After our sea day I was starting to feel like I might be getting a sore throat which did turn into a cold so I have been a bit tired and that is why I am behind on the blog. Since I go so behind you are getting the rest of the cruise all in this post.
Palma de Mallorca
Today's stop was one where I actually had pre-planned a shore excursion. I was partly thinking that all of our other stops up until then we were going to wing it so it was good to choose at least one stop and make advance plans. I read about the Caves of Drach and they sounded interesting and it wasn't something we could easily make our way to on our own. I booked our excursion with Project Expedition but the ship also offered a very similar one for a higher cost. Our tour was said to be 8 hours and the ship's only 4 and half hours so I thought we were getting a better deal. I think I was spoiled by our Colosseum tour and having such a small group and was hoping for the same this time but no such luck. This tour sent a small van to pick us up at the port and at first I thought this is great the tour won't be bigger than this maybe 20 passenger bus. Well that small bus took us to a place where other small buses met up so all guests from those could board a bigger regular motorcoach type bus. I thought oh well we probably ended up on a tour the same size as the ship's tour and I guess that is how this one could be cheaper. Then our guide started talking and we realized he would be saying everything in 4 languages all day. At first it was interesting but then I realized it meant we would have to hear a lot of talking all day. Our first stop was called an "authentic" Mallorca Pearl factory that was advertised as giving us an exclusive demonstration on how the pearls are made into jewelry. Well our bus pulled up to a run down looking outlet store it the middle of nowhere and I thought this cannot be right oh but it was. We were to spend the next 40 minutes at this place where the store and restaurant were not even open. I guess maybe this was more of a restroom break but the bathrooms were terrible - kind of what you would expect at a run down looking middle of no where shop I guess. OK so now I am seeing the advantage to the shorter ship excursion - no stop at this place. Then we board the bus and find out that some of the guests on the bus booked different tours so our first stop was to drop the guests off at a different cave for their excursion. OK so I guess I can deal with that but then I find out we are to spend the next 90 minutes at the nearby beach town - which I thought had sounded like a great part of the tour until we got there and realized it was off season for this small beach town so as you can guess not a lot to do. There was a triathlon going on which was about the only excitement. A few shops were open and a couple places to eat but nothing that really could take 90 minutes. There was a nice beach here so I can see in the summer it is probably a great stop on the tour where you could have time to swim and enjoy the beach but not this time of year. Finally 5 hours into the tour we get to the caves! They were impressive and the classical mini concert inside was wonderful. After having done this and comparing to the ship's version I think I would recommend the ship's tour in this case. By the time we got back to the ship it was almost time for the ship to leave so we didn't really get to explore the city itself. I was also feeling very rundown by that point so I was happy to get back on the ship anyway.
We could see the amazing cathedral from the back of the ship so we decided to eat dinner at the buffet and sit out on the back deck so we could watch as we left port. It was a little chilly but well worth it.
I was surprised to find out that our next stop of Valencia is the 3rd largest city in Spain. I guess I hear Valencia and I think oranges so I was kind of picturing a small countryside. I was way off. The city is so big and the port wasn't very close to the center so Azamara had shuttle buses for us at no charge. Valencia is a bustling city with a medieval past. From where the shuttle dropped us off we could easily walk over to the La Lonja which was the silk exchange was built in 1492 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Right near there is the Central Market of Valencia which is one of the largest in Europe, covers more than 8,000 square metres. It is a gorgeous Valencian Art Nouveau style building. We wandered through the huge market which was mostly meat vendors.
We left the old city and headed for the new to see the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies (Museum of Arts and Science). The buildings here are very modern and eclectic. We wandered around them a bit and it was such a strange contrast to the section of town we visited first. We looked at the map and it seemed from where we were it was a closer walk to the port terminal than to the shuttle drop off point. We remembered the ship had also mentioned there was a shuttle that went from the ship to the terminal center so we figured we would just walk to the port and find that instead. When we got to the port terminal we realized how large and busy this port really is. I was very glad for that shuttle that went from the terminal to the ship because it was probably another 15 minutes walk. This was our shortest port stop with a departure of 6 pm, which was fine with me since I still wasn't feeling 100%. I am sure they also do that so that everyone has enough time to pack since this was also our last stop before the end of the cruise. The ship's finale was a large chocolate buffet that they set up in the atrium area. It was a sweet ending to a great cruise.
