Ellen just did something that knocked my socks off. She wanted to let me know how much she appreciated the work I did in researching and reserving the cruise, so she got me a present! I’ve been wanting to replace the FRS radios we lost in a move 2 years ago, and she’s been quietly researching FRS and GMRS radios to find the best one. After consulting with my friends, she decided on the Motorola TalkAbout T7200. It’s on the high end, pricewise, but the deal was sealed when she realized we should be able to talk back and forth while I’m at work. That would be REALLY COOL. For the cruise, we’ll definitely be able to use them on the ship and in port to stay connected if we ever split up.
Thanks Ellen, you really are a great wife!

The documents!

Well, we finally got our cruise documents today! The TA sent them by FEDEX, and they got here Thursday while Ellen and I were at the Spanish AF Academy’s graduation ceremony. Although the note said they’d try back Friday before 2, we waited until 4:30 and they never came. Today we were just about to call when they came by at 1:45.
Now we have the task of reading through the Shore Excursions book to decide what we’d like to do with the ship. Then we’ll pass that list on to the Pinkards to see what they have to say. We went through the debate about with the ship or not with the ship on our first cruise, and there are definitely advantages both ways. I’ve been around the world with the Air Force, and I know that sometimes the tours are cheaper and more interesting when you take care of things yourself, and sometimes they suck. The big thing for me is that I have done a LOT of searching, planning, querying, wondering, etc, and I’m done. D-U-N, done, I tells ya, so anybody who wants to research the stops and arrange for something other than the Orient Lines excursions can feel free to do all of the legwork and then email me a price list. Otherwise I’m just going to read through the book and mark one or two choices at each stop, then tally up the $$$ and decide if we need to nix anything.
I was a little disappointed with the fact that OL doesn’t have excursion info online like the big cruise companies. I’m not going to type in the 76 page book, but I will most likely give at least a synopsis of the tours we pick. If anyone’s interested in the whole thing, leave a comment below and I’ll think about scanning the book in.

The cruise

Ellen and I have talked about doing a Mediterranean cruise, with or without friends and family, since we found out we were moving to Spain. Ted and Joelle thought it sounded like a great idea, and in the summer of 2002 we started looking at our options. We wanted to have a Spain departure so that they could come visit our house first, which really narrowed down the cruise options. Royal Caribbean has a 7-day cruise that starts and ends in Barcelona, but we were having trouble finding a good price. In November 2002, Joelle went to a travel agent and found out about Orient Cruise Lines. She was able to get a 7-day cruise from Barcelona, plus airfare, pre- and post-cruise hotel stays, and shipboard credit for less than the cruise-only portion of Royal Caribbean. The travel agent was kind enough to get us a similar deal on the cruise-only portion, and when all was said and done we paid about $3000 for the two of us. We’re booked in a cabin with a porthole on the lowest deck–room 3033 to be exact–but I’ve read that if the ship isn’t full we can expect a free upgrade. We originally had cabins on Deck 5, but the twins didn’t convert into a queen-size bed. I don’t know what’s up with Europeans, but to me $3000 to spend 7 nights in a twin and NOT in the same bed as my wife is unacceptable, so we asked the travel agent to move us to a cabin where the beds go together. Hopefully we won’t get “upgraded” back into the same cabin!
Using Joelle’s travel agent had its advantages, since she took care of both couples together better than 2 separate travel agents would have, but there were drawbacks as well. With the time difference and the expense, we weren’t ever inclined to make a long-distance call, but the agent’s email response was almost nonexistent. Joelle and Ted wound up making phone calls, faxing for us, and even visiting the office to take care of things for us. We were so thankful for all of their assistance that we think they should earn the TA’s commission! Short of that, we got them a little Travel Clock to show our appreciation. Thanks you two!
An interesting tidbit about our ship, the Crown Odyssey: Orient Cruise Lines is owned by the much-bigger Norwegian Cruise Lines, and in 2003 NCL decided to pull the Odyssey under the NCL brand. From what I’ve read, the ship was refurbished, given a new paint job, and renamed the Norwegian Crown. As the NC, it’s going to be a freestyle ship, but it’s unclear whether those changes have taken place even though the ship is already sporting the new name. As far as I can tell it will continue its Orient Lines program until the end of the summer when it leaves Italy for the US and its new life under NCL. So, what does that mean? To be honest, I’m not 100% sure, but I think it means we’ll have at least one formal night whereas the freestyle ships are more casual. I found that info and a lot of other, more useful information at www.cruisecritic.com.
For those of you not interested in going to Orient’s site (see link on the sidebar; I’m tired of typing it in), here’s our itinerary:
25 Jul Embark in Barcelona, Spain
26 Jul Monte Carlo, Monaco
27 Jul Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
28 Jul Sorrento, Italy
29 Jul Valletta, Malta
30 Jul At Sea
31 Jul Santorini, Greece
1 Aug Disembark in Athens (Piraeus), Greece

Welcome to the Hotel Alexandra

I’m not even going to try to cover all of the places I looked for a hotel in Barcelona–there are just too many of them! Being from the US, I started with one of my favorites, Expedia, but believe me you don’t want to stop there. If you’re using the web to shop for hotels then you probably have more time than money; put it to good use by searching all over creation.
In our case, just when I was about fed-up with the myriad of choices for what will be less than a 12-hour stay in Barcelona Joelle emailed that she had her cruise documents and that they’d be staying at the Hotel Alexandra. That helped narrow things down since we decided to stay at the same hotel if possible. I started with the main site, www.hotel-alexandra.com and the parent company site at www.alexandra.activehotels.com/THE. Both gave a decent enough description of the hotel, but both said a reservation was not available. Not one to give up too easily, I searched for the hotel on Google and found plenty of places that allowed me to make reservations. Discount hotel rooms is a pretty big business judging by the number of sites I found. After checking several dozen, I settled with www.180096hotel.com. They offered us a standard double room for €148.64 including taxes. While it was not the lowest-priced hotel in Barcelona, we decided it was worth it to stay in the same hotel as Joelle and Ted. Oddly enough, the site detected I was in Spain and forced me into Spanish although I selected English several times. After finding the price, I figured out how to force it to English, and the price was more! I went back to the Spanish site and reserved it that way 🙂


