check-in for the flight was halted. The plane was full or had reached its weight limit. The remaining passengers were instructed to visit the adjoining Air France ticket counter to make alternate arrangements. Airline reps were less than helpful to the first people they dealt with. One couple was told they would be ticketed only as far as Air France's US termination city. Any subsequent flights to their destination on planes of other airlines would be their responsibility to arrange. A lot of yelling went on at that window. When it was finally my turn, I asked, "Just get me home, whatever routing, whatever time." My options: (1) fly later that day to Paris, spend the night there, and continue home the next morning; or (2) remain in Barcelona overnight and fly out the next morning. I chose to stay overnight in Barcelona. The rep reissued the two Air France paper tickets and changed my connecting United reservation by issuing an e-ticket to replace the original. Approximately two dozen of us spent the night at the Tryp Hotel, a very nice facility near the airport. When I returned at 6:00 the next morning, a long line had already formed but I was able to check in and got home with no further problems. THE SHIP Many cruise reviews include a description of the ship, public areas, cabin accommodations, general dEcor and food quality and presentation. These criteria are less important to me than the itinerary and experience in each port of call. To summarize in a few words, the ship is attractive and stable in rough seas, the crew is attentive, and I didn't lose any weight. Because we anticipated long days touring when in port, we requested second seating (8:45 PM) for dinner. This worked well for us, allowing us time to relax and regroup before eating. Generally after we'd rested and dressed for dinner, we visited one of the lounges or stopped by the sushi bar to have a pre-dinner appetizer. We ate breakfasts and lunches in both the dining room and Ocean Cafe. When shore excursions were booked, the Cafe was our choice; on sea days where eating could be unhurried, we visited the dining room. OUR CABIN Our cabin, midship on Vista Deck (7), had a veranda, which we used when weather permitted. Cabin appointments were comparable to those of similar class ships: king bed split into two twins, a settee and coffee table, television with remote control, vanity and chair, shower bath and combination mini-bar refrigerator. ON-BOARD ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT There were many daytime shipboard activities available, but day-long shore excursions prevented our taking part in them. Celebrity provided opportunities to play games such as bingo, trivia and pictionary, and Enrichment programs were available as well. Fatigue from long days of sightseeing also precluded my attendance at evening shows. By 11:00 PM, when we left the dining room, all I wanted to see was my bed. SHORE EXCURSIONS In the past we have purchased ship-sponsored excursions in ports we were unable to see on foot. In doing research for this cruise, however, we found many travelers opted to book private driver/guides for some ports. We decided to do the same. The caveat was that it would be our responsibility to get back to the ship before it left port. A ship will wait for its sponsored tour buses to return before leaving port; she wouldn't wait for us. Three months prior to our sail date, I contacted several recommended drivers and eventually scheduled five to serve as driver/guides. In three other ports we did self-guided tours and in the last, Barcelona, we purchased Celebrity's City Tour with hotel transfer. Our reasons for deciding to book private tours were: (1) our cost would be less than a ship's tour, even after a tip and the price of lunch/snack were added; (2) we could decide on the agenda and time spent at each stop and (3) our group would be small with no more than eight passengers in a van. As our days with the private drivers passed and our experience grew, we learned (1) it's important to tell the driver at the start of the day whether the group wants a leisurely lunch or a quick snack (eat fast, see more); (2) the quantity of historical information offered by private drivers varied. From our experience we felt that bus guides give more background. (But then, they're not concerned with navigating traffic while talking, either.) and; (3) Vehicle acoustics and the driver's tone sometimes made hearing what he said difficult. Bus guides have microphones. Venice, Italy - The consensus of what we read about touring Venice was to "see it on foot, get lost." Once on the ship and after a quick lunch, we took the vaporetto shuttle to St. Mark's Square to wander around. There were signs pointing the direction to the Rialto Bridge but we never found our way there. After three hours exploring on foot, we returned to the ship to unpack and collapse. A week before the cruise I had made reservations for the "Doges' Palace Secret Itinerary" Tour (12.50€). Following the two-hour tour the next morning, there were only three hours until we needed to be back on the ship, so we stayed in the area around the Square rather than chance missing embarkation. If you have only a day in Venice, take a guided tour, perhaps the ship's walking tour. We spent so much time lost that we had too little time to see more of the sights we were interested in or take a gondola ride. An informal get together of Cruise Critic members assembled after the ship set sail, and we met again formally Friday morning. It was great fun to meet face to face after months of e-mail correspondence. Dubrovnik, Croatia - Reviews we read indicated it was a simple matter to tour Dubrovnik's old town without investing in a tour or guide, so we did. The day was sunny but high winds necessitated the use of tenders to the port. A bus then shuttled us to the walled city. A fee (converted to Euros) of 2.20€ each bought us tickets to walk along the wall's top. The steps were numerous and steep, but the views of the city and Adriatic Sea were worth the effort and price. At the halfway point we descended to the street where we had lunch and then continued our exploration of Dubrovnik as we walked to the pick up point for our return to the ship. Athens, Greece - Following a day at sea, we joined two fellow passengers for the first of our independent driver/guide tours. Although Spiros (www.athenstaxi.net) had indicated he'd be our driver, we were met by Mike, one of his employees, outside the terminal's main entrance at 8:30 AM. The sky was overcast, but Mike made the day bright for us. Our morning stops included the Acropolis, changing of the guard at the Parliament Building, Temple of Zeus, Mt. Lycabettus and a short stop to shop. Mike took us to a neighborhood restaurant for lunch. We dined family style on lamb, pork and true Greek salad (no lettuce but lots of feta cheese, tomatoes, green peppers, olives and onions) and a Greek dessert of yogurt topped with honey. We also drank retsina wine, which Mike said should be ordered from the barrel, NEVER in the bottle. We finished the day by driving to Cape Sounion to see the Temple of Poseidon and were back on the ship by 5:00 PM. We'd had a busy day and were ready to rest. Santorini, Greece - I visited Santorini on a cruise three years ago, but we had less than five hours of shore time. On this cruise we would have nearly fifteen hours. To take advantage of the time, we reserved a rental car for the day (www.pangosmio.gr). The instructions were that we would be met at the port. When there was no one there at the appointed time, we rode the cable car to the top thinking the representative would be there, but she was not. Eventually I called the emergency number that had been provided with the reservation and learned that she had been at the port but evidently arrived after we'd left to search for her office. (NOTE: if you're told where you'll be met, then wait there!) Once we had the car, we spent some time in Fira and then went to Oia to shop, stroll and take pictures. Following lunch at a cliffside cafe, we drove across the island to Akrotiri and then stopped to tour Koutsogiannopoulos Winery on the way back to Fira. After returning the car, we headed to Zafora's, a restaurant near the cable car station. We found a table there where we shared a sampler of Greek appetizers and watched the sun set before tendering back to the ship. Naples, Italy - Following another sea day, six of us from the ship met our second private driver, Gennaro (www.sorrentolimo.com). What a professional, personable, friendly man! He allowed us to set the pace, reminding us at the same time that the faster we moved, the more we'd see. Our tour began with a drive along the Amalfi Coast. If we wanted to stop to take pictures, we had only to ask. Occasionally he'd stop without prompting because there was a view he wanted us to see. He arranged for us to have lunch in Ravello at a hillside restaurant with a spectacular view of the gulf, and after our meal, we went into the town for a short visit. I'd asked Gennaro to schedule a private guide for us in Pompeii. We spent two hours with her, walking through and learning about the ruins. Her fee was paid by Sorrento Limo and was included in the total we paid to Gennaro back at the port. Rome, Italy - Max (www.maxleotta.com) was to be our driver, but Aldo came in his place. We were very satisfied with his effort to show us as much of Rome as possible, especially since it was a rainy day and Rome traffic moved slowly. In spite of congestion, Aldo pointed out a number of historical sites and made several stops that included the Forum, Coliseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Piazza Navona. With so much to see, we asked for a noon stop for a snack, and Aldo took us to a small lunchbar near the Vatican. It was here that we sampled gelato for the first time. (Oh, boy, that's good stuff!) As the end of the day approached, we finally reached the Vatican, and literally ran through the Museum in order to get to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's before our day had to end. I cannot praise Aldo highly enough for his perseverance in getting us to as many sites as he did. Florence, Italy - Another day with another driver, this one Alex, also an employee of Max Leotta's limousine service. Alex was as reserved as Aldo was ebullient, but he was every bit as accommodating. In discussing what we wanted to see, Alex suggested that we secure tickets for the Uffizi and Accademia museums first and plan the rest of the day around those stops. We were able to get into Accademia immediately, but tickets for the Uffizi weren't available until after our tour ended. Thus, we walked across the street to see Michelangelo's 'David' and then made the short drive to Cathedral Square. While Alex stayed with the van, the six of us headed off for 2-1/2 hours of picture taking, sightseeing and shopping. Back in the van we continued to Santa Croce Church where Michelangelo and Galileo are entombed. Our last stop was at an overlook for one last view of Florence. The time we'd have spent in the Uffizi Museum was now available for other use, so we asked Alex to take us off the expressway and through the Tuscan countryside on the drive to Pisa. Who said, "It's just a leaning tower"? The architecture and area surrounding the church, baptistry and tower make this an outstanding stop. I'm so glad we didn't pass it by. We were back on the ship by 5:00 and it had been another memorable day. Villefranche, France - This was our fourth consecutive day with a driver/guide, this one scheduled to be Alain (www.Dream-Tours.com). The six of us tendered to the port where we were to meet Alain at 8:30. When he hadn't arrived by 8:45, I asked the attendant at the information desk to call the Dream-Tours office. Uh oh. In spite of repeated e-mails where the subject line included the date of our tour, we were on their schedule for the following day. The Dream-Tours rep said there would be a driver at the port within a half hour. (While we waited, Sylvie Di Cristo approached us, asking if we were the party she had booked for the day. Sylvie's a very personable woman, and I can understand why she's been highly recommended by many people.) Shortly after Sylvia departed with her group, Fred rushed in looking for us. He apologized for the mix-up and set about making sure the rest of the day was without hiccup or complaint. Our tour began with a drive through Cap Ferrat as we headed to Eze, a spectacular stop if only for the view alone. Shopping in the quaint nooks could have taken most of the day; however, we needed to move on to Monaco and Monte Carlo. We spent some time in the garden outside the casino taking pictures and then drove through the marinas and over portions of Monte Carlo's Grand Prix racecourse. Eventually we stopped at the church where Princess Grace is buried and had time to see the church, visit the palace, wander the narrow lanes and, of course, shop. From Monte Carlo it was on to Nice. While two of our group visited the Matisse art museum, the other four strolled through the gardens of an adjacent church and adjoining city park where the ruins of a Roman bath remain. Our final stop was St. Paul de Vence, a hilltop village reminiscent of Eze. With too little time to explore and shop, it'll be at the top of our list of places to visit if (no, when) we return to southern France. With the ship not sailing for another six hours, Fred was willing to continue our sightseeing tour; however, we were tired and ready to rest. Fred had more than made up for the false start early in the day. Should he be your driver, you can be assured Fred will do whatever he can to make your visit a memorable one. Barcelona, Spain - After a final day at sea, we were greeted with rain when we disembarked in Barcelona. For passengers who extended their stay in Barcelona by at least a day, the ship had available a half-day excursion of the city that included a transfer to a hotel. Our first stop was at Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia. With umbrellas in hand, we circled the work in progress as our guide explained some of the history and design. Back on the bus, we passed other Gaudi creations and then went to the Gothic Quarter to stroll the old lanes and learn of the area's importance to Barcelona. Rather than continue our outdoor tour in the rain, our guide altered our agenda and took us into Barcelona's City Hall where several pieces of art are displayed. Near noon and back on the bus, passengers were dropped off at their respective hotels. Ours was the Gran Hotel Havana and the room more than met our needs. After checking in, we walked to Las Ramblas to complete our souvenir shopping and sample tapas. WEATHER We visited nine ports and had four cloudy days, three days of rain and two sunny days. (I have no recollection of what it did the three days we were at sea!) Daytime temperatures generally reached into the 60's and at the least, a light jacket was usually needed. This was a good cruise to dress in layers. SUMMARY Would I recommend this cruise? Yes, if your goal is to visit as many ports as possible in the shortest amount of time. Teresa and I returned to our homes exhausted but glad that this had been our cruise choice. If you have questions, let me hear from you. Kitty Read Less
Sail Date: August 2003
We cruised the Mediterranean from Barcelona on Brilliance of the Seas; we had a lovely room with a balcony on the top deck, near the pool, restaurant and spa. We had a massage appointment: they insisted we be on time, then they had us wait ... Read More
We cruised the Mediterranean from Barcelona on Brilliance of the Seas; we had a lovely room with a balcony on the top deck, near the pool, restaurant and spa. We had a massage appointment: they insisted we be on time, then they had us wait for over half an hour when we had to go and we never got the massage. The room was beautiful, well located and quiet. When we arrived in ports we preferred to sightsee on our own most of the time, and found it very difficult to get into town, to train stations, etc. Especially in Rome and Athens. Cabs refused to give us a ride from the ship to the train station. In France they used small tenders and it was so rough we were stuck in town a long time. In Livorno, the cruise line said they had a shuttle into town and back, but they quit running it for return to the ship early and a lot of us were stranded and almost missed the sailing. We were flagging down police cars and begging for a ride. cabs were scarce. We were so upset and they acted like that was nothing. The cruise ship could so easily provide transportation into town and/or train stations if they wanted to. They broke the handle (the telescoping kind) on my suitcase upon arrival at the ship and kept it the entire time and did nothing to fix it. I had to hunt it down the last day. Then they gave me a hard time when I asked them to pay for the repair. The personnel never seemed interested in meeting our needs in these regards, most unfriendly. But the ship was beautiful. The food was alright, sometimes quite good. The bread was awful. I hurt my jaw biting on a hard tasteless white roll. How hard would it be to make some tasty bread? Read Less
Sail Date: July 2003
OCEANIA REGATTA TRIP REPORT Barcelona to Dover July 5-19, 2003 Jim and Pam Murphy   There are a few things that I would like to mention before sharing my daily journal. I write this for personal reasons - it is something that I include ... Read More
OCEANIA REGATTA TRIP REPORT Barcelona to Dover July 5-19, 2003 Jim and Pam Murphy   There are a few things that I would like to mention before sharing my daily journal. I write this for personal reasons - it is something that I include in the photo album that I make for each of our trips.   Jim and I chose the inaugural cruise of the new Oceania line since we were very loyal cruisers of the old, bankrupt Renaissance Cruise Line. Two of the Renaissance 'R' series of ships are now owned by Oceania - The R1 and the R2 are now the Regatta and the Insignia. We wanted to be part of the excitement of these ships being back on the seas thus choosing the inaugural sailing. We went into the cruise expecting the good along with the bad - a person would be a fool to book an inaugural if they are expecting perfection. With an inaugural, things are still a "work in progress" - for anyone wanting perfection (if such a thing is possible) - I would suggest waiting before booking a new cruise line - till it has had the time to work out all of the kinks.   In this report I tried to be fair and to include the good with the bad. Please keep in mind that these are my opinions and in many instances people may not agree with them. We were given questionnaires to fill out on at the end of the cruise - Jim filled out ours and I didn't agree with all of his opinions. Differing opinions are what makes the world go round!   I was introduced to Frank del Rio at the cocktail party held on board for the Yahoo group -- Frank was previously with Renaissance cruises -- he and Joe Watters (formerly of Crystal Cruises are the brains and talent behind the new Oceania line. Frank gave me his card and requested that I send him a copy of my trip report. So what is in here is being forwarded on to Frank -- some of the included information is for his benefit.   July 4 Friday Fly Philadelphia To Barcelona   It seems like we have been planning this cruise forever. We actually pre-booked the cruise before the reservation computers were even set up. Oceania is a new line and since this is the inaugural many little glitches need to be worked out. The first problem was that our documentation arrived only about a week before sailing. We requested to fly out of Philadelphia, our closest airport. When we received the tickets we were booked on a commuter flight from Philadelphia to JFK - this seems very silly to us since we could easily have driven directly to JFK. Since the documents arrived so late we decided to make no changes and leave well enough alone. Our price with Oceania included air at no additional charge - since not paying for it, why not take the commuter flight and save ourselves the drive?   We have a town car pick us up to take us to Philadelphia. Jim likes to arrive at the airport very early - I've learned that it keeps him calm to do it this way and I can wait at the airport as easily as I can wait for a flight at home. This is the Fourth of July and we figured that we would either hit very heavy traffic or no traffic at all. The latter is the case and we sail to the airport. The town car we ordered picks us up at 11:30 am for our 3:30 flight. Our driver is an ex NJ State Trooper and a really interesting man to talk to -- he told us many hair-raising stories of his years on the narcotic squad.   There is no line to check in and no question on the weight of our luggage - anyone who has read any of my past trip reports knows that I have not mastered the fine art of packing lightly and usually get "heavy" tags applied to the luggage. This time only one bag gets the "heavy" tag. Security is a breeze - the airport is close to empty - neither Jim nor I are searched which is a rare occurrence for Jim.   The flight to JFK is on a small Delta jet - we need to walk outside to board the plane - it is necessary to put our carry on luggage with the checked bags but we were able to get them as we get off of the plane at JFK. This flight is all of 20 minutes in the air - quick and painless. Jim and I have a window and aisle seat together - since the plane is not full, Jim is able to move across the aisle and have two seats for himself and I now also have two for myself.   Upon arrival at JFK we need to take a bus from the plane to the terminal. Jim and I arrive at the boarding gate where we meet many of the people that I have been corresponding with for months on the Yahoo message boards. Laura, one of the moderator's of the board is on our flight. Many have sent photos to post on the board pre cruise. I printed the photos out before leaving home so that I will be able to recognize people. I see a young man who looks very much like Laura's husband John. Then when I see Laura with him, I am fairly certain that this is actually Laura. So out comes my page of photos and as I am looking - Laura is doing the same thing - looking at me and comparing the photo she has printed out. We have a good laugh over this one.   Some of the people on our flight are: Laura and John from CA Randy and Luanne from CA Bill and Linda from Cape Cod Lee and Bill from Pittsburgh Kathy and Bill from Pittsburgh Carol and Earl from CA Jan and Jim from CA   Everyone is very nice and I have a feeling that this is going to be a fun cruise. Our waiting time seems to fly since we are all busy yakking, getting to know each other.   We board the plane and are on our way to Barcelona. At 5:55. We once again luck out. Jim and I have a window and aisle seat - he gets to move to the center section with three seats to himself and I now once again have the two for myself -- a very comfortable and smooth flight. The film shown is one that I haven't seen - "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days" - cute and light.   