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Everything posted by VoidoftheSeas

  1. Thank you so much for the kind words! I had such a great time writing and keeping everyone updated. I'm looking forward to doing it again for our next sailing in January.
  2. We just finished up a really great cruise in the Mediterranean on board Wonder, and, as a result, we'll be Diamond once the points come through (yay!). Our next couple of cruises are going to be Star Class, because I'm addicted now, though we will probably grab some in-between cruises to really leverage the Diamond benefits from balcony rooms or junior suites. My question is really related to sailing Star Class as a Diamond member, though. It seems like, for the most part, the Star Class benefits outshine the Diamond benefits (which makes sense). Are there any perks for Diamond that I should be aware of that could still be leveraged during an SC cruise? Is the 'nightly Diamond event' in the Diamond Lounge worth it? Is the Diamond Lounge itself worth it?
  3. The Day at Sea and The Day of Sadness I cannot express how glad I am that we ended the trip with a sea day. My feet have been aching from all the walking. I have no regrets about any of that, but I am so incredibly glad that we got a day off our feet to wrap things up. We began the day with breakfast in our room from the Mason Jar. Since the very first day, I had an idea that I wanted to try out: Spicy Chicken and Waffles. While we were in the restaurant on the first day, I noticed that the chicken used with the waffles was the same chicken used in the chicken sandwiches (including the Nashville Hot), so I stored that away for later. It was pretty good, but it was actually a bit less spicy than I expected it to be. I'd love to hear from other people how they feel about the Nashville Hot chicken and if it lives up to your expectations regarding heat level. On other sailings, we've really tried to take advantage of everything on the ship during sea days, but this trip was a lot less about the ship for us and more about the ports. We were tired and just ready to relax. So we spent most of the morning sitting on the balcony (one of the best parts of an Aquatheater suite after all!) In addition to our food, we asked Marla to arrange a mimosa bar for us, which is just basically a bottle of champagne with pitchers of various juices - peach, orange and cranberry. We sipped on our mimosas and watched the scenery go by. I couldn't have asked for a better morning. Different from most Caribbean cruises, you actually sail pretty close to land in the Mediterranean so there was a lot to see as we sailed by. That kept our attention longer than I would have expected. After a few hours of relaxation, we got dressed and headed down to Izumi for some sushi. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, different people like different kinds of food. I love sushi, but neither Ashley nor I are really big fans of fried, crunchy sushi. Fortunately, the menu at Izumi is pretty expansive, so we were both able to get food that we really enjoyed. As Star Class, technically you can order as much sushi as you want, but I was pretty worn out from eating at this point, so we kept it light. One small word of caution about Izumi is that it is on deck 4 and there are tables right next to the window. I do not recommend sitting in those tables if you have any kind of vertigo or motion sickness, because the waves+wake do some interesting gymnastics around that part of the ship. It only bothers me a tiny bit, but vertigo is a concern for you, I'd find somewhere else to sit. After Izumi, we headed back up to the suite sun deck one last time. I will reiterate what I've said before - Royal knocked it out of the park with this space. It's easily accessible, has plenty of seating, and it has a great bar. If you are in a suite on Wonder, you owe it to yourself to spend a bit of time here at least. Later in the afternoon, we went down to Giovanni's Wine Bar for some drinks and charcuterie. Despite rebranding from Vintages, and a few updates to the food menu, I have to say that it doesn't feel all that different from Vintages. It's a nice spot for sure, but I think the changes are almost all entirely surface level. We enjoyed our wine, cheese and meats a lot. The wine bar, like Vintages, has a wine flight option, which is a great choice if you do not have a drink package. If you do have a drink package, you are better off ordering the wine by the glass, and just having them one at a time. The bartender should make sure to tell you this, but I know some people are caught off guard. We headed back up to our room to change for dinner: Wonderland! I really enjoy the Wonderland concept, but I am a food and science nerd, so molecular gastronomy really appeals to me. One of the servers was dressed up as the Mad Hatter, which was a lot of fun. He was entertaining, at least! We've been to Wonderland before, so we tried to choose options we hadn't had the first time around. It was a very different experience than previously, since we didn't have our kids this time, so we weren't trying to work around their limited food preferences. The individual items in the restaurant might seem small, but you actually end up with a seven-course meal, all things included, so the size isn't that much of an issue. The only thing we tried that I would probably not order again is the Tomato Water. It's an interesting novelty, but it's only about 1 oz of liquid, and it just goes so fast. For dessert, I ordered the World (again), and Ashley ordered the Mushroom Garden. They were both delicious, just as expected. Marla came to visit us during the meal and we also asked her to send some desserts up to our room too! Sort of a final send off for the trip. I ordered the Fried Cheesecake (I may have mentioned that this my favorite dessert on the ship), and Ashley ordered the Go Bananas! from Giovanni's. Honestly, it might have been a bit too much, but we loved it. We had thought about finding a nice spot after dinner for one last drink but we were honestly just so tired that we couldn't bring ourselves to do it. We did eat our desserts, and sit out on the balcony for a bit, but mostly we spent the evening packing and preparing for the worst day of the cruise: debarkation day. Our flight out of Barcelona was pretty early at 9:50 am. In hindsight, we should have probably picked a later flight, but it all worked out in the end, even though things were a bit tense at the airport. We had a light, early breakfast at 6am and put our bags outside at 6:30. Not having to set out your bags the night before is another really nice Star Class perk. We met Marla at the elevator at 7:00 and began the long walk of sadness to the terminal. It was super easy to grab a cab right there, and we headed to the airport. On Friday, the US government announced that negative Covid tests were no longer required for flights entering the US as of 12:01 on Sunday June 5th. This was awesome news as it reduced the likelihood of any last second disasters. We had read a post on Facebook from someone who left the ship in Rome on Thursday, tested positive, and had to quarantine for an extra 5 days before they could return home. That would have been worst case scenario for us, so not having to worry about an accidental positive test was really nice. Side note: we tested as soon as we got home to Seattle. Negative. So I feel pretty good about that. The downside to the announcement was that the airlines, who had all been clamoring for this change for months, were completely unprepared to actually handle the change when it happened. Online check-in basically broke for everyone, so we had no choice but to stand in line at the airport to get our boarding passes and check our luggage. The line was long. Long enough that we got pulled out of line finally to ensure that we could make our flight (that's pretty common on international flights), we were right up at the front so we ended up being next in line to check in from there. At that point we scrambled as quickly as possible to security and to the gate. I would have been super stressed if I'd been any further back in line, because we literally got to the gate the moment our zone started boarding. Since the first leg of our flight was just to Paris, the boarding times are really narrow. I'm sure they got everyone on board, but I'd have been screaming if I got there much later than we did. The situation was pretty similar in Paris. After a brief 2 hour flight, we had a 1.5 hour layover in Paris, but that's really not that much time. The international gates are pretty far from the 'domestic' gates in CDG, so there's a lot of walking involved, as well as a brief stop at passport control, even though we were catching a transfer. We managed to find a food kiosk to grab some salads, but we had to carry them on to the plane, because boarding started so quickly. From Paris to Seattle is about 10 hours, which isn't terrible, but is still a pretty long way. We had economy seats on the way back, which might have been a mistake, but we survived somehow . The airline food was decent, and they did an excellent job of coming by often with water (something that did not happen on the Delta flight on the way out). We needed to stay awake as much as possible to fight the coming jet lag, so we just watched a lot of movies. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, we arrived in Seattle! After a quick/eternal 45 minute ride on the train, we were back home to our kids, our puppies and our bed. Whew! What an absolute adventure! We had so much fun, and it was exactly the break we needed. Thanks everyone for coming along the ride with us. I loved reading your comments and seeing everyone's reactions. I hope you enjoyed it!
