Age: Baby Boomer
Number of Cruises: Lots
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Splendour of the Seas
Sailing Date: August 27th, 2005
Itinerary: Western Mediterranean
Royal Caribbean International
Splendour of the Seas
7-Night Western Mediterranean Cruise
The Setup: Joanie and I tried to sneak a little vacation around this cruise, so we came to Barcelona a few days early. We also stayed a few days after the cruise before Joanie went home and I went to Venice, Italy to pick up a group of travel professionals on Celebrity's Millennium. We were both the group escorts and seminar facilitators on the Splendour of the Seas. In fact, we had had a group on her last year and wrote a very thorough review of the ship itself. You can find the review by clicking here. For this reason, rather than review the Splendour of the Seas again, this review will be our travelogue of the cruise.
Getting to the Ship: We used mileage on American Airlines to fly from San Diego to Barcelona. We flew American first class to Chicago and then flew Iberia Airlines business class from Chicago to Madrid connecting to Barcelona. The flight to Chicago was great and using the first class lounge was even greater, but having flown Iberia before, I know what was coming. We left Chicago about an hour late but made up some time and arrived in Madrid only about 15 minutes late. Our connecting flight was scheduled to depart from a gate in another terminal so we made our way there. Of course, there was no gate agent and the flight wasn't listed at that gate. We rechecked the monitor and we were at the right gate. After 5 minutes or so another couple showed up looking for the Iberia flight to Barcelona. We finally decided to find an Iberia Airlines employee and see if they knew what was up. When we finally found a gate agent, she looked the flight up in the computer and insisted that it left from the gate that we had just come from. I was starting to laugh at the situation and she must have taken pity on me because she then called someone and let us know the real gate it was going to fly from. The flight was oversold and as it turns out this seems to be their common practice.
We departed Madrid for the hour flight to Barcelona and landed right on time. After clearing immigration, we made our way to the luggage claim area. We waited and waited as flight after flight unloaded luggage and finally our flight was up on the screen. We waited some more and then continued to wait as thousands of bags were circulating on the carousel. Since we recognized many passengers from our flight that were also waiting, we felt there was just a delay getting the bags into the terminal. One by one they gave up and left to file a claim at the Iberia lost baggage claim that was across the terminal. After a couple of hours or so, another Iberia flight arrived from Madrid. Knowing how airlines work, I suspected that our bags would be on this flight. Another hour and no luggage. I made the walk of despair too get in the long line to file my claim for our lost luggage. To make matters worse, since I was traveling for over a month, I check all of my luggage in two separate bags and only had my electronic equipment in my carry-on. Joanie had her shoes and purses, which I guess are very important to a lady. We filed our claim and as it turned out there were literally hundreds of bags sitting around that were obviously someone's on vacation somewhere and Iberia simply didn't care or were simply completely inefficient. I made it a point to never fly Iberia again. We cleared customs and grabbed a taxi to our hotel, the Hotel Claris.
Barcelona's Segrada Familia
Barcelona is a wonderful city and well worth a number of days investigation. We enjoyed some excellent meals, tons of walking, great beach days, wonderful shopping for Joanie and just had a fabulous time. I would highly recommend the Hotel Claris for its location (away from the major tourist areas, yet close to everything). The rooms are quite generous in size and feature beautiful hardwood floors, the breakfast that is included is awesome and the restaurant on the top of the hotel is gourmet. We would always choose to stay at the Hotel Claris, as it added the finishing touch to an excellent stay in Barcelona. Our luggage finally showed up at the hotel after a couple of days, but in plenty of time for the cruise.
HINT: I strongly suggest that you always fly into an international port at least one, if not two days prior to departure and always pack a carry-on piece. Here is a link to a men's and women's packing list for a carry-on.
Barcelona's Cruise Terminal
August 27th, 2005;
Barcelona, Spain, Casual
After a wonderful stay in Barcelona, we eventually made our way to the cruise terminal to board the Splendour of the Seas. Being Diamond members, check in was a breeze. We were boarded and in our cabin within fifteen minutes. We went to the Customer Relations Desk and reconfirmed the detail for our group and then made our way to the Windjammer Cafe for lunch. Joanie and I were just on the Splendour of the Seas on a Panama Canal cruise, so finding our way around was like coming home. We did some exploring and then made our way back to our cabin to get ready for the life boat drill....yecchhh.
