Hey everyone! I’m finally back with a brand new blog post. I apologize for being away for the last several weeks. Life has been pretty crazy recently and I was also away on the Mediterranean cruise of my dreams, which is what this blog post is going to be all about. I’m so excited to share my experience and pictures with you all as this was such an amazing cruise. I had actually been wanting to visit southern Europe, in particular Spain and the Amalfi Coast for a while now, so thanks to Royal Caribbean (not sponsored, but I wish), my mom and I finally made it happen! Let’s dive into the adventure.
B A R C E L O N A
The 7 day Mediterranean cruise with Royal Caribbean actually departs from Barcelona, Spain so we decided to fly in a few days earlier to give us some time to explore the city. Now if you guys follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a previous post of mine where I mentioned that our trip definitely did not get off to a great start. Basically, within the first two hours of even landing in Barcelona, my mom’s wallet containing half of our cash and all her credit cards were stolen. The funniest part is that several people had already warned me ahead of time that pick-pocketers are everywhere here, and my mom tried her best to watch her bag, but of course it still happened. To dive into the details and hopefully spare any of this from happening to any of you, it happened within our 30 minute subway ride to our Airbnb. Once we got on the subway with our luggage, a young girl (about 12 years old) asked my mom if she wanted to sit. After getting up, my mom tried to make her way over to the empty seat, but a large man was standing in front of her with his back to her (also standing quite close to her which was odd since the subway wasn’t even that crowded) blocking her from getting to her seat. After maneuvering her way around the man awkwardly for a good 5 seconds, my mom finally got to the seat. And we’re pretty sure that it was within those 5 seconds that the man reached into my mom’s crossbody purse (she was wearing it in front) and stole her wallet. Looking back on it now, it seems pretty obvious because why would the man randomly be standing so close in front of my mom when it wasn’t rush-hour busy? So TIP for all of you: ALWAYS WATCH YOUR PURSE. Make sure you have your hands over the opening and that it’s zipped up at all times. Shoulder bags are best. Avoid crossbody bags because I’ve also heard of pick-pocketers cutting the straps on long purses and running away with it. So please learn from our mistake. Sigh. At least we are ok and we shall move on.
This was our first stop in Barcelona. The park features beautiful gardens and architecture by Gaudi, the face of Catalan modernism. If you’re looking to see as many Gaudi structures as possible while in Barcelona, do not skip out on this park. I would also recommend purchasing your tickets in advance since it does get very crowded here and there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to get in and view the buildings without a pre-bought ticket. When purchasing tickets, you also choose the time slot that you wish to enter the park, so plan accordingly! If you don’t purchase a ticket, you can still visit for free, but only on the outskirts (you can’t go into any buildings either). I absolutely adored this park because as a nature person, I love being outdoors and seeing the gardens and greenery, but to see it among such cool architecture was something so unique!
Another Gaudi structure and perhaps the most famous one in all of Barcelona. The Sagrada Família is a large and unfinished Roman Catholic basilica. Even after all these years following Gaudi’s death in 1926, they are still adding onto it as you can see from the cranes in the photo. If you are visiting Barcelona, this is a must-see. The intricate details in the design of the building is so amazing that pictures just don’t do it justice. It’s also HUGE! It’s hard to capture just how large it is especially if you are standing closer to the base of the basilica. For these photos, we actually walked to the park across the street and got a much better view.
I didn’t take too many pictures here except for my OOTD as we simply just strolled around the narrow streets and had brunch. The Gothic Quarter is a great place to hit up if you’re into the medieval streets lined with trendy restaurants and bars, and also local shops selling an assortment of leather goods and jewelry. If you’re looking for a great brunch spot in the area, I recommend Milk Bar & Bistro. It’s a popular spot, usually with a line of people waiting outside. Luckily we only waited about 20 min on a Saturday and it was well worth it. They serve classic Spanish style brunch on the weekends.