  4. Thank you for reading! This has been such a fun trip, and I'm so glad you've enjoyed the blog!
  5. Thank you so much! It has been so much fun to write, and I really appreciate all the support and feedback from everyone.
  6. One of my favorite things about the specialty restaurants is the variety and how there really is something for everyone. We LOVE Wonderland, but I didn't like Hooked and I wasn't really impressed with Samba. So it totally makes sense to me that some people like other restaurants and I love that.
  7. Day 6: Naples (Pompeii) First off, I want to thank you all for you wonderful comments about this blog. I've really been enjoying keeping up with it, and I'm glad to see that you all are enjoying it as well! For the first time, really, on this whole vacation, I finally took the opportunity to sleep in. I think I woke up just after nine. It was late enough, at least, that we missed breakfast. I'll be honest, though, I don't think I could have handled it anyway! Between the Star Class snacks and massive portions at the specialty restaurants, I'm definitely never hungry on board this ship. We had tossed around a few options for our excursion in Naples. Most of what's available is some combination of Pompeii, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. We obviously wanted to prioritize Pompeii, but we didn't think we would want to do another full day excursion the day after Rome. I think that instinct ended up being right (for us, at least). Because of that, our excursion was an afternoon one, once again. Once we felt awake enough to face the world, we headed back up to the suite sun deck for a couple of drinks and an opportunity to take in the view of Naples. Among the ports that we stopped in during this past week, Naples has the best skyline by far. We sipped on our frozen drinks while I got caught up with this blog (finally!). We again had lunch in Coastal Kitchen, and then it was downstairs to join the group heading to Pompeii! Pompeii The bus ride to Pompeii is only about 30 minutes, which is mercifully short after rides of 60-90 minutes each way for the previous few excursions. It felt like no time at all, and we had arrived to the entrance to the ruins of Pompeii. There is a bit of a souvenir market outside, as well as a couple of restaurants, and some snack stands. The tour included a bottle of water, which was provided to us once we arrived. Just a couple of things to note before we got into the ruins. First, while the market contains a lot of interesting souvenirs, there is also a lot of adult... iconography in the market as well. Just something to be aware of if you're visiting with children or just generally don't want to be around that sort of thing. Second, before they brought us into the ruins themselves, we were corralled into a small building selling shell jewelry and given a 5 minute sales pitch about how rare and precious the jewelry is, and then escorted down into their showroom. I know this is a part of how these excursions are funded, but having a sales pitch be a part of every single trip is almost as good a reason as any to book private tours or just to visit these places on your own. Given the choice, I would have preferred to have the half hour we spent waiting for people to shop actually inside the ruins themselves. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, we entered through the ticket line and into the ruins themselves. You do kind of have to walk around the city to enter it properly, but we eventually made our way inside. I think it's hard to really capture the essence of what you feel in the ruins of Pompeii. While the structure is very well preserved (and supplemented by brick in some places where pieces of stone had collapsed or washed out, they are still ruins. But as you walk through the streets, you start to fill in the spaces in your mind where things like doors, roofs, wooden stairs, and furniture might have been. The painted stucco still retains some of its color and decorations in places, and you don't have to stretch your imagination to being to imagine what life might have been like in this city for real humans. One thing that I always find challenging about archaeology and anthropology is how much we have to infer because of the loss of biological material. Anything made of wood, paper or cloth would have decayed long ago. And a lot of the things we use every day as humans are made of these materials. We're really left with a rough outline of life, but the Romans in Pompeii would have lived a life as full of color and energy as our own. There are places in Pompeii where you can really see that, from the mosaic floor decorations to the fire pits or to the gardens in the homes of the very wealthy. This is the one excursion where I really felt rushed for time. The guide walked us through the ruins at a bit faster pace than we preferred (which wouldn't have been the case if we hadn't stopped at the jewelry store). While the commentary was interesting, I honestly recommend just doing this one on your own if you can, or booking a tour that gets you 4 hours or so inside the ruins. There is a lot to see and explore, and we didn't even get to everything. 150 Central Park I was beginning to feel a bit hungry, so I messaged Marla about some snacks for our room to munch on while getting ready for dinner. They arrived almost immediately after we reached the room, and we got them set up outside on the balcony. I probably overindulged on the snacks a bit, which certainly impacted by ability to eat my full meal at dinner. Turns out our parents were right about snacks ruining your dinner! In any case, Marla sent us cheese and crackers, strawberries and cream, and a full platter of chicken wings (my downfall!). Tonight was a dress your best night, and while I didn't pack a suit, I did clean up a bit and wear a nice button-up with some dress pants. 150CP is my favorite restaurant on the ship, so I was pretty excited. We specifically requested the high-backed chairs (Royal Chairs, according to the hostess), just for the fanciness factor, and of course, as Star Class, our request was granted. They are, in fact, very fancy, but they are also a little awkward to maneuver if you need to get up or readjust the seat at all. Our meal was delectable as always. I started with the short rib, which is the most tender piece of meat you can imagine. I followed that up with the veal medallions. I did my best, but alas, due to my overindulgence with the chicken wings, I was defeated. I managed to rally (you would too), when they brought out the fried cheesecake - my favorite dish in my favorite restaurant. The fried cheesecake is absolutely wonderful. I would have had a second order if I wasn't feeling completely full. Ashley started off her meal with a beet salad, followed by her favorite dish, the lobster thermidor. For her dessert, she selected the artisanal cheese platter, which turned out to be a very good choice as well. We lingered over some after dinner coffee before a slow stroll in Central Park. Then we headed down the elevator to deck 4, the Royal Theater and Voices. Voices Voices is an original RCCL production. It doesn't have quite the expansive feel of a full broadway show (it's only 45 minutes long). But it was very good. The singers are incredible, and the entire show is done a cappella, with the background rhythm and bass lines provided by voice as well. There is an excellent dance team as well. The performance is really a survey of great songs over the last 60 years or so, and there is definitely something there for everyone. It was a nice show to catch as the last one, but I think I still feel the emptiness of not having a larger show on board the ship. I know Effectors 2 is preparing to start up on the ship soon, but it was not ready as of our sailing. And that about does it for day 6. We have really enjoyed this trip up to this point, but I will say we have started to really miss our kids. I'm glad to have a single sea day to relax one last time, but we are feeling ready to get back home, which I think is exactly where you want to be at the close of a vacation. I will probably cover the last day (Sea Day, Izumi Sushi and Wonderland!) and our travel home in a wrap up post on Monday, since we have to leave the ship pretty early tomorrow morning.