Since the ship ended in a different port than we had started in this was like another port day to me so I had booked us a hotel for a night in Barcelona before flying home. In the morning we disembarked in Barcelona which was a breeze. I have to say it was one of the easiest I have had. We were off the ship, bags in hand, and at the curb in a few minutes. We use Uber many times when we travel so didn't even think about it much when we saw it was an option in Barcelona we used it. What we didn't realize is that Spain seems to have a rocky relationship with Uber and that it just recently came back in March. We were not sure where to look for our driver as the app just said the meeting point. When we asked around no one working in the terminal area seemed to even have heard of Uber which we thought was odd. We did find our driver and he explained that many people in Spain, the taxis especially do not like Uber. On our way to the hotel he also explained how Uber was different in Spain and it isn't the driver's own business like it is in the US. The drivers all drive company cars and are required to work set hours.
We got to the hotel and of course since you have to get off the ship rather early we couldn't get to our room but they were happy to store all of our things while we explored. Like in Rome I chose a smaller boutique type hotel, Erik Vokel, in the heart of things. The rooms here were actually like apartments so they had a full kitchen and even a washer/dryer (which would have come in handy if the ship hadn't had free laundry). We could easily walk to a lot of sights and hotel staff kindly showed us on the map where to go and gave advice on how to get there. Since we only had a day (which I realize now was not even close to enough time) we wanted to squeeze in as much as we could. If I had to do it all over again I think I would have booked 2 nights in Barcelona. When I was booking everything I was thinking that most times after a long cruise I am really just ready to be home, however this is one of the few times where our cruise was a one way so without staying an extra day we would not have seen Barcelona at all. Also it was my birthday so I was looking forward to celebrating it in Barcelona! After all the walking we have been doing we knew we just didn't have the energy to see everything on foot so we weighed our options for seeing things via a vehicle. It was between biking (too much energy needed for me), the hop on hop off (which are usually good options) but then we decided on the more fun way of driving ourselves around the city in a small GO Car. We had seen them on TV and they looked like a similar idea to the electric car we rented in Norway that had a guided tour built in and told you things along the path. What we hadn't counted on was that Barcelona was very different from the small Norwegian town we had driven around in. Barcelona traffic was a bit hectic and at times it got a little dicey. We missed a few turns and didn't really do all of the set tour but we did a lot and saw the highlights including a stop at the beach where we actually parked the little car and got out. In the end it was a fun way to see the city in less than 3 hours. After that we wandered around exploring places like the Gothic Quarter (which dates back over 2000 years!) on our walk back to the hotel. We took a siesta and headed back out for a little more exploring. Barcelona really is a wonderful city and I definitely want to go back and spend more time there one day.
Our hotel didn't have a breakfast location like the one in Rome but they did deliver a cute breakfast basket to the room that had juice, milk, and some bread with stuff for toast and some pastry. I forgot to mention earlier that the rooms used Uber to get back to the airport (we did compare rates since some locals told us Uber was more expensive but we found that was not correct and Uber was actually cheaper than a taxi). Personally for me I like that I can use the app on my phone for Uber and I see where my driver is and then I can pay in the app so no need to worry if I have enough euro left.
We are flying American Airlines this trip, which is our first time using them for international. For the return flight I bought the Premium Economy which I wasn't sure what to expect since on the other airlines we pay for the extra comfort or whatever they call it and have not really been impressed. That is not the case with American. I really like the Premium Economy and to me it was similar to what you might get in first class on a shorter domestic flight. It was well worth the extra price we paid for it. Maybe one day I will be ready to splurge on the business class for international flights but for now I will be very happy with this. While we have a non-stop from Barcelona to Miami which is nice it technically isn't non-stop for us since we will have to get in a car and drive a few hours but I am OK with that for the savings and also not having the worry about a connecting flight.