July 5 Saturday Arrive Barcelona Board Ship   We arrive in Barcelona at 7:00am and are greeted by Oceania Representatives -- the transfer goes like clockwork. We were originally told that we would be taken to a hospitality suite until it was time to board the ship. To our delight we find that we are being taken right to the ship. The first thing we see upon our arrival at the ship is a woman (who turns out to be Jan Fishbein) standing on the balcony in her bathrobe waving to us all. I know that this is Jan from Carol and Earl who know her. Jan is a travel agent that booked many on this cruise. She is a very close friend of Frank del Rio who is the President of Oceania. Jan and her husband Stu were on the pre inaugural cruise (sort of a shakedown cruise for the owners and their family and friends). We have about an hour wait in the terminal to board the ship. There is a bar and coffee but for these you need to have Euros and many of us haven't had chance to change our money yet. But the time flies as we are still talking a mile a minute, getting to know each other. Jan quickly gets dressed and comes to join us. I have known Jan and many of the other fellow cruisers from the days of the old Renaissance boards - but have never met any of them in person.   Registration is quick and easy and extremely well set up. What a pleasure to be back on a small ship where there are none of those very long lines to contend with. There is no photographer set up to take those dreaded "Welcome Aboard Photos", as you can well imagine they usually aren't the best after flying all night! Think we have arrived too early since we later see him out there shooting away!   We are next taken to the Horizon Lounge since the rooms are not yet ready - but I am impressed that they get us on board as quickly as possible. We are told that there was a group of Spanish travel agents on board that spent the night on the ship. They are now preparing the rooms for us. Horizon Lounge is set up with a continental breakfast. The pastries are delicious, think we may be in for some wonderful food on this cruise.   This is the first encounter with the crew and they couldn't be nicer. We learn from them that the pre inaugural cruise was being referred to as the "Cruise from Hell" -- many of the guests were extremely rude to the crew and had them jumping through hoops.   We are sitting with Laura, John, Randy and Luanne - both couples are younger than we are but are a whole lot of fun. With time on our hands, Jim soon becomes the butt of our jokes. I just can't help myself telling them about a previous cruise in Barcelona when Jim was acting like the tour guide during our pre cruise stay in the city - we had previously been to Barcelona so Jim was more than willing to share all his knowledge with many of the other passengers that were in Barcelona for the first time. There was just one slight problem -- he was giving out all of the wrong information. He showed them a street that he said was Las Ramblas and went on and on about what a great place it was - this street wasn't even close to Las Ramblas - he pointed out our ship in the harbor - you guessed it - not even the line we were sailing on. There is just something about Jim that makes him sound like he is an authority on things - people will follow him rather than the tour guide - what a big mistake that is! Randy absolutely loved hearing this bit of information on Jim and little did I know just how much he enjoyed hearing it.   I pick up a shore excursion form and the first thing we do is to sign up for the tours we want to take. I have a few disappointments -- the times certain tours are offered doesn't work out for us to be able to take all those we had wanted. I ask at the shore excursion desk if the shore excursion crew has been on all of these tours and they haven't. I personally think that they should experience them all so that when a question is asked they have first hand knowledge of the answer. Perhaps in time they will take them. I think that it would be a great asset for Oceania to have the staff familiar with each tour, even if it means flying them in to the port ahead of time. I have never been on a cruise line where this is done but think it would be something that could set Oceania above the others. There is nothing more frustrating than asking how much free time you will have and no one knows.   This is the first cruise that we have taken that doesn't have a video of the different ports, of the shore excursions and the shopping. Believe these videos of the ports and shore excursions are made by a company called Sea Video in CA. I find these very helpful in choosing my tours. I asked Greg (head of shore excursions) about it and he said that having Sea Video make these is very costly and with Oceania just starting out that they didn't want to invest this kind of money. I personally think it might be a wise investment to consider. The videos, once made, could actually be a money maker for the cruise line if they were available for sale when one books a particular cruise. I purchase travel videos for the different ports before a cruise and they run into hundreds of dollars because all the ports aren't on the same video. This would be one video that could be purchased for maybe $25 - $30 dollars that would include each port the cruise includes. It would be helpful to anyone trying to choose between the excursions offered and also for people wanting to do a port on their own. Jim and I choose our cruises because of the itinerary and reading the shore excursions helps us decide which ones to book. If someone is considering several cruises -- having the ability to purchase these videos would be beneficial in choosing the cruise that is best for the individual. I feel that this would be a wonderful marketing strategy for both selling cruises and also selling shore excursions. There are shore excursion talks held on board but these cover no more than what is in the printed information - if you can read, why bother attending -- I would like to see more extensive information given on each port, tour and the shopping in the port.   After waiting awhile, no one tells us if the rooms are ready. So one by one we go up to check our rooms - we have been given our keys and they are ready so we all clear out of Horizon. As we are heading to our rooms we meet Bob and Joyce from the message boards. This really is like old home week!   We go to our cabin, room 6086 - the last room on the port side - the balcony has a slanted wall on the one side which impairs vision a bit but it is fine and we are comfortable. We find all sorts of goodies waiting for us -- we booked through Shirley Binder and she had a lovely floral arrangement there for us and also a $50 ship board credit - such a thoughtful thing to do. For anyone lucky enough to receive one of these beautiful arrangements - you will need to sign the card and give it to the cabin stewardess for the flowers to be delivered. The arrangement has tiger lilies, roses, carnations, and daisies with pretty yellow filler -- it adds a lot of color and cheer to the room. There is also a gift from the cruise line for us - a wooden decorator box with an image on the Regatta to commemorate the Inaugural Cruise - another very nice gift.   You have no idea of what a thrill being back on this ship is for me. I have always loved these ships and was heartbroken when Renaissance went bankrupt. In my opinion, these are the prettiest ships on the seas, with a warm homey ambiance and the charm of the old days of luxury sailing. In my past trip reports, I have described these ships so in this report, I am mainly going to concentrate on the changes since the days of Renaissance. First of all, I noticed that the Horizon Lounge has new big accent pillows - they are very pretty and comfy (I later find out that Frank and Marcy del Rio personally picked out the fabric for them). The balconies have had teak decking added which looks lovely and is a definite upgrade. The Terrace Cafe has had new window blinds added which look great. We had heard that the balconies would have new furniture and not the same cheap plastic chairs from the Renaissance days. The same chairs are there but cushions have been added. When it is time to replace these, I would suggest getting chairs where the back reclines with cushions on them - even if they are only plastic they would be far more comfortable for snoozing out on the balcony - something to consider, Frank! Believe this is what we had on Silver Seas and they were great.   The beds look just wonderful - I am fighting not to jump right into it - but know that I have to stay awake to get onto European time as quickly as possible in order to enjoy the ports. The old bedspreads are gone and have been replaced with goose down pillows covered in very high quality sheets that feel like silk - they are a cream color with a self satin striping. The duvet has a cover that is the same sheeting but is in a pale blue self striping. What I am especially impressed with is that these duvet covers can be washed between passengers, making it a lot more sanitary. I always hated putting things on a bedspread that hadn't been cleaned between cruisers. Here Oceania has earned great big points with me! There is French milled soap that smells like oranges - love it. They also have the small bottles of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel for us. There are new bath towels and they are nice and thick - they are decent size but aren't bath sheets. I check out the room service menu and it has been expanded greatly from the old Renaissance days. They have a shrimp/prawn cocktail, smoked salmon, soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts and even hot entrees. Room service is available 24 hours a day. There was a lot of discussion about the hairdryers on the boards before the cruise. I have thick hair but it is short and the dryer works just fine for me. I know that Candice brought her own (she has thick long hair) and is glad that she did.   There is no refrigerator in the standard balcony room but they do keep the ice bucket filled for you.   There is dry cleaning and laundry service on board - if you have it out by 9am you will get it back the same day. There are also washers and dryers but not many are working. Where is that Maytag man when you need him?   We walk up on deck and the new teak furniture is just beautiful - so much richer looking. - adds a real elegance to the ship.   Find that we were given the wrong contact number for the ship before leaving. This could be a major problem if anyone had an emergency at home - this is one thing that Oceania needs to address ASAP.   It takes about two hours for the luggage to arrive. This is no problem for me since I always pack a few things in my carry on bag so that I can clean up when we arrive.   Once we are settled Jim decides to take a nap. I shower and change before heading to the terminal where the shops have opened. On my way, I meet Lee and Bill and they have a handicap room - she tells me that there is a tub in it which is hard for a handicapped person to get in and out of.   The terminal has very few shops; one has Majorica pearls, one has leather and one has Lladros. I purchase a couple of Majorica pearl rings as gifts. I'm not impressed by the leather shop and am not in the market for Lladros, although the shop seems to have a decent selection of the figurines. I meet Laura and John who are also browsing the shops -- Laura has a very pretty new outfit on, so I assume that she has also taken the time to freshen up.   I return to the room -- the bags have arrived, so it is time to unpack. A friend suggested packing clothing on hangars -- I tried it and it saves so much time unpacking. Thanks for the idea, Gundy, it was a good one. (After returning home, Candice gives me a further good idea for packing - she keeps the plastic bags on the garments and they don't wrinkle - so many smart friends!) Now that all the work is done it is time to relax on the balcony. By this time Jim is up and goes to the bar to get me a few cans of diet coke and a pina colada. Jim planned to bring the drink back to me himself, but the bar manager insists on having it delivered for him - a crew member walks back to the room with him carrying our drinks on a tray. This is our first indication that the service will be excellent. We order a cheese platter from room service which offers a very nice selection of cheeses. Now this is living - sitting on the balcony with a good book and a drink!   Where has the day gone? It is already time to get dressed for the evening - we are scheduled to meet the Yahoo group in the Martini bar at 6:00 (the group is expanding to include people who weren't on the boards). We meet Laura and John (today is their 17th wedding anniversary), Charles and Ann Bubeck (Charles is a moderator of the Yahoo board with Laura), Bob (Joyce didn't make it), Kathy and Bill, Jan and Jim, Carol and Earl, Jan and Stu. I order my first Cosmopolitan. Interestingly, we notice that different glasses are used to serve the Martinis than are used for the Cosmos.   From here we head for dinner. The service is slow but my filet mignon melts like butter in your mouth and it is a huge piece of meat. I order a dessert that is a chocolate filled cookie shell - delicious! The dinner is excellent. The service is extremely slow but at least we can't say that they are rushing us. It makes dinner an event! There is a string quartet that plays in the dining room -absolutely wonderful - this really adds a nice touch to dining. At one point they play "Flight of the Bumblebee" and I find myself eating fast - in time to the music!   After dinner we return to the room and by now I am exhausted and immediately fall asleep. Jim is still hanging in there and goes off the ship for an after dinner cigar. When he returns to the room, he wakes me up -- as he is hanging up his clothing the bar in the closet snaps and everything comes crashing down. He picks it all up and has it precariously perched hanging on the top shelf - with this arrangement the closet won't close. We now have a real bottleneck - it is necessary to close the closet in order to easily get out the door of the cabin and to get into the bathroom - maneuvering now is awkward to say the least!   July 6 Sunday Barcelona - Sail 5pm   I am up at 6am sitting on the balcony (you'll soon catch on that this is my favorite spot on the ship) - it's a beautiful day, nice breeze and not yet too hot. I slept some of last night but kept waking up at regular intervals - at around 2am, I was sitting on the balcony reading. The beds are just as comfy as they look. Love the pillows - they mold right to you. The mattress is extremely comfortable and the duvet is light and cuddly but not too terribly warm, like some can be. Oceania has a winner with these beds! They are the best! I tend to get warm very easily, so we have the air conditioning set as low as it can go - then have the sliding glass door open to hear the lapping of the water and feel the cool breeze coming in.   Breakfast is served at the Terrace Cafe, buffet style and also in the Grand Dining Room from 7:30 to 9:30 (10am on sea days) Jim and I eat in the dining room -- I order the French toast which is very good. I notice that they even have lamb chops on the menu.   We run into Jan and Jim who tell us that last night they had dinner at the Tapas Restaurant and it was wonderful.   Also spoke to people who took the Flamenco Tour last night and the opinion seems to be that it was okay but nothing special.   Before leaving for the day we tell Isabelle about our closet mishap last night -- she says that she will have it taken care of. Tell her that they can just leave our clothing on the bed and that I will hang it when we return.   We had hoped to take the ship's tour to Sitges (beach resort) this morning -- however, last night it was cancelled due to the fact that there weren't enough signed up. As an alternative they offer to put us on the Highlights of Barcelona tour or the Montserrat tour, but we have done both in the past - so make the decision to just go off on our own for a few hours. This is our third time in Barcelona so we have seen most of the tourist sights. Last night, inquired about taking a private van to Sitges with Barrie and Arnie (from CA) but when we were quoted $800, all agreed that nothing is worth that kind of money. Instead we join Barrie and Arnie on the shuttle to the Columbus Monument - the bus comes right to the port and it is $2 pp round trip. At the Columbus Monument we are able to catch the hop on hop off Barcelona bus tour -- believe it is $15 pp for one day and $19 pp for two days. Barrie and Arnie are a great couple and we have such a nice day with them. We actually discover that our two children and their two live very close to each other in CA - our two and one of theirs are in the entertainment industry - so we have lots in common. The top section of the tour bus is our choice of seating but by now it is getting hot and sunny.   The Columbus Monument, which was erected on the harbor-front of Barcelona on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of 1888 is divided into three parts; the first being a circular structure, raised by four stairways (19 1/2 feet wide) and eight iron heraldic lions -- on the plinth are eight bronze bas-reliefs depicting the principal feats of Columbus (the originals were destroyed; the present ones are copies); the second part is the base of the column, consisting of an eight-sided polygon, four sides of which act as buttresses -- each side contains sculptures; the third part is formed by the column itself, Corinthian in style and rising 167 feet -- the capital boasts representations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America -- all linked together; finally, over a princely crown and a hemisphere recalling the newly discovered part of the globe is a 25-foot-high bronze statue of Columbus himself by Rafael AttachE.   Blessed with rich and fertile soil, an excellent harbor, and a hardworking population, Barcelona has always prospered. At a time when Madrid was still a dusty and unknown Castilian backwater, Barcelona was a powerful, diverse capital; one influenced more by the Mediterranean empires that conquered it than by the cultures of the arid Iberian plains to the west. Carthage, Rome, and Charlemagne-era France each overran Catalonia, and each left an indelible mark on the region's nascent identity. The region of Catalonia is a nation within a nation. While part of Spain, it has its own semi-autonomous government. Catalan -- a Romance language akin to the Provencal of France -- is spoken everywhere, supplanting Castilian Spanish as the main language even on street signs. Catalonians are proud of their distinct culture and heritage; with their long seafaring tradition and centuries of trade, there is a strong connection between it and southern France. They have clung fiercely to their culture and language--both of which, earlier in this century, Franco systematically tried to eradicate. And Barcelona, the region's lodestar, has truly come into its own. In Barcelona itself, this regionalism is complemented by a strong socialist tradition - the city was a bastion of the Republican cause during the Civil War, holding out against Franco until January 1939, and remained the scene of protests and demonstrations throughout the dictatorship. It's a confident, progressive city, looking towards the rest of Europe for its inspiration and its innovations - the classic tourist images of Spain seem firmly out of place in Barcelona's bustling central boulevards and stylish modern streets. And style is what brings many visitors here, attracted by enthusiastic newspaper and magazine articles which make much of the outrageous architecture and user-friendly city design   Despite its allure, Barcelona grapples with problems common to many major cities: the increasing polarization of rich and poor, a rising tide of drug abuse, and an escalating crime rate, mostly in theft. But in reaction to a rash of negative publicity, city authorities have, with some degree of success, brought crime under control, at least within the tourist zones (things are much improved in this area - I saw no signs of a major problem on this visit as we have witnessed in the past).   A revitalized Barcelona eagerly prepared for and welcomed thousands of visitors as part of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. When the Games had finished, the city was left with an entirely new harbor development containing the futuristic Olympic Village. And along with a construction program that touched every corner of the city, went the indisputable knowledge that these had been Barcelona's Olympics, and not Spain's - an important distinction to the Catalan people, who, bolstered by the gradual integration of immigrants from other parts of Spain, endow the city with a character distinct from Spain's other regional capitals. The action didn't end when the last medal was handed out. Barcelona turned its multimillion-dollar building projects into permanently expanded facilities for sports and tourism.   Much of Spain's more modern architecture feels like a rehash of its past. But Barcelona is a lively exception. As Europe leapt from the 19th century into the 20th, it celebrated a rising standard of living and nearly a century without a major war. Future revolutions were in their early, starry-eyed-dreamer stages. Impressionists came out of their studios to paint in the gardens, and Art Nouveau architects forced hard steel and concrete into softer organic shapes. Barcelona's answer to art nouveau was modernisme, and its genius was Antoni Gaudí. There's a pride in the city which is expressed in a remarkable cultural energy, seen most perfectly in the glorious modernista (Art Nouveau) architecture that studs the city's streets and avenues. Antoni Gaudí is the most famous of those who have left their mark on Barcelona in this way: his Sagrada Família church is rightly revered, but just as fascinating are the (literally) fantastic houses and apartment buildings that he and his contemporaries designed. In art, too, the city boasts a stupendous legacy, from important Romanesque and Gothic works to major galleries containing the life's work of the Catalan artists Joan Miró and Antoni Tàpies, and - perhaps the greatest draw of all - a representative collection of the work of Pablo Picasso.   Today is Sunday so many of the shops are closed. We drive past Port Vell, Montjuic, The Olympic Village, Poble Espangnol.   At St. Jaume Square there is the City Town Hall and across the Square, the Catalonian Seat of Government. Also in the old city stands Barcelona's cathedral as a celebrated example of Catalonian Gothic architecture. Except for the 19th-century west facade, the basilica was begun at the end of the 13th century and completed in the mid-15th century. The three naves, cleaned and illuminated, have splendid Gothic details. With its large bell towers, blending of medieval and Renaissance styles, beautiful cloister, high altar, side chapels, sculptured choir, and Gothic arches, it ranks as one of the most impressive cathedrals in Spain. Vaulted galleries in the cloister surround a garden of magnolias, medlars, and palm trees; the galleries are further enhanced by forged iron grilles. The historian Cirici called this the loveliest oasis in Barcelona. The cloister, illuminated on Saturdays and fiesta days, also contains a museum of medieval art. The most notable work displayed is the 15th-century La Pietat of BartolomE Bermejo.   The Bridge of Bishops joins the Cathedral with the Royal Palace -- the former palace of the counts of Barcelona. It later became the residence of the kings of Aragón -- hence, the name of its plaza (King's Square). It's believed that Columbus was received here by Isabella and Ferdinand when he returned from his first voyage to the New World. Here, some believe, the monarchs got their first look at a Native American. The Saló del Tinell, a banqueting hall with a wood-paneled ceiling held up by half a dozen arches, dates from the 14th century. Rising five stories above the hall is the Torre del Rei Martí, a series of porticoed galleries.   