Freedom in the Mediterranean….Anchors Aweigh! Away? A-weigh? Well, We’re Off!

The one with the phone…

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Yay!! Its time to board the Freedom of the Seas!!  I have loved, loved, loved my time in Barcelona and I will definitely be back but now its time to cruise!

I had worked with my AirBNB host to get a taxi that would fit us and all of our luggage to get us to the port.  I had no idea who he called (this is important later on!) but the taxi was right on time and we checked out of the apartment and headed to the port.

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I had all of our documents printed out and ready to go, had everyone’s passport, put luggage tags on everyone’s suitcases to ensure that they all made it to the correct cabin.  Should be smooth sailing right on to the ship and ready to sail!  Nope. That is not at all how it happened.  You see, one of my children left his phone in the taxi and didn’t realize it until the taxi had driven off and we were turning in our luggage.

Remember how I said I had no idea what taxi company our host had used??  This is where that little tidbit becomes pretty darn important.  Also important is the international roaming plan I had added to my cell phone before leaving…FOR JUST SUCH AN EMERGENCY!!  AT&T has a $10/day plan that you only pay for if you use.  Well, I used it.  I called our AirBNB host and tried to ask him what cab company he used but it quickly became apparent that his English is limited to email (via Google Translate…I do it too…don’t judge!) and my Spanish is limited to food.

Fortunately I was able to find a port employee that was willing to help.  She explained the situation, let me know that the host was going to call and find the driver, answered the call when the host called back to tell me the driver was on his way back, and negotiated with the driver when he wanted to charge me 30€ for bringing the phone back.  Now I get that he did give up his place in line for a new fare to come back, and I already had 10€ in my hand ready to give him for his trouble but 30€ seemed excessive to me.  Apparently to my translator as well because they got into an argument about it and I ended up paying him 20€ all said and done.

Now with age, comes wisdom (What? Don’t laugh!) plus the fact that I tend to be a go with the flow kind of person once I am actually on vacation (yes, I know I am an obsessive planner leading up to vacation, but that way I can relax once I’m there.) so I was able to laugh about it pretty quickly after we knew the phone was on its way back to us.  My child, however, is still kind of salty about it so that is why I waited three months to write about it! Moving on…

After a fairly easy check in, we stopped and bought six bottles of wine and headed on board.  I may be pretty laid back about this whole situation, but I was certainly ready for a drink!

Our cabin was ready right on time, which is good considering I had six bottles of wine that I was carrying around! Sail away was fun and we were off, headed to our first port of call, Marseille.  That night, we had dinner at Chops, the steakhouse.  It was awesome as always!

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I know this post has been mostly my ramblings but I promise that there are really good port pictures coming soon!! Which ports you ask?  Well I did forget to mention that.  We are hitting some big bucket list cities for me:

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Nice
Florence
Rome
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One day at sea then back to Barcelona.  All in all an amazing trip!  Marseille is up next so stay tuned!

Freedom in the Mediterranean…The Story Begins!

Way back in the twilight of 2015, when I was on board the Freedom of the Seas Eastern Caribbean cruise, I purchased a “Future Cruise Certificate.” Basically it is a promise to cruise again, which I knew I was going to do anyway, so I took advantage of some perks that they were offering with the certificate and booked a cruise.  Then, in March of 2016 when the 2017 European sailings opened and I saw that my favorite ship, the Freedom, was going to Europe for the summer of 2017 I immediately called and transferred my reservation to the June 18, 2017 sailing out of Barcelona on the Freedom of the Seas.  Since it was the first day that reservations were open (yes…I had been checking every day!) I was able to get the cabins that I wanted, 3 adjacent promenade view cabins with one balcony cabin across the hall.

My next task was to find an apartment that would house 8 people for three nights and not break the bank…Not as easy as it sounds…actually, it doesn’t even sound easy!  Hotels are out, too expensive to get four rooms for three nights.  And you need four rooms…hotel rooms in Europe are hardly expansive living spaces.  So I headed over to AirBNB to look for a place for all of us.

After the apartment in Venice, that we all loved but had no elevator, I was told specifically to find one with an elevator…and I did.  But I did overlook one thing that would be somewhat important…but I didn’t realize that until we got there.

