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Old 02-03-2012, 02:37 PM   #46
MinnieDiva
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So, there's much discussion on the boards about Barcelona already: When to arrive, where to stay, what to do! Here's my take on what we did and what I'm likely to change this time:

As we drove down to CA from WA with our cats so my dad could cat-sit while we were gone, we ended up flying out of San Francisco. I booked tickets on Swiss International Airlines because at that time, you could check 2 bags in coach! If you've looked yet at international 2nd bag charges, you know that's huge! Sadly, they have since changed that and now you can only check the standard 1 bag. As we got to the ticket desk, they were offering upgrades to business class for $600/ticket. After going thru security, we went back and took advantage of this!

We got to go to the lounge before boarding! See the wine? I'm a nervous flyer and I figure it was medicinal, right? Anyway, our flight departed at about 7:30pm, if I remember correctly. We connected in Zurich with about a 1hour 50 minute layover (I think) which was plenty of time for us to get thru their customs. We landed in Barcelona the next day (we left 8/15, arrived 8/16, the cruise began 8/18) about 8pm local time. We took a taxi (easy to get and plentiful, different options for larger parties, cost about $40 E, I think), and checked into Le Meridian (one of DCL's hotels, but booked on our own to a HUGE savings...) for 2 nights. This was our room:

I wouldn't stay there again, for a few reasons. One, it's pricey. Two, it's right on La Rambla. Isn't that good, you ask? Well, sort of. La Rambla, while nice to see, is loud and VERY VERY crowded. It was great at 5am, but at 8pm it was chaotic and overwhelming. When you see locals guarding their possessions.....the long and short of it is to go prepared. Three, the food options at the hotel were $$$$$. All our grand ideas of trying tapas bar after tapas bar went out the window when out then 7 year old was tired, cranky, and not in the mood to try anything. The night we got there we ate at the Corte Inglas (sp?) department store, where the food was recognizable to a 7 y/o's palate.
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Old 02-03-2012, 02:50 PM   #47
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Originally Posted by LadyOfNawlins View Post
Did any of you do a trip report for your last Med cruise? I would love to hear how the private tour went.
I think mindelmouse did a diary of sorts, but none of us did one we posted on-line. I didn't start out to do a trip report of the last trip, but it kinda a looks like that is what I'm ending up doing! I'll go into detail eventually, but we selected a tour operator based on reviews from the 2007 Med cruisers. Working with the company was fabulous. They replied quickly to emails (taking in the time differences, of course), and we'd arranged 16 people in 2 mini-buses. I think it was 1000E per van??? Or total?? Total, I think, with an additional $150E for an art historian to lead us around the Vatican. THAT is where we had issues, as the woman was a last-minute substitute and her attitude put us off big-time. She hurried us thru the Vatican, and in retrospect, we completely understood why (we'd never have gotten to the good stuff if we'd dawdled..) but it was HOW she did it. She had a VERY thick Italian accent and was difficult to understand, let alone to be able to understand her at the speed at which she spoke. And when asked to speak slower, well...that didn't go well either. We were using an earphone setup, but still...hard to hear...

I did email my concerns to the company, being delicate in my phrasing. I nicely suggested that perhaps she'd be more useful to Italians who could speak her language than to Americans. The owner was most apologetic and stated that she was in fact a replacement for the originally scheduled historian who'd fell ill that morning. And....we were the 2nd people to complain about her and that in light of that, they would likely no longer be using her services.

As far as the rest of Rome went, the driver took us from sight to sight and instructed us in how best to see the coliseum, etc, and would give commentary as we drove and answered all questions, but did not accompany us to the sights themselves. There is a special certification/license a guide must have in Italy to take you to the sight and tour you around it.

Jel0511 used the same company in La Spezia to go to Pisa...Lori or Mindy, how did that tour go??
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Old 02-03-2012, 03:29 PM   #48
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Originally Posted by MinnieDiva View Post
Didn't the last minute airfare kill you? That's what I would be worried about if we were to try and wait until the last minute...

Oh, and we lived in CO Springs for 8 years prior to moving to WA. Did you know....snow can actually fall vertically, not horizontally??



