Saturday, September 30, 2017

Few Observations About the Royal Princess & Officer’s List

The ship looks amazing!  I swear this ship never ages and so far everywhere  I have looked, it shines.

The crew are so friendly, and helpful and we have really enjoyed seeing some familiar faces.

Demographics on board are younger – guessing average age is late 40s, early 50s.  Not many kids at all. A lot of newer cruisers too.  A lot of first time cruisers, and many Gold and Ruby.  Love seeing that cruising is reaching out to new people.

We tried quite a few times to change out our mini bar but we have never been able to connect with someone from Room Service.  The line just keeps ringing.  We tried all afternoon and until we went to bed and finally gave up.  We will try again tomorrow.

It should be noted that there is a Spanish Government Value Added Tax that is mandated and is 10% tax that is applied to all sales carried out on board while the vessel is in Spanish water or ports, so take note when ordering drinks.

I am saddened to report that Chef David McDonald has left Princess and will now be working for Viking Cruise Lines.  We will miss him, but we are happy for him.

This cruise is 11 days and we have two formal nights.  Both formal nights fall on sea days.

We will loose an hour prior to arriving in Greece and we will gain it back after leaving Greece.

Phoenix Rising is the band on board – who we LOVE.  Max Hixon is a guitar player who sings and is quite good.  AJ Clarke is the pianist in Crooners.  Hawley Magic is still on board too.

Production Shows on this 11 day are: Spectacular Sweet Soul Music, What the World Needs Now, and Colors of the World. 

They are offering the photo package for $245 which gives you all the photos and digital files from this voyage for this one great price.

Officers on board are:

  • Captain Nick Nash
  • Staff Captain Paolo Ansaldi
  • Chief Engineer Fabio Braccelli
  • Hotel General Manager Michael Prasse
  • Cruise Director Billy Hygate
  • Senior Doctor Pieter-Charl Du Toit
  • Customer Services Director Elke Pointecker
  • Staff Engineer Officer Gaetano Guida
  • Executive Housekeeper Marilena Voinea
  • Executive Chef Giovanni Sisto 
  • Maitre d’Hotel Silvio Zampieri
  • Captain Circle Host Collena

Boarding Royal Princess

Today we boarded the Royal Princess for an 11 Night Mediterranean Cruise.  Follow along.

After such a late night yesterday we are shocked when we wake up and it is 10:30!  Wow.  I know we are still adjusting to the time change so I guess our body needed it.  I hear of people who come to Europe from Vancouver for just a week, how do they do it?  9 hours time change - heck I am just getting use to the time now and this is day 5.

We are out of the apartment by noon and are able to easily flag down a taxi.  One thing I should add is that it has been very easy to get taxis whenever we have needed them in Barcelona. 

The taxi ride to the pier was not that long but getting over to the right berth did take a bit longer.  In total the price was around 15 E – note there is an extra 3.50E fee to go to the port and an extra fee of one Euro per bag (all this is disclosed on the window outlining fares).  I should also add that a set price of 39E for transport to or from the port to the airport is stated in the taxi as well as a large sign at the pier.

When we met at the pier a porter comes by and offers to take our bags but we decline because really all we had to do was move them about 25 feet and hand them to the guy collecting the bags.

As soon as you enter the Barcelona check in you go thru security screening.  They are very efficient and it moves very fast with efficient queues with roped off lines.  Boy Fort Lauderdale could learn some things from this place.

We had a bottle of wine in our carry on but nothing was said about it, nor did they have a table to go to disclose the wine bottle. 

We then have to take the escalator upstairs where we are given our health forms and then directed to the check in line.  Which again is well set up and moving very fast.  As soon as we are given our cruise cards we proceeded right on board. Note there was a bit of a bottleneck here as the area was narrow and for some reason groups of people were here, but I am not sure why they were all standing around here.

In total it took us about 15 minutes from taxi to walking on board.  Very impressed.

Once on board we breathe in and we feel that all is right with the world – we are home!

We drop off our bags in our cabin and then head down to the International Café (from now it will be referred to as the IC).