  8. Day 5: ROME! The good news is that I'm pretty confident I can now correctly pronounce Civitavecchia, now that I've heard it 100 times or so. The bad news is that we are now more than halfway done with our cruise. But, we went to Rome! Our day started pretty early. With a 7am meeting time, we really only had time for a light breakfast - delivered to our suite of course! In hindsight, I might have eaten a bit more, but I was trying to steal bites of my parfait in between typing up words from an earlier update, so I did my best. There are several different options to choose from if you are interested in catching a lot of Rome from an RCCL-sponsored excursion. There are subtle differences between each of them, in terms of what things you visit inside vs outside (or what you visit at all). Our priority was the Vatican museum and the Sistine chapel, along with at least an outside visit of the Colosseum. With that in mind, we settled on Best of Rome, which includes all of that along with a trip to the Trevi Fountain. Once again, we were fortunate to have an incredibly knowledgeable tour guide, who we picked up from the train station once we arrived to Rome itself. There was a separate tour leader who stayed with us on the bus and who had the primary responsibility of making sure we made it to the tour and back to the ship. I felt a little bad for her as she mentioned that she generally does these tours in German, and English was a bit of a challenge. She did great, though. Of course the guide himself spoke excellent English, which worked out well, except for one Spanish couple who was on their honeymoon. The husband didn't speak English at all, and I think they had intended to purchase the Spanish-language version of the same tour. I can't speak for the experience purchasing alternative language tours and how those are managed, but it seemed like RCCL might have dropped the ball here. They made do, and the guide did his best to try to communicate when he could in Spanish, but he mostly ended up having to use Google Translate and read from there for their benefit. Better than nothing, I suppose. We started off with the Colosseum, which was great. The guide gave us a rundown of the history of the stadium, including recent renovations. I was surprised to learn that a great deal of the structure that exists today is actually new: reinforced by bricks added in the last two centuries to stabilize the arena and prevent further decay of the original stone. It's pretty easy to distinguish between original and new construction when you see it. It was really great to learn about how much the film industry has gotten wrong (and right) about the Colosseum, how it was used, and what really happened with the gladiator and animal fights that took place there. Obviously, we have matured a great deal as a society, but it is fascinating to think of how this place really served the same purpose as our sports stadiums do today. Of course, we did get to visit the inside as well, so we got a lot of great pictures too! It wasn't too crowded, and our guide said that Rome is running at about half its typical load of tourists for this time of year. I feel pretty lucky about that, especially when we got to the Vatican. I would not have had a great time if there were twice as many people there. From the Colosseum, we walked down the main road past the Roman Forum to the Trevi Fountain. In my head, the Forum is just a single place, but it really turns out to have been a series of forums built over centuries at the whims of kings, emperors and Roman senators. Each forum or addition served mostly the same purpose, but it has looked pretty different over the years it was in use as new sections were added or left in disrepair. The Trevi Fountain was packed. There are just a lot of people trying to get up close to toss a coin in the pool, which our guide said collects almost 1.5 million Euros every year. The fountain was also the first place in Rome we encountered the street peddlers, which we saw almost constantly from that point forward on the tour. They are everywhere, selling everything from ponchos to selfie sticks to portable phone chargers. One, at St. Peter's Square, also tried to sell me a belt. From the fountain we walked to the meeting place for lunch, where we were taken to a small restaurant outside of St. Peter's Square. Lunch was pleasant, if not extravagant, with a simple meal of pasta, followed by meat, potatoes and veggies and capped off with a small slice of tiramisu. We were running slightly behind, and we ended up being just a bit rushed to finish our meal. It started raining just as we finished our meal, which was unfortunate, because we had to walk about 7-10 minutes from the restaurant to the Vatican museum. A few people did end up buying umbrellas from the aforementioned street peddlers, but I live in Seattle and a little rain never hurt me. I got a bit damp on the way over, but honestly, it dried up pretty quickly and the rain helped keep the temperature down for the duration of the tour. We got the rundown on the way over to the Vatican, and I was a bit surprised to learn that it's actually only been an independent nation for about a hundred years, due to an agreement made with Mussolini in the 1920s. There's a bit of rigamarole to get into the museum itself, especially for groups. The museum requires that groups use their headsets, so we had to swap over from the ones provided by the tour company to those provided by the Vatican. It wasn't too bad, but it took several minutes to get everyone sort of reorganized. The Vatican Museum is incredibly densely packed, both by guests and by exhibits. The artwork and sculpture on display there is absolutely incredible. There is just so much of it. It's a very different experience than the Louvre was. The hallways are also very narrow, which made the crowds of people that much more intolerable. It was honestly hard to keep up with the tour guide, because you're just pushing your way past dozens and dozens of people to even move 100 feet. At the end of that museum, though, is the Sistine Chapel. In order to keep the atmosphere of the chapel respectful and somewhat quiet, there are tour group spots just outside, which are just signs with all the artwork in the chapel that the tour guide can point to and tell you all about everything before you go inside. Which is great, because once you are inside, you really don't want the guide talking in your ear at all. The chapel is very, very beautiful. Everyone has seen pictures of the frescoes at some point or another, but no photograph can really do this church justice. We just stood in awe for about 10 minutes, standing in silence and soaking in the beauty from every direction. As with so many of these types of things, there are details in every corner, and there is just so much to take in. You have to walk around the backside of the square to exit, and since we had a few extra minutes, the tour guide gave us the chance to sneak into St. Peter's Basilica to get some more pictures. Interestingly, the basilica is the only place we entered where the dress code was being enforced. That surprised me a little, because I thought the Sistine Chapel would also have had dress code enforcement. We really only had about 3 minutes inside the basilica, so we snapped a few quick photos and headed back outside. Naturally, the last stop on the tour was the obligatory sales pitch inside one of the gift shops (conveniently partnered with Royal Caribbean, of course). I didn't mind so much, since they only gave us about 20 minutes before it was time to head back over to the bus to return to the ship. The drive back was about a half hour shorter than the drive out, so we made good time, which was great, because it meant we could relax a bit before dinner. Once we arrived, I sent a quick message to Marla for some pre-dinner drinks to be delivered to the room, and we lounged for a while before changing for Izumi. We've done hibachi both on a ship and on land before, so we knew what to expect. The food was delicious, the drinks were great, and our table mates were pleasant and conversational. Our chef was hilarious, and the food portions are really generous. There are a couple of options for entrees with either one or two servings of meat. The up-charge for the restaurant is pretty high, though, so I definitely recommend getting it as part of a dining package to help ease some of the burden. We were scheduled to attend the headliner show after dinner, but we were just so tired that we decided to forgo it this one time. We finished up our dinner and our desserts and headed back to our rooms to rest up for the next day: Pompeii, 150 Central Park and Voices!