We get off the bus at the appointed place to change from the blue route to the red route. At this spot is a Corte de Ingles (large department store) where Barrie and I go in to check it out. My only purchase is some Clinique sun block to put on us while sitting on the top of the bus. We drive along Paseo de Gracia and pass Casa Battlo and Casa Mila both by Antoni Gaudi; we don't get off since we have limited time and have to make choices -- I have already visited these sites. Casa Batlló was designed by Gaudí in 1905. Using sensuous curves in iron and stone, the architect gave the facade a lavish baroque exuberance. The balconies have been compared to "sculpted waves." The upper part of the facade evokes animal forms, and delicate tiles are spread across the design--a polychromatic exterior extraordinaire.   Commonly called La Pedrera, Casa Milà is the most famous apartment-house complex in Spain. Antoni Gaudí's imagination went wild when planning its construction; he even included vegetable and fruit shapes in his sculptural designs. Controversial and much criticized upon its completion, today it stands as a classic example of modernista architecture. The entire building was restored in 1996. The ironwork around the balconies forms an intricate maze, and the main gate has windowpanes shaped like turtle shells. The rooftop, filled with phantasmagorical chimneys known in Spanish as espantabrujas (witch-scarers), affords a view of Gaudí's unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Família. The Espai Gaudí (Gaudí Space) in the attic has an intriguing multimedia display of the works of this controversial artist.   We get off the bus at La Sagrada Família. Gaudí's incomplete masterpiece is one of the more idiosyncratic creations of Spain. Begun in 1882 and still incomplete at Gaudí's death in 1926, this incredible church--the Church of the Holy Family--is a bizarre wonder. The languid, amorphous structure embodies the essence of Gaudí's style, which some have described as art nouveau run rampant. Work continues on the structure, but without any sure idea of what Gaudí intended. Some say that the church will be completed by the mid-21st century. The crypt of the cathedral features a small museum of the architect's scale models. Photographs show the progress (or lack thereof) of construction on the building; there are even photos of Gaudí's funeral. This is the first time for Barrie to visit this site and she absolutely loves it.   In 1883 after a year of work had begun on a Neo-Gothic Church on the site - the task of completing it was given to Gaudi, who changed everything extemporizing as he went along. It became his life's work and he lived as a recluse on the site for 16 years - he is buried in the church's crypt. At his death only one tower of the Nativity façade had been completed.   Work resumed after the Spanish Civil War and several more have since been finished. Work continues today, financed by public subscription, without any sure idea of what Gaudí intended. Gaudi's original plans for the Church have been lost and only a few writings of his ideas remain. Computers are being used to try to recreate what Gaudi would have done. However, even Gaudi wasn't exactly sure of his plan -- he kept making changes as he went along.   The size alone is startling, with eight spires rising to over 100m. For Gaudí, these were metaphors for the Twelve Apostles. Each of the completed towers, representing the apostles, has Venetian Mosaics topping them -- there are spiral staircases in each with 400 steps, which allow access to the towers and upper galleries.   On the east wall of the structure is the Nativity façade designed by Gaudi -- the Western façade (Passion Façade) is also completed. A third southern façade is planned, which will be the Glory of Christ.   The Nativity façade, completed in 1904, has doorways that represent faith, hope and charity. Scenes from the Nativity and Christ's childhood are embellished with symbolism: The cypress tree at the pinnacle of the arch, symbolizes the Church or everlasting life and on it the white doves symbolize the congregation or the angels. It is finely detailed -- its surface is highly textured with curls and ripples so that it looks a bit like it has melted in places. There are also splashes of color used here and there, such as fruits that are colored. There are giant turtles that look as though they are carrying the church on their backs (just as they carry their own homes on their backs). Gaudi did most of the Nativity façade but after Gaudi's death a few of the center figures were done by a Japanese sculptor - they are whiter in color and flat -- they don't have the depth of expression of Gaudi's work.   In contrast, the Passion Façade is a bleak and controversial work with angular and often sinister figures. This façade was created by Barcelona born, Josep Maria Subirachs. Rather than follow Gaudi's plans he created an entirely new design. The Passion facade contrasts markedly with the Nativity façade --it is very simple, dominated by a crucified Christ. As a tribute to Gaudi, Subirachs placed a figure of Gaudi next to the two Roman Guards.   From a distance I find the Nativity façade the much more interesting and eye catching work. However, up close, one can't help but be mesmerized by the Passion façade - I could stand and look at it for hours - bizarre but so very mesmerizing. The two completed facades are so different that it is hard to believe that they are part of the same building. I personally love the Art Nouveau Architecture of Barcelona - each time you look at it there is something new to see.   The Glory Façade, currently under construction, is planned as the main entrance. The decoration will represent humankind gaining glory through redemption -- the virtues, sins, purgatory, sacraments, Last Judgment and Holy Trinity will be symbolized in stone.   The inside of the Temple is designed to look like a petrified forest of sycamore trees. The many columns represent the tree trunks. The nave side aisles, which are now completed, are sheltered by 98 foot high vaults supported on leaning columns. The windows are topped with sculptured baskets of fruit decorated with Venetian glass. The stained glass windows are at this time the only color in the interior of the church. However, in looking at the plans for the interior, it should be very colorful when completed.   The crypt where Gaudi is buried was built by the original architect Francese de Paula Villar I Lozano, in 1882 and is where services are held. At the apex of the central vault is a lovely sculpture of the Annunciation. The lower floor contains a small museum tracing the careers of the architects and the church's history.   Gaudi's original ambitions have been scaled down over the years but the design for the completion of the building remains impressive. Still to come is the central tower symbolizing Jesus, which will be circled by four large towers representing the Evangelists. Four towers (representing the four remaining apostles) on the Glory façade will match the four on the passion façade and Nativity façade. Next to the central tower will be one representing the Virgin Mary. An ambulatory, like an inside-out cloister will run round the outside of the building.   Jim and I have previously been to the Familia Sagrada -- on our last visit the tour was extremely in depth which definitely added to my appreciation of it on this visit.   Not to disappoint you, I do stop at the gift shop and find a couple of ceramic candle holders (with Gaudi designs), some Art Nouveau jewelry and some metal bookmarks with the designs of Gaudi -- all are for Christmas gifts.   We hop back onto the bus and our next stop is at Parc Guell. The bus drops us off at the bottom of the hill and it is quite a climb to get to the park. This is a wonderful urban park designed by Antoni Gaudi - it features peaceful greens, winding paths and lots of sculptures and mosaics designed by Gaudi himself. Antoni Gaudí designed Barcelona's Parc Guell as a playful "planned community" (before the people were ready). His colorful, curvy Parc Guell overlooking Barcelona was never intended as the park it is today -- Gaudí originally intended this garden to be a sixty-residence housing project-a kind of gated community. As a high-income housing development, it failed. A hundred years ago, Gaudí's shiny new Parc Guell was out in the sticks-too far from Barcelona's cultural scene -- it failed after just two homes were constructed. Considering that the city's wealthiest neighborhoods surround the park today, it seems Gaudí's gated community brainstorm was just a century ahead of its time. As the park that it has become, it is a true delight to visit. And like the Sagrada Família church in the distance, it offers us a fascinating peek into the eccentric personality of the architect and his times.   It is fun to imagine what might have been -- this gated community being filled with Barcelona's wealthy, stepping past fancy gatehouses, they'd walk by Gaudí's wrought iron gas lamps (his father was a blacksmith and he always enjoyed this medium). We climb the grand stairway past the ceramic dragon fountain (this is made of colorful mosaics and one of my favorite things here). At the top is the Hall of 100 Columns -- originally slated to be a produce market for the neighborhood's sixty mansions. These columns, each different (made from concrete and rebar, topped with colorful ceramic and studded with broken bottles and bric-a-brac), would have added to the market's vitality. We continue up, looking down along the playful "pathway of columns" that support a long arcade. At the top of the terrace, one can relax on a colorful bench (designed to fit the body ergonomically) to enjoy one of Barcelona's best views.   Not one to miss a shopping opportunity, I stop into the gift shop at the park - get a mouse pad for myself with a Gaudi design, pens with the Gaudi design as stocking stuffers and some postcards. At this point Jim and I have had it so grab a cab and head back to Las Ramblas for a stroll -- Barrie and Arnie stay to see more of the park. The cab drops us off at the one end of the long pedestrian boulevard and as always it is fun walk the length of it and people watch. Love the mimes that perform along the street - they appear like statues until they receive a few coins and then they come to life acting like robots - their makeup is wonderful and you can usually count on bright costuming. As I mentioned, it is Sunday and most of the shops are closed - does this stop me from finding one? Not a chance - find a shop called Paramita - this is a young person's shop with adorable little tee shirts and purses from a Granada designer. Find some wonderful things for my daughter here - colorful and unique and the prices are reasonable -- the designs are things of Spain done in an abstract colorful way. I also find a couple of the Toledo style pill boxes for friends.   We have a 20 minutes wait for the bus to take us back to the ship - we are hot and tired and can't wait to get back to cool off and relax. Our first stop is at the pool bar for a nice cold drink - for me it is a pina colada. Jim walks to the other side of the pool to get us some of the wonderful cheeseburgers at the grill. He is told that he can't get one unless sitting at a certain section of tables - we can't eat them at the table we are at, which is only a few feet further. There are no free tables in the designated section and when he asked where we were supposed to sit, there was no answer. We aren't even allowed to take them into the Terrace Cafe. The idea of table service is lovely but it doesn't work -- there aren't enough tables or waiters. There are two older ladies having a fit about this - they are very upset that they can't get a simple hot dog because there is no place to sit. This policy needs to be changed.   Since we can't eat we return to the room to order room service - we are less than happy. The minute we walk into the room we find that Isabelle has had our closet problem taken care of - not only is the rod fixed but all of our clothing is hanging on it - this was above and beyond what I expected. We call for room service only to be told that they have to personally come to the room to take our order by filling out a form. This seems like a total waste of the crew's time - much easier and faster to take it by phone. This is a policy that Oceania may want to think of revising - why is it necessary to have someone come physically to your cabin twice when once would suffice?   We don't get our lunch for several hours. This is because with the extra trip to the room we are now conflicting with the lifeboat drill. We accept this and understand that the crew has priorities. For the lifeboat drill we are taken to the Grand Dining room as a meeting spot. Sitting at our table we meet a very nice couple from Point Pleasant, NJ (not far from where we live). We talk to them through the whole cruise and I never get their names. At the table next to us are Randy and Luanne - they actually make the drill fun! The first thing we are asked to do is to form a line and proceed to the life boats by holding onto the tab of the life vest of the person in front of us. Big mistake - they don't know my Jim! He starts pulling on my tab and as I result I'm pulling on the tab of the Point Pleasant lady in front of me - so not only am I being choked in return I am choking her. Randy, Luanne, Laura and John find this extremely funny and this encouragement from the four of them just eggs Jim on further! Don't think that this is what Oceania had in mind for the drill!   After the lifeboat drill we receive a call from room service asking for our order - we had already ordered when they came to our room and took the order. A while later we receive another call to say they are preparing it. We do finally get our food but it is not what we ordered - there is a prawn cocktail and nothing more. Jim doesn't eat fish so it is mine and it is delicious. I'm now satisfied but Jim isn't! Guess that he will have to wait for dinner!   Yesterday I sent an outfit out to be pressed and it is returned today - very easy for me.   I find a note on our stateroom door from Faye and Gary from CA - these are people that I have been e-mailing with pre cruise. We have a mutual friend who electronically introduced us to each other before we left home. I'm looking forward to meeting them at the cocktail party that Oceania is giving for the members of the Yahoo board.   We sail at 5pm and Jim and I sit on the balcony to watch.   On the way to the party we meet a couple at the elevators - upon introducing ourselves we find that this is Faye and Gary - they are wonderful people and we go up to the party together.   The cocktail party is held in the Horizon Lounge. Hors d'oeuvres are being passed around butler style -- trays of wine and champagne are being passed -- there is an open bar making for a very nice party. However, the best part is meeting the rest of the people from the message boards. Those we meet are: Claudia and Al from CA Rose and Jim from Hawaii Nancy, Ed, David and Trudy Beatty from Iowa (I have met Nancy electronically - we were introduced by Shirley Binder pre cruise. Cami and Andy Doug and Sherry from Albany Rees and Chuck from NYC Candice and Tony from NYC Harvey and Deb from FL Marvin and Ruth Charles and Ann from FL Charles and Miep Marilyn and Tom Kathy and John from CA   Besides the above, the people that we met on the flight are also here and I'm probably forgetting many names. What a great group of people. Mandy, the photographer is taking many photos of the party and even a large group shot. Now the scoop on some of our new friends - Rose and Jim were recently married, Al is her father and Claudia her step-mother. Tomorrow they are having a wedding reception on board to celebrate their marriage. The Beattys are just great and we wind up spending a lot of time with them. Rees and Chuck are in a cabin two doors down from us and we see them in the hallways often - these guys are the best. Candice is wonderful and she makes me laugh - what a bundle of fun and energy. Tony is the quieter of the two but very enjoyable to be with. Harvey and Deb we don't actually get to know very well until later in the cruise. Cami and Andy are another really sweet couple - always a big smile and big hello. Marvin and Ruth seem very nice but we don't have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with them. Charles and Ann are terrific - Ann has quite a sense of humor and gives Jim a run for his money and Charles is a real gentleman. The other Charles is very nice as is Miep. On the boards Charles told us about how they lost his wife - he was talking about her paper work for the cruise. I told Faye about how he lost his wife and she took it literally thinking that his wife had passed away and that he had quickly replaced her. We finally got that one straightened out. Miep is very much alive and kicking! Kathy and Tom are brother and sister, and they are sure to let us know that she is the much younger sibling! Both are traveling with their spouses, John and Marilyn. This foursome is such fun to be around. I can see that Tom is going to be trouble! When Jim and I were in Spain several years ago, I bought castanets for my daughter (she was a dancer) - while buying them an old woman in the shop decided to show me how to use them while dancing the Flamenco - she was fantastic - she then told me to try it - well, my performance was less than polished and rather klutzy. As luck would have it a friend was right there to video my moment of shame. I mentioned this on the boards and it became a running joke that I would be performing the Flamenco at the cocktail party this evening. The only one who seems to have remembered is my good buddy, Tom! Only Tom has somehow embellished the story a slight bit - my klutzy performance has turned into my X rated video! I make it very clear to him, that NO, I will not be performing this evening - nor any other!   After the party we join the Beatty's for dinner. Ed is a retired attorney and Nancy is full of personality, they live in Iowa. David is an attorney and victims advocate and appeared on the Sally Jesse, Oprah, and Geraldo shows - do I need to say more - the conversation is fascinating. David testifies before Congress on victim's rights and lobbies in Washington. Trudy is an activist in related fields. Trudy and David were recently married and are traveling with David's parents - this is a honeymoon for them. They live in the Washington D.C. area. Between Trudy and David, the stories just flowed! As it turns out Trudy and I have a mutual friend and have lots to talk about. It is wonderful to see the parents and children get along and have as much fun as these four do together. Our conversation ranges from crime to films to books. David is on the Atkins diet and they cater to him very well - bringing him two huge steaks. The waiters are also wonderful to Nancy - she can not eat gluten and every night someone comes over and tells her what she can eat from the menu. Once again the service is very slow but we do find out that each person's dinner is cooked to order - and it shows in the quality of the food. My dinner for tonight is escargot, duck (not at all fatty), and a chocolate soufflE - all fabulous! We are still having dinner at 10pm, so miss tonight's show - a concert performed by Tian Jiang, an international piano virtuoso. I later hear that the show was wonderful. I quickly stop in to check out the shops on board - there are two boutiques; one is mainly jewelry and the other has logo items, some clothing, books and things like that. I think that the selection is a bit limited. However, I do see a couple of very pretty pieces of jewelry that I point out to Jim. I show Jim what I like and he sometimes buys them to put away for a future occasion.   Tonight, by mistake, we left the privacy sign on the door of our room so it isn't made up when we return. Won't make this mistake again since it is so nice to walk in and have the bed turned down for you.   Before bed, I spend some time sitting on the balcony enjoying the great breeze and reading - oh, how I love this.   July 7 Monday Palma de Mallorca, Spain 8am - 12am   We wake up to another beautiful sunny day. Sleeping was once again perfect with the door open, the sea breeze coming in and the water lapping - such relaxation!   Arriving in Palma by ship is an impressive sight, with the grand bulk of the cathedral towering above the old town and the remnants of the medieval walls. From the ship the whole town can be taken in with one glance.   I'm thrilled to find that we will be in port until midnight - it seems to me that we were originally scheduled for only a half day. Jim is less than thrilled that I am on my way down to the shore excursion desk to see if we can still get onto the Highlights of Palma tour this morning - he'd be just as happy to sleep in. I hate being in the ports and not seeing all that we can. He graciously does go along with my plan. I would have liked to do the Caves of Drach but there is a waiting list for this one. We have been to Palma before but haven't done the Highlights tour so this will be something new for us.   We leave at 8:15 for our tour and Maria is our guide. We start out with Laura, John, Ann and Charles. Somehow, Laura and John wind up on a different tour bus - we try to get onto their bus but are told there is no more room. - so the remaining four of us are together on another bus. There is also a very sweet little girl, Caroline, on the tour with her Mom - she is about 10 years old and from Istanbul. The mother speaks English but Caroline speaks very little. The bus is air conditioned but it doesn't seem to be working very well.   Floating in the blue waters of the Mediterranean off the eastern coast of Spain, the Balearic Islands have managed to maintain their integrity, identity and strong links with the past. Beyond the clubs and beaches are Gothic cathedrals, Stone Age ruins, small fishing villages, and endless olive groves and orange orchards. There are four islands: the biggest is Mallorca (Mallorca means largest - also spelled Majorca), followed by Menorca, Ibiza and tiny Formentera.   The island of Mallorca is the result of a convulsion in which Africa came near to Europe; the consequences were a series of folds in the Iberian Peninsula. The folds fell one on top of the other and created the Balearic Islands. Scientists trace Mallorca's human history to 4,000BC. The Mallorcan soldiers of the time were reported to be aggressive, and the island gained a reputation for harboring pirates who attacked Roman ships in the Mediterranean. In retaliation, Romans seized control of the island in 123 BC. Then, during the decline of the Roman Empire, Mallorca was attacked by Vandals and Byzantines. Over the years, the island was influenced by variety of civilizations, including the Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Arabs. At one point it was even an independent state and later, in 1343, became the Crown of Aragon.   In the architecture of the island, we see a variety of influences. The Romans, recognizing the strategic location of Mallorca, established a military post here. Later, the Moors put their stamp on the island and Palma grew into a major seaport. In 1229, Spain conquered the Moorish stronghold. Until the 16th century, when Spain began concentrating on the New World, Mallorca functioned as a major port of call between Europe and North Africa. More recently, in the 1960's, a boom in tourism and development shaped the island, as towers of steel and concrete sprung up along the coast. Despite the development, much of the island maintains its picturesque beauty. There are cozy villages tucked away in valleys all along Mallorca's coastlines, where visitors spend enchanted hours strolling along narrow, winding streets.   