Greetings from France (technically I am writing this in the Orlando airport while I am waiting to board my flight but by the time you get this email I will be floating on the Rhone River). I was going to write about how traveling with a group is always more fun and it got me thinking about this group cruise I am taking now. When I chose this cruise to be my first attempt at taking small groups on a trip I chose this cruise because it was one of Avalon's new Active Discovery cruises. Having already done a river cruise I knew how amazing they are but Avalon has taken it up a notch. I will write more about that in my next blog so stay tuned. After getting a few people to join me on this one I already started looking ahead and have set up 2 more small group cruises set up for 2020.
I just had an Oprah moment when I realized all 3 of these cruises have one thing in common - they all include some of my favorite things. This French River cruise includes 3 of my most favorite things - Chocolate, Lavender, and Disney! OK so it won't be lavender season in France while I am there but still excited to visit the area where it grows the best. Disneyland Paris was an add on I chose to include at the end of the trip so while it wasn't part of the river cruise package that is one of the perks of traveling with your own agent - she can take care of setting up a unique package for you so that everything is stress-free and as seamless as possible.
The February 2020 cruise in the Sea of Cortez includes my favorite animals - whales (and even better baby whales). Growing up I always dreamed of becoming an marine biologist so this will be my chance to be one for a week. The April 2020 river cruise includes my favorite flowers - tulips (yes it is even called Tulip Time cruise so we will see tons of them). Do you have a favorite thing that you would like to make a part of your next vacation? Let me know and we can look into setting something amazing up.
I wish I could have another Oprah moment and say - " You get a cruise, and you get a cruise, and you get a cruise!" but I cannot do that but the next best thing I can do is say you get your own personal travel agent to travel with you if you pick one of my group cruises.
We flew out of Orlando at 9:30 pm and connected in Amsterdam on our way to Marseille. We took advantage of an airfare promotion through Avalon and I have to admit I usually don't go for those kind of offers because it tends to limit your ability to choose your flights and I am always afraid of having too many connections. Avalon's air deal was really good because they let me look over all the possible flights for that offer and choose the one I wanted. I was very happy to find we could take advantage of the promotion and have just the one connection.
After our last flight to Europe where we were delayed getting out of Orlando and missed our connection in Newark and had to change our plans I was very happy that our first leg at least got us to Europe. Our flights went smoothly and we arrived in Marseille without any problems. We arrived the day prior to our cruise which is important on a trip like this in case of any flight delays and also to deal with the jetlag. I added our hotel and airport transfers to our cruise reservation so it was all one seamless package which it totally worth it. I know I maybe could have booked a less expensive hotel and set up our own transportation from the airport but having it all as part of the package means you really do not have to think at all after getting off your long overnight flight where you most likely didn't get much sleep. We simply got our luggage and rolled through immigration and there on the other side was an Avalon rep holding a sign ready to take our bags and lead us to the van. We were the only ones arriving at the time so it was our own private van.
In about 30 minutes we pulled up to our hotel and I have to say it was a WOW moment as the hotel was beyond what I was expecting. It was a large impressive old building from the 18th century and to me it looked like a palace. I was very happy I chose to go with the cruise package hotel since I probably never would have booked this hotel on my own. Even though we were tired we figured best to just push through and go see some of Marseille now since we do not have a lot of time tomorrow before we have to head to the ship. We found some great pizza and gelato and then headed up to the church on top of a hill that looked down over the city. It wasn't an easy walk but we made it to the top just in time for a beautiful sunset. It was the perfect start to our French Adventure!
Over the years the Mother Nature has made many changes to my travel plans. Sometimes it is just a little unexpected cold or rain but other times it has been a big storm that has totally changed my itinerary. You can do a little planning to avoid bad weather such as avoid the Caribbean during hurricane season but for the most part weather is just one of those things you have to be prepared for that could change to even the best laid plans. Here are 5 of my tips for how to deal with weather -
#1. Be prepared. You cannot always count on the weather to cooperate so when packing for your trip it is good to pack a few bad weather items like a umbrella, rain jacket, and gloves. They won't take up too much room in your suitcase so better to have them just in case.
