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Star Class in the Mediterranean: Wonder of the Seas - 6/5/22


VoidoftheSeas
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I just wrapped up an incredible week on Allure of the Seas, sharing a first-time Star Class experience with my wife, our daughters and my parents in suite 10730, which is a 2 bedroom AquaTheater suite. The cruise was packed full of fun and activities, but not packed full of people! We had such a great time that my wife and I are going back for seconds next summer with a repeat sailing on Allure, but this time in the Mediterranean! This will be our first kids-free vacation in a really, really long time.

It's still quite a ways out, but we're going to start planning this week, so I figured I'd invite you all along for the ride!

Here are the details (mostly!):

Pre-Cruise

  • Flying from Seattle to Reykjavik, Iceland where we will spend ~ 1.5 days. Ashley has been dying to see the Blue Lagoon!
  • Flying from Reykjavik to Paris, France. We're going to spend at least 2 days in Paris, maybe 3, depending on what we plan to do. Ashley has been to Paris a couple of times, but I've only ever seen it from inside Charles De Gaul, so I'm really pumped about this leg.
  • Intercontinental train from Paris to Barcelona, Spain. I have had this recommended to me by several people. Definitely want to do this during the day so we can see the countryside.
  • Arrival in Barcelona. This is where we still have some question marks. We are going to spend a couple of days in Barca, but we are undecided about whether to do it before or after the cruise. Having just spent a day of traveling after debarkation, I'm leaning more towards touring Barcelona after the cruise is over, but we will see

Cruise Itinerary

  • Day 1: Boarding in Barcelona
  • Day 2: Palma de Mallorca, Spain
  • Day 3: Marseilles (Provence), France
  • Day 4: La Spezia (Florence/Pisa), Italy
  • Day 5: Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy
  • Day 6: Naples (Capri), Italy
  • Day 7: Day at Sea
  • Day 8: Sadness. I mean, Barcelona.  

Post-Cruise

  • We will most likely spend a couple of days in Barcelona after the cruise and then fly back to Iceland before returning to Seattle. It just turns out that there is a strong case of 'you can't get there from here' between Barcelona and Seattle, so we're probably going to just book a round trip with Icelandair and then individual legs between Reykjavik->Paris and Barcelona->Reykjavik

We haven't planned hardly anything yet in terms of what we are going to do in each city, so I am open to recommendations and suggestions and I am particularly interested in people's best practices for how to do Rome in one day. I have a feeling that booking a Rome excursion through the ship will eat a lot of time, so we want to do it on our own, but I will need help.

The Suite

We are staying in one of the Star Loft Suites (#1720). I'm especially excited about this room. I loved the Aqua Theater suite, but it is pretty far away from the other suites and it's a hike to and from the elevators every time. Now that we've done Star Class once, I have a much better idea of how I want to do things this time around. 

Note: The chatter aboard ship this past week is that Allure will be getting amplified in April - though, I haven't seen any official announcements yet.
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All right! That's it to start with! I'd love for folks to follow along, and I am definitely open to recommendations for any of the ports or for Reykjavik or Paris! 

Let's do this!

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NoRegarding Rome it's really depends what you want to do.

If you want to tour it by yourself you have three option :

1. Take a bus or train from RCL 

2. Take a bus from the port (there will be plenty of them) .

3. Take a train by your own from the train station which you can travel to using a 1.5 Euro shuttle bus. That will be the cheapest but will take you to the main train station and not to the Vatican.

In Rome you can buy ticket for the hop on hop off buss , but you can always walk from the Vatican to the center (not short but not that long).

 

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I'll be in Barcelona for a single port day in '22 as well. So far the biggest / best things I've seen to do all revolve around the various works created by Antoni Gaudí that are located around the city.

  • Sagrada Familia cathedral -- Must buy tickets in advance as they sell out quickly, and you must be prepared for a long time in line, but the pics I've seen of the interior are spectacular! Ticket options include on-your-own and guided tour that goes to some areas on-your-own can't.
  • Parc Güell -- privatized park system on Carmel Hill

There's a third one that I'm forgetting, but if you search for Sagrada Familia on YouTube, you'll find a video covering that plus Gaudí's other publicly viewable works around Barcelona. But for me, those are the two "must-see" things in Barcelona, particularly if you have a couple of days there.

I have read / heard that Barcelona is rife with pickpockets in the tourist areas, especially outside Sagrada Familia; so do be careful if you go to either.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My family is on this same cruise, but starting in Rome on the the 2nd.  I have booked a day tour through a company called Rome in Limo for Rome, Naples and Livorno.  They will have a driver meet us at each port - the tours are customizable if you want to make changes.

