October 30, 2018

Boarding The Symphony in Barcelona

The end of daylight savings time in most of the world gives me an extra hour of sleep. I am up long before my alarm would wake me. Once everything is packed I head across the street for a pastry for breakfast, something I would never consider at home, but only because it is miles to the nearest bakery.

Elisenda arrives promptly a couple minutes before 11 to pick up the keys, and I will assume clean the apartment for her next rental. The temperature remains in the 50's, with a lite rain.  I call a cab with "Cabify" a cab hailing app I downloaded several days ago. It works like Uber and Lyft with the cost displayed before you accept the driver, and payment made by credit card or Pay Pal upon acceptance and completion of the ride. As near as I can tell, regular cabs are also included in the pool of drivers. 

My driver arrives in less than two minutes and I am on the way to the port to board The Symphony of The Seas. There is no traffic until we get near the port. Something I have never seen before, two terminals are used to load passengers. My driver is a little confused and leaves me at terminal "C" instead of "B" where I was scheduled to board. Seeing that signs indicated Symphony passengers were to board here, I did not try to get him to take to to the correct terminal, I might have wound up on the Epic instead.

Boarding couldn't have been easier. There were no lines for security, but of course I get special processing, no metal detector or x-ray machines for me here. Once passengers and carry on bags are checked, one last verification of boarding pass and it is directly to the ship. The steps that were previously accomplished by another long line at the check in counter have been totally replaced with on line check in. The passenger even submits a photo, or "selfie", for on ship identification.

The Symphony is a new ship of the Oasis class, meaning the hull and superstructure are built from the same plans, but the finishing touches may be unique to each ship. Without a tape measure I suspect the cabins are a little smaller than on the Oasis, but are much more efficient in the use of space. Deck 17 which used to be the Viking Crown Lounge is now dedicated to suite passengers. A revenue change that is being implemented on all Oasis class ships, and on some of the smaller ships.

The overall design incorporates more high tech features such as proximity sensors to open public restroom doors and RFID to sense your sea pass card to unlock your cabin door.

All muster stations appear to be indoors, mine is in the main theater. All the usual instructions are via video presentation.  It is soon time to leave Barcelona. It is cold outside, and only a few passengers line the rails as we depart. I take a few quick pictures and then retreat to the warmth of inside.

Because of the thousands of Diamond and Diamond Plus passengers the entire entertainment district on deck 4 is used for the Diamond Lounge at happy hour, with a capacity of about 75 the designated Diamond Lounge is no where near large enough.

I consider giving the dining room a try, but when I see my table for 8 set for 12 guests I come to my senses and will continue my habit of eating elsewhere.

The weather is no better on Monday, and in fact worse.  All outside deck areas of the ship are closed. Central Park is open, but no passengers brave the weather for a stroll through the Park. It is reported that the wind is in excess of 40 mph. There is little display of navigational and weather conditions, and it is difficult to obtain factual detailed information. 

The ship rolls a little but all the passengers seem to be taking it in stride. The cold and rain is a different story, generating many disgruntled passengers.

The first 24 hours generates at least three Alpha, or medical calls to passenger cabins, not a good start.

Our first port of call is Malaga Spain. Temperatures remain in the low to mid 50's and it is rainy and foggy. Many passengers have booked tours, I elect to remain on the ship with about half of the other passengers.

It has only been a couple of days, but so far the staff has been excellent. Food quality better than on my other recent Royal cruises. The food presentation is possibly the best I have ever seen by Royal Caribbean. The passengers that have been going to the dining room generally report satisfaction with the food and service.

The most common complaint I hear is one I share. There is a lack of space to just sit and read a book or watch the ocean go by. Much of the space that formerly would have been public space has been taken over by more cabins and suites.

When we leave Malaga this evening, Oct 30, it will be sea days until we arrive in Port Canaveral, our next port of call on November 8th.

My Days In Barcelona

The first night I sleep soundly for over 12 hours, not only do I awake rested, I have quickly adjusted to the 6 hour time  change.

The weather forecast is for near perfect weather for the next several days, a forecast that proves to be accurate. I quickly become a typical tourist and visit a number of the most popular tourist spots including Sagrada Familia,  Parc Guell, Montjuic Castle, The Magic Fountain, Etc. I take both routes on the narratted Hop On Hop off bus, my favorite way to get an overview of an unfamiliar city.

I had considered a day trip to the nearby country of Andora, but with it being much colder in the mountains, I decided to forgo that for this trip.

Despite having kitchen facilities, I eat all of my meals in the local cafes within a few blocks of my apartment. the neighborhood is more of a residential neighborhood than a tourist area. I encounter no one that can speak English, but picture menus, and friendly patient shop owners overcome any language barriers.  One of my favorite cafes is owned by a Chinese family where the eldest members work in the kitchen, the next generation behind a service counter and bar,  and a young boy about 7 or 8 cleans tables as he takes a break from doing work in his school book. This is definitely a local spot as I recognize a couple patrons drinking beer at the bar each time I am there.

I find Barcelona a very clean friendly city. Traffic congestion is minimal. Drivers are courteous  and patient, one seldom hears a horn blown. Even when crowded, there is no shoving or pushing on the Metro. One aspect I did find a little difficult to get used to was that elderly passengers are nearly always offered a seat by younger riders. Sometimes I would accept, other  times I would decline. I just don't consider myself elderly.

Most of the Metro is handicap accessible with elevators. All the newer stations have escalators, and only a few of the oldest smaller stations only have stairs. The 10 different lines intersect at different stations throughout the city. The connection can be  as close as the otherside of the same platform, or a 10 minute walk through an underground passageway. In one station the connection was about 150 feet vertically made by taking 5 escalators in succession. I'm sure glad the escalators were working when I was there.

On Friday others begin arriving. I had considered meeting them at the airport, but this was one tourist that was just too worn out by then. Besides, they are all very able to find theirown way to their apartment. We do communicate by text message, and everyone arrives safely even if late. We make plans to meet at Sagrada Familia Saturday morning.

Besides the people I expected to meet, the group is joined by Chris and his friend from London. Friends for several years, they came to Barcelona just to visit Jenn, Adrienne and Steve.

The temperatures have dropped into the 60's and there is an intermittent drizzle. Most of the group is headed to Parc Guell. Having been there a few days ago, I take a pass, but do invite everyone to see my apartment as it is only 5 minutes out of the way, and provides a good restroom break.

The Hola Barcelona Travel Card is the way to travel within the city. For a few dollars per day, you can enjoy unlimited metro passage. Taking an extra train of two is easy and there is no financial consequence to be considered.

Since she is here, I have Alyssa help interpret the instructions on the washer and dryer. When she leaves I don't feel I got my monies worth for her college education and the study abroad program she attended here in Spain. Regardless, I will figure it out.

My landlord left me with a bottle of wine, so I make plans to meet up with everyone else at the much larger apartment my daughters have rented. It is about 30 minutes away by Metro. While yes it is larger, with 6 people sleeping there I might actually have more square feet of space per person.

Being our dinner time we head to a local place on the corner. The rain and the hour and it is no problem making a table for the 9 of us to eat inside. Not only does our waiter speak English, they have menus in English. definitely a location in the tourist area of town.

As has been the case everywhere, the food is good. After dinner we return to the apartment where we are joined by more friends headed to the ship. I think we have wine not only from Spain, but wines brought from Egypt, Great Britian, and Scotland.

Before midnight, I head back to the Metro to go home. Surprisingly, no drunks, no bad behavior. This certainly is not a US city.

Tomorrow it is time to head to the Symphony.