#2. Brave the weather. Sometimes the weather might start out bad but it will clear up so don't waste time waiting for it to clear. Dress in layers and head out so that you can take things off as the weather gets better.
#3. Rearrange your plans. If the weather is so bad that your outdoor plans have to be cancelled look at your schedule and see if you can do in indoor activity on the day the weather is really bad and move your outdoor plans to another day. If you don't have any indoor plans already some good ideas could be catch a movie, go shopping, find a spa, go bowling. If you are in an area where you are not sure what is around you can either google things to do near me or ask your hotel front desk for suggestions.
#4. Safety first. Sometimes the weather could be so bad that you really just need to stay put to be safe. It might be that you are stuck in the hotel or this could apply to your flight or cruise but please remember that any changes to your transportation modes are to keep you safe. If this happens break out the board games or a good book and just ride it out.
#5. Look on the bright side. If the weather totally changes your plans and you have to miss out on something you really had your heart set on then you have a great reason to plan another trip to that location. You could also end going somewhere or doing something you hadn't planned for because of the weather and it could turn out to be the best vacation ever.
Though more women are opting to keep their maiden name after marriage the knot reports that roughly 80% still take their new husband's last name. I can say from experience that the name change process can be exhausting and seem never ending. I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary and I admit I am still working on changing my last name on things. I do have a few tips for newlyweds to help with traveling after you say I do.
#1 - Do not book your honeymoon with your new last name. It can take much longer than you think to get important things like your passport changed so for the honeymoon please make reservations with the name as it appears on your current ID. Your travel agent can note that you are celebrating your honeymoon so you won't miss out on any of the special Mr and Mrs moments. Most destinations expect that honeymooners will not have the same last name on reservations yet.
#2 - Start with the big ones first. You cannot change your passport until you change your social security card. Once you have those 2 life gets easier.
#3 - Airline Frequent Flier and Hotel rewards programs are more work than you would think. I thought these would be an easy log into my account and update my profile, but no they are almost as hard as changing your passport. I have read that some women choose to just lose anything they accumulated to just start over with a new account since it was easier than doing all the things required just to change your last name. Take a look at what you have saved up and decide which makes more sense for you. I am the type of person that signs up for any and all rewards programs so I think there will be some where I really haven't earned much so I will just let it go.
#4 - Make lots of copies of your marriage certificate as you are going to need it more than you think.
#5 - Don't try to change everything at once. Depending on how many things you have set up in your previous last name you could get overwhelmed with all the places that require changing. Some things can wait and be changed on an as needed basis so don't stress about it too much.
#6 - Make plans to break in that shiny new passport!
Lowering the Pain of Long Flights
Traveling on long flights has developed into a certain kind of art — and into a healthy business — with savvy travelers constantly scoping out new ways to make long flights more conducive to actual rest. Here are a few tips that really seem to have some payoff based on our trips flying overseas.
Splurge on a better seat. The first one was a tough one for me to finally agree, but I figured now that I am in my 40’s, I need to step up my travel game! Sure, not everyone can afford a premium seat in first or business class, where you can take advantage of fully- or almost-fully-reclining seats and loads of leg room. But for long-distance flights, it can still be worth it to spend the extra money on an exit-row seat, a bulkhead seat, or a window seat.
Now, this comes with some warnings, from my personal experience. For example, when Brad, my husband, and I paid extra to get bulkhead seats for a flight to Amsterdam, we were not too happy because the guy next to me was about 100 pounds overweight and had a smell that was not pleasing. He made it even better by taking his shoes off during most of the flight.
I will say, when we flew to Rome, that when we paid extra for Premium Economy on American Airlines, it was worth it. Not only were the seats more comfortable, but the extras they gave you, including a higher-class meal, and a comfort pack, made the trip as pleasant as we could be. We would do that again.