3 Ports Package: Civitavecchia, Livorno and Naples - Packages - Rome In Limo

If you prefer to tour on your own, a good guide book for Mediterranean ports is this one. 

Rick Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports (Rick Steves Travel Guide): Steves, Rick: 9781641710954: Amazon.com: Books

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Well, looks like this might be up in the air pending Royal's decision on how they are going to handle moving folks from suites on Allure to suites on Wonder. We'll have to see what happens, but I'm not super excited about the idea of being placed in a Sky Class room for this cruise (just not the experience we were looking for). 

Hopefully everything works out well. 

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On 9/13/2021 at 12:49 PM, wordell1 said:

My family is on this same cruise, but starting in Rome on the the 2nd.  I have booked a day tour through a company called Rome in Limo for Rome, Naples and Livorno.  They will have a driver meet us at each port - the tours are customizable if you want to make changes.

3 Ports Package: Civitavecchia, Livorno and Naples - Packages - Rome In Limo

If you prefer to tour on your own, a good guide book for Mediterranean ports is this one. 

Rick Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports (Rick Steves Travel Guide): Steves, Rick: 9781641710954: Amazon.com: Books

This is great! Thanks for sharing!

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  • 2 weeks later...

What a whirlwind! As most people probably know, all of the Allure of the Seas sailings in the Mediterranean next summer have been replaced with Wonder of the Seas.

Wonder is an incredible, brand-new ship. Yay!
But, Wonder also has far fewer Star Class rooms available, including no Star Loft. Boo!

We've been stressing over what will happen with our room for days. We've been looking forward to this experience and were really concerned about a downgrade from our Star Class suite.

Well, now I know.

We've been moved into a Grand Suite 1BR. Boo!
But all our Star Class and amenities and benefits are being retained. Yay!

It's basically the best I could have hoped for with the change, and while I am disappointed that we won't get the Star Loft room, I'm thrilled that we will still have a Star Class experience on the cruise, albeit in a slightly smaller room. 

 

 

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Over the last week, we've been working to shore up our pre-cruise itinerary, which has meant a couple of changes in venues. All very exciting stuff!

First! We have decided not to go to Iceland this time around. Basically, after looking at everything there and thinking through our longer term travel plans, we want to wait to do Iceland until our kids are coming with us - mostly because we're not confident that we would want to go there a second time, and want to make sure our kids have the experience. 

So instead, we are going to start our trip in Amsterdam! 

Our current itinerary looks something like this:

Day 0: Depart from Seattle. Flights, waiting, yawn.
Day 1: Arrival in Amsterdam. Anne Frank House. Van Gogh Museum.
Day 2: Train to Brussels. Grand Palace. Manneken Pis. Some kind of Belgian Chocolate. Train to Paris.
Day 3: Pantheon. Notre Dame. Palais Garnier. Arc de Triomphe. Dinner at The Jules Verne (Eiffel Tower).
Day 4: Paris Catacombs. Versailles.
Day 5: The Louvre.
Day 6: Train to Barcelona. Casa Battlo.
Day 7: Picasso Museum. Barcelona Gothic Quarter. La Sagrada Familia. Parc Guell. Casa Mila.
Days 8-15:  Wonder of the Seas!

Whew! I am exhausted just thinking about all of it, but I am also pretty excited about everything on our list. It's possible we will add another day in Barcelona, once the cruise is over, but that's still pretty up in the air and will likely depend on flights.

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  • VoidoftheSeas changed the title to Star Class in the Mediterranean: Wonder of the Seas - 6/5/22

I am terrible at updating things like this. 

SO MANY THINGS.

First! We checked room availability every day for months and months. Earlier in the year I noticed that there was an Aquatheater 1BR suite available, which is definite upgrade from a grand suite, IMO. We made a few calls, pleaded our case, and now we are in a suite that will feel much more appropriate to our Star Class experience. Having recently travelled on Allure in a 2BR ATS with 6 people, I can confidently say that we will be quite happy with this room. 

We are now *checks notes* THREE WEEKS away from our departure. All of our flights and hotels are booked, restaurant reservations made where necessary, and the excitement could not be higher. 

After several false starts and miscommunications and misunderstandings from employees at both the passport agency and the post office, Ashley was finally able to get her passport delivered to our house (USPS lost her previous one and hoo boy is that a hassle to deal with). 

"Good" news is that our whole house caught the last Covid wave, so I'm extremely confident that we'll avoid infection as we get closer to our departure date. That's one way to make sure you don't have any last minute Covid issues. But, uh, I don't recommend it. 

