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Old 06-16-2013, 07:08 AM   #1
lilpooh108
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June 1 Med - A Merry Band of Invalids (London, Barca, Med Cruise, Paris)

A Little Bit About Us

Hi! I originally had NOT planned on doing a full TR due to time constraints, but I realized that it would be good to document this amazing trip that we had!

In Jan 2012, DH, my bro, my SIL and I were having lunch and talked about doing a Mediterranean cruise. While my bro & SIL would have preferred to go on the NCL Epic (new ship, new facilities, same itinerary, lower price), DH and I wanted to do Disney. My bro & SIL (whom I will call "PB&J" from this point on) were kind enough to accommodate our preferences so Disney was ON! We booked 3 cabins for:

11A -- PB&J
11B sideways -- DH, Me, DD#1 and DD#2 (who I'm referring to as Baby Ems)
10A SPH -- Mom, Dad and Aunty

SOOOO much happened to each of us during the planning of this trip. In April 2012 I gave birth to Baby Ems. In Jan 2013 I had open hernia mesh repair due to a hernia I developed during that pregnancy. The mesh didn't agree with my body (or my nerves). Prior to the trip I had nerve block injections and radiofrequency nerve ablation (ouch) to alleviate the pain. I couldn't walk much from January 2013 onwards and was fearful that I couldn't make this trip. But I was determined!! The nerve ablation did not appear to work at first, but during the trip I realized that I was walking WAY more than I could have prior to the procedure. I brought along my prescribed Norco, but I didn't want to take it all the time. When I was in severe pain, I usually took a 1 pill and combined it with Motrin. I noticed in Italy that heat and humidity really helped with the pain. When it was cold and raining in Paris, the severe pain returned. I have a consultation on Monday to discuss mesh removal. We'll see what happens.

In April 2013, my dad developed a hernia from helping me continuously with my 2 kids. He has a surgery scheduled at Shouldice Center in Toronto (non-mesh repair) in July. He was also very concerned about mobility issues, but in general we both did OK.

In May 2013, just before the trip, my SIL found out she was 6 weeks pregnant. Yay! But uh oh!

This merry band of bandits just became a merry band of invalids. We decided to take each day slowly and just see what happens. What will happen? Will we make it? Here's a hint--one of us ends up in the hospital during this trip and it's NOT who you'd think! I will link each day of the TR to this first post as I finish them.

Day 1 - Travel to LHR

Day 2 - Arrival in London

Day 3 - London (British Museum, Ceremony of the Keys)

Day 4 - London (Westminster Abbey, Hospital Visit & Covent Garden)

Day 5 - RIB London Voyages, Shenanigans at Gatwick & Flight to Barcelona

Days 6 & 7 - Gaudi or Seafood? Duh! Eating Our Way Through Barcelona

Day 8 -- Hellooooooooo Mickey Ship!!!!!! Part 1

Day 8 -- Hellooooooooo Mickey Ship!!!!!! Part 2

Day 9 -- First Sea Day

Day 10 -- Villefranche (Monaco, Monte Carlo, Eze & Palo)

Day 11 -- Portofino & Santa Margherita (La Spezia)

Day 12 -- Rome - A Perfect Day

Day 13 -- Baby Ems v. The Sleazy Guy

Day 14 -- The Last Sea Day & Scrambling To Finish Our FE Gifts

Day 15 -- Disembarkation, Parc Guell & More Yummy Tapas in Barcelona

Days 16, 17 & 18 -- Following in Gaspard & Lisa's Footsteps: Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower & Notre Dame

Home Again & What I'd Do Differently


Here are some pics to start us off! Fave pic of the trip:


Mickey ship during tender:


Rome:



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Old 06-16-2013, 07:10 AM   #2
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Day 1 Travel to LHR

How We Planned - We bought 5 one-way tix to London Heathrow for $472 each. The plan was to use miles to fly back from Paris. I was shopping at Target when my brother called frantically. He's always so cryptic when he calls. He'd been living on Kayak.com trying to help plan this trip.

Bro: "Where are you?"
Me: "I'm at Target, why?"
Bro: "Are you near a computer?"
Me: "Dude, I'm at Target."
Bro: "One way tix, under $500, go go go!"
I force my toddler out of the princess aisle and start walking towards the car. Brother calls back

Bro: "%($#, prices just went up!"
Me: "What do you mean?"
Bro: "Prices on those tix just went up!"
Me: "In the last 3 minutes?!"
Bro: "Yes!! Hurry!"
Me: "Let me ask you, are you obsessively refreshing the page?"
Bro: "Um....yea...why?"
Me: "Well I bet the search engine now thinks everyone wants to book that flight! Stop driving up the prices dude!"