  9. Day 4: La Spezia Finally, a free morning. With our farmhouse excursion booked for 2:30pm, we decided to take it easy, sleep in and just generally relax before heading out to Tuscany. We had a leisurely breakfast in our room and then made our way to the suite sun deck for a dip in the hot tub and some midmorning cocktails. The sun deck is one of the things I've been looking forward to on this cruise, especially as ships are beginning to fill up and pool deck space is becoming a hot commodity once again. The experience is great and a nice upside to sea days or free time when you're booked in a suite. The bar service opened just after we arrived, and there were maybe a half dozen other people on the deck the whole time we were there. It was quite nice to get a little break, soak up a bit of sun and enjoy ourselves off our feet for once on this vacation. We lagged just a bit getting ready, so we were a bit rushed eating lunch in Coastal Kitchen. No worries though, as the wait staff always seems prepared to adjust to our needs on timing. With lunch wrapped, we made our way downstairs to Studio B for the excursion. Before I talk about the Tuscan Farmhouse Experience, I want to share a bit about our thought process on this. We bounced around a bit between this excursion and going to Pisa to see the tower. When we come back to Italy again with our kids, that's almost certainly what we'll do. I certainly wouldn't want to discourage anyone from visiting, but here's my view: if you've ever done a small highway roadtrip in the US, you'll have certainly seen sides for roadside attractions for things like "World's Largest Ball of Yarn." These are potentially interesting sights for sure, but they're just roadside tourist traps, designed to get you to buy a t-shirt and maybe a snack while you're there. The leaning tower of Pisa is Italy's "World's Largest Ball of Yarn." It's an interesting oddity with a little shop attached. Fun to see, probably, but I don't think I want to do that more than once. Tuscan Farmhouse Experience Instead, we rode a bus for 90 minutes to the heart of Tuscany. We even saw the leaning tower on our way there. I got a good picture of it from maybe 5 miles away. The drive is gorgeous and gets even more beautiful the further you go. The landscapes of Tuscany are famous, and with good reason. A large number of my pictures of this excursion are from the bus ride itself. On arriving to the farm, we were all unloaded from the bus and then loaded right back on to a horse-drawn carriage (that held about 20 people). We followed the road up to the farmhouse itself while the owner of the farm told us all about the crops and trees they raise on the property. The staff is just the farmer's family, and they treated us like family, which made everything so much nicer. When we reached the farmhouse, we were treated to an authentic, family style, Italian dinner, replete with wine, bread, cheeses, deli meats, pasta and more. I wish I had known how much food we were going to eat - I would have picked a different restaurant for the evening! Just before they wrapped up the meal, the farmer came out and sang us all a song! It was absolutely wonderful, and just really created a great feeling for the whole experience. Of course, they too had a little shop where they sold different wines, truffle honey, and limoncello (we bought a bottle of this). We all piled back into the bus and headed back to the ship, full and happy. We did end up heading back about an hour late - so be warned that this excursion might be a bit inaccurate with regards to timing. If you get a chance to try this excursion, I would say jump on it. It was a ton of fun and a real authentic Italian experience. Chops Grille (suite dining) About the time I realized how much food we were eating at the farm and given that we had a show scheduled almost immediately after dinner, we decided to message Marla and let her know that we would just eat in our room instead, to save the song and dance of ordering food and drinks, and to save some of the embarrassment of only being able to pick at a steak dinner because we were already so full. Our food arrived to our room shortly after we did, so the timing there was perfect. I ordered the beef carpaccio (my favorite dish from Chops) and Ashley started off with the grilled black pepper bacon. I ate a salad before my ribeye, which was definitely the right decision, and Ashley ate the lobster bisque (her favorite) and the petite filet. We wrapped up dinner with cheesecake and key lime pie, along with a couple of signature coffees. 365: The Seasons on Ice We always get a kick out of the different ice shows, and this time around was no different. The show started off with a stellar juggling performance by Victor Kee. I loved it. The skaters were exciting, having a good time, and able to brush off the occasional fall or slip. One skater even pulled off an on-ice backflip! As with the show on the Allure, there was an ice skating aerialist, which always terrifies me, and just as before, the skater did a tremendous job. After the show, we made an early exit to our suite, because Rome waits for no one (we had to be up to make our 7:00a meeting time for the big Rome excursion!) More on that in the next post!
