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Western Mediterranean Cruise with Family

Written by Keith and Audrey Wilson.

Our second visit to the Mediterranean began on July 6 with a trip to the USA parking lot located immediately adjacent to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The parking lot is the largest I have seen in some time and I became doubtful we would be able to find our car on our return. Anyway, we left for the Delta gate and checked in for our flight that would take us to J.F. Kennedy Airport where we would transfer to another aircraft for our trip to Barcelona, Spain.

Our flight was an overnight trip that allowed us about two hours of sleep before arriving at 7:25 a.m. local time in Barcelona. We couldn’t board our ship, the Voyager of the Seas, until 2:00 p.m. so we contacted our daughter and son-in-law at their hotel and arranged to meet them so that we could store our bags together while we visited the city. The main attractions in Barcelona are the various buildings designed by the architect, Gaudi whose fame actually added his name to our language. We visited the site of his church which was not only gaudy but was so much so it was an attraction. The church was begun by Gaudi but, after his death, work ceased until donated funds made it possible to resume construction. Continuation of construction became the responsibility of another architect who softened the original design and this process continued up to the present so the church represents a number of architectural styles that are overwhelmed by the original design by Gaudi.

We found our bags as well as my son and his family and all boarded the ship in preparation for its first stop in Ville Franche. We found our dinner table without difficulty and met our waiters who turned out to be a good group. One of the problems that we found on this trip was that we left the ship early in the morning after breakfast in our room, lunched ashore some place, and returned in time for dinner. This was more or less the schedule of the entire family for the entire trip. This meant we didn’t have the opportunity to meet other ship passengers at lunch or even breakfast. We were able to learn more about each other, however, making the cruise memorable for each family member.

As I said earlier, our first stop was Villev Franche, a small town about three miles from Nice. We took a quick look around and then took the train to Monaco, about six miles away. We got off near the center of town and quickly found the casino with its copper roof but found the royal palace to be quite distant from our location. After we decided it was too far to walk, we also learned it was closed to the public on Sunday, so we got back on the train and returned to Ville Franche and the ship. We were there in time to take a short nap and still make it to dinner at the appointed hour.

We set sail at 8 p.m. that evening and arrived at Livorno at 7:00 a.m. which was pretty much our schedule for the rest of the cruise. Livorno is the port serving Florence and most of us had already visited Florence and decided this was not the time of year to visit it again, so we rented two cars and set off for a tour of the Tuscany countryside. We had a good time visiting little towns such as Capamori, Montecalin, and Quarrata and then raced back to the ship, arriving five minutes before the boarding deadline. It was a great way to visit Tuscany but I suggest allowing a little more time to return than we did.

The next day we docked at Civatecchia which serves as the port for Rome. We had already made arrangements for a tour guide and bus and took the 1.5 hour ride to Rome to visit the Vatican and see St. Peter’s basilica and Michelangelo’s Pieta and numerous other works of art. After lunch we visited the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, and the Trevi Fountain among numerous other sites and were impressed by the fact there were so many ruins in such an otherwise modern city. You would find yourself in a rather modern section of the city only to look beyond the modern developments to see a ruins that was being excavated. Quite a contrast!

Our next stop was Naples where we had another guide booked to show us the sights. We had previously agreed to skip Naples to allow us to visit Pompeii and then visit the Amalfi Coast. Our guide was Bernadette of the Unique Costiera Tours and she was one of the best tour guides we ever met. We went first to Pompeii, passing Mt. Vesuvius on the way and then had to hire a separate guide for Pompeii because of some local law that required guides to be from the local area. She showed us the sights which frankly we found to be a bit over-rated. The volcanic eruption occurred in 79 A.D. when 30 feet of pumice and ash covered the city, more or less baking everyone in the activity in which they were engaged. We walked about 1.5 miles over cobblestones and noted the scars on the cobblestone from the chariots. There also were sidewalks on either side of the street and designated crossing area with stepping stones. We saw excavated shops and mansions but the only skeletons were two plastered forms supposedly in the shape they were in when the volcano erupted.

We left to begin our visit to the Amalfi Coast which proved to be one of the highlights of the entire cruise! We traveled on a narrow road seemingly pasted to the side of the mountain and saw numerous homes and even hotels which appeared to be held in place in the same manner. In general, the mountains ran almost vertically to the sea with a very small beach along the shore. Every now and then there would be a break in the mountains and in the small breaks you would see fishing boats pulled up on shore and in the larger openings would be small groups of houses and, ultimately, even a village. We stopped at Positano, Amalfi, and Salerno but the excitement came from traveling through the mountains and seeing the unbelievable locations of dwellings along the way. The houses were often so placed that a person walking out on the front porch who slipped over the side of the porch would fall at least 400 feet before hitting the rocks below the structure. We also saw the Villa Rufolo which was the inspiration for Wagner’s opera, Parsifal. We were most sorry to see this tour end.

Our last stop was Palermo, Sicily, and as a group we were too tired to do much visiting so everyone was one their own. Phil, Mary Anne, and Philip went ashore to visit and Audrey took a short stroll ashore as well, but the rest of us stayed on board and visited the wonders of the ship. The Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas is some 1,000 feet long and can accommodate 3,300 passengers. It has a mini 9-hole golf course, a fitness center and day spa, a Johnny Rockets café, an ice rink, a climbing wall, and other amenities. The nightly shows boasted good professional entertainment and, frankly, we were impressed with the facilities provided which did not interfere with the privacy of the balcony cabins.

We enjoyed the ship’s facilities on the day at sea before returning to Barcelona where we were scheduled to arrive at 5 a.m. but actually were at the dock at about 8 a.m. We were told when to leave by the color of our baggage tags and John and family joined us in a taxi ride to the Hotel Turin where we spent the night. Audrey and I had dinner alone and spent time reflecting on the trip and its various highlights and agreed it was the best cruise of our lives. We left late the next morning for the airport and our return home, losing both our bags between Atlanta and Detroit but recovering them four days later at home. The mini-bus driver from USA parking found our car with no difficulty even though it was 11:30 p.m. Quite frankly, I was amazed.