After much hoop-la, we booked our tix (thanks bro!) and were officially going on this trip!

What Actually Happened
British Airways was awesome and we sat at the front bulkhead seats NOT near a bathroom. They also gave Baby Ems a recliner that strapped into the bulkhead table which folded down. She slept only 2 hours during this 10 hour trip. Hummingbirds Transfers picked us up on time and it was so nice to have a transfer waiting for us. The other times I've been to London we usually just take Heathrow Express, but this time it wasn't possible w/the amount of luggage we had.

Tips/Recommendations
Hummingbird Transfers UK (responsive via email, good service, average vehicles, prices reasonable)
If flying w/an infant, request a bulkhead seat and infant seat ahead of time
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Old 06-16-2013, 07:11 AM   #3
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Day 2 -- Arrival in London

We checked in to the Hyatt, shopped around and ate. DD also traded some pins at the Disney Store. They had AWESOME London themed pins! Some pics of our meal at Ponti's (highly recommended).





DD prepared for this trip by watching Peter Pan, Gaspard & Lisa and Mary Poppins. She was determined to see Big Ben. When we arrived, she literally asked if we could go see Big Ben. So we Tube to Charing Cross, get out of the Underground and she sees this and screams, "BIG BEN!"



Only thing is, it's not. She was screaming it so loudly I was slightly embarrassed when people walked by (not at the screaming, but at her inaccurate assumption that this measly clock tower was Big Ben).

Me: That's not Big Ben honey.
DD: Yes it is!
Me: No it's not.
DD. Yes. It. Is!
Me: Um, well that's small Ben. We'll take you to see Big Ben, ok?

Satisfied with that explanation, we moved on and she finally saw the scene she'd been waiting for for months.



She was in awe. It was so wonderful to see her dream come true! So she got to see Big Ben AND Small Ben. It's a Two-Fer! We came back for the night and the hotel had prepared DH and I some champagne, tiramisu and fruit for our Anniversary. What a nice surprise! Our anniversary was actually night before our flight, and so we didn't have time to do anything at all. When I pointed this out at 10pm on our anniversary night, DH thought it'd be a great idea to run out to WALMART (of all places) to buy me an Andrea Bocelli CD and a Pooh Bear photo album. Ugh. I made him return it (sorry, not sentimental like that and who buys CDs anymore) and we now dub it the "Walmart Anniversary."



Tips/Recommendations
Bring pins to trade at Disney Store (we just happened to have some for the cruise)
Eat at Ponti's if you're near Oxford Street
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Old 06-16-2013, 07:12 AM   #4
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Day 3 -- London (British Museum, Ceremony of the Keys)

DD and Baby Ems decided at 2am that they were NOT sleepy. So they jumped on the bed. And danced. And laughed. By 5am DH needed to go to LHR to pick up my aunt who was arriving from Asia by herself. We had mailed her a cell phone with a UK mobile sim and taped our numbers to the backside of the phone in case she needed to call us. We ordered 4 phones total, which all came in very handy during the trip.

By 8am, DH got back safely with my aunt and the girls fell back asleep. My parents took my aunt out shopping and waited around for us to wake up. We slept til noon. OOOPS. Good thing we had 2pm late check out (thanks Hyatt!). I rushed and packed and we left our bags with the bellhop then got on a bus to the British Museum.

Then something happened that became a running theme on this trip--a freak accident. As my mom was getting on the bus, the bus driver pulled the switch and closed the door. The door slammed her in her right shoulder and we all screamed. He simply didn't see her (which was weird). We were all very upset, but the whole thing was just strange.

The British Museum was wonderful. We'd all been there before and we only did 2 galleries, the Egyptian and the Greek. We sat in the Atrium a long time just having coffee and chatting. The sunlight in the atrium was beautiful. What a lovely afternoon.







After the Museum, we head over to the Intercontinental Westminster ("IC") to check in. It was a hassle to switch hotels, but we saved a ton of money by using our reward points to book this hotel. They were VERY accommodating and gave us such nice amenities for the kids. It's about a 5 min walk to Westminster Abbey from the hotel. I highly recommend it. It's a newer hotel and so its not filled to capacity. They sell extra "blind" inventory on Priceline or Bookit quite often for a hefty discount, I believe.