Although people who live in Mallorca usually speak Castilian Spanish (and those who cater to tourists speak a dizzying array of languages), the native tongue of the Balearic islands is Catalan, and the local dialect is Mallorqumn. This language, which the Balearic people made official after the death of Franco and the federalization of Spain, looks and sounds something like a mixture of Spanish and French.   In 1983 Palma became the capital of one of Spain's newly established autonomous regions, the Balearic Islands, and since then it's shed the dusty provincialism of yesteryear, developing into a go-ahead and cosmopolitan commercial hub of 325,000 people. Palma forms an important holiday resort and commercial port. Despite having become a modern, vibrant city, Palma has managed to retain its old town and its ancient culture and charm. Palma's airport handles millions of visitors each year and plays a major role in the Balearic's tourism industry.   Around half of Mallorca's population lives in the capital, Palma, and it's a buzzing, vibrant place. By day, you can explore the attractive old quarter crammed with cobbled lanes, tree-lined boulevards, Gothic churches and designer boutiques. Wandering through the expansive maze of twisting lanes in the old quarter, you seem to forget that you are on an island. With all the activity of the city it can be difficult to imagine that the city was once a devotional retreat for Fernando and Isabel. What remain of the old city walls add to the feeling that there's always something delightful and surprising to discover around the next corner. Once known as Medina Mayurka under the rule of the Umayyad in 903, Palma was one of the most important cities in Muslim Spain - although evidence of those times is scarce, with the Arab baths one of the few remaining examples of Moorish architecture.   Lack of water is a problem for Mallorca - today they convert sea water to supply the island. It is actually cheaper for inhabitants of the island to drink wine than to drink water.   Palma has a beautiful marina with some fabulous yachts docked there. One of the yachts belongs to the king of Norway (30 million euros) and another to the Arab Emirate. Sailing is one of the most important sports here -- children begin to sail at the age of seven or eight. There is a sailing Regatta held here that attracts more than 1000 participants.   The Jewish population remained in Mallorca and was not expelled like in the rest of Spain. This was not done for any altruistic reasons - the aristocracy needed the Jews in the community - so protected the Jews, by changing the Jewish names and giving them their own names. In order to be saved the Jews had to renounce their religion and had to eat bacon as a sign of this renunciation - they were actually called bacon (in Spanish). These Jews became Christians and assimilated into the community. But now after centuries they are beginning to return to Judaism.   We drive along the Main Boulevard which is very shady with a canopy of trees. Maria points out the statue of Ramon Llull, who is considered the Father of the Mallorcan Language. She also tells us that shoes are the best buy in Palma.   We tour Bellver Castle, built in 1309, the only castle in Spain that is totally circular in design. Bellver Castle, a strong symbol of the island, dominates everything. It is one of the finest examples of military architecture of the 14th and 15th centuries, although its circular golden stone structure gives it a strangely modern appearance.   The castle is surrounded by a forest containing palm trees, evergreens and bougainvillea. It sits on a hill and is surrounded by a moat which is totally dry - the castle is built of the local sandstone which is porous and absorbs the water. Bellver houses the principle museum and is often used for concerts.   Construction started in 1300 by the orders of James II, King of Mallorca. Stone for the castle came from the nearby mountains - the transportation of the stone was easier because of the experience gained in building the Cathedral previously. It took nine years to build the basic structure -- the ornamentation was finished more slowly. The work force consisted of seventy permanent artisans and a large number of the king's slaves as well as local women.   The building is circular in layout with three semicircular buttressed towers, and a single tower some seven meters from the body of the castle. The construction is arranged around a central courtyard. The first level is constructed using semicircular arches surmounted with flat roofs and the second, upper level has Gothic arches and ribbed gothic vaults.   The original doors of Bellver are still present. There is one large door which was used for a rider and his horse to enter - this was only used when the person entering was known. When the visitor was unknown a smaller door was used and the horse was left outside for security purposes.   The castle was built as a royal residence. In the late 14th century, John I and Violet of Aragon stayed there with their court for three months. The castle has also entertained other European royalty, such as Charles I of England, the Prince of Saboya, John of Austria, the Duke of Monpensier and the present British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, as well as members of the Spanish Royal family including the present monarchs King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.   In 1717, the castle became a military prison. Between 1802 and 1808, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, Minister of the Treasury, Patronage and Justice in the reign of Carlos IV, was imprisoned in one of the rooms on the first floor. The castle also acted as a prison for numerous French officers and soldiers defeated in the Battle of Bailen -- there is graffiti on the walls, carved by French prisoners of war. The castle was also used to store powder of the Franco Army and was used for executions during the regime of Franco. Maria tells us that her grandfather and his generation want no part of the castle because of its history during Franco's rule. It is the younger generation that has a renewed interest in the castle.   In 1931, the Government gave the building and the woods to the Palma City Council. It has now been turned into the Palma History museum and houses the Desuig Collection of Classical Sculpture. One especially interesting piece of sculpture is of a lady reclining - however, it isn't a lady but a castrated man. The Vatican allowed this procedure, so that men could vocally hit the high musical notes. The Museum is an exploration of the history of Palma -- it contains Palma's museum of municipal history which traces the development of the city through its artifacts, with pottery from Talaiotic, Roman, Arab and Spanish periods.   Our next stop is to Palma's Cathedral, built on top of the island's main mosque by the King of Aragon, Jaume I, the Conqueror -- it took 500 years to complete. This gothic sandstone building dominates the city's waterfront.   The foundation of the Cathedral was closely liked to the conquest of the island by Jaume I, in 1229. Control of the Balearic Islands was essential to the interests of a kingdom by then intent on expansion into the Mediterranean area, not only because of the obvious importance of its ports of call on the maritime route to the East, but also because of the need to eliminate the danger of the Muslim pirates who used the archipelago as a base for their frequent attacks on the courts of Catalonia. From the very beginning it was Jaume's wish to raise a Cathedral in the islands capital and this is mentioned in the chronicles of the conquest. According to legend, Jaume's decision was due to a vow made to God during a violent storm which threatened to sink the Aragonese fleet. At the beginning, however, it seems that the only initiative in this respect was to consecrate the city's main mosque for Christian worship and to make a number of alterations and possibly certain additions to the building. The actual scope of these changes is unknown as no part of the present Cathedral is previous to the 14th century, except for the tower built on the site of the old minaret (which explains its different orientation vis-à-vis the Cathedral.) The origin of the present structure lies in the brief but brilliant period when Mallorca became an independent kingdom, after the death of Jaume I, who in his will ordered his dominions shared among his children bequeathing the Balearic archipelago and the Crown's Trans-Pyrenean territories to his youngest son, Jaume. Constantly under threat by the Aragonese sovereigns in their successive attempts at unification, the kingdom of Mallorca survived from 1276 until 1343, when Peter IV, the Ceremonious, annexed it definitively to his realm. By that time the old mosque converted into a church was being replaced by an airy Gothic structure, which though only just begun promised to be the beautiful building we know today.   The Cathedral, as it stands today, is the equal of almost any on the mainland - and a surprising one, too, with modernista interior features designed by Antoni Gaudí. The original foundation came with the Christian Reconquest of the city, and the site taken, in fulfillment of the vow by Jaume I. Essentially Gothic, wit Read Less
Sail Date: July 2003
This is PART 2 of a Two Part Review Read Part 1. Day 13 - Barcelona, Gerona, Stanstead We decided that 7am was a good time to get off the ship. Enough things would be open in town by the time we got there. We collected our luggage ... Read More
This is PART 2 of a Two Part Review Read Part 1. Day 13 - Barcelona, Gerona, Stanstead We decided that 7am was a good time to get off the ship. Enough things would be open in town by the time we got there. We collected our luggage from the terminal, then dragged it to the front of the taxi rank - which most inconveniently was located at the opposite end to the exit doors. We started off up the road across the draw bridge that exited the terminal area, only to have to wait for 20 min as the bridge went up to let another Princess ship come in to berth. And yes you know the taxi meter was running... Eventually we got to the rail station, after negotiating the road works in town that our taxi driver seemed to be drawn to. A 10Euro trip cost us 19.80 Euros. Needless to say we did not tip him. Taxi drivers will be the first against the wall come the revolution! At the train station we stowed the luggage then stopped for coffee. The underground station was right there, so we did not rush ourselves. Hubby was still a wee bit fragile, so it was a matter of knowing where all the loos were...The Purser on the ship had said that Ryan Air did a bus to Gerona. but her wasn't sure where it would leave from. I intended to call them. But their offices did not open until 9am. We talked about this option. It would be 10 Euros each, and we were not sure if the vehicle would have a/c. The train would cost 5.50 each and we figured it had a/c, if the station did. Also, we did not relish having to lug suitcases across the city, or, being at the mercy of another ^**&*!# taxi driver. There was his stomach to consider too - the train would definitely have a toilet. We decided to stay with out first plan. We wanted to buy tickets for our train now, rather than later. We were not sure how to use the automatic machines, they were a bit more complex than the ones we had used for other things. So we q'd at the info to find out if this was possible - the q here was much smaller than those to the ticket booths. Finally we spoke to a woman who gave us a time table, and said we would not be able to buy tickets until about 30 min before the departure of the train. Oh well. We checked the platform info again, and this is when I noticed a sign saying that there was track maintenance going on between two of the stops on our route, which was slowing trains by between 30 - 45 min. We were glad we saw this, as it affected the time we turned up at the station - we decided to get the earlier train. We went down into the subterranean transport system. Tickets were purchased from automatic machines, and the platform had screens advising when the next train would be along - 3 min I think was what was said when we got there. It was stiflingly hot, which surprised me, I had expected it to be a bit cooler. The paper fan got a beating this day. The train arrived as advertised, and we were on our way to the Barrio Gothic. At the exit there was a large covered food market on the Ramblais, a wide tree lined avenue. We decided to have a look around it. All that fresh fish. Huge mounds of shrimp and sardines. The market was divided into food types, fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and sweets, dairy. I would have liked to have picked up some cheese, but it was not practical. We walked on into the the Barrio proper and wandered into the Plaza St. Joseph Oriol, where we found a nice cafe. We settled down to watch the setting up of an art market. We watched the family at the table next to us, and those at the tables around us. We must have sat there for nearly 2 hours, we really just wanted to do the Mediterranean sitting and watching thing. I did a bit more to the diary, and ran the pen dry. Earl popped into a 'Hallmark' shop and got me another. The cafe was getting busy, so we decide to look further into the area. We wandered around the art market, seemed it was being put on by the local art club. Wed then came up around the cathedral from the rear. The streets were narrow to the point were four people had difficulty walking abreast. We saw street musicians, and a flamenco group performing. We finally got to the in front of the cathedral, and the main sq. in front of that. We selected a cafe and topped up on water and beer. We sat for a while then decided to select another for lunch - a sort of cafe crawl. Opposite the cafe we were at, were two others and we checked out their menus. Deciding on one with a modern decor and design feel. I started with a fruit and veg salad, then we both had the mixed grill, very filling. It was about 2:30 so we decided to head back to the rail station for the earlier train. We took the underground again and arrived in time for the 15:50 train. The terminal has a large board displaying the out/in bound trains and what platforms they are on. You need to know this as the terminal has stairs to each platform, and machines to put your ticket into as you go down. At that point the platform information was not showing. We had another look at the automatic ticket machines and decided we would give them a try, pressed destination, then pressed the train type (there are a couple of different companies running trains), then insert the correct money, out pops the ticket - that wasn't so hard. We kept checking the sign, still no luck. 15:50 came and went. The next train would be 16:20. I took a ticket at the info booth - #331, now serving 285...we were not the only ones. A mass of people had grouped in the vicinity of platform 4, the one that had been posted on the printed schedule. I waited in line to find out what was going on. By now it was 16:10. Then they flipped the sign to show the platform number (4), and the herds began to move. We shuffled towards the ticket validating machines with everyone else. To find that our tickets did not fit in the machine! We were causing a bottle neck so we moved to the side, and I spotted a platform official. Holding up the ticket I inquired "Where?!" He pointed us around the corner "Ticket Controller". We hurried around to the area he had pointed to. More validation machines. But there was a glass fronted office and I shoved the ticket up against the glass and inquired "Where?!!" The guy in the office (with his feet up on the desk as a fag hanging out of his mouth) waved us to go through the gate by the office front. We went, I said that if this wasn't right the ticket collector could sort it out on the train. Hubby grabbed the two big cases, I had the carry on and we ran down the stairs to the platform. The train was there, we got on at the nearest door dragged the bags into the nearest four seater. As we sat, the train began to move, that was what is called cutting it fine. We consulted the time table the info woman had given us to make sure we were going in the right direction - seemed we were, so we sat back and relaxed. The train was delayed for about 30 min at one point, then the ticket collector came down the isle. I put our tickets on the edge of the table, he looked, and walked on. Seems that automatic ticket machines dispense tickets that do not need to be validated. Eventually we arrived at Gerona, and got into one of the many taxis waiting outside the station. The airport is about 12 miles from the train station. At the airport it seemed the plane was on time, so we had a couple of hours to relax. I changed clothes in the toilets. Then we sat and waited. Everything went smoothly until we were loaded up on the plane. That was when the pilot chose to tell us we would be delayed (again - remember the outward flight?) for about 45m in. So we sat some more. When we did get under way, the pilot was definitely trying to make up the time. We taxied at about 70 mph, and did not bother with that little pause they usually do at the end of the runway, no sir, he just got it turned and lined up, then gunned the engines. Off we went. The flight was uneventful (thank goodness, we were definitely ready to be home now). At Stanstead we got through customs and collected the bags in about 40 min. I called the car park people and told them we were at the pick up point (the one they had told us to wait at when they had dropped us off). He said it would be about 10 min. After 20 I wondered where they were, I noticed folks walking into the car park we had been dropped off at, I followed them, curious as to who was collecting them. Seems it was the folks we were waiting for. I asked the driver why they were collecting here and not in the area we had been told to wait. He said that this was the area we had been told to wait at. I did not argue with him, but called the 'controller' again. "You will be on the next one down", says he. There was a rather irate woman who now joined our little group, she had been standing at the 'designated area' for an hour. I said, "So that was were they told you too?" Another van pulled up, but his was for "RUSSEL". By now hubby had joined the party. The irate woman was about to burst a blood vessel. I sympathized with her. She got into the van, "I don't care who this is for, they are not here, this is ours", says she. The driver did not seemed inclined to argue. Another came along. The driver was very apologetic, diffusing what could have become an ugly riot. Tired stressed people have a tendency to violence first, talk later. He loaded up our bags. More folks were moving around from the 'pick up point' to join the melee. We had our seats and were not going to give them up. At the car park we were offloaded and I collected the keys. I said to the controller, "you might want to tell people when they call in that you have moved the pick up point, it will only get worse out there, and you are not doing the company reputation any good", I don't think he cared. So at last and at long last, we were on our way home. I had the fleeting thought that we would break down on the way back, the way our luck with transport had been going. As a final insult. We ran the CD copied from our memory sticks by Princess, at that vastly over priced fee, into the DVD player, and discovered that none of the mini-movies had made it through the copying process. So no gondolas, no pigeons in St. Marks Sq. no Bridge of Sighs, no Grand Bazaar, no Blue Mosque courtyard, no Sparrows eating peanuts from our fingers...I was REALLY annoyed. And this was not due to being tired either. -------------------------------- This has been an experience we would not have missed, despite all the stressful situations. If this had been our first cruising experience, we would have considered it acceptable. However, we have both experienced higher levels of quality, I would rate this on a par with Carnival (not surprising as they have taken over the Princess line), fine for a 3 day, but becomes hell after 7 days. We have cruised, Carnival, Royal Carribean, Princess and hubby has experienced Costa too. Of these I would rate Princess after Costa and Royal Caribbean This may be due to our cruising at the height of the season, I will compare between RC (Royal Caribbean) and Princess. Princess have the extra wide terraced balconies, which means that from Caribe deck down to Emerald the balconies are half exposed to those above. OK if you don't mind the goldfish bowl lifestyle... Also, if you are in a cabin near to the front you will also be under the scrutiny of the bridge crew as well. RC, are smaller balconies, but, they have real wood decks, rather than the plastic tiles (rather hard on the feet), and they are private. The rooms. Princess have reasonable sized rooms, plenty of mirrors to make them look bigger. However, in the room we had the walk in wardrobe (actually it is an open rail, no doors) is right in front of the bathroom, so when the door to the bathroom is open it blocks the wardrobe and shelving area. RC have sliding doors to the wardrobe and enough space between the bathroom door, to use both areas comfortably. The bathroom decor of RC, in my opinion is nicer to look at, Princess have gone all out with the cream tile and corrian with pale blue accents, a bit old fashioned. The bed. Princess take the two twin mattresses and push them together, RC make the bed with a queen mattress, very much more comfortable. The TV/bill process. RC enable you to check your on board account using the room tv and remote, Princess make you go to the Pursers desk to get your bill printed out - none of that delivery to the room before you sign to pay up. Also, the tips are automatically added to each days bill - per person, so if you have any question with the service, you will not have the option to set the tip yourself, you will have to contest the tip at the end. RC still allow you to pay the tip separately from the room bill. Room Service. Princess definitely get first place here. Room service was punctual, and accurate, also the food arrived fresh. Public areas. Princess seem to think that all public areas should have musak playing, so don't expect to hear the sound of the waves or the wind - unless you are confined to your balcony. Also, the promenade deck on Princess is metal, painted to look like wood planks, how tacky. The interior areas are smaller on the Princess ship, they have devoted more space to the shops and trying to part you from your money. RC is not as mercenary, they do not have 'art' auctions every day they can, nor, keep the ship at sea to do this (really, it does not take a whole day and a half to go from Monaco to Barcelona, unless you want to fit yet another auction in). There is an adult only pool and sitting area specified on Princess. But, as it is not an enforced rule, do expect to have to listen to unattended children running amok in this area, as well as every other. Again, this could have been due to the time of year we went - won't make that mistake again. Food. Princess have the 'personal choice' dinning option. Convenient on a port intensive cruise, but, the two specialist dinning rooms serve the same menu throughout the cruise. The main dinning rooms are fair, to middli'n, nothing spectacular, both lines offer 'seconds' or if you want to eat just desert, go for it... The buffet was not consistent, some items were very good, others were bad. Bit hit and miss. Public facilities. Yes, the jacuzzies are open 24/7 on the Princess ship, except the day of our anniversary (!) Apparently the ship prepares for the next herd's arrival, 3 days before, and as a result they close all the jacuzzi's at once for 'maintenance' (or as one of the crew stated, 'We have so many kids on board...') The casino on any cruise ship is tight, don't expect to win the cost of your cruise here. After all if you don't like it, what are you to do? We don't normally do the shows, so I can't comment on the Princess versions. Safety. We did get to see the Princess theater, as this was the area we were taken to for the safety briefing - they told us where we should muster and let us try on the life jackets - the idea being that unless it is a sinking emergency, this will be the muster area. Of course that's if you survive the trampling that will happen should there be a for real emergency. I felt safer with the more traditional approach from R C. At least they took a roll call, rather than the princess idea of sending people to check the rooms - somehow I can't see members of the crew volunteering to check rooms as the ship gradually slides below the waves! Port dock locations. Princess seem to favor the cheaper berths (the one furthest away from the town area) that then enable them to charge you to use a coach to get into the port town itself. They even charged to use the tender service to get into Monaco. RC are able to dock either close enough to town to walk in, or, they provide FREE shuttle buses, and tenders to get into the port. Princess do provide a representative in the port town to answer questions as you get off the coach. On the Med cruise we took this year, we did notice that in every location RC had prime locations for their berths. Tours. Normally we prefer to go independent, but we did opt to take one tour with Princess in Istanbul, which was a reasonable value for money, although the guide had rather a thick accent and the group was rather large, so there was much jostling to get close enough to hear him. Beware, the 'carpet demonstration' is actually a carpet selling 'demonstration', don't expect to see weaving or dying on this, I think the guides uncle owns the shop... Emarkation/Disembarkation. Both companies offered comparable queuing experiences to get on, despite the 'express check in' we had requested from Princess (along with everyone else, makes a mockery of the idea really.) The disembarkation was smooth on both cruises. The Golden Princess is only 2 years old, but is looking a little worn - carpets with bare areas, cracked marble tiles, worn brass trim, and the spa pool needed a good steam cleaning. Fair enough, this was towards the end of the summer cruising, but, the ship should be presented in the same state for every cruise, after all we are paying the same, if not more for that to be the case. The Voyager of the Seas our RC cruise was less obviously worn, although the ship was at that point in its life of a similar age. The time of year can only be blamed so much, there comes a point when it is up to the cruise company to ensure the consistency of the product regardless of the time of year the product is being offered. Of course it could be the fact that Princess has been taken over by Carnival Cruises... Read Less