We got our genie survey earlier in the week, and despite the fact that many genies hardly even look at it, we enjoyed the process of filling it out all the same. We are anxiously awaiting a real message from our genie, which I anticipate seeing in the next few days. 

Now we're in the middle of locking down and clarifying the entry requirements for all the countries we'll be visiting. If anyone is joining Wonder this weekend and able to tell me what the situation is for Italy, I would greatly appreciate any clarity there. There's a lot of info floating around, it's pretty inconsistent and it's been hard to figure out what's real for cruise ships.

I think that's enough of an update for now. I'll be back in a week or so for the next one!
 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Update time!!! 
We are 13 days out from the trip and 21 days out for the cruise!

Okay, so we've been on pins and needles since the last update waiting to hear from our genie. We crossed the 30 day mark with no contact, and started to get nervous because we didn't see anything, and from what I've seen and heard from others (and our past experience), it's really unusual for the first communication from the genie to be more than a month out. 

When we woke up this morning without anything from the genies, I decided to take matters into my own hands (so to speak).

My first concern was that some wires had gotten crossed with the confirmation of our Star Class benefits during the transition from the Allure to the Wonder, and losing the Star Loft room. I'd been assured over and over again by RCL staff that we retained our benefits, but this is the kind of situation that would make anyone, understandably, nervous. 

I sent over an email to the concierge on Wonder explaining the situation and then I got on the phone with RCL customer service to confirm everything. The concierge was incredible - responding in less than hour (less than the amount of time I spent on the phone, btw), and forwarding my email to the genie team onboard Wonder.

The customer service experience was... less helpful. Honestly, I feel bad for the call center employees because they have to put up with a lot of confusing situations, and basically what I uncovered is that the notes from our previous phone calls were less than clear for the person we got on the phone. After nearly an hour and a half of waiting on hold while they went back and forth with the resolutions team, they finally told me that someone would call me to follow up in the next 48 hours. Frustrating, but I've been here before with RCL customer service, so it was to be expected.

But it doesn't matter. Because only 2 short hours later, the email finally arrived!!!

We have Marla as our genie, and I'm so pumped! I have seen absolutely nothing but rave reviews about her everywhere online, to the point that several folks who are regular SC cruisers claim she is their favorite. All the genies are terrific in different ways, but I couldn't be happier that we'll have Marla on our sailing. 

I have some theories on why we didn't hear from her until today. I'd love confirmation of this, if anyone happens to know for sure. What I think is that they have only 3 genies allocated on Wonder due to the reduced number of Star Class rooms onboard, but those three genies have to do the work of 4, because of the number of people who were in other Star Class rooms that got reassigned when Allure got swapped out for Wonder. Based on the amount of typical pre-cruise back and forth, it would surprise me if the genies are reaching out a bit later to keep the number of emails they have to write to a minimum.

No matter what the reason, I'm just excited that we are getting closer and closer every day!

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We had Marla in March on wonder. It was our family’s first SC cruise. I heard from her 3 weeks out and didn’t hear back for another week. I was worried initially but I figured she was busy with on board passengers.  
 

You have nothing to worry. She will take an awesome care of you. She’s one of the original genies and she truly enjoys her job.  She’s always positive and full of energy. You will love her. Enjoy your trip!

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On 5/15/2022 at 6:48 PM, VoidoftheSeas said:

I have some theories on why we didn't hear from her until today.

My theory is the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.

The disconnect between shoreside and the ships constantly baffles me. I wouldn't be surprised if they never stopped to reconcile the list of folks who were downgraded but were still to retain the SC amenities. 

Fortunately once you are on the ship you will have a Genie to advocate for you, but there are a lot of moving parts that may get missed. 

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Our trip begins in FIVE DAYS!

We are mostly packed, which is a huge deal for me, because I almost never pack until the day before I leave for a trip. We packed much lighter for this trip than other recent trips because it's so much easier to just not have to deal with large luggage while traveling across Europe. A carry-on and a backpack each is all we have for 2 weeks.

I spent a good chunk of this weekend finalizing ticket purchases to most of the places we're visiting in Europe (some we purchased months back), so I thought this would be a good time for a preview of the activities!

Pre-Cruise
Amsterdam

The first leg of our journey begins in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Home of Anne Frank, Vincent Van Gogh, and Rembrandt.