DH cabbed to the IC with the luggage and stayed in with the kids. Me, Mom, Dad and Aunty had tix to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. The Ceremony tix are free, but you do have to request them in writing. Here's an explanation of the Ceremony from their website.


The Ceremony of the Keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London and has taken place on each and every night, without fail, for at least 700 years. The importance of securing this fortress for the night is still very relevant because, although the Monarch no longer resides at this royal palace, the Crown Jewels and many other valuables still do! - See more at: http://www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/....fCLlyQqy.dpuf

Photography is not allowed during ceremony. I took some while waiting for entry and after exiting. I had seen the Ceremony before but for some reason, this one was much better. Maybe the Beefeaters were having a better day? For dinner, we had a 15 minute meal at Wagamama's nearby prior to the ceremony. Yummy and cheap.









My aunt and I had reservations for a late Afternoon Tea at Ruben's At The Palace right across from the Royal Mews near our hotel. It was a 2-for-1 champagne afternoon tea deal. I was really looking forward to it as I've always wanted to try afternoon tea in London. We missed it just due to not having enough time. Oh well. Maybe next time!

Tips/Recommendations
Write in advance for Ceremony of the Keys tix
Don't get hit by a bus door (seriously, watch the kids)
Book deals for afternoon tea at Afternoon Tea online

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Old 06-16-2013, 07:43 AM   #5
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Day 4 - Westminster Abbey, Hospital Visit & Covent Garden

We got up fairly early and walked over to Westminster Abbey. It was raining but the rain added to the atmosphere of the Abbey. On a prior trip we had only spent 1 hour there. Because of the rain, we were not in a hurry to leave and and enjoyed ourselves quite a bit.

DD lit a prayer candle and made a "wish" for her family. I didn't realize at the time that the Abbey affected my DD profoundly. She just turned 4, but she said that her favorite thing during the trip was seeing the "Church and Big Ben." She loved Westminster Abbey, and loved it more after we told her a "real" princess got married there. It's comments like these that make you realize how positively travel can affect children.

My dad went back to the hotel before us. I sat in the Cloisters and took pictures.







We grabbed sandwiches at Pret a Manger nearby for lunch then went back to the hotel for a nap. DD and Baby Ems played in the play yard while DH and I cleaned. I heard a sharp scream from DD.

DD: Mama, Ems hit my eye!
Me: Oh, are you ok?
DD: No!
Me: I'm sure you're fine.
DD: She poked me real bad!

I looked and the whites of her right eye was actually bleeding. She looked like an extra in a horror film. DH and I decide that she needed to get checked for a corneal abrasion. Her eye looked pretty bad. After some investigation, DH figured out that DD could go to a specialized children's eye hospital. The nice surprise was that they would take DD as a walk-in. At "check out" the even bigger surprise was that her visit was FREE!! Apparently there is some kind of general insurance for all travelers to the UK. She did not have a corneal abrasion but her eye was very badly bruised. We brought antibiotic eye drops and ointment which the doctor OK'ed us to use on her to prevent infection. DD and I joked about her hurt eye a lot for the rest of the day---especially when I asked her to stop staring at me with her "scary eye."

DH and DD made it back to the hotel by 6pm, and we cabbed over to London Fish & Chips for dinner. I got a 2-for-1 Groupon deal on the fish and chips and they were delicious! We only spent 20GBP for 4 orders of Fish & Chips w/drinks. Great deal.

We bought some stuff at the Disney Store & Build-a-Bear store and walked around Covent Garden. DD traded more pins. Our day would have ended here but the hotel fire alarm went off at 11pm so that put a wrench in my packing plans. Went to bed about 5am in preparation for leaving to Barcelona. Some pics of Covent Garden:




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Old 06-16-2013, 08:05 AM   #6
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I love this report already! Which makes me feel bad because you are jetlagged... and obviously suffering... but what really stands out is your determination in the face of adversity! An example to us all! Thanks for sharing
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Old 06-16-2013, 08:08 AM   #7
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Enjoying it all! I like your writing style.
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Old 06-16-2013, 08:21 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by debsters41 View Post
I love this report already! Which makes me feel bad because you are jetlagged... and obviously suffering... but what really stands out is your determination in the face of adversity! An example to us all! Thanks for sharing
Thanks!

