Naphalai's Diary: February 3-9
I may be a bit jaded but press trips don't normally get me very excited. Sure you get to travel, but it’s still work. However, I must say this latest trip was really good as it combined two things I had been wanting to do for a long time: go on a cruise and visit Barcelona. I had been invited by Regent Seven Seas on the inaugural sailing of its newest ship, Splendor, from Rome to Barcelona. For those who read my Diary the last week, you will know that I spent two days in Rome and it was only on Monday that we drove to the port of Civitavecchia to board the ship. Regent Seven Seas has its own terminal where we checked in and were issued with a key card that was required for entry to our rooms as well as when embarking and disembarking the ship.
Crossing the gangway, we enter a plush lobby with a grand staircase hung with a huge chandelier leading down to a lower level. The public areas are decorated with millions of dollars of artwork, some of which have been especially commissioned for this ship. It is as imposing as anything you’d find in a top hotel. And as I explored the rest of the facilities, it became apparent that in just about all aspects the Seven Seas Splendor can match and even exceed those of any five-star property around the world. And why not? Regent Seven Seas, which operates five ships, is said to run one of the most luxurious fleets on the ocean. What better way to immerse me in the world of cruising—although it just means that I might not be able to settle for anything less after this!
The Splendor has 377 suites, all with private balconies, serviced by 542 crew. Unlike on many cruise lines especially the cheaper ones, the nightly charge includes unlimited food and beverage as well as shore excursions. So it was very unfortunate that as part of my New Year resolutions I was cutting out sugar. That means little dessert and tea-time snacks (my very favourites) as well as reduced champagne and white wine (at least red wine is acceptable as it has less sugar). With seven restaurants not including lounges and bars, there was loads of temptations, let me tell you.
As far as sailing durations go, this was very short, at only three nights (Regent Seven Seas says its average cruises are 11 days). But it has given me a taste for more. With the pulling up of the anchor, Captain Serena Malina, the first woman senior officer to launch a brand-new cruise ship, welcomed guests on the public address system, followed by instructions to assemble for the compulsory safety briefing. We then returned to our suites for a cute tradition called the block party: guests have their champagne glasses filled up by staff in the corridor by their rooms so they can get to know their neighbours. After dinner at the French restaurant Chartreuse, there was entertainment including music by a dance orchestra, pianist and Dj in the lounge and bars, the world premiere of a musical production at the two-level Constellation theatre and the casino.
When we woke up on day two, we were already docked at Livorno, one of the four main Italian ports in the old days. Shore excursions included tours to the nearby areas of Florence, Pisa and Lucca. I selected the latter, a charming walled town in Tuscany that is the birthplace of composer Giacomo Puccini. We got back just in time for dinner, at Compass Rose serving international cuisine.
On the third day we had a full day at sea but unfortunately, since the waves had turned a bit rough with strong winds, it was not conducive to sports on the open deck. So we checked out the spa and the culinary arts kitchen built exclusively for cooking classes. Dinner that evening was at the Asian Pacific Rim restaurant and since disembarkation the next morning had to be completed by 9 am, I decided to have an early night.
The trip ended in Barcelona but I stayed on for another two nights as this was a city at the top of my must-visit list. And it was every bit as wonderful as I had expected—a beautiful place with wide boulevards, impressive architecture, great art and amazing food. On the first day, we did the Gaudi sights, the modernist and artistic buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi such as the Casa Batllo, Casa Mila (La Pedrera) as well as the Sagrada Familia church. Something everyone needs to see at least once in a lifetime. The next day was dedicated to the old city with its Roman ruins and Gothic structures, plus stops at the Santa Caterina and la Boqueria food markets.
This would have been the perfect trip if it hadn’t been for the ending. I was flying back on Lufthansa so had to transit in Frankfurt. However, a drone caused the airport to be closed and the flight had to be diverted to Stuttgart. Of course, by the time we arrived in Frankfurt, the flight to Bangkok had left and the next one was 24 hours away. So I had to overnight with no toiletries, no make-up, no pyjamas and no change of clothing. The airline wasn’t any help although the hotel did provide basic toiletries on request.
The next day I couldn’t even explore downtown Frankfurt as I was wearing clothes too light for the cold weather there. Back at the airport, I discovered that storms had closed airports in the UK and northwestern Europe. I’m not sure what I would have done if I’d had to stay a second night in Frankfurt—but whatever it was I’m sure it wouldn’t have been pretty! Thank goodness we were able to take off and I arrived safely back on Monday. Luckily it was a holiday but if I had landed on Sunday as scheduled I could have used that extra day to rest before jumping back into work. Didn’t quite work out that way but the important thing was I made it back.
Previously: Naphalai's Diary: January 27-February 2