Looks like you're on the Dream in 2 weeks! Have fun! Our DD was with us in 2010 and had a great time! A lot of the sites were over her head, but when she was cranky and out of it at Pompeii, I related it to dead people and she suddenly got into it!
Thank you, I know we will And, this may be the best tip EVER about traveling with a kiddo! I guarantee you it will be used!
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Old 02-03-2012, 03:36 PM   #49
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Originally Posted by MinnieDiva View Post
I'm going to let Mindelmouse pipe in about her family .


So, this is what a Disboards group looks like when total strangers decide to share a private tour of Rome:



It worked out fairly well, but we learned that in Italy, there is a difference between a tour-guide, and a hired driver. I'll get to that later unless someone has a burning need to know about it now. Feel free to ask questions....
Just a cavaet about this picture....I weighed about 60 lbs less in the first set of pictures than I did on this med group shot. Not the best shot, but I understand why it's here.

My family...what to say...DH (Jim) is gregarious, seems to know a lot about lots of things and loves to travel and talk to people. Sam is very curious and impulsive...loves to be part of adult conversation and make his opinions known and oh yes...likes coffee...ask him about French Roast.

Haylee is my shy child. Once she makes a friend though, she's very loyal and kind.
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Old 02-03-2012, 03:47 PM   #50
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Originally Posted by MinnieDiva View Post
So, there's much discussion on the boards about Barcelona already: When to arrive, where to stay, what to do! Here's my take on what we did and what I'm likely to change this time:

As we drove down to CA from WA with our cats so my dad could cat-sit while we were gone, we ended up flying out of San Francisco. I booked tickets on Swiss International Airlines because at that time, you could check 2 bags in coach! If you've looked yet at international 2nd bag charges, you know that's huge! Sadly, they have since changed that and now you can only check the standard 1 bag. As we got to the ticket desk, they were offering upgrades to business class for $600/ticket. After going thru security, we went back and took advantage of this!

We got to go to the lounge before boarding! See the wine? I'm a nervous flyer and I figure it was medicinal, right? Anyway, our flight departed at about 7:30pm, if I remember correctly. We connected in Zurich with about a 1hour 50 minute layover (I think) which was plenty of time for us to get thru their customs. We landed in Barcelona the next day (we left 8/15, arrived 8/16, the cruise began 8/18) about 8pm local time. We took a taxi (easy to get and plentiful, different options for larger parties, cost about $40 E, I think), and checked into Le Meridian (one of DCL's hotels, but booked on our own to a HUGE savings...) for 2 nights. This was our room:

I wouldn't stay there again, for a few reasons. One, it's pricey. Two, it's right on La Rambla. Isn't that good, you ask? Well, sort of. La Rambla, while nice to see, is loud and VERY VERY crowded. It was great at 5am, but at 8pm it was chaotic and overwhelming. When you see locals guarding their possessions.....the long and short of it is to go prepared. Three, the food options at the hotel were $$$$$. All our grand ideas of trying tapas bar after tapas bar went out the window when out then 7 year old was tired, cranky, and not in the mood to try anything. The night we got there we ate at the Corte Inglas (sp?) department store, where the food was recognizable to a 7 y/o's palate.
Now we started out a bit differently. We of course live on the opposite side of the country from Kim, so we left out of Newark and had a direct flight to Barcelona. Our flight was the evening of 8/16 and we arrived in Barcelona the morning of 8/17. On our flight were two other families that we had met here on the boards. Since we were all going to different hotels and knew none of us could check in yet, we set up a 4 hour tour to show us the highlights of Barcelona. We set up a tour with Barcelona Day Tours for the 9 of us in a van and it was less than $100 per person. They picked us and our lugguge up at the airport, toured us around Barcelona and dropped us at each of our hotels when done. So we go the tour and airport transportation handled in one fell swoop and they were very good. The best part of this tour was that when we were at La Sagrada Familia this woman came running at me calling my name....and who was it....Kim...that's where we met in person for the first time.

