This past May ,we were fortunate enough to cruise on RCCL’s brand new mega ship, Symphony of the Seas, out of Barcelona, Spain. This was our first time travelling to Europe so we were nervous and excited about travelling to unknown waters. Normally we book at least a balcony stateroom but opted to book an Oceanview since the itinerary was fairly port intensive. We figured we would not be spending much time on the ship, let alone a balcony, so we decided funds would be better spent on excursions. The last time we stayed in an Oceanview was our very first cruise many years ago and after this trip I think it will be the last time. I honestly would prefer an inside room on a higher deck than a low deck Oceanview but that is just personal preference. Our stateroom was located close to the Conference Centre and the housekeeping area so there was constant foot traffic and noise. Not to mention that we were directly below the nightclub and listening to pounding music until the wee hours. Normally I would not be so concerned but we did have very early mornings due to excursions so the noise was a nuisance. The room was pretty basic and did, as usual, lack any real storage space for 3 people. I was not overly impressed with the stateroom or the service of the stateroom attendant. However, this cruise was all about just getting us form point A to point B so all the bells and whistles these mega ships offer was kind of wasted on us. For this type of cruise anyways.
Let me also mention that I started planning this cruise and our excursions almost 1 year before we went. I found an accessible company, based in Barcelona, that was able to take care of all of the accessible excursions in each port, transportation as well as our stay in Barcelona. We left Toronto on Saturday night and flew all night and board the ship as soon as we arrived. The transfer from airport to port was flawless, thanks to Mirjam at Disabled Accessible Travel, who took such great care of our family while vacationing. Mirjam is based in Barcelona and her company took care of all our transfers, excursions and hotel accommodations. Our first port was Palma de Majorca, Spain and even though there are accessible excursions available we decided not to utilize any and just rest. It takes alot out of anyone flying over night and even more so someone that has a disability so a day of rest is necessary.
The second port was Marseilles, France and again Shawn did not get off at this port. The availability of accessible excursions was so limited that the one and only company changed such a ridiculous amount of money it just was not feasible. Instead the kids and I took a ship excursion to the seaside town of Cassis. It was okay and at least we can say that we saw something in France. Now for the cream de la cream of ports and excursions and the whole reason we chose this itinerary…..Italy.
Florence, Italy (La Spezia)
This port we had to take a free shuttle from where we got off the ship to where the area is to meet the private transportation we had booked. The shuttle is wheelchair accessible (as shown in the picture below). Our first stop was in Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. We just decided to spend a short time here and wandered around Miracles Square, saw the Duomo (cathedral) and browsed some local shops. After a quick visit and some pictures we headed to the town of Lucca. Lucca is a quaint and charming town and was fun to just wander the cobblestone streets and have some traditional Italian bruschetta and espresso. It was nice to just take in the atmosphere and not feel so rushed like most excursions. Lucca has many options to see during free time like Roman Amphitheatre, San Martino Church, San Michele and Napoleon Squares as well as Via Fullungo, the main street with all the shops. Soon after we were on our way to the Tuscan countryside and the part I was most looking forward to…..wine tasting! We decided to have lunch and have a wine tasting at Tenuta del Buonamico. Unfortunately this winery, although beautiful and scenic, was not as accessible as they had made it out to be. Not letting it get us down, since we were in Tuscany, we made the best of it. The plan was to have lunch overlooking the countryside but the restaurant was closed on the day we were there so they have us set up in an upper level of the winery. Obviously this was not going to work for a wheelchair user so they set up a small table in the tasting area. The entrance was also not accessible so our van driver had to back up and put the ramp down over the curb to allow us to be able to get in. There also was no accessible washroom. I do have to say the staff were more than helpful and did everything they could to make sure we enjoyed our visit. After a long day we headed back to the ship to rest before our next stop Rome.