Flying on off-peak days, like a Tuesday evening, will also increase the likelihood that the flight will be less crowded and quieter.
Do the best you can with flight times and direct flights. While crossing many time zones always poses its own sleep challenges, do your best to pick a flight time and schedule that will sync up most naturally with your sleeping and waking times. Leaving in the evening will work better than trying to get REM at three in the afternoon.
Know your cues. Which side of the bed do you sleep on at home? Book on that side of the plane. Do you usually have a cup of tea before bed? Bring a few packets of your favorite herbal. And grab your own small travel blanket and comfy slippers while you’re at it (the airline pillow or blanket can be used for extra cushioning or lumbar support if you like). Spritz your pillow with a mild lavender essential oil. The more familiar things you can do, the more your brain will recognize the cues that it’s time for rest.
Sweet darkness, sweet silence. On most trans-oceanic flights, you’ll see the blue glow of nearly every seatback screen flickering, no matter the time. We know that the type of light emitted by screens is proven to disrupt sleep. For any rest at all — let alone good rest — keep your screen off. Bring an eye mask or cap to block out as much light as possible. Use earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones to create the quietest environment you can.
Brad finally convinced me that his noise canceling headphones were the perfect gift for me, and I have to say, it has made a big difference. I still don’t use the eye-mask, but Brad does.
Bring layers of clothing. Planes can be a challenge when it comes to finding the right temperature for you. Some parts of the plane can be colder or warmer than others. If you don’t bring layers of clothes, like a jacket or sweatshirt of sweater, what could have been an okay flight might turn into a 8-10 hour torture!
Buckle up over the blanket. When the plane hits turbulence, flight attendants are required to make sure people are safely buckled in. If they can’t see that your seat belt is fastened, they have to disturb you to check. Make it easy for them and for you — simply click the buckle over the blanket.
Rather than paying more for less in the airport, do some quick research before you leave to find the best travel pillow for you. There are dozens to choose from, and they range widely in price, portability, and visual quirkiness. Check out reviews like this one from Travel & Leisure, where you can learn about the best pillows for your sleep type.
What are your best tips for getting good sleep on an airplane? I’d love to hear them. And if you’re ready to plan your next (well-rested) journey, I’m here to help! You can reach me today by calling me at 407-572-3631, clicking here, or filling out the form..
My husband, Brad, and I, have traveled all over together since we have known each other, often working right across from wherever we are traveling. Our trips have lasted for a few days to several months.
Here are some things that are critical to making travel with someone else successful. Ashlea Halpern is an editor at Traveler magazine who recently spent a year globetrotting with her boyfriend. Here are some of her best tips for making it work so you can come back from your journey stronger than ever.
Get clear on what you’re good at and what you’re not good at — and play up each other’s strengths. You might be awesome at small details, or you might be more of a big-picture kind of person. Either one is fine, of course — but be honest with yourself about where you excel. Use your gifts to help make the trip better, and let your travel partner do the same. If you hate navigating and you’re no good at it, then don’t insist on being the one to find the hotel at 11 p.m. in a city of ten million people. Find another way to get that done. When you see yourself and your companion get more done when you balance each other out, then differences don’t have to be catastrophic.
For example, Brad has an internal clock who, when given a place to be, no more how far away it is, will figure out how to get there almost at the exact time. He, on the other hand, isn’t the best at planning what to do when we go places. So, I do that, and he figures out the fastest and, often, the most adventurous way to get there.
Go ahead and step out of your comfort zone, but be clear about your boundaries. Yes, traveling is all about expanding and learning, and it’s good to try all kinds of new things. But don’t be afraid to set limits. If you absolutely do not want to go skydiving, don’t do it — but if it’s someone else’s dream, offer to be there cheering her on. If you really want to try roasted beetles, go for it! But if your friend refuses, respect that and move on. There are plenty more adventures ahead to enjoy together.
And, though Brad and I will just do something spontaneous, like climbing a hill in Germany and discovering a small water park hidden in the hills, neither of us are ones for trying new food.