  10. Day Three: Marseilles (Aix de Provence) While perusing the available excursions in the Cruise Planner, I misread one of the descriptions as being a 'gastronomic explosion of flavor' (actual text was 'gastronomic exploration'). Ashley and I chuckled at the misreading because we both saw the same thing at first. In any case, we booked it right away because what could be better than eating local food suggested to you by someone who knows what they're talking about? We began the day with breakfast in Coastal Kitchen. I always like to eat breakfast in the restaurant when I can manage it. In-suite dining is convenient, but eggs and sausage don't always do well transported halfway across the ship, and I prefer my food to be hot when it's served to me, whenever possible. As always, breakfast was delightful and the serving staff is kind and courteous. If you haven't taken advantage of a suite on RCL yet, you will find that the staff in CK learn your names and preferences very quickly. It's one of the nicer perks of being in a suite. After breakfast, we wandered down to Studio B to meet up with our group. We were the first off the ship, and this excursion only allows a small number of people (I think we were 14 in total, split across two groups). There were some issues with our morning transportation. The driver of the van we entered was a bit surly. I'm used to drivers generally being warm and receptive, but this driver just didn't seem to be having a good day. He insisted on only having 6 people in his van (it could have held 8), forcing an uneven split between the two vehicles (the other van was exactly the same size). And then his driving on the way to Aix was more than a little aggressive. There was a lot of weaving back and forth from one lane to another in a way that I felt was probably more than necessary. In general, I like to feel safe on excursion transportation, and this just wasn't it. Eventually, though, we arrived in Aix de Provence. The driver was pretty confused about the exact drop-off location, which leads me to believe that this was not a regular gig for him (perhaps contributing to the surliness, who knows?). Once out of the van, though, we met up with the guides for our food tasting tour, and these women were the exact opposite. They were welcoming and bubbly and ready for their guests. Once again, we split up into two groups, and our guide took us on a journey through the city and its markets. She was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the city, its architecture and how it came to be part of France after originally being established by the Romans and then under independent rule for several hundred years. I'm a sucker for a good history lesson, so I ate it up. We began our food tasting in a local patisserie with a tea cake and some candied strawberries. Apparently the process used for the candied fruit is many hundreds of years old and may have been the predecessor to many fruit-based candies we have today. Whether that is true or not, it was quite delicious, if a bit sweet, given that it's basically just fruit that's been boiled in sugar for several hours. From there we meandered in and through the daily market in Aix, tasting different fruits, meats, cheeses and spreads from local merchants. The quality of the food was exceptionally high, and while it wasn't actually that much food overall (less than I expected from the description), the energy of the guide and the kindness of the merchants really added a lot to the experience itself. We wrapped up the tasting portion of the excursion with a few glasses of wine in a wine cellar. The wine was a local Rose (though, given that its name is 'Aix', I suspect that its primary intent is to sell to tourists). It was pretty decent, though, and a nice cap for the tasting experience). After we finished the tasting, we were given three hours to shop and wander the city. We decided to get some lunch at the first restaurant we found with a decent menu. I had fish and chips and Ashley had a burrata salad. Perhaps not the most exciting lunch, but it did the trick. We are not really shoppers. So, unfortunately, the time wasn't really worth it for us. I would have been happy to have that time end at 2pm instead of the planned 3:15pm. We weren't alone in that, either, since we found that most of the other folks on the tour with us kind of arrived back near our departure point at right about that same time. We amused ourselves by bird-watching for a bit, which is when I learned that there are PARROTS in France. We watched the pigeons and few other regional birds, and then I heard a chirp that didn't sound like anything else I had heard. I glanced up at the tree in front of us, and peered between two branches to see two decently sized green parakeets, just hanging out on a branch like it wasn't weird at all for a pair of tropical birds to be in the south of France. I managed to get a couple of quick pictures for evidence before they flew away, and then I pulled out my phone, because I just had to know what the story is here. It turns out these birds are native to southern Africa, and they were introduced to France in the early 70s because of a transportation accident that resulted in 50 or so of these parakeets making it into the wild. They are a now a flock that numbers in the thousands, some 50 years later. Apparently, there is a similar flock of the same birds in the southern UK as well, which is just wild to me, that there could be parrots in Europe. But here we are all the same. The time to leave finally arrived, and I guess our driver from the morning decided he had had too much, because we had a new driver for our trip back to the port. Fortunately, this driver did not seem to have the same tendencies as the earlier one, and we arrived back to the port with incident or fearing for our lives. We returned to the ship to - you guessed it - more snacks! Marla has at least managed to keep the snacks to a reasonable size, so we don't feel like we are wasting food at all. We gave ourselves a bit of time to relax in the suite before we headed over to Hooked for a seafood dinner. Let me start by saying, I love Royal Caribbean. We generally have an excellent time in all the restaurants, and for the most part, I have very few complaints about anything. The service in Hooked was exemplary, as always, and our server was great. I did not like the food, which was really disappointing, since this is one of the restaurants I was pretty excited to try. As an appetizer, we had oysters and crab cakes. The oysters were fine, but pretty plain, even with the sauces they provided. The crab cakes were dry, and lacked flavor. I had the Royal Platter, which is mostly fried food. The prawns were inedible, both because I just can't stand eating food that has a face, but also they just didn't taste good. The fried fish was decent, as were the the shrimp and calamari, but the remainder of the dish just wasn't that great. Everything seemed to be a trifle overcooked, and it just didn't have the flavor I was looking for. Ashley had a whole lobster (and a half), which turned out to be just way too much food. It's hard to go wrong with lobster, but there just wasn't anything that stood out about the dish. We were in a bit of a hurry to get to the comedy show (tight timing), so we had dessert sent to our room and made our way downstairs to the attic for the comedy show. Right at the beginning of the show, I experienced one of those awkward Star Class moments when Marla and one of the comedy club staff pulled a table over to my chair so I would have a place to set my drink. I try to not be too obvious about my suite status, because I'm not trying to make any other guests feel bad about their experience, but it's hard to be subtle when the staff is literally moving furniture for you. The comedy show itself was fine, if a little focused on cruising over other topics. Most of the comedians we've seen on board try to blend cruising into the show, but this comedian just went all-in on it. Some of his material seemed to have been used from when he was on Symphony, because he mentioned two flow riders (Wonder has only one), and a lot of his stories centered around the Caribbean. It was still funny, though, and we laughed and left satisfied. We wrapped up the evening with a spot of karaoke in the karaoke bar. Ashley did a fabulous rendition of 'Oops I Did it Again' by Britney Spears. I have video evidence of this as well, but I'm pretty sure my next cruise will be a solo cruise if I post that video on the internet. And that does it for day 3! Next up: Tuscany, Chops Grille (in our room), and 365: Ice Spectacular!
  11. Thank you! The photos have been a bit hard to keep up with, since they're harder to add to the posts directly (they are on my phone and I'm writing the posts from my laptop). I promise there are more, and I will add them when there's a reasonable time to do so.
