Sailing on the Regal Princess; April 16-23, 2022
When planning our spring break vacation this year, we weighed many options. We had unique choices because we spent this year living in Valencia, Spain, rather than our home in San Francisco, CA. Our son has been asking us to take a cruise since he was four, and we were excited to be able to cruise again. We decided to take a Princess Cruise out of Barcelona, which had four ports of call in the Mediterranean. Because his spring break was extended here (11 days!), we tacked on two nights in Barcelona before the cruise, and two nights in Bologna, Italy, after the cruise.
Pre-cruise stay: Barcelona, Spain
Once settled at our hotel, we took a walk down to Citadel Park, a beautiful green space built for the World Fair in 1888. This park is also home to the zoo, but we did not explore it on this trip. One highlight of the park is the Cascada, a two-tier fountain with a statue of Venus atop it, which was inspired by Rome’s Trevi Fountain. It was a great place to take a second and be present in the moment and appreciate where we were. Next, we walked through the charming, medieval neighborhood, El Born. We found a great little tapas bar called Bormuth for dinner. Day two we did a self-guided bike tour of the city, which took us to Sagrada Familia, the Olympic Village, and the beach. That evening we visited the Palace Hotel Barcelona, an elegant 5-star hotel in the heart of the city.
Our cabin was a mini-suite with plenty of space (by cruise standards). There was a couch pull-out bed for Lucas and a curtain that we used to divide the room for different bedtimes or evening work. There was a large balcony with two chairs and a small table overlooking the sea. None of the balconies on this ship face the inside as you see on the bigger ships. The bathroom was slightly bigger than rooms we have had in the past because it included a bathtub.
Princess uses Medallions instead of the old key cards. These work for your room entry, paying for items like drinks, and getting on and off the ship. The Medallions work great and make it super convenient. It comes with a lanyard, but I bought the wristband and loved it. It was waterproof, so I could keep it on for ordering drinks while in the hot tub. It generally allowed for contactless exchanges, which seem to be more important on ships these days.
The Retreat is an adults-only space with a pool and bar. Right next to it is The Sanctuary which is open to everyone but at an extra charge. Comfy chairs and cabanas are included in the experience. You can even get a massage while visiting the space.
The kids club was excellent. Our son only wanted to spend his days there, even preferring that to the excursions. They had three-hour blocks of time where they would watch the kids, and our son constantly asked when he could go back. There was almost always an activity that the kids did, like decorating backpacks, hats, and even t-shirts. They also had free skee-ball, air hockey, and organized games. We were concerned about sending him there so much, but he loved it! He wished he could have spent more time there.
On one of the sea days, we did the wine tasting. It included five wines, each with a food pairing. The host was a storyteller and educator, sharing his knowledge with about 100 guests in the dining room.
The Regal Princess has two dining rooms, and dinner was not at a set time. We tried both and had a much better experience in the Concerto dining room. The staff was friendly in both, but the Concerto staff was an excellent team that worked efficiently and accurately.
PRO TIP: If you book excursions through a third party instead of with the cruise line, you may need to find your own way to the meeting point. Keep this in mind when planning.
Gibraltar, an overseas British territory on the southern coast of Spain, is dominated by a 1400-foot high rock. Its strategic location, where Europe and Africa are only 9 miles apart, has made this a valuable territory for the British since 1713. This coveted location also made it vulnerable to attack during World War 2, so there is plenty of history to soak up here. We walked through the city center before deciding how to spend the day here. We learned that there are a few options for reaching the summit of the rock. The cable car is a unique experience, but it only takes you to one of the sites at the top. If you don’t mind a long walk with lots of elevation change, then this option is slightly cheaper and builds in exercise to your day. I would recommend it for adults who are in shape. Otherwise, a van tour is the best option. We decided to do the van tour and joined another family, who we later learned was also visiting from Valencia, and have now become friends. At the top of the rock, you'll find the Apes' Den, Queens Lookout, Skywalk, St. Michael's Cave, and much more.
Marseille (Provence), France
Marseille is France’s oldest city with an important port that is an economic engine for the country. There are interesting buildings and neighborhoods in this old city. We went to the lavender fields and red rocks on a previous cruise, so this time we explored the city by electric bike. The bike ride is usually an awesome way to see a city up close, especially with a short time frame like you have with a cruise ship excursion. But Marseille is not a good biking city. The e-bikes are great, but you’re sharing the road most of the time with French drivers. It’s confusing, and a little stressful, and the bike guides here were undertrained. Unless you are an advanced bike rider, this is not an excursion I would recommend.
Things to see while in Marseille include The Abbey of Saint-Victor, The Vieux Port (Old Port), and the district of le Panier are just a few of the highlights.
Genoa (Milan), Italy
We did a food tour of Genoa’s old city, which was a fun way to learn the history of the region. We met our guide by the aquarium and talked about this charming city while tasting the local delicacies. The tiny, labyrinthine streets make it easy to get lost. Our guide led us through the maze and made the occasional stop to taste a local delight, including handmade pesto (the local specialty) and focaccia, and of course finishing with a scoop of gelato. The city is slightly on a hill, but anyone who can walk several miles should be able to complete this tour.
Livorno (Pisa/Florence), Italy
On a previous cruise, we took a bus to Florence and loved it. We did a walking tour of the town and fell in love with the city. This home of the Medicis has unique sites, like The Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Academy of Florence (home to Michaelangelo’s David). If you haven’t been to Florence, then I highly recommend an excursion there.
On this trip, we were traveling with our 7-year-old, and he was excited to see the leaning tower of Pisa. We chose an excursion that took us to Lucca and Pisa for about 2 hours in each location. Lucca is a renaissance era walled city, and its wall is the only one from this era still intact. It’s now a park, and visitors can walk and bike along the wall and enjoy its terrific views. We wandered through the charming streets, then stopped for a nice lunch in Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. The plaza is named for the Roman-era amphitheater that once stood here. Lucca is one of the best-maintained old cities I have ever seen.
Pisa is a kitschy destination, but it was neat to see in person. It was like seeing a celebrity; you’ve seen so many images and all of a sudden there it is. Tickets should be pre-purchased because you may not have time to buy on-site and see the top on the same trip. There are other sites nearby to explore. The leaning tower of Pisa is €20 per person and has timed entry. It takes about 30 minutes to visit and climb to the top. Most of the other sites there are free or just a few extra euros.
Post-cruise stay: Bologna, Italy
Our cruise disembarked in Civitavecchia (Rome), and we spent a few days exploring that city on our previous cruise. This trip we decided to catch the high-speed train from Rome to Bologna. Bologna is known for its university, and you feel the energy of the youth in some areas. We stayed in the city center and explored everywhere we wanted on foot. There is a near-constant buzz in the old city. We saw the stunning Basilica of San Petronio, which at one time was planned to be larger than St. Peter’s in Vatican City. Bologna’s wealthy families built tall defensive towers in the 12th century, and a few are still standing. The most famous is the Asinelli tower, which is a frighteningly fun 320 feet tall climb. At the top, we were rewarded with incredible views of the walled city, its expansion, and the countryside. Of course, since this is Italy, we enjoyed some delicious handmade pasta with the city’s namesake sauce: bolognese.
If you're interested in learning more about sailing the Mediterranean or visiting any of these destinations, contact me today!