Anyone travelling to Barcelona needs to check out their official transport site at www.tmb.net. This site, which also can be viewed in English, allows you to type in starting and ending points, and it will calculate for you how to get from A-B using public transportation. We were able to find all of the hotels we considered, which allowed us to factor in travel time from the airport or train station.
After settling on the Alexandra hotel (more to follow on it), we found that it was 12 minutes by Metro from the train station, but when we switched to the plane it was about 45 minutes using 2 different trains: a RENFE train from the airport to the train station, and then the metro to the hotel. We were ready to do this, but the last train from the airport leaves at 23:40 and the metro shuts down at midnight, so we’ll be taking a taxi this time. I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I’ve never lived in a big city and am always impressed by easy-to-use metros; I’m disappointed we won’t be using it this time!
Next: Alexandra Hotel


When we first decided on the cruise, we thought we’d be driving to Barcelona, but after talking with some friends we decided it wasn’t worth it. Apparently the tolls and the parking fees in Barcelona are high enough that it’s cheaper to leave the car at home.
Our first choice was to fly from our local airport, the Murcia/San Javier Regional Airport (MJV), but it’s such a small place that almost all of the Iberia flights just go to Madrid. The website www.iberia.com wouldn’t even give me a price on a trip from MJV to BCN.
Having already ruled out a bus, we decided to take the train. RENFE, Spain’s train company, has a very informative website that also allows ticket purchasing and can be viewed in English. My Spanish is ok, especially when I’m reading it, but when we’re talking about dinero it’s nice to confirm everything in my native tongue.
So, checking the schedule from Balsicas (the closest station) to Barcelona, we found 1 train a day that leaves at 8:56 and arrives at 16:30. A first class ticket was €57 each for a total of €114. We were able to buy the tickets online, but since it was our first purchase RENFE wanted us to pick up the tickets in person up to 30 minutes before the train left. In the future, we’ll be able to buy tickets online and board without standing in line; we’ll then receive our tickets on board from some sort of ATM-like device.
We were all set to take the train, but later on down the road we found that we’d have difficulties getting back from Barcelona because there’s only one return train a day. Faced with the choice of staying an extra night in Barcelona or taking a train to Murcia and counting on friends to pick us up at midnight, I went back to Iberia and looked at their last minute deals. I was able to find a round-trip ticket from Alicante (about 1 hr from our house) to Barcelona for €58.90 each! That’s a total of €117.80, or only €3.80 more than a one-way trip on the train. SOLD!
Before buying the plane tickets, I went back to RENFE and cancelled the tickets we had already bought. Although they charged us a 10% (€11.40) fee, it was well worth it to get the cheaper and faster ride. On a side note, although RENFE was very helpful, the ticket purchase/cancellation part is only available when someone is there in the office, as if they’d personally handle your transaction! So, don’t try to buy tickets outside of the 07:00-23:30 timeframe.
The only downside of the plane is that the last-minute deal was only available on the 22:05 flight, which means that we’ll arrive at the airport at 23:05. By the time we get our bags and get to the hotel, it will be nearly 1 am, and there’s little chance that Ted and Joelle will still be awake.
Next Stop: Airport – Hotel (much shorter!)


For as much information as I have in my head about this trip, I’m having such a hard time deciding how to start! I guess the best thing to do is give a general overview and then go from there!
For anyone who might stumble across this without knowing who we are, Ellen and I live in Santiago de la Ribera, Spain, where I’m stationed at the Spanish Air Force Academy as an Exchange Instructor Pilot. You can find more info about us and where we live through the main site at www.tedandellen.com.
This summer we are going on a 7-day cruise from Barcelona to Athens on Orient Cruise Lines with Ellen’s oldest sister Joelle and her husband Ted. (Joelle married Ted about 10 years before Ellen and I got married, so at family gatherings I’m always Ted #2). Joelle and Ted live in the US and will be flying into Barcelona and leaving from Athens. In addition to the cruise, Ellen and I will be spending 3 nights in Venice before returning to Spain.
As the cruise is less than 3 weeks away, we’ve already done nearly all of the planning, but my intention is to post each step of the process in chronological order. Thus, although the whole trip idea began with the cruise, I won’t give those specifics until I get to Barcelona. Sound groovy? Like the way I jump between formal and informal writing? Well, deal with it. It’s 3:30 in the morning and I’m starting to get a little punchy!
So, the short version of our itinerary:
Home – Barcelona
Cruise Barcelona – Athens
Athens – Venice
Venice – Barcelona
Barcelona – Home
Without any further introduction, on with the posts!

The first one!

Ellen and I are going on a big vacation from July 24th to August 6th, and here in these pages I’m planning to describe everything I can, from start to finish. I’ll be posting mainly about the technical parts of the trip, such as reservations, websites, prices, etc. The goal is to post the whole plan before we leave and then report on how everything went once we get back.
At the same time, Ellen’s planning to keep her own journal of the trip, which is bound to be more descriptive and less about the travel specifics. Between the two we’re hoping to at least entertain ourselves, if no one else. Enjoy!