Yea, the jetlag sucks! We actually wanted to do the Eastern Bound Transatlantic next year but the jetlag affected the girls so badly during the 1st 4 days of our trip (and after we got home) that we're not sure we can take a time change daily.


Quote:
Originally Posted by texasgirl29 View Post
Enjoying it all! I like your writing style.
Thanks for following along!

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Old 06-16-2013, 08:26 AM   #9
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Day 5 -- RIB London Voyages, Shenanigans at GTW & Flight to Barcelona

Today we fly to Barcelona!! We decided to save some money on transfers to Gatwick Airport by taking the "stopping train" rather than Gatwick express. The train tickets only cost about 5GBP per person. On top of the savings, the train ticket entitled us to use the 2-for-1 vouchers given out by "Days Out" and the Rail company.

The only 2-for-1 deal of interest to us was the speedboat on the Thames called RIB Voyages. I signed my mom and Aunt up for this ride since my dad and I weren't feeling that great. Mom and Auntie enjoyed their speedboat ride up the Thames. DH got some great pics. It was drizzling a bit so they said it was freezing cold (that, and the Thames water looked dirty). They had an awesome time and we only paid for 1 person's ride. I think families with boys will really enjoy this activity. It cost about 43 GBP with the 2-for-1 voucher.







After the speedboat tour, we headed to Victoria Station for the train. Tip to non UK people---it's called a "stopping train" if it's not an express. The cabbie and I were so confused because I didn't know what a stopping train was and he didn't know where to drop us off. It was kind of funny to speak English to another person who speaks English but you both don't know what the other is saying.

Shenanigans at GTW --- OK guys. What is up w/Gatwick Airport and Easyjet? Why do they assign you a gate literally 15 minutes before the posted gate closes? That's crazy bananas! I've got 2 kids in strollers, hardshell suitcases, old people and my dumb hernia mesh pain. Can't walk that fast! EEEEK. We waited and waited at the monitors until they announced our gate but the whole thing was so nerve wracking. Next time I will arrange for transportation help for people with limited mobility. In other words, if you call ahead the golf cart guy will come and drive you to the gate. We tried to "pop in" but they were strict and wouldn't let us. Live and learn.

Arrival at BCN
I booked pick up our BCN transfers via Suntransfers.com. I was nervous b/c reviews are mixed. Our flight came in 1.5 hours late, but our pick up driver was there and he was great. Barcelona Day Tours quoted me 80 Euro for the transfer. Suntransfers was only 55 Euro. Score! Our driver was so good we asked him to take us to the Cruise Port too. Only 30 Euro (rather than the 75 quoted by other companies). Score again!

We arrived at Eric Vokel Gran Via suites super late and went straight to bed. Paid about $300/night for a 2 bed/1 bath apartment with free breakfast and free 1-day HOHO tickets.

Tip/Recommendations
1. Use the Days Out website for 2-for-1 deals
2. Pick up strollers at the end of the baggage claim area rather than the assigned carousel--We didn't know this and waited (with other families) at the regular carousel for 30 minutes without our strollers. Someone else finally figured it out.
3. Book advance tix on the stopping train to save money over Gatwick Express. As a side note, the tix were super easy to buy online. As an added bonus, you can pick up the prepaid tix at ANY train station even if the station is not the one that you're departing from. Also, you can ask for a refund on prepaid tix if you never pick them up!

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Old 06-16-2013, 10:27 AM   #10
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I'm so glad you decided to write this report. Love your writing style and your positive attitude in the middle of all the "bumps and bruises!"

Jill in CO
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Old 06-16-2013, 10:44 AM   #11
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We were on this cruise with you.

Nice pictures from London
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Old 06-16-2013, 10:55 AM   #12
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Great start to your trip. being a Brit, it's lovely to see part of your trippie covers London. Which I just take for granted.

I use Suntranfers all of the time and touch wood, have never had a problem with them. Always the cheapest and always waiting for you, unlike some other companies I have used before them.

Looking forward to the rest. That photo in Italy is fab, I wanted to go there last time, but did Cinque Terre instead.
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Old 06-16-2013, 03:42 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jedijill View Post
I'm so glad you decided to write this report. Love your writing style and your positive attitude in the middle of all the "bumps and bruises!"