I am happy to announce that they did have the soy milk for my lattes here as promised.

We take a seat in Vines at the window – our usual table and relax.  A short while later Michael comes by and we are just so happy to see him again.  We catch up with him for quite a long time and also we see Ben and a few others.  We really missed our Princess Family!

Around 3 pm we both agree that an Alfredo’s Piazza is in order as this is our go to place on board for embarkation day. And it is very quiet in there as many on board are not aware of it – yet!  We order the Capricosa minus the ham and it is delicious.

It is worth commenting that we don’t set sail until 7 pm and because of this embarkation is fluid and spread out.  Muster drill is at 1645 and we attend ours in the Princess Theater.  I sit beside a nice couple from Ontario.

But again since we don’t set sail till later we are kind of lost as to what to do.  Our bags have not arrived yet – guess they got pushed to the back.  

We do meet some lovely people on board from Prince George and we chat with them for quite a while.  Then we also run into Renee and Brian (the couple we ran into at Sagrada Familia).

The Platinum/Elite Lounge is in Club 6 and we are impressed to see the staff have a page they show us with the new drink features.  We really enjoy the new drinks in the lounge and have definitely found our new favorites.  Oh and Marc the bar staff is still here, he was wonderful in Vines when we were on in April and he certainly is taking care of us here.  

Norma and Allan along with Roy and Sandra make the cocktail hour extra special.  So nice to see our cruise friends again.  It is like no time has passed at all.

We decide to head to the cabin and unpack finally and get settled.  It is now almost 8 pm and we head up to the Horizon Court for a quick bite to eat.  Tonight they are featuring ramen noodle bowls as their theme, but of course they still have a large selection of other things to enjoy too.

I have no problem getting vegetarian items, in fact my pate was full and there were still things I wish I could of eaten.  The artichoke bisque soup was so yummy and they had really good stuffed peppers along with an Asian noodle stir fry with vegetables. 

After dinner we know we are fading and a quick stop into the boutiques on board to see if they have flip flops – Bernie forgot his at home.  Oh this is a good time to mention that even with our detailed preparation we did forget three things on this trip.  Nothing serious and we will survive without flip flops but they are a staple on Bernie’s feet while on board to get around during the day.  The shops did not have any men’s flip flops so looks like he will be out of luck unless we can find something ashore.  Note they will get men’s flip flops once they arrive in the Caribbean.

We are in the cabin by 9 pm and soon thereafter in bed.  I am even too tired to write this blog so that is why I am actually writing it the next day.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Our Thoughts on Our Stay In Barcelona

We had visited Barcelona twice before as a cruise port.  We liked both visits and knew we wanted to come back. This trip allowed us to take advantage of that.  We were here for four nights.

Here are our random thoughts on the city.

  • getting around the city is very easy and economical.  This included the metro line from the airport, taking transit all over the city, affordable and numerous cabs, and the ability to walk to many spots.

  • it has a lot of history, certainly more than I had imagined and we only scratched the surface.
  • staying in an Airbnb was perfect for us as we were able to feel like we were part of the community.
  • it is a young city - by this I mean there were a lot of young people here, but we felt comfortable.
  • very diverse city and really enjoyed this and hearing all the different languages.  This included residence as well as the numerous tourists.
  • lots of options for eating - every type of food can be found here easily.

  • the people are very friendly and helpful and we are especially impressed at how proud they are.

  • the ease of doing tours here is a nice thing but it wasn't in your face like some cities. Here if you were interested in a tour it was easy to find, but was not pushed at you at every corner.  And I highly recommend doing at least one guided tour here to learn more about this great city.