My favourite Gaudi structure has got to be Casa Batlló! I mean, just look at those colours. So dreamy! This is actually a remodel of a house that was previously built and is considered one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. They have tours that allow you to view inside (we didn’t do it because it was quite pricey) which if you have the time and money to do, by all means. Casa Batlló is also located in central Barcelona so it’s quite convenient to get to. There are a ton of shops and restaurants within walking distance as well, so definitely take advantage of that if you stop by here.
For dinner on our last night in Barcelona, we decided to eat at one of the many beachside restaurants near our Airbnb. We opted for classic paella, tapas and sangria. I had no idea that the tapas dishes were going to be as big as they were! I think they’re meant to be shared amongst 6-8 people, but since it was just the two of us, they were literally large enough to be a meal on its own. We got the fried calamari, mussels in tomato broth, and a large portion of paella to share, all of which were delicious. Of course, we also downed a liter of red sangria (which was only 12 euros!!!!) which was so full of rich plum flavours. It puts the sangria at home in Toronto to shame, which I’m still convinced they just water down and mix with orange juice. Funny enough, because we had so much sangria and were so stuffed from all the food, my mom ended up throwing up and passing out as soon as we got back to our Airbnb. No better way to end our time in Barcelona.
V I L L E F R A N C H E – S U R – M E R
After spending two days in Barcelona, it was time to board our ship – the Brilliance of the Seas with Royal Caribbean. I will give a review of our experience on board the ship at the end of this post, but for now let’s keep the adventure going! After boarding the ship and sailing for the night, we woke up bright and early in the beautiful Villefranche-sur-mer, France. From Villefranche, it is only about a 20 min train ride to Nice, which is definitely how I would recommend getting around. Because the town is so small, there are hardly any taxis so most tourists will have to get around by train/bus.
Now I will tell you that one of the biggest downsides to going on a cruise is the very limited amount of time you have in each city. The ship drops you off early in the morning (around 7-8 am) and usually departs again around 6pm. So you have to be very careful with your time, taking into account the travel time from where the ship drops you off to where you want to go, leaving more time to come back because the ship could leave without you!!
For our day in Villefranche, we actually decided to forego Nice and check out the medieval Èze village instead. Located just West of Villefranche, the village is located high on top of all the Alps, giving you the most breathtaking view of the Mediterranean Sea. We took the train to Èze station and then caught the bus which takes you up to Èze village. Keep in mind that these towns are very small so the trains come about every half an hour, and the bus to the village comes only about every hour and a half. Although I felt like we spent a lot of our day just waiting since we didn’t know the train/bus times ahead of schedule, I absolutely adored Èze village nonetheless. The village is full of cobblestone streets with cute shops and restaurants tucked away, and tons of stairs to get around and take you higher for a better view of the sea (not wheelchair friendly though).
Èze Exotic Garden
This was one of the main places I wanted to check out while here. Everyone knows I love botanical gardens, cacti and succulents, and I always seem to find them anywhere I go so this was a must see for me! The view was so magical here. Surrounded by all my favourite desert and exotic plants and seeing the blue water of the Mediterranean below was truly something else. If you are a nature and plant lover or just appreciate a really good view, I highly recommend this exotic garden.
After spending some relaxing time in Èze, we headed back to Villefranche where we had some time to kill before heading back on the ship. We decided to just chill out by the beach, waddling and dipping our toes in the perfect temperature water.
P O R T O F I N O
Our second day of the cruise was in Portofino, and probably my second favourite city that we visited on this trip. Portofino is a small fishing village on the coast of Italy, full of seafood restaurants of course, expensive yachts and high-end and designer boutiques. Many celebrities come to Portofino to vacation and I found out later that night that during our time in Portofino that day, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Spielberg were apparently on the yacht beside us! How crazy is that!?