Find small certainties within the chaos. So much of travel is uncertain — you’re in a new place, surrounded by things you might not recognize, trying to navigate through language and cultural barriers. If you’re traveling long-term, you know the agony and exhaustion of flight changes, train schedules, taxi rules, late nights, early mornings. Fatigue can make you vulnerable to illness, impatience, and arguments.
Take an honest look at yourself and identify one or two things you need to do every day to keep you grounded. Is it a good breakfast? A great cup of coffee? A reasonable bedtime? An afternoon walk? Time with a good book? Then, to the best of your ability, try to honor those needs, even when everything is up in the air.
Compromise with your travel partner — if he’s an early riser and you’re a sleeper-inner, find a way to meet in the middle, or try to accommodate those natural tendencies. Maybe he gets up at six and reads the paper or works out while you snooze for an extra hour. These small concessions will pay huge dividends later on when the time comes where you have to make sacrifices due to schedules or other needs.
When we are on vacation, Brad may get up a little earlier, go get some coffee or exercise and I relax a little longer. Then, we have a later breakfast together.
It’s okay to spend time apart. Especially if you’re an introvert, you might need alone time to stay sane. Or you might just want to spend an afternoon exploring on your own, talking to new people, doing different things. A little pre-planned, cordial time apart might be the exact thing that helps you be at your best together.
A recent example of this is on a cruise we took in November 2018. I saw that there was a painting class in the morning, which I like to do. Brad, on the other hand, isn’t an artist. So, I did that we he read and relaxed on his own.
When things get tough, stand together. It’s normal to bicker about small things. Everyone does. But when there’s something major, remember that you are a team. Hold off on blame, engage empathy, and get to work — together.
Our honeymoon last year, 2018, provides a perfect illustration of this. Our flight from Orlando was about 3 hours late due to lightning in the area. We realized that we wouldn’t likely make our connecting flight to Amsterdam. So, while on the plane, I arranged through the United App to get another flight that would take us into Belgium. We thought, perhaps foolishly, that our luggage would go to Belgium too. (I will discuss this more later.)
We knew that it was going to be a close call to make the next flight and that he is more comfortable making his way through crowds. So, when the plane landed, he maneuvered his way off the airplane and ran to the next gate, where the doors were about to close to get us on that flight. He got there and in a few minutes, I got there too.
Ah, we could relax. We made our flight!
Well, the next morning, when we arrived in Belgium, and not seeing our luggage anywhere, we found out after taking to someone who barely understood us, that our luggage was in Newark. They told us that we will be able to get our luggage sent to Belgium sometime the next day, which was a problem because we were leaving from Rotterdam on a cruise the next day. Not good!
We decided to take a train to Rotterdam and just had our carryon luggage. While I worked the regular route, Brad used his social media skills to connect with United on Twitter and over about 6 hours, go them to ship the luggage to Amsterdam the next morning.
I then looked up the train schedules and we took a train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, picked up our luggage, got back on another train to Rotterdam, and took an Uber to the port. We were on our way!
Don’t forget to be silly. Laughter has saved many a relationship. It brings us back to what matters. It helps us take ourselves less seriously. It reminds us that it’s more important to be connected than it is to be right. Recognize when your travel partner is trying to lighten the mood, and don’t be afraid to let go and be goofy together. That time when everything was going wrong, and you stopped and realized how ridiculous it all was, and you laughed so hard that you both had tears rolling down your cheeks — that will stay with you forever. Go with it.
If you’re ready to embark on the fun, crazy adventure of traveling with a loved one, give me a call! I’d love to help you make it the best experience yet. You can reach me by sending me an e-mail at email@example.com
Let's face it no matter how you look at it that last morning of your cruise just stinks! Number one it means vacation is over and you have to go back home where nobody is cooking all your meals and magically making your bed. It also means an early wake up. There are a few things you can do to help make this rough morning a little easier.