We stayed at the APSIS Porta Marina, which is not in Las Ramblas. It was much quieter where we were. The rooms were new and modern and the biggest selling point was that they had family rooms which slept four and it only cost about $130 per night. We were about 6 blocks from the beach and about a 20 minute walk from La Sagrada Familia. There wasn't much to do around the hotel, but I wouldn't mind staying there again.
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Old 02-03-2012, 03:53 PM   #51
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Originally Posted by MinnieDiva View Post
I think mindelmouse did a diary of sorts, but none of us did one we posted on-line. I didn't start out to do a trip report of the last trip, but it kinda a looks like that is what I'm ending up doing! I'll go into detail eventually, but we selected a tour operator based on reviews from the 2007 Med cruisers. Working with the company was fabulous. They replied quickly to emails (taking in the time differences, of course), and we'd arranged 16 people in 2 mini-buses. I think it was 1000E per van??? Or total?? Total, I think, with an additional $150E for an art historian to lead us around the Vatican. THAT is where we had issues, as the woman was a last-minute substitute and her attitude put us off big-time. She hurried us thru the Vatican, and in retrospect, we completely understood why (we'd never have gotten to the good stuff if we'd dawdled..) but it was HOW she did it. She had a VERY thick Italian accent and was difficult to understand, let alone to be able to understand her at the speed at which she spoke. And when asked to speak slower, well...that didn't go well either. We were using an earphone setup, but still...hard to hear...

I did email my concerns to the company, being delicate in my phrasing. I nicely suggested that perhaps she'd be more useful to Italians who could speak her language than to Americans. The owner was most apologetic and stated that she was in fact a replacement for the originally scheduled historian who'd fell ill that morning. And....we were the 2nd people to complain about her and that in light of that, they would likely no longer be using her services.

As far as the rest of Rome went, the driver took us from sight to sight and instructed us in how best to see the coliseum, etc, and would give commentary as we drove and answered all questions, but did not accompany us to the sights themselves. There is a special certification/license a guide must have in Italy to take you to the sight and tour you around it.

Jel0511 used the same company in La Spezia to go to Pisa...Lori or Mindy, how did that tour go??
Lori can speak to the booking of the tour, because she handled all that. As for the tour itself, it's very funny. Lori, please correct me if you disagree, but I believe we had very different experiences. We had two cars of people I believe 13 in all. Lori was in one car and I was in the other. As we found out in Italy, when you book these tours, you are hiring a driver. To actually be a tour guide the person has to have a license and you have to hire them to go with you. However, if you have a driver that is knowledgable and gregarious, they will be a tour guide of sorts. My driver talked the entire tour and gave us great information, and from what I was told, Lori's driver, not so much.

We did love our tour of Florence and Pisa and yes I climbed the tower...barely made it in the allotted time, but thanks to the encouragement of my daughter I did it. This time though, I'm in much better shape..should we go back, it should be a piece of cake.

I do have a private trip report/diary that I wrote while there. I never published it, it is very detailed with our daily activities. I'll download it to Kim and see if we can use any of it here.
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Old 02-03-2012, 06:36 PM   #52
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thank you for starting this! We are on the 2nd Greece cruise and my husband is already tired of my talking about it. I can point to you and say- see here's someone more obsessed than me!

We went on the transatlantic in 2007 and stayed at a very decent apartment style hotel in Barcelona. My only complaint was the distance to La Rambla. After reading your experience at the Meridien, I realize that I need to think about my location carefully. You offered an interesting perspective.

We are beyond excited about this itinerary. I worked for a tour operator for years that specialized in Greece and Turkey. As such I traveled there often. It's been years since I've been back. I honestly can't wait.....

But I have to..over 500 days..it's reports like this one that will make waiting endurable.

happy planning,

joanne
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Old 02-03-2012, 06:43 PM   #53
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Lori can speak to the booking of the tour, because she handled all that. As for the tour itself, it's very funny. Lori, please correct me if you disagree, but I believe we had very different experiences. We had two cars of people I believe 13 in all. Lori was in one car and I was in the other. As we found out in Italy, when you book these tours, you are hiring a driver. To actually be a tour guide the person has to have a license and you have to hire them to go with you. However, if you have a driver that is knowledgable and gregarious, they will be a tour guide of sorts. My driver talked the entire tour and gave us great information, and from what I was told, Lori's driver, not so much.

We did love our tour of Florence and Pisa and yes I climbed the tower...barely made it in the allotted time, but thanks to the encouragement of my daughter I did it. This time though, I'm in much better shape..should we go back, it should be a piece of cake.