Portofino is definitely a more relaxed place (perfect for a romantic getaway or honeymoon!) but if you’re looking for things to do, you can always check out the church of San Giorgio, Castello Brown, and the lighthouse which overlooks the water. All of these attractions are within a 10-15 min walk from the main square in Portofino.
Another thing I highly recommend while in Portofino is to of course eat some local seafood at one of the many restaurants! I am currently obsessed with spaghetti vongole, and to my delight, this pasta dish was on every single menu at every single restaurant here so I was in heaven! We decided to eat at one that gave us a nice view of the water. The vongole was absolutely delicious – the clams were fresh and the sauce was light but still packed a ton of flavour. Of course, I had to pair my meal with an aperol spritz.
After lunch, we decided to walk along the main road that overlooks the water. This road has no sidewalk and is quite narrow so be careful! The views along the way were amazing and we definitely stopped to admire them. There are also several small beaches as you walk along that you can of course stop to take a swim. We stopped by one where you could also rent a kayak and go explore on your own!
F L O R E N C E
Our next stop was Florence! From where our ship docked, it was about an hour and 15 min train ride into the city and to get to the train station, about a 10-15 min drive. Since we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of trying to get around, we ended up booking the “Train to Florence” excursion through the cruiseline. I’m not going to lie, these excursions are pricey for what you get – in this case, it was literally 60 USD/person for a 10 min coach ride to the train station and your round trip train ticket to Florence. If you were to buy the train ticket yourself, it would only cost you about 15-20 Euros round trip, but I suppose you are also paying for the convenience of them picking you up and dropping you back right where the ship is.
Once in Florence, we had about 4 hours of free time to do whatever we wanted! We walked along the streets, stopping to look at all the stalls selling leather handbags and wallets which my mom ended up purchasing. We also walked along the river and of course checked out the Duomo, perhaps the most famous structure in all of Florence. The line to get in was ridiculously long so I knew given our limited time, we would not be able to go in. We just admired from outside. Florence is also home to several different art galleries and museums, with the famous David statue housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia. However, if you don’t’ have time to visit the museum, don’t fret because there are several replica statues all around the city that you’re bound to pass by them.
R O M E
Ahh, finally we made it to Rome. Probably the most highly anticipated place to visit for most people on the cruise and for good reason. Rome is full of things to see and do that one day is simply not enough.
Our cruise ship dropped us off in Civitavecchia, a small coastal town that’s northwest of Rome. By car, it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get into Rome and for that reason, we ended up booking a day excursion through the cruiseline for this day. The good thing about this excursion was that the coach bus picked us up right at the ship, drove us into the city, and also dropped us off at the main must-see spots while giving us some free time at each place.
The Colosseum is probably the #1 place to visit on any trip to Rome. This was our first stop on our tour and we had about an hour and a half to explore. If you plan on going inside to do a tour, definitely try and buy tickets ahead of time. As you can imagine, the Colosseum is super busy and the wait times to get in are LOOOONG. We ended up just walking around and admiring the ancient structure from the outside, even stopping at a park across the street to sit, relax and enjoy the view.
Funny store, but despite the Trevi Fountain being our second stop on this tour, we didn’t get to actually visit it. It was around lunchtime at this point and we were starving, so instead we ended up stopping in a local restaurant for pizza. Given that we only had an hour and a half at each stop and the tour bus dropped us off about a half hour walk away from the Trevi fountain, there was no way we would’ve made it in time. I didn’t realize the walk would be so far and I’m a little disappointed that we couldn’t visit, but it is what it is. I visited Rome many many years ago when I was younger and had visited the fountain before, so at least I got to experience it at least once. We also passed by the Spanish Steps along the way, but due to the rush, didn’t get to enjoy it the way we would’ve liked. If you have plenty of free time to explore Rome, definitely add the Trevi Fountain and the nearby Spanish Steps to your list of attractions!