Post cruise transportation
Before that last morning make sure you already have all your plans set up for when you get off the ship. This could go back as far as when you are booking flights and be sure to book flights that depart with enough time to get off the ship and get to the airport. If you are heading back to the airport make sure you have your transportation all set up and you have a good idea where you are going to find it when you are off the ship. It can be a little chaotic out there with all the guests getting off the ship and then new guests arriving to board. The cruise lines usually offer a shuttle for a fee or you can use a car service. There will be different spots for the cruise buses and things like taxis and Uber. Another option is to get a rental car.
I noticed something very important when I got off my most recent cruise in Miami which is sort of what inspired me to write this blog. It is important when booking your rental car to find out where the rental location is and if they offer a shuttle that will pick you up at the ship. In Miami I saw first hand quite a few people that thought they could just board any rental car shuttle to get back to the Miami airport rental car building or worse people that thought they rented from the airport location but they had not. I had booked with Alamo which does require you to show your reservation in order to board the Alamo bus to the airport. While I understand why they require that it does slow the process down a bit. It also cannot be fun for the bus driver to keep telling people sorry you didn't book with Alamo so you cannot get on. I saw quite a few people get pretty angry so I am sure they deal with that alot. The Miami airport isn't far from the port so at least those people could grab an Uber for about $16 (about half the cost of a taxi) but these are things they might not know and just are not ready for. This is why I say make sure you pan for that day.
The other option for that day would be if you drove you own car to the port. If you parked in the cruise port lot you have the easiest option of all since you will just walk over to your car and off you go. If you saved a little money and used a parking lot a little bit away from the port just be sure you know where and how often the parking lot shuttle will run.
The last morning onboard
Now let's back up a bit to when you are still on the ship. Most likely your ship is back in port around 6 am but it does have to wait to be cleared by the coast guard before guests can start getting off. This process can be a little noisy so you might be woken up even earlier than you wanted but either way you will start hearing the get up and get off messages announced early. Most ships, especially the mega ships, need to start moving people off in groups in order to make sure there are not huge back ups in the luggage and customs areas. If you have an early flight you might want to take advantage of the earliest option which requires you to carry all of your luggage off yourself. For everyone else you will have put most of your luggage out in the hall the night before so that will be transported off the ship in the morning and waiting for you when you get off the ship. You might have a couple options for breakfast so be sure to check that out. If you are not in a rush and are in one of the later groups for getting off the ship the buffet is usually your best option if you are tying to stay onboard as long as possible. I always try to leave whatever bags I am carrying off the ship in my room while I go grab breakfast which makes the buffet easier. Then when my group is called I just pop back to the room and grab them.
The night before your last morning
Backing up even a little further to that last night there are few things to do. The first is packing up your stuff. If you are putting your bags out in the hall so they can be taken off the ship for you then you will need to remember to not pack certain things like clothes and shoes for the next day, your ID, and any medication or valuables. Also make sure you have a carry on type bag left to pack all of these things in for getting them off the ship with you in the morning. After many cruises I have seen plenty of people that forgot to leave out clothes before putting their bags out so they were either in evening wear or pajamas getting off the ship. I have also seen plenty of barefoot people that packed all of their shoes the night before. Be sure to double check the safe for anything you might have stored in there. Also now is a good time to check your account and be sure all the charges on there look correct. Unless you directed otherwise the ship will automatically charge the card on file at the end of the cruise. Most likely there won't be any charges after that last night so checking now is good. Keep in mind there are a few last minute things that could show up on there that last morning though. Two possibilities are minibar charges if you have that option and towel charges if you ship charges for pool towels that are not returned to the proper place. One other last morning charge that is possible is if you choose to make any last minute photo purchases as that is usually the only thing still open that last morning.
Just a little pre-planning will help your last morning go smoothly so even if you are not happy about your cruise ending at least you won't be feeling stressed on top of that.
