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.
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