Sail Date: July 2003
Intro: To those who don't know me, by way of a little background, I am a 49 year old corporate real estate attorney from Calabasas, California (just northwest of Los Angeles). Accompanied on this cruise by my wife, Beth, a School ... Read More
Intro: To those who don't know me, by way of a little background, I am a 49 year old corporate real estate attorney from Calabasas, California (just northwest of Los Angeles). Accompanied on this cruise by my wife, Beth, a School Psychologist. For the first time in 10 years, we left the two teenaged daughters (17 and 19) at home. Pre-Cruise/Venice: Flew from LAX to Venice with a 2:40 layover and change of planes at JFK. Only problem with JFK was that at 5-7 in the evening, all food services at the Delta terminal were closed with the exception of Burger King. Plane from JFK to Venice caught a tail wind and we were in Venice at 9:30 am on Thursday, over an hour ahead of schedule. Celebrity personnel met us at the luggage carousel and escorted us to a nearby waiting bus. The trip into Venice was quick and easy. Our luggage was taken to the hotel for us and we were led on a short easy walk from the bus parking to the hotel. We opted for the two-night pre-cruise stay at the Carlton Executive Hotel in Venice. The hotel was clean and nice, rooms were small but well appointed. Not really worth the $359 per person for the two-night stay, but the logistics of not dealing with our own luggage/transportation easily made up for that. The hotel was located right across the canal from the train station, making it convenient to the port and to the buses/trains, but a long walk to most of the sites of Venice…That was okay, because, for two days, we got very accustomed to walking everywhere. First day, we walked across the bridge to the Ghetto, toured the Synagogues and Ghetto (absolutely fascinating), then walked to Tintoretto’s church and to the Rialto Bridge. Had dinner on the Piazza Santa Margarita in the same outdoor café where we ate on our honeymoon 22 years earlier (very good, but overpriced and all ala carte). Friday, we took a "free rideâ€? to Murano. BEWARE! Free rides are worth what you pay for them. The hotel clerk told us they would arrange such free rides, but, you are basically there as a guest of whichever glass blowing studio paid for your ride. The boat tenders to their private dock and they give you a personal guided "tourâ€?, most of which is a trip through their showroom store where your one-on-one guide tries to sell you extremely high-priced pieces. We LITERALLY escaped and ran…there is no exit…You need to find your own way out. We found some other tourist family jimmying open a gate and followed them to freedom…Once outside the gates, Murano is charming, but everything is a glass-blowing gift shop…We took a "Vaporettiâ€? (a public bus-boat) back to the main islands, walked to Piazza San Marco, toured the Doge’s Palace (a highlight is crossing the Bridge of Sighs on the INSIDE…to the prison)…For dinner, we crossed the bridge to near the train station where there are many nice little outdoor cafes with prix-fixe complete multi-course menus…We chose the Cafe "Brindisiâ€? with a full menu for 13 Euros a person…Very good… Next morning, on schedule, the ship’s land agent, Medov, came to take us to the ship… Check in was remarkably quick…we were on board in a matter of minutes… The Ship: What can I say…The Millennium is magnificent…The ship’s décor is dignified and warm, the layout is convenient (for a ship her size). Our cabin was on the Eighth deck, right near the midship elevators, making everything a convenient distance…Dining Room on the 4th and 5th decks to the rear of the ship, Celebrity Theater 4th and 5th to the front…most everything else was to be found between the two…shops and lounges on the 5th, casino, internet cafe and lounges on the 4th…Cosmo’s disco on the 11th, pools, spa and buffet on the 10th, cinema and purser on the 3rd…All easy to find… Our cabin was not large, but comfortable…perhaps could have used a bit more closet space, but, all-in-all, a minor inconvenience…Cabin Steward, Martin, was excellent and highly professional, almost transparent most of the time…he knew our schedule, made note of changes to it (like our reservation time for the Olympic) and adapted to it… I was very impressed with the showroom, amply large with few truly bad seats… We had Early Seating…which worked out perfectly with this itinerary…the only nights we were in port late, we ate in the Olympic or it somehow otherwise worked out (we had tickets to the Flamenco show in Barcelonaâ€"departing 8:45, so the early seating slid very well right in front of it.)… Our table was wonderful…Our tablemates were Nick and Liz, from New York, Nathan and Zippy from New Jersey and Ralph and Doreen (lilmscaddy on Cruise Critic…Intros were easy…thanks, CruiseCritic) from Indiana…We all became pretty close pretty quickly and did quite a bit together as a groupâ€"on and off the ship… Our Waiter, Davidâ€"from Franceâ€"and assistant waiter, Francisco were great…If anyone who reads this gets David as a waiter, consider yourselves in very good hands… We had a table at the extreme rear of the ship at the window, on the port side, 4th floor…nice views for dinner… I, personally, thought the food was outstanding…although, there were mixed reviews from our table…my wife, for one, had a few meals with which she was less than thrilled… The Olympic: We ate one night in the Olympic…the food and service was excellent…Beth had the Cheese Soufflé and Steak Diane…I opted for the Lobster Bisque and the Veal…The veal was fine but I should have gone with the Steak Diane…The Chocolate Soufflé for dessert was unbeatable…I wish they served it in the main dining room as well…Although the meal was excellent and I would easily pay far more back home for such a dining experience, I don’t know that it justifies the extra $50…It’s not as if the main dining room is giving you burgers and fries at a fast food window…I know the Olympic has its fans, but for me, if it didn’t exist and I was FORCED to eat in the main dining room each night, I wouldn’t exactly feel deprived… Other food: I thought the pizza was only fair at best and hardly worth the effort…The Sushi bar, however, was outstanding…My only wish would be that they should open it at 4:00 p.m., like the Carnival Elation (Yes, folks, Carnival gets some things right) instead of 6:00 to 10:00 p.m.…For those of us with early seating, this puts it smack opposite dinner hours…Still, on more than one occasion, I stopped for a plate of sushi on my way to dinner!! Selection and quality were outstanding…But, if it were open at 4:00, we could at least digest a little sushi before beginning the next meal…Ice Cream was great…and convenient…I must have had about two cones a day… Entertainment: On various nights, the main shows included: The Celebrity singers and dancers: Very good, but, as typical with most cruises, the shows lacked much originality and whoever comes up with these shows obviously believes that music, as we know it, ceased to be created after 1965…with the exception of motown and disco which seemed to have continued on through around 1975…the last show by these guys, at least had some good costumes and some interesting opera numbers… A magician: again, pretty good, but nothing overly flashy… Jugglers: These guys were fun and entertaining…and funny… A comic: Don Gavin…from Boston…my favorite on this cruise…very funny, also did a quite funny midnight show… A violinist and a trumpet player (co-billed but separate)…good, but these types of acts don’t make for an exciting show…Lisa, the violinist, was actually quite nice…we met her later in the cruise… An impressionist: weak on the impressions, but strong on the audience rapport…which more than makes up for talent…relating to the audience is a greater talent…especially in putting up with one obnoxious young audience "volunteerâ€? who tried to hijack the show (Parents, get a clue…muzzle your kid)… A couple of the house singers did "double-dutyâ€? headlining shows…good, but Celebrity should bring in added talent instead to make these shows a bit more special so you don’t feel you’re just getti8ng another "houseâ€? show without the dancers and costume changes… I may have left someone or another out…though the nights when we were in port late, there were no shows… Overall, the entertainment rates only a "fairâ€?…But, that’s okay, I’m satisfied with "fairâ€?…it beats what we got on Princess in the Baltic a couple of years back… Ports: General: We had visited 8 of the 10 ports before, some more than once…but never by cruise ship…We had always made our own way, hit and miss…so, we decided, this time, to rely mainly on tours…We considered booking our own guides, but the uncertainties of hiring guides and not having others to defray some of the costs or of ending up with incompatible tourmates pretty much convinced us to rely on the ship’s excursionsâ€"despite the obvious limitations…and cost (other than the high cost of private, unshared tours) was not a major concern…So, we went with Shore Excursions in every port… Dubrovnik: We opted for the Cavtat and Dubrovnik tour…I would not recommend it…Cavtat was scarcely worth seeing…The tour of Dubrovnik was brief and did not go up onto the walls…after the tour, we wandered the old city on our own…and this would have been sufficient… Corfu: We did the Achilleon Palace, Paleokatstritsas and Corfu tour…The Achilleon Palace was definitely worth seeing and we would not have seen it on our own…after the tour, we ate lunch at the same restaurant we ate at on our honeymoon, "Pizza Pete’sâ€?…Yes, that’s rightâ€"but, don’t let the name fool youâ€"this place is a one-of-a-kind…it sits out on the cliffs over the sea, near the harbor and the old fort…the kitchen sits on the other side of the highway and the waiters dodge traffic as they bring you your food…the food includes Pizza and Italian specialties, but the menu is extensive and is largely Greekâ€"it’s actually two restaurants…or at least looks like itâ€"the other half has a Greek name, but the menus are the same, and the kitchen and waiters are the same…it’s a ploy for folks who can’t decide between Greek and Italian…the patio is "splitâ€? between the two…sit on either side…it’s the same…You’ll find it on the road along the sea between the shuttle bus stop and the harbor… Then, we wandered the town on our own, shopping and hopped the free shuttle back to the ship… After these two ports came a much needed and well spaced "Day at Seaâ€?… Santorini: We took the Akrotiri Museum and Wine Tasting tour. The Akrotiri part does NOT take you to the ruins themselvesâ€"they are covered and closed…The Museum is in Thira and could have been done "on our ownâ€? as well…but they do take you on a scenic drive around the island to some great view spots and a neat little winery…and they do leave you off at Thira without having to take a donkey up the hill…and with a cable car ticket for the ride home…After our tour, we met up with all of our dinner table mates for lunch at a nice view restaurant in Thira and then went with another of the couples out to Oia and back by public bus…Beautiful island… Athens: Took the Acropolis and Cape Sounion with Lunch tour. Acropolis was, of course, fascinating…even with all the scaffolding and work being done…then came a waste of a stop at a touristy gift shop, then a pretty good Greek lunch at the Hotel Metropolitan (A Chandris Hotel)…lunch was good, but the location had little charm…Then the drive out to Cape Sounion for the very picturesque Temple of Poseidon…which had to be one of the windiest places on earth while we were there… Then, another deserved "day at seaâ€?… Naples: Took the massive, ten-hour "Capri, Sorrento and Pompeiiâ€? tour…and, yes, believe it or not, they fit it all in quite adequately…Our guide, Franco, was excellent…First, we boated right over to Capri, took the Funiculare up to the top, walked to the gardens on the far side of the island, then had shopping time in town…then we boarded a hydrofoil directly for Sorrento, bused to the top to a restaurantâ€"very good and charming, but warm…then some shopping time in town and back to the bus for a tour of Pompeii…with excellent commentary by Franco…but I wish we had more time here…stopped at a useless "Cameo Factoryâ€? on the way back to the ship…ran OVER the 10 hours…we showered and dressed in a hurry and just made it to dinner… Rome: We hit the jackpot on shore excursions here…â€?A walk in Renaissance Romeâ€?…I think the name of the tour and the description (â€"3.5 mile walk…â€?) scared most folks away…So we ended up with two tour guides and only eleven passengers…Since we all fit into a much smaller bus, we were able to travel to Rome on a more restricted route…so that "1.5 hour bus rideâ€? to Rome took only 45 minutes…The walk part…from the Trevi to the Pantheon to the Piazza Navona and many other sights along the way…was quick and easy with only 11 passengers to keep track of (and that description seemed to scare away the older and less mobile folks as well)…We had an outstanding lunch at a small restaurant and had found ourselves so far ahead of schedule that we got an extra, unscheduled bus tour of parts of the city not on our planned itinerary…Then we spent the last portion of our tour with a very personalized guided tour of the Vatican… Livorno: Excursion Jackpot part two: We originally opted for the Pisa and Florence tour, but the more we thought about it, the extremely hot weather, the thought of 40 or 50 passenger buses having to park far from the tourist sites, the walks, the lines, the waiting…and we’d been to Florence before anyway…and it was Monday and we knew the museums would be closed…So, nope…last minute (morning of the tour) we asked out and were allowed to change to the Tuscan Countryside tour…Another small group "19 this timeâ€"and a visit to the beautiful and quaint San Gimigniano and Volterra…Lunch was at an extremely charming little winery outside of San Gimigniano…Plate after plate of antipasti: Salami, prosciutto, cheeses, olives, peppers, breads, tomatoes, and on and on…then some delicious pasta…and wine…and wine…and wine…and wine…So glad we made the switch… Villefranche…Back to the big buses…the Nice, Eze and Monte Carlo tour…a very pleasant time walking through the "marketâ€? in Nice and stopping for a "Double Cafeâ€?, Eze was enchantingâ€"with a very nice lunch…Toured the Palace in Monaco (on our own nickel during our "free timeâ€?…A little upset with the tour guide, Valerie…She gave us a meeting time: 2:45 p.m. and a meeting place: The Yellow Submarine outside the Oceanographic Institute…then failed to wait for us there…We got there a few minutes BEFORE the appointed time…about 10 to 12 of us were gathered there and when 2:45 came and went, the debate raged over what to do…Some folks didn’t even seem to know how to find the bus on their own…luckily, I knewâ€"a short walk, an escalator, an elevator, two more escalators and turn right…Everyone followed me…When we found the bus, we found Valerie…she claimed that since it was so hot and crowded at the meeting place and since many of the passengers were back early, they just "decidedâ€? to leave early…no other explanation, no apology…Guess what, Valerie: No tip either… Another well-spaced and well-deserved "day-at-seaâ€?… Barcelona: We had an "overnightâ€? in Barcelona before finishing the cruise. Took a morning "City Tourâ€?…well worth the $39 for a nice overview with stops at Montjuic, the Sagrada Familia and at the Cathedral…Then, we went back to the ship and packed, had dinner and then went on the "Flamenco Dancingâ€? excursion…what an absolute waste…do this on your own if you really must…First, we stopped at the "Palaceâ€? to watch the colored fountains show along with the mobs of folks…then on to this seedy Flamenco club for popcorn and sangria and a really poor excuse for a dance show…Somewhat amateur hour-ish…and the seating made viewing the dancing difficult at best…We (at least the men) spent most of our time here looking at our watches (How long can this go on???)…at $69 a head, a complete rip-off… We also opted for the additional two-night package in Barcelona at the Gran Hotel Havana…The hotel was quite nice, rooms were substantially large with large bathroom…Location was excellent, on Corts de Catalans at Carrer Bruc…it was three blocks west on Corts to Passieg de Gracia…from Passieg de Gracia, it was only one block south to the Placa Catalunya, the main square of Barcelona and a center of nightlife…The giant "El Corte Inglesâ€? Department store…10 stories of shopping with everything you’ll ever need sits right on the Placa on the Passieg de Gracia frontage (NOTE: Bottled water all over town at small stands and cafes, bars and bakeries goes for 2 to 4 Euros for a 1.5 liter bottle…But, in El Corte Ingles, if you go down one level from street level, you are in the supermarket section and you can get an assortment of bottled water for around 35 Euro CENTS for a 1.5 liter bottle…as well as just about any other snack or drink you want…The Placa Catalunya is also the northern terminus of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s great walking street…North of Corts de Catalans, along Passieg de Gracia, within just a few blocks, you will find the "Manzana de Discordiaâ€? with Gaudi’s amazing "Casa Batlloâ€? (10 Euro for a short radio-guided tour) and a couple blocks up from that, Gaudi’s "Casa Milaâ€? with it’s great museum and roof access for 7 Euro…Our first day off the ship, we walked south through Las Ramblas and through the Barrio Gotic (the really old parts of Barcelona)…The second day, we walked up Passieg de Gracia to the Gaudi sites then ate lunch at Placa Ruis e Taulet then hopped on Bus #24 along Passieg de Gracia up to Gaudi’s amazing Park Guell… And, then, sadly, the next morning, we returned home…Celebrity’s land agent had a van at the hotel to collect us right on schedule…and the rain poured down at last just as we left the van for the terminal… Some side notes: --Making for a really nice cruise, my wife hit the "final bingoâ€? (a 3-way tie) and walked off with $618…we bought drinks for the table that night… --Formal nights were on two of the "at-seaâ€? nights and, surprisingly, once on a port night (Corfu, I believe…but I don’t have the schedule with me as I write this)…Four of the last five nights were "Casualâ€?, with the informal nights loaded heavily to the earlier nights… --Karaoke was only on "at-seaâ€? nights… --The unruly and rude passengers: The major topic of discussion onboard the ship were the "unruly French peopleâ€?… There were apparently 500 French folks on board…as well as 500 Spanish, some Italians and the rest mostly English speaking (American, Canadian, British, South African, Australian, etc.)...And not ALL the French passengers were rude and obnoxious of course...we met many with whom we would gladly cruise again...Apparently, there was a particular group of 100 or more from a French Bridge Club who, regardless of seating assignments, all walked into the late seating and proceeded to "claim" sections of tables...extremely aggressive and rude...made life fairly miserable for everyone...I also observed many of the Europeans smoking virtually everywhere on the ship..."No Smoking Section" meant absolutely nothing to them...I am asthmatic and very sensitive to this...And, of course, certain entire groups seemed to completely disregard their children, even actively encourage their bad behavior...Yes, if we could have kicked off about 500 people, the cruise would have been perfect--the other 1800+ passengers were exactly what you'd hope for...We, thankfully, had early seating--it was splendid and dignified the entire cruise--I only heard the accounts of the late seating from friends in late seating... Overview: Despite certain problems, overall it was an EXCELLENT cruise…The ship was fantastic, the service excellent, the itinerary was about as good as could be found, the ports varied from the big cities of Rome and Athens and Barcelona, to the small islands and remote ports like Corfu, Santorini and Dubrovnik…We went from the truly ancient sites of Athens and Pompei, to the Medeival in Dubrovnik and San Gimigniano and Eze to the modern of Monte Carlo and Gaudi’s Barcelona…We visited different cultures, heard different languages, ate different foods…saw great art and architecture…and did it all from a great modern ship with traditional service and values… If you are even slightly considering doing the Mediterranean by cruise ship, I wholeheartedly endorse the Millennium…I wish we had another two weeks… Read Less