I do have a private trip report/diary that I wrote while there. I never published it, it is very detailed with our daily activities. I'll download it to Kim and see if we can use any of it here.
Yes, I did have a different experience in our van. It seemed like our driver spoke minimal english so he didn't speak at all to us. All communication came from mindy's driver, like when we were dropped off and what time to meet up, etc. As for booking, as Kim explained, she booked our Rome tour through the same company, it was fairly easy and the responded quickly to questions. I think we might use them again in Rome and Naples, but we'll hire a private guide as well.

I wanted to let you know my experience at Le Meridien with completely different than Kim's. We were located at the end of the hall and our room was NOTHING but quiet. Now, we are used to city noises while sleeping because we did live near NYC for a few years. My kids didn't complain one bit about the noise.

I"m contributing so much on a pre-trip I'm not even going on!!!! We're sailing on 6/27/13 to Venice and I can't wait for my authentic gondola ride!!!!!
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Old 02-03-2012, 09:07 PM   #54
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Thank you for doing this. My family is going on the 12 nighter in mid July of next year and can't wait! I will be hunting around for a hotel room in Barcelona that fits a family of four as our twin nine year old daughters will be coming with us.
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Old 02-03-2012, 09:46 PM   #55
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Thank you for doing this. My family is going on the 12 nighter in mid July of next year and can't wait! I will be hunting around for a hotel room in Barcelona that fits a family of four as our twin nine year old daughters will be coming with us.
My boy/girl twins were 9 when we went last time and they had a blast. As I said - our hotel had family rooms and was reasonably priced. It had a queen side bed and a separate room with a kitchenettte and queen size pull out.
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Old 02-03-2012, 10:02 PM   #56
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thank you for starting this! We are on the 2nd Greece cruise and my husband is already tired of my talking about it. I can point to you and say- see here's someone more obsessed than me!

We went on the transatlantic in 2007 and stayed at a very decent apartment style hotel in Barcelona. My only complaint was the distance to La Rambla. After reading your experience at the Meridien, I realize that I need to think about my location carefully. You offered an interesting perspective.

We are beyond excited about this itinerary. I worked for a tour operator for years that specialized in Greece and Turkey. As such I traveled there often. It's been years since I've been back. I honestly can't wait.....

But I have to..over 500 days..it's reports like this one that will make waiting endurable.

happy planning,

joanne
Your'e welcome! I am a little obsessed, I guess. And to clarify a bit, my room at Le Meridian was not noisy, just the streetmosphere. I still want to be centrally located, but perhaps a bit off the main drag...

Quote:
Originally Posted by tinkerbelltwins View Post
Thank you for doing this. My family is going on the 12 nighter in mid July of next year and can't wait! I will be hunting around for a hotel room in Barcelona that fits a family of four as our twin nine year old daughters will be coming with us.
We took the train over to Mindelmouse's hotel, and while it was very nice, it was not centrally located. In doing some preliminary research, I have found a few options, but need to get a map and plot them out to see where they fall in the grand scheme of things. This time, we'll need something that will fit 4 people, or will have to resort to 2 rooms.
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Old 02-03-2012, 10:07 PM   #57
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We took the train over to Mindelmouse's hotel, and while it was very nice, it was not centrally located. In doing some preliminary research, I have found a few options, but need to get a map and plot them out to see where they fall in the grand scheme of things. This time, we'll need something that will fit 4 people, or will have to resort to 2 rooms.
And this is why we stayed where we did...finding the rooms that held 4 was not easy. From what I remember, the Novotel does, but I think that was farther out then our hotel. It was harder to find hotels last time, I think, because we didn't really understand the lay of the land. I think we have better perspective this time to know where the hotels actually are.
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Old 02-03-2012, 10:24 PM   #58
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So, to continue....(I got to go unsupervised to JoAnn Fabrics today...)...so I want to finish talking about Barcelona:

So after checking in after our flight and getting something to eat, we drag ourselves back to the hotel to crash. Even though I did not sleep on the plane (never do...but I work nightshifts occasionally and can power them out pretty well...), I was awake by 4:30am. So was DH and DD. There was NO going back to sleep. So, we got up, showered, and headed out. We longingly passed a closed Starbucks and continued down Las Ramblas. There was no activity at this hour. None. We walked all the way down and saw the Columbus Monument:


And had a beautiful view of the sunrise over the water:


And eventually walked all over (3+miles, I guess), back up La Rambla to Starbucks. Because our picky kid knew what it was.