Our flight was crowded but uneventful.  Lines to get through border control were long and we were just barely on-time to meet our AirBNB host.  I rented a 4 bedroom 2 bath apartment in the Eixample neighborhood.  The location turned out to be fantastic, easy to get everywhere we needed to go.  It had a beautiful view:

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It also had an amazing kitchen with all utensils, wifi all over the apartment, a fresh water dispenser, an elevator, and ceiling fans in all rooms…which was a good thing because the one thing I did not look for…air conditioning.  In the Mediterranean.  In Summer.  During a heat wave.  Okay, well that last part I couldn’t have known, but all I can say is thank goodness for the gigantic windows all over the apartment and the ceiling fans in every room.  They kept it bearable!

I had scheduled several tours for our three days in Barcelona.  The first was a tour of Barcelona via motor coach with a trip to Montserrat.  I used Barcelona Day Tours and they were fantastic!  Our guide picked us up right at our apartment and we toured some of the highlights of the city on our way to Park Guell where we had “skip the line” tickets. This park was designed by Antonio Gaudi originally as a housing development for the wealthy, but it never really took off even after Count Eusebi Guell moved there himself to try and add to the prestige.  Ultimately, only two houses were ever built and it was eventually converted into a municipal garden.

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A bunch of the infrastructure was built in anticipation of all those upper crust folks moving in, so there is quite a bit to see there, and it is all VERY Gaudi.  It is the exact type of architecture you think of when you think of him.  Gaudi did not have a huge budget for this, so he improvised.  He used scraps from other construction sites to decorate his buildings and other creations.

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Like this bench.  It has “butt bumps” on the seats meant to align your spine when you sit to make it more comfortable.  Surprisingly enough, they work really well, and that stone and ceramic bench is actually really comfortable!

Our next stop was a “drive-by” of La Sagrada Familia.  I say “drive-by” but we did actually get out and walk around the entire church with Marta, we just didn’t go inside!  I will give you a quick teaser picture here but a full review when I talk about my full guided tour later!

 

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It is massive, and awesome, and truly a work of art.  I can’t wait to see it finished!!

But moving on, we next headed out of the city to the monastery Santa Maria de Montserrat.  This is about 28 miles west and 4000 feet above the city of Barcelona.  My hope was that maybe it would be a smidge cooler up there in the mountains, but really it was just closer to the sun!  But it is beautiful!

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The basilica houses the Virgin of Montserrat, Catalonia’s saint and plenty of people make the pilgrimage here just to see her.  In addition, about 50 boys in the famous Montserrat L’Escolania boys choir live here while they are members.  They give a daily free concert in the basilica, but ironically enough, the boys were in New York while I was in Barcelona so I did not get to hear them.  Still, its pretty amazing inside:

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With some pretty awesome sculptures:

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And some absolutely incredible stained glass:

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We decided to eat in the cafeteria style restaurant, in addition they have two sit-down style restaurants, a bar and a grab and go type store if you want a picnic.  The selling point for me was the buffet style and options for everyone.  I’m just kidding!!!  The cafeteria offers all you can drink wine and beer with your meal!!!  SOLD!!!  But, in all honesty, the food was decent, the wine was okay and the beer was warm.  But it was reasonably priced, filling, and most importantly air conditioned!

Outside the cafeteria there are some more amazing views and art work.

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Another option would have been to take the funicular to the highest point.  I’ve heard that you can see all the way to Mallorca on a clear day.  However, some of us are not fond of cable cars, or funiculars, or heights so we didn’t go.  Really, after Santorini, how bad could it be??!!  Next time…I’m going up!

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Back in our van and down the mountain to resume our guided tour of Barcelona.  Our next stop was Montjuic.  As Marta explained to us, some pretty amazing things are in that area, left over from the 1929 International Exposition (World Fair).  The Font Magica still does its light show every night and the Palau Nacional is still beautiful and imposing.  We stopped on the cliff overlooking the harbor for some breathtaking views of the harbor.

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Learned about some cool trees that had been transplanted to Barcelona and how they adapted to their new, much drier, home.

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Again…amazing artwork everywhere!!

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And finally, caught a glimpse of where to catch our ride later on.

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After this, we headed back to our apartment.  Tired and hot, but totally amazed at what we had seen.  While 8 hours is no where near enough time to see all that Barcelona has to offer, I felt like Barcelona Day Tours, and specifically Marta, had done a fantastic job.

Tomorrow we have a guided tour of the inside of Sagrada Familia as well as a Flamenco show!!  Stay tuned!!