  12. Thank you so much! I'm really having a great time. I'm glad you're enjoying it!
  13. It's so hard to keep up while on board the ship!! Day 2: Palma de Mallorca One of the tricky things about Mediterranean cruises is that the excursions tend to leave somewhat early in the morning, which can make managing breakfast a bit challenging. We ordered Coastal Kitchen to our room, and ate while we prepared to leave the ship in Palma. We headed to the staging area in the Royal Theater and sat for really only about 15 minutes before our group was called to head to the bus. The Drach Caves were, by far, the most popular excursion at this stop. There were 4 buses filled with people heading that direction. The drive to the caves is exceptionally beautiful. Mallorca is a gorgeous island, and there is such an interesting combination of old and modern architecture and idyllic landscapes that it's hard to be too annoyed by the 75 minute bus ride each direction. In addition, our guide was great as well. He provided a great history lesson about the island and the city of Palma itself. He was high energy, and really just did an incredible job of setting expectations for everyone so we all knew exactly what to do throughout. If you haven't been to the Drach Caves before, you should know ahead of time that it is a timed, curated experience. They have groups leaving into the caves every hour or so, and the staff works to keep people moving along, so you don't really get a huge amount of time to just stand around. It's less cramped than the catacombs were, but still underground and still very damp. They are masterfully lit, as well, so you really get a great sense of the impressiveness of the stalactites and stalagmites that have formed inside this cave network over the last 25 million years ago or so. My particular favorite formations are these stalactites that almost look like sheets pouring down from the ceilings rather than the standard conical shape. It's really interesting, and I haven't seen that formation anywhere else before. After about 30 minutes or so, the group (which numbers a couple hundred), will arrive at a large amphitheater overlooking an underground lake. Once everyone is seated, they dim all the lights, and a small boat appears, lit all by itself, with a 4-piece string quartet who played the most beautiful classical pieces. The effect of the music echoing inside the caves and the only light coming from the boat (and two smaller support boats behind it) is really quite haunting. It creates a magnificent experience that I enjoyed a great deal. Once the performance is complete, you have the option to ride a boat to the end of the lake, or just walk across the bridge. I'm sure the boat ride was delightful, but that's the option everyone chose, and the line was pretty long. We decided to just hoof it (the walk to the end of the lake is maybe 100 yards), and I'm glad we did, because we arrived to the end about the same time as the second boat. It would have been 20 minutes waiting, I think, if we'd chosen the boat ride instead. Once we got upstairs we were feeling a bit peckish and spent a couple of Euros on some ice creams. The second part of this excursion isn't really all that exciting. 100 yards or so from the caves is a pearl factory (artificial pearls) and showroom. Obviously, this is their real 'moneymaker', but as I've mentioned before, we're not big shoppers, and the prices in these sorts of showrooms are pretty obscene for what you get. I think this part of the trip is really just to help people feel like they're getting value out of the time spent (who wants to ride for 2.5 hours for a 1 hour excursion?), so it's harmless, but we just didn't care for it that much. The ride back to the ship was pretty uneventful. I think I napped the whole way back. We returned to the ship to find snacks in our room (in true Star Class fashion), and I'll be honest, we pretty much lounged until dinner. The suite is so nice, that it's easy to just sit and relax and sip on a beer on the balcony. And, we needed to rest up, because, you know: Chef's Table. Chef's Table This was our second chef's table experience, having previously dined here on the Allure in August. There are a few key things that I liked that were different. First, round tables instead of the long table on the Allure. It felt more intimate, and made it much easier to chat with our tablemates, who all turned out to be wonderfully delightful people. A not-so-small part of what makes Chef's Table work is meeting new people, and we were not disappointed here! You can find the Chef's table menu online, so I won't go into all of the details here, but the experience is amazing. My favorite dish is, of course, the filet, but I will give an honorable mention to the scallop carpaccio as well. I'm not a scallop person, really, but this dish is quite delicate, perfectly sauced and just overall, really, really good. The chef (the youngest Chef's Table chef in the fleet at 25 years old) did an incredible job, and the sommelier was outstanding. We drank up all the wine and the dessert espresso martini, and we were feeling pretty good once we left to head to the theater for Tap Factory. Two notes: First, the lobster salad had a different preparation here than on Allure. I don't know why that is, but I preferred the version on the Allure. Second, there is some variation in the wine list from ship to ship and sailing to sailing based on availability. We didn't realize that, but one of our favorite wines from last time wasn't included this time around. Certainly, it wasn't the end of the world, and we enjoyed the wines paired with our meal quite a lot. Speaking of The World, I am now 3 for 3 on not finishing this incredibly delicious, decadent dessert. Whether you have it from Chef's Table or from Wonderland, you owe it to yourself to give a try at least once. Tap Factory One of my favorite parts of joining a new ship is the opportunity to see new shows and performances. While Wonder doesn't have a Broadway show like the other Oasis class ships, there are quite a few new shows to see. After Chef's table we made the long trek straight down the elevator to the Royal Theater. Marla saved us seats near the front, and we sat down for the show. I ordered a drink recommend to me by one of our new friends from Chef's Table, a BBC. A BBC is Bailey's, Banana and Coconut, and somehow not a drink I've encountered before. It's quite tasty, and a perfect drink to enjoy a show. The set of the show starts with several barrel drums on a scaffold, surrounding a drum set, so you know right from the beginning this won't be an ordinary tap dancing performance. And it wasn't! This show is so much fun. There is tap, of course, but also drums, acrobatics, and even a contortionist (wild!). We clapped and laughed along the whole time. These are the types of unique shows I really love on a cruise. It wouldn't have been out of place in Vegas, the performers are so talented. ----------- That wraps up day 2! Day 3 includes a much longer tour in Aix de Provence (docked in Marseilles), Hooked seafood restaurant and the adult comedy show. Thanks everyone for coming along for the ride. This is a bit more work than I expected, but I'm definitely enjoying getting it all out there.
  14. Boarding Day! Finally, the day to board the Wonder of the Seas arrived. But, we did have one last stop in Barcelona first, due to our train issues. We had intended to visit Casa Batllo in the evening, with the light show and rooftop bar included, but alas, that was not to be. Instead, we opted for the early-bird special to be one of the first few people inside for the day. The house itself was only a couple of blocks away from our hotel, so it was a quick walk, and we arrived shortly before the doors open. