Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Splendour of the Seas
Sailing Date: September 15th, 2002
Although we have sailed on a Windjammer sailing ship in the Caribbean, this was our first trip on a cruise ship.
My wife and I arrived in Barcelona the day before sailing and stayed at the Hotel Splendid. We traveled by taxi to the hotel ($25 US). I recommend this hotel. It has contemporary decorating, modern rooms and it is impeccably clean and neat. The breakfast included with our room rate ($130/night) was very nice. We chose the hotel because it is located just a short walk from Las Ramblas.
If you’re traveling to Barcelona to board a cruise ship, spend a pre-cruise day there. It will help you overcome jet lag and it would be a shame not to spend some time in this wonderful city. We spent Saturday walking Las Rambles. We went inside the Christopher Columbus monument and took the elevator (about $1.50 each) to the observation level. The monument is located at the foot of Las Ramblas and near the port where the Splendour would be docked on Sunday. The observation level offers some very nice views.
On our walk back up Las Ramblas to our hotel, we stopped for drinks at a café and had pizza and mejillones con ajo (mussels with garlic sauce) which were superb.
If you’re unsure how to conquer the jet lag issue after traveling from the U.S. to Europe, here’s what works great for me. Find something to do on the day of your arrival that will keep you active until the early evening. Resist the temptation to take a quick nap when you arrive at your hotel. Avoid boat rides or bus tours – you’ll likely doze off. After a day of reasonable activity, enjoy dinner and then retire early. Arrange for a wake-up call in the morning. You should be plenty tired and have no trouble falling asleep. If you sleep until morning, you’ll be rested, ready for breakfast and in synch with the local time.
After our breakfast on Sunday, we walked to several of the Gaudi buildings including the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. By early afternoon we were back at our hotel and took a taxi to the Splendour of the Seas.
Splendour of the Seas
Embarkation was fast. All our documents were filled out in advance, and there was no line to board. After our photo ID cards were given to us, we were on board within a very few minutes.
Our room, an inside cabin, was comfortable and clean. The champagne I’d ordered in advance was waiting for us. The ship overall was more spacious than I imagined and quite beautiful.
We ate at the Windjammer café once for dinner. The food was good, but it felt a little like going to a cafeteria. However, for breakfast I preferred the windjammer. I didn’t have to wait to be seated or wait for my coffee. And I enjoyed the choices we had. Although the choices were the same each day, I didn’t have to repeat the same meal. One day I choose eggs and sausage, the next day I took salmon and cheese.
I was wondering how dinner in the formal dining room would play out. I was one of those who didn’t want to dress up for a formal dinner on vacation. Just days before our trip, I decided to pack a dark business suit just in case we decide to dine there. On our first night, we got to the King and I dining room a little late (we were having drinks on deck when the ship got under way). We were a little disappointed when we first saw our table mates – two ladies who looked to be a lot older than we are. Our first impressions were wrong. Our table included three couples, ourselves and two others, all around the same age. The two ladies were the mother and friend of one of the couples. And they were spry, fun people who helped make our dinners a lot of fun. All of us at the table got along great and I’m happy I had such great table mates. The dinners were usually good to very good and sometimes excellent. Our waiter was terrific and accommodated everyone’s requests including key lime pie on nights it wasn’t offered.
On formal night about half of the men opted for tuxedos including the other two men at our table, but I didn’t feel out of place with my dark suit. Almost no one was without at least a sport coat or tie although I saw a couple of (rebellious) young men in tee shirts. The women were all well dressed as well.
What about my aversion to formal nights? I was wrong again. I enjoyed the more upscale experience in the dining room, especially on formal nights and when dinner was over, it was easy to change clothes and head to the casino in more casual clothing. The evenings had a more sophisticated feeling to them partly because we were not in the Caribbean where beach wear is the norm and partly because our trip was in September and there were very few children or younger adults on board.
Villefranche - Nice
We tendered ashore in Villefranche. The view of the Mediterranean town from the ship is picturesque. Nice is just a few minutes away by bus and it is a nice city to visit. I visited Nice in the past and spent a few weeks there for work, so we opted to simply explore Villefranche on foot. We spent all morning walking and taking photos. At lunch, we ate an avocado salad and pizza at a café. It was like being in a watercolor painting. We sat on a cobblestone street looking down at the colored stucco buildings and the sea. Aboard ship, it was the only time an outside cabin would have been nice.
Livorno (Pisa, Florence)
I’m an independent traveler and loathe bus tours. Instead of the 2-hour drive to and from Florence, we used public transportation to visit Pisa. We took an RCI-provided bus to the city center, a public bus to the train station and a train to Pisa. I bought the tickets from an ATM-like ticket machine. If you’re like me, negotiating a language you don’t speak, navigating the public transportation in a foreign city and the logistics of buying tickets is part of the adventure of travel. When I get to where I want to go, I stay as long as I want and don’t have to worry about when the tour guide says to meet back at the souvenir shop. If that doesn’t appeal to you take the regular tour (you won’t get lost!) We enjoyed our afternoon in Pisa and spent our time walking, looking and picture taking. And that big tower in Pisa – it’s slightly off kilter. We surely missed some sights in Florence, which is a beautiful city, but I’ll go there next time.