  • great night life - this is good and bad, good if you want to be in it, but bad if it is happening right outside your door.
  • it was easy to find affordable places to eat and drink - especially away from the tourist areas


  • It is a tourist city that is busy. A lot of locals live in the city but many are being pushed out because of the gentrification (like in Gothic quarter) where apartments and Mom and Pop shops now have big brand name stores in them.  
  • Petty crime is an issue here and we were warned numerous times about keeping wallets/phones/cameras protected.  Although we had no issues at all and we used our pacsafe knapsack that is theft resistant all the time. Note petty crime is in every major tourist city not just here.
  • Here, like in many cities poverty is an issue and it is found here too.
  • For some reason men think it is okay to just urinate everywhere.  And they are not shy about it at all.  Usually we witnessed 3 or 4 men a day just whipping it out and urinating against a wall, garbage, well you name it. So this could be an issue you may need to explain to your children.  And the smell, well that speaks for itself, but it is everywhere!
  • Lastly, smoking was a big issue here (and it is in many European cities). Smoking is not allowed inside, but it is okay just outside the door or on the terrace.  So it is hard to get away from. Sadly many (well almost all) young people seem to smoke here. 
In the end we loved it here and would return in a heart beat.  Four days was not enough.  There is so much more we wish we could of seen or do.  We will be back.

Last Night In Barcelona - Dark History Tour

Tonight is a little different.  We are doing a tour.  A tour that is called Dark History Night Walking Tour in Barcelona that we booked thru Viator.

The tour starts at the Arc de Triomf - so we take the Metro right to the park and it takes maybe 10 minutes.  We take the L2 line to Universitate and then the L1 line to Arc de Triomf stop.

This is a new area for us so we stroll down the park enjoying the sites.

We have arrange to meet up with Katrina and Rob (friends from home) for dinner.  They choose a place that is close to the meeting spot called Elsa and Fred

It is a lovely place where we share a bottle of wine (ironically called Fred) and tapas. 

We have so enjoyed seeing and spending time with Katrina and getting to know her partner Rob better.

After the meal we find a bar and sit out on the terrace and enjoy some drinks. 

We meet Eric, our tour guide and along with the others on the tour we head off at 9 pm.

Eric is a great story teller, as he addresses us he makes direct contact and draws us in.  He made a point of connecting with all of us.

He included each of us in his stories, even giving us roles when discussing the Spanish Inquisition.  The story carries on at each stop weaving the tale as we go along.

The tour includes projected images on the walls along with descriptions and real pictures of what he is talking about.

Eric makes a point to engage us and was just perfect when it came to drawing us in and keeping it interesting.

We were surprised at areas he took us to, as many of them were new to us and we wish we had another day in Barcelona to see them during the day.  Another reason to come back.

After two hours the tour ends with a final judgment (you have to do the tour to find out as I don't want to ruin the surprise). 

Here is a link to the tour via Viator.  

After the tour we jump in a cab and we are returned home very quickly.

Tonight we reflect on our time in Barcelona - which I will put in a blog 

Barcelona Day 3 - Gothic Quarter

After a good sleep we are up and showered and out the door by just before 9.  

Today we had pre reserved a Gothic Quarter Walking Tour thru Viator at 9:30.

We walk to Las Rambla and then into the Gothic Quarter (only about 15 min walk from our place).

The meeting point is at Placa Sant Jaume which is the stately central square of Barcelona.  It has the two top governmental buildings -- the Palau de la Generalist with houses the government of Catalunya.  And across from it the Barcelona City Hall.

This street was the town's forum or central square and Jose our guide helps to paint a picture of what this area was like back in Roman time.  

Our next stop is the Temple of Agustus which sits on the highest spot in the Barri Gothic at 16.9 meters.  It is here that the ancient Romans founded the town around 15 BC.  They built a fort on the hill top.  

Inside a building are the restored four columns of the imposing Roman temple.  They were part of the ancient town's biggest structure, a temple dedicated to Emperor Augustus.  Today they are on their original site, which later was built on top of - and now a private residence is.

We continue to the Sant Felip Neri square which now serves as a playground for the elementary school.  The Church of Felip Neri is pocketed with bomb damage from the Civil War. You actually can see the damage. 

The Nova Square boast two Roman Towers that once guarded the entrance gate of the ancient Roman city.  At one time the Roman Wall was 25 feet high and a mile around with 74 towers. It enclosed an area of 30 acres and had a population of 4,000.

