I want to start my review by discussing purchasing airfare to Europe. We started monitoring prices several months in advance of the trip and found prices to fluctuate daily and finally settled on a decent price about 6 weeks before the cruise. We continued to monitor the prices after booking and luckily never saw a significant shift below the price we booked. The moral of the story was start tracking early and don’t be afraid to wait until it is within the two month window.
We rented a TEP wireless hotspot (https://www.tepwireless.com) to use for international phone coverage and were pleasantly surprised to see how well it worked as soon as we left the airport in Barcelona. Our family of four (kids aged 9 and 11) was meeting up with another family of five (kids aged 8 and 12) and had rented an apartment near the gothic quarter. Our flight arrived at 9:00 and check in at the apartment was not until 3:00. To help us stay awake we took advantage of rental lockers near the apartment to stow the luggage and took a Devour Barcelona Tastes and Traditions food tour (https://devourbarcelonafoodtours.com/tours/tour/tastes-tapas-traditions-barcelona-food-tour/). We had an amazing tour guide named Paulina that took us through the Santa Caterina Market along with several other stops including an introduction to la hora de vermut (the hour of vermouth) and some delicious paella. This was enough to get us into the early afternoon and check into the apartment. We also had planned a walking tour of the gothic quarter (https://runnerbeantours.com/tours/free-tours-barcelona-gothic-quarter/) that was excellent and very informative. This was a great way to help us learn more about the city and make sure we stayed up to adjust to our new bedtime in Barcelona!
On day two in Barcelona, we had arranged a tour of Montserrat through Castle experience (https://www.castlexperience.com/barcelona-wine-tours/montserrat-food-wine-tour/). Our tour guide Angus was the best and was very informative. She was amazing with the kids especially for the winery portion of the tour which included wine tasting (secretly grape juice for the kids). The winery itself (https://ollerdelmas.com/en/) was an amazing experience and we got to tour the vineyards, cellar and grounds concluding with the wine tasting and delicious tapas to go with it. We bought a couple bottles of wine from the vineyard along with their vermutand a couple of beers. We closed out the night with a dinner of pinchos.
For our final full day in Barcelona, we went for a nice long walk up the hill to Park Guell (https://www.parkguell.cat/en/) followed by a walk to Sagrada Familia(http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en/).
Travel to the port and embarkation couldn’t have been easier. We grabbed a taxi near the apartment and we were at the port in less than 20 minutes. It was a little confusing as there were two terminals feeding into Symphony and our taxi delivered us to one terminal and our friends to the other but we easily met inside on the gangway. We had a crown loft suite and the entire process from curb to stepping onto the ship could not have taken more than 20 minutes. Stepping onto the ship was as amazing as we expected and Symphony did not disappoint for the entire trip. We explored the ship and the kids changed into suits for the pool and flowrider. We got into our room not long after 1:00 and were very impressed by the space and views from our room. The entire staff of the suite lounge went above and beyond for all aspects of our stay. After the muster drill in the aqua theater we started to settle into our routine on the cruise. The number of port days had made the drink package seem like a bad idea until a sale had popped up not long before the cruise. We had concerns that we would not take full advantage of the drink package due to the number of port days (this ended up being a nonissue). We saw the aquatheater show on the first night. The performers were very good but it was less clear what the story was actually about. We managed to stay up until midnight to see the balloon drop party on the promenade led by the cruise director Miguel.
Day two started with an early morning approach to Palma de Maorca and we awoke to an amazing view of the cathedral in the city. We had hoped to be able to walk to the cathedral but the walk was going to be over three miles so we opted for the RC shuttle instead. After exploring the cathedral and the area immediately around it we took the shuttle back to the ship to enjoy some time on the ship. After falling in love with gintonicsin Barcelona, we were enjoying them on the ship and asked the suite lounge bartender Johanna to make us a new gin drink. She informed us of a drink called an elderphire! This became a favorite drink for the rest of the trip. It’s no longer on the menus in the RC bars but experienced bartenders will know how to make it. We went to the 4:30 early show of Hairspray and were blown away but how good the performance was. This night was also the first of our meals at the coastal kitchen. The filet was very good and we knew we would try to arrange dinners for the 9 of us here for the rest of the nights that we had not already booked precruise.
Day three was a stop in France at the port of Marseille. We made an important stop at a grocery for comte potato chips! Again, we planned a shorter time ashore to enjoy the ship with very busy port days planned in Italy for the following three days. The ice skating show that night was a lot like the aqua theater show. Clearly all the performers were amazing at what they do but the story was not very clear. There was a sailawayparty on the helipad with several members of crew present that was a great experience for the suite guests.