After the drill, our luggage had arrived in the elevator area, so I retrieved it without waiting for our cabin steward to do it. He seemed thankful that three more bags were delivered by their rightful owners without his having to bear the effort. We unpacked, relaxed and the started to get ready for our cocktail party. We met our group in the Viking Crown Lounge and started immediately to bond with one another. We had a great group of folks on this cruise.
After our cocktail party, we moved on to the King and I Restaurant for the first of our dinners together. We had a wonderful group of people and dinner became the focal point of the evening. Even though we needed to get up early for the morning's seminar, Joanie and I made our way to the 42nd Street Theater for the cruise's opening show. It was OK, but then no first show on any cruise is excellent. We went to bed right after the show.
Docked in Marseille
August 28th, 2005;
We were up early and decided to work out, have breakfast and then debark to explore Marseille. After a vigorous work out, wonderful breakfast sitting on the very most forward part of the Windjammer Cafe watching the Splendour of the Seas arrive in Marseille, we decided to disembark to explore Marseille. I must admit that I have ported in Marseille and found reasons to simply stay on the ship. For whatever reason, every time I have visited Marseille before, it was either a holiday, too short a visit, there was a strike or some other reason to stay on board. Today was different.
Marseille's Vieux Port
We disembarked, took the shuttle into the center of town (Vieux Port) or the Old Harbor where one could start their exploration of Marseille. I must say that I have not heard too many positive things about Marseille, but I have been told quite a few negative things. I was surprised to find the charm and character that we found so close to the center of town. Marseille is not one of those ports where you walk off the ship into excellent sightseeing. It takes a little work to find its beauty, but if you are the type of person that would rather strike out on your own, rather than take a tour you will enjoy your stay in Marseille. Joanie and I walked all around the downtown area, our to Fort St. Jean and then continued on for a few more blocks into what was starting to look like a nice beach area. We had heard that the beaches in Marseille were legendary, so we made the decision to hire a taxi and visit the beaches. The taxi queue was all the way back at the mouth of the old harbor, so we made are way back. We negotiated for a taxi to take us to the beach for 25 euro and off we went. We went right back the way that we had returned to the old harbor, past the fort and into the area that we had walked. About another three blocks the driver pulled ver and informed us that we were there.. There was a beach, but if we had just kept walking another few blocks we would have been there. We walked further to the taxi queue than it would have been to the beach. Having a good sense of humor, we paid the taxi driver (no tip) and licked our wounds. HINT: It is my impression that the taxi drivers in Marseille are crooks, but that is just my opinion.
Marseille Beach Club
Joanie and I passed on the beach that we were dropped at because it was too crowded. We walked further away from town and came across a wonderful little beach club/dive shop and decided to rent a lounge chair there for the day. We had a great time. Great food, lots of sunshine, no tourists or cruise people, just everything French. We had a coupld of bottles of wine for lunch and were feeling no pain as the afternoon wore on. When It finally came time to start heading back to the ship, we simply paid our bill, hailed a taxi to take us back to the shuttle pick up spot (5 euro including a tip, grrrr) and made our way to the ship in plenty of time.
Once back on board, we made our way to our cabin and decided to dress for the evening's formal night early and make our way to the champagne bar for a glass of wine and music before attending the Captain's Welcome Aboard party prior to dinner. We ran into some from our group and had a wonderful time relaxing and sharing our stories about our day in Marseille. The party and the dinner that followed were simply delightful. Tired from the sun that we took for the day, we decided to pass on attending the evenings show. We slept like newborn babes.
August 29th, 2005; Villefranche, France,
Both Joanie and I love France. Our idea of a total vacation is to hide out in Paris for days on end and eat, shop, drink wine and walk ourselves into oblivion. Both Joanie and I have traveled this area extensively. In fact, Joanie was in Monte Carlo a year or so ago with a group of travel executives and had dinner with the Prince of Monaco. We decided that since we had such a wonderful day in Marseille that we would take advantage of the stellar weather and spend the day at the beach,. I remembered the beach at Beaulieu-sur-Mer as being spectacular from my last cruise that stopped in Vaillefranche, so we decided to make ita beach day and visit Beaulieu-sur-Mer. What a great decision it turned out to be. It was hot, so we took up residence in a couple of lounge chairs on the beach and were served all day long. It was have a sip of wine, jump in the ocean, have a nibble of this or that followed by some more wine and another jump into the ocean. It was just heavenly. It reminded me very much of some of the best days in San Diego when it was hot, but not too hot, and the water was refreshing, but not too cold...everything was just perfect.