Today is our second day in Livorno and we chose today to head over to Florence. We walked back to the train station (if you read yesterday's entry you know it was more of a hike than a walk). The second time around though it seemed shorter since we knew where we were going and the weather was a little better. Florence it a little over an hour away by train but the train we caught had a few stops so it took a little longer. When we arrive in the Florence train station it was so much bigger and busier than the Livorno and Pisa stations. We made sure to double check our return options as we didn't want to be running back to the ship or worse miss it.
Florence is full of wonderful sights but we only had a couple hours so we chose to head towards the Duomo di Firenze and see everything around there. It was insanely busy around that area with lines that looked to be hours long and even the skip the line lines were long. We walked around took a few photos and then went towards David where we found more lines so we decided to skip that. We wandered a little, did some shopping and picked up a couple of Italian leather items before heading back to the train station. I would love to get back to Florence one day and explore the Tuscan countryside more one day.
Next stop was to be Monaco but we found out that the storm we rode out in Rome also did some damage to the port of Monaco, specifically to the dock we were to use. Azamara lives up to its Azamazing theme and got us a spot in Nice which is just about 30 minutes from Monaco. Not only that but they also are going to provide us with free buses to go back and forth to Monaco so we don't miss out on that port at all.
We finally got out of port and our cruise has started. After missing the first 2 stops we are in Livorno and this was already scheduled as an overnight stop. Azamara tries to include an overnight stop somewhere in each itinerary which is very nice since it can be rare to get to enjoy the nightlife of a stop when on a cruise. This also usually when Azamara will have their Azamazing evening event which is complimentary for each guest.
This is a pretty good place to have an overnight since Livorno is close to both Pisa and Florence so there is a lot to see. Pisa is about a 20 minute train ride while Florence it a little over an hour away by train. Since the Azamazing evening event is tonight we decided to go to Pisa today since it is closer. We walked to the train station, which we didn't realize was a good hike from the port. It was about a 2 mile walk but we figured this was also a good way to explore Livorno. It wasn't that interesting of a walk so it mostly just seemed long. I am sure most people opted for either a taxi or the bus to get from the port to the train station but what fun is that. We easily found our train and before we knew it we were in Pisa. Of course the main thing to see in Pisa is the leaning tower. It was an easy walk from the train station. Along the way we walked through the University of Pisa and oddly enough it was graduation day for some students. It was kind of fun to see them celebrating - instead of a cap and gown there wore wreaths like the Romans wore on their heads. We explore the grounds around the Tower and laughed at the tourists taking the funny posed photos like they were holding up the tower. One thing that we have learned is that finding a restroom can be rather difficult and then when you do find one it will usually cost money. We did find one conveniently located by this tourist attraction and it was .80 per person but when you gotta go you gotta go. Walked the wall around the area and made our way back to the train station. We got back to the ship in time to eat and get ready to go back out for our Azamazing evening which was a special Opera show just for us. On the way back to the ship we did see some kids out trick or treating in the shops. It was fun to see that Halloween is very similar in Italy. Onboard the dining room had a scary dessert buffet with lots of fun Halloween themed desserts.
The event was all very orderly with guests being called by deck to board the buses that would take us into town to the theater. It was wonderful to have the whole Goldoni theater to ourselves. We had our own booth in the balcony and enjoyed a lovely show by the Incanto Quartet. They preformed some classic opera along with some contemporary songs too. Back onboard they were waiting to welcome us with champagne and hot chocolate. There was also a late night buffet with snacks and more dessert. Up in the Living Room there was a Halloween party but there wasn't anyone dressed up. I guess if maybe Halloween wasn't the same night as the Opera event more people might have brought a costume for the night.
Surprise Sea Day
Due to the weather we were not able to leave Rome until the morning so we did miss our first 2 ports on this cruise and now will have a sea day while we make our way to our 3rd stop which is Livorno. Even though I was bummed to miss those first 2 ports I do always enjoy a sea day. The sun came out and eventually the waves died down and it turned out to be a nice day. I found a cozy spot to read in the Living Room, which is on the top deck at the very front of the ship (still inside). The ship has a nice sized library which came in handy for me since when I packed for this trip I brought a book for flying but since this cruise was very port intensive I didn't think I would have much time to read. You could tell that the library was recently stocked as many booked still looked brand new. Even though this is a smaller ship there are still plenty of places to get comfy inside. There are also lots of really comfy looking spots outside so I am hoping we get at least one warm day to be able to sit out there too.