St. Peter’s Basilica
Our third and final stop on our Rome in a Day Tour was at Vatican City. This is where St. Peter’s Basilica is located. It is the largest church in the world and for that fact alone, is definitely a must-see on your visit to Rome. Inside you will get to explore the amazing Renaissance architecture of the building as well as the tombs of the previous Popes. There is usually quite a long line to get inside, but luckily it moved pretty quickly the day we went. Be aware that backpacks are not allowed inside, shoulders must be covered, and you can’t wear shorts or mini skirts inside.
A M A L F I C O A S T
Saving the best for last, we finally made it to the Amalfi Coast! I’ve been dying to visit Amalfi for the longest time and this is pretty much the basis for why we even booked this cruise in the first place. I was hoping that the beauty of the Amalfi Coast lived up to my expectations after seeing it through my computer/phone screen over the years. And boy did it not disappoint!
Our ship docked in Salerno but the main place I wanted to visit was Positano. Again, for this day, we ended up booking the “Private Boat to Positano” excursion through our cruiseline. I don’t know why, but when they said “private boat”, I was thinking it would be like a yacht with 10 other people. Well to my surprise when we got off the ship and realized we were literally taking a ferry with about 200 other people from our cruise ship on it. The lady behind me in line to get on the ferry mirrored my thoughts exactly when I overheard her say, “I was thinking this would be a private yacht, boy was I wrong.” I mean, at the price point of about $70 USD per person, I suppose a private yacht isn’t realistic, but I definitely was not expecting it to be a ferry either. Later when we arrived in Positano, the tour guide tells us that we only have an hour and 15 minutes before we have to meet back to get on the ferry back to the cruise ship. Umm, excuse me?! This was super frustrating to me for several reasons: 1) An hour is hardly enough time to even grab lunch at one of the local restaurants, let alone explore Positano, and 2) We literally paid a ton of money for the same ferry that we could’ve taken for only 12 euros if we chose the public ferry and we’re not even allotted enough time to explore. It was ridiculous to me. I ended up asking the tour guide if we could stay longer which he said was fine, except we would be responsible for our own transportation back to the ship. So on top of the money we already paid for this “private boat” we now had to spend extra money for a ferry ticket back because this tour literally gave us no freedom to do anything in Positano. So for any of you who plan on travelling to and between Amalfi, Positano, Capri, or Salerno, always take the public ferry! It is the cheapest and most convenient way to go from one place to another. Don’t get ripped off like we did by these private tour companies that promise you a “private boat”.
Now that my rant is over, let’s move on to the positive. Positano was exactly how I imaged it to be and so much more! Pictures and videos don’t even do it justice. I was obsessed with all the cute houses tucked into the hill, the beach, the cobblestone winding streets, and the cutest little shops full of items made right in Positano! Definitely try some local limoncello as that’s what they are known for. We had lunch at this restaurant serving amazing local seafood pasta and enjoyed a comfortable and shaded view overlooking the water, nestled up the hill. If you’re looking to do some shopping, you’ll find plenty of stores selling lemon painted ceramics, lemon printed clothing, and gorgeous linen products. One store in particular that I fell in LOVE with was called CB by Kore. Total LoveShackFancy meets Free People vibes if that’s your style. Positano is a shopaholic’s dream, but keep in mind that shopping is definitely not cheap here! Since they rely heavily on tourism and most products are made locally, it’s reflected in the prices. It’s still worth it for unique and quality pieces you can’t find anywhere else though.
After having lunch and checking out the shops, we spent some time just walking up and up, admiring the view from literally every angle. I was in awe every single time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place so dreamy. You can definitely say I was in my happy place here in Positano.
We then finished off our day in Positano by heading to the beach and going for a quick swim. The beach was pretty crowded, but the water temperature was perfect for swimming! It was then time to take the ferry back to Salerno 😦 Our day in Positano was so fun, but I still feel like it wasn’t enough time. Cruises are great if you want to get a little taste of each destination, but once you find one that you love, definitely make a week long trip out of it! Most places are impossible to see in only one day, especially if you want to live, eat, and explore like a local. Positano is already on my list of places to come back to visit.