The Beach at Beaulieu-sur-Mer
Beaulieu-sur-Mer is located just beyond the beach at Villefranche and is well worth the walk. The beach at Villefranche is wonderful, don't get me wrong. It is just that if you want a truly French experience, Beaulieu-sur-Mer will deliver it. The two beaches (and bays) are at one side and the other of a large isthmus and a large peninsula of land juts into the ocean to form the community of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. Joanie and I decided to walk the ocean front trail to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and were treated to an incredible experience. In San Diego, we have a community called La Jolla. La Jolla is marked by gorgeous oceanfront homes, incredible beaches, excellent shopping in town and an overall fantastic experience. We decided to walk through the residential area of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and were treated to some incredible homes. Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other extravagant sports cars seemed as common as Fords and Chevys in San Diego. The French have it right. After returning to Villefranche in the late afternoon, we decided to stop in one of the harbor front restaurants for a glass of wine and an appetizer. The lady that waited on us made us feel very special and we had the best dining experience of our entire cruise. France is wonderful!
We made it back on to the ship just in time to attend the evening's meal with our group. Once again we were sunned out and tired. We had a wonderful time at dinner and thoroughly enjoyed our company. We had arranged for a round-robin dinning situation so that we could jump from table to table within our group, so that we could get to know one-another during the cruise. We slept like rocks the entire night.
August 30th, 2005; Livorno, Italy
We found ourselves sleeping in while the day passed us by. It was another wonderful day with warm temperatures well into the high 90's. Joanie and I had decided to take the train into Florence for the day as there was one of Joanie's favorite stores there, Zarra. We grabbed a taxi to the train station, just made the next train and 60 minutes late were in Florence. I think Florence is one of Europe's most beautiful cities. I mean, it has everything going for it. We arrived in Florence, departed the train station and walked into the main tourist area by the Duomo. We walked along the shopping streets all the way to Ponte Vecchio before turning around to do some serious shopping (well, that would be Joanie). We passed a small restaurant that looked great, so made a mental note to return to it for lunch. I found a nice little sidewalk cafe to enjoy a latte at while Joanie explored her beloved Zarra. After an hour or so, she reappeared with a modest amount of bags and we decided to make our way back to the restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was named Trattoria Ponte Vecchio and it was located just a block or so east of the Ponte Vecchio bridge. What a huge mistake! We entered the restaurant, were seated and then given a menu. Both Joanie and I ordered and also wanted a glass of wine. The waiter assured us that if we purchased a half bottle of wine that it would be much more reasonable. Since both Joanie and I love our wine, we agreed. We didn't ask the price.
If You See This Restaurant -- Run The Other Way
Lunch came and was mediocre, the wine was satisfactory, but the bill was outrageous. Before we were presented with the bill, another couple in the restaurant became quite verbal about the bill they had been presented. Apparently they shared an entree, but were charged for two. On top of that was a service charge for sitting at the table in the amount of 40% of the entire bill. Because they were so verbally upset (causing a scene in the restaurant) the waiter waived the "service charge". When it came time for our bill to be presented, there was no "service charge" but Joanie's half-bottle of wine cost a whopping 22 euro. That is simply unheard of in Italy. Don't get me wrong, I love great wine and have been known to pay dearly for it, but 22 euro for a half-bottle of so-so wine (Joanie knows the difference)? I disputed the bill asking to see a wine list to verify the price. Unfortunately, they produced one. Would I go back to the Trattoria Ponte Vecchio? Not even in a life threatening situation. After lunch we continued to explore wonderful Florence and then made our way back to the train station for the last possible train that we could take and still make the Splendour of the Sea's departure time. Once back in Livorno, getting a taxi back to the ship was no problem.
We showered and dressed for dinner and then made our way to the Champagne Bar for a glass of wine before heading to the repeaters party that was held in the Top Hat Lounge. The party was a wonderful introduction to the evening's events. We left the party and made our way to dinner and another wonderful experience in the restaurant and stayed way too long. We still managed to make it to the 50's and 60's party back in the Top Hat Lounge. We arrived ready to dance and have a good time with several of our group members, but quickly realized that there were so many people ready to dance that our best bet was to head to the Viking Crown Lounge and enjoy an after-dinner refreshment. We had a great time, especially when many people arrived after the party in the Top Hat Lounge was over. I remember at one time I was dancing with at least 15 ladies all by myself. It is a good thing I have an understanding wife.