  • The Amsterdam Dungeon - 1 hour interactive performance showcasing the 'dark history' of Amsterdam. Apparently there are several of these sprinkled across a few different cities in Europe. It's supposed to be a little bit scary and a little bit creepy, but with great acting and fun.
  • Van Gogh Museum - It wouldn't be much of a trip to Amsterdam, if we didn't visit the gallery of one of the greatest European artists even to live. 
  • Canal Cruise - I probably knew at some point that Amsterdam was a canal city, but I had completely forgotten. We're doing this in the evening to try to catch the sunset while we're on the boat. 
  • Senses Restaurant - I love food, so we're going to try a lot of restaurants on this trip! This restaurant is in our hotel, but also highly rated and recommended. 
  • We only have about 24 hours in Amsterdam, so we're going to be walking around and seeing only the outside of:
    • The Royal Palace
    • The Oude Church
    • The Rembrandt House
    • The Skinny Bridge (there's no inside here, I guess)

Brussels

We are taking a train from Amsterdam to Paris, with a brief stop for a few hours in Brussels along the way. There are a couple of things we wanted to catch here, but there was just no way for us to fit a full day or two into our travel plans, because we wanted more time in Paris and Barcelona. 

  • The Grand-Place - gorgeous town square, pavilion and surrounding architecture with a somewhat grisly history dating back to the Inquisition. The square itself dates back more than half a millennium and the surrounding buildings date from the 17th century showcasing the transition from Gothic to Baroque architecture.
  • Mannekin Pis - self explanatory, I think. Iconic sculpture and just something you have to see once. 

Paris

Obviously, we are very excited about Wonder of the Seas, but Paris is the highlight of this trip for me. We are spending 3 days and 4 nights here, and it won't be enough, but I'm so, so pumped about this. My wife has been to Paris a couple of times, but this will be my first time, so there's a lot to look forward to!

  • The Panthéon - Our hotel room also has a view of this 18th century mausoleum. Perhaps the iconic neoclassical building in Western Europe.
  • Notre Dame - I've been fascinated by this church since I was a child - thanks to Victor Hugo. Monumental, iconic and majestic. If you're interested in some compelling philosophy about the reconstruction and refurbishment of old buildings, Notre Dame is great place to start. It has been damaged by fire, time and weather, and undergone a number of renovations since its completion in 1260. 
  • Arc de Triomphe - Inspired by the 1st century Arch of Titus in Rome, it's the crown of Champs-Élysées. 
  • Eiffel Tower - I think you all know what this is. 😅
  • Versailles - You can probably spend a few days exploring Versailles, but we will only get one. This massive residence served as the living quarters and seat of government of the French monarchy for hundreds of years.
  • The Louvre - the most popular museum in the world (sorry British Museum fans), and home to the Mona Lisa, among other incredible works of art and history. This facility is enormous and would take about a week to really see everything, but again, we get only a day. We will make the best of it!
  • Paris Catacombs - the remains of more than 6 million people are buried beneath the city in Paris. Almost certainly not suitable for small children, but a fascinating bit of history.
  • Le Jules Verne - the restaurant inside the Eiffel Tower. I have never spent this much on a meal, so I have high expectations, but French cooking in a restaurant operated by a chef with 3 Michelin stars, 400 feet above the ground? What's not to love?

Barcelona

The final leg of our continental journey and our embarkation point for Wonder of the Seas, Barcelona has a rich history and again, incredible architecture and artistic influence. Famous for the architect, Antoni Gaudi, whose work features prominently throughout the city. 

  • We are taking the train from Paris to Barcelona. It's about a 6 hour ride through the best of the French and Spanish countryside. Hopefully, it will be relatively easy to get some pictures as we ride.
  • Casa Battlo - Commissioned redesign of an older home, this house and its façade is some of Gaudi's most iconic work. 
  • Casa Milo - Gaudi's final commission of a private residence, this home resembles a stone quarry. Fabulously unique and just really, really interesting. 
  • Basilica de la Sagrada Familia - the largest unfinished cathedral in the world, Sagrada Familia was developed by multiple architects, including Gaudi at one point. Estimated to be finally completed over the next decade. 
  • Picasso Museum - at this point, I think you would be completely forgiven for believing this trip is just an excuse to see old artwork. You might be right. This is the largest collection of work by Pablo Picasso, who began his art career in the city before he eventually relocated to France. Many of his earliest artwork is contained in the collection, which boasts nearly 5000 pieces.
  • Park Guell - Once again a curiosity of Gaudi's invention. Park Guell just looks so darn cool.
  • We are also taking in a Flamenco show. The location isn't special in any way, but it should still be a lot of fun. 