Right beside is the Cathedral of Barcelona which was started in the 13th century and completed six centuries later.  The facade was built at the end of the 19th century by a single person who wanted the facade to be more elaborate than the original (built simple because they ran out of money) because of the world exposition.

You can go in for free (note the dress code) and it is a lovely church but it pales in comparison to so many other churches we have seen from this time period.  But worth a visit.

We duck into a beautiful serene garden which is the former garden of the royal palace of the Counts of Barcelona.

Jose leads us into what was once the residence of the kings of Catalonia and Aragon from the 11th century and into a stunning - but simple chapel.  The ceiling is breathtaking, unfortunately I could not do it justice with the picture.

The tour wraps up where we started and we thank Jose for a great tour.  Even though we had done a walking tour of the area ourselves a few years ago it really helped revisiting it with Jose and having his expertise to expand our knowledge of the area.

After the tour we decide to visit a part of the Gothic quarter we only saw in passing the other night.  

We find a small cafe that serves the hot chocolate and churros.  The "hot chocolate" is more like chocolate pudding that you dip the churro in to.  Very good but very rich.  In the end neither of us could finish our cup of chocolate and probably should of just have ordered one cup to share.

I really want to head over to the Boqueria (the market) that we visited two years ago.  Of course it is noon and the place is packed with mostly tourist.  

Here you can find almost anything! Lots of places for a quick bite or for a nice meal for later.  Check out the fish, fruit, vegetables, meats etc etc.

We had already decided that we would go back to BioCenter for lunch (which we visited on our food tour).

They have a meal deal for lunch which includes soup or salad, an entree and dessert for under 11 E.  Also they have organic beer and that Bernie loves, and I love the wine too as it has no sulfates.

We ask the staff for advice on a place to buy some port for a friend and they direct us two blocks down to a small family run liqour store that has a decent selection.  The man recommends a bottle called "old friends" port and we think it is appropriately named so we get it.  In chatting with us his Mom comes out and offers us some sweet (sorry not sure of the name and insists we have some).  It was good sort of like a nougat.  They kept trying to give us more but we graciously decline and said goodbye and commented on the way out that this is what travelling is all about, connecting with the locals.

Back at the apartment early -- around 1400 -- as it has been a long day so far and we have an evening tour planned and want to rest up for that.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Help Me - Questions About Things in Our Apartment

Okay, as you know we are staying in an Airbnb apartment.  And this is Europe - Spain to be exact and things are different here.

First the first floor (or main floor) is not the first floor here.  First floor is really what we would call second floor.  So our apartment on the 4th floor is actually five flights up!  

Not an issue going down, but I do tend to get dizzy go around and around!  But going up, a totally different story.

Thankfully there is an elevator. I made sure there was an elevator when we reserved it.  Who wants to lug our suitcases up five flights.

Bernie and I squeezed in the elevator

But boy, this elevator was installed after the building was built and put in the stairway.  Small!  We can both fit in it, but that is it. If we bring our bags we each have to travel separately.  But we are not complaining!

Check out the old buzzer system.  A new more modern one is now in place but pretty cool looking.  And these doors - huge,  and check out the brass security screen.  I feel like I am in a cofessional.

The stairs are made of marble and over time they have worn away with all the footsteps - pretty cool.

We are happy there is a washing machine, but we have yet to figure out how to turn the dryer on.  We press the buttons but it never turns on, so we are drying clothes on our outside rack.  (Added later - thanks to my great followers we soon learned that it is just a washing machine, silly me.)

The shower stall looks like a time capsule and I joke with Bernie when he gets in that it is time to go into the future (aka shower).  But joking aside, it is hard to maneuver around and there is no soap rack so bending over to pick up the soap is an obstacle course in itself.  I will never complain about the size of showers on the ship again.  But Pierre if you are reading you need to install a soap/shampoo shelf or rack.

Now help me - what is this box attached to the wall in the bathroom?  I am guessing a heater, but not sure.  (Added later, yes it is a heater.)

Overall it is a nice little place.  Much more affordable than a hotel by at least 50% and it is great having more space, a balcony, kitchen, free wifi and laundry.  Not to mention being part of a community.