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but you really can see Gaudi's inspiration from nature in all of his work. It's very clue that he considered God to be the ultimate designer and took his cues from what he perceived as the pinnacle of those designs. Nature is embedded in every element of this house, from the visions of bone and water on the facade, all the way to the way he designed the airflow inside the house itself. The tour of the house is a great experience, and surprisingly high-tech. The tablets they provide you not only contain a fully narrated (and scored) audio-guide, but they also have AR (augmented reality) views of each of the rooms, decorated in the way they might have been when the original owners lived there, as well as a bit of magic as the rooms come to life on the screen. Although the guide is excellent, my one criticism is that several of the audio sections are really long - upwards of 5 minutes in some cases. I don't really mind a bit of audio narration, but the length of these bits didn't really seem to match the size of the house, so there were several times when we would be finished taking in the details of a room, but be stuck waiting for the narration to finish before we moved on. There is an immersive digital experience right at the very end that I thought was a lot of fun. It's only 3 minutes, but you stand in a room that is completely covered with screens (literally all the walls, ceiling and floor) while they play a video of extrapolations from Gaudi's work that was created with machine learning and AI. It's sensational, and just gives the technology aspect of the whole tour a little notch upwards. After the house, we returned to the hotel, finished packing and grabbed a cab to the cruise terminal!! The Terminal Every cruise terminal is different. And Barcelona is no exception. Marla had provided instructions for us to go to Terminal C, which would have been a good idea even if we hadn't been Star Class, as there were just fewer people there overall (and I heard from a few folks that was the case throughout the day). We arrived at about 10:20 - 40 minutes or so ahead of our scheduled boarding time and headed over to the Star Class banner. Different from our last experience in Orlando, there isn't really a dedicated 'port genie' to help with the process. Most of the first steps are handled by the bag porters themselves. They tagged our bags with the star class tags and walked us right over to the check-in desk, where I experienced the absolute shortest check-in I've ever had. Beginning to end, including verifying passports, vaccine cards, covid tests and taking our pictures it took about 4 minutes. There were several other Star Class families who also arrived a bit early (official boarding was at 11), and while we waited for an escort to the ship, that group started to pile up a bit. Eventually, a staff member arrived and we made the hike up to the ship! We expected to meet Marla when we arrived on board ship, but unfortunately, that was not to be the case. We were instead greeted by Claudio, who let us know that due to all of the star class guests arriving sort of all at once, they needed to take folks to their cabins as they arrived, regardless of who their genie is. We learned later that a part of this is also due to the fact that Israel, one of the other genies on board, had taken ill, and his rooms distributed among the other genies at the last moment. As you might imagine, being a genie is already hard work, and having an extra room or two suddenly added to your list can make things pretty challenging! Claudio walked us to the elevator, up to the 12th deck and then down the long hallway to the AquaTheater suites. He ran through the typical first day information and then we had a chance to check out the suite. One of the reasons I was happy to have this room (instead of the Grand Suite we had originally been transferred to) is that we just had a 2BR ATS experience last summer with 6 people, and this really worked out well just for the two of us. The room is gorgeous (as is everything on the ship!) and we fell in love with it immediately. Again. Marla had, of course, provided us with small snacks and a few drinks (yay mango margarita!), so we set up shop on the deck and drank our first drinks aboard Wonder of the Seas. We didn't take too long to enjoy them, though, as we already had reservations for the newest restaurant in the fleet: The Mason Jar! The Mason Jar is just a delightful restaurant. The ambience is great. Our server was terrific, and the food and drinks were delicious. We had a bit of jalapeno biscuit to start with and then ordered our mains for brunch: chicken and waffles for me and the stuffed french toast for Ashley. They were every bit as delectable as I had hoped. After the main bit of our meal, we also split an order of red velvet pancakes because I just had to try them. And oh my. They were yummy! We will have to go back to the bar at some point, but we did managed to try four (2 each) of their signature cocktails: - Mississippi Moonlight (the only drink not made with bourbon!) - Southern Belle (my favorite so far) - PB&J Old Fashioned - Pretty as a Peach Tea The cocktails are all creative and clever and, of course, quite good. After brunch, we headed back to the room to change into swimsuits and ventured up to the new suite sun deck - which I loved. It's quiet and calm. It has a great bar and plenty of seating. As of this post, we've been up there twice, and it hasn't felt the least bit crowded either time. In any case, we sat in the loungers in the wading pool for about an hour or so (maybe an hour and a half), and let our food digest and our worries and anxiety of missed trains and sore feet melt away in the mediterranean sun. We headed back to the suite to continue relaxing, unpacked and just generally lounged a bit between then and dinner. I had momentary bit of panic when I realized that my only remaining clean button-up shirt was heavily wrinkled, but Marla had Alexis (our room attendant) rush to have it pressed in time for our dinner reservation. Trust me when I say there is very little that a royal genie cannot make happen for you on your cruise! Dinner was, naturally, Coastal Kitchen, in the time honored tradition of 1st night Filet Mignon. Dinner was excellent as always, and I still maintain that the CK filet is the best in the fleet. (Although - spoilers - the preparation we got for Chef's Table put it into the running again after a narrow miss at Chef's Table on Allure last summer). We also, naturally, split all three daily desserts, which in hindsight we probably should have just had delivered to the room for later. Dinner was pretty late in the evening, so we returned to the room to get ready to watch the brand new Aquatheater performance, inTENse. Marla had drinks delivered to us right before, and of course we got to watch the whole performance from our balcony. I won't spoil the show, but I will say that this performance is, and it's not close, the absolutely best aquatheater show I have seen to date. The energy, intensity and just overall bravado of the performance is absolutely top-notch. There is a slack-line trampoline sequence in the middle that will leave your jaw on the floor, and the aerialist is just outstanding. 7/5 stars, would see again, and probably will, on this very cruise. And that brings us the end of our first day about Wonder of the Seas! Stay tuned for tomorrow's update: The Drach Caves in Mallorca, Chef's Table and Tap Factory!
  15. Barcelona!! After much consternation, stress, anxiety and an unintended 'bonus city' in Montpellier, we finally arrived in Barcelona at just after noon on Saturday. Losing 20 hours or so meant that we had to figure out an abbreviated schedule for the city. Unfortunately, that meant sacrificing the flamenco show we wanted to see and the evening display at Casa Mila. But there was so much else to see! I'll be honest, I could spend a week in Barcelona doing nothing but admiring the architecture. There is so much (and it's not all just Gaudi!) to see in this city. We had a timed entry to La Sagrada Familia less than an hour after our train arrived, so we got a taxi straightaway from the train station and headed over to our hotel, Hotel Condes de Barcelona. The hotel is super nice and elegant. Our room was huge (especially compared to the matchbox of a room the train company put us in in Montpellier!). Both Ashley and I speak much better Spanish than we do French, so our check-in was really the first opportunity we had to speak another language during the trip. The host graciously tolerated our mispronunciations and bad grammar and we were able to breeze through check-in with very little problem - and I even understood most of what he told us! After dropping our bags off in our room, we headed right out to walk over to the cathedral, which was only 20 minutes away. My first impression of La Sagrada Familia really was the impression I had of all of Gaudi's work. It is absolutely incredible - and I think impossible to photograph well, in a way that really captures the genius of his inspiration. The details of each facade of the cathedral are immaculate, unexpected and really tell a story. Each element is intentional both from the perspective of the architect and from the perspective of the viewer. It doesn't take long to really understand why everything is the way it is. The interior of the cathedral carries the same weight as the exterior. Intricately and intentionally designed and connected in a way that makes everything just feel tied together quite elegantly. Gaudi is famous for his use of naturally occurring shapes and elements and you really feel that as you look around each room, door, staircase, wall and hallway. One of the coolest elements of the campus is actually outside the cathedral itself. It's a small school building that Gaudi designed as a temporary school for the workers constructing the cathedral. But, since Gaudi didn't do anything halfway, it's as beautiful as any other building he designed and masterpiece in its own right. After the cathedral we hopped on