B R I L L I A N C E O F T H E S E A S
Our next day was a sailing day, which meant that we were on the ship all day as it cruised from Salerno back to Barcelona. I’ll now take a moment to tell you a little about our experience aboard the ship.
Food and drink is probably one of the most important things that people care about and can either make or break your entire cruise experience. I never expect the food on any cruise or resort to be spectacular, and surprisingly, the food aboard the Brilliance of the Seas was actually a lot better than I expected. I wouldn’t say it was spectacular, but it was pretty good. Definitely better quality than what you’ll find at most resorts. On board the ship, there is the main dining room which is open for breakfast and dinner. We ate here for dinner almost every night, taking advantage of the more formal, restaurant feel. The menu changes each day, always providing several options to choose from for your appetizer, main, and dessert. I would say that there is something for everyone on the menu from meat dishes to pastas to seafood to vegetarian friendly to gluten free options. I don’t eat red meat often, but on our first night I decided to try the prime rib and it was delicious! Super tender that it almost melted in my mouth. Since the food is loaded on board from Barcelona, the seafood is usually pretty fresh and a good option to go for.
Besides the main dining room, there is also the Windjammer which is the buffet style restaurant. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I would say the quality of food here is not as great as the dining room, but is still not bad at all. You will find your typical mainstays here for all meals: fruit, cereal, eggs and bacon for breakfast; and pizza, fries and hot dogs for lunch and dinner. The rest of the hot food changes each day as well so there’s always something for everyone. I ate here for dinner on their Mexican night and it was really yummy! The Windjammer is great if you’re looking for a more casual dining experience or are short on time and want to grab a quicker bite to eat.
Aside from these two main places to eat, the ship also has a cafe by the pool and the main floor if you’re craving a mid-day snack, along with a few other specialty restaurants (steak house, sushi restaurant, etc) that are not included in your cruise fee if you choose to dine there.
Amenities and Activities
When we weren’t out exploring the cities that we were in, the ship provided several different entertainment options to keep the ball rolling. Each night there is some kind of performance in the main theater. We checked these out every night and I was actually so impressed with all the shows! As you guys know I am a huge music junkie, and I was surprised to find myself singing and dancing along on Abba tribute night, and totally mesmerized by Craig Halliday, a violionist from the UK who on another night, played his own takes on more modern songs by artists like Nirvana and Coldplay.
Other things abroad the ship to keep you busy include the two swimming pools (one outdoor and one inside the solarium), ping pong tables, spa, gym, cards room, etc. There are also several organized activities throughout each day such as different arts and crafts and guided star gazing. There really is something for everyone, even kids and teens so that you’ll never be bored!
Perhaps what really sets Royal Caribbean apart from other cruise lines I’ve traveled with would be their outstanding customer service! Everyone who worked on the ship from the housekeeping staff to the servers and waiters were so kind and accommodating. They always checked in on us with friendly smiles, provided us with important information that we needed for each day, and were very quick to sort out any issues that came up. A huge shoutout to Iputu and Jose, our dining room waiters who were simply the BEST! They took such great care of us, whether it be ensuring our daily hot tea was ready to go without asking as soon as we arrived to giving us all the important logistical details for the following day.
And that brings us to the end of our Mediterranean cruise experience with Royal Caribbean! It was so hard to say goodbye to the ship and return to the cold in Toronto, but all good things must come to an end. Thank you again to the amazing staff aboard the ship for making this experience such an amazing one for my mom and I! I definitely want to come back to visit southern France and the Amalfi Coast again. Next time for a longer stay and more time to explore.
If you’ve ever been to any of these destinations, let me know how your experience was. Also feel free to leave me suggestions on places to visit for when I return! I hope you guys enjoyed this long blog post and thank you for making it all the way till the end. Next week we’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming 🙂