Cruising Barcelona: Chloe Brennan combines city break and Symphony of the Seas
The idea of being stuck out at sea surrounded by the typical stereotype of 'cruise lovers', didn't exactly scream 'dream holiday' to me.
I had never been on a cruise, nor would I have ever considered spending a valuable week of my time stuck on a boat at sea. However, when the opportunity arose to test out the Royal Caribbean's brand new Oasis-class ship, Symphony of the Seas, I couldn't turn down the offer. So, the mother and I packed our bags and headed for Barcelona, from where Symphony of the Seas departs. We both decided it was time to lose our cruise-virginities.
El Prat Airport in Barcelona was a quick 25-minute journey to Barcelona's city centre. Before embarkation we had the day to ourselves and we took advantage of it to discover Barcelona. We agreed that pre-booking a walking tour would be the best way to explore the city's unique history and culture.
From a small Roman settlement, to a super medieval port; and from a city dictated by Franco for nearly 40 years to its rebirth in 1992 as host of the Olympic Games, Barcelona has experienced its highs and lows. Despite this, somehow Barcelona has emerged as one of Europe's most vibrant cities while managing to maintain its Gothic and modernist architecture that prevails throughout the city.
Our walking tour took us to Gaudi's most well-known gem, La Sagrada Familia. Although there were cranes scattered around the church, working in an attempt to have it completed in 2026 to coincide with the 100-year centenary of Gaudi's death in 1926, it didn't take away from this breathtaking masterpiece. Upon completion, it will be Europe's tallest religious building, reaching 170-metres tall. Gaudi believed that nothing man-made should be higher than God's work, and so it is no coincidence that the highest point of the tower will measure one metre less than Barcelona's highest point, Montjuic.
A three-hour walking tour of Barcelona could only be followed by one thing; tapas. We stumbled across Bar Canete, 20 metres from Barcelona's busiest street, Las Ramblas. We were advised to let our waiter order for us. Our lack of fluency in Catalan, Barcelona's colloquial language, made it difficult to know exactly what we were being served. Nonetheless, everything was delicious and we enjoyed a variety of tapas such as wild tuna steak with seaweed, steamed mussels and lobster croquettes to share.
After a fabulous day exploring Barcelona, we headed to the port, where the world's largest cruise ship, with a capacity to hold 6,680 guests, was waiting.
I tried, from heaven knows how many angles, to take a picture of Symphony before we boarded. It seemed, however, that no camera lens of mine was wide enough to capture the size of the cruise ship, which measures an incredible 1,188 feet long (taller than the Eiffel Tower standing upright).
We check in to our superior ocean-view room and given that the ship boasts 2,759 staterooms, I was surprised at how spacious ours was, complete with a double bed, modern bathroom, mini living room area and a balcony that enjoyed views of the ocean's horizon.
After a quick change of clothes, we took one of the 24 elevators on board to the Pool Deck where we found ourselves waving down to the landlubbers below as we celebrated at the sail-away party.
On our first evening, we were invited to dine at one of the speciality restaurants, Coastal Kitchen which features floor to ceiling windows and is exclusively available for guests who are staying at Junior Suite level or above. I ordered the burrata salad and the fillet steak. The mozzarella was light and creamy, served with cold juicy tomatoes and pesto. When the steak arrived it was cooked to perfection, so impressively tender a butter knife would have sliced through it with consummate ease.
With over 22 restaurants on-board, you are spoiled for choice. You can indulge in seafood in Hooked restaurant, or opt for Italian cuisine, such as Jamie's Italian.
After dinner we strolled through Central Park, one of the seven neighbourhoods on-board, inspired by New York's Central Park. There are over 12,000 tropical plants in this open-air neighbourhood that is lined with luxury shops.
We headed up to the Aqua Theatre, an open-air amphitheatre at the aft of the ship to catch the Aqua Show. The show's high-diving aerial performances left the audience stunned and to top it off, the show appeared against an unbeatable ocean backdrop.
On the second day, we woke up at the crack of dawn to the sun beaming through our balcony. We had travelled throughout the night, about 240km south of Barcelona towards Mallorca. We arrived at The Windjammer restaurant to refuel ourselves and prepare for a day of exploring the ship. The breakfast was not your standard continental breakfast, in fact it was far from it, with a huge variety available at the buffet. Afterward we made our way up to the Pool Deck and waited for our turn on the much-anticipated zip line that stretches across an open-air atrium, suspended nine decks above the Boardwalk area.
Before plummeting down the Ultimate Abyss, a set of dual racing slides where you can spiral down a total of 92-feet in about 12 seconds, we visited the Flo Rider, where you can catch a wave on-board with a 40-foot-long surf simulator. I watched for a while and witnessed many people, of all different ages and sizes, test it out - and in the end I thought, given my accident-prone-self, it would be best to remain a spectator for this activity.
It seems to be impossible to run out of things to do and see on-board Symphony of the Seas. Activities such as water sports, video arcades, tennis and basketball courts, mini-golf and laser tag will keep you occupied during the day; whereas shows on the ice-skating rink, a Vegas-style casino and a karaoke bar will make sure you're entertained throughout the evening.
It's safe to say that I am a total cruise-fanatic now. There were countless moments on board that, quite literally, took my breath away. Cruise holidays are now the ultimate holiday for young and old couples, families, friends, honeymooners and just about anyone who wants to be transported between countries in luxury.
Lead-in rates for Symphony of the Seas summer 2018 cruises in the Mediterranean start from €1,372* per person - based on two people sharing on a seven-night Western Mediterranean sailing from Barcelona departing on June 10, 2018.
The itinerary takes in Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Marseille, Florence/Pisa (La Spezia), Rome (Civitavecchia), Naples (Capri), and back to Barcelona. Fly directly from Dublin to Barcelona with Aer Lingus (2 flights per day), Ryanair (2 to 3 flights every day), or Vueling (1 flight per day).
More details are available on the website www.royalcaribbean.ie
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