The ship docks at Citavecchia, an hour train ride away from Rome. There are a lot of things to see in Rome. Don’t try to do too much. You could easily spend the entire day at the Vatican alone. We’ve visited Rome before and wanted to see some things we didn’t have time for on our last visit. Rome is really a great city to see on your own. An RCI coach took us to the train station in Citavecchia. I bought a train ticket that included use of the subway in Rome. There is a stop (San Pietro) near the Vatican. It’s a walk of about two blocks to get to the center of Vatican City. I bought a subway map and used that to navigate Rome. You can also stay on the train and get off at Termini – the main terminal where you can find subways as well. You can easily take the subway to the Colliseum, Forum or the Vatican from Termini. We took the subway from near the Vatican to the Spanish steps. We followed a walking tour that took us to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. We bought a sandwich from a street vendor near the Spanish steps and stopped for gelato near the Trevi fountain. At the end of our afternoon, we walked to the nearest subway station and rode back to Termini where we caught the train back to Citaveccia. The ride back was a slow crawl. There had been some kind of mechanical problem on the train line and our train crept most of the way back. Luckily, we still made it back to the ship with time to spare.
We took the trip offered by the ship to see Capri, Pompeii and Sorrento. It’s a bit pricey ($175 each) and I know I said I like to travel on my own, but our casual pace wouldn’t have allowed us to see the things we saw in Naples. The tour left at around 7 AM. I’m not a morning person, and on my own, I would never have gotten out at 7 AM. We were bussed to a hydrofoil boat for the ride to the island of Capri. I’ve never been to Capri and didn’t know anything about it. Now that I’ve been there, I can say it is absolutely beautiful. Included in our tour was the funicular from the boat dock up to the area where we got some beautiful views of the azure blue sea. Our time on Capri was all too brief. Soon, our tour took us down the funicular, back on the hydrofoil to Sorrento.
Our tour included lunch in Sorrento, and some shopping time. Our lunch was at a café called La Lanterna and started with a spectacular pasta dish and some wine. The main course resembled a TV dinner of turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. The pasta was great and would have been enough. Best to pass on the turkey. We did however get to have a nice dessert before we were turned loose for a little shopping time (photo time for me).
The afternoon part of our tour was a visit to Pompeii. Our guide, Pepe did a terrific job of getting us in and around Pompeii while explaining what we were seeing. Pompeii is unforgettable and not to be missed. On our motorcoach ride back to the ship, I could see that I was not the only one fatigued by a good long day of activity. The tour was great but tiring. And I always have problems with the “meet back her at 1 PM” part of the trip. I spend my time looking at my watch and not enjoying myself. But I’m glad we went on this trip and I’m glad we didn’t go on others. One was enough for me.
The ship docks in Malta at noon so you have an afternoon to see this island. No public transport needed here. We were able to walk right from the ship to the pedestrian zones in Malta and walk the main shopping area, see a botanical garden and stop at a café for beer. Malta is an unusual place. All the buildings are made of the same stone that makes up the island giving it a curious yellow cast. The culture is a mix of Mediterranean and Arab, a result of being an island crossroad. One of our table mates took the bus tour and was not so impressed with her excursion. I think our self paced walking tour was perfect for us.
Now that we’re at sea, I can talk about those inside cabins on the Splendour of the Seas. At the ports of Barcelona, Citavecchia, Livorno, and Naples we were at pretty unsightly container docks. One afternoon we ate in the Windjammer and sat so that we could have a view of the port. The view of cranes, dumpsters, forklifts, etc. prompted us to move to the seaside of the ship while we ate. If we’d had an outside cabin, I guess we’d have the same view. At night, while sailing we saw – nothing but blackness. While I hope to have an outside cabin with a beautiful view on my next cruise, we didn’t feel like we missed anything being on the inside
The shows on Splendour were good for the most part. While not everything appeals to everyone, we enjoyed the entertainment and I especially liked how comfortable the seats were in the theater. Big, cushy seats, drinkholders, cocktail service, it felt like first class! Since this was our first cruise, I was pretty impressed by the theater. You’d never know you were on a ship.
One of our favorite things to do in the evening was visit the Viking Crown Lounge in the late evening. We had a good time drinking and dancing.
Our overall impression of Splendour of the Seas was very positive. I found it to be a beautiful ship with attractive public areas. The Centrum has such an open feel to it that it feels like a big hotel. The traffic pattern in the Windjammer is a little clumsy, and yes, they make you walk through the casino to get to the theater.
Other observations by a first-timer: Outside the bank of elevators there was a little 3-D model of the ship that showed us where everything was. That was neat. Not until the last day did we find our way around without referring to this 3-D map.
We arrived in Barcelona to a beautiful sunrise. We had a noon flight out of Barcelona, so we didn’t have to be off the ship as early as others. This was the only time during the cruise that it felt like there were indeed 2000 passengers on board. With everyone out of their room, the public areas were congested as we waited for our “color” to be called so we could disembark. The RCI transfer to the airport is $19 per person, but one of the workers at the excursion desk assured us that there would be “tons” of taxis waiting to take us to the airport. He was right, there were, and it only cost about $20 to get there. I highly recommend RCI and the Splendour of the Seas. I enjoyed the itinerary and suggest that if you are thinking about going on this trip, get out there, and enjoy it!