As I mentioned before sailing with Azamara really includes a lot in your cruise fare. There are many options for drinks to order in any area of the ship. Even if you are in your room the mini bar is stocked with drinks that are all included in your cruise fare and your room steward will refresh it each day. Also when getting off the ship there will be plenty of chilled bottled water to grab as you get off which is perfect for exploring. Another nice free option is the self serve laundry onboard. I know I might be in the minority but I almost always do a load of laundry when I cruise and having the self serve laundry is nice and even better when it at no charge. I probably should have done a load of wash today during our sea day but I got sucked into my book and did not get to it.
Later tonight we will arrive at our next stop a little earlier than scheduled and this is the port we were already scheduled for an overnight visit anyway so now we get 2 nights even though we won't be able to get off the ship until tomorrow morning.
We spent all day still in port and the weather was really bad. Some people opted to take excursions into Rome but since we had already seen plenty in Rome and the weather in the port area wasn't good we just stayed on the ship. It was very windy so it made sense to stay inside. We were just hanging out in the room when it got a little darker outside so I looked out and next thing I know we were moving. An announcement came on saying echo, echo, echo. I looked it up to see it pretty much meant high winds be prepared. In this case it meant our lines had broken and we were no longer tied to the dock. We were now floating out in the middle of the channel and spinning a little. My view did a 180 turn before tugs came to bring us safely back to dock. It was a bit crazy but quickly under control and the captain came on to say there was no damage and no one was hurt. Now that my view was of the dock I could see how much the wind had damaged the terminal. We were now tied up at the MSC cruise terminal, which was a little further down from where we were tied up before. Thankfully the MSC Meraviglia was able to leave port the day prior or we might have hit her. The port building itself had a few sunroof panels that come loose and some of the glass doors had blown open. The temporary metal gates were blown over and scattered around. It really looked as though a hurricane had blown through. A firetruck came later to take the pieces of the sunroof off. We were supposed to finally get out of port tonight but the captain came on around 10 pm to say sorry it is still not safe to leave so we will be staying overnight and hoping to push off in the morning. That also meant we were going to miss our second port of Bastia. It is bummer to miss these 2 quaint little ports but safety is more important. After seeing what the winds did in port I am very glad that we were not out in the open water for that. It sounds like tomorrow will be a sea day and we will arrive at our 3rd stop, Livorno (Florence/Pisa) a little early.
WOW! Like the saying Rome wasn't built in a day, the same goes for seeing Rome - you cannot see it in a day or even 2. There is just so much to see in Rome and we are trying to squeeze it all into 2 and half days while battling a little jet-lag! If you are like us and haven't been to Rome before and are taking a cruise out of Rome you really do need a couple days to even scratch the surface. If your cruise is round trip it might be easier to do Rome after the cruise but either way I think you need at least 3 days to just get a sampling of Rome.
As I said yesterday, I chose a hotel based on location that was close to things I knew we wanted to see and we really have walked to everywhere we have been in these 2 days. Yesterday our step meter said we did 13 miles! Our hotel's location allows us to walk to the Trevi fountain in about 2 minutes which is nice since that place is always crowded. We found this morning when leaving for an early tour we passed the fountain at 8 am and that was the least crowded it we have seen it. Our front desk said the best time to go is 3 am - which would be possible being this close but don't think we really need to do that unless we cannot sleep tonight for some reason. We have also easily walked to the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and Piazza Navona. All of these you can just walk around for free no tour needed. Slightly longer walks but still easy to handle were the Colosseum and Vatican City. I did pre-book us a tour for the Colosseum with Project Expedition and I am so glad I did. Even though this is considered slightly off-season for tourists things have still been very crowded. Our tour not only allowed us to skip the lines but it also got us into places you cannot go on your own. It was very cool to go underground and also up to the very top level of the Colosseum. The tour also included the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Having a guide over there was really great since there was so much to see and learn about.