Sail Date: July 2003
Below is a day by day of our recent GOLDEN PRINCESS TRIP ROUND THE WESTERN MED. I have also included my answer to a question, comparing princess to another cruise line (in this case Royal Caribbean) i posted on another chat board. Hope ... Read More
Below is a day by day of our recent GOLDEN PRINCESS TRIP ROUND THE WESTERN MED. I have also included my answer to a question, comparing princess to another cruise line (in this case Royal Caribbean) i posted on another chat board. Hope this is helpful to other cruisers. Carole Davis Day 1, Stanstead to Treviso and Venice Our flight was at 6:25am, so we had to get up at 2am to get to Stanstead for 4:30am. We had the car booked in at the car park so got to them, and they then took us to the terminal, so far so good. The check in lines were quite long, and Ryan Air did not open them until 6:45. However, the boarding started on time, and we got seats about 5 rows from the front. Then we sat there, and sat there. Then the Capt. told us all that the luggage carousel had broken down and we were waiting for it to be fixed so the remaining luggage could be delivered. In the meantime we had missed the take off slot, so would not be getting another for 50 min. I just hoped the buses that were supposed to take us to Venice from Treviso would still be there. Finally we took off, and the remainder of the flight was without incident. We got to Treviso, (about 30 miles north of Venice) and collected our luggage. The terminal building was small and had a bureau de change, car hire offices, and a ticket office in the foyer. I left hubby with the luggage while I went to find out where the buses were. Found 2 of them and established that we had to buy tickets at the terminal office. So I queued for those. Finally got loaded up on to the bus, hubby had to stand as they were full, the buses A/C was also broken, and the temp was around 95°... so needless to say this was not the most comfortable trip we had ever taken, I think they poured us off in Venice... So, there we were in the Piazzale Roma, the center for buses and vaporettos (the water buses) of Venice. The place was crawling with folks all dragging luggage, or staring at maps or queuing for tickets. I went to get the Venice Blue Ticket I had ordered on line. The ticket official looked at me as if I had 2 heads when I gave her the email reservation sheet. After about 15 min it was established that I still had to pay for the ticket, sort of useless ordering it on line really. Anyway, we had been told that there was a free shuttle to the harbor terminal from the bus station, but could we find it? We stood in the blazing heat for a while in the hope that it would drive past us. Husband went to ask at an info booth, and they said we could walk from that location in about 10 min. So, off we went, dragging a large suite case and a carry on each. We discovered that the '10 min' walk included crossing the railway tracks by a metal bridge. The heat was stifling, and the cases got heavier and heavier. We got to the ship dock, only to be told that we could drop off our luggage there, but we would have to go to the terminal to check in. Off we slogged around the harbor to the other side. The terminal building was beside the docking berth for the Costa Ship, and was signed for their embarkation. We hunted around for Princess signs and were told to follow the Costa signs to the upper floor at the end. We had requested 'express check in' and completed all the paperwork before leaving. Seems of the 200 people there at that time 198 of them had also requested this option, and as there were about 12 check in desks you can imagine that we found ourselves queuing yet again. Finally we had our keys, and made our way to the ship. The room was ok, not fabulous but clean (despite the rather nasty stain on the carpet), with enough space for us. The 'walk-in' closet was right outside the bathroom door, which meant if one of us was selecting clothes, the other could not come out of the bathroom until they had moved. The bed was two singles pushed together. There were plenty of mirrors to increase the light and make the space look bigger. The balcony was large with 2 reclining chairs, 2 regular chairs, a table and foot stool. The deck was covered in hard plastic tiles with a rather uncomfortable non-slip surface which I ended up using the interior mat to cover in front of my chair when I sat out. However, the ships balconies were terraced, which meant that half of the balcony area was exposed to the floors above, and the same to those below. Our room was about 5 from the very front of the ship, so we were also overlooked by the bridge facilities which stick out from the side of the ship, somewhat like a hammer head shark. We showered ( the shower was small but the head was powerful and easy to operate) changed and refilled our water bottles. We headed back to Venice and found our first vaporetto down the Grand Canal to the Rialto bridge. Then changed to the one that took us to Murano the glass making center. We ended up in the second studio from the harbor. I found a glass bowl to replace one that had been broken in one of the moves, some glass beads for Mum, 2 Miafiori medallions for hubbie's Mum and Grandmother. So we did very well there! We took the vaporetto around the island of Venice to St Marcs Sq. Where we joined the throngs looking at the amazing architecture. It wasn't too long before we decided to revisit the square early in the morning of the next day, to see it without all the people. We then walked to the super market, so we could stock up on wine. We also needed washing tablets for the laundry on board, (but I forgot them this trip and had to return the next day). So it was about 6pm and we were completely exhausted by now. We made our way back to the ship via the vaporetto picked up again at the Rialto bridge. The Venice Blue Card had paid for itself already. Back on board we decided to eat in the southwestern style Desert Rose, one of the cover charge restaurants ($8 each). As we were anytime dining we could eat when it suited us, very convenient, especially with the port intensive trip we were on. The restaurant only had 4 other people in it, so where did they sit us...? yes you guessed it, right beside them. There was a duo singing - they had both kinds, Country and Western...so loud that I could not hear what hubby was saying on the other side of the table. The food was tasty, but the portions were small, later in the cruise we realized we could have asked for 2 of the things we liked. We strolled around the Promenade deck, then went back to the room. Thus ended the first full day. Day 2 - Venice This may sound crazy, but we had breakfast delivered at 5:45am so we could eat it on the balcony without rushing, then be at St Marcs Sq. by 7am or as close as. What they don't tell you is that you can order what you want for breakfast, not just what is on the door card. So we had scrambled eggs and omelets, toast, croissant and orange juice. A good set up for the day. We took the vaporetto to St. Marcs Sq. and I took lots of pictures - in the process discovering that the camera has a video capture facility with sound! Magic! So I did video of the sq. and the pigeons, the gondolas, the Bridge of Sighs with a boat going under, etc. etc. took the vaporetto across the Grand Canal to the Academia gallery. It is just as well we got there early (8:15am) as there was no air conditioning, or electric lights - everything had to be viewed by natural light. Many Tintoretto's, Giotto's, Bellini's, and of course the Titan's. We spent 3 hours there then spent an hour or so in the cafe in the sq. outside watching the world go by - mainly sweating across the Academia Bridge over the Canal, we got video of a sparrow eating peanuts out of my hand. We crossed back over the canal then made our way through the streets to the supermarket again (for washing tablets, remember?) On the way we stopped in a masque shop and picked up a black and gold cat masque. We then proceeded to get HOPLESSLY lost. In and out of the narrow streets. The trouble is you have to plan your route to the bridges - and not every street has a bridge. We did go through this one square 3 times, basically we took every street out of it there was. Eventually we found our way to the street with the supermarket and got the washing tabs - next time I think I'll just pack enough for about 4 washes. Unfortunately the time we spent looking was the time we could have had in a restaurant. So we never did end up trying Venetian cuisine. Instead we headed back to the ship, a/c and showers. We did laundry and ironing (all my clothes had become crushed in the getting there, so this was the best opportunity to fix that. Also as there was no ironing board in the room, I figured this was a good idea). We then had to do the safety drill. This had to be the biggest waste of time. They herded us into the theater at the front of the ship, then told us where we would have to go if there was an honest to god 'abandon ship' emergency going on. Otherwise we would just stay in the theater. There was no roll call. Instead they sent people to check the rooms - yeah right, I can see that happening as the ship slides beneath the waves... We then changed and went to eat in the Donatello restaurant. There are 2 'anytime' eating restaurants - Donatello and Bellini. It seemed that folks did not realize that they had the same menu. Everyone was crowding to get into the Bellini, upstairs and completely ignoring the Donatello beneath it. We decided to check both out, and of course picked the one with no q's. So, we had 6 waiters hovering around us practicing their English and whipping the plates away as the last mouthful was being consumed. Then a large party of Orientals sat in the same area as our table, and all the chatting stopped. Quite nice not to be asked a question every time you put something in your mouth! We then walked the Prom deck again and then returned to our balcony to watch the ship leave Venice. As usual, our balcony was on the wrong side. ( Must remember for future to book a right side cabin) But never the less we had a very good view of Guiddecca Island as we left. We polished off a bottle of Asti while we took pics, and wondered why they had Andrea Botchelli singing his greatest 'musak' hits. Rather than Verdi, Puccini, Vivaldi, or any of the great opera arias, which would have been SO much more appropriate. (little did we know what was in store for Istanbul...) We cleared the harbor and immediately noticed the wind pick up and the white caps on the waves. The weather was choppy the whole night, and I discovered that the ship 'sounded' as it rose and fell onto the water, so the booming echoing through the hull kept me awake most of the night. I was glad the next day was a day at sea. So here we were all at sea at the end of day 2. Day 3 - All at sea. We slept in until 9am. Then had breakfast on the balcony before strolling through the casino to Sabatini's. ($15 cover charge each here). The slots are very tight on the ship, forget winning your trip expenses. As we progressed, we could not help but notice all the ads for the art auctions that afternoon - and the next day. A very heavy sell. We were the only ones taking 'brunch' in Sabatini's, which we found out later only serves the one menu through out the cruise. The meal was nice, we did a bottle of Asti with it. Which the waiters seemed to find amusing. (So what if it is cheap!). We were there about 1 1/2 hours to do the full 5 courses. Then we changed into swim gear and decided to try out the Terrace pool, which was supposed to be for adults only. Of course by this time it was 2pm, and the place was swarming. There were no loungers left, and a multitude of empty ones with towels left on them, despite the signs saying not to 'reserve' them. We sat on the wooden steps at the one side of the pool, which was about 6ft deep and about 18ft across. The Horizon Court buffet was near here and there was a pool bar. Both areas playing their own musak. So between the sound of hundreds of people talking, the two types of musak and the water churning from the props below, it was not a quiet place to be. Still we swore we would get a good spot the next day... We returned to the room to change for the formal night, and meet with the folks I had been emailing prior to the trip. We were a little late but 3 other couples showed. Funny, about 30 people replied to the email Laura sent out. Amongst those that did not show were our neighbors on the left side of our room. I had received an email from them a week before saying they were in the cabin beside us, and hoping that we did not party too who knew... I had hoped they would come to the gathering so we could say hello and decide if we wanted to associate with them further. We had seen each other from our balconies, but they had not seemed too concerned with doing the 'over the garden fence thing', which suited us. So, as they did not show, we were glad we had not made contact. We stayed with the group for a couple of hours then promenaded the atrium area looking at the other dressed up folks. Then we made our way to the Bellini restaurant for dinner, retiring to the room after that. Day 4 - also at sea. We rose at 6am, for breakfast, determined to secure a slab of real estate at the terrace pool. This we did, and found a small spot on the level over looking the pool just large enough for 4 loungers. We had a nice unobstructed view of the Greek Islands as we passed, in the shade. Basically we stayed there all day, reading, writing and eating. We had copious amounts of the fresh pineapple and cantaloupe, which were very good, then pizza and burgers form the other pool area snack bar. The Horizon Court buffet was patchy at best for the food. The pasta tended on the rubbery side, but that is the nature of buffet. There was no smoked salmon, or fresh shrimp on offer, but the pate was excellent as were the fresh bread rolls. Around 4pm we decided to take a couple of platefuls of grub back to the room. Seems the people on the balcony below/right had thrown food overboard which had been blown back on to the surrounding balconies, including ours. Seems cruises are too accessible today, and the class of folk you have to live with are definitely below par. I am definitely not in favor of the semi-exposed balcony either, you feel as if you are being watched ALL the time. Our cabins, while being comfortable were 20 rooms from the lift, so you had to plan to leave the room, none of this 'popping back' to get stuff. Well, day 4 ended quietly we had a bottle of wine and watched the water scud by. The sea was calmer than the previous night. We watched the info channel on Istanbul, then watched a movie, which can't have been too interesting as I forgot to say which one it was in the diary... Day 5 - Istanbul Again we found ourselves on the wrong side of the ship to fully appreciate the Bospherus skyline. So contented ourselves with the thought that we would get to see it at sun set instead. This was the only day of we took a ship organized tour. We got off in good time and sat on the a/c coach waiting for the rest of our party to get aboard. Things seemed relatively well organized, so we were optimistic that this was money well spent. The first stop was the entrance to the Blue Mosque/Old City area. We stood like cattle in the shade of the obelisk for about 3/4 hour while the guide spoke about the 30 names for Istanbul, and the founding of the city. Seemed that the thick accent was not of a help, and the tour group was too large, there was a certain amount of elbowing going on as folks jostled to get close enough to hear what the hell he was saying. It was about 9am, but already the day was warming up. From this area we walked to the Blue Mosque, to be shepherded into the inner courtyard while other tours were taken into the mosque itself. Here the guide talked about the use of the mosque (it is mainly used as a community center - not a church as such) I have to admit I found the information quite interesting and was surprised at how much of it came as a 'well I never know that'. He related that the black attire Muslim women wear is based on the costume of Greek nuns (blame it on the Greeks), and that the Koran does not instruct them to dress so, merely that the head and shoulders and knees should be covered. He also told us that there are no official priests, or that prayer has to be done in a specific place. The concept being that religion is between the individual and God, there does not have to be an intermediary. Nice idea on paper, shame the reality is so different. He also stated that Muslims have to believe in all the previous prophets, Moses, Jesus, etc. That was news to me. One wonders what they are fighting for on the West bank other than control of the power... We then moved from the shade of the courtyard to the q for the mosque itself. That took about 30 min. During the wait they distributed plastic bags for you to put your shoes in. I had wondered how they were going to deal with all those pairs of shoes. The interior was quite gloomy, and at first seemed cooler than outside. However as the contents of the 10 coaches gradually filled the room it got rather clammy again. Still we got to see the inside of a mosque, which for many non-Muslims is the only time that will happen. I took pics. despite the darkness, just to say we was there. Then we took a short ride to Agia Sophia, which was once a Byzantine church, but is now a museum. (Since we got back we have watched From Russia With Love, which features shots in this church, and around the Grand Bazaar - hasn't changed much) We shuffled through the twilight interior and listened to the guide tell us what we could be seeing if the restoration scaffolding was not there... Then again we were loaded up for a very short trip up the hill to the street leading to the Bazaar. We had been told we could attend a carpet demonstration in the shop near where we stopped. I had visions of seeing the weaving, and dying process. Silly me. It was a carpet selling demonstration. I had intended to purchase a rug/wall hanging on this trip, so I inquired after a hanging I noticed during the 'demonstration'. We were ushered up another flight of stairs to an upper show room, in other words separated from the herd. It is a little disconcerting. A bit like the process of buying a car - the guy on the forecourt gets you in and assesses your interest, then hands you off to the guy in the show room who establishes your needs and wants then shows you the thing you can't afford. Then you haggle and barter the extras and when you are ready to sign they hand you over to the finance guy who checks your credibility, draws up the documents, watches you sign, then passes you back to the inside showroom guy who gets your coat and shoves you out the door... It was sort of like that. But I made them show us about 8" (height stacked on the floor) of carpets before I saw the one I liked. It's a Sumak wall hanging from the Mt. Ararat area. So we signed the papers, and they said they would pack it and have it ready when we returned from our trip to the Bazaar. I also asked if they would be able to tell the taxi driver where to take us in the harbor area to get us back to the ship, they agreed. So hubby and I set off into the seething masses of the Bazaar. We never experienced any problems with pick pockets on any of our shore excursions. We think this was down to the routine we established of hubby walking a little behind me and I keeping the shoulder bag on the inside of us. This arrangement allowed me to dart about looking at stuff, and him keep tabs on me, it also, we thought put off any would be miscreants. So, we started in the Gold section of the bazaar (it is divided by product - leather, clothes, gold, silver, souvenirs, food, spices). Then we walked through part of the clothes section on the outer walls of the building to the far corner. We had been given a map by a couple on the coach, who had two, so that was very helpful. Then we walked back and decided to have a spot of lunch. The guy outside the restaurant assured us they had a/c. So we walked in to the back and up the very steep stairs to the 2nd floor. Yes they had a/c. One window unit, struggling to create even a breath of slightly cooler air in the room. The tables were 3 long trestles set side by side. The middle one, right under the a/c unit was filled with Turkish locals. We sat at the one on the left, and ordered what the waiter assured us was a mixed kebab. Which was true - what we didn't know yet was it was the most expensive thing on the menu, it did not feature the prices for food...we figured we could afford it. Anyway there we sat. Then the waiter came back and assured us that it was cooler on the next floor. You think we would have learnt our lesson from the a/c assurances. So we upped and moved. To discover that the 3rd floor was where they stuck the tourists. And the a/c there consisted of open windows. Hey ho. As a last minute thought I had packed a Chinese fold-up paper fan. That certainly paid for itself, over and over. The food arrived, the pita bread was rather interesting, as it had tomato and herbs baked into the surface, very tasty. We ate and sat for about an hour just re-grouping. Then we set off into the bazaar again this time using another of the many entrances. I had noted the hanging lanterns, but decided that we could shop or those in Kusadasi. We made our way back to the carpet shop and picked up our wall hanging. As they had agreed, they had packed the rug. Then they got a taxi from the rank outside the shop and told him where we needed to go. Then began the taxi ride of a lifetime! The Turks don't drive on one side or the other, but where there is a space big enough to fit the car into. I spent much of the trip with my eyes closed - and I have a fairly high tolerance for this sort of thing. The last part of the journey was through a very narrow street, filled with folks crossing and vehicles parked unloading. As with the rest of the trip it was taken at about 70mph, and with it seemed, a complete lack of regard for normal road rules. Still, we did notice that the cars were not trashed as you would expect with this sort of driving. It seems that if everyone is following the same 'rule book' accidents are avoided. When we had got in, the driver had asked for 10Euros, I said 5, and we settled on 7Euros. It seems that haggling for EVERYTHING is the norm. So we got back to the ship in one piece. We stopped at one of the multitude of bars and ordered a large Sprite with the soft drinks voucher. This was an item that was also paying for itself quite quickly. We then took a glass back to the room and showered and changed. We then watched the huge city of Istanbul slide buy as we departed. Apparently there are 15 MILLION people there...and they all commute from the Asia side to the European side every day. What a nightmare. The ship wide tannoy had chosen to play Enya, as the 'musical tribute', as we progressed. I wondered whose bright idea that was...as we consumed a bottle of wine and decided to give dinner a miss. We retired, and fell asleep watching the Athens info video. Day 6 - Kusadasi NB pronounced 'Kushadasi'. The ship was not due to arrive in port until 12pm, so we had a 9am breakfast on the balcony, and hung out in the room, then the Atrium bar until we decided that the herds had left for Ephasus. I had visited Kusadasi back in 1987, and had visited Ephasus then. There is absolutely no shade there, and all the ruins are white marble, so it is not pleasant in the heat. I decided that shopping in town would be nicer. Earl did his usual 'sure', so we strolled along the harbor into town. The Camel/Caravan