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Barcelona's Beauty…And Beyond

BARCELONA, Spain — Right off the top, there are two observations about visiting this Spanish jewel that has been home to  Antoni Gaudi, the Olympic Games, Pablo Picasso and 5.5 million current residents. 

One, you can never be here often enough to tire of Las Ramblas. This is good news for Costa Cruises, among others with ships stopping here. 

Two, there’s more to Catalonia than Barcelona.

Like Sitges and its coastline (above).

Costa’s new flagship, the Diadema, stops by Barcelona to pick up and drop off 3,710 passengers (or so) once every week. The first stop on shore for Diadema’s passengers was RamblasLas Ramblas, the dated and charming part of the city that is a huge magnet for both tourists and locals. In another city, it might be called “Old Town” but Las Ramblas has a nicer sound, at least in English.

You can’t really tell where it begins and ends, only that it does, somewhere on the periphery of the tapas bars, narrow cobblestone streets, great shops, better restaurant and fascinating historical edifices that seem to stand on most corners. You can spend a day there and come back a couple of times, as we have, and spend another day.

And never regret it.

The Las Ramblas area started as a street called La Rambla (the avenue), which of course is still there somewhere in the maze. Virtually every city tour, including Costa’s, includes it along with the Olympic Stadium, another tourism staple. That status also applies to La BarcelonaSagrada Familia. If you haven’t heard of it, you’ve never been to Barcelona, where it reigns as the monument more than any other when they come to Spain. It’s also the world’s largest unfinished church (or smallest), and has been for generations. Antoni Gaudi designed it and gave up building it after 43 years when he was killed by a train.

That was in 1926. Gaudi was 74 when he died and left his handprints all over Barcelona’s buildings. The church’s unfinished state was further devastated by the Spanish Civil War, when arsonists destroyed Gaudi’s studio but not his dream. Its latest scheduled completion date is the centenary of Gaudi’s death, 2026, but nobody’s betting on it. Of the 18 bell towers he designed, eight have been built.

Barcelona’s former bull ring (the sport is banned in Catalonia) is now a shopping mall. The Olympic Stadium, built in 1929 for the World’s Fair and refurbished for the Olympics of 1992, is on Montjuic Hillside, which overlooks this fascinating city and which is now basically a track and field facility that also hosts live concerts.

And then there’s “outside” Barcelona.

Maria NadinaOur second waterfront resort (we’d been at Le Méridien Ra Beach Hotel & Spa on the same area seven years ago) is a half-hour outside the city, and was chosen by the Costa delegation. It was in Sitges (the “g” is soft), or a short walk from Sitges, a lovely artistic town that is sometimes called the Saint-Tropez of Spain. Our hotel — the impressive four-star Hotel Estela Barcelona — was 20 minutes from Sitges as the pedometer goes so we spent close to an hour of the short time (five or six hours) we had there walking the seawall, having arrived too late to visit the museum recommended by a friend in Barcelona, Maria Nadina (right), who is a tour guide par excellence.

The rest of our time was invested in walking through another tight collection ofarchitecture, returning to the hotel and dining at one of the restaurants on the boardwalk Sitgesnearby, Les Fonts. It’s divided by the boardwalk so there’s constant traffic back and forth,  and the most demonstrative (in a nice way) waitress you’re likely to find.

Barcelona cornersSitges is as laid-back as Barcelona is bustling. The contrast is welcome after a busy day in the big city where, incidentally, street corners (or many of them) are not 90 degrees but cut to 45 degrees. That’s to facilitate traffic flow by making more space at intersections, giving it a Parisian look (or maybe Paris has a Barcelonian look). 

In our two previous visits, this is one of the things we never knew. Like we said, you can never make too many trips to Barcelona.

Or Sitges.

In the news…

• Violence cancels Puerto Vallarta stoips for two cruise lines
• Dead whale dragged ashore by cruise ship in Vancouver
• Oceania lowers fares for West Coast cruises this summer

Today at portsandbows.com: Viking Star off to be christened



Holland America Eurodam
12 nights
June 13, 2015
Copenhagen (return): Kiel, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Berlin
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $74

The Business of Ship Godmothers


Is the whole Godmother thing wearing a little thin in the cruise world, are people getting tired of celebrities, or is there a shortage of “acceptable” celebrities?

The Godmother of Anthem of the Seas, the new Royal Caribbean ship that’s being christened in Southampton in two weeks, is Emma Wilby.

Emma Wilby?

She’s from the Wilbys of Kinloss, Scotland, where she sings in the Military Wives Choir. She’s undoubtedly a lovely lass, as the Scots would say, and when she christens the Emma WilbyAnthem she’ll sing an anthem, a special song written specifically for the occasion.

When all is said and done, she will be a celebrity of sorts…for singing, for christening and for being a ship’s godmother. She’ll join a Royal Caribbean list of godmothers that include Gloria Estefan, Whoopi Goldberg, Steffi Graf and Jane Seymour. Sophia Loren is also a Godmother, and so are Queen Elizabeth (not the ship) and her daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Celebrity company that is, and if Emma feels a little out of place it’s easy to understand why. In addition to being a military wife — her husband is a royal engineer in the British Army — Emma is a travel agent.

And that is one of the pools of people into which cruise lines are dipping to find their godmothers now. She is not the first travel agent to be so selected, and one cruise line went in-house and picked employees to do the honors.