Jill in CO
Thanks! It was a hard trip (physically) for some of us, and having a positive attitude really helped. We ran into a lot of random things along the way that didn't always worked out but we usually laughed about it by dinnertime. We had an amazing time and it was so wonderful to share it all with family.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kirbo View Post
We were on this cruise with you.

Nice pictures from London
Thanks! I didn't see twins on the ship. Are you doing a TR? I might recognize you guys from seeing everyone in line for character meets.

Quote:
Originally Posted by heatherbelle View Post
Great start to your trip. being a Brit, it's lovely to see part of your trippie covers London. Which I just take for granted.

I use Suntranfers all of the time and touch wood, have never had a problem with them. Always the cheapest and always waiting for you, unlike some other companies I have used before them.

Looking forward to the rest. That photo in Italy is fab, I wanted to go there last time, but did Cinque Terre instead.
Thanks for the compliment on the photo. It was taken from a hill top in Portofino. That was an AMAZING location. We were originally going to do Lucca/Pisa from La Spezia but decided last minute to change to an "easy" excursion to give my dad and I (and the kids) a break from touring. The other family members went to Florence & Pisa and had a great time.
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Old 06-16-2013, 04:14 PM   #14
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Days 6 & 7 in Barcelona --- Gaudi or Seafood? Duh! Eating Our Way Through Barcelona

Day 6
We really didn't do much in Barcelona. The girls got up again at 2am and had a major giggle fest. It was hard to get mad at them since they are SO cute. The problem with their giggle fest is that the apartment we were in had zero sound insulation. I felt really bad for waking up my parents and aunt in the adjoining rooms. Due to the girls' 2am party, we slept in until 3pm!!

Since touring Barcelona was out of the question at that point, we took the Metro over to Ciudad Condal, a well-known Tapas restaurant. My family likes food more than sightseeing anyway and so this worked out perfectly. We arrived at 7:30 pm and the wait was already 45 minutes long. Service there is ambivalent since they are so busy. But prices were very reasonable, Sangria was very very tasty and the food was delicious. Some pics:

Crazy crowded












We shopped at H&M and Bershka on the way home. Lovely way to end the day, strolling down Passeig de Gracia.





Day 7
Our apartment stay came with "free" HOHO tix on the Grayline (Red) bus. Loved it! The red buses always seemed so much less crowded than the City-sponsored Bus Turistic (Blue bus). We got on at Placa Espanya and rode it all the way to the Barcelona Cathedral. The family went in while Baby Ems and I took a short break. I enjoyed having time with her alone. We caught a street performance near the gothic bridge. Baby Ems danced in her stroller while listening to music from the spanish guitar. This is one of the moments with my baby which I'll remember for a lifetime.

Pics I took while waiting for the fam:









We decided to get back on the bus (for more sitting) and took it all the way to Sagrada Familia. It was 10 minutes to 2pm and the line to get in was insane!! I didn't buy tix ahead of time since I wasn't sure how we'd be feeling by this point in the trip. We took a few pics outside and walked over to La Paradeta for a drool fest. YUMMMMERS.

La Paradeta is a fresh seafood "market" type of restaurant where you order seafood by the kilo and they grill it or fry it to specification. My Dad speaks Spanish very well and so ordering was fairly easy. They also speak English there for the rest of us. I highly recommend this restaurant. Clean bathrooms to boot! We should have ordered more, but here's what we got.











***I had forgot to mention---PB&J weren't with us for this entire portion of the trip. They headed straight to Paris after London and we were supposed to meet up on this night for dinner before getting on the Mickey Ship. After La Paradeta, we were all too tired to meet. DH ran out to a local Tapas restaurant nearby and got take-away. The food was fabulous and the Iberica Ham was soooooo melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I really would return to Barcelona just for the food.



Tips/Recommendations:

1. La Paradeta
website: http://www.laparadeta.com/
reviews: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...Catalonia.html

2. Tapas restaurants (these don't have websites, but they are open 9am to 12am daily):

Ciudad Condal (Yummy): http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...Catalonia.html

Cerveceria Catalana (Yummier): http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...Catalonia.html

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Old 06-16-2013, 04:41 PM   #15
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Loving your food photos, I am seriously hungry now after seeing them all. Sorry to hear that you had some difficulties on the trip especially your daughters eye but glad you were seen quickly and treated well here in the UK.

Will await the rest of the trip with interest

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