For all three of the Italy ports of call we had arranged a driver from Rome Private Excursions (www.romeprivateexcursions.com). After a quick breakfast at the Windjammer we left the ship at the port of La Spezia. Since there were 9 of use, two cars picked us up at the port and our drivers David and David took us for a quick stop at Pisa. My wife and I had been there over 10 years ago and knew that it was not a sight to miss but was not worth more than short visit. We then headed to Florence to see the Duomo, Ponte Vechio and see David. We had specifically requested lunch at I Fratallini (http://www.iduefratellini.it/) which is an amazing hole in the wall place to get a sandwich and glass of Brunello. My wife and I had grabbed lunch here on an earlier trip and knew the simplicity of great cured meats on delicious bread with a glass of Brunello while sitting on the curb was an experience we wanted to share with our kids and friends.
Day five was a stop in Rome which is not close to the port of Civitavecchia where we docked. After almost two hours our drivers Luca and Maximo had us to Rome for a quick walk around the Coliseum. This was another example of how we could craft our schedule with our drivers. We could have taken the time to go inside the coliseum but we chose to spend more time later in the day at the Vatican. We grabbed an amazing lunch near a market of paninis and beer (some of us got pizza that was sold by the pound). This market was right by the Parthenon which was not crowded that day so we were able to spend time inside this amazing building. We then headed to the Vatican and met our tour guide. Having a guide was a great way to focus the time we were there and maximize a short amount of time.
Day six was Naples and we woke up to start the day. My wife noticed that the floor was wet on the second floor by the desk. Water had leaked from above and had gotten into the drawers and left a significant amount of clothing inside wet. We informed Jesus our steward and the concierge and immediately things went into motion to correct the situation. They took all the wet clothes for laundering and maintenance was in the room as we left to fix the problem. We left the ship to meet our drivers Aldo and Salvatore to take us on our tour. The port parking lot was a nightmare and we did not get anywhere fast for almost 60 minutes! This was one of the great advantages of using Rome Private Excursions. We changed our plans as we drove and decided to not go all the way to Sorrento and instead enjoyed some limonchello at a distillery and then went to the coastal town of Positano. We walked the streets of this beautiful town for 60 minutes before meeting up with our drivers again to take us to a new lunch destination that was different from our original plans. They suggested a lunch and wine tasting that sounded too good to pass up. We approached Mount Vesuvius and stopped at a vineyard that was literally the last stop on the road headed up to the volcano. Cantina Del Vesuvio(www.cantinadelvesuvio.it) gave us a quick tour of the vineyards and then we had a multi course meal with wine tastings to match each one. The pasta course was what I dream about from previous trips to Italy, simple, perfectly cooked pasta with a perfectly cooked tomato sauce. Before we left we bought two bottles of wine and a bottle of their olive oil. We then went to meet our tour guide at Pompeii. Our time was limited and that was the great benefit of having a guide. 90 minutes is probably not enough time to spend at Pompeii but he kept us focused and was extremely knowledgeable so our time was just enough to immerse us and leave us wishing we could stay. A quick trip back to port and we were back on the ship. All the wet clothes from earlier in the day were freshly cleaned and returned to our room.
Finally, a sea day! We started the morning with room service which was delivered on time and was rather tasty. I made a quick trip to get a bloody Mary (another great use of the drink package early in the day!). All the kids wanted to skate so we got down to the rink early to sign up for the first slot of the day. Drinks, swimming and lounging by the pool were status quo for the rest of the day. The solarium bar had been partially blocked off by scaffolding that was being used to fix the sculpture above the bar that was finally removed on this day. We wanted to bar but it was very rowdy back there (and we are not a shy group) and order a gin and tonic that had become a standard of the trip was very disappointing at the solarium bar. It tasted sour and off compared to what we had had at other bars on the ship.
Disembarkation was every bit as smooth as embarkation. We ate at coastal kitchen for breakfast for the first time of the trip. Mostly the early mornings had kept us from doing this but we regretted that we had not been here before for breakfast! A taxi to the airport and we were on our way. Unfortunately, we ran into trouble in Newark on the way back that made for a very long day but we were all very flexible and found ourselves home much sooner than we would have liked.
Some overall impressions of the ship and sailing, the suite and everyone in the lounge were out of this world and constantly working to make sure our trip was everything it could be. Especially Raj and Rahul the concierges helped arrange a bridge tour. Johanna always made sure we never had an empty glass and she introduced us to the elderphire! Amalia was our server almost every meal and was amazing. Shetty in coastal kitchen not only got us lasagna from the main dining room the night it was on the menu but the next night brought us even better lasagna (I assume from Jamie’s) without us even asking, it was incredible!! We realized we should have also asked for them to bring us curry as that is one of our favorites.
Even though drinks were included in the lounge, we got a great deal on the drink package and made great use of it! It was easy to have two glasses of wine with dinner and have a coffee with Baileys and already be close to breaking even!
The suite deck was also a great perk that I wish we had another day to take advantage of that space.