Remember if you are thinking of booking an Airbnb here is a code that will save you some money off your first booking.

Sagrada Familia and More

We woke to the alarm clock and we sort of cursed it.  Boy we are not as young as we use to be.

Today's plan is to visit Sagrada Familia and then who knows what.

After enjoying breakfast and showering we were out the door at 9 am.

Prior to leaving home we had prereserved our entrance tickets and a guided tour for Sagrada Familia.  Read more about how to do that here

Our meeting time is 9:45 for the 10 am English tour.  We take the metro right to the Sagrada Familia and we find a coffee shop and sit and relax and enjoy the caffeine. 

When we arrive we find the entrance for the pre reserved tickets (it is not clearly marked, but just ask someone).  Note if you do not have pre reserved tickets you will probably be out of luck everything was sold out until around 1700 that day.  

When you enter, they check your bags at security check points.

In fact this might be a good time to say that we have noticed a much higher police presence since the last time we were here last year.  I am sure it has to do with the recent terroist attack on Las Ramblas.

We are directed to the meeting point for our tour and I am guessing there were about 25 in the tour.  Thankfully we are given headsets and transmitters so we can easily hear the guide Maria.

I am very impressed with Sagrada Famillia.  I really did not have an preconceived ideas about it and because we did a detailed tour we learned a lot.  Note Rick Steves also has a great guide you can download for free and listen to when you arrive.

The tour was about 45 minutes and we both walked away with a greater understanding of Gaudi and the artist he was. 

Oh almost forgot to mention that while in the church I was approached by a lady and at first I thought she was someone who followed my blog (as that happens often and I appreciate meeting followers).  She introduces herself to me as Karin Murray's sister Renee!  Wow small world.  I knew Karin's sister was going to be on the cruise but really was not expecting to see her until the cruise.  Bernie later said that he had noticed her looking at us and now we know why.  We love Karin and John and look forward to getting to know Renee and her partner on the trip.

After the church we decided to walk to La Pedrera - Gaudi's apartment building he designed. We decided to just look at it from the outside as the price was high and we really were not in the right frame of mind.

We strolled towards Placa de Catalunya and we noticed a lot of young people with Catalunya flags and signs.  Looks like a march is about to happen.

We head to the Metro station there and Bernie enters the turnstile with the 10 ticket pass but when I try to it says the ticket is defective!  When I finally find an attendant she gives me a new pass that has 5 tickets left (which is exactly what was left on our pass).

We get off at Placa Espanya to go to the large shopping mall called Arenas de Barcelona. 

This shopping mall is in the old Barcelona Bull Fight arena. It is stunning and there is a lot in this mall.  Yes there are stores and food stalls, but there is also a theater and on the roof there is a walkway all around.  Beautiful views of the city and numerous restaurants to sit and enjoy the view too.

It is now around 1 pm and we start to walk down the large street and see that the police have closed off the street.  In the far distance we can see the people.  Thousands!  All young people.  I am just guessing but I would say there were at least 5,000 students marching for indendence for Catalunya.  

I was so impressed by the crowds and their peaceful protest. Often people give young people a hard time but I have to say that these people renewed my faith in them and the future.  

I am not sure how the outcome of the referendum on Sunday will affect them.  The country did not recognize the results of the last referendum and they are arresting the leaders of this current referendum so even if the results are a high percentage of yes for independence I am not sure if it will be recognized.  But the people are speaking, lets hope their leaders will listen and that no civil war breaks out.

We are needing a small bite to eat and nothing beats sitting at a Bodega and enjoying some tapas and drinks. 

We take a seat at Sant Antoni Glorios and the servers were so outstanding.  We stumbled with our Spanish and they helped when needed.

Sangria for me, beer for Bernie and some light taps for our meal.  Artichokes, asparagus, potatoes and some bread with crushed tomoatoes.  Just right.  This should tie us over until dinner.

Back at the apartment and Bernie is napping today and I am writing the blog.

Thanks for following.  I appreciate all the kind comments and try to answer all of the comments people make to each blog as soon as possible.