the bus to another of Gaudi's creations: Park Guell. I will admit that I didn't realize that Park Guell was actually just a full-size city park until we arrived. The only part I knew about was the part you see in pictures with the mosaics and sculptures. In actuality, the park is gigantic and covers several acres. We walked around admiring the gardens, landscaping and design of the trails as well. The famous sculptures in the park really are quite stunning, and we managed to get several photos there also. And then... we might have made a mistake. Our next stop was the Picasso Museum. And it was... only a 51 minute walk away. And it was all downhill. And that couldn't be that bad... right? life lessons, my friends Our feet already hurt. They still hurt. I can feel them throbbing even now as I sit comfortably in my stateroom typing away. It didn't start out too bad. But 30 minutes, we were both regretting our choices. On the one hand, the city of Barcelona is beautiful, and I am an absolute sucker for seeing a city as it really is, not what you see in brochures or the carefully curated tourist experiences you get. On the other hand... As we approached the Gothic Quarter and the Picasso Museum, though, my mood lifted significantly. The Gothic Quarter in Barcelona is exactly the type of place I envision when I think of a Mediterranean city: tightly packed streets, restaurants and shops spilling out into the walkways, and energy from everywhere as people old and young interact, laugh, and enjoy each other. If you get the opportunity to visit Barcelona, you will definitely want to spend some time here as well. We reached the museum, and I have to say, it was worth the walk. The museum has a similar flow to the Van Gogh museum - it's primarily sequential and similar to the Van Gogh museum, this museum has a lot of pieces of Picasso's earliest works, donated to the city of Barcelona by the artist himself. As with Van Gogh, you really can see the progression as the artist developed his style, at first taking hints and cues from past artists and eventually developing a sense of style and impression all his own. What I found most fascinating was really to see how much celebrity Picasso enjoyed, in direct contrast to the relative anonymity of Van Gogh prior to his death. It's really compelling to see how different their lives were, with Van Gogh struggling often in silence for yours and Picasso relishing in the popularity of the avant garde art scene in Europe during the early part of the 20th century. The 20 minute walk back to the hotel was nearly torturous, and I regret not taking the time to get a taxi. But we made it, and decided to ahead and take advantage of the hotel's rooftop bar and restaurant. We managed to get a seat on the balcony overlooking the city, despite the restaurant being incredibly busy (8:30p on a Saturday, after all). We ate some delicious tapas, had a few beers, and then decided to call it a night. We were both exhausted and, after all, we had a cruise ship to board the next day!
  16. I have already described in some detail our escapades from Friday. Here is the summary: Our train from Paris to Valence (the first part of our trip to Barcelona) was delayed by 1hr and 40 minutes. We missed our connection from Valence to Barcelona and were instructed to stay on the train until its terminus in Montpellier - where they would figure out how to get to Barcelona. In Montpellier, we would informed that we would need to stay overnight (covered by the train company), and they would tell us what to do in the morning. In the morning, we board the train from Montpellier to Barcelona without any assigned seats (much to the confusion of the train manager, Augustine, who was remarkably patient and helpful). Thankfully, the train was not as full as the folks in the ticket office seemed to indicate, so we had seats for most of the trip to Barcelona, but just grabbing seats that weren't filled between each stop. The ride was absolutely beautiful, but the train system in the EU is a disaster. Montpellier is fine, but not necessarily where I would choose to visit. It's not a major travel hub, so far fewer people speak English well, or at all. Notably, the folks inside the train station spoke almost no English, which made the entire situation that much more challenging. We did walk around a bit in the evening before we headed back to the hotel. It definitely feels much like any other city in the south of France. Very open, cozy and lived-in. But it was not Barcelona. So that was a bit disappointing.
  17. Thursday was reserved pretty much entirely for the Louvre, but we went to the Paris Catacombs in the evening as well. Our tickets said to be at the museum by 9:00 (which is when it opens), so that's when we arrived. I now know my mistake. Based on what we saw, if you have an early entrance ticket, you probably are going to want to arrive about 30 minutes before your stated time, because you're going to be standing in the queue for a while anyway. Fortunately, it wasn't hot or cold outside, and the wait wasn't bad - but there are a lot of people. I'm obviously a bit more wary about large crowds these days, especially when I'm going to need a negative covid test in just a few days! The line moved pretty quickly and we got inside. One thing to note about museums in Europe that is pretty different than museums in North America - they aren't kept that cool. If you visit almost any museum in the US, you can be pretty confident the air temperature will be kept at around 62F. There didn't seem to be any such climate control in the Louvre, so it got a little warm. Not too terribly hot, but not exactly comfortable either. You probably won't need a sweater or a jacket if you're visiting in the summer. Ashley has been to the Louvre before, but I have not. I had a short list of 'must sees' that I wanted to make sure we hit before walking the rest of the floor: The Mona Lisa (obviously), Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory. Those three are all in pretty close proximity to each other thankfully. There is a separate internal line to get up close-ish to the Mona Lisa. Apparently this is relatively new (maybe just since Covid?), but Ashley says it's way better than it was previously where people would just mob toward the front. The line moved pretty well, and we only waited about 10-15 minutes to get our obligatory selfies. Beyond that, we wandered around quite a bit just getting to what we could. I was most impressed with Napoleon's apartment and the various sculptures from the early Greek and Roman eras. There is also a relatively new section with a ton of Islamic pieces that's really interesting: massive, intricate carpets, pots, lamps and just a ton of cool items. After about 4 hours, we reached hit our fill and decided to go for a walk around Paris. We meandered quite a few streets, and I think we walked several miles before we finally made our way back to our hotel. Our catacombs tickets were for the early evening, which was great because the temperature had started to pick up. I definitely recommend the catacombs for anyone visiting Paris with some caveats. The ceilings are low. If you are 6'3" or taller, you're going to be really uncomfortable. I'm 6' and I had to stoop to walk in quite a few places. Do not visit if you are claustrophobic (though, if you are, you probably don't need me to tell you that). You're walking underground for almost a mile, and it's not a great place for a panic attack due to claustrophobic anxiety. There are real bones in the catacombs. Lots of them. If that weirds you out too much, might be better to skip this one. We don't have our kids with us, but I think they might have been a bit too grossed out for it, so that's a consideration as well. They give an audio guide to everyone, and it's one of the better ones, in my opinion. The history of the catacombs (really the underground quarries), their use, rediscovery and repurposing is really fascinating. The only bit of... concern is that the very first audio guide, that you start playing right as you enter the tunnels, provides a pretty detailed description of how Parisians rediscovered the catacombs... by them collapsing all over the city. As long as the doesn't bother you, everything will be great. We had crepes again for dinner, because our feet hurt (they're still not fully recovered!) from all the walking. And that's it from Paris. We really enjoyed our time in the city, and I can't wait to come back with our kids in a few years.
  18. Whew! So much has happened and I am off track with updates! I'm going to try put a few together in this post to bridge the gap from Paris to Barcelona, and then I'll do a bit more substance in Barcelona and on Wonder (which is amazing, by the way!).
  19. I wondered why there was so much chaos with star class boarding! We also have Marla. Hope this isn't too overwhelming for them!
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