The conclusion to be drawn is that either celebrities bring too much “baggage” with them, making it more difficult to use them to market such a wholesome product as cruising…or maybe it’s just that travel agents just sell more tickets.

Today at portsandbows.com: Princess ship a bilingual experience in Japan

Holland America Eurodam
12 nights
May 8, 2015
Copenhagen (return): Kiel, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Berlin
Inside: $829
Cost per day: $69

St. Petersburg: On The Bucket List

’Tis the season to be connecting with friends and family, right? In the course of doing just that, we were chatting with Cousin Cathie, who lives in Houston and who likes to spend time on cruise ships.

She’s a big fan of Royal Caribbean and this year, she spent two weeks on one of the ships “of the Seas” (we think it was Serenade of the Seas), which she boarded in Copenhagen. After a trip up the coast of Norway, the ship stopped at St. Petersburg.

Having done her homework, Cousin Cathie picked this cruise because it was going to be in St. Pete for three days. Most cruises that stop there, she said, only stay for a day and a St. Petersburg-Hermitagehalf…two at the most. Her studies indicated she’d need three days to see what she wanted to see: the Hermitage (above), Catherine The Great’s Palace, Peter’s Harbor, and her agenda even included a river cruise.

Never having seen St. Petersburg, we were fascinated, especially after hearing of its people (she loved them), its sights and even its opulence. St. Petersburg has been called as the most western city in Russia and not just because of its geographical location.

So here is one more example of how another person’s experience in cruising can influence your interests in going somewhere. And when we do get to this Russian port, we’ll toast Cousin Cathie as our Catherine The Great.

Today at portsandbows.com: Enlightening fine print in cruise contracts

Star Princess
15 nights
February 27, 2015
San Francisco (return): EnsenadaHonoluluHiloLahainaNawilili
Inside: $1,299
Cost per day: $86

City By The Bay, Concerts By The Bay

Golden Gate BridgeIn San Francisco, there's a lot of optimism about cruising. In September, the new James R. Herman Cruise Terminal will welcome its first ship and, the optimists hope, open the door to a new era of cruising for the city by the bay.

The first ship will be the Crown Princess. It will be followed by the Star Princess, Norwegian Jewel and Silver Shadow. They will be docking at Pier 27, not far from the old pier (35), which was deemed to be not just old but also small and hard to access. Pier 27 will be much more than a cruise-ship terminal.

In fact, San Francisco is banking on it…in more ways than one.

Pier 27 is designed to be an events center. Unfinished, it was the concert venue for the America's Cup last summer and the Port of San Francisco is planning on booking 67 concerts and corporate events in the fiscal year that starts July 1, and hopefully more. Complemented by 74 ship calls, that will be considered only a start towards paying the debt incurred by building the terminal.

Break even is about 90 ships and "dozens" of events.

Curiously, there are no Carnival ships scheduled to appear at Pier 27. This is not a surprise, since  Carnival ships don't visit San Francisco. But it's curious, because the port is trying to attract concerts…and Carnival has introduced a highly successful series of port concerts called Carnival Live.

Next year maybe?

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The Oceania fleet now more 'complete'

Celebrity Constellation
12 nights
August 13, 2014
Amsterdam (return): BerlinStockholmHelsinkiSt. PetersburgTallinnCopenhagen
Inside $1,599
Cost per day: $133

When Traveling Goes To The Dogs…

On the weekend, we put our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter on a plane for home after a welcome visit that was short on time and long on enjoyment. But that's beside the point, because we wouldn't be telling you this unless there was some connection to cruising.

And there is.

On their plane were at least five, and maybe as many as 10 dogs. Now to be clear about something, we love dogs. Not in that "some of our best friends are dogs" kind of way, but in the family way, if you'll pardon the expression. There have always been dogs somewhere in our family, and there always will be.

However, count us among the airline passengers who think dogs have no place in the cabins of planes…and the connection to cruising, if you haven't figured it out, is that Corgi-Sannse(WC) copythey also have no place on cruise ships. Fortunately, they remain unwelcome on ships unless they are working — as service dogs for people who require them.

There are good reasons behind our reasoning. At least we think so. Dogs can travel in the hold of planes. Our Corgi did it for years and years. One time, she even flew in the hold when we weren't in the cabin after the flight attendant alerted is that it would be too cold for her, so she took a later flight.

Secondly, as hard as this is to believe, some people just don't like dogs. And some are allergic to dogs. And some could be bitten by dogs roaming the aisle — just wait! — the way little kids do. And some will find it annoying if a dogs whines or growls or, worse yet, makes a mess in his Mommy's purse, or wherever it is they keep pet dogs on planes now. As an aside, none of these things happened on our family's latest flight…in fact all five or 10 dogs were eerily quiet.

On our family's flight this weekend, these were not "purse" dogs. There was a German Shepherd, a black lab, etc. etc.

So far, cruise lines are pet smart and not pet friendly.

However, life changes in strange ways, doesn't it?

Photo credit: Sannse, Wikimedia Commons

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Royal Caribbean, New Orleans parting ways

Norwegian Star
9 nights
July 12, 2014
Copenhagen (return): BerlinTallinnSt. PetersburgHelsinkiStockholm
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $77


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