Seri (Seri means palace) was just there, so we went in to the courtyard that I remembered was rather nice. The building is now a hotel and the courtyard had the various stages of making a carpet being demonstrated, from the unwinding of the silk cocoons to dying to the actual weaving of the carpets. THIS was more the sort of thing I had imagined when we heard about the 'carpet demonstration' in Istanbul. So that was an interesting interlude. Kusadasi has quadrupled since '87, and the bazaar area now has tarps over the streets, and many of the smaller side streets are blocked off. The stalls on both sides have goods spilling over onto the street, so we watched with interest as 2 cars attempted to pass each other in this environment. We had definite things in mind as we started to shop. 2 gold chains and 2 hanging glass lanterns and a couple of the souvenir machine made rugs. We ran the jewelry shop gauntlet and ended up in a store where the employees had decided NOT to hassle the passing tourists. As an added bonus the store had REAL a/c. We haggled for about 30 min for chains finally settling on figures we were all happy with. Then we wondered further into town and I saw a lantern I liked the look of. Unfortunately the shop owner had to go to another store to be able to get me 2 of them so we hung about in the shop for about 15 min. Finally stopped at a shabby cafe for beers. The waiter gave us a small plate of kebab meat, hubby wasn't interested and only had a tiny piece, I snacked as we drank. We must have sat there about an hour. We watched the goings on of the street that ran past the alley where we sat, and the occupants of the other tables, and the construction that was going on in the buildings to the side. We then strolled back to the ship in plenty of time to get ready and have dinner in Donatello's. The Maitre'd was reluctant to have us sit by the window as all the tables were for 4 or more. However as we were the ONLY people sitting down to eat at that point he relented. So we got to watching the sweaty hordes returning from their trips to Ephasus and the Virgin Mary's house, and finally the ship slipping her moorings in the a/c comfort of the dinning room. We then went to Sabatini's to book dinner for the 7th (the anniversary), and a foot massage for the afternoon of the same day. The wind had picked up again, but despite the ship's 'sounding' I managed to sleep through it. So ended our brief sojourn into Asia. Day 7 - Athens We booked breakfast for 5:30am. Hubby complained of an upset tum, I wondered if this was due to the apple tea we had while we were haggling for the gold chains in Kusadasi. He said it wasn't bad enough to halt the days events. We were on deck by 7am, and as the ship had docked in Piraeus while we awaited breakfast, we expected to be getting off fairly quickly. Silly us. The staff down by the gang plank did not know when disembarkation would happen, or which plank would be open first. So we hovered on deck watching the dock for signs of movement. At 7:45, we saw folks getting off, there was no announcement, so we made our way down and asked for directions to the metro. We then used the map sent to us by the Greek tourism board. The walk took us around the harbor area for about a mile. Finally we found the metro building, bought tickets to 'Akropoli', for .70c each. A bargain. However... The journey should have been 6 stops. The train was full of folks who had got off the ferries in Piraeus from the Greek Islands, so lots of rucksacks and suitcases. At the second stop, everyone got off. We were herded off too, and shepherded over the bridge out of the metro station on to a bus. Talk about packed in. I got talking to a chap from Bolton who said the bus would stop in Omonia Square in the center of the city, not too far from the Acropolis, guess he knew enough Greek to know what the announcement we had heard on the train had been about. So we get off in Omonia Square, fortunately we could see the Acropolis at the end of the long street ahead of us. We set off, thankful that it was still early in the am and not too hot yet. The station we would have come out at had, the metro been functioning, was at the end of the street we walked. So I oriented us on the map and we set off up the rear of the Acropolis hill. This was fortunate as it was in the shade. This side of the hill also overlooked the Agora ruins so I got a shot of those too. Bonus. We reached the ticket area and found about 3 coach parties already milling about, but we were able to go straight in to the Parthenon complex. Although we had to do the slow shuffle through the crowds that bottlenecked in the gate way to the Parthenon. Then we were out in the open and in the shadow of the most famous classical building in the world. It was just as memorable as I remembered from my school cruise in 1977. I had hubby take a shot of me by the same boulder I had posed by back then. We were very glad we had come up early, it was getting warm, and we could see how busy it was going to get. We wondered about listening to the guides, and taking pics for about an hour before deciding to head down into the Plaka (Old Town/Market area). We stopped for water (3Euros a bottle! What a rip off!) then set off down the back path again (it was still in the shade). The path would around the Acropolis and got narrower and narrower, until it was blocked by a fence. I realized that the map I was looking at showed paths coming down from the hill that had been drawn to look much wider and more accessible than they were in reality. We found what looked like a path into some ones garden...we took it and surprisingly, it cam out on a main road. We made our way into the Plaka. The shops were still opening, and we realized that if we wanted to see the changing of the guard at 11am, we would have to set of at that time (10:30). We found a gate into the city park and I navigated us through that, rather than walking along the busy main road, which looked rather boring. We got to the area where we needed an exit and I saw a small gate standing open. We headed for it through the bushes, to be stopped by a couple of cops, who pointed us further up the path. So we thrashed our way back to the path and finally found the main gate - just as the palace guards were marching by. Very fortuitous. So we followed the crowd following the band around into Syntagma Square where there were about 10 coaches lined up so there had to be a 1000 folks there. Hubby went as far forward in the crowd as he could and took pics. I had to delete a couple of shots from the docking in Piraeus and Kusadasi so we could take shots of this event. Time to get the data transferred to disc. The whole event took about 30 min. We were glad we had taken time to visit it. It is a very strange affair. The costumes seem to hark back to classical tunics, but much more ornate, can't imagine the soldiers fighting in them. The cloggs had pom-poms on them...it's anyone's guess what their symbolism is. I cannot recall seeing any classical images that show anything like them, but that doesn't mean much. We then crossed over the busy road outside the Parliament building back into the Plaka. I was trying to remember any of these areas from the trip I was on so long ago. I recalled the Parliament building from the coach trip they gave us, but I could not recall where they let us roam about. Of course, that large crowd of people were now heading in the same direction, we broke away from the herd, searching for a lunch place. We checked out a couple of places, many of them packed with tourists, their screaming kids and bags of souvenirs. We selected a quiet cafe on the Metropoli Square, with half a dozen locals sitting under the umbrellas. Hubby was still feeling a bit rough so declined food, opting for beer. I said he should be drinking water...I had the 'Russian' salad (veggies in mayo) the olives were VERY tasty. We sat for about an hour or so, then set off to find transport back to Piraeus We strolled back to Monistariki, the metro station we had originally intended to arrive at. The square outside the station was holding a rather odd event. Greek guys dressed as North American Indians miming to music played over their amp system...The Greek N. American Indian convention?? We walked back up the street Atheneas where we saw the buses lined up. However we were unable to read the destinations, and rather than get on a bus with no idea where it would take us, we opted to try to get a taxi. Back in Omonia Sq. we tried to get a taxi to stop. That took about 15 min. Finally one stopped and I asked "Piraeus?" his reply? "No". It then occurred to me that we may have difficulty getting back, as the taxi drivers would not be able to get a return trip to the city very easily. Hmmm. We decided to buy a metro ticket (we needed that to travel the bus) and try again to sort out which one would take us to Piraeus We stood with others and asked, but it seemed that the answer was that the bus would take us to Piraeus, 'eventually', I did not feel comfortable with this. We set off again to Monistariki Sq. where there were tourists gathered. As we entered the sq. we saw a taxi draw up. I asked him and he said "Yes, 25 Euros", at that point he could have said 100 Euros and we still would have jumped in! His a/c even worked...we gave him the unvalidated metro tickets, I figured he was lucky to get a tip, the taxi ride should only have cost us about 10 Euros, so he made money on us. We hit the bar on the way back to the room. It is seeming that every time we ask for soda, there is a problem with the soda fountain, no CO2, no power, broken button/valve etc. I am beginning to think they are realizing that the drinks voucher is loosing them money (they charge $1.50 per soda). We then paid a visit to the digital photo studio to have the digital pics put on disc. They would be ready the next day after 6, but cost us $24 per stick (128mg, we had 2), I requested that both be put onto one CD rather than the 2 they usually did (a CD is 600mg). We then changed and made our way to the Terrace pool. We found a couple of loungers and settled down to read and write, then watch the ship leave Piraeus, a very busy harbor. We could still see the Acropolis in the distance. We decided to have dinner in the room this evening. We ordered from the Donatello room menu, at 7:15. Then called to check at 8:30. To be told it would be another 15 min...guess someone dropped the order. It eventually arrived, except for one starter (we had ordered 3 as I couldn't decide which to have - just as well as I was not able to eat everything that did make it, anyway). We ended the evening star gazing as the sky was very clear. Day 8 - At sea I had been trying without any luck to get the cell phone to work, as I wanted to confirm the tours we had organized for Naples. Tried all sorts but it just would not receive anything. Even the room phone would not work. We called in at the pursers desk on our way to the Horizon Court for breakfast with the herd. I also asked about paying the room bill with one of the convenience checks I had received from the credit card just before we left - nice low interest rate. They said they would have to take a copy and fax it to head office to have it cleared, ahead of time. I'm glad I thought to do this early rather than the day we needed it. The Purser gave us the ship to shore number we should have been using and I was then able to confirm the tours start time and that they would collect us from the ship. (A 2 min call that cost $9.00). We decided to watch movies and lay about the cabin that day. We were going to go to the Horizon Court for dinner too - it is not the best food but it is the most convenient way to get food. We were waiting at the lifts on our floor and realized that folks were all dressed up - could this be the 2nd formal night?? We went back to the room to check the Princess Patter, the ship's rag that tells you all the art auction times...sure enough it was so. I trotted up to the laundry to iron the dress. I was intending to alter the lining somewhat as it had split. So I took Earl's Swiss Army knife and cut the lining to knee level. The outer layer of material was now rather thin but as the dress came with a short jacket with semi-transparent sleeves, I figured I could get away with it. We then sat in the Promenade bar watching the folks go by, then decided to q for dinner. They gave us a beeper, but it beeped continuously, so hubby took it back and we got another. After about 30 min we were seated. This was the only time we had to wait for food. It was our own fault as we left it rather late. The place was packed, sounded like a school canteen and the service was quick almost to the point of being perfunctory...we retired as soon as we were through, hubby was still feeling a bit off color. Day 9 - Naples Day dawned with himself not looking too good at all, he was running a fever. So we went down to the Med center. I was glad our tour was not due to set off until 10:30. They took his temperature which was a bit high then the Doc saw him and recommended an anti-inflammatory injection. This was administered by a nurse from Kings Lynne - about 30 miles from here - of all places. He was sat in reception for 15 min to make sure there were no adverse reactions, his temperature went up t 104°, and he got the shakes, but they considered this a normal sort of thing. We went back to the cabin and he took paracetamol and laid down. This hour of 'attention', cost $140.00, charged to the room account. At 10:00 the sainted hubby decided he felt well enough to tackle the tours. So we got our kit together to meet the guide. We walked though the terminal building keeping our eyes peeled for someone with a sign with our name on it. Then we stood at the entrance in a similar state of readiness, for about 15 min...I decide dot go back into the terminal in case we had missed them. I had just negotiated the large flight of stairs by the entrance when hubby appeared behind me saying the guide had just arrived. The guide walked us to the mini bus. On the way explained the sights that could be seen from the area we walked across, the monastery on the hill, the palace in front of it and the vineyards to the side. The mini bus had about10 people already in it, we were the last, so I sat up front with the guide hubby sitting behind me. We drove for about 40 min to get to Pompeii through the outskirts of Naples. All I remembered from my first visit here was the coach trip from the airport to the harbor, at night, and what a dirty city Naples was...it has not changed in 26 years. At the area of Pompeii we were off loaded at a hotel cafe to wait for another bus load to meet us. It was explained that our guide would see us through Pompeii then hubby and I would be handed off to another guide for our trip to Vesuvius. We were the only ones on that part of the trip. Finally we were all assembled and we obediently followed our guide around the sights of Pompeii - we clung to the shade, again like cattle. Fortunately the guide was relatively easy to understand, and she took us at a fair clip around the site. Our party had 2 'characters', one we dubbed 'Waldorf Salad', after the Fawlty Towers episode with the pushy American. The other 'Look at me", for obvious reasons...So they were the comedic relief for us as we moved around. Pompeii is a more substantial ruin that Ephesus. There are fresco's, and 2 story buildings to walk between. It really is not a hard thing to imagine the streets alive with Romans going about the daily business, carts and chariots rumbling down the streets filled with sound and smell. I wondered if they had had the same problem with the ash blowing in their eyes as we were having. It was very warm, as were all the ports we visited. Neither of us had ever sweat as much for so long, dehydration was always an issue, so I was loaded down with water bottles most of the time. The heat did make the tours and visiting we did a matter of determination. It would have been all too easy to just stay in the cabin in the a/c, and then regret it as soon as the ship left port. We did enjoy the port visits, but would recommend not going in August (we should have thought of that when we set the wedding date...!) Anyway, back to the tale. Finally we were lead back to the hotel cafe. The rest of our party were shepherded off to some other venue. Hubby and I were given a whole Margarita Pizza each. Needless to say he pecked a small amount of his. I ate the outer couple of inches, the inner was a little underdone for my liking. We drank plenty of water, then took up with our new guide, but the same driver, to go to Vesuvius. Don't ask me what I expected this to consist of...bus drives us up to the crater, we get out, guide talks about volcano, we take pics buy souvenirs and leave...the reality was somewhat different. The bus wound it's way up a road somewhat like that leading to the top of Mt. Lemon in Tucson, switch back galore. Hubby was wishing we were on the motor bike, I thought about all that black metal baking under the 100° sun... Then we got to the car park. The guide pointed to the top, saying we would walk the remaining distance, 800m. That's the vertical measurement. Unfortunately you achieve this distance by a zigzagging path made from volcanic ash, which strangely enough shared the same optically irritating habits as the stuff in Pompeii. I wondered if hubby would manage this. At the start of the path they give you a walking stick. We did not go too far before we realized that this was a VERY useful tool. Off we trudged. We rounded the first bend and half way to the second I stopped to ask about the lava flow we could see in the valley. Actually I was about to have a coronary, but was damned if I was going to let the guide know that, or all the old fogies that were blithely tripping up the hill ahead of us! It seemed this was a good place for hubby to take a breather too. We set off again. This time we found a good pace for us all, and did not need to stop until the entrance booth. Very smart that, make you walk half the distance THEN charge you to get in! Folks are not as inclined to say 'forget it' if they have already done half the work! We paused for water and to admire the view, then set off again. Paused again for more water at the lip of the crater. Which was when the guide decided to tell us that the tour included walking about 2/3 way round the crater rim...we girded our loins and gritted our teeth (not to hard to do with all that ash in the air). The path had no rail on the down slope side, and I could tell hubby was holding his breath as we walked single file past people coming in the other direction. Pompeii was pointed out, as was Capri and the far side of the Bay of Naples. Nothing was very clear as there was a lot of haze around. But we were oh so thankful for that breeze. I do not think either of us would have made the trip otherwise. The guide was clock watching for us, and we turned and headed back I took pics of the haze and the crater walls, which sort of look like textured back drops, I was not able to get far enough away to really show the size of the crater. Oh well. Needless to say the trip down hill was much easier than the one up. We stopped at all the watering holes. I think the pizza made me even thirstier than usual. I must have guzzled at least 4L of water that day. Finally we handed back the walking sticks (with a small tip), and gratefully sagged into the seats of the a/c bus. The drive back took about 40 min again. They delivered us back to the ship at about 4:50. Well timed. We showered and decided to watch the port recede from the buffet dinning room. Our balcony was so hot the plastic tiles on the floor burnt my feet, so we retired and watched 'Simone'. Day 10 - Livorno The ships info rag stated that the shuttles into town would not start to leave the docks until 9am. Florence was a 2 hour drive or train journey from Livorno, then you had to get from town back to the ship. They also charged $4 each to take the shuttle. It occurred again that as the ship had the berth furthest away, not only was this cheaper, but they could also make more money (2600 people at $4 each, given that the coach co. would probably want $2 each, that is still $5200 for doing nothing). We noticed with envy the Crystal Serenity berthed right in the city center, and wondered to ourselves if their passengers would have been charged for a shuttle, had they needed it... The up shot of all this being that we decided that Florence would be too risky to attempt. After the trouble we had getting to and from Athens - and that was only 10miles from Piraeus - we did not want to end up stranded in Florence. So we opted on Piza as the more comfortable option. We paid our $8 and got into town. As we left the coach I asked the ship rep (a good idea that, having a rep to answer questions as people leave the bus) how to ask for our ships berth on the return, she wrote it down in the back of my trusty notebook/diary. Thus armed we walked around the corner to the newsagents and purchased a map. Then we stood around waiting for taxis to appear. The first one wanted 110 Euros to go to Piza. It's about a 30 min drive. We said no. Then we realized most of the taxis were going to Florence and wanted to take folks 'for the day' for 350 Euros! We even started looking at the bus stops to see where they went. At this point we got talking to a couple from Ireland, who also wanted to go to Piza. We decided to share a taxi (what a concept). We got one to agree to 50Euros for 4 of us and figured 25 per couple was good enough. The driver seemed to think there was an emergency so we set off at breakneck speed. Past camp Derby (where hubby's Dad had been stationed) and on into Piza. We said thanks to the couple and headed into the Field of Miracles complex where the tower was situated. It is an amazing sight. TV does not do that angle justice. But we were not inclined to haul our sweaty carcasses to the top, thank you. The right side of the road around the square is thick with souvenir stalls. The other side is laid to grass - do not: sit, lay, walk the dog or yourself on it. Needless to say there were those ignoring this as there were those ignoring the dress codes for the churches. We strolled to the end where the tower is located, took pics. Then realized that if we wanted to go into the church we would have to buy tickets from the office on the other side of the square. We q'd for about 20 min in stifling heat. I have never had sweat running down my arms before - not even when I exercise. Then we shuffled through the doors to the church. There were many fresco's, but poorly lit and with no descriptions near - guess we should have bought the guide book... We cracked open the map in the shade of the church and decided to head off into the old town for lunch. We walked down to the river, then cut back into town. Many old buildings and elegant squares. We found a piazza with a cafe in the shade and had beer and expresso. I was not keen on their 'sandwiches only' menu, and the fact that they had pictures of the food - too touristy. We wandered further back towards the Tower and found a restaurant that was relatively quiet. Well, apart from the couple with the baby who got thorough the door first, and who then decided that they just had to sit RIGHT next to us. So we got to witness them feeding a kid that wasn't interested at all in food (probably too hot). We realized about then that we had done our usual 'rent-a-crowd' thing, and the place had filled with folks with kids. There was only one other couple sans kids. They looked fed up too. BTW, I had spinach salad with parmigiano shavings, followed by gnocchi bolongnase, then we had glace's for dessert. We headed back to the tower