Two Majestic Trips…One Review!

Because I spend quite a bit of time in the casino when I cruise…and because I don’t often win…Royal Caribbean sometimes takes pity on me and gives me certificates for free cruises.  These are not big, fancy week long cruises on their big, fancy ships.  They are usually 3 or 4 day cruises on the older, smaller ships…but hey! They’re free!!

I had booked a cruise for February and wanted to take my father for his birthday (his birthday is really in October, and I made him a really cool card!) See:

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But then…In January, he found out that his work would not give him the time off so my brother got the spot instead.  (Dad gets a much better cruise later on, but you’ll have to wait for that one!)  So that is the first Majesty cruise.  A three night trip to Nassau and Cococay.  Certainly a quick trip, but Port Canaveral is not too bad a drive so easy enough for a weekend get-away

Then, I got another certificate in the mail for a free cruise so I hatched a plan to use this one for bribery!  I needed to pick up my son from college in Ft. Lauderdale and move him back home for the summer.  I drive a SUV, but my BIL drives a BIG SUV!  So I thought, “If I take him on the cruise, he will go with me the rest of the way from Port Canaveral to Ft. Lauderdale, help me move the kid out of the dorm, then we can split the drive back home!” It was a genius idea!  But that’s not how it worked out…It was even better than that!

You see, while we were on that first Majesty cruise, my brother earned a certificate for money off a future cruise so we decided to book a second cabin for the May four night cruise and bring Katie along as well!  Then I was able to get Jarod to convince a local college buddy to store some of his stuff over the summer, so now I didn’t need the big SUV.  It all worked out really well, mostly!

So since both cruises went to the same places, on the same ship I am going to combine them into one review…that may or may not work but we’ll see how it goes!

First up, a quick pit stop at Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar. Why? Because boarding doesn’t start until 11am so what else are you supposed to do?  Everyone needs a pre-boarding drink!  And a quick picture!

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The Majesty of the Seas is an older, smaller ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.  But they have made some upgrades, most notably on the pool deck where the addition of water slides was a big hit with the Under Six member of our party!

Another big hit with the Pre-K crowd was our stateroom attendant’s mastery of the famed “Towel Animal” left in the room after evening turndown service.  I am lucky that I have always had really good stateroom attendants and these two cruises were no different!  Here is one of our nightly visitors!

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As a quick side note…I left those sunglasses on the plane ride to Barcelona so if you flew American Airlines last month and found those awesome Minnie Mouse glasses in the seat pocket, can I have them back please?

But back to the Majesty.  Our itinerary was the same on both cruises but in different order.  In addition, the four day cruise also had a day at sea, while the three day cruise just had the port stops.  So first up…Cococay, Bahamas.  Royal Caribbean’s private island.  This is a tender port, which means you have to get off your big ship, onto a smaller ship in order to get to the island.  Really like a water taxi service.  Because of this, tender ports are susceptible to weather disruptions and are often missed.  We had amazing weather on both cruises so we were able to visit twice.

Here is what the Majesty looks like from the tender boat.  The water around the island is not deep enough for her to pull closer so she really does have to park a bit away.

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And that little boat by her side that looks like a barnacle is one of the tenders.  But they really are a nice little ride, provided the water is not choppy.  You can see our seas looked like glass. Nice and smooth!

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And here is a little part of the island.  This has been totally built by Royal Caribbean so everything and everyone on the island works for the cruise line.  This makes for a nice sanitized day at the beach, which is great and I really like Cococay, but sometimes I miss local flavors and stuff like that.  Still, it is beautiful.

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We had some cloud cover as you can see, but it never rained.  A newer addition to the island is the floating bar.  Basically a tiki hut that floats by the shore.  It is connected by a giant chain so if the water gets rough, they can reel it in.

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It does have a limit on how many people can be on it at one time…presumably so it doesn’t sink…so they kind of do a “one off, one on” scenario once it gets full.  I haven’t actually been out there yet, but it certainly looks cool!

Next up, we headed to Nassau.  If you have read my previous review of Nassau, you may grasp that I have not had the best of luck there! So sometimes I don’t even get off the ship anymore, but this May I had a goal…Pirate Republic Brewery.  It is right by the port and I love tasting local beers so that was my mission.  In addition, the beach soccer world cup was going on that week and while the day we were there was the rest day, so no games, I did want to see if I could find a t-shirt or something from the event…It is Soccer Mom Travels after all!