Wonder of the Seas

We booked all of our excursions with Royal Caribbean this time around, for two primary reasons. First, I've never been to any of these ports, and I don't have the confidence that we would be able to make it back to the ship without issue if something occurred during an excursion. Second, we spent a lot of time planning our continental stops - the back half of this trip is meant to be as effortless as possible. Marla will handle everything for us on the ship, and the excursions are booked without needing to spend too much time thinking about them, coordinating with private guides or trying to drum up business to make sure a tour happens.

Palma de Mallorca

  • Mysterious Drach Caves of Palma - Underground lakes, caves and fun. We considered a beach day, but we did our beach/cruise vacation this year already. Caves it is.

Marseilles

  • Culinary Flavors of Provence - Because a Star Class food coma just isn't enough. There is a big difference between Parisian cuisine and the fare of southern France. This is basically 4 hours of walking around and eating food, with another few hours of on-your-own exploration. If there is any shopping to be had during our trip, this is probably when it will take place,.

La Spezia (Florence/Pisa)

  • Tuscan Farmhouse Experience - The thing about Pisa is that it's really something you only want to do once. It's an interesting novelty, but it's also kind of out of the way and there's not much else around it. So we're going to wait until we have a trip where we bring our kids. We both love wine and the idea of rustic living (we would never do it - we're city mice to the core), so this should be a pleasant afternoon.

Rome

  • Best of Rome - Good luck trying to figure out which excursion in Rome goes where. It took me days of trying to work out the details, and I finally found a blog online that covered the details of each one, and now I can no longer find it. That said, this excursion focuses on the Vatican sites, St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, etc. But it also stops around the Colosseum/Forum and Trevi Fountain. I'm not super into crowds, so I'm happy to pass on the interior of the Colosseum this time. 

Naples

  • The Ruins of Pompeii - Our final excursion is a visit to the incredibly well preserved ruins of the city of Pompeii, destroyed by Mount Vesuvius almost 2000 years ago. We looked at some of the other options in Naples as well, as a visit to the Amalfi coast, Sorrento, and the like would be a lot of fun. In the end, though, we decided choose one, focus on having a great experience and then prepare to relax for the last day and half of the cruise. I think we'll be glad, in the end, to have given ourselves a bit of respite before heading back home.

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And that's... everything. We have a lot planned over the next few weeks, and I'll be honest, I'm having a hard time thinking about anything else right now!

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You have a fun trip planned, even though I have been to half the places, I would love to do an itinerary like this. 

I am also on the Jan 15, 2023, Oasis sailing. Is that one also star class for you? 

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17 minutes ago, Ampurp85 said:

You have a fun trip planned, even though I have been to half the places, I would love to do an itinerary like this. 

I am also on the Jan 15, 2023, Oasis sailing. Is that one also star class for you? 

It is! We're celebrating my (gasp!) 40th birthday. I will have to double check, but I think we're in the Grand Panoramic on that sailing. 

We've been really fortunate the last few years. I remember vividly a time when we literally had to pinch every penny to make something like a cruise work at all. 

 

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18 minutes ago, VoidoftheSeas said:

It is! We're celebrating my (gasp!) 40th birthday. I will have to double check, but I think we're in the Grand Panoramic on that sailing. 

We've been really fortunate the last few years. I remember vividly a time when we literally had to pinch every penny to make something like a cruise work at all. 

 

Sweet, I just turned 37 on the 21st, so I understand. I am solo in a balcony. I finally got my family on board for a star class sailing, how many can fit in a grand panoramic? Since it will be 5 or 6, I am looking at Aqua suites.

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14 minutes ago, Ampurp85 said:

Sweet, I just turned 37 on the 21st, so I understand. I am solo in a balcony. I finally got my family on board for a star class sailing, how many can fit in a grand panoramic? Since it will be 5 or 6, I am looking at Aqua suites.

Looks like 4. The ATS 2BR is probably the best deal (and experience) on an Oasis class ship, because guests 3-8 are so much cheaper. Royal Loft sleeps 6, but it's pretty pricy as a base. For everything else, you're really looking at multiple rooms, which usually costs more. 

We did the ATS 2BR with my parents last summer and it was a blast. I highly recommend it, as long as no one minds the hike between the room and the elevator too much. 

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2 hours ago, WAAAYTOOO said:

You will love the GPS, @VoidoftheSeas.  It’s such a beautiful suite.  The balcony is small (compared to the ATS) but they managed to squeeze a hot tub up there !  Yeah I’m pretty sure 4 is the max sleeping for that one.  Just 1 BR.

I'm 99% sure the balcony hot tub is the reason my wife booked that suite.

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