At the end of May Katherine and I went our honeymoon cruise to the western Mediterranean. This was the first cruise for the both of us and we picked a great one, aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. The trip took us from
Barcelona to Palma De Mallorca (Spain), Marseilles (France), Florence, Rome and Naples over seven days. We took the high-speed train from nearby Malaga to Barcelona and spent two days there before the cruise departed.
Without question this was
a wonderful trip. We were on one of the biggest and luxurious ships with great weather and had very interesting and scenic shore trips. Everything was well organized and all of the ship’s staff provided great service. My sister Elaine has
been doing cruises all over the world for many years and now I appreciate what she had talked about. We are already planning our next cruise.
This was our first trip to one of the most famous cities in Spain
and it certainly will not be our last. The AVE (high-speed) train service from Malaga was convenient and a nice part of the trip. Spain has the highest rated rail service in Europe and as Americans it still takes some getting used to. Trains run
exactly on time and you travel in comfort at 300 km/hr. We had a nice boutique hotel (The Gotico) right in the old Gothic district near the famous La Rambla Boulevard. The first night (Friday) we had some rain but we still got around to walk through
the old narrow streets and after dinner spent some time in the grand market (La Boqueria) which had more fresh fish on display than we have ever seen anywhere.
On Saturday the weather had cleared and we got some serious steps in, walking
to the famous La Familia Sagrada and then back around to the La Rambla. We toured the marine museum and then walked the waterfront before ending up the evening at the Barcelona Casino. At the end of our cruise the following Sunday we had a few more hours
in the city before we caught the afternoon train back home. On that beautiful day we again had a nice walk through the Plaza Espana to the Catalan Museum of Art, which is a majestic building on a hill overlooking a series of fountains. Our lunch
was in the middle of a street fair which seemed to represent the Barcelona lifestyle. Barcelona is all we had heard about, a beautiful city with wide tree-lined avenues just made for walking and enjoying the sights.
of the Seas
We boarded the ship on Sunday afternoon and found ourselves in a luxurious hotel that somehow floats! Boarding was easy and our balcony stateroom on deck nine (there are sixteen) was just as advertised. As I had
said this was our first cruise so we have nothing to compare this ship to, but it was very impressive. This was the largest (225,000 tons) cruise ship in the world in 2009 when it was launched. The ship is 1,187 feet long and carries 6,680 passengers
with its crew of 2,196! Just to compare, the newest US aircraft carrier, The George H.W. Bush is 1,092 feet long and 97,000 tons. Despite being so large and with so many passengers, we didn’t feel too crowded at all. The dining
experience was very up scale, including the two formal nights in the main dining room. There was plenty of room at all the pools and spas except for our last day coming back to Barcelona. Like many cruise ships today, there is a full size theater
and multiple bars and clubs along with a very pleasant casino. But this class of ship also has an open “Central Park” though the middle of the ship with shops, restaurants and gardens. Actually you had to go up to the top decks to see
the Mediterranean to realize your were on a ship. And, having your own small balcony to use to watch the sea go by was a plus.
Palma De Mallorca
Our first stop was on this largest of the Balearic Islands off the east
coast of Spain. Palma is the largest city and a very popular spot for boaters and well-off tourists. We took the excursion trip through the city and along the coast to the small fishing village of Porto Cristo with the main stop at the Drach caves.
We had a very informative guide on the bus out there and the caves were a real find in that they are very large and deep and highlight a large underground lake where we were entertained by a string quartet on a boat rowed in front of the seated crowd.
It seems to me that Palma would be very crowded during the summer season and according to our guide it is expensive. Probably a better choice for some sun in the winter.
Provence (Marseilles) France
After a pleasant
evening getting used to the ship with another excellent dinner followed by a successful visit to the casino, we tied up at Provence which is the main port for the large industrial city of Marseilles. We left the ship just for a few hours in the afternoon
after sleeping in and getting some pool time. Despite the very windy weather we enjoyed our walk through the old streets (Marseilles is the oldest city in France) and found a small café with a typical great lunch with wine and plenty of photo
ops along the old fort and stony wharfs.
La Specia (Florence) Italy
The next port was one of Italy’s major ones, La Specia. This gives the cruise ships access to Tuscany, including Pisa and our choice for an
excursion, Florence. This was an all day trip to the famous city of the Renaissance. The scenery along the way was out of a brochure and a highlight was the view of the mountain of Carrera marble. This supply of marble since ancient times
looks like it has a lot more left based on the large cut blocks stored in lots for miles along the highway. In Florence we had a guided tour of the city center and then ventured on our own to do some shopping (leather jacket for me!) and lunch. Like
some other famous cities in Europe, the great thing about the walks are that you are treading exactly where famous people such as Michelangelo and the Renaissance painters and the historic Medici family did the same. We didn’t have time to visit
the Uffizi gallery to see some of the most famous sculptures unfortunately. There is always next time, perhaps a stay in Tuscany.
A quiet night at sea was followed by docking at Rome’s seaport, Civitavecchia.
This was another full day excursion for us taking a tour bus to the center of Rome and getting back about 5:30 pm. We opted out of the additional bus stops and walked from the Coliseum to the Tiber. We used the Big Bus option to get around the
city and eventually ended up at St. Peters Square. Both of us had been to Rome before, with Katherine being there just five years ago and myself very many years ago. Rome was must-see as always, just like walking into an ancient history book.
I would say that the difference to me was the much bigger crowds and the limits to access of the major sights. With the exponential increase in tourism and security concerns over the decades one has to buy tickets well in advance and/or join big lines
to get into the Coliseum, St Peters or even just to walk through the Forum. So, next time we would need to get advance tickets and allow for more time.
Naples and Pompeii
Our last port was Naples on Friday. We were up
early at 7 am to see the ship enter the beautiful Naples harbor and tie up with precision among the many cruise ships. I was tied up at Naples harbor once before, during my Navy days on the submarine USS Jack. Yes, a very long time ago!
Our last excursion was our favorite of the trip, which included a long ride along the Amalfi coast and ending up in Pompeii. The cliff side views along the coast were spectacular, a photo op on every turn it seemed. After crawling down the narrow
roads (two busses can’t pass together) we had a picturesque lunch in the village of Amalfi followed by a boat ride further up the coast to Sorrento. The bus met us there for the trip to Pompeii. We had a very informative guided tour through
the main streets of the recovered ancient (79 AD) city and would of liked about two more hours there for sure. Nonetheless, what we saw was truly amazing when you consider how much of the city is there to see and how it is just frozen in time. One of
those places you have to see in person, pictures and TV documentaries just don’t do it.
At Sea to Barcelona
The ship took Friday night and all the next day to return to Barcelona, docking at 5 am on Sunday the 2nd
of June. That gave us a whole day at sea to do some pool time and get some serious walking in (Deck five has a running track around the entire ship). In the evening after our final wonderful dinner, we saw a comedy show and made our final visit to the
casino, where our luck held for one more night. After a nice goodbye breakfast we left the ship about 9:30 and went on to the train station.
What a wonderful vacation! We saw six different cities, only had to unpack once and went to
bed with the sounds of the sea outside our bedroom. And, we had all the amenities of a five star hotel with a staff dedicated to making us happy. As I wrote earlier, now I appreciate why my sister loves the cruising vacations.