St. Peters Basilica
August 31st, 2005; Civitavecchia
(for Rome), Italy, Casual/Toga
Joanie and I were up early and decided to take an early work-out before breakfast. We had decided to take the train into Rome and had planned to get off the ship as early as possible so as to spend as much time in Rome as we could. Rome is one of those ports where you could spend months and still never explore everything there is to see. After a leisurely breakfast, we disembarked, walked to the train station, purchased our tickets and boarded the next train to Rome. Rather than get off at St. Peters Basilica, we opted to take the train to its final destination in Rome, the main train station. As planned, we took a sightseeing taxi ride past most of Rome's most famous sights and were then delivered to St. Peter's Basilica. Since it was a Wednesday, the Pope had just finished his public presentation and there were crowds of people. We patiently waited in line to enter the Basilica. They had added a security check point since the last time I was there and it was somewhat concerning to think that the religious capital of the Catholic religion had been forced to resort to airport tactics to protect itself.
Shopping Near Spanish Steps
We enjoyed the Basilica and then decided (well Joanie decided) to do some shopping. For those that don't know, the area around the Spanish Steps contains legendary shopping for shop-aholics. Joanie was in heaven. After visiting every shop on every street, we decided to break for lunch. We found a great restaurant just a few blocks from Spanish Steps. We had a bottle of wine, great food and excellent service. We lingered long after we should have and then decided to walk to the Forum, which we did. Once we got there, we realized that the day was fading away and that we had better make our way back to the train station and get back to Civitavecchia. We barely made the last train. Arriving back in Civitavecchia had its moments. On the way back to the ship, Joanie spotted a surf shop and wanted to stop to buy our son something from the shop. We entered the surf shop, but the only thing they were selling was American surf logos. I thought to myself, "How sad that the Europeans have not found their own surf identity"
We were back on board in plenty of time and decided to enjoy a Jacuzzi before dressing for dinner. We had arranged to meet some of the folks from our group for cocktails before dinner and then enjoyed another wonderful dining experience with our group in the restaurant. Joanie and I were bushed, so we turned in right after dinner.
Naple's Hydrofoil Wharf
September 1st, 2005;
Naples, Italy, formal
We were up early, took breakfast on the aft fantail and then prepared to disembark in Naples. We had decided to take the ferry to Capri and then on to Sorrento and explore the various areas. The hydrofoil piers are right next to the cruise terminal making it quite easy to purchase a ticket and make the crossing to Capri. If you are thinking of doing this trip I wrote a special report about it that you can find Here. We were on one of the first hydrofoils of the day and made the quick run over to Capri only to be met by hordes of people who had the same idea. We explored Capri and Anna Capri (at the top of the island) and decided that it was simply too crowded to enjoy and chose to move on to Sorrento. This proved to be an excellent choice.
Sorrento's Beach Clubs
We purchased a ticket on the next hydrofoil to Sorrento and off we went. The ride took about 30 minutes or so and we were deposited on the hydrofoil wharf in Sorrento. Sorrento is simply beautiful. It is at the start of the Amalfi Coast and the cliffs that jut out of the ocean tower above Sorrento's beach scene. In fact, piers have been built out into the ocean around breakwaters so that folks can enjoy the morning sun that does not touch the actual coast until around noon. We arranged for a lounge chair on the furthest pier and settled in for some serious sunshine and ocean activities. The water in the lagoon was crystal clear and there were many fish everywhere. Sorrento was captivating Joanie and I. After a few hours in the sun we decided to explore Sorrento. We found the elevator that would take us up to the village, but opted to climb the walk/stairway up to it. We were treated to fantastic vistas on the way up and I would highly recommend it rather than taking the lift.