Rome, Italy (Civitavecchia)
The port of Civitavecchia is about 90 minutes from Rome but was a fairly easy drive with little traffic. Our first stop was seeing the Colosseum from a fantastic view point that our driver knew about. We decided not to enter the Colosseum on this trip due to the incredible heavy itinerary we had. The wait times to get into the Colosseum are quite long so it is on our list to see next time we visit Rome. From here we drove past the Arch of Constantine and Chariot Races Arena on our way to stops at Trevi Fountain. After a quick stop at the fountain we then had a driving tour past Piazza Venezia and Spanish Steps before stopping and wandering about Piazza Navona. After a quick bite to eat we headed to our private guided tour of the Vatican Museum. Everything I have mentioned so far posed no issues as far as accessibility. I was surprised how easy it seemed to get around for such an ancient city. However, we had the benefit of a private driver who knew the in’s and out’s of the city and were the best places were to park and curb cutouts for a wheelchair user. That information is so invaluable the you have limited to time to see a lot of tourist sites. Once we got to the Vatican, we met our guide and started on a private tour. The only real accessible washroom I saw here was right at the beginning so best to use it before you head on a long tour of the museum. We explored the museum and the history and artifacts were incredibly fascinating. We were able to view Tapestries and Geographical Maps Galleries, the Candelabra Gallery and the Raphael Rooms that lead to the Sistine Chapel. Just a note on the Sistine Chapel and the lift it presently uses to transport wheelchair users. Apparently recently they changed the weight and width restrictions and made Shawn transfer from his power chair in to a manual chair. This is obviously a deal breaker for anyone that is unable to weightier or have a companion that can help with this transfer. The most recent information I have is are here: Measurements: 76 cm x 104 cm – Weight: Max 230 kg. We absolutely loved Rome and are already planning are next trip back.
Amalfi Coast, Italy (Naples)
Our last stop on the cruise was Naples and we were heading straight to the Amalfi Coast. Our private wheelchair accessible tour began with a scenic drive to the Ravello, which had the most breathtaking view imaginable. It is located at the top of Dragone Valley and has endless amazing views. Here we stopped for some pictures, strolled around the small town and enjoyed some Espresso. Next stop was the Amalfi Town, it was definitely the opposite of the quiet pace of Ravello. Amalfi Town, while beautiful, was incredibly crowded and we found it very difficult to navigate around the mass amount of people, mainly other tourists. While it was beautiful, we are not big on huge crowds so we made are way down the road a bit and enjoyed a beautiful lunch overlooking the water. The accessible washroom was not very accessible and there was a small step but we managed nonetheless. After lunch we continued on a cliff aside drive with a stop at the looking down at the town of Positano. Positano is not very accessible because it is so steep but I wanted to see it based on the movie “Only You” from the 80’s, it was a bucket list place for me. Last stop before returning to the ship was Sorrento and a Limoncello Tasting Centre. We had never tasted Limoncello before and it was delightfully. Even if you do not like alcohol you need to try lemon coated chocolate almonds…heaven!
Upon disembarkation, we opted to stay a few days in Barcelona, since we had heard so much about the fantastic accessibility and we were not disappointed. As soon as we left the ship we we were met my our private driver and English speaking tour guide. Given how tired we all were we thought it best to see the highlights on a half day tour, rest up and then go to a traditional Tapas Dinner with Flamenco entertainment. Our tour took us to many beautiful spots throughout Barcelona including Christopher Columbus column, Palau de la Music, Ciutadella Park, Olympic Stadium and a guided tour of Guidi’s La Sagrada Familia. We then checked into our hotel, freshen up and heading to the Spanish Village for dinner. Spanish Village is an open-air museum of replica’s of Spanish buildings, squares and streets. It was a very tiring day and we were happy to get back to the hotel for rest. Our hotel was completely accessible and had a fantastic location not far from La Ramblas, where all the action is. The next day we did not a Game of Thrones tour in Girona. Shawn did not come on this tour because he is not a fan of GOT and we were getting mixed information about accessibility. Just to be clear, this tour is not wheelchair accessible and if a company tries to tell you it is than they are very wrong. Girona is has many stairs and very bumpy cobblestones and even though we brought a wheelchair for my slow walking mom, she basically had to walk and we had to carry the wheelchair up many flights of stairs. Our last full day in Barcelona we just decided to walk from our hotel and discover the city on our own. This city has so much to offer and I cannot wait to return!