Later that day (no nap), we did a fat tire bike tour: http://fattirebiketours.com/barcelona
which was VERY cool!!! We got to ride all around town with an American guide and get the history with all the sites we visited. Now, DD was 7, so she rode attached to DH's bike on a little attachment that had handlebars and pedals, but really didn't require her to do much:

We had a lot of fun on this! And, at La Sagrada Familia, we ran into MindelMouse and crew (I saw her DD's red hair and looked for other familiar people..we'd shared pics beforehand).

Our tour took us out to the beach, where we had some lunch, then continued on. After finishing, we eventually went back to the city cathedral (now that DH had a firm grasp on the layout of the town) which was free after maybe 5pm? and went inside. Gorgeous!!:

But either wear something that covers your shoulders or bring some change to "rent a scarf for about $1-2E.
Dinner that night? Hard Rock Cafe. Yup. DH and I were losing the tapas battle. Oh well...sleep came long and hard that night, and we woke up jet-lag free and ready to cruise! We'd booked transfers thru DCL (can't do them from the airport unless you book the hotel thru them, and believe me, it was something like $700/night to do so. No joke). So, we had no problem checking in at the DCL desk at Le Meridian and waiting to go to the terminal: On the bus!


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Old 02-03-2012, 10:34 PM   #59
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And this is why we stayed where we did...finding the rooms that held 4 was not easy. From what I remember, the Novotel does, but I think that was farther out then our hotel. It was harder to find hotels last time, I think, because we didn't really understand the lay of the land. I think we have better perspective this time to know where the hotels actually are.
Isn't that the truth! I feel so much more confident this time around! I'd never been to Europe before this, so I had no idea what to expect!!!

So...what do I want to do this time? (what I want to do and what the consensus will be may be 2 separate things....)

I think that it would be fun to tour Barcelona proper using the GoCars:
http://www.gocartours.es/barcelona/
Jel0511 did this and had a blast, and it looks fun! The other thing(s) are Monserrat and Monjuic. I've seen a tour that does Monserrat and a Cava winery....mmmmmmm.......Monjuic seems like it would be easy to get to....but more research needs to be done. I figure that Barcelona and Monserrat are 2 separate days. If I had my druthers, I'd fly Swiss again and use the same route, then would have the time to do one pre-cruise, the other post-cruise.

I really want to try tapas as well as xcholoate (sp?) con churros!! I consider myself a foodie, and feel gypped that I didn't get to try them last time!

And today.......I bought a spanish language program at Costco. The whole family is going to try and do this together. I'll let you know how it goes....
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Old 02-03-2012, 10:46 PM   #60
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By the way, I never finished up the family introduction, since my pics were too big and I got cut off. So:

For those of you with spouses that are cruising doubters: My DH's previous experiences with cruising was courtesy of the US government. There was no turndown service, chocolate on the pillows, and/or stabilizers to ensure a smooth ride. He was disinterested in planning until a few months before. He'd politely listen to my ramblings and probably tune me out. He thought I was chatting online with a bunch of wackos and was skeptical at best at our sharing a tour with them. We joined those wackos on our second cruise and have done non-DCL travel with Mindelmouse and family. We'll see all of them this summer as we travel to NJ/NY for vacation. You never know when you'll find lifelong friends.

DH is a firefighter and what I call an A+ personality. Why A+? Because he's more detail-oriented than I am (if that's possible and that's the nice way of phrasing this), but in different areas. He is an outdoor fiend, hikes, bikes, runs, and reluctantly swims. I am a nurse (occasionally...don't work a lot, sadly..) and I run, swim, and sew. DD is in 3rd grade currently and is an amazing swimmer! We have 2 cats that tolerate our dog. We live in a tiny town and love to cook, eat, and drink really good wine!

While a handful of y'all have posted, I see a lot of views. Speak up, say hi, and either ask questions or give me ideas!! I am sooooooo excited to do this trip again!!

ok. that is all for now. goodnight..
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