We weren't really sure how we would be feeling so I didn't want to pre-book too much and I am glad I didn't since we really couldn't have been up early the first day after an overnight flight. We decided for the Vatican we would just explore the outside for this visit. By the time we got over there the crowds were already large so I wouldn't recommend doing that without a tour that lets you skip the lines.
We also walked around the river and other things like Circo Massimo, Castel Sant Angelo, and Largo di Torre Argentina (this is where Julius Caesar was killed). There are also lots of shops, churches, monuments, and piazzas we wandered around. You can see how easy it was to do 13 miles in a day!
Food in Italy is pretty much as you would expect lots of pasta, pizza, and gelato pretty much every where you turn! There are just so many restaurants it can be hard to choose. I asked our hotel for a suggestion and they gave a great one. I also checked google reviews to get an idea. As you walk down the street many of the restaurants will try to pull you in. That wasn't as bad as some of the other people in the streets trying to get you to buy things. As with most tourist areas you will find the street art like the different performers and artists which can be fun. Then you have the "pop up" shops and guys walking around selling things which is fine to me as long as they are not pestering you to buy. Apparently selfie sticks are the biggest thing for these guys in the streets to sell as they were pretty much at every major attraction trying to get you to buy one. One thing I can stay about them is that a simple no thanks and they left you alone. The one thing I really didn't like were the African men that seemed to line the street around the fountain and they would pretend to want to shake your hand but really slip a bracelet on and then expect you to buy it. They were very aggressive and very annoying. It made me not want to walk that street and I am sure I wasn't alone on that. We went into the wonderful gelato shop right next to our hotel and the owner even said something about them and how he isn't happy about them being out there. The funny thing is we were going to walk down towards the fountain to get gelato but then decided we didn't want to deal with those guys so just went next door. It worked out since we realized that shop was great and very convenient for us. We have had a great time in Rome and definitely would come back again. Tomorrow morning we head for the ship. The port is about an hour away so you really do need to plan for transportation over there. There won't be much rest for my feet as the cruise is 9 nights and out of 10 days only 1 sea day! Most Mediterranean cruises are like that since there are just so many great places to see in a short distance. On one hand it is great to pack so much into one trip but on the other hand can be exhausting as well. I highly recommend planning at least a day or 2 after a Mediterranean cruise to relax and recover (kind of like a Disney World visit).
My next adventure is a 9 night Mediterranean cruise from Rome to Barcelona. I will be sailing on the Azamara Pursuit. You might not have heard of Azamara before but it is part of the Royal Caribbean family. Royal Caribbean has the mega ships with all the crazy extras that are super family friendly. The next level up in the Royal Caribbean family is Celebrity, which is a premium cruise line. Their ships are still pretty large but do not have all of the crazy things like bumper cars and ice rinks. Instead they are a little more refined and geared a little more towards adults. The next level up is Azamara which is a small ship/luxury cruise line. While it isn't adult only it does discourage families from sailing since they do not offer any children's activities onboard. Azamara has 3 ships at this time and I will be sailing on the newest addition to their fleet. The Pursuit isn't a brand new ship but instead one they purchased and did a multi-million dollar refurbishment to. The Pursuit just started sailing recently so she will still look like new when I get onboard. Azamara has ships that hold less than 1,000 guests which allows them to get into smaller ports. Azamara is also known for having more overnights in ports on all their itineraries. As a luxury small ship more is included in your upfront cruise fare.
Included for every guest:
- Beverages including soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffee, and select spirits, beers, and wines.
- AzAmazing evenings (a complimentary event on most itineraries)
- Self service laundry
- Shuttle to and from port communities where available
Veranda Plus and Suites get even more amenities but as you can see you get a lot included with any room already.
Most smaller ship cruise lines will include more in their up-front cost which I really like. I also prefer the quieter more laid back feeling you get on a small ship. No crowds and no long lines to get off and on the ship. This will be my first Mediterranean cruise so I am really looking forward to each port! From Rome we will visit Olbia, Bastia, have an overnight in Florence, Monte Carlo, Palma de Mallorca, Valencia, and ending in Barcelona. Stay tuned for more on each stop. You can also follow me on instagram for more photos - coleentravel
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