2 weeks ago I was onboard the Azamara Pursuit that held about 700 guests and today I am on the NCL Bliss which holds about 6000 guests. As you might guess there is a huge difference! Personally I like the smaller quieter ships but for this cruise we are sailing with extended family so the bigger ship that offers more options made sense. It is also Thanksgiving week so this ship seems to be full of extended families all traveling in large groups. Sailing on such contrasting ships within a month really makes it clear that there is a ship for everyone and also every occasion.
For our Mediterranean Cruise a small ship was perfect since we were visiting ports everyday and were spending all day exploring on land. A smaller ship can get into smaller ports which is a big advantage in Europe. This cruise is in the Caribbean which tends to have more sea days so a ship with more things to do onboard is helpful. The Bliss has 20 decks and includes things like go karts, laser tag, water slides, kids clubs, multiple dining locations, and lots of activities. If you are traveling with kids they will love this ship. If you are looking for a romantic quiet vacation this probably isn't the right ship. There are some adult only areas but this is one thing I think they need to improve on. NCL offers some options to pay more for some private locations on the ship such as the Vibe, a private area on the sun deck, and the Thermal Suite, a private area of the spa. You can buy a length of cruise pass for these. If you really want a private experience you will want to consider booking a room in the Haven. The Haven is like a ship within a ship where you will have your own private decks that include a pool, restaurant, and lounge. The Haven comes with all the pampering you can imagine like a butler and priority embarkation and debarkation.
If you are looking for a floating resort where the ship really contains everything you need for vacation full of activity then one of these mega ships, like the Bliss, are for you. If you are looking for a quieter more relaxing vacation where the ports are the highlight then I recommend the smaller ships. If you want something in between the two there are ships perfect for that as well. No matter what you are looking for there is a ship just waiting to take you sailing away!
I would be happy to help you find that ship and itinerary that is the best fit for your vacation.
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.
I am a little behind on my blog due to having a sea day. The internet on sea days can be a bit spotty and slow so it was easier to just enjoy the day relaxing.
First I will backtrack to the day before though. That was the day we were supposed to be docking in Monaco but due to storm damage we docked in Nice just around 30 minutes away from Monaco. Azamara provided us with shuttle buses into Monaco which was a nice touch. The ride over actually made it well worth docking in Nice instead since the views were breathtaking! We hadn't made any previous plans for this day so we were going to just explore on own so this was like getting a bonus mini-tour. Monaco was lovely. We caught the changing of the guard, walked through town and up to Monte Carlo. The casino didn't open until 2 pm and we were way under-dressed to go in anyway so we just walked around outside. They really want to keep the formal atmosphere there so you really need to be dressed up to get in and also pay to get in I think they said it was 17 euro per person. There was lots of outrageous sports cars parked around the Monte Carlo along with driving around town so it was fun to watch those. After that we made our way back up what the residents call the rock so that we could visit the cathedral before getting our bus back to the ship. The cathedral is where Princess Grace is buried. There is also a beautiful Royal Garden across from the cathedral that we walked through and took in the amazing coastal views. You can see why this area is call the Côte d'Azur (coast of Azure) as the water is a bright blue/green color.
Back on the ship it was one of Azamara's special events - White Night Party. They set up a wonderful buffet and the band was playing out on the pool deck. It was a little chilly though so they also put out blankets for guests to use while dining al fresco. I can see how this would be really fun in warmer temperatures but it was still nice. I laughed when I realized some guests chose to wear the robes from the room up to the party but since the robes are white and warm it made sense.
As I said when I started the next was our sea day. It was a pretty rough day at sea so I don't think a lot of people did much. I felt like Azamara had read my mind though because the night before I was thinking how much I love sleeping in on Sea Days but I hate to miss breakfast. I looked at the times for breakfast and saw the special sea day brunch in the dining room. I thought this was so perfect for me and I wish all ships did that. Breakfast is some of my favorite stuff so being able to still get some at 11 am. Brunch was set up as a buffet in the dining room and even had live music from the band so it was lovely. After brunch I did what I love doing on sea days - reading.
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