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Looks like we got the best parking spot!  And look!!! Right there!!  Pirate Republic Brewery!!  How close is that!!

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Off we headed to find soccer stuff then stop for a nice frosty local beer…ah the best laid plans.  Seems I have no luck in Nassau at all.  We tried to get a taxi over to the stadium since the vendors were telling us that the only place that would sell t-shirts like that were over at the stadium, but then the taxi driver said that the vendors wouldn’t even be open because there were no games.  Sigh.  Okay so that plan is shot…at least I still have my frosty local beer to look forward to, right??

Um. No.

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While I heartily applaud the policy of not drinking and voting, this would once again add to my luck in Nassau.  So once again I am leaving Nassau without doing any of the things I actually planned to do.  Lucky I still have two more trips scheduled with stops in Nassau.  I will get to you yet Pirate Republic!

Overall, I really do like these short cruises on the smaller ships.  I am very lucky to live within driving distance which makes it possible to do these.  Next up?  Freedom of the Seas in the Western Mediterranean.  Spoiler…Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds!

Conquest in the Caribbean…6 (and last!)

After our two new cool ports, we have a sea day on our way back to Ft. Lauderdale.  We have already discussed that I really like sea days, both for relaxing and because they always have kinda corny, but usually fun activities for people to take part in if they choose.  My activity du jour is the famed Mixology class with the AMAZING bartenders at the Alchemy Bar.

This class was run by Kat, our bartender from Belarus.  I originally had not signed up for the class because I’ve been a bartender, do I really need a mixology class?  As it turns out…maybe.

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Arriving at class, I am greeted by these three little, tiny martini glasses…DON’T BE FOOLED!!! Kat (shown here looking deceptively innocent) will fill those glasses up at least 17 times before you leave.

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First up is the Mint Martini…there was quite a bit of technical information given about gin and I am positive that Kat thoroughly discusses the intricacies of muddling and straining and all that important stuff.  But the biggest lie I tell myself is “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember that!” And then 17 martinis (small ones…don’t judge) later I need one of those stickers with my name on it so I don’t forget that!

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That was followed by the Cucumber Sunrise…As you can see, my straining skills need work! But I had already finished a full glass (the pint glass in the back, not the little martini ones) of the gin mint thing and was partway through the pint of the cucumber vodka one so my real goal was to not fall off the barstool.

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Oh!  I know what will help!! Caffeine!  So Kat graciously provided us with espresso bean infused vodka…hmmm…maybe I didn’t think this all the way through.

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Alright…real talk between friends?  I have no idea what this one was.  The only reason I know I was still there are the pictures!  But I am going to hazard a guess and say that I liked this one…I usually like pink drinks!

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And finally, the green one I don’t remember!  At some point we learned about infusing the cocktail with bubbles instead of adding a carbonated mixer…that was cool.  And  I must have survived all the way to the end because I came home with this:

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So I am clearly competent to mix you a drink…or drink what you mix…or something!  All said and done it was really a fun class, great instructor in Kat, great group of other participants, and believe it or not, I did learn new stuff too!

After this class, however, I had to go back to the cabin a take a nap before dinner!  Our last dinner on board was in the Main Dining Room and then it was time to leave.

Overall, I really enjoyed this cruise.  There were things that Carnival does better than Royal Caribbean and things that Royal does better.  At the end of the day, I have added a new cruise line to my sailing options!  In fact, I already have two more cruises booked on Carnival.  But next up is my favorite Royal Caribbean ship, Freedom of the Seas in the Mediterranean!!!!

Trying Something New…

As you know, I cruise a lot.  And up until now, I have only cruised with Royal Caribbean.  But thanks to a series of amusing events, I am leaving on Saturday to fly to Ft. Lauderdale to have dinner with my Dear Son and then hop on board the Carnival Conquest on Sunday for a 6 Night cruise that will visit Nassau, Bahamas; Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; and Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos.

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With the exception of Nassau, I have not been to any of the other stops.  I have nothing planned at any of the ports this time, I am just going to wing it.  I do have reservations at the Conquest Steakhouse and Chef’s Table so I will be able to compare those venues to the similar and much beloved venues on Royal Caribbean ships.

I will be trying to give live updates as my wifi access allows, so if you follow me on social media, you will hopefully be able to travel vicariously with me!  Feel free to ask questions or comment as we go along!