Sorrento's Quaint Shopping Streets
Sorrento is a very quaint town with meandering streets full of specialty shops and restaurants. Joanie shopped while I just enjoyed the architecture and people watching. It was getting somewhat late, so we decided to take lunch and started looking for the perfect place. We found it when we located Pizzeria Aurora. It offered an outside dining area as well as an inside. We chose outside and ordered a bottle of wine from their extensive wine list. Our waiter suggested a bottle that was within our price range and it turned out to be fantastic. We also ordered salads and some bread. The entire meal was delicious. While we were dining, two other couples from our group happened by and joined us at the next table. Their dining experience was as good as ours. I would not hesitate to recommend this restaurant to anyone and would seek it out on a return visit. We enjoyed the sunshine and wine so much that we lingered longer than we should have. When we realized that the last hydrofoil left in about ten minutes we immediately started for the hydrofoil wharf that was some distance away. Fortunately, one of the locals was kind enough to show us a stairway that led all the way down the cliff to the sharf. I ran ahead so that I could buy tickets for everyone who followed behind me. I met them at the entrance to the pier and we ran towards the hydrofoil. They saw us coming and waited for us. Once we had boarded, they shoved off and we were on our way. It was truly too close for comfort.
Pizzeria Aurora -- Don't Miss it!
Once back at the hydrofoil terminal in Naples we departed the hydrofoil and spent some time shopping in the general area before heading back to the ship. The cruise terminal in Naples offers some reasonable shopping for those folks looking for tourist items. After boarding the ship, Joanie and I decided to take a relaxing Jacuzzi before dressing for our second formal evening. We had arranged to meet some from our group for a pre-photo cocktail and then met our entire group for our group photo. They are always so much fun to do. We all enjoyed cocktails after the picture before heading into the restaurant for another wonderful dinner. I have to say that we were treated to a wonderful dining staff and service. The food was good to excellent depending on the evening. I always enjoyed the fish entree and was never disappointed. There was a late show after dinner entitled Ole Ole that featured a Rumba Flamenco Show so Joanie and I attended the beginning of it and then turned in for a good night's rest.
September 2nd, 2005; Day at Sea, Casual
We were up early for our seminar that was held in the conference room. We had a very lively seminar, as everyone had bonded during dinner and their personalities had long since come out. Everyone had a ball. It was a sunny day, so after the seminar, Joanie and I decided to simply lay out in the sun for the afternoon after a quick bite to eat in the Windjammer Restaurant. It felt great to enjoy the sun, but it was also sad that the cruise was winding down. When the sun started lowering we made our way back to our cabin for the dreaded chore of packing to get off the ship. I let Joanie pack first and then I started. The afternoon wore on as we accomplished our winding down tasks. We attended the early show (7:00 pm) and enjoyed the farewell show before heading for our last dinner on the Spendour of the Seas. All in all, I would miss this group and the ship.
Barcelona's Wonderful Beaches
September 3rd, 2005; Barcelona, Spain
As diamond members, Joanie and I were off the ship by 8 am and made our way to the Hotel Claris, as we were staying on in Barcelona until Joanie had to return to the U.S. for work and I was going to fly to Venice, Italy to pick up another group on the Millennium. Barcelona is one of the world's finest cities and offers everything anyone could want in a destination. The Hotel Claris offers anything anyone could want in a hotel. It is simply an excellent hotel in every aspect. We stayed for another 4 days before moving on, but we could have stayed four weeks.
Comments on the This is an excellent itinerary for first time Europe cruisers. It is not too long, nor to exotic, yet it covers most of the unique sights of the Western Mediterranean. However, it is very busy. There is a new port every day and the only day at sea occurs on the last day before you return to Barcelona. This cruise is best enjoyed if you do a good amount of preplanning. Know what you want to see in each port and arrange for a shore excursion that will maximize your time and you will have a wonderful cruise.
the Internet Cafe:
Royal Caribbean has changed providers for their Internet Cafe and the results are STELLAR! Not only is the connection much more stable and quicker, the cost is minimal compared to the old provider. Congratulations to Royal Caribbean for correcting a bad situation! Don't hesitate to sail Royal Caribbean if you are dependent on being online. You will be very happy!
the Barcelona Cruise Terminal:
WOW! There has been substantial improvements to the Barcelona cruise terminal that make it an international star. It is easily ready to handle the increase in cruise lines selecting Barcelona as a port of Departure. However, getting a taxi when departing with the masses requires a lengthy queue at best. If you are in a hurry to make your flight or simply do not want to have to wait in line for an hour or more, arrange for a private transfer in advance to meet you at the cruise terminal. I am not sure what the problem is, but suspect that it has to do with unions or the port authority.