complex, purchasing more wine on the way. We hung about outside the main complex gate trying to catch the eye of a taxi, to no avail. So we decided to head for the train station and try there. So we walked this way and that way (amazing how two folks can read a map and come up with completely different rationales for the way they want to go...) Anyway, in the blistering heat tempers got frayed, so we finally settled for stony silence - it was too hot to argue. Hubby maintains that I got us lost, he extracted us. I figure if we had just gone the way I said in the first place we would not have had the extra walk... We got to the station to find that it was not the one we needed (Centrale) but the provincial station (San Rossario), so no taxis, no trains. We sat for 15 mins to take stock, and peel our pants from off our bums. We decided to try at the tower gate again. Fortunately, this time we found the taxi rank and flagged a guy down. I have to say here that this was the most comfortable taxi ride. It was the only one we did not feel we had been ripped off on. The a/c was going full blast, it was not a ride of death, and his meter was running - that was a first. We got back to the ship for 32 Euros, Earl gave him 40 and said keep the change, I would have given him a 5 tip, oh well. We did our ritual stop for a soda or two at the atrium bar then watched a bit of a movie, then decided to go to the Terrace pool again. You know this is supposed to be an adult only area. No kids in the pool, and kids under supervision around the pool. As no one was enforcing this, of course no one took any notice. So guess where the woman with the 2 kids sits? Yup right in front of us. Guess we just look like we want to put up with other folks kids - yet again. It was here, in Livorno harbor, a most unromantic setting, that we decided that we would not cruise again until we could afford the non-working class variety - Crystal, Costa, Cunard. We decided to change and eat at the buffet again - seems convenience wins out yet again. We q'd with the swarming hoards, then took our food to the other side of the restaurant - we were the only ones who had thought to do this, thank goodness. Then we strolled the upper decks and watched the ship going through the departure process. We had to wait for another cruise ship to leave first, but eventually we got our turn. We checked out the jacuzzis and decided the best view of Monaco, the next day, from up top. I had this idea that it would be a very nice start to the Anniversary watching sunrise and the advent of Monte Carlo while sipping champers, immersed in one of the jacuzzis. With that planned out we retired for the day. Day 12 - Monaco So, our vaunted 10th Anniversary dawned. We set the alarm for 6am, hubby grumbled a little at this. I had ordered breakfast for 8am giving us plenty of time to do the jacuzzi thing then get back and shower. We got to the selected deck to find that the jacuzzi we wanted to use had a net over it with a sign saying they were doing 'maintenance'. I was a bit annoyed, so we moved to the lower deck. To discover that those too were undergoing 'maintenance'. It seems the ship was preparing for the next invasion before our own was out of the way. I asked about this when I was having my foot massage, and was told this was due to "All the kids on the ship". Yummy. We returned to await breakfast. We ate on the balcony as usual, but there were members of the crew on the bridge which as you recall overlooked the balcony. They were intent on the lifeboats that were shuttling folks to shore. We were glad we had decided not to go ashore. There were forest fires on the mountains behind Monaco, so not only was it hot, but acrid with smoke. BTW they charged $5 each to go ashore...talk about mercenary. We watched a couple of movies then it was time for my foot massage. After that we changed to go sit at the Spa pool and put on a couple of loads of washing while we were there. Hubby took on the task of popping back to secure a dryer. The Spa pool had also been allocated an adult only usage after 3pm. Unfortunately, as with everywhere else on board, the kids were running wild, unattended by adults. We did note that during the Captains televised interview, that Princess had been taken over by Carnival, which itself was part of Disney. That explains the general atmosphere. We sat at the Spa pool until 6pm, then changed for dinner at Sabatini's. This time at least we were not the only ones in there. We took a bottle of wine with us ($10 corkage fee). I asked for 2 of the caviar starters, well, two of the small lumps of cheese with the tiny scoop of caviar on, not two of the scoops of egg yolk, egg white and onion that went with it. Basically we had the same menu to choose from, as the first time we ate there. That was a little disappointing, you think they would have at least had a couple of changes of menu during the cruise. By the time we were done we did not feel up to the champagne we had in the room. We watched them up anchor and sail away from Monaco. Day 12 - Barcelona The ship was not due into Barcelona until 12pm. This enabled the organization to hold the last of the annoying art auctions that took up so much of the central bar/walk space. We took the time to pack as much stuff as possible. Amazing how much more space the un ironed clothes take up. We decided to carry all the souvenirs and jewelry, everything else went into the suitcase. We had received labels for the luggage showing our disembarkation color and number, and instruction on when we could expect to collect our luggage from the terminal the following day. We were not due to fly until the evening of that day (the 13th of the trip), so we were not too concerned. However, we did want to spend more time in the city, so we planned to get off as soon as was expedient). So, we watched the docking process. Of course we were in the furthest berth yet again. And yet again they had laid on coaches at $4 each to get us into town. So we sucked it up and got to the Columbus Monument near the Ramblais. I had done internet research prior, and asked the Princess rep where we were to find the tourist buses, as we got off the coach. Fortunately it was just around the corner across the road, and what was more, there was a bus loading up with folks as we got there. The buses are similar to those that run in London, Oxford and Cambridge. You pay a one time fee (in this case 15 Euros) and you can go round and round to your hearts content, getting off and on as you want. We wanted to go to the Guardi Cathedral first, so sat and listened in the heat to the guide. Yet again the weather was in the high 90's and as the seats on top were taken we sat inside and sweated in situ. We had been given coupons as we got on the bus, one of which gave 2 Euros off the entry to the cathedral. So we made use of that. The Sangrada de Familia is a pretty amazing construction. No roof yet, but a pretty complete frontage. The column tops inside looked more like oil rig drill bits. We shuffled through the 'interior'. They had displays at intervals that showed what element of the construction was happening at that time. We visited the museum too, which had more explanatory displays and models of the finished article. Quite interesting, the site is worth the visit. We took pics from outside the site, then jumped back on the bus. We intended to travel by train to Gerona, where we would fly back from. So I wanted to reckie the train station, and find out where the left luggage area was, what platform the train would be leaving from, and reconfirm the price. Eventually the bus brought us to the train station. In the process we saw the Olympic stadium, the botanic gardens, and some pretty good views of the city from the hills to the north. The train station was a/c, that was something of a surprise. It was also very busy. Back packers, folks with luggage, and long lines of people q'ing for info and tickets. We wondered about and finally found the left luggage. We would need 4.50 Euros for each compartment. We would need two as our cases were too big to fit them in one. Then we hunted down the platform info, and stood scratching our heads in front of the automatic ticket machines. Finally we were satisfied that the area would not surprise us the following day, when we were burdened by luggage, so we got back on the bus, this time with the aim of going into the Barrio Gothica and food. The buses are cheap and a good idea, but, they are not the quickest way to get about. 70min. later we got off in the Barrio area. I had a list of tapas bars and we headed for one of them. We eventually found it after about 20 min of hunting down narrow streets. We got in, ordered beer and inquired about tapas, to be told that they did not do those until 8pm. Damn. It was only 6:30 and we were hungry NOW. Shame the tapas bar list omitted this vital bit of information. So we crossed the road and said we would eat in the first one that we came to. Which we did. It was a relatively small cafe/bar, we sat at the back at one of the 5 tables there. 4 or 5 folks sat at the bar, which had the food in chillers in front of the seats at the bar. We ordered in all 9 tapas, eating them as dinner, rather than as appetizers - we could not be bothered to hunt down a restaurant, we were just too hot and tired. So we left, sated, and hailed a taxi. We had the printed sheet that described the berth of the ship and I showed it to the taxi driver. This did not prevent him from taking us to the wrong terminal, and having to charge us about 1/3 more than it should have by the time we got to the ship. On board we discovered that to get a printout of the room bill, we had to go to the Pursers desk - I imagined huge lines - but as we were thinking ahead we got there before the herd arrived. We sat in the atrium bar and went through the bill. It was at this point that we found out that the tips for the room service and chamber service were automatically added to the bill every day - just as well we were not unhappy with the service. Wonder what evidence we would have to have brought forward to support a claim against paying the whole tip... We returned to the room and consumed that bottle of champagne as we watched folks coming and going from the ship. We worked out that we were in the wrong business. Adding up the room service thus - $3.50 + $6.50 x 2 (2 people) x 10 cabins (approximate number serviced by each chamber person) x 13 days = $2600 per cruise! Good grief. Day 13 - Barcelona, Gerona, Stanstead We decided that 7am was a good time to get off. Enough things would be open in town by the time we got there. We collected our luggage from the terminal, then dragged it to the front of the taxi rank - which most inconveniently was located at the opposite end to the exit doors. We started off up the road across the draw bridge that exited the terminal area, only to have to wait for 20 min as the bridge went up to let another Princess ship come in to berth. And yes you know the taxi meter was running... Eventually we got to the rail station, after negotiating the road works in town that our taxi driver seemed to be drawn to. A 10Euro trip cost us 19.80 Euros. Needless to say we did not tip him. Taxi drivers will be the first against the wall come the revolution! At the train station we stowed the luggage then stopped for coffee. The underground station was right there, so we did not rush ourselves. Hubby was still a wee bit fragile, so it was a matter of knowing where all the loos were...The Purser on the ship had said that Ryan Air did a bus to Gerona. but her wasn't sure where it would leave from. I intended to call them. But their offices did not open until 9am. We talked about this option. It would be 10 Euros each, and we were not sure if the vehicle would have a/c. The train would cost 5.50 each and we figured it had a/c, if the station did. Also, we did not relish having to lug suitcases across the city, or, being at the mercy of another ^**&*!# taxi driver. There was his stomach to consider too - the train would definitely have a toilet. We decided to stay with out first plan. We wanted to buy tickets for our train now, rather than later. We were not sure how to use the automatic machines, they were a bit more complex than the ones we had used for other things. So we q'd at the info to find out if this was possible - the q here was much smaller than those to the ticket booths. Finally we spoke to a woman who gave us a time table, and said we would not be able to buy tickets until about 30 min before the departure of the train. Oh well. We checked the platform info again, and this is when I noticed a sign saying that there was track maintenance going on between two of the stops on our route, which was slowing trains by between 30 - 45 min. We were glad we saw this, as it affected the time we turned up at the station - we decided to get the earlier train. We went down into the subterranean transport system. Tickets were purchased from automatic machines, and the platform had screens advising when the next train would be along - 3 min I think was what was said when we got there. It was stiflingly hot, which surprised me, I had expected it to be a bit cooler. The paper fan got a beating this day. The train arrived as advertised, and we were on our way to the Barrio Gothic. At the exit there was a large covered food market on the Ramblais, a wide tree lined avenue. We decided to have a look around it. All that fresh fish. Huge mounds of shrimp and sardines. The market was divided into food types, fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and sweets, dairy. I would have liked to have picked up some cheese, but it was not practical. We walked on into the the Barrio proper and wandered into the Plaza St. Joseph Oriol, where we found a nice cafe. We settled down to watch the setting up of an art market. We watched the family at the table next to us, and those at the tables around us. We must have sat there for nearly 2 hours, we really just wanted to do the Mediterranean sitting and watching thing. I did a bit more to the diary, and ran the pen dry. Earl popped into a 'Hallmark' shop and got me another. The cafe was getting busy, so we decide to look further into the area. We wandered around the art market, seemed it was being put on by the local art club. Wed then came up around the cathedral from the rear. The streets were narrow to the point were four people had difficulty walking abreast. We saw street musicians, and a flamenco group performing. We finally got to the in front of the cathedral Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2002
It has been two years since my husband and I took a barge trip on the Esprit. Since there is no other review here I thought I would share some of our impressions of the Esprit. We have been on 24 cruises, and we both agree that this was ... Read More
It has been two years since my husband and I took a barge trip on the Esprit. Since there is no other review here I thought I would share some of our impressions of the Esprit. We have been on 24 cruises, and we both agree that this was the very best. To give you an idea of what we expect from a cruise line, our mainstream cruise line of choice is Crystal, plus we have sailed on Silversea and Radisson. While the Esprit is very small and a bit more basic than your average cruise line, it was, without a doubt, the most amazing cruise experience we've had. The barge holds only 18 passengers and the staterooms are very small. However, they are well-planned with plenty of storage space so that we were able to completely unpack our suitcases. The main deck consists of a living room, dining room, and outdoor deck area. The food and the service were amazing beyond description. Steve was our chef, and he had complete creative freedom based on what inspired him and what looked good at the local markets. Lunch was buffet style with freshly made salads, a meat dish, a vegetable dish, and a quiche of the day. White and red wines, either Premiere or Grand Cru, were free flowing. The bottles were set on the table and we refilled our glasses at will. When the bottle was empty, it was replaced. Lunch was always followed with a selection of three French cheeses. Lunches lasted from one-and-a-half to two hours. Evenings always began with a social time with champagne or other aperitifs. When dinner was ready, we'd go to the dining room where we were never disappointed in the evening's fare. Again, wine was free-flowing. We started with an appetizer, then the main course, followed by cheese and then a dessert. Dinners lasted three or more hours. The service and friendliness of the staff were incomparable: our captain, the chef, one deckhand, and three young ladies to take care of us while on board. We also had our guide who drove the shuttle bus and was our tour guide. These tours were included in the cruise price and it was always just our group--we never joined any other groups. Plus, if someone didn't want to go on the excursion, no problem. We visited chateaux, wineries, and local towns. When we weren't sightseeing, we were cruising and going through the locks on the canal. It was very easy to step off the barge and walk along the tow path or take one of the bicycles that are kept onboard and ride off into the next town. If you love food and wine and want to see the beautiful countryside of Burgundy, definitely take a cruise on the Esprit. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2002
A Russian Adventure The stark white and dark brown of the bark of the birch tree (Russia's national tree) stood as sentinels guarding the towering green pines in the background as we glided along the beautiful and ... Read More
A Russian Adventure The stark white and dark brown of the bark of the birch tree (Russia's national tree) stood as sentinels guarding the towering green pines in the background as we glided along the beautiful and pristine shorelines of Russian rivers. Our Russian adventure began Sept. 15, 2002 in St. Petersburg as we boarded the Viking River Cruise ship "Kirov" with some 130 passengers from United States as well as England. The 400 ft. Kirov is compact but comfortable with all the amenities needed for a pleasant trip including two bars, two dining rooms, a library, beauty salon, gift shop and sauna. Joining Joan and me on this two-week Russian adventure was a couple from Sarasota, Alice and Roger. Our travel agent had introduced us a year ago as we planned a trip through France, departing 9/11. Since then we have become good friends. The Kirov's captain and crew were Russian and the chef Austrian. The food was good and served attractively (about a B+/A-) with red or white wine served at lunch and dinner. However, we think the complimentary wine was a tad above grape juice, about 9% by volume, as after many glasses it had no affect. The open seating policy in the dining room made it easy to get acquainted with fellow adventurers during the cruise. We found this "Waterway of the Czars" attracted a more interesting traveler than you are likely to meet on a 2,000 plus passenger cruise ship. Rain greeted us in St. Petersburg as we toured some of the famous and fabulous sites as the Hermitage Museum, Catherine the Great's summer palace, beautiful Russian Orthodox Churches and a visit to Peter the Great's magnificent summer home, Peterhof. I saw my first ballet, "Swan Lake," in this city. Joan asked me if I would go again? In replying to that request, I said "When you go to an NFL football game, I'll go to another ballet." Our Russian guide, Gennady, spoke excellent English and has visited the U.S. on six occasions. His five years of guiding tours complimented the many attractive sights as he explained in detail the different sites and cities we visited during the two-week trip. Once we left St. Petersburg, the rain stopped, the sun shown and the night skies clear enough to bring on heavy frosts. We layered clothes, shivered and enjoyed this pristine country side and vibrant cities. From St. Petersburg, we stopped at Kizhi Island, a beautiful spot in Lake Onega. The cathedral there is unique. The fairy-tale-like Church of the Transfiguration, built in 1714, is made entirely of weathered wood with more than 20 onion domes that glowed like silver in the cold morning sun. While cruising for six days, including 16 locks, the Viking people introduced us to the history and present economic details of life in Russia. A lady with two doctorates to her name, gave five lectures while our guide Gennady gave two lessons in the Russian language and Cyrillic alphabet. We didn't do well with these lessons! During our last three days of the tour in Moscow, a world class city, we visited inside the Kremlin walls and the Kremlin's Armory museum where we saw incredibly ornate carriages used by the czars for official occasions. Lenin's Tomb was viewed from the outside as it wasn't open during our stay. The sunlight striking the multicolored domes of St. Basil's cathedral in Red Square was an inspiration in itself. Legend has it that, after Ivan the Terrible had St. Basil's built, he had the architect blinded so he could never again create something so beautiful. Following an hour and a half drive through interesting suburbs and countryside, we came to the Trinity Monastery at Sergiev Posad (Zagorsk). This is the famous fortress monastery of St. Seregius. The monastery is best know for the blue-domed Assumption Cathedral, towering in the brilliant sunlight over the white stonewalls of the monastery. Along with hundreds of other visitors, we enjoyed a few minutes of a Russian Orthodox service with beautiful chanting and hymns. After Red Square, we were ready for the fun of Arbat Street, a cobbled pedestrian mall flanked by sidewalk cafes, bars and shops. Scores of vendor stands offered every conceivable souvenir: nesting Matroshka dolls, shawls, lacquered boxes, amber jewelry, fur hats emblazoned with the hammer and sickle. The U.S. currency was welcomed almost every place in Russia with the notable exception of rest rooms. But a few Rubles kept attendants happy. Our last evening in Moscow was spent at the theatre enjoying a folk dance performance of over 100 dance professionals. Their intricate dancing and the various beautiful and ornate costumes was a fitting farewell of our Russian adventure. We found the Russian folks friendly and always willing to help us with most speaking enough English to satisfy our needs. The ship's staff, particularly the dining attendants, were always courteous and well trained. The cities, although drab at times, spoke of a new vibrant Russia. The core city was filled with upscale prestigious international shops offering fashionable clothes and appliances. Everywhere throughout every cruise stop, reconstruction was evident as the Russians brought there buildings into the next century. We did not see any individual homes in the major cities. Rather the nine and one-half million Russians living in Moscow reside in mile after mile of apartment buildings. Traffic jams filled the six-lane streets while people parked their cars on the sidewalks and in the outside driving lanes. Thousands of billboards stood as sentinels every quarter mile on almost every street and building. Someone forgot to enact a sign ordinance and of course, these signs are all in the Cyrillic alphabet! Both our Sarasota friends, Alice and Roger, and ourselves left Russia and the Russian people with a new understanding of a great country and a warm friendly people. Arriving home after 24 hours of travel, we remembered the gleaming domes of the Kremlin, the old ladies in Uglich selling wild flowers and the statue of Mother Volga blessing the river with her arms outstretched. gjm4700@comcast.netDecember 2002 Read Less

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